Category Archives: Words

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…

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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:

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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…

Cindi’s proposal with regard to monuments

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I meant to call attention to Cindi Scoppe’s column yesterday

In light of the fact that, without two-thirds majorities in both legislative chambers, no one in South Carolina can remove a Confederate monument from any public space — whether state or local — she dusted off her idea for an alternative:

… I was so delighted by Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg’s idea. Well, it’s not actually Mr. Tecklenburg’s idea. It’s one I’ve proposed numerous times, and it certainly wasn’t original to me. But it’s a great idea. Leave up the monuments — not that South Carolinians have any choice — but add signs to provide context.

To Mr. Tecklenberg, it’s not just about doing an end-run around the Legislature. As he told Charleston’s Post and Courier newspaper last week: “I don’t believe we’ve done a good job of telling the whole story of slavery and Reconstruction and what happened there and Jim Crow. One hundred years from now, you want people to know the great lengths the white folks who were in charge around here went to try to put racial barriers back into place.”

First on Mr. Tecklenberg’s add-to-rather-than-subtracting-from list is a towering monument to John C. Calhoun, which includes the words “Truth, Justice and the Constitution” and little else. Like the fact that he provided the intellectual underpinnings for the Confederacy….

As a way of protesting the Legislature’s habit of telling local governments what they can and can’t do, it’s an excellent approach. A sign saying, “This monument is still here because the General Assembly won’t let us take it down” has merit — if, indeed, you do want to take it down (a subject on which I remain agnostic until you tell me which monument where, and give me time to think about it).

And beyond that, there is also merit to adding educational information to monuments, if we choose to leave them up. Perhaps this approach would be a good substitute for the current Heritage Act, if lawmakers would consider it.

At least, it would be a good approach in theory.

In practice, well… Can you imagine how hard it would be to get a truly representative group of people — by which I mean, representing every possible position regarding Confederate monuments, which is the kind of panel the Legislature would (and should) appoint — to agree on the wording of such a plaque?

By contrast, the decision to take a statue down or keep it up is child’s play…

Thank you, editors of The New Yorker!

his

See what they did there? They respected the English language in the headline on the right. It should be unremarkable for the editors of such a prestigious journal to do so, but the way things have been going, I feel compelled to remark.

Too many these days would write “When Should a Child Be Taken from Their Parents?,” and not even be ashamed of doing so.

Oh, by the way, the other headline is to a piece about to the video below, which is mildly amusing. And not once does he say, “wheezin’ on the grindage, buddd-DY!” Which is good…

Editing the Declaration of Independence

I spent part of the long holiday weekend rewatching an episode or two of HBO’s John Adams.

Of course, being me, I love the scene that depicts the editing of the Declaration of Independence.

If you’ll recall, Adams, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were appointed as a committee to draft the Declaration. Then, Adams had talked Jefferson into doing the actual writing, citing his skill with the written word and the fact that Adams himself was far too busy (aside from sitting on various committee, Adams was bearing the greatest share of the burden of arguing for independence, while Jefferson never opened his mouth during the debate).

In this scene, Adams and Ben Franklin are getting their first look at what Jefferson has written, and reacting to it, and offering changes. Having been in this situation myself so many thousands of times with writers who sometimes regarded their words as perfect, I enjoyed watching the dynamics.

First observation: Adams starts out by praising Jefferson’s work to the skies — a fitting approach given the document he’s editing, but one that is wildly at odds with my own approach. As Dave Moniz used to say when he worked for me, the highest praise I ever offered of writers’ work was “pretty good.” Maybe I should have tried this approach; it seems to have led to a good result.

Then there is Jefferson’s unnerving passivity through most of the process — an almost autistic lack of emotion. I’ve had writers fly off the handle at my changes, or be philosophically diplomatic about it. But never anyone with this staring, shrugging apathy. Change to “self-evident?” Yeah, whatevs…

Even when Adams says some of it might not be the way he would have said it, but he will still defend every word, Jefferson has no gratitude, but shrugs, “Well, it’s what I believe…”

Nevertheless, Jefferson proves he’s not an automaton when Franklin (being a newspaper editor himself, Ben had a knack for this) finally gets a rise out of him, and Jefferson says, still in that cold-fish voice, “Every single word was precisely chosen. I assure you of that, Dr. Franklin.” To which Franklin, unfazed, essentially says yeah, that may be the case, but you don’t get the final word; we’ve got to get this thing through Congress.

Adams was (in an unaccustomed role for him) cheerleading the document, while Franklin was determined to edit it. Normally, I’m an Adams fan, but in this case, it’s Ben I identified with. You can’t let writers get an exaggerated sense of their own importance. What do they think they are, editors?

Anyway, this is my belated Independence Day post…

franklin-jefferson-adams-writing-the-declarationcropped1

It’s getting harder and harder to believe Trump doesn’t drink

The most powerful man in the world feels so picked on by these people that he lashes out like a middle-schooler writing in a slam book.

The most powerful man in the world feels so picked on by these people that he lashes out like a middle-schooler writing in a slam book.

A guy is up at 3 a.m. spewing out Tweets that are nearly or completely incoherent (covfefe!), filled with offensive vitriol, lashing out at everyone who has ever — in his surly, dim perception — done him wrong. Especially if they’re women. The next day, everyone who knows him is in an uproar. The whole world, including some of his friends, says this must stop! The next night, he does it again.

This is a classic pattern, right? So how is it possible that there’s not alcohol, or some other intoxicant, involved?

And yet, we are so often reassured, the man who Tweeted that gross effusion about Mika Brzezinski — just the latest in a sickening, unending series (it still blows my mind that a president of the United States finds time to tweet more than I do) — does not touch strong drink. There’s a compelling, tragic backstory to this — Trumps older brother, an alcoholic, died at 42.

And I continue to believe it.

But how, then, do we explain the Tweets? Or the rest of his behavior, for that matter? But the Tweets seem the perfect distillation of all this other unhinged behavior, set down in writing and shared with all…

What grown man who is sober would write about a woman, “She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!” (Especially when there’s no truth in it.) A sober 12-year-old might. But not a sober grownup, under any circumstances.

Oh, and by the way — I cited above the pattern of middle-of-the-night Tweets. This wasn’t even that. The two Tweets leading to the latest uproar went out at 8:52 a.m. and six minutes later. You know, at a time you’d expect a POTUS to be getting his morning intelligence briefing, or making calls to Congress to try to pass his agenda, or meeting with foreign dignitaries, or something other than watching a TV show and obsessing about how much he hates the hosts, and publishing rude, crude comments about them — the sort of childish, mindless insults that kids wrote in “slam books” when I was in middle school.

If Trump were a guy who started drinking at breakfast, like Winston Churchill, this would make some kind of sense.

But once you take alcohol out of the mix, how do you explain it?

About that question: Can words kill people?

girl

I generally stay away from “people being beastly on the internet” stories because I’m just too busy with politics, policy and pop culture.

But this past week there were two horror stories that totally boggled what little mind I allowed to get distracted by them. Ironically, we had just had a discussion about cruel and unusual punishment when a prime candidate for such treatment was in the news: The monster who dangled his baby out a 15th-story window in a bid for Facebook “likes.” (Note that my link is to the Daily Mail, which seems the perfect setting for such a story.) You know how FB recently added those alternatives to “like”? For this guy, they need to add an “If I ever meet you in person, I’m breaking both of your arms so you can’t do that again” button.

Then there was the case Kathleen Parker wrote about under the headline, “Can words kill people?” It’s about “Michelle Carter’s conviction last week on involuntary-manslaughter charges in the 2014 suicide of her 18-year-old boyfriend, Conrad Roy III.” Excerpt:

At the time of the suicide, Carter was a 17-year-old whose boyfriend spoke frequently of taking his own life. He finally did by filling his parked truck with carbon monoxide. Mind you, Carter was nowhere near. She had no physical hand in the death, although she did text and call Roy, urging him to go ahead and do it. When he had second thoughts and got out of his vehicle, she instructed him to get back in.

Manslaughter? Evil? Or just dumb?

If Carter’s words were Roy’s death sentence, then his death was hers, if not literally, then, indeed, virtually. For her clearly tangential role, which one could as easily interpret as drama-queen excess, Carter faces up to 20 years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 3.

It is easy to feel outrage at what transpired. Prosecutors introduced hundreds of text messages between Roy and Carter in which she encouraged him to end his life and sometimes taunted him for his lack of courage. In one, she wrote: “You’re ready and prepared. All you have to do is turn the generator on and you will be free and happy. No more pushing it off. No more waiting.”

This alone is enough to make one dislike or even despise Carter. But is it enough to blame Carter for Roy’s death?…

Kathleen concluded that no, it isn’t. I was unsatisfied with that conclusion.

The columnist asks, “Manslaughter? Evil? Or just dumb?” The best of the three would seem to be evil. You read the words she wrote to this boy on the edge, and your blood runs cold. Mine does, anyway.

In terms of how to approach such a thing in the criminal justice system, manslaughter seems inaccurate. And I’m not sure how the law works on aiding and abetting. What should be the charge for being a cheerleader at a boy’s death?

There is evidently something essential missing in this girl, and at the very least it seems she should be confined somewhere until experts can figure out what it is, and whether it’s possible to fill that void.

Because anyone who will do what she did — repeatedly, insistently, matter-of-factly — is dangerous….

Why CAN’T I be a conservative-liberal, or liberal-conservative?

Lincoln was as radical a change agent as this nation has seen -- but his chief goal at every step was to conserve the union.

Lincoln was a conservative liberal. He was as radical a change agent as this nation has seen — but his chief goal at every step was to conserve the union.

The answer is, there’s no reason I can’t. In fact that’s what I am. But dang, it’s hard to explain to people, even though it seems natural to me.

Harry Harris and I were having a good discussion about political labels — ones that people apply to their opponents, and ones they apply to themselves (which can be just as irritating sometimes) — on a previous post. The thread started here.

The last thing Harry said about it was this:

My experience with self-labeled persons has been colored by encountering the very aspect of labeling that you parody. A frequent irritant is the conversion of an adjective (conservative, liberal) into a noun – “a conservative” or a whatever. What is it you want to conserve, Mr Conservative? What liberty do you want to unleash, Mr. Liberal? The assumption of a label, other than as a general description, often leads to a forced skewing of one’s understanding of many important ideas or issues. It often then promotes group-think and seeking-out only opinion or fact that would reinforce the prevailing attitude associated with that label. Many of us are overly binary in our thinking, and I believe the prevalence of self-adopted labels promotes such thinking as we basically throw ourselves in with that group. Then starts the name-calling. Now we feel almost compelled to label “those people” as leftists, liberals, commies, gringos, flat-earthers, knuckle-dragging reactionaries, or tree-huggers. I’m a liberal, Southern Baptist, Jesus-follower. The first few parts of my label are just adjectives. I’m probably more conservative on matters of church polity than my “conservative” Southern Baptist brothers and sisters. I’m more conservative on child-rearing related to behavior and decorum than most – but more liberal on allowing children to question and reject my theology and values. I ran a strict classroom with clear and strongly-enforced limits – but those limits allowed as much discretion and freedom as my students could handle – tailored to the situation. Was I liberal or conservative? I changed my mind and my practices on issues as experience dictated. Was I liberal or conservative? Or did I not let labels get in the way.
Labels can increase polarization, and self-adopting those labels equates to giving in to that polarization in my opinion.

Lots of good points there. My response ran along these lines…

The thing is, despite how irritating it has become to hear them, “conservative” and “liberal” are perfectly good words, implying perfectly good things. If only the people in and around our political system hadn’t dragged them through the mire over the past 50 years.

It’s a good thing to be conservative. It means, more than anything else, that you respect tradition — which is a value I cherish. It means respecting those who went before you, instead of assuming that “progress” means you’re better and wiser than those old dead dudes (which you’re not, especially if you have that attitude). It implies caution and responsibility. It means you don’t go off half-cocked. It means you respect the fundamental institutions of society — the family, the church, and yep, the government and its component institutions, such as the police, the military and the public schools.

“Liberal” also means good things. It means you favor liberty. It means you believe in pluralism, and freedom of conscience — including the views of people who don’t share yours. It means openness to new ideas. It means a willingness to change things if they aren’t as good as they should be. It means being generous. ALL Americans should be liberal, including conservatives, because conservatives believe in our institutions and underlying principles, and the essence of our system is that it is a liberal democracy.

The ideal public servant, in light of all that, would be both liberal and conservative, and I see no contradiction in that. For instance, you can have a deep respect for, and deference to, existing institutions while at the same time wanting to improve them. It means you can be a change agent while being cautious and responsible in your approach to change.

But folks who’ve been brainwashed by our parties, and by media that cover politics like is HAS to be a competition between two mutually exclusive teams (the sports model of coverage, which I despise), aren’t able to conceive of the two concepts going together. Language that should bring us together builds walls between us.

This leads to a great deal of misunderstanding. A lot of folks thought I was nuts, back in 2008, when I said I was happy either way the presidential election came out. The two parties had nominated the two people who I thought were the best candidates — John McCain and Barack Obama. It was the greatest win-win situation I’d seen in my adult life — the choice in November was between the two people we had endorsed in their respective primaries. Force to choose, I chose McCain over Obama — but I was pleased with Obama’s victory. Of course neither man was perfect — no one is. But they were both awfully good.

That made some people think I’d lost it, but I enjoyed it while it lasted.

I am conservative, and I am liberal, or I try to be. We should all strive to be both, as I defined them above. We should use these fine qualities to unite us, not as a means of separating us — which is what I’ve seen, unfortunately, for most of my adult life.

John Adams was a conservative liberal. He was a revolutionary, but a conservative one, who cherished the rule of law.

John Adams was a conservative liberal. He was a revolutionary, but a conservative one, who cherished the rule of law.

Define ‘fake news,’ please…

archbishops

How do you define “fake news?” I ask because people tend to use it to mean opposite things. I think.

Everyone check my memory on this: I seem to recall that the phrase “fake news” emerged last year as a description of Breitbart and other fringe outlets that tended to be consumed by Trump supporters. It was coined by mainstream types. And then at some point, perhaps in the fall, Trump himself started using it to refer to what most people would call simply “news.”

Which is fitting, because it sounds more like what someone like Trump would say. It’s just the sort of odd word choice, lacking in precision, in which he tends to revel.

To what, precisely, does it refer?

If I’d heard it in a vacuum, uttered neither by or about Donald Trump, my first guess would be that it was a reference to the sort of thing The Onion does so well — “news” that is indeed fake, and meant to be understood as such. Of course, it has to have a passing resemblance to actual news in order to be funny. One of my favorite Onion tropes is the “area man” reference in headlines (such as, “Area Man Accepts Burden Of Being Only Person On Earth Who Understands How World Actually Works“), gently poking at the lack of imagination of America’s more provincial copy editors.

But that’s not what Trump means when he says it.

It could mean all sorts of things.

It could be something that is true, but isn’t really (in the opinion of the speaker) news, and I think maybe Trump means it that way sometimes — news media reporting on “the Russia thing” instead of real news, which would be about how awesome Trump is.

Or it might be something that isn’t true. Of course, we generally don’t see evidence that supports such an assertion, do we?

It could mean opinion instead of news. I get the impression sometimes that people who call the various 24/7 cable news channels “fake news” are reacting to the fact that so much of what is said is opinion. Well, it has to be. There just isn’t all that much to say about news without getting into opinion, and these channels are trying to fill the 24 hours. That should be understood, but in fact is more often simply resented. (My advice to those who don’t like it: Read your news; don’t watch it. That’s what I do.)

Sometimes it seems to mean news that isn’t held to a high-enough standard — as when Trump decries the use of anonymous sources, an objection he shares with many journalists. In this case, he’s using it to mean “sloppy,” except when he goes overboard and claims the sources simply don’t exist. Then he means to say “lies.”

Anyway, how do you take it when you hear it — or, perish the thought, when you use it yourself?

Borowitz

No, guys, THIS is a witch hunt!

Illustration of a Salem witch trial.

Illustration of a Salem witch trial.

Warning: This is another family tree post! Although it’s about my wife’s tree, not mine…

Yesterday, our self-absorbed president Tweeted:

Back here in South Carolina, Rep. Rick Quinn said:

Indicted Republican lawmaker Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, vowed Tuesday to fight charges against him, deemed the allegations “very weak” and said special prosecutor David Pascoe, a Democrat, is on “a partisan witch hunt.”…

No, guys. Neither of these is a witch hunt. I’ll tell you about a witch hunt.

It involves my wife’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother, Elspeth Craich.  She was born in Scotland in 1631, and died there sometime after 1656.

We know she lived at least that long, because in that year, when she was 25, she was detained as “a confessing witch.” But the Culross Council failed to bring her to trial, and the charges were consequently dismissed. I’m still not sure why. I doubt that she put a spell on them or anything.

This is on my mind because this very week, I found more about her case from this site:

“23 June 1656.

“In presence of the said bailleis and counsell, compeared personallie Master Robert Edmonstoun, minister at Culrois, and declared the last weik befor the last wek, he being in Edinburgh anent the adhering to the call of Master Matthew Fleyming to the work of the ministrie of this congregatione, and having maid diligent tryall at the clerk of the criminail court and others what course might be taken with Elspethe Craiche, presentlie lying within the tolbuthe of Culrois as ane witche voluntarlie confesst be herself, he declared that except murder or malison could be provin against such persons, thair was no putting of thame to deathe; yet the said Maister Robert being most desyrous that one of the foresaid number of the counsell sould goe over to Edinburgh, and tak over the said Elspethe her declaration and confessions, and to cause pen ane petitione in relatione therof, and the said mater being taken to consideratione, and being ryplie advysit therwith, the saids bailleis and counsell be pluralitie of voices have electit and chosen William Drys-daill to goe over to Edinburgh against Twysday come eight dayes, being the first day of July, being ane criminall court day, to present the supplication befor the judges there for granting of ane commission to put the said witche to the knowledge of ane assyse, and to report his diligence theranent.”

“30 June 1656.

“The qlk day, in presence of the said bailleis and counsell, conforme to the commissione grantit to him the last counsell day anent the petitioning for ane commissione to put Elspethe Craiche, witche, to the knowledge of an assyse, maid report, that he being unsatisfied with the clerk of the criminall court his answer to him anent the procuring of the said commission, he therefter went to the right Honorable Generali George Monk; who having related to him the poore condition of this burghe, how that they war not abill to transport the said witche over to Edinburgh, and to be at the great expense that they behovit to be at in attending upone her there, the said Generali desyred the said William to draw up ane petitione, and present the samyne befor the counsell of estait upone Twysday next; who accordinglie drew up ane supplicatione at Alexr. Bruce his directione, and left the samyne with George Mitchell, to be written over be him; and becaus the said Wm. had brought over the said Elspethe her confessions, the samyne was appoyntit to be send over, to the effect bothe they and the supplication may be presentit befor the said counsell of estait against the morrow.”

It would appear that the application of the Culross minister and magistrates had been ineffectual to procure any assistance from the Council of State in Edinburgh towards either getting Elspeth Craich tried and condemned in Culross, or transporting her for that purpose to Edinburgh. Cromwell’s government was not favourable to religious persecution of any kind, whether as regards heresy or sorcery. The following entry is almost ludicrous, from the woe-begone demonstration made therein by the town council, who have no other resource left than to get rid of their expensive prisoner as speedily as possible. It is satisfactory to find that the poor woman had at least been tolerably well supplied with meat and drink, whatever other sufferings she may have undergone :—

“25 August 1656.

“The said day the saids bailleis and counsell, taking to consideratione the great trouble that hath been susteaned be the inhabitants of this burgh in watching of Eppie Craich, witch, within thaire tolbuthe this quarter of this year bygane, and the great expens that this burgh is at for the present in susteanyng and interteanyng her in bread and drink and vther necessaris, and finding it to be expedient to dismis hir furthe of the [tom away] upone her finding of cautione to present her to prissone whenever [torn away] sail be requyred, under the pane of 500 merkis: Thairfor, in presence [tom away] the said Elspethe Craiche . . . to be dismist . . . tolbuthe, and befor that tyme … to be presentit befor the kirk-sessione of Culrois.” [The latter part of this entry is in a sadly dilapidated state in the minute-book.]

Well, I’m glad to know that during her ordeal, she was at least “tolerably well supplied with meat and drink.” In fact, she seems to have been eating and drinking so much that the local authorities couldn’t afford to hold her any longer.

Did she beat the rap because of Cromwell's policies?

Did she beat the rap because of Cromwell’s policies?

But was it that, or did she get off because of the politics of the moment, as “Cromwell’s government was not favourable to religious persecution of any kind, whether as regards heresy or sorcery?” (Which surprises me a bit, what little I know of Cromwell.)

Doug would probably say it’s because of the expense, because he says it’s always about the money. And they certainly mention it a lot.

But her acquittal must remain a mystery, the latter part of the record being “in a sadly dilapidated state in the minute-book.”

It may have simply been that, according to Matthew Fleyming, “except murder or malison could be provin against such persons, thair was no putting of thame to deathe.” And if you can’t burn a witch, what’s the point, right?

Anyway, that is a witch hunt, although an unsuccessful one — even though she was “ane witche voluntarlie confesst be herself,” which you would think would have made the hunt a lot easier.

That’s all. My mind’s just been on “witch hunts” this week…