‘Brushfires of Liberty’: Rand Paul drops out, too

GOP chorus

A little less like a chorus line now (I don’t even RECOGNIZE the fourth guy from the right! Pataki? Is he that tall?)

First, Mike Huckabee and Martin O’Malley quit during the Iowa caucuses, so that their passing was hardly noted.

Now, Rand Paul has joined them, in true Paulista style: “Brushfires of Liberty were ignited, and those will carry on, as will I.” (See, this is one of the things about ideologues that kind of gives me the fantods. All that talk about setting fires and extremism being no vice, etc.)

So now that they’ve joined Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker, Rick Perry, Lincoln Chafee, Jim Webb and others I’m probably forgetting, this is starting to look a presidential election rather than a revival of “A Chorus Line.”

Of course, on the GOP side, we need someone other than the undercard candidates to quit in order to help us focus. Several someones, in fact. Y’all know that I think political parties are pretty meaningless constructs, but if the mainstream Republicans still running (but not in the running) want to show that they do believe in their party (I’m picturing the Cowardly Lion: “I DO believe in parties! I DO believe in parties! I do I do I do I do…“), now would be a good time to quit and throw their support to a single rational candidate. Increasingly, as weird as that would have seemed when he first came on the scene, it looks as though that candidate would be Marco Rubio.

Or at least get it down to two, so that the Establishment has something of a chance against the two Unthinkables.

As to Rand Paul… Bob Amundson asked this morning:

Doug, who will libertarian voters support now that Rand Paul is dropping out?

Well, we sort of already have an answer from Doug (although I urge him to answer the question himself). Yesterday, he said:

Do you REALLY think your vote in the Republican primary could ever impact the results? If you’re voting for the most liberal Republican, it won’t make a difference.

I suppose I could skip the Republican primary and vote for Sanders because I’d prefer him over Hillary every day of the week and twice on Sunday… but what’s the point? I’m not voting in either because the only candidate I would ever support hasn’t got a chance – Paul.

I hope all of y’all will join me in urging Doug to pick a candidate he considers least bad (a Republican, or Sanders, or whomever), rather than surrender his franchise. Note that I’m arguing against my own inclinations here, since whoever is next on Doug’s list is likely to be last on mine, but I believe that strongly in his right and duty as a citizen.

This is the moment in the film when the crusty sergeant slaps the private back and forth across the face several times telling him, “You’re a MARINE, dammit! Snap out of it!” And the private says, “Thanks, I needed that,” and gets up and does his duty… OK, OK, so it doesn’t work with me as the crusty sergeant, or Doug as the private. I’m more the officer who taught school in peacetime and is working on his novel between battles, and is given to spontaneous lectures about Why We Fight. Doug is more the recalcitrant misfit who instead punches the sergeant for touching him and ends up in the stockade, again. (There’s a WWII B movie stereotype for everybody!)

But my point is, Doug should vote…

chorus line

Open Thread on results of Iowa Caucuses

I’m in one meeting after another this morning, so I thought I’d put this up so y’all can discuss the results without me.

There’s a lot to digest here, such as:

  • Is this the beginning of the deflation of the Trump balloon?
  • With his strong finish in Iowa and Tim Scott’s endorsement, can Rubio win South Carolina?
  • Hillary almost lost Iowa. She’s going to lose New Hampshire. Will her SC firewall be enough to stop The Bern?

Plus, a bunch of other stuff that isn’t occurring to me at the moment…

Yes, Iowa matters, and no, it should not

On the day when Iowa will caucus, veteran WashPost political writer Dan Balz raises the question, “Does Iowa really matter? And should it?

My answer is, yes, it does. And no, it shouldn’t.

And my answer has nothing to do with those white people in Iowa or their relative political value. I object to the idea of anything as idiosyncratic, and as extremely partisan, as caucuses having such an outsized effect on our nomination process.

As Balz notes:

There’s no question that both the Democratic and Republican caucuses deny some people the opportunity to participate. Unlike a primary, when polls are open from dawn to dark, there is but one window for taking part in the caucuses. There are new provisions this year to make it easier to participate for some who otherwise might be unable to do so. But it is by nature limiting and, to those not closely aligned with their party, it can be intimidating and seemingly exclusionary….

And not just “seemingly.” Ruth Marcus puts her finger on the problem, too:

Welcome to my quadrennial rant against the caucus system. The theory is Norman Rockwell heartwarming: neighbors gathered in a communal enterprise of representative democracy. The reality is jarring, as illustrated by conversations with voters I encountered during a canvassing session with Sanders volunteers Saturday afternoon.

The unforgiving demands of the caucus system serve to intensify the voice of the parties’ most committed, and therefore likely most extreme, voters, as others are deterred by the seemingly arcane and time-consuming process. Meanwhile, caucuses disenfranchise nurses, firefighters and others working the night shift, although both parties took steps this year to offer some opportunity for members of the armed forces to participate….

Yeah, I’m concerned about those nurses and firefighters, yadda-yadda. But I tend to rant against the process in large part because it disenfranchises a guy like me.

There is no way I am ever going to attend a caucus, except to cover it (which I did, way back in 1980, in Arkansas). Attending caucuses is for partisans — and not only for partisans, but for the kind who are so into it that they don’t mind standing up at a public meeting and declaring themselves so, and actively advocating for one candidate or another in front of their neighbors.

So, yeah: It’s yet another thing, alongside the way we reapportion districts, that pushes our politics more toward the extremes.

At least, that’s the usual effect. This year is weird. This is one year in which it might be a good thing for some party regulars to show up and steer the process back toward the mainstream a bit. But even the possibility that that could happen doesn’t reconcile me to the process. The fact that I would, even for a moment, think of party regulars as part of a solution to a problem just shows how far gone we are this year.

I could go on about all the reasons caucuses are horrible, but I don’t have to, because I already did, in this column back in 2008

What Bill Gates would want on a desert island

I daydream about having some small portion of Bill Gates’ fortune (say, a billion after taxes): I think about what I would do first with the money, how I would apportion the lion’s share of it among my kids and grandkids immediately so that they were provided for, how I would arrange for people to handle the remainder so that I would never have to think about the money again (which to me would be the point of having a lot of money — I hate thinking about the stuff — which is why I’m not the kind of guy to MAKE a lot of money), and so forth.

Here’s what Bill Gates daydreams about:

I generally think of people like the slackers at Championship Vinyl spending time musing about their Top Five Desert Island tracks, so it’s interesting to see what comes up when an overachiever like Gates does the same. Particularly since it involves speculating about a situation in which his money would do him no good. Think about it: Did it help Mr. Howell?

Obviously, he’s a guy who doesn’t approach music quite the way we do. We like a song, we listen to it on YouTube, create a Pandora station around it, download it, or if we’re really retro, buy a CD (or if we’re audio snobs, vinyl). Bill Gates does this:

Music also played a special role in Melinda’s and my wedding. She is a big Willie Nelson fan, and I surprised her by hiring him to play after our rehearsal dinner. I’ll never forget dancing with her as he played “Blue Skies”—it was magical….

That Tweet was a bit of a bait-and-switch. I went to the link, and found that I would have to go listen to the whole BBC show (the one that inspired all those lists in “High Fidelity”) to learn what his picks were. Fortunately, the Financial Times saved me the trouble:

  • David Bowie & Queen, “Under Pressure”
  • Willie Nelson, “Blue Skies”
  • Ed Sheeran, “Sing”
  • The Jimi Hendrix Experience, “Are You Experienced?”
  • U2, “One”
  • The Beatles, “Two of Us”
  • Rodgers & Hammerstein, “How Can Love Survive?” (from “The Sound of Music”)
  • Lin-Manuel Miranda and the Broadway cast of Hamilton, “My Shot”

Not what I would have picked. But then, if I were stranded on a desert island, picking a soundtrack would be sort of low on my hierarchy of concerns…

 

 

Thoughts about the GOP debate last night?

694940094001_4727215413001_6c5812e4-26b9-4cb9-9f6f-09738c65eb37

Consider this to be a sort of open thread, since I don’t have a lot to say about last night’s debate in Des Moines. I only put up 19 Tweets (not counting a couple on other topics) during the whole thing, which for me is like being unconscious or something.

But to get us started…

  • Trump’s absence did not elevate the discussion. So, you know, he’s not the whole problem.
  • Cruz started out acting like this was his personal stage and he was welcoming people to it, but then got all whiny when that turned out not to be the case.
  • I’ve decided that I know who Ben Carson is. He’s the kid who almost never gets into the game, and when he does they put him in right field, where he spends the game dreading the possibility that the ball might come to him. When a late swing by a right-hander produces a high pop fly in his direction, he’s like “Oh, no! A foreign policy question! Everybody’s looking at me, and they know and I know I’m going to flub it!”
  • Did you hear Carson say, “saber-rabbling?” Others on Twitter told me they did. Did Cruz really say “vigorousness?” That one surprised me because he likes to do impressions of JFK, whose favorite word was “vigah.” (His impressions are OK, but he confuses Jack with Bobby.)
  • I still think that Jeb Bush may be the safest bet if one of these guy has to occupy the White House, but he just cannot connect. It’s not just that the GOP electorate has gone nuts this year and is looking for crazy. Even without that, he’d be struggling. He doesn’t seem to be able to say anything in an engaging manner. He is just not good at this. As I Tweeted at one point, “As a speaker, Marco Rubio is everything Jeb Bush is not.”
  • I didn’t know who the blonde woman was until about halfway through. I thought she kinda looked like the one Trump hates, but the hair really threw me. Then I felt dumb, even though I never pretend to keep up with TV news personalities. (Also, in my defense — I don’t look at the screen much during these things. I’m busy Tweeting or reading other people’s Tweets.)
  • A writer at Salon was very impressed with Ms. Kelly’s montages of past statements by Cruz and Rubio about immigration. I zoned out of it because 1) I know Rubio has changed his tune on the subject, and 2) I don’t care whether Cruz has or not, because he’s disqualified himself from my consideration in so many other ways. After all that, I wrote, “Did anyone else start thinking about just going ahead and going to bed during that duel between Rubio and Bush over immigration?.”
  • I keep wondering when they’re going to bring out the real candidates. As Lindsey Graham Tweeted earlier this week, “The is more believable and serious than the GOP primary for president right now.”
  • I covered the GOP debate in Des Moines (sponsored by the Register) in 1980. Ronald Reagan skipped that one, just as Trump did this one. It was a better debate. The conventional wisdom on it was that Reagan lost by not being there. (And indeed, Bush won the caucuses.) Nobody was saying that last night.
  • On alternate days I like to like Chris Christie. Last night wasn’t one of those times. He says too many stupid things in stooping to conquer, such as when he said he preferred officeholder who are “from outside Washington.” I mean, hey — everybody serving in Washington is from outside Washington. I did praise him, though, when he declined the opportunity to pander about that court clerk from Kentucky. So I stretched to give him a compliment:

That’s enough from me. What did y’all think?

Henry McMaster’s shocking endorsement of Trump. Yeah, DONALD Trump…

OK, this is a stunner.

Henry McMaster — former state Republican Party chairman, moderate and modest soul, the guy who stuck by John McCain in 2007 when everybody said he had no chance at the nomination, and who is therefore not a guy to jump onto any bandwagon that comes along — has just endorsed Donald Trump.

And not in an “I surrender; we might as well cooperate with the inevitable” way, either. He used language he might well have used to describe McCain, or George H.W. Bush, or Mitt Romney:

He’s not a bomb thrower, not an impulsive man. He thinks things through. He’s very careful. He takes advice. He listens. He seeks advice. He’s very gentle, fine manners, very courteous.

Um, Henry… Could you step over here a second? I want you to meet somebody…. Henry, meet Donald Trump… Because I don’t know who it was you were talking to and thinking it was Donald Trump.

Wow. Just wow…

I mean, Bob Dole trying to talk himself into settling for Trump was bad enough, but this

ARRRGGGGHHH! Marco Rubio just lost ground with me

I’ve been struggling to figure out which candidate I’ll vote for next month, and Marco Rubio has been in the mix for consideration (since he meets the critical “not Trump or Cruz” criterion).

But he just lost a lot of ground with me.

Watch the above ad. It’s only 30 seconds.

Did you hear it? Did it grate on you as much as it did on me?

Yes, he really did say, “It’s time for a president…” (note that — A president, as in just one) “… who will put THEIR left hand on the Bible and THEIR right hand in the air, and keep THEIR promise to uphold the Constitution…”

ARRRGGGHHHH!!!!

I really don’t think I’ve ever heard it done so egregiously by any candidate for any office — three times in one sentence!

Yes, we’re a republic, but that’s no excuse for abusing the Queen’s English so…

Ed Madden’s post-flood poem

gervais street bridge

It was reported that Ed Madden, poet laureate of Columbia, read a poem at Mayor Steve Benjamin’s State of the City speech last night.

I asked Ed to share, and here it is:

At the Gervais Street Bridge Dinner

18 October 2015

And here we all are, this golden hour
on the river; on a bridge between

two cities, a bowl of blue sky
and gold light above us, the brown water

below us, behind us, beyond,
the current beneath all our conversations,

and later the lanterns all coming on

*

J. says there was this woman, Rachel,
not really affected, but needed to do

something, needed to help–there, in his
neighborhood, clipboard in hand, she made

sure that everyone got what they needed
as the floods receded down the streets,

and people assessed what was left

*

Someone makes a toast–to the first
responders walking by, a downed policeman,

to people making their way together, finding
their feet, together. A mayor says the rivers

don’t divide us, they bring us together,
and with each toast we make–all of us

gathered at the long tables, the river
threading our conversations–with each toast

a gust of wings above us, a flyover of geese
following the river home, and in the dark,

the rough voices still singing

Open Thread for Wednesday, January 27, 2016

I don’t have time today for much, but here are a few topics that might interest y’all:

  1. Senate finance panel weighs $400 million in tax cuts as part of roads deal — I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that anyone who thinks the first step in raising badly-needed road funding is to cut an unrelated tax by $400 million shouldn’t be allowed to serve on a finance committee.
  2. One Killed in Oregon as Protest Leaders Are Arrested — I’m curious to know more about exactly what happened on that road last night, but it sounds like the cops have pretty well decapitated this movement, even if not as cleanly as they might have liked. But the other occupiers are still occupying.
  3.  Zika Testing Is Urged for Some Newborns — This is the scariest thing to come from South of the Border in my lifetime. Way, way worse than Killer Bees. At least that was a threat we could laugh at.
  4. Federal jury finds 2 Midlands men guilty of operating gambling ring — These guys shoulda known: State government controls all the gambling in South Carolina, and doesn’t look kindly on anyone poaching on its turf. Why couldn’t they have shown some respect and gone in for prostitution or shylocking instead?
  5. Benjamin’s State of the City address — Thoughts on this? I missed it, but The State‘s story (linked) provides a bulleted list of what it covered.
  6. Special anti-Trump edition of National Review — I’ve meant to blog about this for days. No, I haven’t read it, but I respect the conservatives who were willing to stand up and be counted in this way.

Anyone have any other topics?

What’s with all this anti-Establishment nonsense? (Harrumph.)

Society needs an Establishment: Benedict Cumberbatch as "The Last Tory," Christopher Tietjens, in "Parade's End."

Society needs an Establishment: Benedict Cumberbatch as “The Last Tory,” Christopher Tietjens, in “Parade’s End.” A very steady and dependable fellow…

It’s really gotten ridiculous. This anti-establishment impulse on both the left and the right (to the extent such ephemeral things actually exist) has gotten almost as absurd as it was in the ’60s. (Remember “Never trust anyone over 30?” And if you are old enough to remember it, how childish does it sound to you now?)

The Establishment is that which gives shape and order to the world. It anchors us in a safe-enough environment that it makes free expression and innovation possible. You don’t have time to invent or build a business or dream in a state of nature; you’re too busy keeping your next-door neighbor from killing and eating you. A free and dynamic country needs an establishment, a core of steady folk who cling to such essential values as running a country of laws and not of men, who maintain police forces and military strength and courts and streetsweepers and keeping the Social Security checks coming so that the rest of us can get on with our lives without having to look over our shoulders and preparing to fight every second.

And the thing is, such an Establishment is nonideological. You don’t need ideology to keep things running. The postwar consensus regarding our role in the world kept us focused on containing the Soviets, whether we were led by Democrats or Republicans, and it worked. That’s why I am so encouraged when I see continuity in the essential field of international affairs when the White House changes hands. Sure, it’s frustrating to him that Obama hasn’t been able to close the Guantanamo prison, but it’s reassuring that he sees the same challenges in doing so that his predecessor did, and his successor may.

So I’m impatient with these people who make “Establishment” out to be a curse word.

I got to thinking about this the other day when I read a piece headlined, “What is the dreaded ‘establishment,’ anyway? It depends on who’s talking.

Across the board, people are running against the supposed Establishment, even Hillary Clinton. And sometimes this takes really ridiculous forms — such as when members of the Democratic Party Establishment had a cow when Bernie Sanders made a simple, honest observation:

The Democratic Party, which has seen its progressive wing grow as conservative white voters have bolted, has discovered its own family argument. On MSNBC, Sanders grouped the Human Rights Campaign and Planned Parenthood into an “establishment” that the grassroots needed to challenge. Both groups rejected the term immediately, as if Sanders had called for their offices to be demolished and replaced by Chick-fil-As…

Planned Parenthood is an entrenched institution within the Democratic Party every bit as much as, say, teacher’s unions. That’s one of the big reasons why I am not a Democrat. And because it is so holy to Democrats, because they are all required to genuflect before it, because their visceral response is to fight tooth and nail against any threat to it, it has become part of the larger Establishment. How else to explain its federal funding, which continues in the face of anything and everything thrown at it?

So yes, there are aspects of the Establishment I don’t like, and would change. But even if I could weed out such elements, I would still see the need for the Establishment overall — the ongoing, continuing, consistent core of people and institutions who know how to keep the wheels turning — because you can’t have a civilization without it.

Sir Humphrey in "Yes, Prime Minister." Politicians come and go, but the Establishment endureth...

Sir Humphrey in “Yes, Prime Minister.” Politicians come and go, but the Establishment endureth…

A local case in which armed citizens stopped a crime

The barber shop where the shooting took place. Image from Google Maps.

The barber shop where the shooting took place. Image from Google Maps.

… and killed a suspect in the process.

Bryan, our friendly neighborhood gunslinger, rings to my attention this story that was in The State (and which I admit I read right over), in which local armed citizens stopped a crime… cold:

Elmurray “Billy” Bookman was cutting hair at his barber station, the second chair from the door, when two masked men, one wielding a pistol and the other carrying a shotgun, entered Next Up Barber & Beauty, he said.

Minutes later, Bookman and one of his customers drew their weapons as the robbers were taking money from customers and employees. They fired shots that left one of the suspects dead and sent another on the run just before 7 p.m. Friday.

“The kids were crying, hollering, and their parents were hollering,” Bookman said. “I think (the suspects) were getting kind of frustrated. They started putting their hands on some of the customers.”

About 20 people, including several women and children, were at the barbershop on Fort Jackson Boulevard. It sits behind the Applebee’s restaurant on Devine Street, across from the Cross Hill Market that houses Whole Foods….

Thoughts on this, gentle readers?

Young Icelanders seem confused about God and science

Sistine

Yet another story from The Washington Post that I meant to post about over the weekend…

I was intrigued by this headline:

In this country, literally no young Christians believe that God created the Earth

The story reports that “Exactly zero percent of respondents in a recent survey said they believe that God created the Earth.”

That apparently includes the 40 percent or so of younger people in the increasingly secular country who still consider themselves to be Christian.

I tried to find out how that could be, and the explanation was confusing:

Despite the trend, the Evangelical Lutheran Church is still the country’s declared state church. Solveig Anna Boasdottir, a professor at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Iceland, agreed that scientific progress had changed religious attitudes in the country. But she said that about 40 percent of the country’s younger generation still consider themselves Christian — but none of them believe that God created the Earth. “Theories of science are broadly accepted among both young and old. That does not necessarily affect people’s faith in God,” she said….

Yeah. Got that. I don’t see any reason why acceptance of science would diminish faith in God — I’ve always found that simplistic dichotomy (God on one side, science on the other) — to be rather absurd, with the battle over evolution being one of the more ridiculous manifestations.

But I don’t see how it would affect people’s belief that God made the world, either.

I’ve always thought evolution is exactly the way God would create people and other species — a majestically slow, dignified, enormously complex process, rather than some Cecil B. DeMille, abracadabra “poof!”

Same with the geological eons to create the world on which all these species live.

Yeah, I get it that some people are very literal-minded, and they think that if it didn’t happen in the six days set out in the Genesis allegory, then God must have had nothing to do with it.

So if this survey is right, every single person who lives in Iceland is that literal-minded.

Which surprises me…

So basically, these folks are the opposite of deists, who believed God did create the world, but then left it alone…

The story even acknowledges what seems obvious to me, which is that “some Christians believe both in the Big Bang theory and God’s role.” So… how does that lead to no one believing God created the world?

Maybe the story’s just not well-written…

Chris Christie touts tenuous link to Lindsey Graham

Some of y’all who are always belittling my main senator, Lindsey Graham, may think he gets no respect on the national scene, given how poorly his erstwhile presidential campaign did.

But you’re all wrong, as evidenced by Chris Christie’s eagerness to connect himself to the South Carolinian, even at second hand:

 

 

Former McCain NH Chairman and Lindsey Graham Supporter Peter Spaulding Endorses Chris Christie for President

 

For Immediate Release:                                                 Contact: press@chrischristie.com

Monday, January 25, 2016

MORRISTOWN, NJ – At a press conference in Concord today flanked by several additional members of Senator McCain’s former New Hampshire leadership teams, Peter Spaulding announced his support for Governor Christie. Spaulding was chairman of Senator McCain’s successful 2000 and 2008 bids for president in New Hampshire. He had previously endorsed Senator Graham in the 2016 race.

Spaulding was joined at the press conference by Wayne MacDonald, Paul Chevalier, Sheriff Scott Hilliard, Richard Brothers, Jim Burke, Bernie Streeter, and Dan St. Hilaire who were members of Senator McCain’s 2000 or 2008 New Hampshire leadership teams.

“Chris Christie has the extensive executive and leadership experience that our country needs in these very difficult times. He is also the only candidate who has a proven record of meeting the terrorist threat to our nation head on,” said Peter Spaulding. “I am proud to support him.”

“As we get closer to the primary and we continue to see the growing momentum on the ground in New Hampshire, I am honored to receive Peter’s endorsement,” said Governor Christie. “Peter has a deep understanding of the Granite State and the qualities voters here are looking for in their next president. His support in the coming weeks will be incredibly helpful.”

Peter Spaulding was New Hampshire Chairman of US Senator John McCain’s successful presidential primary campaigns in the first-in-the-nation primary. He also served as a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1988, 1996, 2000 & 2008. He was Chair of the New Hampshire Delegation in 2000 and 2008.

Spaulding, currently Chairman of the Merrimack County Board of Commissioners, served as an Executive Councilor from 1983 to 2006. He previously served as a county commissioner from 1970-1992.

Spaulding is a New Hampshire native who grew up in Bradford, NH. He earned a BA from the University of New Hampshire in 1966.

View the full New Hampshire endorsement list here. 

So there…

Will the U.S. never disentangle itself from WWII?

Here are the two top stories in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs:

  • The Bundeswehr Backs Away From the Brink — Since the end of the Cold War, NATO members’ defense expenditures, which include arms as well as personnel and facilities, have dropped dramatically. Now, Germany plans to increase its military spending, in large part to repair and maintain the Bundeswehr’s deteriorating equipment.
  • The Battle for Okinawa — Growing discontent in Okinawa has the potential to reverberate beyond Japan’s borders. If Washington and Tokyo wish to maintain the bases there, they must be prepared to address the historical and political issues that have led Okinawans to reject them.

By modern standards, we should all be wringing our hands that we are still not rid of the challenges arising from that mess we got involved in back in 1941.

At the moment, I’m reading a fairly new book about the battle in the Ardennes in December 1944 (a.k.a., Battle of the Bulge), and I’m reminded of how Hitler hoped it might give him a chance to fight to a stalemate in the West, so he could concentrate on his main enemy, Russia.

If some modern American leaders had been in charge back then, he might have succeeded. The nation would be in political shock from the disasters of Market Garden and the Hurtgen Forest, that a modern president might have seized upon the Ardennes as an excuse to quit and seek a negotiated settlement.

Then, he could have bragged about having “ended the war in Europe.” Of course, that would have been totally bogus, but not by our standards today…

Doesn’t everybody think of history this way (sort of)?

history

Tim Urban, Wait But Why

I found this piece in The Washington Post over the weekend interesting and enjoyable, but odd:

The history of the world, as you’ve never seen it before

Quick, what famous historical figures were living roughly 500 years ago?

A few creative people might bring to mind the rhyme “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” and recall Columbus, Ferdinand and Isabella. Some clever souls might recall that Michelangelo finished the Sistine Chapel in 1512, and recall from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles a few other names — Leonardo, Raphael and Donatello. Or real history buffs might recall the astronomical work of Copernicus, or Henry VIII’s diva dips in the early 1500s.

But for most of us, what will come to mind is probably the hum of nothingness, or the gentle chirping of crickets. Most of what people remember from history class is pretty pathetic, a weak smattering of names and random anecdotes, like Eli Whitney and his revolutionary cotton gin, or Ponce de Leon looking for the fountain of youth in Florida.

We tend to learn about history by following a particular life or a conflict through the years – what Tim Urban, who runs the blog Wait But Why, calls “understanding history in a vertical sense.” But in a new blog, Urban offers another fascinating approach to understanding history: Taking a big “horizontal” slice to look at who was alive around the world in a certain year….

I say “odd” because… this is sort of the way I’ve always thought of history, not “a way you’ve never seen it before.” I mean, it’s not like I have this infallible database in my mind about when famous historical figures were born and died. I wouldn’t be able to construct a graph like the one above off the top of my head. In fact, I don’t really think in terms of precise dates, beyond the obvious ones such as 1066, 1492, 1776, 1800, 1861-65, 1939-45, and so forth.

But I think of people and events in context. I know roughly who was whose contemporary, because the events they were involved in were happening at about the same time.

How can you avoid knowing, for instance, that Abraham Lincoln, John Brown, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Horace Greeley, George Armstrong Custer and John Mosby were all alive around the same time? They were involved in the same issues during the same era. Admittedly, it’s harder to remember that Karl Marx was a contemporary, too, since he wasn’t involved in the same events and issues. And I had to check to see that The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital straddled the Civil War years. But I knew they were around that time — that is to say, roughly mid-century. I knew Crime and Punishment appeared in the 1860s, and I had this vague idea that Dostoevsky was interacting with Marxist ideas, and… to simplify, I see connections, even if they aren’t as organized as on Mr. Urban’s blog.

It seems to me odd that anyone would think about it any other way. I’m thinking some of y’all probably think of history in this “new” way as well…

Open Thread for Friday, January 22, 2016 (3 days late)

This is weird — I would have sworn I posted this Friday. But apparently not. It wasn’t all that interesting then, but I share it now just to show I was thinking about you Friday. Apparently, it was so dull that I lost interest before hitting “Publish”:

  1. It’s the end of the world as we know it — That is to say, it’s expected to snow somewhere within 200 miles of us (perhaps even closer!), and so everyone’s getting very excited. Here’s the song if you want to listen to it. But just to make you feel better as a South Carolinian, they’re going WAY more ape over the weather in New York and Washington. Of course, they’re expecting an actual blizzard, so…
  2. Debate Sharpens Over Single-Payer Health Care, But What Is It Exactly? — It’s wonderful; that’s what it is. But unattainable. Kind of like Marilyn Monroe was, unless you were Joe DiMaggio.
  3. Obama’s offshore drilling plan meets heavy resistance along Atlantic coast — Thoughts on this? I don’t think we’ve had a discussion of it here. As head of the Energy Party, of course, I have to be for it… although… with oil prices low, and the U.S. actually exporting the stuff again… maybe it’s not that urgent that we hunt for more right now… On the other hand, rising oil prices helped lead to a gain in the market this week, so…

OK, I’m going to stop straining. There’s just not much news out there today…

Hey, Hollywood could use more imagination, period

Even when Morgan Freeman played God, it fit into one of the type categories...

Even when Morgan Freeman played God, it fit into one of the type categories…

The Guardian ran a piece earlier this week that I enjoyed. It addressed the phenomenon of Hollywood not writing good roles for nonwhite actors, which it portrayed as a problem that goes far beyond this year’s all-white Oscars.

But wait! you say. There are lots of great roles for minorities in the movies! Well, yes and no. The part of the piece I enjoyed was its list of Top 10 current stereotypes for “people of colour” (leave it to the Brits to take an already stilted-sounding phrase and make it more that way by adding a “U” to it).

Whether you think opportunities for minority actors are limited or not, you’ll have to smile in recognition at some of the categories, such as No. 1, the “Magical Negro:”

One of the most popular cliches for black characters, a wise, folksy black character with some connection to magical forces or spiritual insight. They only exist to enable a white character to grow as a person and/or reach their goal. Examples include Will Smith in Bagger Vance, Michael Clarke Duncan in The Green Mile, Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost, and most of the roles that Morgan Freeman has ever played.

Or No. 5, “Awkward desexualised Asian:”

A man who is unlucky in love, though often played by extraordinarily good-looking actors. The character can never get a girlfriend, and if they do, it’s down to the intervention of the white protagonist. Generally nerds for good measure. Examples: Kal Penn in Van Wilder, Steve Park in Fargo, and special mention to Jet Li in Romeo Must Die who is in no way awkward but still can’t get a kiss from Aaliyah.

They forgot to mention Raj on “Big Bang Theory.” He exemplifies that type perfectly. (Maybe they were deliberately avoiding TV.)

And let’s not leave out one of my personal faves, No. “7. Jaded older police officer:”

Acts as a counterpoint to a younger, more energetic white police officer. Provides advice based on his own wealth of experience but is often ignored in favour of the white police officer’s instincts. Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon, Reginald VelJohnson in Die Hard, Morgan Freeman in Se7en.

Or Wendell Pierce, Lance Reddick or Clarke Peters in “The Wire.” Especially Clarke Peters, shown here with the requisite younger, brasher white officer. But Danny Glover is definitely the much-lampooned archetype of the category. Now in a way, I’m thinking that role may originally have been conceived by writers as a way of going contrary to type — with the black character representing the Establishment for a change. But yeah, it’s become a type of its own.

So there’s reason to believe this stereotyping thing is real, right?

But you know, in the spirit of “All Lives Matter,” we must acknowledge that Hollywood could stand to have more imagination when it comes to creating characters of all pigments and nationalities.

Here are a couple of types we can see out there for white men:

Idiot father and husband: The opposite of “Father Knows Best,” this guy is always wrong, and thank God he’s got a wife and kids to keep him straight. Think Archie Bunker in “All in the Family,” Doug Heffernan in “The King of Queens” (see the video below for the perfect example of the type), Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin in “The Family Guy,” Ed O’Neill as a dad in almost anything.

Feckless man-child — This guy is lost in time, lost in the culture, lives in a confused fog and has only the vaguest notion of himself as a man — either according to traditional or modern standards. Jesse Pinkman in “Breaking Bad,” Edward Norton’s character before he and Tyler Durden started the “Fight Club,” almost any character portrayed by Breckin Meyer (I’m thinking particularly of “Clueless” and “Kate and Leopold”), Seth Rogen in almost anything (but especially “Knocked Up”), Wayne and Garth of “Wayne’s World,” Bill and Ted of “Excellent Adventure” fame.

But of course, the roles for white guys don’t always belittle them, not by a long shot. At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have:

Secular Messiah — Ordinary young man discovers, to his wonder and often his delight, that he is not ordinary at all, but The One — a completely unique and necessary hero with special, mystical qualities who is destined to deliver his people from evil. This is an old role dating back in our literature quite a ways, but the movies have enthusiastically embraced it. Think: Arthur in every story from Le Morte d’Arthur to Disney’s “The Sword in the Stone,” Paul Atreides in “Dune,” Neo in “The Matrix,” Harry Potter in all the books and films of that universe, Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars.”

The One doesn’t have to be a white guy, you understand, but somehow, in the movies, he always is.

Of course, Morgan Freeman got to play God… but that’s covered in the “Magical Negro” category…

Putin probably LIKES being accused in Litvinenko death

Russia is issuing denials, but it occurs to me that on a certain level, Vladimir Putin relishes the British report that concludes he “probably” ordered the death of Alexander Litvinenko in London 10 years ago.

All his old pals from KGB days are bound to be jealous. Or scared. Or both...

All his old pals from KGB days are bound to be jealous. Or scared. Or both…

He’s likely to be congratulating himself that the whole world — and especially the part of it that consists of critics of his regime — thinks he gave the order. And having his old KGB cronies believe he did it in such a Dr. Evil kind of way, with polonium-210 slipped into the victim’s green tea, should be enough to have him hugging himself with delight. That impatient Obama can blow people up with drones, but this was real artistry by comparison. What a way for one spy to do in another!

Such reports would be embarrassing to most world leaders, but not to Putin. Really, what penalty is he ever likely to have to pay for this?

At this moment, he’s probably fighting the urge to strip his shirt off and go running through the countryside, holding a rifle. Or not. Fighting it, I mean.

Rubio is a pawn star in new ad

I visited Marco Rubio HQ over on Huger earlier this week. If I hadn’t known exactly where it was (in the building that used to be a flag store), I might have driven past it. There was no signage visible from the road other than one of those wheeled signs with the movable letters.

I was there to touch base with Buzz Jacobs, newly named senior adviser to the campaign. Buzz was one of the architects of John McCain’s come-from-behind (remember when they said he was out of it, in mid-2007) victory here in 2008.

Nothing to report on that conversation — we just spent the time catching up, off the record. But I did ask him to put me on the Rubio email list — I’m sort of inundated with stuff from Cruz and Christie, but hadn’t been getting anything from this campaign.

Buzz obliged, and so I share with you the above new ad, which came in this morning.

I’m not entirely sure of the value of being hawked as a great investment by a pawn shop owner, but hey, there are popular TV shows now about that business, right? So what do I know? (And I find myself trying to place the background music — I think I heard it on a video game I had years ago.)

One thing Buzz did tell me was that they would have a more noticeable sign out front soon. And he meant really soon, because there were some young guys putting it up as I was leaving.

So it seems the Rubio campaign is getting settled in for the home stretch in South Carolina…