Today’s Hot Topic: Columbia taxes and ecodevo

We had a pretty good crowd, who seemed engaged.

We had a pretty good crowd, who seemed engaged.

We’ve relaunched the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council’s monthly Hot Topic discussions. Today at the Chamber offices we tackled the subject of Columbia property taxes and their effect on economic development efforts. Or, as local Chamber head Carl Blackstone said when I told him about it, “My favorite topic.”

On the panel were:

  • Mayor Steve Benjamin
  • Paul Livingston, chairman of Richland County Council
  • Henry Baskins, executive vice president, Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce
  • Ryan Coleman, director of ecodevo for the city
  • Jeff Ruble, head of ecodevo for Richland County
  • Lasenta Lewis-Ellis, president/CEO of LLE Construction Group

We had a good discussion, and will probably have another to follow up before long.

Local businessman Hal Stevenson moderated.

To give y’all some idea of what was said, here are some of my Tweets from during the session:

All of that said, the mayor speaks pragmatically when he says that he imagines the chances of the Legislature undoing the damage it did with Act 388 are “slim to none.”

Local attorney Mitch Willoughby chats with the mayor after the forum.

Local attorney Mitch Willoughby chats with the mayor after the forum.

Kyle always makes First Thursday sound cool…

I did go check out First Thursday later. That's Kyle in the doorway in he garnet shirt. That's ex-Rep. Boyd Brown in the foreground with his head turned back.

I did go check out First Thursday later. That’s Kyle in the doorway in the garnet shirt. That’s ex-Rep. Boyd Brown in the foreground with his head turned back.

I don’t know if I’ll stop by First Thursday on Main Street on my way home, but I always enjoy Kyle Michel’s oblique invitations to do so:

I stood out there and watched that lunar eclipse a couple of weeks ago. Cold night, clear sky and the moon just hanging up there bright and beautiful until the shadow slowly crept across, and then it turned that eerie red. Amazing.

Then you see all those awesome pictures of it and you think, how does that big chunk of rock just sit out there like that? What’s holding it up, anyway? Wait! What’s holding us up? Why doesn’t earth just fall? I mean, we weigh A LOT! And we’re sitting on nothing – like nothing nothing.

Oh yeah, gravity. The moon’s caught in our gravitational field. And we’re in the sun’s gravitational field and the sun’s caught in the Milky Way’s gravitational field so we all just kinda sit out here, floating in space everybody circling around somebody else bigger – for a long. dang. time.

OK – so where does the gravity come from? Well, it’s generated by the mass of the celestial body. How? We’re not sure. Can you go touch the gravity? No. Where is the gravity located? It’s not really located anywhere it just happens. How do we even know this in the first place then? Truth be told, we don’t *know*, it’s just our best theory – you know Einstein and relativity and all that. And they’ve had to invent some new theories to layer on the old theories to make all the math work out. But it’s still shaky.

Some things are like those distant stars in the dark night sky – the more you focus on ’em the fuzzier they get. First Thursday, on the other hand, doesn’t require any focus at all and you can get as fuzzy as you want.

It’s just a bunch of people you forgot you knew caught in Main Street’s gravitational field circling around each other for a few hours in purely random order. No hard questions. No shaky theories. No math.

We get going around 6:30. Stop by if you’re out.

I walked by on my afternoon constitutional earlier and he hadn’t put the records out yet. As I’ve mentioned before, Kyle has the biggest collection of vintage records of anyone I know, rivaling Championship Vinyl itself, and he always puts a couple of tables laden with ones he’s willing to part with — for a modest price — out in front of his office on First Thursdays.

Check it out….

I ended up purchasing three albums from "3 for $5" bin.

I ended up purchasing three albums from “3 for $5” bin.

George Will harshes Beto’s buzz

The skateboarding man-child.

The skateboarding man-child.

One of the more interesting things about this moment in our history is watching conservative pundits writing about Democrats who — they hope — would have the potential to beat Trump in 2020.

I’m not saying it’s remarkable that they want Trump gone. Any “conservative” who knows what the word means — and too few of those who use it constantly do — would want him out of office yesterday.

I mean it’s interesting because they bring attention to substantive potential candidates who actually might have a chance of winning a general election. Which these days is something of a novelty. Most of the writing about 2020 thus far has been about this week’s shiny new toy, rather than people someone other than a Democrat might vote for.

George Will has devoted several columns lately to elevating the profiles of people who he believes have what it takes. My mentioning Will will cause Doug and bud to bristle — a lot of what I write about does that. But as guys who appreciate numbers and hard facts more than my intuitive leaps, they should pay attention to Will. He’s just as avid a student of electoral stats as he is of the ones that apply to baseball.

His latest effort praises Sen. Amy Klobuchar. He breaks it down without sentimentality or wishful thinking:

Klobuchar is from a state contiguous with Iowa, whose caucuses might, or might not, be as big a deal in 2020 as they have been since Jimmy Carter’s 1976 success in them propelled him toward the presidency. (Early voting for California’s March 3 primary, in which probably 11 percent of delegates to the Democratic National Convention will be allocated, begins the day of Iowa’s caucuses, so some candidates might slight Iowa to court California.) Minnesota also borders Wisconsin, one of the three Rust Belt states (the others are Michigan and Pennsylvania) that Donald Trump took but that had voted Democratic in at least six consecutive presidential elections. She is from the Midwest, where Democrats need help in Michigan (Trump carried it by just 0.3 percent of the vote), Iowa (Trump by nine percentage points) and Ohio (Trump by nine points).

Minnesota has voted Democratic in 11 consecutive presidential elections (since it spurned George McGovern, from neighboring South Dakotain 1972). It has more electoral votes (10) than such swing states as New Hampshire (four), Iowa (six), Nevada (six) and Colorado (nine). But Minnesota’s blueness has been fading: Barack Obama defeatedMitt Romney by eight percentage points in 2012, but four years later, Hillary Clinton defeated Trump by just 1.5 points….

He also notes that she won election last year to a third term by a 24-point margin.

Of course, you know me — I prefer the pithy statement that touches on an essential truth. So my favorite line in the column was this: “In the Almanac of American Politics’ most recent (2015) vote rankings, she was the 27th-most-liberal senator, liberal enough to soothe other liberals without annoying everyone else.” Quite.

But if Will is a guilty pleasure for you, as he is for me, you might like his lede on this one, in which he dismisses one of the Democrats’ shiny new toys on the way to speaking of the more substantial Sen. Klobuchar:

Surely the silliest aspirant for the Democrats’ 2020 presidential nomination is already known: “ Beto ,” a. k.a. Robert Francis, O’Rourke is a skateboarding man-child whose fascination with himself caused him to live-stream a recent dental appointment for — open wide, please — teeth cleaning. His journal about his post-election recuperation-through-road-trip-to-nowhere-in-particular is so without wit or interesting observations that it merits Truman Capote’s description of “On the Road” author Jack Kerouac’s work: That’s not writing, that’s typing.

When Democrats are done flirting with such insipidity, their wandering attentions can flit to a contrastingly serious candidacy…

Ow. That is way harsh. But it hits home.

Anyway, after this, you should check out the respect Will lavishes upon John Delaney, Sherrod BrownCheri Bustos (not as a presidential hopeful, but as an example of what Dems should emulate if they want to win in general), and finally… drum roll… Elizabeth Warren.

Of Warren, he says “Democrats have found their Thatcher — if they dare.” You don’t get higher praise than that, coming from a conservative.

He’s been on something of a pragmatic roll lately…

What did Sorkin say that was wrong? Absolutely nothing…

Zakaria Sorkin

Been meaning to say something about this since it came to my attention a week or so ago.

And like so many things I want to say something about, I don’t get to it, day after day, because there’s too much I want to say about it, and I don’t think I’ll have time, so I never get started. Well, let me take a very quick shot at it.

Basically, the short version is that Aaron Sorkin said some stuff that made sense, and the Democratic Party’s Peanut Gallery got mad at him about it — which illustrated a lot of what’s wrong with the Democratic Party. Which matters because somebody’s got to be the alternative to Trumpism in America, and if the Dems aren’t up to it, I don’t know who that’s going to be. (Probably not the Starbucks guy, if that’s what you’re thinking.)

Here’s the short version of what he said, in a Tweet from one who didn’t like it:

And the short version of the apoplectic reaction is, We don’t wanna grow up!

Far as I’m concerned, if Aaron Sorkin wants to run for something, he’s got an excellent shot at the Grownup Party nomination.

Here’s a clip that’s slightly longer than the one above:

That monologue is a lot like what Will McAvoy said in that opening episode of “The Newsroom.” Rougher, less eloquent, of course, since Sorkin was speaking aloud instead of writing. But it’s largely the same message — we need to get back to being the “Thank God the Americans are here” country.

Someone’s going to have to be what Sorkin calls “the non-stupid party,” since the Republicans — by their embrace of Trump — has so fervently embraced the opposite role.

If the Democrats aren’t smart enough or mature enough to take that on, someone else will have to.

This has a lot of aspects worth discussing — I’m sure there’s more I’ll want to say — but I’d thought I’d at least get it started…

‘Alistair1918:’ A nice little film you probably haven’t heard of

alistair1918

Just a quick word about a neat little film you may not have heard about, and might enjoy.

It’s called “Alistair1918.”

I ran across it on Amazon Prime, where you can see it for free if you’re a subscriber. It wasn’t among the films and TV shows the service promotes on its main page. You know how if you call up a film, depending on your interface, you get a list of similar movies across the bottom of the screen — and then if you click on one of those, you get a list of things related to that? After you do that two or three times, you get to some interesting, and unexpected, stuff. Well, I was a click or two into one of those searches for arcana, looking for something to watch while working out, and ran across this.

But the blurb doesn’t really tell you what it’s like. It says, “A World War One soldier accidentally time travels to present day Los Angeles. Filthy, penniless, with no way to prove his identity, he struggles to find a way back to his wife in 1918.”

Actually, all of that has already happened when you meet Alistair, the British soldier. He’s been in the present day for about a month, and he’s already come to grips with the fact that it’s the 21st century and that he’s stuck here. He’s been living in Griffith Park, staying alive by trapping squirrels.

So there are no battle scenes, or flash-bang depictions of what time travel might be like, or anything. No “Back to the Future” action involving DeLoreans. In fact, it’s basically like what you’d see on an amateur documentary, because that’s what it’s supposed to be. Near as I can recall, you see nothing that’s not part of the “documentary” footage. It’s about as vérité as cinéma gets.

When the film started, I thought it was a promo for something else, one of those Prime routinely gives you at the start of a video, and only when the “promo” dragged out into extended scenes did I realize the show had started.

It starts with this nervous young woman named “Poppy” trying on different outfits before doing interviews on camera. Gradually, you infer that she’s a graduate student shooting a documentary for her master’s, with help from friends, about homelessness in Los Angeles. She starts by asking people on a city street about the homeless. After a couple of people mention all the homeless in Griffith Park, the crew goes there. They head off the beaten path and starting looking in a wooded area, and the first homeless guy they meet is the one you see below — Alistair.

When they interview him, he very matter-of-factly explains his situation. As I’ve said, he’s had time to adjust. So there’s none of the “Where the hell am I, and what’s happened to me?” drama you see in most time-travel films. He’s even unimpressed with the technology. Alistair dismisses such tropes as irrelevant to his situation or his goal — which is to get back to his wife in 1918. Later in the film, when one of Poppy’s friends sort of condescendingly asks him whether he’s amazed at the old flip phone Poppy has given him, he says, with a “what kind of rube do you think I am?” tone, “We have telephones.” When the guy says, yeah, but this has no wires, Alistair says, “We have radio, also.”

Alistair’s a pretty smart guy who defies the usual fish-out-of-water cliches. You know he’s a pretty smart guy because when they ask him what he did before the war, he says he wrote for a newspaper back in England (ahem!). He’s a guy who reads, and writes, and figures things out. In fact, after a “scientist” he meets fails to get him back home through a hare-brained stunt, he reads every book in the library that deals with wormholes in a quest to figure out how she got it wrong. (The film’s title is Alistair’s email address, which Poppy creates for him so he can communicate with the scientist.)

The film was written by Guy Birtwhistle, the actor who portrays Alistair. Told you he was a smart guy.

Anyway, I think you’ll enjoy this. You should check it out…

in Griffith Park

You want to be president? Send me your resume, and maybe I’ll get back to you…

We may joke around, but here's one guy I can take seriously. Have the others drop off their resumes...

We may joke around, but here’s one guy I can take seriously. Have the others drop off their resumes…

One of the most maddening parts of my job working for James Smith was the way the SC press went gaga over anything having to do with anyone who might be running for president in 2020.

It was one of several irrelevant things that they often preferred to write about instead of what they should have been writing about. Others included campaign finance, ad strategy, and occasionally really off-the-wall stuff like Brett Kavanaugh or abolishing ICE. What should they have been writing about? Things that would help voters decide whether James or Henry was better qualified to be governor. Period. If you’re not providing that service to the voters, then the First Amendment has no purpose. And there was far too little of it.

(Oh, and don’t go, “Aha! Now that you’re on the other side you see how awful the press is!” Wrong. This kind of stuff had been driving me nuts for at least 30 years. It’s one of the reasons I made the transition from news to editorial back in 1994 — looking for a situation in which I could do journalism that meant something. And my alienation from the way political news is done increased enormously after that transition. Reading the paper every day as an opinion writer was painful. I’d start reading a story wanting to know one thing that would help me — and the readers — decide what to think of that particular news development, and not only would the information be missing, but I’d see no evidence that it had even occurred to the writer to ask the question.)

But maybe I’d better get to the point.

As I said, reporters got really excited about people who were looking at a 2020 run (clicks, baby!). And they’d want to interview us about them, apparently presuming we were excited, too. What do you think of this national celeb who’s coming to help your campaign? Yeah, right. They were coming to help themselves. There was only one 2020 poss about whom we cared — Joe Biden. Joe is a mentor of James’, and we very much looked forward to his coming to help us with a fund-raiser. Which he did, on Oct. 13. It was a big day, a highlight of the campaign for us — not because he might run in 2020, but because he was Joe Biden, and we loved the guy. Having him in our corner said things about us that we actually wanted said.

I’m going to get to the point, I promise…

Here it is…

We live in a country, in a world, in which the about only qualification needed to be a candidate for president (and therefore for any other office), and to be taken seriously by an alarming number of people, is to be presumptuous enough to put yourself out there. Well, that, and the ability to get some people to pay attention to you when you do.

Whom does this describe? Lots of people. To mention a few — Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, and the granddaddy of them all, Donald Trump. I could mention other Republicans, but then I’d have to stop and think, and it’s the Democrats who are irritating me the most right now, on account of my recent campaign experience.

Oh, and yes, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Those two will really get a rise out of people, because they’ve been taken seriously by so many people for so long now that their candidacies seem inevitable. And I’ll grant you that Sanders has at least demonstrated one necessary capability, as counterintuitive as the fact is: the ability to get actual people to actually vote for him.

So what are my criteria for taking someone seriously for the nation’s highest office? There are a number of them. Some are intangible, like the ability to inspire or simply being a person well matched to the moment — and some of you will say some of the above fit one of those criteria. But particularly this far out, when we are first deciding whom we might take seriously, the number-one thing I’m looking at is résumé. (Sorry, Doug, but it’s one of those posts.)

What I mean by that is, when I read this person’s bio in Wikipedia or some other bland, relatively impartial source, does it say to me, “Obviously, the next step for this person is to run for POTUS?”

Joe Biden’s does, of course. Over on the GOP side, John Kasich’s looks pretty good, which is one reason why I voted for him in 2016 — if not exactly awesome. (The biggest weakness in Kasich’s bio is lack of experience in foreign policy, which of course is the most important part of a president’s job.”)

Of course, résumé isn’t everything, and it’s possible to have a thin one and still be a pretty good president — JFK and Barack Obama come to mind. But those were extraordinary individuals of great intellect and almost superhuman oratorical skill, and they both fit into the “being a person well matched to the moment” category I mentioned earlier.

And some people with good resumes are simply not politically viable. I’d put Lindsey Graham in that category. On paper, he looks good — legislator, congressman, senator, longtime leader on issues ranging from national security to judicial confirmation, now chairman of Senate Judiciary. But he’d never get elected, and not just because he’s gone off his trolley on Trump.

Once, you generally had to have a great resume to be considered at all. Look at Lyndon “Master of the Senate” Johnson, or Nixon, or George H. W. Bush. Even Reagan, whom I regarded as a lightweight at the time, had been governor of our largest state. Eisenhower, of course, had no electoral experience, but his diplomatic chops holding the Allies together in Europe were pretty awesome, and of course there was that saving-the-world-from-Hitler thing. (Harry Truman was of course an anomaly. His resume was so unimpressive that he shocked everyone with how good a job he did.)

That has changed because of all sorts of things — the decline of parties as entities that certified qualifications and suitability, the rise of uncurated media, celebrity junk culture, other things. Now, if you can generate some buzz on social media, at least some people will take you seriously as potential leader of the Free World. Even if you lack any qualification for the job — in fact, even if everything that is known about you loudly proclaims that almost anyone in the country would be better suited than you. Doubt me on that? Do I have to bring up Trump’s name again?

So anyway, forgive me if I fail to get excited when the next “2020 hopeful” comes to town. Just ask them to drop off their resumes while they’re here, and if those look good, I’ll get back to them and assess them for other qualifying factors.

Sure, dismiss me for being even more presumptuous than the wannabes themselves. But you know what? While it’s far from perfect, I guarantee you that would lead to a better field of candidates than the current non-process for identifying this week’s “it” candidate….

We love the guy, and were happy to be seen with him...

We love the guy, and were happy to be seen with him…

Here you go, Doug…

2789653

I initially used this image when I posted our medical cannabis release on the campaign website. James communicated to me that it wasn’t quite the look he wanted to go with so, ya know, I took it down…

How did we win over Doug Ross back during the campaign (however briefly)? Well, I imagine a number of things went into it, but one think I know played a role was our stance on medical cannabis.

James won’t be around to get ‘er done, but I’m sure Doug will be encouraged by this release yesterday from Tom Davis, the most libertarian member of the Legislature:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

CONTACT:

State Sen. Tom Davis

tdavis@harveyandbattey.com

State Rep. Peter McCoy

peter@mccoyandstokes.com

COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina State Sen. Tom Davis and Rep. Peter McCoy released the following statement regarding their intent to file tomorrow, on Tuesday, January 15, 2019, a bill titled the “South Carolina Compassionate Care Act,” in order to legalize in South Carolina the use of cannabis by patients for certain specific medical conditions, subject to a physician’s authorization and supervision, and to legalize in this state, subject to regulation and oversight by DHEC and SLED, the cultivation, processing and dispensing of cannabis for such medical use:

“For the past several months, we have worked with law enforcement, health professionals, grassroots advocates, and other individuals and organizations to draft the most strictly regulated and tightly supervised medical-cannabis program in the country.  Poll after poll on this issue confirms what we consistently hear from our constituents – that the overwhelming majority of South Carolinians do want physicians to have the legal ability to authorize the use of cannabis by their patients if those physicians believe it would be of medicinal benefit, but that they do not want to legalize the use of cannabis for recreational purposes.

“Our objective in drafting this bill has been to provide for a medical-cannabis program that reflects South Carolinians’ views on the matter – that is, to draw a bright line between medical and recreational use.  We believe the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act, a copy of which is attached, does that.  The summary of the act, also attached, breaks down in detail the safeguards put in place to ensure that a medical-cannabis program does not morph into a recreational one.  In developing these safeguards, we have looked at what has worked and what hasn’t in the 33 states that have already legalized cannabis for medical purposes.

“We acknowledge that the medical-cannabis program we propose is much stricter than the others; that is intentional.  From the tightly defined list of qualifying medical conditions to the level of detail required in the written certifications by the authorizing physicians, from the prohibition against smoking cannabis to the imposition of felony penalties for the diversion of medical cannabis for recreational use, and from the mandatory use of seed-to-sale tracking systems to the testing of medical cannabis by independent testing laboratories, we believe the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act draws the bright line between medical and recreational use of cannabis that the overwhelming majority of South Carolinians want.

We will have a press  conference at the State House in Columbia at 4 p.m. tomorrow, Tuesday, January 14, 2018, to review the provisions of the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act in detail and to answer questions about that act.”

###

Tom notes that polls show a supermajority of South Carolinians favor the change. Well, he’d better get a supermajority of votes in the General Assembly, because the guy who won the governor’s race doesn’t hold with it.

If we’d won, he wouldn’t have that problem.

It’s great to watch someone doing something really well — and digging it

From the UCLA Gymnastics Twitter feed.

From the UCLA Gymnastics Twitter feed.

As y’all know, I’m not much of a sports fan. And as I’ve confessed, I don’t think this speaks well of my character.

As I said in a recent comment, I’m just not generous enough — or something — to identify with or thrill to someone else’s accomplishments. Except on rare occasions. (For instance, I was pleased for the Cubbies when they won the Series in 2016.) I like sports OK as something to do — or at least, I used to when I was younger — but I don’t enjoy them vicariously.

Actually, though, that’s not entirely true. While I may seldom identify with a team (you won’t hear me refer to a team as “we,” for instance, unless I’m one of the athletes involved, which as time goes by is increasingly unlikely), and I won’t thrill to other people’s victories or mourn their defeats, in the normal course of things… there is one level on which I get the whole fan thing:

I do appreciate a virtuoso performance. So I’m a sucker for a highlights reel, or those video clips that my MLB At Bat app calls to my attention. It doesn’t matter who the athlete is or what team he’s on, or what the sport is. I mean stuff that makes you go, “How can anybody DO that?” Stuff that reminds me of what the character Elmo in “Vision Quest” said about why he broke down in tears from having seen Pelé do something amazing with a soccer ball on TV:

That’s right, I start crying. Because another human being, a species that I happen to belong to, could kick a ball, and lift himself, and the rest of us sad-assed human beings, up to a better place to be, if only for a minute… let me tell ya, kid – it was pretty goddamned glorious….

And while I can be said to follow gymnastics even less than other sports, I really enjoyed seeing the above clip when The Washington Post brought it to my attention this morning:

“A 10 isn’t enough for this floor routine by @katelyn_ohashi,” the UCLA Gymnastics official Twitter account tweeted Sunday, sharing a video of Ohashi’s stellar showing at the Collegiate Challenge, where the UCLA Bruins earned first place. As of early Monday morning, the video of the routine had been viewed more than 13 million times.

So I now share it with y’all. Perhaps it will make you smile. Although your smile may not be quite as brilliant as hers…

Reactivated for campaign duty, for one brief moment…

Q4

I was eating breakfast last Thursday, minding my own business, when the call came from Tom Barton of The State.

He said he thought maybe today was the day for campaign finance reports for Q4, and wondered when we might have our report ready.

I didn’t say “What?,” or “Why are you asking me?” or “Take a flying leap!” After all, whom else was he going to ask? So I shifted immediately back into campaign mode, and gave him the response I probably used the most during those four months: I told him I didn’t have the slightest idea, but I’d check and get back to him.

I soon learned that the deadline was today, although there was a five-day grace period, and that a couple of folks who had handled finance for the campaign were working on completing it.

This led to a flurry of multilateral communications via text that lasted all day and into the night. I just went back and counted: There were 64 of them, involving a total of seven people. Although the main communications involved one of the finance folks, James and Mandy and me. And James didn’t weigh in until the rest of us had things sorted out — which was smart.

In other words, it was just like being back on the trail, except more restful because we were only dealing with this one simple thing, instead of 10 or 20 things that made us want to tear our hair out.

The short version is that one of those texts gave me the figures I needed, I wrote a release, James and Mandy approved it, and after holding it for a couple of hours to see whether we wanted to react to anything in Henry’s report when they filed it (we didn’t), I dug up my campaign media address lists and sent it out to 200 and something media types, at 10:28 p.m.

But first, I texted Tom to tell him it was coming, since he was the one person who had asked.

I haven’t seen any reports on the filing, which is not surprising, because it’s not that interesting. (Perhaps I even DID see such a headline, and My Eyes Glazed Over.) But we did what was required.

It was kind of nice and sort of poignant to be working with everybody again, although on such a low-key level.

That’s probably my last release for the campaign, but who knows? I wasn’t expecting that one…

But take heart! Corporate B.S. is alive and well…

In 1974, the paper's newsroom was still like a place where Ben Hecht would feel at home.

In 1974, the Memphis paper’s newsroom was still like a place where Ben Hecht would feel at home.

I tend to have little patience with populists who rant about corporations, from Bernie Sanders to Tucker Carlson.

But you know that thing Fitzgerald said about “he test of a first-rate intelligence (being) the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time?”

Well, personally, in my newspaper life, I never saw much good come out of the corporate offices. And I did my best to ignore them, because of a central truth about newspapers: They only had meaning as local players, as institutions vitally engaged with their communities. The purely financial relationship between papers and the corporations had nothing to do with the sacred relationship between papers and their readers. And I was determined to make sure the one in no way intruded into the other.

I was not alone in that, of course. And fortunately, the corporations that owned the papers I worked for respected that.

Those days are largely gone. Corporate looms much larger in the day-to-day existence of small-to-mid-sized newspapers, and the sense of place is much diminished, starting from the top, with senior editors and publishers who oversee several papers at a time, scattered across several cities.

But I digress.

Today, on a Facebook page created for journalists once employed by a newspaper at which I first started working 43 years ago, I noticed a shared news item from 2017 (the page doesn’t get a lot of activity) about the bigger paper down the road in Memphis, with the headline, “The Commercial Appeal seeks new home with digital forward attitude.”

Some of my former colleagues commented on remembering when the building the paper was abandoning was built, and seemed such a glittering modern creation. Me, I remember the ancient building before that one, where I had started my career as a copy clerk while still in school. The atmosphere was exactly like a set from “His Girl Friday,” or something else that would have been familiar to Ben Hecht. It was like stepping from the 1970s back into the ’30s, or ’20s — both architecturally and in terms of the working atmosphere. That was an atavistic bunch that worked there in 1974, bearing very little resemblance to the places I worked for the rest of my career.

But what I chose to comment on was the phrase, “digital forward attitude.”

A lot is gone from the old biz — the people, the money, the sense of mission — but we can clearly see that corporate B.S. is alive and well…

128 gigabytes? 128 GIGABYTES?!?!?!?!

My new iPad came yesterday, and I’m as excited as Doc Brown finding out that his flux capacitor actually works!

Perhaps the best part is that, after years of having to constantly dump stuff to keep my old 32 GB model from getting too full, I now have 128 GB to work with! Last night, the new one automatically went to the cloud and downloaded every app that was on the old one (which I didn’t necessarily need it to do, because I can do without some of them), and when it was done it took up only 14 gigs!

I’ve got 114 gigs of completely clean, virgin, unexplored space lying before me! I’m like one of the English settlers at Jamestown with the whole continent to my west! (Yeah, not a particularly pleasant analogy if you’re a Native American, but it was the first one that came to mind. Race memory stored in the collective unconscious, or something.)

But when I left the house this morning, I suddenly chickened out and brought my old beat-up iPad with me instead. Because if I left the house with the new one it could get wrecked, stolen, scratched, breathed on wrong!

I think I’ll just go home to it tonight and rub it with a diaper.

OK, I’ll stop with the silly movie references now. But I’m kind of giddy about this thing. I’m a heavy tablet user, and having one that’s new and fast and doesn’t freeze up and has more space than I (currently) need is actually going to make my day-to-day life easier…

This reminds me -- I really need to get a haircut...

This reminds me — I really need to get a haircut…

 

Oh, come on! 1939 was the greatest year for film. Or maybe 1967. But 1955, or 1982? Don’t make me laugh!

Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights

Back in the olden days, we had to stockpile “evergreen” stories for that period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, when not all that much news happened, but the papers were humongous because of all the ROP ads.

The tradition of doing “best-of” retrospectives on the year are sort of related to that phenomenon. And even now in the post-print world, when editors are no longer haunted by the physical “hole to fill” problem, the tradition continues.

I referred to that earlier. But on Dec. 28 (sorry I’m just getting to it), The Washington Post ran a variation on the genre: They gathered seven “film buffs” on their staff and got them to make their arguments as to which was the greatest year for film.

Which was kind of silly, and sort of had the effect of giving ALL the kids trophies. This, for instance, is an artificially democratic statement: “Eventually we found the best year in movies — all seven of them.” Yeah. Because everyone’s opinion is equally valid, right? Bull. What a pat on the head — you all tried so-o-o hard

Basically, I think they tried a little too hard, and overcomplicated the subject. The proper question is sort of binary: Was 1939 the greatest year, or wasn’t it?

It was the moment of Peak Hollywood. The very idea of Hollywood has never had the grip on us it had then, before or after. We’re talking “Gone With the Wind.” “The Wizard of Oz.” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” None of which require any elaboration. “Stagecoach,” which launched John Wayne. “Wuthering Heights” (not any old “Wuthering Heights,” the one with Olivier as Heathcliff).

No other year touches it.

And the feature in the Post sorta acknowledged that truth by letting the lucky writer who got to represent 1939 go first. But then, to try to justify considering the other, lame years, the writer treats us to this:

It’s hard to view “Gone with the Wind” these days as anything but massively problematic. Slavery is presented in soft-focus. Rhett Butler carrying a struggling Scarlett O’Hara up the stairwell, intended to make the audience swoon, is now as likely to make them vomit. If it was never screened in public again, then frankly, my dear, I wouldn’t give a — well, you know.

Really? We’re going to dismiss a representative — excuse me, the representative cultural artifact of 80 years ago by current political standards? Yeah, we know: Slavery was bad. It was, in fact, our nation’s Original Sin. And the bodice-ripping genre leaves much to be desired. But, you know, this is Gone with the frickin’ Wind! We’re supposed to be made uncomfortable by, say, the role Mammy played in Scarlett’s world — while at the same time being impressed by Hattie McDaniel’s performance. Which, by the way, earned her the first Oscar ever won by a black performer.

As for the rest, though… really?

But all of this is to set up arguments that the greatest film year was actually… get ready for this… one of the following:

Yep. And with good reason. Sometimes, you see, when everybody says something, they’re right.

But OK, I can get into the spirit of this thing. I can go beyond the pat answer. So I’ll offer my own nominee for dethroning 1939. But first… please note that my embrace of ’39 is not a generational thing, like my preference for the ’60s-’80s in music. I know y’all think I’m old, but 1939 is WAY before my time — my parents were very young kids at the time. It’s more their parents’ time.

And “Gone With the Wind” isn’t even close to making any list of my favorite movies — not Top Five, not Top Ten, not Top Twenty. I’m not even sure it would make a Top 100, if I were to take the time to draw that up. But I recognize epic film-making. I recognize cultural significance. I recognize values other than my own, as a guy living in 2019. It’s not about me and what I like. It’s about the history of film, seen as a whole.

But what other year comes close? Here, I am going to go with one from my own lifetime: 1967. If 1939 was the peak year of Hollywood’s Golden Age, 1967 was the year that the revolution arrived — all over the place, everywhere you looked, in every possible genre.

Consider:

  • The Graduate.” Here, we are talking about what I like. Any Top Five list of mine would include this, “The Godfather,” “Casablanca” and “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and the fifth will be negotiable. And among those, “The Graduate” is the most original, the most distinctive. Seriously, into what genre would you place it? “Satire” tends to be where most end up, but that’s still inadequate. Everybody was at peak in this, doing the most brilliant work of their lives — Mike Nichols, Buck Henry (especially as writer, but also as the desk clerk), Dustin Hoffman certainly (even if he’d done nothing more than come up with that beautifully weird little noise he made in Ben’s more stressful moments). Simon and Garfunkel at the very peak of their powers. And I believe Anne Bancroft IS Mrs. Robinson (and she scares me)! To say nothing of the Alfa Romeo! And… I’m not sure how to put this… Hollywood has caused us guys to fall in love with scores, hundreds, thousands of beautiful women over the decades, but Katharine Ross? She makes it work, just by looking the way she does and knowing what to do with it, in a minimalist way. If you say, “A guy falls in love with the daughter of the woman with whom he’s having a tawdry, soul-devouring affair,” you say “That’s sick!” and don’t believe it. But then you see Katharine Ross, and you can see how this would happen, to Benjamin or almost any other guy. Wanting to marry her is NOT a half-baked idea. It’s completely baked.
  • Cool Hand Luke.” OK, so I went a bit overboard on “The Graduate.” I’ll try to hold myself in on this one. But it’s another that shattered conventions, that holds up over time, and would definitely make my Top Twenty. “Taking it off, boss.” “Any man loses his spoon spends a night in the box.” “Gonna be some world-shakin’.” And after my lack of discipline re Katharine Ross, I’m not going to mention Lucilllle. Nor am I going to get all deep about Luke as a Christ figure, or anything like that. But if 1967 is the best year, this is one of the ones that puts it over the top.
  • Bonnie and Clyde.” There’s a lot in this one that kind of gives me the creeps, but wow. It’s original, it’s fresh, it’s groundbreaking, it smacks you in the face, and it works. And this film gave us Gene Hackman, which on its own would cover a multitude of sins.
  • The Dirty Dozen.” I almost didn’t include this. I loved it at the time (I was 13). But it doesn’t hold up. It inspired me to read the novel at 14 (which was a little young, on account of the dirty parts, which I practically memorized), and I was impressed then and remain impressed now at what a missed opportunity the film was. The novel was really a great story, well told, and the characters were 10 times as interesting as the ones on the screen… with the possible exception of Victor Franko — Cassavetes pretty much brought him to life. He must have read the book. But, all of that said… flaws and all, this is a landmark film of the action genre. It’s not for nothing that in “Sleepless in Seattle,” Tom Hanks holds it up as meaning to men what “An Affair to Remember” means to many women. And it’s hard to imagine it being made before 1967.
  • In the Heat of the Night.” I watched this again just this week on Amazon. You should go and do likewise. And always remember to call him MISTER Tibbs…
  • To Sir, with Love.” Poitier again. And speaking of him, I could as easily cite “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” — also 1967, and also something hard to imagine in any other year. But “Sir” is another personal fave. It is, without question, the absolute best of the whole “lovable teacher who wins the hearts of the snotty punks he teaches” genre. Streets ahead of the rest. OK, Lulu — hit it!
  • Blow-Up.” I’m cheating a bit here because it was technically released in the U.S. at the end of 1966, but I think of this as essentially a British/Italian film in sensibility, and it wasn’t released in those countries until ’67. It can be a bit of a hoot to watch now — see how cool this guy is; he has a phone in his car! — but talk about your cultural artifacts! Definitely a good candidate to put in a time capsule and tell people what the 60s were like. Or would have been like, were you an in-demand fashion photographer in Swingin’ London. Which is why Austin Powers takes the time to do an homage to it.

I’ll stop there. I’m interested to see what year y’all would pick. I just hope it wouldn’t be a year as lame as 1982…

the_graduate

The Chuck and Nancy thing was an added weirdness bonus!

Dwb5vClX0AEZ5UE

We knew all along that it would be extremely weird to see the strangest president in our nation’s history by far using his first live address from the Oval Office to try to convince us there’s a crisis on our border, and that it’s worth shutting down the government in order to implement his own preferred remedy for said nonexistent crisis.

Especially since we’d been conditioned all our lives to expect such addresses to be about something, you know, important. Like escalating the war in Vietnam, or killing bin Laden.

But there was an added weirdness bonus to the evening — Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi doing a Siamese twins impersonation standing behind one small podium at the same time.

It was predicted that we’ll definitely see this odd visual on SNL this week, and there were some good shots on social media as well:

You know, we took a lot of criticism during the campaign for not separating James and Mandy more, but sheesh — at least they took turns at the microphone on their joint appearances….

How’re you doing on those resolutions?

I'm back to reading The Guns of August...

I’m back to reading The Guns of August…

Come on, be honest. Here, I’ll tell a story on myself to give you courage…

I got some Cromer’s peanut brittle in my Christmas stocking (yes, my wife and I do stockings for each other), and it was awesome. I have a diet-related resolution, but allowed an exemption for finishing the stuff in my stocking, which I’m making progress on. But the exemption didn’t cover this: Today I left the office and went and bought another bag of it at Cromer’s. Then, I opened the bag for dessert after eating lunch at my desk. The cellophane accidentally ripped in a way that made it hard to close the bag, so I ate it all.

Fortunately, none of my resolutions dealt specifically with peanut brittle. No, wait. I just remembered that peanuts are banned on a paleo diet, and going paleo was my diet-related resolution.

Oh, well. I won’t do that again. And I’m still going to try to go paleo, going forward. And mostly I’ve been doing well. I haven’t had grits once, and it’s been a whole week, so get outta my face.

Anyway, I’ve got another, more interesting resolution that I hope will lead to some fun posts this year: I’ve decided only to read books I haven’t read before.

That means no more going back and reading Master and Commander over and over. Or Red Storm Rising (actually, I just skim through it to read about the Air Force guy and the three Marines in Iceland), or The Dirty Dozen, or Stranger in a Strange Land, or The Ipcress File, or Dune, or any of the other dogeared things I will pick up and entertain myself with for a few moments, without expanding my mind one whit.

I’ve got a house full of books that I thought I wanted to read and asked loved ones to give me as gifts, and I’m going to start reading them. I’ve started by returning to Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August. I had bogged down at the start of the part when the Russians mobilized, which was just one cock-up after another (no wonder they had a revolution).

Then, I’ll return to Alexander Hamilton, which I put down right after the Revolutionary War. And while I’m on a Chernow kick, I’m going to dive into Grant. Or maybe I’ll allow myself some fiction between the two.

I’ll be sharing with you what I read.

Meanwhile, do any of y’all have any good resolutions? How are you coming with them?

Some of my many unread books.

Some of my many unread books.

‘I’m glad we found it out detective fashion…’

A little something for y’all who complain that there’s not enough sports on this blog…

No, no, no! Think about us swing voters, always…

Think SWING.

Think SWING.

I’m cleaning up my In box, and I run across one of these daily emails I get from David Leonhardt at the NYT, and he’s babbling incoherently:

Elizabeth Warren and Jay Inslee are running. Amy Klobuchar is “getting close to a decision.” Joe Biden, Sherrod Brown and a bunch of other potential Democratic presidential candidates may also announce their plans soon.

So how should a Democratic voter — or, for that matter, campaign aide or donor — choose among these candidates? I have two pieces of advice.

First, think for yourself. Don’t try to figure out what kind of candidate some other hypothetical voter — a swing voter, say — is likely to want. Think about which candidate excites you….

No, no, no, a thousand times no! Democrats going with what excites them is what gets you an Elizabeth Warren or a Bernie or somebody else that those of us in the middle would never choose to vote for. And refusing to back somebody that swing voters might like is what gave us Donald Trump.

This is a national crisis, and getting Trump out of office is far too important for anyone — Democrats, Republicans, Whigs or what have you — to go diving into their belly buttons and backing someone who tickles their personal fancies.

It’s time to think about the country. That, of course, means thinking about candidates that someone like me might get behind.

If you need any help or guidance with that, I’m right here…

Doonesbury addressed the problem satirically in 1974

A discussion we were having earlier about losing our confidence as a nation made me think of a series of Doonesbury strips from 1974.

Amazingly, I found the exact strips I was seeking on the web. I hope whoever holds the copyright will regard this as Fair Use (it certainly seems so to me).

The characters of the strip are having a costume party. Here’s the first strip:

best1

That was followed the next day by this:

best 2

You can see the same point elaborated upon by the third strip, below.

We were talking previously about how the main character in “The Newsroom,” which I had belatedly started watching, bemoaned the lost greatness of our country, saying in part, ““We built great, big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior….””

And I wondered:

And why don’t we do stuff like that any more? Why did we lose our confidence? Was it just Vietnam, or what?

Well, it seems that way back in 1974, Trudeau was sort of saying, yeah, that was it. And saying it in a way that would probably please no one.

Think about what an edgy thing that was to do back in 1974, with the war still going on — but after the U.S. had disengaged militarily (No, Virginia, the war did not “end” when we stopped fighting it.)

No wonder so many papers ran it on the editorial page. There were no other comics like that. And few editorial cartoonists could match this kind of depth and subtlety.

And think about the irony in the message Trudeau was laying out — among the folks who loved his strip (as opposed to the legions who hated it — the real reason so many papers put it in editorial), it was axiomatic that the Vietnam War was an awful thing, that our having gotten involved there was a blot on the national reputation.

And yet here the cartoonist was mourning what we had lost when the enterprise failed. I thought these strips were great at the time, but I wonder now what others thought of them.

In any case, it’s impressive…

bummer

Lake Street Dive is in Columbia tonight, which is cool…

Hey, y’all — Lake Street Dive will be in Columbia tonight!

I just heard about it last night from one of my kids, who have heard me talk about enjoying some of their stuff on YouTube.

They’re playing at the Music Farm. Or Tin Roof. Or The Senate. Which is all right there together, so you should be able to find them if you go to that general area. Just park and wander about until you hear Rachael Price‘s distinctive voice. It’s nice. (It goes down smooth, you might say.) And they strike me as a good sort of band to experience in a small, intimate venue.

The tickets I’ve been able to find are between $24 and $47. Why the range? I have no idea, since they’re general admission. Something to do with markets and what they will bear when buying on the Web. Or something.

I’m not planning to go. I’ll spend $7 to go hear my son’s band at New Brookland, but that’s about it. If you want me to spend more than that to see someone I’m not related to, you’re going to have to bring John and George back to life and reunite the Beatles or something.

But I know there are some of you who have disposable income and like to go out, so I thought I’d give you a heads-up.

Because as I say, I’ve enjoyed some of their stuff on YouTube, so I think it’s cool they’re coming to town. If I were a going-out kind of guy, I’d go hear them…

A good sort of band to experience in a small, intimate venue.

A good sort of band to experience in a small, intimate venue.

Apple, I’m doing the best I can to keep you going…

iPad

Yesterday, Apple sent markets into paroxysms by issuing a poor earnings report and blaming it on the Chinese economy.

And I’m sure slowing Chinese growth, complicated by Trump’s trade war, isn’t helping.

But there may be something else going on as well.

On a previous post, Doug dismissed my concerns about America no longer being a country that did big things by saying the private sector does big things, which of course pleases him because of his strained relationship with the concept of government.

But is that right? When’s the last big thing the private sector did? Smartphones, right?

Well, that was 12 years ago. Or at least, that was when the smartphone came into its own. I had a Blackberry, and before that a Palm Treo, and before that the primitive Palm Pilot (no wifi or cell connectivity, but you could dock it to sync with a PC). But the iPhone and its imitators are what made the magic happen.

In a piece in the NYT today headlined “Is This the End of the Age of Apple?,” technology writer Kara Swisher worries that the magic is gone, and the next thing is failing to pop up on the horizon:

The last big innovation explosion — the proliferation of the smartphone — is clearly ending. There is no question that Apple was the center of that, with its app-centric, photo-forward and feature-laden phone that gave everyone the first platform for what was to create so many products and so much wealth….

Now all of tech is seeking the next major platform and area of growth. Will it be virtual and augmented reality, or perhaps self-driving cars? Artificial intelligence, robotics, cryptocurrency or digital health? We are stumbling in the dark….

Her piece ends plaintively:

Where is that next spark that will light us all up?

I dunno. But as far as Apple is concerned, I’m doing my bit to at least keep them afloat. I got a new iPhone during the campaign. Not only was the battery, despite my plugging it in every time I was near an electrical outlet all day long, giving out, but my 5s just couldn’t keep up with the social media pace — not to mention that I kept running out of space for photos and video, which was completely unacceptable since I was churning out posts such as this and this all day, every day.

So on Oct. 3 I got an iPhone 8, which got me through that last month. In fact, it did a lot to make up for the inadequacies of my laptop and my old iPad, both of which were also on their last legs.

And now, I’m about to replace my 6-year-old iPad 4 with the new 6th generation that came out in 2018. I’m pretty excited about it. For a year or two now, it’s been freezing up on me — probably between five and 10 times a day during the campaign, which was more frustrating than I think you can imagine (which is why I turned more and more to my phone in those last weeks).

When I say “freeze up,” I mean the screen just… freezes. It won’t respond to touch. I can’t scroll, or go to the Home screen or anything. The Home button doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t respond to any sort of input short of a sledgehammer, which I haven’t tried in spite of the temptation. This lasts for anywhere between a minute and five minutes. Then, it either resumes working, or reboots and then resumes working — until the next freeze.

I don’t mean to badmouth my iPad. I love it, and it has served me well for a long time now — about twice as long as the useful life of a PC. But it’s time.

Hence my placing an order for a new one. So as I say, I’m trying to help Apple. But here’s the thing about that…

I’m not ordering anything new, in the sense of being a life-changing departure. I just want an iPad that functions the way my old one did when it was new. Well, that, and more storage — going from 32g to 128.

And basically, it was the same with my iPhone. I didn’t even want the size to change. In fact, I delayed getting a new phone until it became clear that Apple was not going to put out an updated version of the SE. But I stopped at the 8. I had zero interest in the supposedly (but not really) revolutionary X.

And I have no interest in an iPad Pro, or an iPad Air. You know why? Because they don’t really offer anything impressive that is also useful. Which is great for me, because the cost of a basic iPad with 128 gigs has dropped considerably as Apple has pushed those higher-priced models.

To me, the basic iPad is the pinnacle of its type of tech. It’s something I had been waiting for ever since 1994, when a guy who worked for the same company I did, Roger Fidler. Don’t believe me? Watch the video. I was on fire to have one from the moment I heard of the concept — just as I had been anxious to deliver the news electronically ever since my paper had gone from typewriters to a mainframe in 1980. I couldn’t wait until I had a tablet of my own, to replace newspapers, magazines and books. I knew that when I did, I’d carry it everywhere.

And now that I have one, that’s exactly what I do. The iPad is as much a part of me as most people’s wallets are. I had to wait more than 20 years, but I finally got me one.

But… that was the acme. All you can do for me now is make my tablet a little faster or expand the storage. I don’t need more functionality, beyond a new app now and then. The model I’ve ordered will work with an Apple Pencil, and my reaction to that is “meh.”

I don’t need any startling new developments. And Apple hasn’t offered any.

So… Ms. Swisher seems to have a point. The Age in which Apple drives revolutionary change may well be at an end…

Will we as a country ever do great things again?

Will McAvoy loses it after hearing the pat answers of the 'liberal' and 'conservative' on the panel.

Will McAvoy loses it after hearing more than enough of the pat answers of the ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ on the panel.

I really should have had more faith in Aaron Sorkin.

After all, there’s never been anything on television I like more than “The West Wing” (although I’ll note that “Band of Brothers” ties it).

But until this week, I had refused to watch “The Newsroom.” Long ago, when HBO first launched it, I read things about it that made me not want to see it, on the grounds that I thought it would just irritate me no end. But what I read was either a misrepresentation, or I misread it.

When my wife suggested, as I was clicking around in Amazon Prime, that we check it out, I trotted out the objections as I recalled them: First, it was about a TV news anchorman — and you know, I’m a print guy. I don’t even WATCH that TV stuff, network or cable. Next, he was an anchorman who one day loses it and launches into a rant that supposedly “tells the truth” for a change, and nothing is ever again the same for him or his network. That, of course, sounded an awful lot like “Network,” which I’ve always thought was overrated. (You probably have to have been around in 1976 to recall how “brilliant” it allegedly was.) I’ve never yet understood what Peter Finch’s character was “mad as hell” about, or why that supposedly connected with a wide audience. It was gibberish to me — sensationalistic gibberish. Unfocused emotionalism, signifying nothing.

Then there was my memory of the content of the rant on “The Newsroom” — which, as it turned out, was mistaken. As I told my wife, the “truth” he was sharing was paranoid nonsense like what we hear from Bernie Sanders and in slightly different form from Donald Trump, about how everything is fixed and the little guy stands no chance. My memory was clearly wrong. His “truth” was something else that tends to evoke a similarly dismissive reaction in me: a rant about how this is not the greatest country in the world, essentially a rejection of American exceptionalism. (There are a lot of things that prompt similar reactions in me, and sometimes I confuse them.)

Actually, when I relented and watched the show, I saw that even that wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. Here’s what Jeff Daniels’ character Will McAvoy says after being badgered into reacting while sitting on a panel in front of a college audience:

And yeah, you… sorority girl. Just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day, there’s some things you should know. One of them is: there’s absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, number 4 in labor force and number 4 in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies. Now, none of this is the fault of a 20-year-old college student, but you, nonetheless, are, without a doubt, a member of the worst period generation period ever period, so when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about! Yosemite?!

Here’s the video. In the context, and in light of his irritation at the pat answers given by the stereotypical “liberal” and “conservative” on the panel with him (irritation with which I fully identified; he could have been me sitting there, losing patience with their stupid game — so by the time he erupts, I’m in his corner), it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. I was willing to keep listening to him. And I was rewarded for that, because what followed redeemed what he’d said before, if it needed redeeming:

It sure used to be… We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reason. We passed laws, struck down laws, for moral reason. We waged wars on poverty, not on poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were and we never beat our chest. We built great, big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election and we didn’t scare so easy. We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed… by great men, men who were revered. First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.”

Right. Absolutely. That’s what I mean by American exceptionalism, and it describes the country I was born into and grew up in. And it evokes the sense of loss I have as I look around me today. (And the outrage I feel at the Trumpistas saying they would “make America great again,” when everything they want to do would accomplish the precise opposite.)

Anyway, I was hooked on the show right there. I’ve still only seen the first episode, but I look forward to watching more.

As I said above, I should have more faith in the creator of “The West Wing.” By the way, when I first heard about “The Newsroom,” I had not yet watched “The West Wing,” and in fact had avoided it for similar reasons. I had heard it was a liberal fantasy of what a presidency should be, and I don’t like that kind of stuff from either left or right. But again, I had been misled. And I’m beginning to think the reason why I keep getting misled about Sorkin is that he writes with an intelligence that other media have trouble describing, because their limited “left vs. right” vocabulary lacks the necessary words.

Having had them inadequately described to me, I simply wasn’t ready for shows that spoke so clearly to me, striking a chord that I’d not been told was there.

I may never like it as much as “West Wing,” but I’m pleased so far.

(Oh, and a brief digression that will only be of interest to fellow Sorkin fans: I think in this one, he managed to avoid a mistake he made in “West Wing.” Remember the pilot? Remember how Josh feels blindsided and gets upset because the White House is about to hire back a woman he used to be involved with? Well, the first episode of “The Newsroom” has the exact same plot point: the network boss has hired a woman with whom McAvoy has a past, and he is at first all bent out of shape about it. But this time, I think its going to work out. On “West Wing,” the woman in question, “Mandy,” was the one and only truly grating, irritating character on the show — and Sorkin wisely “ghosted” her before the season was over. She just disappeared, without explanation. This time, I think the character is going to work — I’ve even gotten to where I no longer expect her to mention “avian bird syndrome.” No need to send her to Mandyville — yet. Apparently, Sorkin learns from his mistakes.)

Anyway, to get to my point, more than 1,200 words in…

Let’s go back to that bit about how “We built great, big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior….”

Good stuff.

And why don’t we do stuff like that any more? Why did we lose our confidence? Was it just Vietnam, or what? In any case, I’m ready for us to get it back.

As 2019 dawned, The New York Times ran a piece about 1919. An excerpt:

To promote the idea of interstate travel, a military convoy left Washington for California in July 1919. The New York Times called it “the largest aggregation of motor vehicles ever started on a trip of such length.”

But the convoy broke down repeatedly, and took 62 days to reach its destination. It averaged just six miles an hour, and almost didn’t make it out of Utah. As it turned out, there were almost no paved roads between Illinois and Nevada. Decades later, the officer who led the convoy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, would push for a national highway system as president. Even with a well-publicized divide between red and blue states, we can generally reach each other when we need to, and that is another unexpected result of a pivotal year….

No roads? No problem, to the man who whipped Hitler. We’ll build an interstate highway system. It may have taken him awhile, but he got to it eventually.

The first episode of “The Newsroom” is titled, “We Just Decided To.” I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but it takes us back to something Tom Hanks as Jim Lovell says in “Apollo 13” (one of the best movies ever about what’s special about this country):

From now on, we live in a world where man has walked on the moon. And it’s not a miracle, we just decided to go.

We just decided to go. And we went.

This week, the Chinese landed a robot on the other side of the moon. They might as well. We lost interest in the place after 1972 — 46 years ago. Yeah, I know, we have those pictures of Ultima Thule, and that’s cool and worth celebrating, truly. But such accomplishments are too few and far between these days.

We live in a time when the most ambitious proposal to “do something big” is to build a gigantic wall on our southern border. It’s big, all right — you’d be able to see it from space. But as a monument to xenophobia, it diminishes the country. It makes us less than we are. It’s about closing, not opening. It is a big, fat NAY to the universe. It is in fact a profoundly depressing thing to contemplate, seeing what we’ve descended to.

Yeah, Ultima Thule. That’s great and all. But I want more. I’ll close with the words with which Hanks closed “Apollo 13:”

I sometimes catch myself looking up at the Moon, remembering the changes of fortune in our long voyage, thinking of the thousands of people who worked to bring the three of us home. I look up at the Moon and wonder, when will we be going back, and who will that be?

'We just decided to go: Tom Hanks, as Jim Lovell, ponders the moon.

‘We just decided to go: Tom Hanks, as Jim Lovell, ponders the moon.