Democrats walk back their awful casino proposal (a bit)

Two days ago, I said I hoped that when the SC House Democrats announced their legislative priorities on Tuesday, they would back away from their awful idea of legalizing casinos in order to pay for roads.

I didn’t have much confidence that they would, and I didn’t attend their presser.

But I’m pleased and surprised by the release they sent out after yesterday’s event. No, they didn’t abandon the idea. But it was no longer the first thing they mentioned on the topic of paying for roads, and the first thing was now the one rational way to do it — by raising the tax that is intended for that purpose, a tax that hasn’t been raised since 1987:

SC House Democrats Announce 2015 Legislative Agenda
Highlights include road funding, education funding reform, equal pay, redistricting reform
Columbia, SC – South Carolina House Democrats announced their legislative agenda for the 2015-16 session at a press conference at the state house on Tuesday. Led by Minority Leader Representative Todd Rutherford, Democrats first stressed the need to tackle road funding this session.
“House Democrats are endorsing an ‘all of the above’ approach to road funding this year,” said Democratic Leader Todd Rutherford (D-Richland). “The time to be picky about how we fund our roads is over. Simply put, we will not stand in the way of a gas tax increase, nor will we stand in the way of new revenue through casinos. The only thing we’ll stand in the way of is kicking the can down the road. We have to plug our $45 billion infrastructure deficit before a bridge collapses and people die.”
Democrats also called on the Governor and Republicans in the general assembly to withdraw their “embarrassing” appeal to the Supreme Court ruling over K-12 funding.
“For twenty years, Republicans have ignored the issue of education funding in South Carolina,” said Representative James Smith (D-Richland.) “Instead of fighting the Supreme Court ruling calling on us to address the inequalities in school funding, let’s actually roll up our sleeves and do it. We owe it to the students, parents, and teachers of South Carolina. “
Democrats also called on Governor Haley to negotiate a South Carolina-centered alternative to Medicaid Expansion with the federal government to allow us to bring our federal tax dollars back to the state.
“It makes zero sense to continue to refuse to accept our own tax dollars just so Governor Haley can thumb her nose at the President,” said Rep. Justin Bamberg (D-Bamberg). “Fourteen Republican Governors have now come out in support of some sort of Expansion alternative that they negotiated with the federal government. Why shouldn’t we do the same?”
The other issues Democrats will focus on this session include equal pay for female state employees. South Carolina is one of just four states in the nation without a equal pay law. Representative Leon Stavrinakis has proposed a bill that would ban gender pay discrimination among state employees. His bill was modeled after a Louisiana bill that passed an overwhelming Republican General Assembly and signed into law by conservative Republican Governor Bobby Jindal.
House Democrats also endorsed a plan to establish a living wage in South Carolina. Currently, South Carolina is one of just five states in the country without a state-mandated minimum wage law. Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter’s proposal would set the wage at $10.10 per hour.
Democrats also pledged their support for ethics reform this session. Though they said any ethics reform should also include reforming the redistricting process in South Carolina. Their proposal would install an independent panel to draw district lines instead of partisan legislators. In 2014, 100% of all incumbent legislators were re-elected in the general election.
“District lines are purposely drawn by legislators in order to create a safer political environment for themselves and their political party,” said Rep. Laurie Funderburk (D-Kershaw), the author of the bill. “Gerrymandering has created a polarized legislature that seeks to root out moderates and replace them with politicians who only have to worry about winning their primaries. Reforming our redistricting process is critical to a more functional General Assembly and regaining the trust of the voters.”
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Sure, I’d like to see them pick up the gas tax ball and run with it, but this indirect sort of endorsement at least marks progress.

SC is about to be one of only 3 states Obama has not visited as POTUS

The last time I saw Barack Obama in SC -- January 2008.

The last time I saw Barack Obama in SC — January 2008.

We’re accustomed to being flyover land for national Democrats, while being a Mecca for every stripe of ambitious Republican.

But did you know that South Carolina was one of only four states that Barack Obama has not visited as president — and that after he visits Idaho on Wednesday, that group will dwindle to three?

My eye was drawn to the headline this morning in The Washington Post, “Obama’s fly-over states, in one map.” But you know, getting that info “in one map” isn’t much of a cartographic accomplishment. To the extent that I’m not even going to bother reproducing it here and possibly get into trouble with the Post‘s copyright cops.

You can just say it: South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah.

The Post‘s correspondent says “cheer up, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah. Your time will surely come before January 2017.”

I don’t know if I’m so sure about that. Maybe if Hillary Clinton somehow finds herself again in a tight race in the SC primary after having it sewn up earlier, he would come and help her out. Or maybe help Joe Biden out; who knows?

But other than that, I’m wondering what his motivation would be…

‘The Interview,’ ‘American Sniper,’ and ‘Selma’

I’ve recently written about three movies — ‘The Interview,’ ‘American Sniper‘ and ‘Selma‘ — that I had not seen (which kind of limited what I had to say about them). This past week, I had planned to see them all and write about them further. Which would have been quite the hat trick for a guy who is accustomed to waiting until films show up on Netflix.

I managed to see two of them. I still hope to see the other soon.

My report follows:

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The Interview

This one took the least trouble to see, which was good, because I wouldn’t have crossed the street to see it. I rented it from iTunes on my Apple TV, and it didn’t cost me anything because I had a gift certificate I hadn’t used up.

It was about what you would expect, if you’ve seen enough Seth Rogen movies. On that spectrum, it was nowhere near as good as “Knocked Up” or “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” and a good bit better than “Pineapple Express” or “Zack and Miri Make a Porno.” I’m not saying it was more elevated or worthwhile than those latter two, but the bathroom humor was funnier. The dirty talk wasn’t nearly as funny or relevant as the dirty talk in “SuperBad,” so you are forewarned.

One of the more interesting things about this film was that North Korea was so ticked off about it, seeing that the guy who played Kim Jong Un was handsomer, more engaging — certainly more manly looking (both in terms of masculinity and maturity) — and more engaging on a human level than any of us have ever seen the Dear Leader be. I mean, even though the flick was making gross fun of him and making a joke out of killing him (which, one has to grant North Korea, is pretty offensive), it was actually kind of flattering to him.

If you can see it for free at any point and you want to know what all the fuss is about, it’s not completely unwatchable. But otherwise, don’t bother.

 

AMERICAN SNIPER

American Sniper

I had wanted to see this anyway, even more so after The Guardian (being The Guardian) practically painted Chris Kyle as a war criminal, but I sort of reckoned without the fact that everyone else in South Carolina wanted to see it this past weekend as well.

Bryan Caskey joined my younger son and me (neither Mamanem nor Bryan’s wife wanted to see it) at the 5:10 show at Dutch Square. Bryan got his ticket and went inside ahead of us. While waiting for my son to get through the queue, I spoke across the ticket-taker to Bryan, saying, “Don’t worry; there’ll be plenty of previews.”

The ticket guy said, “Yeah, but there won’t be plenty of seats.” He said this was their 11th show of the weekend, and several of them had been sold out.

Boy, was he right. With stadium seating, I normally sit about halfway up, so that the center of the screen is at eye level. But this time, we had to sit with the groundlings on the third row, way off to the side. So Bryan, my son and I all had to slide down in our seats with our knees propped against the seats in front and our heads resting back onto the tops of our seatbacks, looking almost straight up, at a weird, distorting angle. But I got used to it by about the 75th preview (OK; honestly, I didn’t count).

But other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the show?

Good. But you knew it was going to be good. When’s the last time Clint Eastwood made a bad one? And the older he gets, he seems to get better. I’m thinking “Gran Torino” here.

And the portrayal of Chris Kyle was — matter-of-fact and respectful. It was the story of a guy who is definitely a sheepdog in the sheep/wolf/sheepdog model of killologist Dave Grossman — one of those who is neither a sheep nor a wolf, but one of those rare types who sees himself as a protector of sheep from wolves. And one of those rarer men (like, 2 percent of the male population) who doesn’t have nightmares after killing other people, if he has good reason to see the killings as morally justifiable.

Eastwood helps the viewer to understand a man like Kyle, without either condemning or overly glorifying him — although many will see him as a monster or as a red-white-and-blue excuse to wave the flag, according to their own proclivities. As I say, the depiction is respectful.

I could have used a little more examination of the psychology of a sniper. While many will feel like there was too much footage of Kyle taking careful aim on enemy combatants (and, in more than one case, “combatants” who are women and young boys, which is the thing that will make you want to walk out if anything does), I felt like not enough was done to show how most people would be torn up by that — say, with a side story about a fellow sniper who was not as unconflicted about his job. You know that the cost to Kyle is not nil, as you see the stress he undergoes after his fourth deployment. But I could have used more explication in that department.

Anyway, it’s worth seeing, whatever your attitudes on the subject matter. It’s well-done, and examines unflinchingly the moral ambiguity that accompanies any combat role, regardless of the conflict in question.

 

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Selma

Still haven’t seen this one. I passed up, with some misgivings, the Urban League’s annual breakfast, justifying it by saying that I was going to go with some friends to see ‘Selma’ at the Nickelodeon as my way of observing the day.

But even though we were there half an hour ahead, we couldn’t get into the 2:30 show. Sold out.

Has going to the actual movie theater experienced some huge resurgence when I wasn’t looking? I haven’t been to a show as crowded as “American Sniper” in decades, partly because I try not to go on the opening weekend at the most popular times. (Wouldn’t you think a 5:10 show would be an awkward time — neither matinee nor evening-out time? I did.)

And then, to not get into the show at all, when the film’s been out a couple of weeks?

OK, yeah, I realize it was MLK Day, and it looked like there were some school groups there. But still.

Have any of y’all seen it? Can you give us a review?

 

Lindsey Graham’s proposed presidential campaign

I see some of y’all have already raised the topic of Lindsey Graham forming an exploratory committee for a presidential campaign.

Kathryn asked whether he had a chance of beating Jeb Bush (in a way that indicated she knew the answer).

No, he does not.

But I’m pretty sure this is one of those “running to get free media in order to raise certain issues” campaigns. I think he assumes that none of those running will provide the kind of critique of the Obama administration on international affairs as he will. What I’ve been seeing lately suggests that both parties will be trying to out-populist each other on economic issues. To some extent, anyway. Graham’s probably reading stuff like this:

“You talk to any pollster, on the Democratic side or the Republican side, they’re in complete agreement on the idea that there has to be an economic populist message,” said Matthew Dowd, a top strategist for former president George W. Bush’s 2000 and 2004 campaigns.

And if you’re Graham, or John McCain, or me, that makes you think there’s not going to be nearly enough talk about collective security, or America’s relationships with the rest of the world.

I don’t think the campaign-to-be is about trying to beat anybody. But I could be wrong….

Here’s hoping SC House Democrats’ priorities have improved over the last couple of weeks

I received this this morning:

SC House Democrats to Unveil Agenda and Discuss 2015 State of the State at Tuesday Press Conference
 
Columbia, SC – SC House Democrats, led by Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, will hold a press conference on Tuesday morning, January 20th, to unveil their 2015 legislative agenda and to discuss expectations for Governor Haley’s 2015 State of the State.
Who: SC House Democrats
What: Press Conference to Unveil 2015 Legislative Agenda and Discuss Governor Haley’s State of the State
When: Tuesday, January 20th – 11:45am
Where: SC State House – First Floor Lobby
For More Information please contact Tyler Jones at 843-732-2550 or tylerjonesmail@gmail.com
####

Here’s hoping that SC Democrats’ priorities have changed somewhat since they released them a couple of weeks ago. Particularly, I hope they’ve scrubbed the first one:

  1. 3127 – Allow gaming referendum to pay for roads (Rutherford)
  2. 3110 – High Quality Education for public schools (W. McLeod)
  3. 3140 – Legalization of Medical Marijuana for Patients (Rutherford)
  4. 3031 – Establish a state minimum wage (Cobb-Hunter)
  5. 3253 – Establish an equal pay law in South Carolina (Stavrinakis)
  6. 3174 – Comprehensive Ethics Reform (Tinkler)

I hope, I hope, I hope…

Your Virtual Front Page for Friday, January 16, 2015

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Here you go, since I haven’t given you anything else to chew on today:

1. Belgium charges terror plot suspects (BBC) — This happened last night and all, but it’s huge, with raids across Belgium, France and Germany. Meanwhile, Obama and PM Cameron meet to discuss terror, and to reaffirm the “special relationship.” Presumably, POTUS didn’t use the occasion to return any Churchill busts.

2. 2014 Was the Warmest Year Ever Recorded on Earth (NYT) — Just FYI. Something you might really want to take note of…

3. Supreme Court to hear same-sex marriage cases (WashPost) — This one could decide whether there is a right involved. Which makes me wonder: Has the court ever found a constitutional right to marry for anyone, regardless of gender or orientation? I have no idea. Maybe some of our lawyers would know.

4. Gov. Nikki Haley: Uber ban ‘extremely disappointing’ (thestate.com) — What? I didn’t know the PSC had enacted an Uber ban. When did THAT happen?

5. Saudis ‘to review’ blogger flogging (BBC) — That would be good, since we don’t want blogger flogging to become a thing. Especially not like this — 1,000 lashes amounts to execution by whip.

6. Police: Teen sweethearts blaze trail of crime across South (AP) — Yeah, I didn’t really think it was a front-page story, either, but the lurid headline reeled me right in. The girl is just 13. The boy, who is 18, supposedly doesn’t know that…

 

Open Thread for Thursday, January 15, 2015

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The Legislature is back this week, so the time has arrived when downtown Columbia comes alive with the original purpose of the city’s founding.

And here are two or three topics y’all might want to talk about:

What did you think of Nikki Haley’s speech? — If you missed it, you can read it here. It garnered some positive reviews from some unlikely quarters, such as from here.

Get ready for a huge fight over DHEC nominee — It sort of blew my mind when I saw that Eleanor Kitzman was nominated to take over our state health and environment agency. We’re talking about a woman whose main qualification for the position is her ferocious loyalty to Nikki Haley. Remember this? But you know what? Aside from this one nominee, it would probably be a good development if SC senators would start raising some questions about executive branch nominees, in the name of transparency. We definitely don’t need it to be like inside the Beltway, where nominees get blocked because they’re from the opposite party. But some germane questioning and challenging of credentials would be nice. And then, of course, if their credentials stand up, they should be promptly confirmed. Anyway, senators are indicating they’re going to start advising some before consenting. We’ll see how good a job they do.

How “free-range” should kids be today? — Here’s something you should definitely check out:

But don’t just take Lenore’s word on what happened — we know where she’d be coming from (these parents are devotees of her movement) . Here’s the story in The Washington Post today. An excerpt:

It was a one-mile walk home from a Silver Spring park on Georgia Avenue on a Saturday afternoon. But what the parents saw as a moment of independence for their 10-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter, they say authorities viewed much differently.

Danielle and Alexander Meitiv say they are being investigated for neglect for the Dec. 20 trek — in a case they say reflects a clash of ideas about how safe the world is and whether parents are free to make their own choices about raising their children.

“We wouldn’t have let them do it if we didn’t think they were ready for it,” Danielle said….

Or, we could talk about what you want to talk about…

Le Pape n’est pas Charlie, soit.

As you know, Je ne suis pas Charlie. Well, as it turns out, if Google Translate is right, Le Pape n’est pas Charlie, soit.

And not only that, but watch what you say about his Mama.

I learned all this from this Tweet from Bryan:

My initial reaction was, “Whad’ya mean, ‘start’?” But then I went to find out what he meant, and found this:

Pope Francis said Thursday there are limits to freedom of expression, especially when it insults or ridicules someone’s faith.

Francis spoke about the Paris terror attacks while en route to the Philippines, defending free speech as not only a fundamental human right but a duty to speak one’s mind for the sake of the common good.

But, he said, there were limits.

By way of example, he referred to Alberto Gasparri, who organizes papal trips and was standing by his side aboard the papal plane.

“If my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch,” Francis said, throwing a pretend punch his way. “It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”…

Now, just watch people across the planet completely misconstrue what he said, claiming he’s “blaming the victim” or “excusing terrorists for murder,” when he is obviously doing no such thing. But he is saying what I’ve said before, which is this:

One’s right to free expression is a sacred thing, just like one’s right to freely practice one’s religion. The Pope said that clearly. And no sane person, least of all the Pope, believes anyone should be killed or threatened with death for expressing himself honestly.

But, there is a difference between what you have a sacred right to do and what you ought to do. And if you want to live in a civil society, in which other people have some basic modicum of respect for you, you have a moral obligation to show at least some minimal respect for others.

This is not a terribly hard thing for most experienced editors to understand, because they live in that space between what one has a right to publish and what one publishes if one has any respect at all for one’s readers.

And folks, you don’t have to be an editor or the Pope or somebody with an advanced degree in ethics to know where the lines are. That’s what the Pontiff was getting at with the mock punch. He was saying, we all know where the limits are: Insult my mother, I’ll smack you down. It’s not complicated.

I mentioned the other day that I’ve heard my good friend Samuel Tenenbaum state clearly, on many occasions, where the line is. Samuel takes a back seat to no one in defending civil liberties. But he makes no bones about the fact that you’ve crossed the line with him, and made an enemy, when you insult “my wife, my Mama or my faith.”

Does that mean Samuel would be justified in coming into your office and blowing you away for insulting Judaism? No, of course not. But he’s describing where the boundaries lie in civil society. He’s telling you what is beyond the pale, in case you missed that class in kindergarten.

Charlie Hebdo is wrong to publish childishly obscene (and not even funny, to an adult eye) cartoons that deliberately slap Muslims in the face, that insult them in the most obnoxious possible manner. Millions of those Muslims are people who mean Charlie no harm, and would never resort to violence against them. But they are deeply insulted, and now, with nonMuslims around them all saying “Je suis Charlie,” they feel more marginalized and looked-down-upon than ever. These people don’t deserve such treatment.

The fact that there are a few murderous jerks who will kill you for publishing such cartoons does not make you right for publishing them. If something is wrong, it is wrong whether people shoot you for it, or give you a big, wet kiss for it.

And that’s what the Pope was trying to say…

Oh, and by the way, he also said global climate change is real, and man-caused. That kind of got downplayed….

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…

Ouch! WSJ seriously disses Romney candidacy

If you’re Mitt Romney, busily launching your third bid at the White House, you’re not happy to see The Wall Street Journal say such things as these in a lede editorial (under the headline, “Romney Recycled“):

If Mitt Romney is the answer, what is the question? We can think of a few worthy possibilities, though one that doesn’t come immediately to mind is who would be the best Republican presidential nominee in 2016.

Mr. Romney told donors last week he is mulling a third run for the White House, confirming cheering whispers from his coterie of advisers. The question the former Massachusetts Governor will have to answer is why he would be a better candidate than he was in 2012….

Mr. Romney is a man of admirable personal character, but his political profile is, well, protean. He made the cardinal mistake of pandering to conservatives rather than offering a vision that would attract them. He claimed to be “severely conservative” and embraced “self-deportation” for illegal immigrants, a political killer. But he refused to break from his RomneyCare record in Massachusetts even though it undermined his criticism of ObamaCare. A third campaign would resurrect all of that political baggage—and videotape.

“If Mitt Romney is the answer, what is the question?” Ouch.

You know, if I were Mitt Romney, with more money than I’d ever need and no need whatsoever to earn a living, and I had my health and perfect hair, I suppose I might run for president, too. But beyond giving Mitt something to do, I do wonder, along with the Journal, what the rationale for this campaign is.

What’s his role? The post of duty Establishment candidate is filled by Jeb Bush, who as son and brother of presidents outranks a second-generation presidential wannabe.

One of Mitt’s main claims to qualification is his supposed business acumen. Well, what Mitt-shaped niche does he see out there in the market?

With Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, and now Mitt Romney to choose from, we only need one thing to make 2016 complete: Surely, there’s a descendant of Harold Stassen out there somewhere who could jump into this…

Your Walk for Life dollars at work

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Palmetto Health Foundation calls our attention to this WIS story:

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) – Palmetto Health Richland has a new weapon in the fight against breast cancer and it’s the first in the state to have such a device.

The tool, an Automated Whole Breast Ultrasound, can help detect more cancers that are sometimes missed when patients get mammograms.

The device was made possible due to the Midlands community who annually raises awareness of the disease…. The $200,000 cost of the ultrasound machine was paid for with funds from the Palmetto Health Foundation and Walk for Life/Race for Life….

So thanks again to all of y’all who contributed to the blog Walk for Life team!

 

Courson, McElveen to host conservation confab

This came in today from the CVSC. I pass it on in case any of you would like to attend:

Conservation Voters:

Let’s get to work! The legislative session starts today and we are ready.

We hope you will join us for the Senate Briefing: Conversations with Conservationists on January 21st at 10:00 am in Room 105 of the Gressette Building. Hosted by Senators Courson and McElveen, this is an opportunity for members and supporters of SC Conservation Coalition to share their legislative priorities with decision makers.

Your presence makes our voice stronger so please join us for the Briefing and for an informal lunch afterwards at 701 Whaley.  You can let us know if you plan to attend: info@cvsc.org or on Facebook.-

Something like this also helps explain, for those confused, why all those Democrats in Shandon keep voting for John Courson…

That female person of interest in Paris attacks

I know practically nothing about Hayat Boumeddiene — variously described as the “partner,” “common-law wife” and “widow” of Paris kosher-grocery attacker Amedy Coulibaly — but I had several thoughts in quick succession when I read this over the weekend:

French authorities on Saturday were hunting for a woman said to be “armed and dangerous,” who they believe is connected to three days of violence that reached a bloody denouement in twin sieges Friday.hayat-boumediene-e1420918057857

Hayat Boumeddiene, 26, may have fled France ahead of the attacks and may now be in Syria, French media reports said Saturday. The reports, which cited unnamed police sources, raised further questions about the attackers’ connections to organized Islamist militant groups.

Boumeddiene, 26, is the partner of Amedy Coulibaly, who on Friday seized a kosher grocery store in eastern Paris, killing four people at the height of pre-Sabbath shopping before being killed himself after an hours-long standoff. A day earlier, he killed a Paris police officer, authorities believe. During the Friday standoff, he said he was affiliated with the Islamic State, which is headquartered in Syria…

The thoughts, such as they are, were:

  • The initial, visceral one: What a lovely young face (despite that jaded look in her eyes). If she is actually a terrorist, what a terrible waste of someone who looks so fresh and innocent. One wants to protect her. (In other words, the male equivalent of the way various women, particularly the motherly sort, viewed the picture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover of Rolling Stone.)
  • “Armed and dangerous?” What is this, a return to the 70s? Are we back to the days of Red Brigades and Baader-Meinhof, with young women who are every bit as radicalized, unfeeling and violent as the most testosterone-infested young men?
  • This really explodes one of the stereotypes of Islamist terrorists. The caricature is of sexually frustrated young men who can’t get a date, who will do anything to get at those 72 virgins. But at least one of these had a girlfriend.
  • Hold on a minute. We also tend to think of these terrorists as guys who are such devout Muslims that they are psychotically obsessed with what they imagine their religion’s demands to be. But what even mildly devout Muslim lives with a woman without benefit of marriage?

None of which is helpful to the investigation or anything (turns out she wasn’t even in the country at the time of the attack, but it’s understandable that authorities would like to talk with her), but those were the things that occurred to me at the time….

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?

Krauthammer bravely pushes the Energy Party line

Enjoyed this Charles Krauthammer piece over the weekend:

For 32 years I’ve been advocating a major tax on petroleum. I’ve got as much chance this time around as did Don Quixote with windmills. But I shall tilt my lance once more.

The only time you can even think of proposing a gas tax increase is when oil prices are at rock bottom. When I last suggested the idea six years ago, oil was selling at $40 a barrel. It eventually rose back to $110. It’s nowaround $48. Correspondingly, the price at the pump has fallen in the last three months by more than a dollar to about $2.20 per gallon.

As a result, some in Congress are talking about a 10- or 20-cent hike in the federal tax to use for infrastructure spending. Right idea, wrong policy. The hike should not be 10 cents but $1. And the proceeds should not be spent by, or even entrusted to, the government. They should be immediately and entirely returned to the consumer by means of a cut in the Social Security tax….

A $1 gas tax increase would constrain oil consumption in two ways. In the short run, by curbing driving. In the long run, by altering car-buying habits. A return to gas-guzzling land yachts occurs every time gasoline prices plunge. A high gas tax encourages demand for more fuel-efficient vehicles. Constrained U.S. consumption — combined with already huge increases in U.S. production — would continue to apply enormous downward pressure on oil prices….

Quixotic, yes. But I stand up and cheer whenever anyone has the courage to speak sense on the gas tax.

I don’t know whether his FICA rollback is the best thing to do with the money. I’d like to see some serious investment in infrastructure. But it doesn’t matter. Raising the gas tax and using the money unwisely is actually better than not raising it at all, for the reasons Krauthammer cites.

By the way, in praising Krauthammer for being so Energy Party, I don’t mean to claim he got the idea from me. As he says, he’s been pushing this uncommon sense idea for 32 years. The Energy Party has only been around for a fourth as long.

But of course, the odds against us are as great as ever. Too many on both the left and the right hate the idea of gas tax increases. But at least there’s something afoot in Congress…

A weekend spent on the ‘Homeland’ front

This promotional image brings to mind one of the oddest things about this series -- the way this blonde woman so often walks down the streets of Islamabad without attracting a single curious glance, her only disguise being a scarf loosely draped over her head.

This promotional image brings to mind one of the oddest things about this series — the way this blonde woman so often walks down the streets of Islamabad without attracting a single curious glance, her only ‘disguise’ being a scarf loosely draped over her head.

This past weekend, AT&T Uverse (and watch for the ad coming back soon) offered HBO, Cinemax and Showtime for free, so of course I binge-watched “Homeland,” and am now completely up to date.

Any of y’all still watching it?

I have to say that it seems that the original reason for the series has sort of gone by the board, and the program is only about half as compelling as it was.

It’s like… remember the “sequel” to “The Fugitive?” It wasn’t really a sequel in that there was no Richard Kimble. Basically, Hollywood decided that the team that chased Kimble, led by Tommy Lee Jones, was sufficiently compelling that we’d want to watch them chase somebody else.

Actually, you know what? That’s a bad example, because it WAS just as much fun watching Tommy et al. chase somebody else. Good flick.

But I thought of it because there’s a similar dynamic. We started watching “Homeland” because it was riveting to see what would happen with a U.S. Marine who had been captured in Iraq and brainwashed to become a terrorist when he got back home. And, oh, yes, there was this seriously dysfunctional CIA analyst who at first was the only person to suspect him, and then later fell in love with him.

Well, now the Marine’s out of the picture, so we’re left with the story spinning completely around the woman who, in the first couple of seasons, would make me want to yell at the screen, “No, Brody, no! Stay away from her!” I wanted him and his family to have a chance at SOME semblance of a normal life, and she seemed more of a threat to his well-being than the terrorists who had held him captive had been.

OK, to be fair, the series was always about Carrie. But her pursuit, in more ways than one, of Brody was what made us want to watch her initially, because Brody was such an interesting case.

And without him as a focal point for her, there’s a void.

At least, in Season 4, she is taking her meds regularly — except for an episode in which an ISI agent swaps out her bipolar meds with a hallucinogen, which gives her an excuse to be Crazy Carrie again. Not that she’s making the best life choices when she’s fully medicated, but at least she’s calmer.

At least Saul is still around. Mandy Pantinkin anchors the series for me. He gives me somebody sane to identify with.

Meanwhile, the writers have sorta kinda tried to replace Brody with Quinn, the Hamlet of professional assassins. I like Quinn all right, but as a substitute for Brody, he’s lacking. Yes, he’s conflicted, but his conflicts are less monumental than Brody’s.

Anyone else have any thoughts? Anyone else still watching?

Saul, Carrie and Quinn, the Hamlet of professional assassins.

Saul, Carrie and Quinn, the Hamlet of professional assassins.

Ha! I didn’t stink on the Slate news quiz this week!

quiz win

Y’all know how I like to brag about my great scores on various quizzes (usually civics quizzes, but sometimes about fundamental understanding of issues in the news).

But I’ve mentioned that I tend to do HORRIBLY on the weekly Slate news quiz — which I chalk up to two factors:

  1. The fact that you’re scored by how FAST you answer, and a ticking clock always rattles me.
  2. The tendency for the questions to be about the kind of quirky, esoteric stuff that I don’t pay attention to.

Well, this week I didn’t stink! I was, well, average! Which on this quiz is real progress, for me….

Je ne suis pas Charlie

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Did I get that right? If not, blame Google Translate. I know next to nothing about what Scott Evil would term “Paris talk.”

My point, in thus running against the current proper emotion, is that even though one might think I’d be the first to identify with the victims at Charlie Hebdo, I’d actually be among the last.

As Robert Ariail’s longtime editor — and one whom Robert used to flatter as being the rare sort of editor who could “think like a cartoonist” — it should really hit home for me when terrorists invade editorial offices and start shooting, with cartoonists and their editor being their specific, intended targets.

And on certain, basic, levels, it does. As someone who believes firmly in the importance of free expression in a free society, and especially on a human level. No one deserves such a fate. Those who carried out the attack must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, or killed if they cannot be captured. They and their actions are beyond the pale. But because I have been involved daily in the production of satirical cartoons, and because I’ve made the thousands of small judgments that such a task involves, I feel acutely the difference between me and those responsible for Charlie Hebdo. It’s a difference that may seem subtle to you, and many will misunderstand me. But for me, there’s a bright line.

I am not Charlie because I would not create or publish some of the things that Charlie has published.

Most specifically, I would not even once, much less regularly, intentionally mock someone else’s sincerely-held religious beliefs. If I, in a weak moment (and I most assuredly would regard it as weakness, not strength — the inability to resist a cruel joke at someone else’s expense) did so, I would feel shame. I would not pat myself on the back for being courageous. Just because there’s someone out there who will kill you for making a bad joke doesn’t excuse the joke or make it heroic. It’s still a bad joke.

A situation such as this generates a lot of emotion, with predictable reactions, so let me go ahead and address a couple of the predictable misunderstandings that will greet what I’m saying:

  1. I’m not “blaming the victim,” to use one of more irritating catchphrases of our age. The blame lies entirely with the terrorists, whose murderous actions are utterly unjustified. Nothing that Charlie Hebdo has ever published, however offensive, justifies violence. And the editors of Charlie had every right to publish what they have published. My comments deal with the many choices one makes between the boundaries of the many things we have the right to do.
  2. I’m not saying that editors should not publish certain things because of fear of attack. Far from it. What I’m saying is that editors should not publish things that they should not publish, period. The threat of violence is irrelevant, and merely clouds the issue, making it hard to see the point I’m making. I hold that however incisive and hard-hitting your commentary, one should always strive to respect those you criticize as fellow human beings. And a most fundamental way you respect other people is that you don’t mock their religion.

I realize I’m on one side of a cultural chasm here. While many Americans can identify with the aggressive secularism that is so common in Europe, I cannot. I’m more of a typical denizen of this country in that I defy the Western trend toward rejecting traditional religion. But in a sense, that’s irrelevant. I like to think that even if I were an atheist, I’d be the sort of atheist who found it unthinkable to mock others for their faith. Mocking other people’s deeply cherished beliefs, ones that are sacred to them, is just so tacky, so low, so déclassé, so nekulturny. I’d find it, as Mr. Darcy would say, insupportable.

Also, I sense that satire plays a somewhat different role in European politics than it does here. You say “satirical newspaper” — the standard description of Charlie Hebdo in news reports — and I think of The Onion. I love The Onion, even when it is at its most irreverent. But that is because I and others see it as all a big joke. It doesn’t occupy a place near the center of our political discourse. I may laugh my scrawny posterior off at a well-turned phrase in The Onion, but I don’t put the writer of that phrase in the same category as Thomas Paine, Horace Greeley, William Allen White, Walter Lippman, David Broder, Kathleen Parker or anyone else who has sincerely wrestled with the issues of the day.

A lot of younger people, we are told, get their news from “The Daily Show,” with everything filtered through a satirical strainer. And we, their elders, greatly valued the political gags of “SNL” in its heyday. Sure, there has always been a place for humor in political commentary, from Mark Twain through Robert Ariail. And I value that. Given much of the soul-crushing madness in our public life, humor is indispensable.

And when a cartoonist uses perfectly legitimate symbolism in making a satirical point, and oversensitive people — a category that includes many Muslims — object on irrelevant grounds, I defend him. I’ve been there many times. If you have a copy of Robert’s last book while at The State, take a look at the cover. It shows a varied mob chasing Robert with the proverbial torches and pitchforks, with such recognizable figures as Bill Clinton and George W. Bush (two of his favorite caricatures) leading the pack. Look back a bit, and you’ll see some Muslim women in burqas among the irate mob. (Sorry, this is the biggest image of the cover I could find on short notice.)

Those women, or their real-life counterparts, actually inspired that cover, and for that matter the book. One day in 2001, some Muslim women were complaining about an Ariail cartoon that they felt disrespected them and Islam. Here’s the cartoon in question:

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That cartoon made fun of a new dress code for pages in the Legislature by showing them covered by burqas. This was obviously making fun of the lawmakers, not Muslim women. We shrugged off the criticism. I said something to Robert like, “You’ve just got everybody on your case lately, don’t you — flag supporters, the governor, Democrats, Republicans, traditional Muslim women…” Which inspired the cover drawing, which we then quickly decided would be a great cover for a book, which we then started to compile.

Robert experienced similar criticism after we both got canned from the paper, over the cartoon below. Though I was no longer paid to do so, I defended him quite vehemently. It’s hard to imagine a better way of stating one of the main flaws with Nikki Haley, particularly at that time — that she talks a big game on transparency, but doesn’t deliver. It was funny, pointed and entirely relevant. And its target was the governor of the state — no wait; going by the date on the post, it was a lawmaker well on her way to becoming the governor of the state.

Note the distinction here. True journalistic courage and integrity lies in willingness to skewer the powerful — the people who hold sway over our lives. It does not lie in deliberately mocking the Prophet, and thereby dumping on the sincere beliefs of a largely powerless, marginalized minority in your society, which is how I would describe Muslims in Europe.

There is a world of difference between unintentionally offending someone’s sensibilities (there is someone out there offended by every cartoon, which is unfortunate but unavoidable) with a symbol or image used to make a sharp point about the powerful, and deliberately savaging a revered religious figure just for the point of doing just that.

The problem in publishing images of the Prophet isn’t that you might offend terrorists. It’s that you will certainly spit in the faces of millions of unoffending Muslims who mean you no harm.

The Wall Street Journal posted a video today telling about some of the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack. At the very end, you see the murdered editor saying:

We are in a weird situation in France. Islam is the second religion in the country in terms of practitioners. And in fact, nobody knows anything about Mohammed. Nobody knows anything about this religion. It’s a religion that scares people because every time we talk about it, it’s when we talk about bomb attacks done by an extreme minority.

So… how do you get from there to deciding that the proper way to respond to that “extreme minority” is to go out of your way to mock the inoffensive, overwhelming majority of people who make up the second-largest religious group in your country? People whose faith you acknowledge that people like you know little about? (And please note the majoritarian assumption underlying his words. “Nobody knows anything about this religion” — nobody except the members of the nation’s second-largest religious group. Such ethnocentrism is weird in someone being lionized as a martyr to liberalism. He displays here the narrowness that unfortunately characterizes so many people who see themselves as the most broad-minded. Sorry to speak ill of the dead, but this is worth pointing out.)

The Washington Post is absolutely right to say, as it does in an editorial today, “Charlie Hebdo stands solidly for free expression. The West must do no less.” I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Post‘s editors on that point. But I can’t honestly say “Je suis Charlie,” because I’ve thought too carefully about such issues over the years, and I know I am not. To paraphrase something allegedly said (the quote is apparently apocryphal) by a famous Frenchman, I defend to the death the right of Charlie to publish what Charlie sees fit to publish. And I will stand in solidarity with the millions of defenders of Charlie against the forces of darkness and intimidation. But I am not Charlie.

Watch this: Some idiot — the sort who should be the subject of a cartoon — will say I’m a coward; I’m “afraid” to deliberately mock Islam. No, I just believe it’s wrong. In fact, if there were a terrorist group threatening credibly to kill me if I didn’t publish images mocking the Prophet, I still wouldn’t do it. Because I DO believe in freedom of expression just as much as the publishers of Charlie Hebdo, and adamantly insist on being guided by my own conscience in deciding what to publish.

If I were still editor of the editorial page of The State, I would today be saying much what the Post is saying. Freedom of expression, particularly political expression (including especially expressions with which I disagree, the sort that appears regularly in Charlie Hebdo) is a core principal of liberal democracy that cannot and must not be compromised. A newspaper must take a stand on that. But note that the Post, in that same editorial, is also making the point that I am making in this completely personal (not institutional) blog post, which addresses a side issue:

We have objected in the past to expressions that appear intended to gratuitously provoke or offend Muslims, particularly in European nations such as France, where a large Muslim population suffers from chronic discrimination and is the target of demagoguery by populist political parties. But such criticism does not justify censorship, much less violence.

Absolutely.

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Guess I’ll have to go see ‘American Sniper’

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Has anyone seen “The Master,” one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last films? I saw it last night on Netflix (still fighting a cold, I’ve been vegging out in front of the tube a lot in my off hours) and was impressed. Not that it seemed to have much meaning, but it was interesting and well done, and had a couple of roles in it that actors would understandably kill for. Anyway, I was curious as to whether any of y’all had any thoughts about it.

I got up this morning thinking about that, but now, I think I may have to make one of my rare trips to the actual cinema to check out the subject of this Tweet from this morning:

Yes, that’s the kind of post that makes you give a second glance to see whose feed this is, and then you say, “The Guardian, of course.”

This particular writer was bending over backward to defend Clint Eastwood, saying that however much “we diverge politically… he is not a black-and-white ideologue.”

No, the problem that the writer decries is that “much of the US right wing” has failed to appreciate that this is a “morally ambiguous, emotionally complex film,” and regard it “with the same unconsidered, rah-rah reverence that they would the national anthem or the flag itself.”

This is supported with examples from some extreme trolls who wish that critics of the film would eat s__t, be raped and die. The usual sick puppies who, I guess we are supposed to assume, represent “much of the US right wing.” Trolls. Really nasty ones.

And of course, you have to be a pretty sick puppy, or challenged in the reading-comprehension department, if you can read the movie’s subtitle — “The Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. History” — and not pick up on the idea that there’s a pickup truckload of moral ambiguity churning about here.

I know y’all all think I’m an incorrigible warmonger and all, but I’m someone who does not blink at the dark thicket of morally impossible choices and ethical quicksand into which war leads us. And I’ve always marveled that anyone can live with himself after having killed as a sniper. Yeah, I know; a sniper can save a lot of his comrades’ lives and perform a useful function in a just cause. But a sniper isn’t running and firing at people firing at him, with his blood pounding in his ears and adrenaline drowning his senses. He calmly, analytically, scientifically, artistically, with great care, observes his magnified victim close-up through his scope for much, much longer than any other soldier ever has an enemy in his sights. And the target is unsuspecting. He has no idea that his death is coolly studying him for long minutes, and then choosing the instant to calmly blow his head apart.

A sniper can be a hero. Everyone he knows may praise him for his skill and devotion to duty. But how do you live with yourself after that?

I wonder at such things. So I wanted to see the movie anyway. But I wanted to see it twice as much after reading this actual review of it, also in The Guardian. This writer doesn’t bother making excuses for Mr. Eastwood, basically lumping him in with the rest of those thoughtless rah-rah American nutters. “American Sniper is so conditioned by its first-person shooter aesthetic that it never widens its focus or pans left or right… while the war on Iraq is a just, noble cause.”

Did you catch that? War on Iraq? This, apparently, is what passes as cool, analytical rhetoric in The Guardian, distinguishing right-thinking people from the “black-and-white ideologues,” all of whom, evidently, are neoconservatives.

Anyway, I was grabbed by this passage from the review:

In one early scene, Kyle’s father tells him that the world is divided into three types: sheep, wolves and sheepdogs. Kyle sees himself as a sheepdog, a noble protector of the weak and the innocent, and it is clear that Eastwood does too. But is the world that simple? A different film (a better film) might have asked the wolves what they think, or at least wondered why the sheep behave as they do….

This grabbed me because that sheep/wolf/sheepdog model is central to Dave Grossman’s study of what he terms “killology,” a field of inquiry he has invented and generally has to himself. Lt. Col. Grossman is the author of that book I’m always going on about, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. It demonstrates, through statistical analyses of battles and other means, that through most of human history, most soldiers have not fired their weapons in combat, and most who did fired over their enemies’ heads, for the simple fact that however they may have been trained, the training failed to overcome their profound aversion to killing fellow human beings. (Actually, in the past generation, U.S. and other advanced armies have overcome that reluctance through conditioning, which has led to more PTSD, which is a reason why Grossman wrote the book.)

That vast majority that doesn’t want to kill, and which suffers tremendous psychological damage when forced to do so, makes up the “sheep” category — not meant as a pejorative, but simply denoting normal, peaceful men.

I’m sometimes unclear as to who, exactly, makes up the “sheepdog” category. Sometimes, Grossman indicates it’s anyone who willingly dons the uniform — of the cop, the soldier, the sailor — and defends his or her society. Other times, though, he seems to be referring to a much rarer breed — the 2 percent of combat soldiers (according to a study from World War II, when there was such a vast cross-section of the male population to study) who “if pushed or given a legitimate reason, will kill without regret or remorse.”

The WWII study found these men to have a tendency to be “aggressive psychopaths.” But Grossman defends them from that damning term, explaining that they are just natural-born soldiers who “apparently do not experience the normal resistance to killing and the resultant psychiatric casualties associated with extended periods of combat.”

In that set of competing definitions, you’ve got enough ambiguity to employ an army of moral philosophers for a century.

Their the sort whose comrades might see as heroes, while those who have no military experience and look askance at those who do view as, well, psychopaths, in keeping with the time-honored tradition:

For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot…

This 2 percent cadre of men tends to gravitate toward the special forces — toward jobs such as that of the subject of “American Sniper,” who was a SEAL.

Anyway, I need to see the movie, and see what I can learn from it. As should anyone who wants to take some responsibility for what we send other men to do for us.