Category Archives: Words

Liberal friends, here’s an example of left-leaning irrationality

Some of my liberal friends here are constantly on my case for what they call my “false equivalence.” They believe they are not contributing to the careening, irrational polarization of our era — it’s the extremists on the other side who are entirely to blame.

Ross Douthat

Ross Douthat

Which, of course, isn’t true. Yep, the Republicans (or a lot of them) have been getting weirder and weirder in recent years, but  there are plenty of people on the left who are happy to keep pushing them away.

Conservative columnist Ross Douthat of The New York Times wrote a provocative column a day or two back. Basically the thrust of it was this: As objectionable as Stephen Miller is, maybe he needs to be at the table if a viable immigration compromise is to be reached. For years, we’ve tried fashioning a comprehensive solution without the nativists at the table, and nothing has passed. Maybe it’s time to try something else.

He concludes, “But a bargain that actually reflects the shape of public opinion, not just the elite consensus, can only happen with someone like Stephen Miller at the table.”

This sent a lot of people ’round the bend, causing Douthat to spend much of the next few hours answering critics on Twitter. Some engaged what he actually wrote. But here’s what Salon said:

In case that Tweet embed doesn’t show you what I’m seeing (a frequent problem I’ve noticed), the headline of the Salon piece is “To Ross Douthat, white immigration is the only good immigration,” and the subhed is “A New York Times columnist praises the whites-only rhetoric of Stephen Miller.”

I responded to that Tweet by saying, “That’s not what he wrote and it’s not what he meant. He was WRONG, but he didn’t commit the evil of which you accuse him…”

The closest Douthat comes to “praising” Miller is when, after nothing that about a third of Americans, like Miller “want immigration reduced,” he writes this:

And there are various reasonable grounds on which one might favor a reduction. The foreign-born share of the U.S. population is near a record high, and increased diversity and the distrust it sows have clearly put stresses on our politics. There are questions about how fast the recent wave of low-skilled immigrants is assimilating, evidence that constant new immigration makes it harder for earlier arrivals to advance, and reasons to think that a native working class gripped by social crisis might benefit from a little less wage competition for a while. California, the model for a high-immigration future, is prosperous and dynamic — but also increasingly stratified by race, with the same inequality-measuring Gini coefficient as Honduras….

But that is immediately followed by this:

With that said, illegal immigration has slowed over the last decade, and immigration’s potential economic and humanitarian benefits are still considerable. And it’s also clear that many immigration restrictionists are influenced by simple bigotry — with the president’s recent excrement-related remarks a noteworthy illustration.

This bigotry, from the point of view of many immigration advocates, justifies excluding real restrictionists from the negotiating table…

… which leads to Douthat’s point that doing so hasn’t worked; maybe actually negotiating with these people could.

I read that as damning Miller with something harsher than faint “praise.”

Overall, I consider Miller and what he wants to do beyond the pale, because of the ugly nativism that animates the anti-immigrant position (and yes, in this case we’re talking anti-immigrant, not just anti-illegal immigrant). What he wants to achieve shouldn’t be dignified with serious consideration.

But it doesn’t make you a racist or a fan of racism to suggest that he should be let into the conversation.

And saying, in no uncertain terms, that it does is itself an example of the kind of extremism that’s driven our country apart.

How many Nikki Haleys ARE there?

multiple nikki

Aaarrrggghhh!

I’m reacting to this:

Not everyone was a fan of the Grammy Awards segment where celebrities read passages of the controversial best seller “Fire and Fury.”

One person especially critical on Sunday night was a member of the Trump Administration and took to Twitter to voice their displeasure.

No, it wasn’t President Donald Trump.

It was his Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley. Shortly after the segment, which included an appearance by Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent in the 2016 presidential election, Haley shared her disdain with the segment on social media

Their?” To voice their displeasure?

Yeah, got it — you were trying to avoid a gender-specific pronoun to generate brief suspense as to who it was. But since you assumed that readers would assume it was Trump, you sort of called extra attention to the question of gender with that jarring “their.” You might as well have added parenthetically, “It’s not a he!”

You could just as easily have written, “One person especially critical on Sunday night was a member of the Trump Administration and took to Twitter to voice displeasure,” period. Or better yet, to fix another problem, “One person especially critical on Sunday night was a member of the Trump Administration who took to Twitter to voice displeasure.”

See how easy that was — and how much better than creating a universe in which there are multiple Nikki Haleys?

Latest Templeton releases have a déjà vu quality

Templeton 1

Apparently, Catherine Templeton has changed her name.

It’s now “Conservative Outsider Catherine Templeton.” I know this because headlines on releases from her campaign start out that way. (Or at least, two in row did. One more, and we’ll call it a trend and send it to Lifestyles.)

Which is weird. I mean, once you say all that mouthful, you’re about out of room for a normal headline, and you still haven’t gotten to a verb.

Consequently, when I see a release from her, I think I’m seeing the same one — but no, eventually I get to a word that’s different. It just takes patience.

Actually, I just looked again and realized the part that doesn’t vary a whit is longer than I initially thought. With these two examples, the release starts “Conservative Outsider Catherine Templeton Issues Statement” before it gets to a single word that varies.

This is an odd communication style. Usually, writers of releases seek to engage your attention way sooner. But the campaign seems to have decided that positioning her as “Conservative Outsider” is more important than actually saying something — more important even than her name.

Maybe going forward, they could abbreviate it to something like “ConOut Templeton…,” in the interest of moving things along and getting to the point.

 

Templeton 3

Jim Clyburn just called me an extremist (which says a lot about Washington)

Bud, get ready to duck, because this has to do with abortion, at least tangentially. In fact, I’ve got another couple of post ideas that do the same. You might want to sit these out, since it bugs you when the topic comes up.

Anyway, yesterday James Clyburn sent me this personal note, with my name on it and everything — so I’m taking it personally (a little, anyway):

Brad –

45 years ago, the Supreme Court handed down one of their most powerful decisions in Roe v Wade, codifying a woman’s right to access a legal abortion in the United States.

You’d think that would have settled the matter — but extremists have been trying to strip women of this basic reproductive right ever since….

So basically, since I’m opposed to this absolute right that allows highly interested individuals to make decisions about whether other individuals live or die unilaterally, without due process, much less appeal, I’m an extremist. Instead of, you know, a believer in the rule of law who wants the unborn to have the same shot at survival that a murderer gets. (And yeah, I’m opposed to capital punishment, too. That’s part of what “pro-life” means.)James Clyburn

But never mind me, and never mind abortion. This is not about me. It’s not even about Jim Clyburn. It’s about the fact that this is the way people in both parties in Washington speak about people who disagree with them.

Lord knows the Republicans do it. And this is one of the ways that Democrats do it. They appeal to their hyperpartisan bases by using language that delegitimizes people who disagree.

I try not to do this (I may fail, but I try). You know why? Because I have lots of friends — earnest, thoughtful people — who disagree with me on this issue. For the most part, I avoid talking with them about this. But when we do discuss it, I try to be respectful.

And you know what? I’ll bet that in a one-on-one conversation with a constituent, Jim Clyburn would try to do the same.

But not in press releases and other political speech. You know why? Because these days, Democrats and Republicans only speak to their own sides. And those other people are personae non gratae, and not worthy of consideration…

 

William Butler Yeats: ‘The Leaders of the Crowd’

by George Charles Beresford, sepia-toned platinotype, 15 July 1911As you know, there’s probably no poem I like to cite more, as political commentary, than W.B. Yeats’ “The Second Coming.”

I’m hardly alone in that; the piece is irresistible. Few statements better describe the basic problem of our politics over the last quarter-century than “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…”

Even better is this description of something I’ve noted and lamented in many contexts, regarding many issues:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Time and again, I’ve noticed that the people who want to rend and tear and destroy, the people with the very worst ideas, are indefatigable, while sensible people — being sensible people — are too seldom willing to resist as strenuously and as long as they ought.

Recently, I ran across another Yeats poem that I don’t recall having read before. If anything, its political commentary seems more focused on our particular moment, from the perspective of 1921. It’s called “The Leaders of the Crowd.” Here it is:

THEY must to keep their certainty accuse
All that are different of a base intent;
Pull down established honour; hawk for news
Whatever their loose fantasy invent
And murmur it with bated breath, as though
The abounding gutter had been Helicon
Or calumny a song. How can they know
Truth flourishes where the student’s lamp has shone,
And there alone, that have no Solitude?
So the crowd come they care not what may come.
They have loud music, hope every day renewed
And heartier loves; that lamp is from the tomb.

It’s all there: the rejection of fact and wisdom, the inventions of loose fancy, the pulling down of established honour, the calumny aimed at those who are different.

We’ve seen a rough beast go slouching toward Washington, and we’ve seen him arrive.

Anyway, the death of Dolores O’Riordan this week put me in mind of Yeats, so here’s something to listen to…

Graham should be more specific about what he heard

You were there, Senator. So what did the president say, and how did he say it?

You were there, Senator. So what did the president say, and how did he say it?

Since some Republicans, after a day or two of thinking about it, started claiming Trump didn’t really say “s___hole” (hilariously, one of the lines of defense has been to claim he really said “s___house“) it’s refreshing that Lindsey Graham has stuck to his original version of the story, as Andy Shain reports:

Trouble is, his original story remains vague and indirect. He seems to want to have his cake and eat it, too — to call the president out for his racist assertions without quite, you know, calling him out.

We know from colleague Tim Scott that Graham told him the media reports of what Trump said were “basically correct.”

And Graham has made sure that we know that he gave Trump a piece of his mind in response to, you know, whatever he said:

When Trump made the incendiary remark, Graham spoke up, telling the president that “America is an idea, not a race.”

“I tried to make it very clear to the president that when you say ‘I’m an American,’ what does that mean?” Graham said. “It doesn’t mean that they’re black or white, rich or poor. It means that you buy into an ideal of self-representation, compassion, tolerance, the ability to practice one’s religion without interference and the acceptance of those who are different.

“So at the end of the day, an American is a person who believes in ideals that have stood the test of time,” Graham added. “It’s not where you come from that matters, it’s what you’re willing to do once you get here.”…

Agreed, senator. But since people are standing up and saying Trump didn’t say what he said, it would be helpful if you’d be the truthteller and give us a precise account of what you heard.

As the late Howard Baker might have said, What did the president say, and how did he say it?

Yes, Trump violated this blog’s standards today

Yesterday, Trump welcomed the prime minister of Norway which, as he explained today, is NOT a "s__thole country." I'll bet she's relieved to know that.

Yesterday, Trump welcomed the prime minister of Norway which, as he explained today, is NOT a “s__thole country.” I’ll bet she’s relieved to know that.

I’ve been so busy today doing actual work, I didn’t know what Bryan was talking about when he texted, “Would the president’s comment today violate your blog’s civility standard? Assume he was posting under his own name.”

So I went and looked, and the answer is “yes,” of course it would. It also poses a problem to newspapers across the country that normally don’t allow such language to foul their pages. The Gray Lady, The New York Times, refused to use it in a headline. The breaking bulletin on their site said ” Using vulgar language, President Trump said the U.S. should welcome immigrants from Norway, not places like Haiti or Africa.” And the headline after you get to the story said “Trump Alarms Lawmakers With Disparaging Words for Haiti and Africa.”

But the president of the United States said it, and it’s a newspaper’s job to report, so they held their noses and quoted him directly in the body of the story:

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Wednesday balked at an immigration deal that would include protections for people from Haiti and African countries, demanding to know at a White House meeting why he should accept immigrants from “shithole countries” rather than people from places like Norway, according to people with direct knowledge of the conversation.

Mr. Trump’s remarks left members of Congress attending the meeting in the Cabinet Room alarmed and mystified. They were there discussing an emerging bipartisan deal to give legal status to immigrants illegally brought to the United States as children, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity without authorization to discuss the explosive proceedings of the private meeting.

When Mr. Trump heard that Haitians were among those who would benefit, he asked if they could be left out of the plan, according to the people familiar with the conversation, asking, “Why do we want people from Haiti here?”…

So I just violated my own policy, which is not to allow words that are unsuitable in a family newspaper. I didn’t like doing it. But then, I don’t like having this crude ignoramus as president of the United States, and stuff like this is one of the reasons why.

Being less prim, The Washington Post went ahead and used the word in their headline, since the word itself was half the story. That’s defensible, perhaps even laudable in these crass times in which we live.

The Guardian used it in the headline, but the Brits are less puritanical about words than we are.

The State used it in the headline, but good luck finding the story on the website — it’s not on the home page. (The Post and The Guardian are both leading with the story.)

Oh, the words I’ve wasted!

Hannah presents her young son Samuel to the priest Eli. By Gerbrand van den Eeckhout

Hannah presents her young son Samuel to the priest Eli. By Gerbrand van den Eeckhout

Today’s first reading on the Catholic liturgical calendar is from 1 Samuel, chapter 3. It gets me every time I read this part at the end:

Samuel grew up, and the LORD was with him,
not permitting any word of his to be without effect.
Thus all Israel from Dan to Beersheba
came to know that Samuel was an accredited prophet of the LORD.

Imagine that. If I were offered a super power, I might choose that one — that no word of mine would be without effect. Good effect, worthwhile effect. Effect that is pleasing to God.

But as it happens, I’ve wasted thousands upon thousands. And although one gets to utter many, many words in a lifetime on this Earth, the supply is not infinite.

I hang my head at the thought of all those wasted ones…

Typo of the day, courtesy of S.C. Democrats

This release came in a few minutes ago. I refer, of course, to the headline:

For Immediate Release
January 9th, 2018
SC HOUSE REPUBLICANS SET TO SUSTAIN VETO ON SCHOOL BUSS FUNDING
“There is nothing more important than our children’s health and education, but the Governor and Speaker are choosing to play politics with their safety instead of working with Democrats.” – SCDP Chairman Trav Robertson
Columbia, SC — At 2 PM this afternoon, South Carolina Speaker Jay Lucas will bring up a vote to override Governor Henry McMaster’s Veto 15 from the budget regarding school bus funding – money that is desperately needed to reinforce our aging fleet across the state – even though he does not have enough Republican votes to override the veto and he knows it:
“The Speaker is rushing to get it off of his plate because he doesn’t like the optics of having Republicans willfully endanger our children,” said South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson. “The truth is that the Speaker is putting South Carolina’s children in danger because Republicans refuse to work with Democrats to get them out of this terrible situation the Governor has put us in. Both Speaker Lucas and Governor McMaster would rather have our children suffer than work with Democrats. The people of South Carolina have to live with the consequences of this series of political stunts by the Republicans.”
###

Yep, we gotta do something about all that smoochin’ going on in our public schools…

Go see ‘Darkest Hour’ before it’s gone!

p05ndb9k

We finally got in to see “Darkest Hour” at the Nickelodeon over the weekend — the first time we went it was sold out and we were turned away — and it was everything I’d hoped it would be.

It’s only running there three more days after today, so run see it before it’s gone. (I don’t know how long it will be at the mass-market theaters where it’s showing). And get your tickets online in advance — that’s what we did, and the place was packed for the 2 p.m. Saturday showing. I didn’t see a single empty seat. And the audience was apparently riveted. I was hungry, not having had lunch, but I told myself I wasn’t going to go for popcorn and a beer until I saw someone else do it. Nobody did — except a guy who was on the end of a row, and I was in the middle.

But that’s OK, the movie was great. Gary Oldman, as usual, was fantastic, and the makeup artists even more so. He really, really looked and sounded like Winston.

For someone like me who has always been very rah-rah-for-our-side regarding that conflict, it was very enjoyable because one is encouraged to cheer. I especially like the last line, uttered by Lord Halifax after Churchill has completely routed him and Chamberlain in the House of Commons. Doug probably won’t like that line — or the film itself — as much, since he dismisses Trump’s flaws as “just words.” The director has said, “It’s a movie about words and the power of words to change the world and change the course of history.”

Anyway, run see it and let me know what you think.

There is something truly unAmerican in the way Pence prostrated himself before Trump

I’d been hearing about the way the veep prostrated himself before Trump in the Cabinet meeting Wednesday, lavishing treacly praise upon him, slathering it shamelessly.

I just watched it, and I’m sorry I did. It’s bad enough having this man who demeans our country every moment that he holds the presidency. It’s even more depressing to see the man who would replace him, if we could rid ourselves of him, abase himself in such a orgy of sycophancy.

He lowers himself so, I hear overtones of something that doesn’t belong in America, or anywhere else in the West. I hear an Eastern potentate being addressed as the “Flower of Courtesy, Nutmeg of Consolation, Rose of Delight,” by a 19th-century supplicant begging forgiveness for imposing his miserable self upon the time of such a glorious personage.

Not to cast aspersions on other cultures or anything, but we just don’t talk to anyone this way in this country. At least, not before now.

The fact that we can’t see Pence’s face offers me a sliver of hope: Perhaps his eyes are blinking Morse Code: “T-O-R-T-U-R-E”…

toady

And Nikki had been doing so WELL lately…

DRcRO0YVQAAWQxB

First, Nikki Haley was doing pretty well as a backbench S.C. House member, to the extent that we endorsed her twice. She had a lot to learn, but she seemed fairly bright and we felt her intentions were good.

Then, she ran for governor, for which she was shockingly unprepared. All I could say at the time was, “Don’t do it, Nikki!” But she did it. And for much of the past four years, she demonstrated how unprepared she was.

But toward the end, she showed some signs of growing in office. I wasn’t the only one who noticed. One of her own political appointees put it to me in just those words. I didn’t report that at the time because the next thing he said was, “And if you write that I’ll come to your house and kill you.” It didn’t seem worth it.

Then she got re-elected, and then in 2015 she did probably the finest thing she will do in her life, and I praised her to the skies and urged others to do so. Finally, I thought, she is a governor.

And then, owing Henry McMaster a major favor, you-know-who named her U.S. ambassador to the U.N. This was shocking, of course, because she had no known experience or understanding of geopolitics, either in a real-world or academic sense. So I braced myself.

But she has done surprisingly well. Not perfectly well, but amazingly so for someone entirely lacking in credentials.

I attribute this to one of her most remarkable innate attributes: She makes a good impression. Not just a good first impression, or a good second one — the effect continues through the 10th, the 20th and so on. Sometime after that, you might have creeping doubts, if you’re inclined that way. But it takes awhile.

And a talent like that can go a long, long way in diplomatic circles. Consequently, people started talking of her as a replacement for Rex Tillerson, who has no discernible diplomatic talents, and has been dismantling the State Department. She even gets mentioned as a possible future successor to you-know-who, but let’s not get into that.

The point is, she’s been doing well.

But sometimes old habits rise up, as in this Tweet:

Hey, at least she didn’t say that other thing people say they’re going to do in tandem with taking names.

You know what that reminds me of? When she presumed to “grade” legislators according to whether they had done her bidding. This was in 2011, long before she started showing signs of growing into the office of governor.

And this is disappointing. Here’s hoping Diplomatic Nikki makes a return, and soon…

Meanwhile, the bluster didn’t work:

United Nations Rebukes U.S. Over Jerusalem in 128-to-9 Vote

How fast can she write? That’s a lot of names to take in a short period of time…

I just realized I have a mental block on ONE word…

words

About a month or so ago, my wife was riding with me in my pickup truck, and for whatever reason started writing down words that can be derived from “petroleum.” When we got to where we were going, she clipped the pen to the folded sheet of paper she’d been writing on, and left them on the floor of the truck, right behind the manual gearshift.

Periodically, as I’ve gotten into or out of the car, I’ve glanced down at the paper, and thought of another word, and taken a second to add it to the list. The column on the right-hand side are my additions.

I hadn’t added any new ones for a couple of weeks, and then yesterday, it suddenly hit me: I was missing a biggie — a nice, fat, five-letter word that for some time has been more on our minds than a sane person would want it to be.

I guess I’ve just had a sort of mental block, an urge to will that word away.

Can you see what it is?

Duke Twitter flap: But was it ‘racial’?

blur

I’m musing over terminology after reading about the sportswriter who got himself into hot water at a Duke roundball game on Dec. 2.

Here’s what happened, as I understand it:

  • College Insider reporter John Stansberry made some cracks on Twitter about some students who were right behind him at the game.
  • One of the students took offense, I’m assuming because of his reference to her and her friends as “Asian chicks.” But the student’s explanation of her anger on Facebook wasn’t specific. It may have been the Cheap Trick thing.
  • Duke revoked his credentials for the rest of the season.
  • He became an Unperson. His Twitter account is gone, and apparently College Insider (or someone) has erased traces of his existence. (I base this on the fact that, if I Google “John Stansberry College Insider,” I get a bunch of links that say, “CollegeInsider.com: John Stansberry’s College Basketball Notebook.” But I get a “Not Found” error if I click on them. Down the memory hole, I guess. Like Garrison Keillor.)

All of which seems fairly straightforward in a day when we’re used to people being more or less disappeared for stepping over lines.

But I’m confused by news stories that refer to the incident as “racial” or “racist.”

“Racial” maybe, in the sense that a reference to race was made. But that doesn’t seem to be a primary concern of the young woman who complained. She made a passing reference to herself as a member of the set “Asian women,” but didn’t indicate that that was what bothered her about what the wiseguy did. She seemed mostly bothered about being discussed before the world when all she was doing was watching a basketball game.

But “racist?” I ask because the college paper mentioned this among several instances in a story headlined “‘We were just kind of shocked’: Asian American students report racist comments in recent weeks.”

Yeah, the “Cheap Trick” seems to be kind of snide, presumably a reference to this. But racist? And if this guy is actually part Asian, as the reference to “my Korean mother” would indicate, can it be racist? I don’t know.

I don’t know. The whole thing kind of hovers on the edge of a number of hot-button issues that are in vogue — privacy in a social media age, safe spaces in academia, sexism, racism(?), and so forth — that I thought I’d offer it for discussion.

I do know one thing: If he’d been doing his phony-baloney job and paying attention to the game, we wouldn’t have all of this. But that’s the editor in me….

And I didn’t mean to go on about it this long. But whenever I can come up with anything even vaguely sports-related for you, my dear readers, I try to oblige…

CheapTrick_Live_atBudokan

OK, you’ve hit your limit: No more ‘having a field day…’

Some folks having an actual field day about a century ago.

Some folks having an actual field day about a century ago.

You ever suddenly hit a wall in terms of your ability to tolerate trite, overused expressions?

I do.

For instance, this morning that moment arrived for “have a field day.”

A woman on NPR was talking about all the complex junk thrown into the Republicans’ tax bill at the last minute. She started to say that in the coming months, tax lawyers would… and suddenly, driving the old Volvo over the Jarvis Klapman bridge, I’m thinking Don’t say “have a field;” please, just spare me… and she completed the sentence with “have a field day,” as everyone listening knew she would. Once a sentence such as that one has gathered speed, there’s no avoiding the inevitable.

Perhaps you’re not tired of it. Perhaps I’ve reached my threshold because of the way it’s overused in reference to journalists, as in “The press will have a field day.” (Which it tiresome, but not as tiresome as non-journalists saying something is “splashed all over the front page” when it simply appears, quite soberly and modestly, on the page in question.)

But think about it: How much sense does this expression make to begin with? A “field day” is:

a : a day for military exercises or maneuvers
b : an outdoor meeting or social gathering
c : a day of sports and athletic competition

And usually, it means the last of the three.

What does that have to do with what tax lawyers will be doing with this mess of a bill? Nothing, really.

So it was kind of a stupid expression the first time it was used to mean “to gain advantage or success from a situation, esp. one that is bad for someone else.” (Which doesn’t, let’s face it, really quite describe what people are doing when they “have a field day.” They mean something more like “have themselves a time with it,” or “go hog-wild with it,” or some other hoary expression that doesn’t irritate me quite as much — yet.)

And at this point, it is far beyond useful. So let’s have no more of this nonsense…

Another popular field-day activity.

Another popular field-day activity.

Nice try at seeming balanced, senator — but you failed

Back in the late ’80s, when The State had money for such things, my duties as governmental affairs editor included supervising the South Carolina Poll (at least, I think that’s what we called it — it’s been a long time).

Cindi Scoppe was the reporter I had working on it, because she had studied polling at UNC-Chapel Hill and was keenly interested in the process. She also had the kind of incisive mind, even as a very young reporter, that meant for a very critical eye when we were drafting the questions (which is why I later brought her up to editorial).

She and I and Emerson Smith, who used to bridle when I called him our “pollster” in print (political polling was more of a sideline for him, but he proved to be very good at it), would work hard at making sure that every question was as neutral as possible, and would give us the cleanest possible read on what the public really thought. This, of course, is how journalists spend a great deal of their time and energy — even though Trump supporters and that O’Keefe idiot think journalists do the precise opposite, bending the news to their supposed biases. (They think this because they know zero, zip, nada about journalists and what motivates them. And because they have the kinds of brains that assume if someone isn’t reinforcing their biases, that someone is biased. Especially now that there are plenty of information sources that will humor them.)

I think we did a pretty good job. I can’t confirm that with evidence on the issue questions, but Emerson’s polls were remarkably accurate on the kinds of things that can be confirmed — such as predicting election results.

Anyway, stepping outside of what you think in order to pose a neutral question takes practice, I guess, and politicians don’t get much of that kind of practice.

So it was that when Lindsey Graham tried to poll his constituents about the tax plan he and his GOP colleagues are determined to rush through Congress before anyone has a chance to stop them, I think he really tried to at least look like he was posing the question fairly.

But he fell short. Way short.

Here’s what he sent out:

unnamed (4)

TAX REFORM IN THE SENATE

Dear Friend,

The United States Senate will begin debating tax reform tonight and I want to hear from you on this important issue facing our nation.

Supporters of Tax Reform:
President Trump supports tax reform and has pushed the Senate to pass this important piece of his agenda for America.  In fact, he came to the Senate yesterday to push Senators to support this plan.  His pitch was simple – hard working Americans should be allowed to keep more of what they earn.  According to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, in South Carolina the average family would be allowed to keep $2,391 more in their pocket.  The legislation also will benefit business by creating more than 13,000 jobs in our state.

Opponents of Tax Reform:
Opponents of tax reform have said they believe it is unnecessary and the Senate should defeat it when it comes up for a vote.  They have expressed concerns that tax reform could benefit the wealthy at the expense of the middle and lower income Americans.  They have not offered an alternative proposal and feel our current tax system is working as intended.

Regardless of whether you support or oppose tax reform, hearing from you allows me to better represent your interests in the United States Senate.

Make Your Voice Heard:

Click here to share your thoughts

I appreciate you taking this opportunity to make your voice heard before this important vote.

Sincerely,

Lindsey O. Graham
United States Senator

It looks nice, and sounds nice if you read it aloud in a calm voice and don’t engage in critical thinking. Of course, I’m talking about where he tries to make the case against the legislation.

But come on. What would be the first thing you would want to mention as an argument against it, assuming you were a fair-minded person. What’s the thing that even a person who thought this package of cuts was wonderful might have qualms about?

Why, the deficit of course. That’s why Bob Corker has demanded, as the price of his support, a trigger that will automatically raise taxes if this “reform” increases the deficit the way it certainly will.

But there’s no mention of that. So right away, this attempt at “fairness” fails. Then, of course, it gets worse: “They have not offered an alternative proposal and feel our current tax system is working as intended.” To which the average recipient on his mailing list responds, They haven’t even offered an alternative (you know, like Republicans on health care)? Then screw ’em! And in what universe is there an idiot big enough to believe “our current tax system is working”?

Of course, I’m only analyzing the way he presents the “con” side.

His representation of the “pro” side is shilling of a shameful order. If I were to parody an attempt to condescend to the prejudices of the kind of people who voted for Trump (something the senator is doing a lot these days), I would probably think I’d gone overboard if I wrote something this embarrassing: “President Trump supports tax reform…” “this important piece”… “hard working Americans should be allowed to keep more of what they earn”… “in South Carolina the average family would be allowed to keep $2,391 more in their pocket” (translation: We will pay you $2,391 to support this bill!)…  creating more than 13,000 jobs in our state.”

Gimme a break.

No, wait! I take that back — you might take that as “Yes, I want my tax break!” But I don’t, because I haven’t heard anything about this bill that persuades me it’s a good idea. And this laughably transparent bid for my support didn’t help your case…

And this one doesn’t even bother MENTIONING his state

You want to see a more extreme version of what I showed you yesterday, this one from the left rather than the right?

Check this out, and see if you can tell what makes it a more extreme example of what I’m on about:

Dwight Evans for Congress

Brad —

Since Trump’s first day in office, his attacks on women have been relentless. His administration and the GOP have now:

  1. Rolled back Title IX regulations.
  2. Denied access to birth control.
  3. Attempted to criminalize abortion.
  4. Tried to deny healthcare for women and children.

If this isn’t a war on women, I don’t know what is — but it won’t go unchallenged.

For decades, Congressman Evans has been on the front lines fighting for women’s rights and our freedom to make our own choices. But recently, the Trump administration stripped away birth control from millions of women — and Dwight needs our help now more than ever to fight back.

When it comes to a woman’s personal and reproductive health, it shouldn’t be up to politicians, bosses or anyone else. If you agree, sign the petition to demand the Trump administration keep their hands off our birth control today.

Women rely on birth control for countless reasons like endometriosis, controlling (often painful) hormonal conditions, and family planning. This ill-conceived decision to roll back the Affordable Care Act’s mandate will not only make contraception unaffordable for 55 million women across the nation, it takes away a woman’s right to plan for her future.

During October, the month that women are reminded to take special care of our health, the Trump administration managed to find yet another way to sabotage us. It’s completely unacceptable, we will fight this at every turn.

Will you stand with me, Dwight, and women across the country and demand the Trump administration keep their hands off birth control? Sign the petition now.

Thank you for standing up,

Mary Kate

Mary Kate Clement
Finance Director
Dwight Evans for Congress

That’s right. The entire release didn’t bother even to mention the state or district he seeks to represent — or in his case, to continue to represent. It’s Pennsylvania’s 2nd Congressional District, FYI, located in Philadelphia.

(Oh, and in case anyone’s having trouble digging my point — no, I’m not saying he is more extreme, in terms of political views, than that woman yesterday. That would be pretty tough, since she’s all about being as extreme as she can be. No, my point, which should be perfectly obvious, is that he takes the all-politics-is-national madness a step further than she did. She, at least, mentioned Tennessee. In passing. Once…)

His website touts his interest in “a stronger Philadelphia, block by block,” which certainly sounds like he’s embracing Tip O’Neill’s dictum about politics being local. But in reaching out to the rest of the country for money — that is, to a subset of a subset of the rest of the country, carefully whittled and shaped by an algorithm — he demonstrates no interest at all in Philadelphia.

On the website, he wants to talk about “a plan or America’s cities,” “creating good jobs” and “investing in public schools.” Not a word in those main headings about the single issue that he’s reaching out on in this fund-raiser.

And of course, the people he’s trying to reach with this email don’t care a fig (at least, in his estimation of them) about any of those issues. That’s the thing that sort of blow me away about the email. It seems to suppose that Donald Trump was just fine until he weighed in on the part of the ACA that forces employers to offer birth-control coverage.

Never mind the way the guy has disgraced the office of president since Day One. Never mind his taunting North Korea, or withdrawing from the TPP, or pulling the U.S. out of the Paris accord, or his grossly irresponsible and indiscriminate attempts to destroy the ENTIRE Affordable Care Act, as opposed to this one small part of it.

But that, presumably, is all his recipients care about. He is, without apparent shame, trying to exploit the lack of perspective of single-issue voters.

Which makes me wonder, as I wondered with that Marsha Blackburn email, how did I get on this list? If he thinks that’s what I care about, and all I care about, he don’t know me very well, do he?

I say that for a number of reasons, not the least of them being: I couldn’t care less who represents the 2nd Congressional District in Pennsylvania, and wouldn’t lift a finger — much less write a check — to affect the outcome.

Why? Because it’s none of my business. I live in South Carolina.

Dwight Evans

‘The Vietnam War,’ Episode 4: ‘Resolve’

I’m a day behind here, but I want to have a post about each episode, so I’m posting this a day late, after I’ve already seen Episode 5. But here goes…

First, if there was an episode, of all those thus far, that was going to turn me into the Vietnam war protester that Bud would like me to be, it was this one. From start to finish, practically every point made, every interview, every video clip, added up to a powerful message that whether we should have been in Vietnam or not, what we were doing was not working. The Johnson administration was fooling itself as well as the American people, and each escalation added to the sense of desperation that the episode conveyed. These points were made again and again, eloquently.

A person watching that episode would naturally wonder, why did we continue to fight? Why didn’t the American people demand that we withdraw immediately? And my answer, as I expressed earlier in a comment, is that the concentrated way that these arguments are presented in the episode was NOT the way life was experienced at the time. First, if you were a stateside civilian, little of your average day was spent thinking about the war. And when it was, the antiwar message was a much smaller chunk of what we were taking in about the war — and no, that was NOT because the POTUS was a big, fat liar.

Most of the journalism we saw was NOT by David Halberstam or Morley Safer. We did not have the experience that this series affords of hearing at length from young men who went over enthusiastic about the mission and became disillusioned. (So far, every single young man we learn of in

I was just a kid at the time, which makes me unreliable, but I have no memory at all of the Fulbright hearings, much less of the calm, articulate, intellectual arguments of George F. Kennan and other witnesses arguing against our involvement.

In fact, if you were alive at the time, most of what you saw of the growing antiwar movement was people chanting such things as “Hey, hey, LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?” I know that such “arguments” are persuasive to many people, but they turn me right off. Such approaches aim to engage the emotion and shut down rational faculties, and I’ve always held them in contempt.

Anyway, I was impressed by what Kennan had to say, because of who he was — or who the series told me he was. My ears perked up immediately when I heard that he was sort of the father of Cold War strategy of containment. I had heard his name, and I was familiar with the strategy, and I was eager to hear more.

As y’all know, I have frequently written here about Vietnam as an application of that policy of containment. So hearing that Kennan said Vietnam was a wrong-headed misapplication of the strategy really made an impression on me.

Bud thinks I should “just admit the hippies and draft dodgers were right,” which ain’t gonna happen. Nor is Muhammad Ali or Dr. Spock going to knock me over. Nor John Kerry. In fact, definitely not John Kerry. But if a guy like Kennan says something, I’m thinking as I watch this, I’m paying attention.

The next morning, seeking to know more, I googled Kennan. Wikipedia’s not the same as reading a serious book about him, and I stand ready to be corrected by someone with deeper knowledge, but it’s what I had time for so far. And I read this:

Soon after his concepts had become U.S. policy, Kennan began to criticize the foreign policies that he had seemingly helped begin. Subsequently, prior to the end of 1948, Kennan became confident that positive dialogue could commence with the Soviet government. His proposals were discounted by the Truman administration and Kennan’s influence was marginalized, particularly after Dean Acheson was appointed Secretary of State in 1949. Soon thereafter, U.S. Cold War strategy assumed a more assertive and militaristic quality, causing Kennan to lament about what he believed was an abrogation of his previous assessments….

In other words, Kennan wasn’t exactly what the series suggested. He had disowned the way the U.S. government applied his containment idea to the entire Cold War, starting LONG before we got involved in Vietnam.

Which puts his testimony in a very different light from what I heard Wednesday night. It’s not like he was a guy wedded to the overall strategy who had a specific problem with Vietnam; he was a guy who disowned the whole policy.

The way it was presented on the show was that here was Mr. Containment himself, and he was against our involvement in Vietnam. But apparently, that description was off.

Maybe that was acknowledged at some point when I got up to get a glass of water or something. But if it wasn’t, the omission bothers me. It’s one of the few flaws I’ve spotted in the series thus far, though, which testifies to the excellence we’ve come to associate with Burns and Novak.

One other small thing that speaks to something huge…

The episode told of how in the last year of his life, Martin Luther King struggled with whether he should take a stand against the war. And as we know, he eventually decided to do so.

I deeply respect his prayerful process of discernment, and was as always impressed by the rolling power of his eloquence in the speech the program showed a clip from.

But something jumped out at me. Like so many other opponents of our involvement, he called upon our leaders to “end the war.”

Well, y’all know how I tend to react to that phrase. It is spoken by so many good, decent, kind, caring people who just want all the bloodshed to stop. It was spoken during that war, and later with regard to Iraq, and to this day about Afghanistan.

But it was not in our power to “end the war.” It was only in our power to get out of the way and let it proceed without us. This is not some small linguistic quibble. The difference between ending a war and pulling out to let the other combatants fight it out is a big as between night and day.

As we would see in 1975…

Kennan

John Ashbery: He was a poet, and I didn’t know it

Ashbery

The other day, I showed a screenshot from my NYT app in which everything visible on the page was about Hurricane Harvey. Well, that’s not the only thing the paper covers thoroughly.

A couple of days back, poet John Ashbery died, and the Times went pretty big with it — as you see, four separate headlines.

And this made me feel dumb, and out of it.

It got me to thinking: Aside from that anthology of Yeats (which I’ve had since college) that sits on a shelf in our upstairs bathroom, which I may glance at once or twice a year, when do I ever read poetry any more at all? (And let’s be really honest here: When I do pick up the Yeats book, I don’t read anything new — I turn either to “The Second Coming” or “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death.”)

Can I even name a living poet? I mean, I sort of think of Elvis Costello as a poet, and some people might cite rappers, but here I’m using a more restrictive definition: Can I name any living people who just write verse without being known for anything else, full-time poets like Yeats and Keats and Coleridge and e.e. cummings, or, I don’t know, Edwin Arlington Robinson (who I had to look up to add to the list, even though I do remember one of his poems)?

No, I cannot. As much as I was immersed in such in school, it’s like poetry was a thing that ceased to exist after graduation, as much a thing of the past as knights in armor. And I’m a guy who’s always made his living with words! If there’s a latter-day belle dame sans merci, or a goat-footed balloon man still out there whistling far and wee, I am unaware of it.

Apparently, this John Ashbery was a major deal. He won every poetry prize there was, and lived to be 90 without my being aware of him.

Were any of y’all as ignorant as I?

Here’s one of his poems:

This Room

The room I entered was a dream of this room.
Surely all those feet on the sofa were mine.
The oval portrait
of a dog was me at an early age.
Something shimmers, something is hushed up.
We had macaroni for lunch every day
except Sunday, when a small quail was induced
to be served to us. Why do I tell you these things?
You are not even here.

So now you can say you read some poetry today. How often can you say that?

Then arose up a new king who knew not Joseph….

So who's this Joseph when he's at home?

‘So who’s this Joseph when he’s at home?’

Remember the other day when I quoted, twice (once in a comment, later in a post) the opening of an article from Foreign Affairs? It started out explaining the postwar collective security consensus (which, sadly, has to be explained to people these days), and ended with this transition:

Then arose up a new king who knew not Joseph….

… which I thought was an awesome line, because that’s exactly where we are, isn’t it? We have a king who knows not anything. Not history, not policy, not diplomacy, not the basics of governing, not the Constitution, not the rule of law. One who is surprised to learn of Frederick Douglass. A man who, for all I know, may not even know enough about Scripture to get the Joseph reference.

Anyway…

Yesterday, I happened to attend Mass at a local Episcopal Church — one that I visit from time to time. I always enjoy the services there for several reasons. One is that I can hear what’s going on. Whether the homily is in Spanish or English, the acoustics make it hard for me to follow the homily at my church, St. Peter’s. (It was hard before I lost hearing in one ear to Ménière’s; it’s next to impossible now.)

I also really like that they use the old liturgy — or what I think of as the old liturgy, which was really post-Vatican II liturgy, but I became Catholic long after Vatican II. Anyway, the Episcopalians are still using the one I like, in which we say “and also with you,” instead of “and with your spirit,” and in which the Creed starts with “We believe” instead of “I believe.”

So that’s nice. But that’s not why I’m writing about this. I’m writing about this because the first reading at this service was the one that starts like this:

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites….

Yeah, that line again.

Which was quite a coincidence, I thought.

But I didn’t realize how much of a coincidence it was until this morning.

I was thinking about it, and decided to go back and read it, so I went to the U.S. Conference Conference of Catholic Bishops site to check out yesterday’s first reading.

But it was a different reading. It was this one, from Isaiah.

Huh. So, if I had not just happened to attend a church other than my own, I would not have heard that reading, and would not have been struck by the coincidence.

How about that?

It appears that God wants me to pay more attention to that line.

So I’m pondering it this morning…

Or… did He want me to have occasion to go back and read the Catholic reading, which I otherwise would have missed? It, too, seems freighted with timely meaning:

Thus says the LORD to Shebna, master of the palace:
“I will thrust you from your office
and pull you down from your station.
On that day I will summon my servant
Eliakim, son of Hilkiah;
I will clothe him with your robe,
and gird him with your sash,
and give over to him your authority.
He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem,
and to the house of Judah.
I will place the key of the House of David on Eliakim’s shoulder;
when he opens, no one shall shut
when he shuts, no one shall open.
I will fix him like a peg in a sure spot,
to be a place of honor for his family.”

So… did Shebna not know Joseph, either?

Apparently, I should read further, and reflect…