Category Archives: Uncategorized

Rand Paul for president (yes, this is satire)

I added the parenthetical because I was briefly, briefly alarmed when I saw the headline, “Rand Paul for President,” atop one of the three opinion pages in The Wall Street Journal this morning.

But then I was reassured, and entertained, when I read the column by Bret Stephens. An excerpt:

Republicans, let’s get it over with. Fast forward to the finish line. Avoid the long and winding primary road. It can only weaken the nominee. And we know who he—yes, he—has to be.

Not Jeb Bush, who plainly is unsuited to be president. He is insufficiently hostile to Mexicans. He holds heretical views on the Common Core, which, as we well know, is the defining issue of our time. And he’s a Bush. Another installment of a political dynasty just isn’t going to fly with the American people, who want some fresh blood in their politics….

No, what we need as the Republican nominee in 2016 is a man of more glaring disqualifications. Someone so nakedly unacceptable to the overwhelming majority of sane Americans that only the GOP could think of nominating him.

This man is Rand Paul, the junior senator from a state with eight electoral votes. The man who, as of this writing, has three years worth of experience in elected office. Barack Obama had more political experience when he ran for president. That’s worked out well….

Stephens goes on to have some fun with the fact that Paul is going around telling conservatives how they need to reach out to minority voters, while his friend, former aide (until last July) and co-author Jack “The Southern Avenger” Hunter once published a column on his blog headlined “John Wilkes Booth Was Right.” An excerpt from that:

"The Southern Avenger"

“The Southern Avenger”

This Wednesday, April 14th, is the 139th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Although Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth’s heart was in the right place, the Southern Avenger does regret that Lincoln’s murder automatically turned him into a martyr. American heroes like Thomas Jefferson and Robert E. Lee have been unfairly attacked in recent years, but Abraham Lincoln is still regarded as a saint. Well, he wasn’t it – far from it. In fact, not only was Abraham Lincoln the worst President, but one of the worst figures in American history….

But I digress. Mr. Stephens concludes his column in the WSJ thusly:

This man wants to be the Republican nominee for president.

And so he should be. Because maybe what the GOP needs is another humbling landslide defeat. When moderation on a subject like immigration is ideologically disqualifying, but bark-at-the-moon lunacy about Halliburton is not, then the party has worse problems than merely its choice of nominee.

Your Virtual Front Page, Thursday, March 27, 2014

Not much big happening outside of Ukraine, but here goes:

  1. UN declares Crimea vote illegal (BBC) — Likely response from Putin: “Illegal, schmillegal.” The vote was nonbinding, and backed up by essentially nothing. But still, the UN took a stand, which is something.
  2. Congress Backs New Sanctions, Kiev Aid  (WSJ) — The U.S. provides $1 billion in loan guarantees, while the IMF ponies up $14-18 billion.
  3. Health-care enrollment hits goal of 6 million (WashPost) — That’s the adjusted goal, mind you. But it hardly fits the GOP narrative of a total, bungled failure, does it?
  4. Obama meets pope on Vatican visit (The Guardian) — As far as I know, Russell Crowe’s new movie about Noah was not discussed. POTUS kept gushing, “It’s wonderful meeting you. It’s wonderful meeting you,” Obama began. “Thank you so much for receiving me.” Further proof of what a rock star this pope is.
  5. McMaster files for lieutenant governor (thestate.com) — Four years ago, he was the presumptive front-runner for governor — before scandal sympathy and the Tea Party boosted Nikki Haley past him. Can we go ahead and call him the front-runner for Gov Lite? I think so. In any case, if the governor doesn’t back him, she knows not what loyalty is. He’s been a good soldier for her ever since his crushing defeat at her hands.
  6. Obama formally outlines NSA reform (The Guardian) — Using the word “reform” loosely, of course. I read the explanation, and remain confused as to what POTUS wants to do now. What is described in this story doesn’t sound terribly useful, but perhaps I’m reading it wrong. By the way, in my quick overview of news sites, only The Guardian was giving this significant play.

It is completely wrong for this country to change ANY policy in response to Edward Snowden’s actions

Slatest got straight to the heart of the matter:

Edward Snowden was the first to declare victory. On Monday night, the Obama administration had, via the New York Times, announced the imminent end of the bulk collection of metadata and proposed new rules requiring the National Security Agency to get warrants before grabbing individual records. It was far less than what civil libertarians had wanted. But Snowden calledthe White House announcement a “turning point” and the “beginning of a new effort to reclaim our rights from the NSA.”

The race to the bandwagon had begun. By Tuesday morning the Republican-run House Intelligence Committee was polishing and promoting the End Bulk Collection Act of 2014, which would grudgingly achieve much of what the White House grudgingly asked for. On Tuesday afternoon, Sens. Rand Paul, Ron Wyden, and Mark Udall strolled into a Senate hallway bustling with reporters to accept the NSA’s partial surrender….

Never mind Rand Paul, et al. The Washington Post reports “an emerging consensus” from the White House to the Hill that the collection of metadata must cease.

This is an utter outrage.

A former junior employee of a government contractor, traveling with stolen national security secrets, broadcasts what he knows to the world. The President of the United States says the programs Snowden is on about are legal, measured, accountable and appropriate. Responsible members of Congress back him up.

A mere few months later, after a drip-drip-drip campaign by this self-appointed king of America (what else to call someone who is not elected, but takes it upon himself to subvert the policies and procedures arrived at by the duly constituted authorities in all three branches of our government?) and his fellow travelers, enough emotion and semi-conscious twitches of discomfort have been detected among the American public that the president, and the Congress, are ready to abandon policies that they know to be just fine as they are.

And the new “decider” for America is so obviously deluded, so obviously a fantasist with no sense of perspective, that it’s appalling to think of him deciding anything.

There are some who agree with Snowden’s fantasy that he is a defender of our Constitution. And yet, what he has done is presume to subvert the system of decision-making and checks and balances that our Constitution was written to set up.

This is disgusting. And it is an open invitation to the next self-aggrandizing, malcontent punk with a far-too-high security clearance who wants to undo American policy all by his lonesome. Just throw a wrench into the works! The United States government will bow down before you!

The only proper governmental response to Edward Snowden was to pursue him, to apprehend him if possible, to try him, and to lock him away.

Instead, this is what our elected leaders have done…

Obama with Galifianakis on ‘Between Two Ferns’

Just thought you might enjoy this. It’s the leader of the Free World (do we still say that, after the Cold War?) on Zach Galifianakis’ mock talk show on Funny or Die, “Between Two Ferns.”

Slate reports that the episode “works pretty well not only as a pitch for healthcare.gov, which gets an extensive plug, but also as an episode of Between Two Ferns.”

See what you think. Personally, I found it a little disconcerting to watch POTUS trash-talking a little fat guy whom we’ve been conditioned to feel sorry for. Maybe, since it’s a fake talk show, they should have fake presidents as guests. Such as Josiah Bartlet, or Garrett Walker.

The world has just gotten weirder and weirder ever since SNL introduced irony to television in the ’70s…

Enjoying Joe Biden for being himself

Vice President Joe Biden

Politico has collected some of the very best Bidenisms. Go over and check them out:

On ambition:
“I never had an interest in being a mayor ’cause that’s a real job. You have to produce. That’s why I was able to be a senator for 36 years.” —March 29, 2012

On the campaign trail:
“You got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.” Jan. 31, 2007

“There’s a gigantic difference between John McCain and Barack Obama, and between me and I suspect my vice presidential opponent. … She’s good-looking.” —Aug. 31, 2008

And so forth.

God love him, I’ve just gotta say this: We make fun, but Joe Biden is no dummy. I’ve had the privilege of sitting and talking with him at length a number of times (any time you sit and talk with Joe, it’s “at length,” only he’s the one talking). And Joe says lots of smart stuff. It’s just that he talks so much, and so freely, and with so little hesitation, that occasionally it’s not going to come out right. Or as he would say:

“If we do everything right, if we do it with absolute certainty, there’s still a 30 percent chance we’re going to get it wrong.” Feb. 6, 2009

Of course, some of the things he says are not just mistakes, but revelatory of character. And I’ve gotta say this, too: I enjoy the character that it reveals. To find someone so genuine at the top of the heap is no small thing these days; it’s a BFD. We need more real people in politics.

Francis Underwood’s heritage gets into his head

The quintessential modern man is suddenly mesmerized by history...

The quintessential modern man is suddenly mesmerized by history…

“I personally take no pride in the Confederacy. Avoid wars you can’t win, and never raise your flag for an asinine cause like slavery.”

– Francis Underwood

For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances…

– William Faulkner

Between the two, Faulkner knew better what he was talking about.

To call slavery merely “asinine” is to fail to give evil its due. It was something far more than “foolish, unintelligent or silly.” It was this country’s original sin, and before the national blood offering that killed hundreds of thousands of our ancestors, it dragged down both white and black.

In his quote, Underwood — protagonist of “House of Cards” — wasn’t teaching a moral; he was showing his contempt first for losers, and secondly for the things that occupy the small minds of ordinary humans. Frank thinks he’s so far above them, above us. In his contempt, he is contemptible. You didn’t have to be an apologist for slavery or march behind a Confederate flag to feel the profound loss when Levon Helm sang “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” You just had to be human. (You can even be a guy like me who has struggled for years to get that flag off our State House lawn — in fact, I may feel it more intensely for that. The SCV guys don’t understand where I’m coming from. I think I get them, but they don’t get me.)

But by the end of season two, episode five, the regional obsessions of the only defeated part of this country have grabbed Francis — a South Carolinian, remember — by the throat. On the battlefield where his great-great-great grandfather fell and was buried in a common, unmarked grave, Francis has a mystical experience that brings him closer to being Faulkner’s 14-year-old boy.

I’ve been dismissive of this show, and it has many weaknesses. But the moment when Frank was confronted by his “ancestor” was Shakespearean. It was the Southron version of Hamlet being haunted by his father’s ghost.

Only without a hint of the supernatural. The explanation is quite pedestrian. Underwood is touring a Civil War battlefield, asking polite questions but exquisitely bored, when the park ranger springs a surprise on him — the kind of surprise that your average tourist such as you or me would not experience, but something completely within the realm of believability for a vice president: An unassuming, deadpan young man in homespun butternut strides casually but purposefully out of the woods toward the veep. He is introduced as Augustus Elijah Underwood, Frank’s great-great-great grandfather.

Frank, in no mood for hokum, immediately protests that his grandfather had never told him of any Underwood who wore the Confederate uniform. The ranger assures him that the research is sound; this “is” his ancestor. The re-enactor delivers a brief spiel, the ranger cuts him off, and they start away. But history has its hook in Francis now. He turns back, and questions “Augustus” further. The young man obliges, telling in simple, matter-of-fact language about how he died, how it looked, felt and smelled. No hesitation, as real and organic and naturalistic as Stephen Crane. It was more detail than anyone could know, of course, but Francis doesn’t want to break the spell by saying so; he drinks it in, his eyes wide.

The next day, he interrupts a groundbreaking ceremony for a new visitors’ center by having “Augustus” — who never breaks character — turn the first spadeful. Then, while everyone else is distracted, Francis gets down on his knees, takes off his “Sentinel” (Citadel) ring, and buries it in the brown earth.

I don’t know what that gesture meant. Was he embracing his heritage, trying to become one with it, or trying to bury it? In any case, you know now that he doesn’t feel he can just sneer at it with impunity. It’s in him, part of him. (In a measure of how impressed he was, he soon gives up violent video games for building a Civil War battle diorama in his home.)

It was a very impressive set of scenes. And for me, this is an increasingly impressive series.

A totally irrelevant little post about ‘The Bourne Identity’ reminds me why I love the Web…

This morning, skimming through an email from Slatest (or was I following a link from a link?), I see a reference to ”The best scene from The Bourne Identity.” So of course I click on it, and… here’s the sweet part… they got it right! They did indeed choose the best scene, the one that really makes the movie, that hooks you and pulls you in for good, and they at least had an inkling why it was the best scene.

Here’s a portion of the writer’s musings on the scene:

You walk to the mailbox, you mail a letter. Walking back, it comes to you with a queer shock of awareness that you have no memory of the mailbox or the act of mailing—and yet the letter is no longer in your hand. What happens next is the Jason Bourne version of this phenomenon. A nightstick is jabbed into his shoulder: Bourne frowns, as if in recognition. He grabs the nightstick. “Hey!” says the cop. Voltage jump, hair-raising crackle of imminent violence: The three men are momentarily one circuit. Then Bourne looks right, looks left, stands up and in five movements disarms and dismantles the two cops: wrist grab, forearm smash, nightstick to face, wham, bam, an ecstasy of automatism. It’s over. The symmetry of the encounter is fulfilled: Policemen are laid out, sleeping in the sleepy snow … and Bourne is all at once horribly conscious. It swarms over him like a sickness. Panting and confused, he looks at the gun in his hands. He breaks down the gun, drops the pieces, and sprints from the snowy park.

So now we know. The fugue state is fully wired. It’s the present moment that hums with emptiness. Who am I? Who trained me? My substance was not hid from thee,says the psalmist to his God, in Psalm 139, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Yet somehow my substance is hidden from myself. I’m programmed—but for what? For some virtuoso ass-kicking, clearly. But there must be a mission, a commission, some greater duty. To find it out, that’s a long road. That might take two or three movies. Look at Jason Bourne fleeing the scene, shedding his coat as he goes. Short movements, maximum efficiency. He looks like a man imprisoned in motion….

We’re of course talking about the scene in which the two Zurich cops wake our hero while he’s napping on a park bench, and he discovers, to his surprise, that he can handle himself the way Mozart handled a piece of music. He’s slightly shocked by the realization. He doesn’t enjoy it, the way you or I would if we suddenly realized that nobody, but nobody, could lay a hand on us and get away with it. But we, vicariously, get to enjoy it.

It’s the moment of Harry Potter finding out he’s a wizard, or young Arthur pulling the sword from the stone. It’s the magical moment of discovering one is special, perhaps even (if you’re Neo in “The Matrix”) THE One. It’s the realization that, after all, Paul Atreides is the Kwisatz Haderach. There’s no greater vicarious thrill than that, and we eat it up in spite of the fact that — or maybe because — we have a strong suspicion that we will never make such a discovery about ourselves. It’s the reason why this is the hottest plot device going, from the New Testament to Ender’s Game, from Lord of the Rings to The Hunger Games.

The thing that keeps Bourne from appreciating his discovery is that he doesn’t know the purpose for which he has these superpowers. And he’s probably already suspecting that it’s for purposes that are not going to make him proud of himself.

Anyway, in an Inbox full of irrelevant emails that I don’t want, but suspect I should force myself to glance at before deleting, this was a nice little reward. I appreciated it.

And this was posted this morning apropos of nothing. There’s not a new movie coming out in the series. Matt Damon didn’t die or anything. There was just some movie geek out there thinking about this, irrelevantly, the way Nick Hornby’s obsessive hero (actually, all his heroes are sort of obsessive, aren’t they?) in Fever Pitch is always thinking about particular moments in soccer matches from years past, and therefore can’t bring himself to answer his girlfriend honestly when she asks, “What are you thinking about?,” because he knows the scorn to which he will be subjected. (See the end of page 1 and the top of page 2.)

Since I, too, am always thinking about stuff like this, I feel a kinship for the person who wrote this. I feel less alone in the world — maybe the way football fans or political partisans feel, sure in their knowledge that there are other people like them.

So that’s one of the things I like about the Internet. Not that it’s chock full of stuff that is immediate and relevant, but that you can find stuff that isn’t those things at all, and it can make your day. Or at least, help you pass a pleasant moment. Then you have to get back to the relevant stuff….

The pivotal instant in the pivotal scene -- when the cop pokes Bourne with a nightstick, and Bourne grabs it without thinking, and pauses just an instant, before asserting complete control...

The pivotal instant in the pivotal scene — when the cop pokes Bourne with a nightstick, and Bourne grabs it without thinking, and pauses just an instant, before asserting complete control. That’s the cusp of the film, the cusp of the series…

Can our little guy pick ‘em, or what?

Since I wouldn’t watch the Grammys if you paid me (unless you paid me a lot — for instance, I’d watch them, once, for a million dollars), it was sometime later that I learned that “Royals” won “song of the year.”

So I guess my 20-month-old grandson was onto something.

He has been obsessed with that video for months. If he sees a screen — a smartphone, a tablet, what have you — he immediately points to it and says, “Ah-Ooh.” Because that’s what he thinks the background vocal is saying on the refrain. You know how she goes “And we’ll never be royals” and the background echoes “ro-yals”? Well, maybe you don’t. I wouldn’t, if not for frequently giving into his request.

'A hit is a hit,' he says.

‘A hit is a hit,’ he says.

Anyway, when they sing that, he sings along, in tune, “Ah-ooh.” Hence the title. Or rather, his version of the title.

At first, I thought maybe he was fascinated with the girl singing the song, who is counterintuitively named “Lorde.” The mystique of an older woman (she’s 17), that sort of thing.

But he also enjoys the spoof version, with dogs, below.

Bottom line, the news is that he can spot a hit when he hears it, like Hesh Rabkin on “The Sopranos.” Maybe he has a career ahead of him in music. Either that, or as an automotive engineer

Top Ten Boomer Books? A hit-and-miss list

You were either on the bus, or you were off the bus...

You were either on the bus, or you were off the bus…

thestate.com published this (but it seems to have disappeared since I first wrote a draft of this post several days ago — sorry) and attributed it to AARP, although I can’t find anything about it at that site. Anyway, it’s supposedly books that “defined a generation,” yadda-yadda:

  1. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger (1951). OK. A model for alienation, which would be big in the 60s. But didn’t it first affect people who were older than boomers?
  2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960). OK. Again, but… I see this as a timeless American classic, and don’t particularly associate it with boomers. Wouldn’t you agree, Scout?
  3. Catch-22by Joseph Heller (1961). ABSOLUTELY. It doesn’t get more definitive than this.
  4. The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan (1963). I wouldn’t know. If you’re one of the boomers who became a feminist, maybe so.
  5. The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley, (1964). Yeah, I think so. It made a big impression on me, I can testify. Although we were assigned to read it in school, which takes off some of the luster. Odd thing, showing the way we thought in those days and at that age: I read this during the 1970-71 school year. And to me, what I was reading was history, tales of the way things were long ago. But some of the later events in the book occurred in the ’60s, I believe. Malcolm X had not died until 1965. But you youngsters should go back and look at pictures of the way people dressed, and the way cars looked, and listen to the music of the time, in 1965. Then do the same for 1971. You’ll see a much, much wider difference than between now and 2008. Or even, say, 1995. The times in which we live are far less dynamic. So much happened that six years was a long time then.
  6. Valley of the Dolls, by Jacqueline Susann (1966). NO. I can’t say why, but I think of this as a book that the older generation read at the time, not boomers. I don’t ever remember any of my friends talking about it, but it was out there, and I just thought of it as an old people thing.
  7. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, by Tom Wolfe (1969). YES!!! Because, you know, Wolfe would use extra exclamation points. If you had to pick only one boomer book, this might be it. Even though it’s not from a boomer perspective, it puts the era under a microscope and pulls you in doing so.
  8. The Godfather, by Mario Puzo (1969). Yeah, I think so. I read this the same summer as Catch-22 (that would be 1970). My only doubt is that while it’s a cultural icon of the era — or actually, the movie is — it’s not really about anything that has to do with the time that boomers grew up. Neither was Catch-22, but that helped define a certain ’60s sensibility. Puzo didn’t do that. He was more about posing timeless questions about what happens when we revert from a society of laws to one of men.
  9. Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach (1970). NO. Did not read it, did not consider reading it for a second, because everything I ever heard about it made me want to run the other way.
  10. Love Story, by Erich Segal (1970). Oh, God, NO. Went on a double-date in Hawaii to see the Steve Miller Band (in the “Your Saving Grace” phase, before they got all commercial), and it got rained out. So we said, “Let’s go to a movie.” The girls wanted to see the film version of this, so we went. It was as bad as I had imagined, and the emotional manipulation at the end just made me angry. After it was over, the other guy and I had to stand around in the lobby for 20 minutes while the girls cried in the bathroom. And my date was a really cool girl, too, but she succumbed. So I’ve got nothing good to say about this. And no, didn’t read the book. (This and the seagull book occupy their own unsavory category in my mind.)

There are some in the honorable mentions that should have made the list, such as Fahrenheit 451, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, and maybe Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but I’m not sure about the last one, because I didn’t read it. I figured the book couldn’t improve on the title, so why bother? Books that should be on the list:

  • Stranger in a Strange Land — This would be right up there with Catch-22 and Acid Test. Maybe more so. A real cult book for a generation — although, as a literary work, not as good as the other two.
  • On the Road — Yeah, it’s about guys who were much older than boomers, and is rooted in their cultural references, but this had a big collective impact on us. We saw it as a wellspring of our times. After all, it shared a main character with Acid Test — Neal Cassidy.
  • Something by Kurt Vonnegut. I’m not a huge fan of his, but although he wasn’t of the generation (he and my father-in-law both served in the 106th Infantry Division, and were both captured at the Battle of the Bulge), he was definitely an important author for boomers. Maybe Cat’s Cradle, I’m thinking.
  • Fahrenheit 451 — Between this and 1984 and other things we read, we tended to eye the future with a certain amount of suspicion. I’d toss Brave New World into that category as well, except that it came out in 1932. I remember a huge debate we had in my English class over whether one would want to live in the world Huxley envisioned. I was shocked by those who said “yes,” and saw nothing wrong with a society given over totally to hedonistic materialism. I argued the other side so strenuously that some people in the class tried to recruit me for the National Forensic League. They wanted me on their debating team. I declined the honor.
  • Dune — Maybe. Sci-Fi fans would probably rate it higher than Stranger In a Strange Land, but the Heinlein novel makes the list because it was such a free-love, hippy-dippy cult thing, whereas Dune was not. But it was very popular among Boomers, who were painfully betrayed by David Lynch in 1984.

That’s enough for now. I’m thinking, though, that since this list is so skewed toward things we read when we were kids, maybe there should be a list of books Boomers loved as adults. Say, Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker” series. Or, to return to the Tom Wolfe well, The Right Stuff

Some thoughts on Nikki Haley’s State of the State

Haley speech

I don’t have time today to go into great depth on this, but I thought I’d share several scattered thoughts I had about the governor’s speech and reactions to it, each of which could be developed into an extensive post on its own:

  • I was pleased that she was willing to share credit on the Department of Administration bill with Vincent Sheheen. Yeah, she did it in a backhanded way, mentioning him in the middle of a list of eight people “who have been down in the trenches fighting to make this a reality,” when in truth this bill started with Sen. Sheheen years before she got involved with it. But the fact that she gave him praise and credit at all makes her look a lot more honest and generous than this mean-sounding passage from Sheheen’s own statement about passage of the bill: “South Carolinians have had to wait long enough for the accountability they deserve from Governor Haley and her administration. I urge the Governor to sign my bill immediately.” As though she was reluctant or something, which obviously she was not. This tone is unlike Vincent Sheheen, and unlikely to help him unseat the governor.
  • Yeah, the governor has been taking her responsibility to govern far more seriously lately — for which I’ve praised her here (while Dems grumble about too little, too late). She’s the first governor in decades to seriously address funding equity for public schools, she wants to do more for the mentally ill, and she’s decided to drop her politically convenient Kulturkampf against the arts in SC. But unfortunately, she hasn’t dropped the intellectually offensive, neo-Confederate-style rhetoric aimed at feeding the delusions of her Tea Party base: “it is my firm belief that the federal government causes far more harm to South Carolina than good… Those running the federal government make our job more difficult, day in and day out. Unfortunately, that is simply the reality we are faced with…. We rejected the federal government’s less than generous offer to run a state exchange, an offer that would have Washington bureaucrats dictating the exchange and South Carolinians paying for it. And, with your help, we emphatically said no to the central component of Obamacare, the expansion of a broken Medicaid program that is already cannibalizing our budget, and would completely destroy it in the years to come.” Her Medicaid assertions add up to one huge lie, and her refusal, along with that of legislative leaders, to refuse the expansion is the single most indefensible failure of leadership in her tenure. It was deeply immoral, pound-foolish, a drag on the state’s economy, and the biggest case of placing ideology over serving the public that I have seen in many a year in this state. She likes to talk about job growth, but not about the thousands of healthcare jobs that the federally funded expansion would have brought, and which she turned away.
  • I liked it that she quoted the father of her party, Abraham Lincoln. We don’t hear enough of that from Republicans these days, particularly not Tea Party Republicans, and most particularly not Southern Tea Party Republicans.
  • She said, “Our tax code needs to be simpler, flatter, and fairer.” Well, it certainly needs to be simpler and fairer. In fact, the whole system needs to be scrapped and rebuilt. But there is no way that the main thing we need in South Carolina is tax cuts, despite the fact that Republicans have come to Columbia ever since they took control of the House in 1994 with the firm belief that that’s pretty much all the state does need. James Smith criticized her for wanting to fund road maintenance with found money (I think that’s what he meant with his “money tree” thing), rather than dedicating a reliable revenue source. Her promise to veto any gas tax increase is an immature cry against rational policy. To say you want to improve roads and won’t consider the tax increase to pay for it is governance by ideological fantasy. And if she wants to help business, then push to get lawmakers to reverse the effects of Act 388, which as I’ve written before “ distorted our whole tax system — putting an excessive burden on businesses and renters, and shifting the load for supporting public schools onto the volatile, exemption-ridden sales tax — for the sake of the subset of homeowners who lived in high-growth areas.” Act 388, by the way, was one of the big reasons why the state Chamber backed Sheheen, rather than Rep. Haley, in the 2010 election.
  • She was also generous and bipartisan in crediting the lawmakers who helped her come up with her new approach on education funding — “Senator John Courson, Senator Wes Hayes, Senator John Matthews, Senator Nikki Setzler, Representative Kenny Bingham, Representative Jackie Hayes, and Representative Phil Owens.”
  • In the moments after the speech, as ETV got reaction from lawmakers in the chamber, someone (I missed the name; I was busy as I listened) was talking about government waste, and mentioned once again the “Green Bean Museum.” Apparently, there have been no instances of “government waste” in the six years or so since that one came up, because it remains everybody’s first example for “proving” their belief that all government does is run around looking for things to waste our money on. Let me give a little perspective on that — Lake City sought funding for restoring a building that is a great source of local pride, the Bean Market. Trucks and trains came from all over the country to drive through that building and pick up green beans, as this was the biggest distribution point for that commodity in the region, and perhaps in the nation (I forget which). Fixing it up was related to Darla Moore’s desire to spark a renaissance in her hometown. The request didn’t come out of nowhere; it was one of a large number of purely local projects competing for money from a fund dedicated to such boosterish things. The state not only refused this request, it did so with extreme prejudice, with scorn and ridicule. Darla Moore essentially said to hell with the Legislature, and just used her own money. Her expenditures on Lake City over the last few years have been in eight figures annually. The Bean Market now houses local economic development offices, an indoor farmer’s market, and a rental venue for private functions. It’s at the centerpiece of a growing downtown complex that features a museum dedicated to agriculture-themed art, an outdoor performing arts venue, new upscale shops and restaurants, and a soon-to-be hotel — all aimed at bringing visitors through the community and building back its economy. Anyway, I thought maybe y’all should know some of that.
  • I loved what Harvey Peeler said about how even though the governor has now given four of these speeches, she “still has that new car smell.” He can turn a phrase. Not for nothing is he the best Tweeter in the Senate…

The biggest divide of all

On a previous thread, we got onto a digression about measurement. We split into camps between those who believe that one can know things without being able to quantify them, and those who tend to think that is impossible.

I realized we were really getting down to basics. We were touching upon a profound dichotomy in the human family.

There is left and right. There is Democrat and Republican. There is the believer, and the atheist. There is the tremendous gulf that sometimes opens between the way black and white Americans perceive a thing (say, the O.J. Simpson verdict).

But is there any bigger cognitive divide, any greater contrast in belief systems, than that between people who think the only things that matter are those that can be quantified, and those who see that as an extremely limited way of perceiving the world?

During that earlier exchange, Doug asked, “How do you know something is improved if you can’t measure it?” And he’s serious. And he thinks all logic and understanding and wisdom are entirely on his side in asserting that. In fact; he probably would say he knows it. And many folks who would be classified as an S on a Myers Briggs scale would agree, emphatically.

And yet to me, it’s practically nonsensical. Sure, there are judgments to which measurement is essential. If I look at a beaker of liquid water — neither icing over nor bubbling and steaming away — I don’t know what its temperature is, although I know it’s between 32 F and 212 F, without a thermometer. (Of course, unless I’m going to bathe in it, or develop film with it — an anachronistic activity in which I no longer engage — I don’t much care.)

With most things that matter, the things that tend to interest me, if one does not know without measuring, what has one spent one’s time on Earth doing?

Your Virtual Front Page, Monday, January 13, 2014

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Here’s what we’ve got, including a late entry on the local front:

  1. State grand jury to investigate Harrell ethics allegations (thestate.com) — Right on the eve of the new legislative session. This is on the charges raised by the SC Policy Council. AG Wilson is referring them to the grand jury.
  2. Rebels risk losing U.S., U.K. support (BBC) — Uhhh… what support?
  3. Iran to implement nuclear deal (The Guardian) — “Comprehensive agreement” implementation to start Jan. 20, says Kerry.
  4. Health Care Plans Drawing Older, Less Healthy People (NYT) — Interestingly, the WashPost took the opposite tack on its headline (Young adults make up almost one-quarter of health signups) – but the story is more like the NYT’s and WSJ’s).
  5. Christie administration cut access to mayor, files show (WashPost) — We’re talking about a whole other mayor here.
  6. City drops charges against SC NAACP president (thestate.com) — As reported previously today.

City drops charges against Lonnie Randolph

This happened this morning:

In a surprise move Monday morning, the city of Columbia dropped all three charges against S.C. NAACP president Lonnie Randolph minutes before his trial in city court was supposed to begin.

The charges in the trial stemmed from an incident last July in which Randolph, apparently suffering from a diabetic condition, became confused in a Five Points dry cleaners and caused a disturbance that brought police….

Randolph attorney Joe McCulloch said he was “disgusted” with the city for dragging this out all the way until the trial date.

Other observers may also be disgusted, but for other reasons.

The main thing I got out of the whole affair was a lesson in how Columbia’s city-manager system works. The sequence of events as I recall them:

  • Teresa Wilson is named city manager with strong support from Steve Benjamin and in spite of doubts about whether she had the requisite experience.
  • Ms. Wilson rushes to the scene of the Randolph incident.
  • The mayor objects to the city manager doing that, and seeks to have his objection codified in an ordinance that will prevent such unseemly scenes in the future.
  • Ms. Wilson is infuriated by the mayor’s rebuke, and tells him where he can get off.
  • City Council crushes the mayor’s rather modest proposal to forbid such unacceptable behavior by city managers.

And so we see that the mayor is most assuredly not in charge, even when he gets a political ally into the manager’s job. We had already known that, of course; but I found such a public demonstration of the system valuable.

Perhaps you drew different lessons from this episode….

If your ‘exit strategy’ is everything, then do nothing

Tom Davis posted this this morning:

I thought Robert Gates was a neocon and MSM reviews of his memoirs seemed to confirm it. I was wrong. This past weekend I read the former defense secretary’s book and was startled to read things like this:

“Wars are a lot easier to get into than out of. Those who ask about exit strategies or question what will happen if assumptions prove wrong are rarely welcome at the conference table when the fire-breathers are demanding that we strike — as they did when advocating invading Iraq, intervening in Libya and Syria, or bombing Iran’s nuclear sites. But in recent decades, presidents confronted with tough problems abroad have too often been too quick to reach for a gun. Our foreign and national security policy has become too militarized, the use of force too easy for presidents.”

Those aren’t the words of a neocon. My apologies, Mr. Gates…

First, I don’t know where Tom ever got the idea that Robert Gates was a neo-anything. Or paleo-, either. As I’ve said so often, Gates was always the most professional of public servants. To label him with any ideology, one you like or don’t like, is to do him a disservice.

That said, I can certainly see what Tom Davis liked about that passage. But I see it as the view of the public servant who has to carry out the policies that the politicians initiate. You can see how such a person might develop a jaundiced view of political machismo.

A word, though, about “exit strategies.” It’s OK if you ask, in private councils, “What’s our exit strategy?” But if your exit strategy is your entire strategy, and most especially if you’re going in with a publicly stated exit strategy — worse, a stated date — then you most certainly should not commit military forces.

Of course, that would be pleasing to Tom, and others of his inclination, such as Rand Paul and, for that matter, Dennis Kucinich and maybe Tom Hayden, back in the day.

If you do commit militarily, then the world — particularly your adversaries — needs to believe that you will stay until your goals are achieved — 100 years, if necessary. Remember how ballistic the anti-war folk went when John McCain said something along those lines about Iraq in 2008? Well, he was right, as recent events demonstrate.

I have a problem with sending people in to get killed in a cause that you are committed to abandoning at a set future time — which is what Americans tend to mean when they say “exit strategy.”

Chris Christie: Another subject on which Democrats have it wrong about Nikki Haley

Christie at his marathon apology presser Thursday. (NJ Governor's Office/Tim Larsen)

Christie at his marathon apology presser Thursday. (NJ Governor’s Office/Tim Larsen)

Speaking of subjects on which Nikki Haley is right, even laudable, while her political opponents have it wrong…

Until the Democrats put out a release today scoffing at her about it, I didn’t know she had stuck up for embattled NJ Gov. Chris Christie on Facebook yesterday. Here’s what she said:

I’ve watched my friend Gov. Christie work through a difficult situation today. He did the right thing in taking responsibility in a tough situation. That’s the kind of leadership that earned him the huge level of trust he has in New Jersey.

And here’s the rather petty response that came from SC Democrats:

Today, Nikki Haley took to her facebook page to praise Chris Christie and demonstrated that her failed understanding of accountability doesn’t only apply to her own massive scandals in South Carolina. The SCDP released this statement from Communications Director Kristin Sosanie:

“Nikki Haley defines leadership as cover-ups followed by excuses followed by blaming others in her own administration, and wouldn’t know real accountability if it stood right in front of her. Nikki Haley is the governor who hid a hacking at the Department of Revenue for two weeks after finding out millions had been exposed to identity theft under her watch. Nikki Haley is the governor who said her administration ‘did everything they were supposed to do’ after covering up a tuberculosis outbreak at a public school for two months and allowing children to be exposed while their parents were kept in the dark. It’s no surprise she spoke up for Chris Christie today, and it only shows that her failed understanding of leadership doesn’t only apply to the massive scandals she creates for the people of South Carolina. Given that her incompetence as Governor has soured voters on her, she’d be better served assuring constituents that he won’t come to South Carolina to campaign on her behalf.”

###

Personally, I’m encouraged that Nikki wanted to stick up for a guy who is not beloved by her base. If you doubt me, read the responses to her Facebook comment.

Nikki Haley speaking up for Sarah Palin? That would seem like business as usually. But speaking up for a guy who goes around giving props to Barack Obama? That’s more remarkable, and I’m pleased to see it.

As for Christie himself… There was an interesting piece in the NYT today about his grueling, 107-minute apology session yesterday. You know what it sort of reminds me of? The way national media marveled at how Mark Sanford went on, and on, and on about himself at his confessional presser in June 2009. They didn’t realize Sanford just talks that way.

But there the resemblances end. Chris Christie is a governor who actually believes in governing, and it would be a shame for this mess — and it is a mess — to damage his ability to do that.

Drones ‘not quite the thing,’ by 1813 standards

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Here’s the way wars were fought 200 years ago (or at least, an ideal example reflecting the values of the era)…

The Royal Navy was much demoralized by its initial encounters with the tiny United States Navy in the opening months of the War of 1812. It was the greatest naval force in the world, and had been accustomed to dominating French and Spanish opponents for a generation. Yet in the first few single-ship encounters of the war, the Americans had taken four British frigates, and several smaller warships.

Captain Philip Broke of the 38-gun HMS Shannon, determined to restore the universe to its proper shape, was blockading Boston, and he knew that there was one frigate in the harbor ready for sea, the 38-gun USS Chesapeake. To even the odds, he sent his consort away to Halifax. Then, on June 1, 1813, he sent a note of challenge in to Captain James Lawrence of the Chesapeake, assuring him that if he brought his ship out to fight, it would be a fair contest:

As the Chesapeake appears now ready for sea, I request you will do me the favour to meet the Shannon with her, ship to ship, to try the fortune of our respective flags. The Shannon mounts twenty-four guns upon her broadside and one light boat-gun; 18 pounders upon her main deck, and 32-pounder carronades upon her quarter-deck and forecastle; and is manned with a complement of 300 men and boys, beside thirty seamen, boys, and passengers, who were taken out of recaptured vessels lately. I entreat you, sir, not to imagine that I am urged by mere personal vanity to the wish of meeting the Chesapeake, or that I depend only upon your personal ambition for your acceding to this invitation. We have both noble motives. You will feel it as a compliment if I say that the result of our meeting may be the most grateful service I can render to my country; and I doubt not that you, equally confident of success, will feel convinced that it is only by repeated triumphs in even combats that your little navy can now hope to console your country for the loss of that trade it can no longer protect. Favour me with a speedy reply. We are short of provisions and water, and cannot stay long here.

Lawrence brought Chesapeake out that very day (although, apparently not in response to the note), and followed Shannon out to a point where there was plenty of sea room for a battle. As they took their positions both ships passed up opportunities to fire upon their opponents without return fire, waiting until both were bringing their broadsides to bear.

After the first shot was fired, the battle lasted less than 15 minutes, but it was unusually bloody. Shannon raked Chesapeake‘s decks again and again with rapid and deadly accurate fire, quickly depopulating its quarterdeck. Lawrence was mortally wounded — his last command was “Don’t give up the ship!” But the British boarders, led by Broke, took the ship anyway, at great cost. Broke received a terrible head wound, which his surgeon believed he would not survive. Shannon‘s first lieutenant was killed, one of 228 men killed or wounded on the two ships, making it proportionally one of the bloodiest battles in the age of sail.

Lawrence died as his captured ship was being taken to Halifax, and the Royal Navy buried him there with full military honors.

Broke lived to receive a hero’s adulation, and would die in 1841 as a rear admiral. But his active-duty career was more or less at an end, as he never entirely recovered from the head wound.

To read about that time, Broke’s challenge (“We have both noble motives.”), the gallant and gentlemanly way in which the two captains brought their ships together, and the horrific murder they unhesitatingly unleashed upon one another in the name of honor and glory, is to read about a breed of men who seem alien today.

Anyway, I got to thinking about that this morning when I saw The Guardian raise the question, “Are unmanned military drones ethical in battle?

The use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or ‘drones’, is one of the most controversial elements of modern warfare. The technology allows for the delivery of bombs and bullets with no risk whatever to the attacker. But does the use of drones create new ethical problems? Guardian columnist Seumas Milne and Peter Lee, a military expert at Portsmouth University, discuss the moral and political questions raised by drones

The headline when I got to the actual video debate was a bit more overwrought than the one in the Tweet that had led me there, to wit: “Is the use of unmanned military drones ethical or criminal?” As I said, overwrought.

Today, among most military commanders, any tactic or technology that allows you to strike the enemy with minimal (or no) risk to your own people is a boon to be embraced. And it most certainly is not “criminal.”

But it occurs to me that 200 years ago, the fictional Jack Aubrey (whom Patrick O’Brian placed aboard the real-life Shannon for that epic battle off Boston) would have described slaughtering the enemy without risk to one’s own life as “not quite the thing.”

We’ve changed since then. The question is, have we changed for the better or not? That’s a legitimate subject for debate. As I said above, the idea of pronouncing drones “criminal” is absurd. But we still might legitimately ask whether this is the way we want to fight, in the present and the future.

A few days back, we had a discussion of whether we are evolving into better people, with some of my liberal readers taking the optimistic view. As Kathryn put it, “Right triumphs sooner or later, if one is of a progressive bent. One works to make it sooner.”

I expressed my doubts. I believe every individual, whether born into the 18th or 21st centuries, has an equal chance to do good or evil, and just as big a challenge determining which is which. We may do so in dramatically different cultural contexts, but we face the same struggles.

I think Broke’s fair-minded way of killing presented its own challenges, as does our ability to kill with drones. And neither he, nor we, necessarily hold the moral high ground. I’ll admit that, throwback that I am, I prefer his way. But gentlemanly slaughter can also appall.

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Another, more positive, view on 1st-person shooter games

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I’ve written in the past about Dave Grossman’s dim view of first-person shooter video games, and how they train young people to be quick, reflexive killers. Since Lt. Col. Grossman is the world’s leading authority on “killology” (a field he invented), I tend to take his view to heart — and feel guilty because I, you know, sometimes play “Call of Duty: World at War.”

So I’m slightly reassured to read this more positive account of the effects of such games, based on lab tests, in The New Yorker:

“This deviation from our regular life, the visceral situations we don’t normally have,” Nacke says, “make first-person shooters particularly compelling.” It’s not that we necessarily want to be violent in real life; rather, it’s that we have pent-up emotions and impulses that need to be vented. “If you look at it in terms of our evolution, most of us have office jobs. We’re in front of the computer all day. We don’t have to go out and fight a tiger or a bear to find our dinner. But it’s still hardwired in humans. Our brain craves this kind of interaction, our brain wants to be stimulated. We miss this adrenaline-generating decision-making.”…

Control, compounded by a first-person perspective, may be the key to the first-person shooter’s enduring appeal. A fundamental component of our happiness is a sense of control over our lives. It is, in fact, “a biological imperative for survival,” according to a recent review of animal, clinical, and neuroimaging evidence. The more in control we think we are, the better we feel; the more that control is taken away, the emotionally worse off we become. In extreme cases, a loss of control can lead to a condition known as learned helplessness, in which a person becomes helpless to influence his own environment. And our sense of agency, it turns out, is often related quite closely to our motor actions: Do our movements cause a desired change in the environment? If they do, we feel quite satisfied with ourselves and with our personal effectiveness. First-person shooters put our ability to control the environment, and our perception of our effectiveness, at the forefront of play….

The other way in which people combat the alienation that Twenge has identified is through increased social interaction. And gamers, over and over, claim that social interaction is one of their strongest motivations to play. That motivation even holds for the most dedicated gamers—those who are nearing the professional end of the spectrum. Far from isolating us in a virtual world of violence and gore, first-person shooters can create a sense of community and solidarity that some people may be unable to find in their day-to-day lives—and a sense of effectiveness and control that may, in turn, spill over into non-virtual life. In 2009, the psychologist Leonard Reinecke discovered that video games were a surprisingly effective way to combat stress, fatigue, and depression—this proved true for many of the same titles that critics once worried would be isolating, and would negative impact on individual well-being and on society as a whole. In other words, the success of Doom and the games that have followed in its footsteps haven’t sentenced us to a world of violence. On the contrary: for all of their virtual gore, they may, ironically, hold one possible road map for a happier, more fulfilling and more engaged way of life.

Personally, I think that’s a bit rosy. But I found it interesting, anyway. You should read the whole piece.

Pope Francis whups up on libertarian economics

Such Catholics as Paul Ryan, who twisted the Catholic social teaching concept of subsidiarity to fit his libertarian economic ideology (basically reversing the meaning from communitarian to libertarian), have to be pretty uncomfortable right about now.

Pope Francis has come down hard on “trickle-down” theories:

Pope Francis on Tuesday sharply criticized growing economic inequality and unfettered markets in a lengthy paper outlining a populist philosophy that he says will guide his papacy as he pushes the Catholic Church to reach out more, particularly to the disenfranchised.

Using sharply worded phrases, Francis decried an “idolatry of money” and warned it would lead to “a new tyranny.” And he invoked language with particular resonance in the United States, attacking an economic theory most affiliated with conservatives that discourages taxation and regulation.

“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world,” Francis wrote in the papal statement. “This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

“Meanwhile,” he added, “the excluded are still waiting.”…

Whoa. No fooling around there. And his deliberate use of “trickle-down” in English translations of his Apostolic Exhortation was aimed straight at those in the United States who would place their faith in markets alone.

Slate put it this way: “Pope Francis Strafes Libertarian Economics.”

Economist Branko Milanovic noted that “The Apostolic Exhortation mentions inequality 11 times, poverty 10 times, the poor 61 times, the rich 5 times.”