Category Archives: Words

If nothing else, a professor should be able to WRITE better than that

Self-described Duke professor Jerry Hough has stepped into deep don’t-don’t with his comments on a New York Times editorial headlined “How Racism Doomed Baltimore.” If you click on this link, you’ll see his comments.

What he said has been called racially “noxious.” And he’s taken a lot of heat for it.

I’ll let others judge whether Dr. Hough is, in his heart of hearts, a racist. One thing I know for sure is that he has a very poor command of the English language, to the extent that he lacks the skill to avoid sounding like a racist.

For instance, he doesn’t seem to get it that, if he’s going to make offensive (and extremely trite) generalizations comparing the experiences of Americans of Asian and African extraction, one does better (a little better, anyway) to refer to “blacks” and “Asians” than “the blacks” and “the Asians.” I mean, who doesn’t know that? Who is that tone deaf?

Dr. Hough has been castigated, unsurprisingly, for saying “Every Asian student has a very simple old American first name that symbolizes their desire for integration. Virtually every black has a strange new name that symbolizes their lack of desire for integration.”

I mean, let’s set aside the fact that I’d like to make the prof a bet that not “every” Asian student has a name like “John.” It’s the WAY he said it. Folks who are not racists have done a great deal of hand-wringing over the fact that if you have a “black-sounding” name such as “Tyrone,” you’re less likely to get a job interview than if your name is, say, “Bradley.” (Ahem.)

This is a point that can be, and often is, made in a non-offensive manner. Dr. Hough mentions it in a way that condemns “the blacks” as a group for not wanting to play well with others.

Anyway, here are his comments in their entirety:

This editorial is what is wrong. The Democrats are an alliance of Westchester and Harlem, of Montgomery County and intercity Baltimore. Westchester and Montgomery get a Citigroup asset stimulus policy that triples the market. The blacks get a decline in wages after inflation.

But the blacks get symbolic recognition in an utterly incompetent mayor who handled this so badly from beginning to end that her resignation would be demanded if she were white.The blacks get awful editorials like this that tell them to feel sorry for themselves.

In 1965 the Asians were discriminated against as least as badly as blacks. That was reflected in the word “colored.” The racism against what even Eleanor Roosevelt called the yellow races was at least as bad.

So where are the editorials that say racism doomed the Asian-Americans. They didn’t feel sorry for themselves, but worked doubly hard.

I am a professor at Duke University. Every Asian student has a very simple old American first name that symbolizes their desire for integration. Virtually every black has a strange new name that symbolizes their lack of desire for integration. The amount of Asian-white dating is enormous and so surely will be the intermarriage. Black-white dating is almost non-existemt because of the ostracism by blacks of anyone who dates a white.

It was appropriate that a Chinese design won the competition for the Martin Luther King state. King helped them overcome. The blacks followed Malcolm X.

Wowee. I hate to show disrespect for “the old people” by saying this, but at 80, maybe the prof has lost a little zip on his fast ball in terms of being able to set out ideas in a way that he is heard, rather than making people want to shut him out. His writing is a blunt instrument that repeatedly taps on the sorest of spots, and does so with a startling lack of originality. Duke professor? He sounds more like Joe Blowhard in the local tavern after too many brewskis.

Of course, maybe he’s just racist. There’s always that possibility. But one expects even a racist Duke professor to express his views better…

There is no ‘wall’ between church and state

First, I agree with Unitarian Rev. Neal Jones that if our governor is going to invite us to a day of prayer, she ought to invite everybody, and not just Christians.

And in the video above from the website of the upcoming event, she does seem to invite everybody. Unfortunately, Rev. Jones received a letter from the governor that seemed to imply a more restricted invitation, in that it said “this is a time for Christians to come together to call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles.”

Rev. Jones felt left out because Unitarian-Universalists are not what you would call Christians. Instead, they firmly believe that… um… ah…. Well, they’re not, strictly speaking, what you would call Christians.

So if the governor meant to stiff-arm his congregation, and Jews, and the Sikhs in her own family, then that’s not good. If she really meant to do that.

But… I have to object to the fact that in making the argument that Nikki Haley should not have done such a thing, Rev. Jones repeated a popular misconception, and I feel the need to correct him:

So I will not be attending the governor’s day of prayer, because she didn’t actually mean to invite me, as I am the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia. But even if she had, I would not attend. I am not against prayer, but I am for the Constitution, the First Amendment of which establishes a “wall of separation between church and state,” to use Thomas Jefferson’s famous phrase. That wall protects the integrity of both government and religion. It prevents religious zealots from using the power and purse of the government to force their beliefs and practices on the rest of us, and it prevents overreaching politicians from intruding into religious affairs. Each institution does better when it minds its own business — when ministers pray and politicians pave roads….

You see the error, right?

The First Amendment does not establish a “wall of separation between church and state.” That oft-repeated quote was Thomas Jefferson — who was not involved in drafting the Constitution or the Bill of Rights — expressing his opinion regarding the effect of the actual amendment. It was in a letter he wrote as president to the Danbury Baptist Association explaining why he, unlike his predecessors and some who followed him, refused to proclaim days of fasting and thanksgiving. The operative passage:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state…

Jefferson was on solid ground when he said the amendment provided that the Congress “should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” But he ventured into opinion, and for his part wishful thinking, when he added “thus building a wall of separation between church and state.”

(Interestingly, after rhetorically erecting this wall and standing firmly on the secular side of it, he closed his letter with these pious words: “I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing of the common Father and creator of man…”)

By the way, I place more store on the opinion of James Madison that there should be a “total separation of the church from the state.” But it must be noted that Madison did not insert such language into the amendment itself, and no amendment with that wording was ever ratified or adopted.

Too many folks continue to believe that what Jefferson chose to believe the amendment said is actually what the amendment says.

When it isn’t.

We are not to have an established church, and the government may not interfere with anyone’s particular religious beliefs or practices. This is not the same as having a wall of separation; it’s not even close.

In Jefferson’s day, a lot of folks wanted there to be such a wall, and he was among them. A lot of folks want there to be such a wall today, and furthermore sincerely believe the Constitution provides for one.

But, again, it does not.

Rev. Jones concludes:

I realize that in South Carolina, indeed across the South, it is tempting for politicians to overstep their civil authority and meddle in religious matters. Southern politicians win lots of votes by making a public display of their piety. The next time Gov. Haley prays, she might consider praying for the strength to resist that temptation … for her own spiritual health and for the health of our constitutional democracy….

Rev. Jones may find it distasteful when “Southern politicians win lots of votes by making a public display of their piety.” I might, too, depending on the circumstances and the nature of that display. Not because the civic realm is damaged by mentions of God, but because God is blasphemed by having His name yoked to an individual politician’s aims.

Many of my readers might be offended in far more instances than I would. But when politicians thus offend, they generally do not “overstep their civil authority.”

‘The Taming of the Shrew’ at Finlay Park tonight!

11174894_10153262714460941_3571155266336581898_n

Y’all, I’m planning to take in some Shakespeare in the park this evening, assuming I can stay up that late. I hope I see you there.

I had had no idea this was coming up before my wife mentioned it last night, e’en tho’ (you like that touch?), as a former cast member, you’d think I’d be in the loop. But I wasn’t.

They should ask me to do the publicity next time. I’d give ’em a real rip-snorter, along the lines of:

Shaksperean Revival!!!

Wonderful Attraction!

For One Night Only! The world renowned tragedians,

David Garrick the younger, of Drury Lane Theatre, London,

and

Edmund Kean the elder, of the Royal Haymarket Theatre, Whitechapel,
Pudding Lane, Piccadilly, London, and the Royal Continental Theatres, in
their sublime Shaksperean Spectacle entitled The Balcony Scene in

Romeo and Juliet!!!…

also:

(by special request,)

Hamlet’s Immortal Soliloquy!!

By the Illustrious Kean!

Done by him 300 consecutive nights in Paris!

For One Night Only,

On account of imperative European engagements!

Admission 25 cents; children and servants, 10 cents.

You know, full of sound and fury, signifying standing room only. That’s the way the Duke and the Dolphin did it — slap out a handbill and dare ’em to come on!

Of course, as good as those rates sound, tonight’s performance is even better: There’s no charge, although a hat is generally passed during intermission.

My piece for the Brookings Institution

When I returned from Thailand, I had an email from Elaine Kamarck at the Brookings Institution:

1477344_10152268988702708_889340808_nI’m reaching out to invite you to contribute a short essay for our FixGov blog at the Brookings Institution. FixGov focuses on new ideas to make government work and identifies and aims to solve the nation’s most pressing political and governance challenges with sensible and realistic solutions.

A major thematic focus area of the blog and our work here at Brookings is improving media capacity.  Given your expertise, I welcome you to author a blog post for an upcoming series that will explain the current state of media in America and propose solutions for reinvigorating the industry, improving local and national news coverage and bolstering media oversight. The series will begin in mid- to late-Spring…

I sort of wondered how they got my name. I learned that, as I had suspected, E.J. Dionne had mentioned me. Which I appreciate.

Anyway, I proposed a topic to them and sat down and wrote it a couple of weekends back, and today it was published.

My topic was the decline of mid-sized newspapers, and why it matters — in terms of not being able to perform (as well) their watchdog role on the state and local level. After mentioning the ironic juxtaposition of the Charleston paper getting a Pulitzer on the same day more staff reductions were announced at The State (which happened after I chose my topic, but gave me a timely peg), I elaborated:

That matters because midsized papers have been the watchdog on the levels of government that most affect our lives. We drown in political news, commentary, gossip and minutiae out of Washington, but there’s no such informational vitality at the state and local level. When there are less than a third as many of you as there used to be, and you’ve added the 24/7 churn of web publishing, it gets hard to do anything more than feed the beast. Enterprise suffers….

And then I got to this point:

So, with newspapers shrinking and blogs unlikely to replace them, who is going to watch our state legislatures and city halls across the country? Increasingly, no one. Or worse, the wrong people…

That’s when I got into the fact that it was great that the S.C. Policy Council stayed on the Bobby Harrell story until action was taken. But I found it disturbing that an ideological group that doesn’t want to tell us where its money comes from was playing a role once played by broad-interest newspapers supported transparently by the ads you saw every day.

But you know what? Just go read the whole thing. Then, if you like, come back and we can discuss it further.

Your humble malchick hath become a grumpy starry veck, munching our zoobies together, o my brothers

malcolm

When I went to YouTube to seek a link to “A Day in the Life,” I ran across the above ad, showing this grumpy old man in a cardigan and his top shirt buttoned, and when you moved the pointer across his face, he grimaced in a way that looked like his dentures weren’t seated right.

About the second time I made him grimace, I realized — that’s Malcolm McDowell!

Yes, the very figure of uncontrollable, raging, violent youth, turned into the sort that Alex and his droogs would single out in the night, smeck at, tolchock a bit, then leave moaning in his red, red krovvy.

What’s this cal? What grazhny bratchny is responsible for this, o my brothers? Our former malchick, ever dressed in the heighth of fashion in his platties of the night, reduced to this starry, drooling veck?

It’s made worse by this video in which he is shown amongst the young, failing to pony the latest version of Nadsat.

This is not horrorshow. This is baddiwad. This is making my gulliver hurt. It’s like a kick in the yarbles. O, that I should have lived to viddy this with my very own glazzies, my brothers!

alex

 

Yes, indeed. Everyone needs an editor…

This is old — posted in 2014. But I just saw it, and I can’t help chortling:

Copy editors are a necessity in any newsroom, but sadly, the positions are slowly disappearing.

Recently, Gannett sacked a hefty amount of editors from its various titles across the nation, and the decision appears to have affected the top dogs. Gannett U.S. Community Publishing President Bob Dickey’s second quarter newsletter, released Wednesday, contained a major typo: Gannett was misspelled….

Did you see it? That’s right. Gannett did not sack a hefty amount of editors. That’s impossible. They sacked a healthy number of editors.

Of course, my enjoyment of this is tempered by the fact that I am a one-time copy editor, since laid off…

Hillary Clinton (yawn) and Marco Rubio (yawn) join the fray

Just in case y’all had anything to say about these nonevents.

Above is her announcement video, below is his (which he released in advance of his announcement). Thoughts?

This morning, I was reading commentary on the Clinton announcement from yesterday, and the word was that she had learned that it wasn’t all about Hillary, that it was about us regular folks out here, which is why her video doesn’t show her until near the end — you know, when she says, Oh, yeah, all you little people? Well I’m getting ready to run for president… Or something to that effect.

My reaction to that is… no, it’s about you, Hillary. So don’t waste my time with touchy-feely stuff that reminds me of the recent gag video that contains Everything You Hate About Advertising in One Fake Video That’s Almost Too Real. You’re the one running. You’re the one who needs to explain yourself. Don’t try to distract me, especially not with faux populism.

As for Marco Rubio…

At least he spends the time explaining himself and his concept of the country. But then, he’s got more ‘splainin’ to do. I’m sorry, explaining. The Ricky Ricardo thing is probably uncool in this case. My point being that he’s less well known.

In any case, I got more meaning, more relevance from his than from hers. What did y’all think?

“I’m tired of states’ rights”

“The thought had occurred to him on the day that he took it, that this would make a lovely burying ground for the Union soldiers who had fallen, or were still to fall in the battles hereabout, and almost before the smoke of his involuntary assault on Missionary Ridge had cleared, he had a detail at work on the project.

When a chaplain, who was to be in charge of the project, inquired if the dead should be buried in plots assigned to the states they represented, as was being done at Gettysburg, where Lincoln has spoken a couple of weeks ago, the Virginian lowered his head in thought and then shook it decisively, and made a tumbling gesture with his hands. “No, no. Mix ’em up, mix ’em up,” he said. “I’m tired of states’ rights”.

That’s from the second volume of The Civil War. I’m currently listening to it on Audible, and that passage appealed to me. The Virginian General is Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas. Here’s what the place looked like in 1895.

These crazy kids today: They prefer to read dead trees

I spoke to the newsroom staff of The Daily Gamecock on Friday, and learned a surprising thing: While older folks (alumni and parents) tend to read the online version, most actual students don’t. They prefer to read it on paper.

In a couple of ways that makes sense — the students can pick up the paper for free as they go into and come out of classes, so it’s just convenient to pick one up and peruse it. Meanwhile, alumni and parents don’t have such easy access to the print version.

But it still surprised me. I mean, I have easy access to The State and The Wall Street Journal, as I get both at home. But I almost never read them on paper. I prefer the iPad apps. It’s just easier to flip through the paper on a tablet while sitting at the breakfast table than to unfold the paper, turn the pages, try to fold it back into a convenient size and shape for continued reading, and so forth. And it always seems like the section you want has walked away somewhere. That doesn’t happen with a tablet.

And I never see the print version of The Washington Post, to which I also subscribe, at all.

So what’s with these wacky kids today?

I learned of this seeming anomaly from Sarah Scarborough, the advertising manager for Student Media. She told me about it before I met the news staff. Then it came up again while I was talking with the students, as they asked whether I had any ideas for making the online version more appealing to their fellow students.

But this is not just a USC phenomenon. One of the things I read on my Washington Post app this morning was this:

Why digital natives prefer reading in print. Yes, you read that right.

February 22 at 7:27 PM

Frank Schembari loves books — printed books. He loves how they smell. He loves scribbling in the margins, underlining interesting sentences, folding a page corner to mark his place.

Schembari is not a retiree who sips tea at Politics and Prose or some other bookstore. He is 20, a junior at American University, and paging through a thick history of Israel between classes, he is evidence of a peculiar irony of the Internet age: Digital natives prefer reading in print.

“I like the feeling of it,” Schembari said, reading under natural light in a campus atrium, his smartphone next to him. “I like holding it. It’s not going off. It’s not making sounds.”

Textbook makers, bookstore owners and college student surveys all say millennials still strongly prefer print for pleasure and learning, a bias that surprises reading experts given the same group’s proclivity to consume most other content digitally. A University of Washington pilot study of digital textbooks found that a quarter of students still bought print versions of e-textbooks that they were given for free.

“These are people who aren’t supposed to remember what it’s like to even smell books,” said Naomi S. Baron, an American University linguist who studies digital communication. “It’s quite astounding.”…

Anyone else find this surprising?

‘Everything You Hate About Advertising in One Fake Video That’s Almost Too Real’

white men

‘Using a specific ratio of Asian people to Black people to Women to White men…’

Something fun that I posted on the ADCO blog earlier…

An explanation, from AdWeek:

Well, this is hilarious on a few different levels.

Stock video provider Dissolve has taken the text of Kendra Eash’s brilliant advertising takedown, “This Is a Generic Brand Video,” originally published by McSweeney’s, and set it to actual stock video clips.

The company explains: “The minute we saw Kendra Eash’s brilliant ‘This Is a Generic Brand Video’ on McSweeney’s, we knew it was our moral imperative to make that generic brand video so. No surprise, we had all the footage.”

The results, narrated by Dallas McClain, are outstanding. You’ve seen all of this footage in ads from major brands. It’s everywhere. And it’s great that a stock video house would so gleefully celebrate the soul-sucking manipulations for which its offerings are generally used.

Watch below, and have a great self-hating rest of your afternoon.

Be sure to adjust the setting to HD 1080, in order to fully enjoy the empty experience of viewing Dissolve’s awesome stock footage:

Incoherently overheated headline of the day

guardian

And the award goes to… The Guardian, for “Romney decision clears path for next stage of Bush presidential empire.”

I’m not even sure what it means, beyond communicating the vague idea that The Guardian really has a thing about the Bushes, doesn’t it?

The hed would almost make sense if you substituted “dynasty” for “empire.” But I think somewhere in the lower reaches of some copyeditor’s brain was the mostly-suppressed, unacknowledged thought that “empire” had a more sinister ring to it.

The story itself doesn’t have quite the ring that the hed does. It’s fairly matter-of-fact. I am a little puzzled that the paper is going with such a limited, second-day approach on the breaking story. Romney’s bowing-out has farther-reaching impact than elevating Bush, if it even does that.

Romney himself seemed to be urging Republicans to look beyond Bush to “the next generation.” Bush at 61 is more or less in the usual age range for a presidential contender, so the implication is that Romney is thinking of someone else, someone with a name less well-known.

I found the way Romney put that sort of interesting:

“I believe that one of our next generation of Republican leaders, one who may not be as well known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started, may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee,” Romney wrote. “In fact, I expect and hope that to be the case.”

I heard in that a hint of, You REALLY oughta be going with me, a guy who is well known and has taken his message across the country, someone who isn’t just getting started… but NOOOO, everybody said “Don’t run, Mitt,” so you’re on your own now, losers.

Hey, I’m holding out for a GOP nominee with a sufficient grasp of the English language that he knows “Democrat” is a noun, and the adjective is “Democratic.” That would be something (he said wistfully)…

The Nazi monster responsible for the ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ signs

work-will-set-you-free

I’d better go ahead and post this before the news hook gets away from me completely…

Soldiers, and nations, are frequently whipped up into a warlike state with examples of atrocities, real or imagined, committed by the enemy.

One such outrage stands out in my memory as having instantly brought the urge to kill to the front of my mind. It was several years ago. I was watching a documentary on PBS. I forget the title or overall thrust of it. But at some point, it showed Jewish concentration camp inmates who were well-dressed and apparently well-fed and well-treated. Some of them were playing classical music for an appreciative audience of other contented-looking inmates sitting on chairs out in the sun.

The footage had been staged and shot by Nazis for homefront consumption, for newsreels in German cinemas, to show the folks at home how well their former Jewish neighbors were doing in their new environment.

That’s what put the blood light in my eye. I wanted to personally kill every Nazi who had anything to do with such a profoundly evil deception, which forced actual victims to play a part in making the Holocaust look hunky-dory. And I regretted that I was much too late.

Theodor Eicke

Theodor Eicke

I have a similar reaction whenever I see a photo with a concentration-camp gate saying “ARBEIT MACHT FREI.” I want to find the monster who came up with the idea of mocking and taunting his wretched victims with such a message, with an added twist of Teutonic self-righteousness. I wanted to subject him to punishments our Constitution would regard as cruel and unusual.

In both cases, I think it’s maybe the appalling lie that dwells at the heart of these particular forms of cruelty that sets me off, that increases the outrage exponentially.

Anyway, I felt that impulse a number of times over the last few days. It seemed no coverage of the 70-year observance of the liberation of Auschwitz was complete without the image: “ARBEIT MACHT FREI”

And this time, I paused to find out who it was, if that could be determined. Wikipedia made it pretty easy:

The slogan “Arbeit macht frei” was placed at the entrances to a number of Nazi concentration camps. The slogan’s use in this instance was ordered by SS General Theodor Eicke, inspector of concentration camps and second commandant ofDachau Concentration Camp.

Eicke was not, to say the least, just another good German swept up in the Nazi madness. He was an SSObergruppenführer, a serious, hard-core National Socialist. How hard-core? He was one of the two who killed Brownshirt Chief Ernst Röhm following the Night of the Long Knives purge. Not that Röhm didn’t, you know, have it coming himself.

Eicke, too, is beyond my grasp. He died when his plane was shot down on the Russian front in 1943.

But at least I have a name to assign to the outrage now. One name, among the many responsible, of course…

 

I thought this headline, saying ‘people could die. That’s okay,’ was meant ironically. It wasn’t…

I got a bit of whiplash reading the opinion section on my Washington Post app over the weekend.

I saw this headline, “End Obamacare, and people could die. That’s okay.” Beyond that, all I could see without clicking on the link was part of this opening sentence: “Say conservatives have their way with Obamacare, and the Supreme Courtdeals it a death blow or a Republican president repeals it in 2017.”

And I thought, Oh boy, some liberal is engaging in standard partisan hyperbole, trying to make us think that those horrible Republicans think it’s OK that people would die if Obamacare were repealed. Sheesh.

And then, I clicked on the link, and the first thing I saw was that the author of the column, Michael R. Strain, “is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.” And I thought, Wow, that’s counterintuitive, for someone from AEI to be castigating Republicans for wanting to end Obamacare. AEI must represent a broader spectrum of viewpoints than I had thought. I wonder if this guy gets ostracized by the OTHER “resident scholars,” or do they respect his take on things? If such a piece is coming from AEI, it must really be interesting…

And then, I started reading. And quickly realized there was no irony or hyperbole involved here. This guy was serious. He really was saying that people will die if Obamacare goes away, and that that’s OK. What’s left of Jonathan Swift must be rolling over about now.

Here is the operative passage:

During the health-care debates of 2009, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) brought a poster on the House floor: “The Republican Health Care Plan: Die Quickly.” In the summer of 2012, when Obamacare was threatened by a presidential election, writer Jonathan Alter argued that “repeal equals death. People will die in the United States if Obamacare is repealed.” Columnist Jonathan Chait wrote recently that those who may die are victims of ideology — “collateral damage” incurred in conservatives’ pursuit “of a larger goal.” If these are the stakes, many liberals argue, then ending Obamacare is immoral.

Except, it’s not.

In a world of scarce resources, a slightly higher mortality rate is an acceptable price to pay for certain goals — including more cash for other programs, such as those that help the poor; less government coercion and more individual liberty; more health-care choice for consumers, allowing them to find plans that better fit their needs; more money for taxpayers to spend themselves; and less federal health-care spending. This opinion is not immoral. Such choices are inevitable. They are made all the time.

He goes on, of course, to explain that what he means is that we make decisions that result in people dying all the time. For instance, if we really didn’t want anyone to die in a traffic accident, speed limits would be set at 10 mph. But we make a tradeoff.

And of course, our healthcare payment system makes decisions not to pay for potentially life-saving care all the time. That was what was so ridiculous about the overheated rhetoric from the right about “death panels” — did Sarah Palin et al. not see that insurance companies, in their bids to hold down costs, have long acted as “death panels”?

But still, I was startled. One seldom sees the case for death made so openly…

Origins of the term, ‘sniper’

sniper

I think this is an actual photo of ‘American Sniper’ Chris Kyle in action. I found it at a webpage dedicated to him, which you can see by clicking on the image. I hope it’s OK that I used it…

 

Since I’m a subscriber, I can’t tell whether y’all would be able to read this WSJ piece or not, but in case you can, I thought I’d share this link to a piece that was in the paper over the weekend headlined, “Hero or Killer? The Ambivalence of the Word ‘Sniper’.” It’s something I’d been wondering about, and I might not be the only one.

The hed is a bit misleading. The piece doesn’t really meaningfully get into the deeper moral implications of the word. In fact, it doesn’t really matter what we call it, in terms of that. There’s no doubt that there’s a great deal of moral ambiguity attaching to the sniper’s role. As I’ve written before, I don’t see how a sniper ever justifies his job to his own conscience, however many comrades’ lives he saves. As for the false dichotomy offered in the hed, well, I don’t see why a sniper (or any soldier) can’t be both hero and killer, whether deeply conflicted or cold-blooded about it.

Whether you can read the piece or not, here’s an excerpt:

The word has its roots in “snipe,” the name for a family of wading birds….

Game lovers found the bird notoriously hard to hunt, thanks to its erratic flight pattern….

In the 18th century, hunters with an accurate shot pursued “snipe-shooting.” Shortened to “sniping,” it took on a military meaning among British soldiers in colonial India.

In 1773, newspapers in England carried a “Letter From Bombay” about the previous year’s siege of Broach (now known as Bharuch) on India’s west coast. The letter-writer described how native combatants were skilled with a long musket that would allow “a man to hit an orange at the distance of 150 yards four times out of six.” The letter also told how soldiers, when erecting a battery, would draw fire from these sharpshooters by putting a ribboned hat on the end of a staff. “The soldiery,” the correspondent said, “humorously call it sniping.”…

Back in India, harassing shooters came to be known as “snipers.” An 1807 report by Major Jasper Nicolls, which was used in a court-martial trial, told of clearing out an area of soldiers, “though much annoyed at times by snipers.” For another century, press accounts of “snipers” in India and elsewhere invariably described such “annoyances” from enemy lines. That began to change with World War I, when the “sniper” became a military specialist trained on high-value targets….

Columbia’s new poet laureate, Ed Madden

Hey, did you know that Columbia had a poet laureate? Neither did I. It’s a new thing.

In fact, it didn’t become official until after the governor’s people had ditched the state’s poet from the inauguration ceremony — although the city had apparently made the decision to create the office earlier.

There’s a release about it here.

Madden,Ed 2008

Ed Madden — 2008

Anyway, the city’s first-ever official poet is USC English prof Ed Madden. This caused me to quote Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf: “I know him!” Which is not something I can usually say about distinguished poets.

Ed was one of the first batch of eight Community Columnists we appointed back when I was first editorial page editor at The State, winning out over hundreds of competing entries in our contest. He and the others would write one column each a month for our op-ed page, for which we’d pay them a modest fee. Back in the days when there was money for such things.

So I knew he could write. I just didn’t know he did it in verse.

And you know what? The poem he read before the mayor’s State of the City speech last night is pretty good. Not to pick on Marjory Wentworth, but I think his piece was better than the one that she didn’t get to read at the Haley shindig. Having majored in history and journalism, I don’t have the words for explaining why that is, except to say that it strikes me as way literary and stuff.

Here it is:

A Story of the City

(for the 2015 State of the City Address by Mayor Stephen K. Benjamin, 20 Jan 2015)

 

In the story, there is a city, its streets

straight as a grid, and in the east, the hills,

in the west, a river. In the story,

someone prays to a god, though we don’t

know yet if it is a prayer of praise

or a prayer for healing — so much depends

on this — his back to us, or hers, shoulders

bent. We hear the murmur of it, the urgency.

In the story a man is packing up

a box of things at a desk, a woman is sitting

in a car outside the grocery as if

she can’t bring herself to go in, not yet.

Or is the man unpacking, setting a photo

of his family on the desk, claiming it?

And is the woman writing a message to someone—

her sister maybe, a friend? In the story,

a child is reading, sunlight coming through

the window. In the story, the trees are thicker,

and green. In the story, a child is reading,

yes, and his father watches, uncertain

about something. There is a mother, maybe

an aunt, an uncle, another father. These things

change each time we open the book, start

reading the story over. Sometimes a story

about trees, sometimes about a city

of light, the city beyond the windows of a dark

pub, now lucent and glimmering. Or sometimes

a story about a ghost, his clothes threaded

with fatigue and smoke, with burning—you smell him

as he enters the room, and you wonder

about that distant city he fled, soot-shod,

looking back in falling ash at the past.

Sometimes it’s a story about someone

singing. Or someone signing a form, or speaking

before a crowd, or shouting outside a building

that looks important, if only for the flag there,

or the columns, or the well-kept lawn.

By now it’s maybe your story, and the child

is your child, or you, or maybe we’re telling

the story together, as people do, sitting

at a table in a warm room, the meal

finished, the night dark, a candle lit,

an empty cup left out for a prophet,

an empty chair, maybe, for a dead friend,

a room filled with words, filled with voices,

the living and the dead, someone telling

a story about the people we are meant to be.

 Ed Madden, Poet Laureate, City of Columbia

Above is video of him reading it. Click on this link to go straight to the poem.

Thoughts on the State of the Union?

I didn’t live-blog the State of the Union last night because, frankly, Twitter is a much better medium for sharing stream-of-consciousness thoughts.

Here are a few of my Tweets from last night:

Then, during the GOP response, delivered by newbie Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa:

What did y’all think of it?

One of the more interesting comments I heard after it was over was from my wife, who noted that while POTUS has turned almost completely gray-headed in the last six years, he hasn’t lost his bounce and swagger. He’s still Mr. Untouched. She noted the way he moved through the chamber with a gait like that of a star athlete, the Big Man on Campus.

Chris Cillizza of The Fix said much the same, in a piece headlined, “The remarkable confidence of Barack Obama.” An excerpt:

Seventy seven days ago, Barack Obama’s party lost control of Congress — largely due to his unpopularity nationwide. You’d have never known it watching the president deliver his sixth State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night.

From start to finish, Obama was supremely confident, challenging — and mocking — Republicans at every turn.  Touting the turnaround of the economy, Obama turned to Republicans, who, in classic State of the Union symbolism, had refused to deliver a standing ovation, and joked “That’s good news, people.” On Cuba, Obama challenged those who disagreed with his Administration policies; “When what you’re doing doesn’t work for fifty years, it’s time to try something new,” he said.

But more than the words on the page, it was Obama’s tone and overall demeanor that absolutely oozed confidence. He winked. He laughed at his own jokes. And he ad-libbed….

Anyway… your thoughts?

Ummm… It hadn’t occurred to me that Graham would NOT be ‘honored’ to be part of Haley inauguration

Scratching my head a bit at this Lindsey Graham release:

Graham ‘Honored’ to Be Part of Gov. Haley’s Inauguration

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today made the following statement to celebrate South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s inauguration for a second term.

“I’m honored and excited to be part of Governor Haley’s inauguration,” said Graham.  “It’s a big day for the state of South Carolina, Governor Haley, her family, and her many supporters.  I look forward to continue working with Governor Haley to get things done as she continues to recruit new businesses and high-paying jobs to our state.  South Carolina is in good hands under her leadership.”

####

Yeah, I get it — the senator felt that he should say something about the inauguration, and this was the something he came up with, so don’t read too much into it. I know what it’s like to feel like you have to come up with something when you’re not inspired. (It doesn’t happen to me too often, but it happens.)

But taking the words he did choose at face value, it makes me wonder — had anyone been speculating that Graham was somehow less than pleased that she got re-elected, or that there was something else unpleasant between them?

Nah. I’m just overthinking it…

The absence of SC’s poet laureate from inaugural

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Sorry to repeat myself, but I find this digression from a previous thread sufficiently interesting for its own post.

M. Prince brought this story to my attention, asking, “Was it really a matter of too little time?”

Marjory Wentworth expected to read a poem Wednesday at her fourth gubernatorial inaugural, but South Carolina’s poet laureate has been silenced.

Marjory Wentworth

Marjory Wentworth

Gov. Nikki Haley’s inaugural committee turned down Wentworth’s words, saying there wasn’t time enough to read a poem during the inaugural. Wentworth was told she did not have a spot at the State House ceremony before her poem was finished and submitted to the governor’s office.

“While we appreciate Ms. Wentworth’s long service to South Carolina, the inaugural committee told her the 96th S.C. inaugural program — which, in part, celebrates our state’s rich culture — has been full for weeks,” Haley spokeswoman Chaney Adams said. “Scheduling constraints simply wouldn’t allow a poem to be read.”…

One doubts that it was just a lack of time. But if the organizers were trying to make a point by leaving her out, I don’t know what the point was.

Unless, even though they hadn’t seen her finished poem (which you can read here), they knew she was someone who might write:

Here, where the Confederate flag still flies
beside the Statehouse, haunted by our past,
conflicted about the future; at the heart
of it, we are at war with ourselves

Not very “It’s a great day in South Carolina!,” is it?

M. said maybe it was those lines. But he thought it was more likely these:

“at Gadsden’s Wharf, where 100,000
Africans were imprisoned within brick walls
awaiting auction, death, or worse.
Where the dead were thrown into the water,

and the river clogged with corpses
has kept centuries of silence.
It is time to gather at the water’s edge,
and toss wreaths into this watery grave.”

M. thought that maybe “somebody considered that sort of imagery too much a downer” for “the governor’s own great day in South Carolina.”

I responded that maybe we could persuade the organizers to invite Randy Newman to sing this at the inaugural.

Of course, that would depend on them completely missing the irony.

M. loved that idea, which shows we can agree on something.

On another subject, I had forgotten that we HAD a poet laureate. How does one run for that?

What do y’all think of her poem? It occurs to me that maybe the organizers are poetry snobs, the sort who sneer at Poe (not likely, but possible). Even to me, Ms. Wentworth’s imagery and messages seem too plain and obvious — too… prosaic — and lacking a bit in pretentious profundity. And I’m no poetry snob. I love Poe’s driving rhythm and rhyme.

But what do y’all think?

Mulvaney: House insurgents can’t be trusted

At first, I thought SC’s Mick Mulvaney had had an awakening, and was spurning the Tea Party fervor that put him in office. I thought maybe his views had matured as a result of four years’ exposure to political reality. I was misled by this headline in the WashPost this morning: “House Republican slams anti-Boehner movement hard. Like, really hard.

That sounded as though maybe he was criticizing the thinking, or the goals, of the ineffectual insurgents. But no. He apparently still shares the goals. But he doesn’t trust the insurgents because they’re ineffectual.

Here’s his statement:

“There was an attempt to oust John Boehner as Speaker of the House today.  I didn’t participate in it.  That may make some people back home angry.  I understand that, but I’ve got some experience with coup attempts against the Speaker, and what I learned two years ago factored heavily in my decision today not to join the mutiny.

First, I learned two years ago that people lie about how they are going to vote.  And you cannot go into this kind of fight with people you do not trust. We walked onto the floor two years ago with signed pledges – handwritten promises – from more than enough people to deny Boehner his job.  But when it came time to vote, almost half of those people changed their minds – including some of those who voted against Boehner today.  Fool me once, shame on you… Today was even worse: there were never enough votes to oust Boehner to begin with.   On top of that, some people who had publicly said in the past that they wouldn’t vote for Boehner did just that. This was an effort driven as much by talk radio as by a thoughtful and principled effort to make a change. It was poorly considered and poorly executed, and I learned first-hand that is no way to fight a battle.   This coup today was bound to fail.  And in fact, it failed worse than I expected, falling 11 votes short of deposing the Speaker.  At least two years ago we only failed by six.

I also learned that the Floor of the House is the wrong place to have this battle.  The hard truth is that we had an election for Speaker in November – just among Republicans.  THAT was the time to fight.  But not a single person ran against Boehner.  Not one.  If they had, we could’ve had a secret ballot to find out what the true level of opposition to John Boehner was.  In fact, we could’ve done that as late as Monday night, on a vote of “no confidence” in the Speaker.  But that didn’t happen…and at least one of the supposed challengers to Boehner today didn’t even go to the meeting last night.  That told me a lot.

Some people wrote me encouraging me to vote for Louie Gohmert.  I like Louie, but let’s be clear: Louie Gohmert was – is – never ever going to be Speaker of the House.  I respect his passion, but he isn’t a credible candidate.  That was proved today by the fact that he got three votes, despite all the national media attention he managed to grab.  My colleague who got the most anti-Boehner votes was Daniel Webster of Florida who got 12 votes. I like Daniel.  He is a nice guy, and a good thinker…but his lifetime Heritage Action score is 60% (by comparison, mine is 91%).  And this was supposed to be the savior of the conservative movement?  Would the House really have been more conservative if he had won?

The truth is, there was no conservative who could beat John Boehner. Period.  People can ignore that, or they can wish it away, but that is reality.  

Some people tried to argue that voting against Boehner would give conservatives leverage, or somehow force him to lead in a more conservative fashion, even if the coup attempt failed.  All I can say to that is that the exact opposite happened two years ago:  conservatives were marginalized, and Boehner was even freer to work with moderates and Democrats.  My guess is that the exact same thing will happen again now.  And I fail to see how that helps anything that conservatives know needs to be done in Washington.

I understand people’s frustration and anger over what is happening in Washington.  And I also acknowledge that John Boehner may be partly to blame. But this was a fool’s errand.  I am all for fighting, but I am more interested in fighting and winning than I am fighting an unwinnable battle. 

Finally, the most troubling accusation I have heard regarding the Boehner vote is that I have “sold out” my conservative principles.  All I can say is this: take a look at my voting record.  It is one of the most conservative in Congress.  And I was joined today by the likes of Jim Jordan, Raul Labrador, Trey Gowdy, Mark Sanford, Trent Franks, Tom McClintock, Matt Salmon, Tom Price, Sam Johnson, and Jeb Hensarling.  If I “sold out” then I did so joined by some of the most tried and tested conservative voices in Washington.

I can say with 100% confidence that I have done exactly what I said I would do when I came to Washington: fight to cut spending, stop bad legislation, work to repeal Obamacare, and hold the President accountable for his actions.  That will never change, and neither will I.”

The Post may be right that this statement “is remarkably blunt and the kind of thing that is rarely seen from a member of Congress.” But it in no way reflects a change of heart. Unfortunately, this is still a guy who thinks mainstream Republicans aren’t radical enough.