Open Thread for Monday, April 15, 2019

I'm Jon Snow, and I know nothing about what happens after Season 7, episode 5!

I’m Jon Snow, and I know nothing about what happens after the fifth episode of Season 7!

Y’all can talk about what you want, but as for the suggested topics from me, I’m going less for today’s headlines, to talk about things I find more interesting:

  1. Don’t tell me what happens on Game of Thrones! — A couple of weeks ago, I signed back up for HBO Now after a two- or three-year hiatus, so I could watch Season 7 of GoT before the first episode of Season 8 came out. I didn’t quite get there, having only finished the 5th episode from 7 just last night. Jon Snow, the Hound and some others have just set out north of the Wall. But of course, today, everybody’s trying to tell me about the episode released last night. Why are they doing that? If you wanted to see it, you watched it — or, you’re saving it, and you don’t want people telling you about it. Right?
  2. Is America Hopelessly Polarized, or Just Allergic to Politics? — This is interesting. This study found that yes, increasing numbers of Americans don’t want their kids to marry someone of that other party, but it also measured their strong wish to just not hear about it, no matter what you think. In fact, lots of folks “aren’t happy with an in-law from the opposing party discussing politics, but many are just as unhappy with an in-law from their own party who insists on political conversation.” So just shut up, already…
  3. Trump and the Annihilation of Shame — Actually, this Bret Stephens column isn’t so much about Trump as about someone who was his opposite. It’s inspired by the passing of Charles Van Doren, a man who did something shameful and actually had the decency to be ashamed of it. How quaint, right? Loser! Sad…
  4. Keep the Aspidistra Flying — That’s the original title of a story by George Orwell, which Hollywood for some reason changed to “A Merry War,” which makes zero sense — it has nothing whatsoever to do with what happens in the film. Anyway, I’m sharing this bit of arcana because my wife and I stumbled over it on Amazon and watched it, which is one reason I’m still behind on Game of Thrones. Anyway, it’s about a guy who is a whiz at writing advertising copy who chucks it all to become a poet — but in the end chucks that to go back to earning a living. I sort of enjoyed it. It was instructive.
  5. Maybe Lloyd Webber should be in the hymnal — This is another episode of me not thinking about what I should be thinking about in church. Yesterday was Passion Sunday — Palm Sunday to you prods — and we sang a couple of hymns suitable to the liturgy. But as we held our palm fronds and heard the Gospel reading about the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, I kept thinking it would be great if we were singing “Heysanna, Hosanna” from “Jesus Christ Superstar.” It’s a great song, and really captures the moment: “If every tongue were still the noise would still continue; the rocks and stones themselves would start to SING…” I like the way that note on “SING” rings out…

That’s about it for now. What do YOU want to talk about?

A scene from 'A Merry War,' a title that makes no sense.

A scene from ‘A Merry War,’ a title that makes no sense.

Anna Karenina and Goldilocks

Something I was working on this morning for ADCO — it had to do with family court law — got me to thinking about Tolstoy.

Congratulate me, because I managed, through great exertion, to restrain myself from quoting the first line of Anna Karenina in the copy I was writing for the client:

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

I knew that line, although I didn’t know it was in Anna Karenina. We were supposed to read that novel in one of my high school English classes, but I never did (although I can tell you what it’s about — I may have escaped reading it, but I couldn’t escape the class discussion). But I knew the line; it’s just one of those things you pick up over the years.

And I’ve always thought Tolstoy had it backwards. And Tolstoy’s own next paragraph (which I looked up just now) supports my position better than his:

Tolstoy

Tolstoy

Everything was in confusion in the Oblonskys’ house. The wife had discovered that the husband was carrying on an intrigue with a French girl, who had been a governess in their family, and she had announced to her husband that she could not go on living in the same house with him. This position of affairs had now lasted three days, and not only the husband and wife themselves, but all the members of their family and household, were painfully conscious of it. Every person in the house felt that there was so sense in their living together, and that the stray people brought together by chance in any inn had more in common with one another than they, the members of the family and household of the Oblonskys. The wife did not leave her own room, the husband had not been at home for three days. The children ran wild all over the house; the English governess quarreled with the housekeeper, and wrote to a friend asking her to look out for a new situation for her; the man-cook had walked off the day before just at dinner time; the kitchen-maid, and the coachman had given warning.

Nicely written, but what a trite situation! This family is not “unhappy in its own way.” If you tried to come up with a cliche for how a family becomes unhappy, this would be it. It’s the very first thing anyone would think of. Infidelity. How original.

Whereas I think happy families have to find their own way to being happy. No family is perfect, so each person in it has to negotiate around all the things that are “wrong” in order to achieve harmony. Each person makes adjustments in his or her expectations; they make peace with the complexities of interpersonal relationships. And all those complex factors make for unique paths to happiness.

Of course, I suppose all that could be summarized simply with a word such as “forbearance” just as one could sum up the Oblonsky’s unhappiness with “infidelity.” But still, my point is that there’s no greater sameness among happy families than among unhappy ones. Among each set, there are both common and uncommon factors.

Now if he’d said, “Unhappy families are more interesting than happy families, if you’re a novelist,” I’d have gotten his point. Plot calls for conflict. But that’s not what he said. Or at least, that’s not the way it’s been translated.

The line is a good opener, like “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife,” or “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

I’ve just always thought it was wrong.

Others are more impressed by it. In fact, I learned today, it is the basis of something called “the Anna Karenina principle.” (Maybe I’d have learned it back in 1970 if I’d read the book. Or maybe not.) According to Wikipedia, it goes like this:

In other words: in order to be happy, a family must be successful with respect to every one of a range of criteria, including sexual attraction, money issues, parenting, religion, and relations with in-laws. Failure on only one of these counts leads to unhappiness. Thus, there are more ways for a family to be unhappy than happy.

In statistics, the term Anna Karenina principle is used to describe significance tests: there are any number of ways in which a dataset may violate the null hypothesisand only one in which all the assumptions are satisfied.

This principle is in fact used to explain all sorts of things. But I noticed something odd… there was no mention of “Goldilocks planets,” or the lack of such hospitable places. It seems that the rarity of planets that could sustain human life would be the perfect illustration of the Karenina principle: Everything has to be “just right” — gravity, temperature, atmosphere, chemical composition, distance from its star — to produce a “happy” planet where we could live. All planets that support human life would be remarkably alike. But fail in any one of a list of key criteria and, unhappily, you can’t live there.

Right?

Anyway, I failed to find on Google where anyone had pointed out the relationship between the two concepts. So I thought I would.

That’s all. I’ll go away now…

They probably mean a different kind of ‘swinger’

Vegas, baby! Vegas!

Vegas, baby! Vegas!

I’m always getting unsolicited emails from mysterious parties wanting to “partner” with this blog in some endeavor or other.

Some are more interesting than others:

Hi There

I actually view your blog repeatedly and go through all your posts which are very interesting.

CumSwingWithMe is one of our site and we constantly work a lot to really make it more informative to our viewers. It is all about bondage and sex swing. These types of details will be useful for those who search for these information. We both of our websites are in very same niche.

We recently provide a FREE detailed infographics about “The Master Sex Swing Guide”. If you’re interested I am pleased to share it to you to check over.

Kindly let us know your interest about this mail.

We’ll be waiting for your reply.

Best

Yeah, “hi there” back atcha.

Hey, I loved “Swingers.” Awesome movie. But I think they’re using the word a different way. Although it’s a bit unclear — “sex swing” is a decidedly awkward construction.

Apparently, in addition to bondage and other things, this site is into English as a second language. But not enough into it to get the nuances. Or even, in some cases, the basics.

And I wonder what sort of confused algorithm concluded that “We both of our websites are in very same niche.”…

poster-780

Remembering Fritz Hollings

Two great South Carolinians: Fritz Hollings and Lee Bandy. Fritz is probably castigating Lee for what he called 'the Bandy Hurdle,' and Lee is letting it roll off his back.

Two great South Carolinians: Fritz Hollings and Lee Bandy. Fritz is probably castigating Lee for what he called ‘the Bandy Hurdle,’ and Lee is letting it roll off his back.

I was awakened Saturday morning by a notification on my iPhone — Fritz Hollings had died. I didn’t get around to writing something about it that day, or the next day, or the next, because it just seemed like too big a task.

And it was too big a task, remembering Fritz and what he meant to me and other South Carolinians. And I don’t have time to undertake it today, either. So here are some scattered thoughts, rather than a coherent whole:

  • First, he was of that generation — the postwar generation — that believed in using government to get things done. Big things, things that made life better in their state and country. He saw it as his duty. He brought great energy and great intellect to that task, throughout his career. He didn’t let ideology or party or what other people might think of him get in the way of that mission. Young people today by and large don’t know what it was like to have this kind of elected leader, although we still have some around. You know, like Fritz’s younger friend Joe Biden.
  • He may have been the first politician I ever met and shook hands with. Or maybe it was Strom. Or maybe it was a state senator. I just remember being taken by my grandfather to an event in Bennettsville, at the Marboro County Country Club. I was introduced to someone called “the senator.” I can’t remember who it was. Maybe it wasn’t Fritz, because he wasn’t in the Senate until 1966, and surely I’d remember it better if it had been that late. This was probably in the ’50s, so probably Strom. But my point in mentioning it is that he and Strom were both in public office most of my life, and their service extends as far back as I remember and beyond. Say “senator” to me and I picture one of them. Both held some sort of public office well before I was born. And most of that time, they’d have been called “senator.” As in, Boy, shake hands with the senator…
  • Fritz is the reason we have our state technical schools, which in turn are a big reason why we have BMW and other major employers. And the way he got them was so old-school, so pre-Watergate Morality, so whatever-it-takes, so non-21st century, that it is a thing of beauty. Basically, he took a bottle of bourbon with him to visit one of the main obstacles of getting his tech schools passed, Senate Finance Chairman Edgar A. Brown. They drank the bottle together, and when it was empty Fritz had a one-paragraph agreement that founded his tech system. And countless thousands of South Carolinians have benefited.
  • While Hilton Head was booming as a destination for the rich, Fritz Hollings showed the nation aspects of life in South Carolina the Chamber of Commerce wouldn’t have appreciated. Here’s how The New York Times described his “poverty tours” in its obit: “Having grown up in segregated Charleston, attended a segregated college and served in a segregated army, Mr. Hollings had little contact with poor black people and initially opposed civil rights legislation. Guided by N.A.A.C.P. officials, he toured poor black and white areas of his state in 1968 and 1969, and what he saw shocked him: rat-infested slums where families subsisted on grits and greens; children infected with worms, living in shacks without lights, heat or water; a mentally disabled mother of 10 who had never heard of food stamps. ‘There is hunger in South Carolina,’ a solemn Mr. Hollings told a Senate committee. ‘I know as a public servant I am late to the problem,’ adding, ‘We’ve got work to do in our own backyard, just as anybody who’s candid knows he has work in his own backyard, and I’d rather clean it up than cover it up.'” In other words, he faced the real problems of South Carolina without blinking.
  • In the ’80s, the Gramm–Rudman–Hollings Balanced Budget Act constituted the most serious effort to bring the nation’s spending in line with its income in my lifetime. He remained a budget hawk for the rest of his career. When other Democrats were claiming to have produced balanced budgets in the late ’90s, he scoffed — if the budgets were “balanced,” how come the national debt kept growing?
  • They may have named that new bridge after Arthur Ravenel, but I enjoyed this anecdote from my cousin Jason, who remembers how relentless Fritz was in taking every possible opportunity to get South Carolina what it needed: “I drove over the Ravenel Bridge today and remembered Fritz Hollings. When I interned with him, one of my dad’s college buddies was the Deputy Chief of Staff at the White House and was nominated to be Secretary of Transportation. Senator Hollings was the Chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee and would vote to approve the nomination. As I walked out of the Senator’s office to go to the White House to have lunch with Andy Card, the Senator said, ‘Tell Andy Card if he wants my vote, we need a new bridge over the Cooper River. OK boy, go get us that bridge.’ I did, Senator Hollings, I did…”
  • Fritz was known for his, um,  frankness. A lot of people’s favorite story was when he answered a Japanese insult to the American work ethic by suggesting we should draw a mushroom cloud with the caption, “Made in America by lazy and illiterate Americans and tested in Japan.” Another might be when he said to our current governor, “I’ll take a drug test if you’ll take an IQ test.” But my favorite was when he’d just been re-elected after a tough challenge in 1992, and said that now “I don’t have to get elected to a bloomin’ thing. And I don’t have to do things that are politically correct. The hell with everybody. I’m free at last.” Of course, he ran again in 1998 against Bob Inglis, and we voted him in again. You can’t vote a guy like that out of office. People say they like Trump because he’s not “politically correct.” Well, neither was Fritz. But he didn’t sound like an idiot. Therein lies the difference.
  • Fritz was equally frank about what he thought of the press, and his criticism (unlike Trump’s) was right on the money. He fully understood that the press covered politics like sports — ignoring what was important, and yammering endlessly about winning and losing and strategy. My longtime colleague Paul Osmundson shared the picture above of Fritz and our late, dear friend Lee Bandy. Well, Bandy wrote his share of horse-race stories, many while I was his editor. And I well remember the editorial board meetings in which Fritz ripped into Lee for it. The senator complained that he tried and tried to get reporters to write about substantive issues, but “Ah can’t get past THE BANDY HURDLE. THE BANDY HURDLE! All he wants to talk about is who’s up? Who’s down? Who’s winning? Who’s losing? The Bandy hurdle…” And he was right. But don’t blame Lee (who chuckled through these tirades). They all do it. And we editors all share the blame. (This was the bane of my experience with the campaign last year. I wanted to talk about who should be governor and why, and reporters wanted to talk about campaign ad strategy, or which 2020 hopefuls were coming to campaign with us. Yeah, I hear ya, senator…)
  • I first met Joe Biden through Fritz. I’d always wanted to meet him, and since they were friends, one time in the 2000s when I saw Biden was coming to town, I called Fritz to ask him to ask Joe to come by and meet with us. He did, and Joe came by on a Friday afternoon (our hardest workday) and talked for two-and-a-half hours. It was stressful, knowing we’d have to get all those pages out before we left that night, but I enjoyed it, and appreciated that Hollings set it up.
  • I mentioned Bob Inglis. He and Fritz became friends after their contest in ’98. I liked what he said on Facebook: “Over lunch in Charleston in 2015 (we’d long since made up after the 1998 race), Senator Hollings told me that he’d shrunk 2 inches–6’2″ to 6′. I wish I had said, ‘No, Senator, you haven’t shrunk a bit–not in what you’ve meant to SC, not in what you’ve meant to America.’ Farewell, sir.”
  • Speaking of Republicans, when Strom left office and Fritz finally became our senior senator after 36 years, he took Strom’s replacement under his wing. He encouraged Lindsey Graham and had a lot of good things to say about him. I’m thinking he was probably proud of Lindsey when he said all those honest things about Trump back during the 2016 election. And I think he’d be scornful of what Lindsey has become. You’d never, ever have seen Fritz kowtowing to someone like Trump — or to anyone, for that matter.

I’ve got to get back to work. And when I go home tonight, I need to get back to reading Ron Chernow’s book on Alexander Hamilton. I originally got that book because Fritz called (about something else, probably one of his opeds) and told me how wonderful it was, way back when I was still at the paper. Least I can do in the senator’s memory is finish it…

I finally found a time and a place for podcasts

giphy

I’m hip. I’m with it.

Stop laughing.

No, seriously, I’m someone who digs social media (if it’s Twitter) and I can barely remember what it’s like to watch commercial broadcast television, except that it’s kind of like watching non-premium Hulu, on account of the ads.

But there’s one modern way of interacting with content that I just couldn’t figure out. Not technologically — that was simple enough. I just couldn’t find a time and place for it in my life.

I’m talking podcasts.

Even though there are plenty of things on, for instance, NPR that I would like to listen to at my convenience, I’ve had trouble figuring out when that would be.

  • Not in my car, because if I’m on a long-enough drive, I kind of need to be interacting with the people with me, or at least alert to them. I’m a family man; not the guy in “Vanishing Point.” I seldom take trips alone. Also, it’s really not safe to drive with earbuds on, and how many podcasts do I want to hear that are also interesting to my wife and my grandchildren? I did some solo driving during the campaign, but I was always talking on the phone or otherwise too busy to do any extended listening.
  • Not while working or reading. That works (sometimes) with music, but not with people talking. I can’t read words and listen to words and take both in. My wife can do it, but I can’t. It’s sort of a walking and chewing gum thing.
  • Not while working out on the elliptical at home. Sound isn’t enough to fully distract me from the tedium of exercise. So I watch stuff on the Roku.

I’ve particularly been frustrated in finding a good time to listen to The West Wing Weekly, but I’ve been intimidated by the logistics — I mean, don’t I really need to be watching the show while listening? And when do I have time for that?

Then yesterday, it hit me.

I’ve been listening to Pandora during my afternoon walks downtown. Lately, it’s been my Elvis Costello station (which also gives me the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Talking Heads, Tom Petty, Weezer and other good stuff).

It only hit me yesterday that I could just as easily be listening to a podcast. I had been wanting to listen to The Argument, which features David Leonhardt, Ross Douthat and Michelle Goldberg talking about some issue of the day. So I did. And it was great, although since my route takes me through the USC campus some of the kids may have wondered what’s wrong with the old guy whenever I scowled at someone saying Joe Biden shouldn’t run.

I even had time left in my walk to listen to some Pandora when it was over.

Yeah, I know: Obvious. But I like when some problem that had been bugging me suddenly works its way out. Even when it’s as insignificant as this one.

Of course, I still haven’t figured out the West Wing Weekly problem…

If you’re in a cheery mood, here’s the cure

Norm and I were engaged earlier in a discussion of whether William Butler Yeats did or did not say, “Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.”

Well, whether he said it or not, you don’t have to be Irish. Just read NYT columnist David Leonhardt’s latest eblast:

By now, you probably have at least a passing familiarity with the signs of economic stagnation in this country. I cite the numbers frequently: disappointing economic growth; even more disappointing growth in middle-class incomes; and wealth that has declined for many families over the past decade.
But the signs of stagnation in other areas — beyond economics — may be just as strong.
Consider this list: The number of children growing up without two parents has jumped in recent decades. Some major health problems, like diabetes and obesity, have become more common. So have suicides and accidental drug overdoses. Average life expectancy has actually declined.
And The Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham recently pointed out another metric: Americans are having less sex.

Yikes. This leads him to say, “In some basic ways, American society is not working.” I’ll say.

You can listen to him, Ross Douthat and Michelle Goldberg discuss this on a podcast. Not sure I want to…

podcast

The shadow that hung over our time in Ireland

Of course, the threat of Brexit didn't keep us from having plenty of craic. Here a couple of ladies from our group celebrate with some local lads on the evening of March 17.

Of course, the threat of Brexit didn’t keep us from having plenty of craic. Here a couple of ladies from our group celebrate with some local lads on the evening of March 17.

While we were in Ireland recently (March 13-22), we didn’t follow news all that closely — and we never let it spoil our fun — but we were aware that the biggest story in the Republic’s media was Brexit. Not just because it was a big drama playing out right next door, but because it was an issue with ominous implications for Ireland itself.

It might even, we kept hearing, bring back the Troubles. Here’s a fairly succinct description of the situation:

Brexit, in its most basic sense, means that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will exit from the European Union and, as voters in the 2016 Brexit referendum were told, will “take control” of its border. Brexiteers promised that the U.K. would be able to restrict the free movement of goods and people—thus abandoning the central commitment of E.U. countries—and discard E.U. regulations.

But the U.K.’s borders also draw a line between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which is—and will remain—a member of the E.U. The Irish border meanders for some three hundred miles through towns, villages, and the countryside, separating twenty-six counties in the Republic from six counties in the North—a division that emerged from the Irish War of Independence and the creation of the Irish Free State, in 1922.

Here’s the problem: the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland are parties to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which relies on the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland. For example, the accords created common Irish cross-border institutions, such as a joint parliamentary association, and removed the checkpoints and watchtowers at which British soldiers had been stationed during three decades of strife known as the Troubles. During those years—chronicled in Patrick Radden Keefe’s new book, “Say Nothing”—the Irish Republican Army conducted a violent campaign to push the British out of Northern Ireland; unionist paramilitary groups, whose goal was to remain part of the U.K., committed their own acts of violence; and British forces were frequently complicit with the unionist paramilitaries and, at times, engaged in torture and illegal killings. Sinn Féin, the political party associated with the I.R.A., is also a party to the Good Friday Agreement, as are parties associated with unionist paramilitary organizations. The accords have worked, bringing peace.

This is the paradox and the tragedy: Brexit fundamentally conflicts with the Good Friday Agreement, but the U.K. government is in a state of denial about that conflict. It insists that it is committed both to Brexit and to the peace accord: Brexiteers claim that they can maintain a “frictionless” open border with the Republic of Ireland after Brexit—in the same place that the newly hardened border with the E.U. will be….

Ireland doesn’t need that kind of tension on its border with Ulster, a place that will be freshly seething over what Britain has wrought upon them. Britain doesn’t either. Yet the U.K. keeps staggering toward what increasingly looks like a ragged, disorganized exit, with little provision made for the aftermath. That’s what government by referendum gets you.

I thoroughly enjoyed visiting that beautiful country, and hope and pray its future isn’t like its past. That past was always with us, and not just because of our tour manager, a bluff, ruddy Englishman who sometimes seemed to forget that this American tour group contained a healthy proportion of Irish Catholics (you’d think my brother-in-law’s name, Patrick Cooper Phelan, would have been a reminder to him). He made a number of references to the IRA, only he always said “IRA terrorists.”

But that’s nothing compared to the carelessness of his countrymen who voted for Brexit.

A Kilkenny street scene...

A Kilkenny street scene…

Benjamin testifies before Congress on climate change

Mayor Steve Benjamin winds up his testimony before Congess.

Mayor Steve Benjamin winds up his testimony before Congess.

I found this release in my In box, which said it was “happening now” — but I only got there as he was finishing his testimony. Maybe if I click on the link after the hearing’s over, I can see it from the start. Sometimes that works; sometimes it doesn’t.

In any case, here are his prepared remarks. And here’s the release:

Today, I’m in our nation’s capital testifying before the House Committee on Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Environment & Climate Change at its hearing on how state and local leaders are responding to the climate crisis in the wake of President Trump’s intent to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.

In my testimony, I will highlight the challenges Columbia has faced with flooding as a result of unprecedented wet weather events as well as how cities like ours have taken leadership in addressing the issue for our residents.

It is our hope that my testimony provides members of Congress with a strong understanding of cities’ efforts to address climate change as well as some ideas that they can quickly implement to bolster local government leadership.

If you’d like to watch the testimony – happening now – you can view it here: https://energycommerce.house.gov/committee-activity/hearings/hearing-on-lessons-from-across-the-nation-state-and-local-action-to.

Sincerely,

Steve Benjamin
Mayor
Columbia, South Carolina

If you’re wondering how he believes the city has “taken leadership” on the issue, here are some of the things noted in his prepared remarks:

In 2009, with assistance from the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant, we conducted an energy audit and implemented several of the audit’s recommendations, including upgrading lighting systems, HVAC upgrades on City buildings, and installing solar panels on fire stations. These projects reduced our greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption and saved Columbia taxpayers approximately $337,000 per year.

In addition, one of my first priorities when I took office was to upgrade and rationalize our regional transit system to increase ridership, including successfully asking our voters to approve a penny tax dedicated to transportation, including transit. I have also built on and accelerated the efforts of my predecessor to improve pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure in Columbia, completing several streetscapes and extending and opening several trails. Combined with thousands of new units of housing in Downtown Columbia and other central Columbia neighborhoods, these efforts have set the stage for truly giving Columbia residents a meaningful option to the car, with the added bonus of a vibrant, lively and beautiful Downtown. Two years ago, Columbia took the next step, setting a target of powering our community with 100 percent clean, renewable energy by 2035.

In addition to our climate change prevention efforts, we have been actively addressing mitigation. In the wake of Hurricane Joaquin, it became clear that we had to accelerate our efforts to improve the climate resilience of our stormwater infrastructure. We bit the bullet and increased stormwater fees to fund a wide array of projects to improve our stormwater system using both gray and green infrastructure. We also issued our first-ever green bond that allowed the City to finance upgrades and improvements to our stormwater system while protecting our environment.

Dear Democrats: Stop talking about ways to rig the system; give me reasons to vote for you

stupid questions

Joe Biden has the right idea, staying out of it so far. At least he hasn’t had to answer the Stupid Question of the Day. Not that he doesn’t get answered questions, and not that they aren’t awkward. But at least he doesn’t yet have to pick a position on no-win litmus-test questions.

At least, he didn’t in this story.

I was thinking that when I saw the above array of candidates, and noticed that Joe wasn’t pictured, despite being, you know, the front-runner in the polls. And then I looked at what the story was about and realized he lucked out there. The headline and a link: Kill the electoral college? Stack the Supreme Court? Frustrated Democrats push ideas for rewiring U.S. politics.

I have one overall answer to the questions being posed by and to Democrats: Stop trying to change the rules. If you can’t come up with a candidate who can beat Trump — under the present rules — then maybe you deserve to lose. Or maybe the country is so far gone that it can’t be saved anyway.

But just to show I don’t dodge the tough (but stupid) questions, here are my answers:

  1. Do you support eliminating the electoral college in favor of the popular vote? No. But if you want to talk seriously about returning the college to the way Hamilton et al. envisioned it — you might get me on board.
  2. Should Democrats eliminate the Senate filibuster the next time they control of Congress? Eliminate it how? I need details. I think it’s ridiculous to have to get 60 votes to pass anything, but I’m sentimental enough about “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” to hesitate at eliminating a minority’s way of being heard.
  3. Would you support adding justices to ‘pack’ the Supreme Court? No. And please, whether you’re on the left or the right, stop maneuvering to impose your political will on a body that is supposed to be immune to such — that’s its role.
  4. Would you support term limits for Supreme Court justices? Absolutely not. The court must remain independent, and lifetime appointment is the best mechanism I can think of for protecting it from the predations of the political branches.
  5. Should citizens be automatically registered to vote when they turn 18? No. But if you’d like to make the age 28 — or maybe 38 — I might be tempted to make a deal with you.
  6. Should Election Day be a national holiday? I don’t care. Although it seems to me that federal workers get enough days off already. Populists will label me a blue meanie for this, but I’m not convinced that people who really want to vote can’t do so currently. Maybe you can present enough evidence to the contrary to change my mind.
  7. Should Washington, D.C., be granted statehood? No. Let me explain the concept behind the District of Columbia, as I understand it: The United States is a union of, you know, states. It’s a good idea for the capital of the country to be on neutral ground. That neutral ground is the District of Columbia. To have another state that consists entirely of the nation’s capital would be weird, and I suspect unwise, on a number of levels. It would be awkward. The other states would likely make fun of it.
  8. Should Puerto Rico be granted statehood? I’m ambivalent. Needs study.
  9. Should the voting age be lowered from 18 to 16? You’re joking, right? See my answer to No. 5. Seems to me the electorate hasn’t been exhibiting a great deal of maturity lately, and this would be the opposite of a good way to fix the problem.
  10. Should all formerly incarcerated people be granted the right to vote? Another one on which I need more info. Certainly in the abstract I agree with the idea that once someone has paid his debt to society, etc… And I’m certainly concerned about how black men, for instance, have historically been over-represented in our prisons. But I need to know more about which felons are currently denied a pathway to the franchise, and why. Maybe some of y’all can enlighten me. If it’s just a matter of certain people not wanting those people to vote (which would seem to be the reason why we’re hearing about this), then I’m with you on making the change.

OK, so not all the questions are stupid. But most of them are. And even the ones that aren’t stupid tend to play stupid in our politics today, with answers being based on the passions of one crowd or another and not on reason.

Perhaps unfairly, I’m lumping in these questions with questions like “Do you want to abolish ICE?,” which I got asked during the campaign even though it had NOTHING to do with being governor, and everything to do with trying to back a candidate into a corner.

Maybe it’s an unfair association. But then again, since that pretended to be about an actual issue, maybe these questions are worse.

Anyway, tell me what sort of president you would be. Talk to me about some real issue — health care, or the real biggie, international relations. Or cite what it is in your background that qualifies you and make me trust you. Don’t bore me with talk about re-rigging elections themselves to try to give this or that group a greater advantage. Just play the game straight, please…

How can ANYONE think Trump has been vindicated?

I didn’t play very close attention to the Mueller investigation, because I didn’t hold out hope that it would save the nation from Trumpism. I had my doubts that it would turn up anything that result in impeachment — and even if it did, and he was removed from office, his followers would never, ever believe he was removed legitimately. And the disaffection and division in the country — the factors that gave us Trump — would be more bitter than ever.

So while I saw Mueller as an honest and honorable man who would do his best, I wasn’t particularly invested in the outcome. And I worried that a lot of people were placing too much emphasis on it.

But now that it’s over, and the attorney general says Mueller concluded it cannot be proved that Trump criminally conspired with Russia — but took a pass on obstruction of justice — it is rather amazing to see the way Trump touts this as compete exoneration. And his fan base is gullible enough to cheer him at a rally at which he gloats about it.

And despite all the foolishness that has gone before, lowering our expectations, this is still rather amazing.

Let’s just take stock for a moment. In a comment on a previous thread, Mr. Smith provides a link to a column by Michael Gerson, a conservative Republican columnist. You should read the whole thing. It starts like this:

A thought experiment: Suppose that on March 24 — the day Attorney General William P. Barr publicly summarized the Mueller report — all of the results of the special counsel’s probe that have dribbled out over the past two years had been revealed at once.

Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson

Americans would have discovered that a hostile foreign power had engaged in major intelligence operations designed to elect Donald Trump — something consistently denied by the president himself.

In this hypothetical, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III would have simultaneously announced the indictment of 34 Russians and Americans — a network of espionage and corruption including hackers, Russian military officers and high-level operatives of the 2016 Trump campaign.

Suppose the report had revealed that 14 Trump associates had been in contact with Russian nationals, including the president’s son, who had met with Russian operatives in an attempt to gain information harmful to Hillary Clinton’s campaign….

I would go on, but I’m probably pushing the envelope on Fair Use. And you get the picture. The headline of the piece is “Trump may not be a Russian agent. He’s just a Russian stooge.” Which pretty much states the case, although it lets Trump off the hook in that it doesn’t mention everything else we’ve learned about him and the collection of rogues and clowns with which he surrounds himself. Such are the limitations of a headline.

There are other columns out there like this one; this is just the most recent I have read. And I’m thinking it would be interesting to get someone who was cheering Trump at that rally yesterday to read it, and then tell us: Which of the facts Mr. Gerson cites is a “hoax” or “fake news?”

The exercise would accomplish nothing, of course. The Trump base is immune to reason.

Free lecture: A ‘tunnel rat’ tells about his experiences

Bowman taking the point.

When his unit was on the move, Bowman generally preferred walking point.

As some of y’all may know, I do some communications work for the S.C. Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum, which is actually one of the most fun things I do these days. I do love me some military history.

But while I’m always up on what’s happening there, I keep forgetting to keep y’all in the loop. I know Bryan would have been interested in some of the recent programs, and probably some of the rest of y’all would have as well.

We’re having a particularly interesting lecture tomorrow at noon, so here’s your heads-up, in the form of the press release we sent out about it:

Vietnam War ‘tunnel rat’ to tell his story in free museum lecture

COLUMBIA, S.C. – They were called “tunnel rats.” Their job was to crawl, alone with a flashlight and pistol, into the tight, claustrophobic tunnels that the Vietcong dug to hide in – and kill the enemy.

The job was voluntary. But once a soldier volunteered for the duty once, he became the expert, and again and again, he’d be called on to slither down into the nightmarish dark.

C.W. Bowman of 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 25th Division, was one of them. He will tell his story on Friday, March 29, at noon at the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum in Columbia. The free lecture, part of the museum’s Lunch and Learn series, is open to the public.

A comrade helps Bowman climb out of a Viet Cong tunnel.

A comrade helps Bowman climb out of a Viet Cong tunnel.

“Once you go in a tunnel, then any time we found another tunnel, they’d say, ‘Hey Bowman!’” he recalls. For a while there was another “rat” in the unit, but then he stepped on a Bouncing Betty mine, after which Bowman had the job exclusively.

“There weren’t that many tunnel rats. It’s not for everybody,” he notes. “You kind of get marked. You get the mystique of kind of being an insane person. Nobody messes with you.”

That’s not all he did that not everyone would want to do. When his unit was on the move, he always preferred to be the point man. “I’d rather walk point than with the noisy people in the back,” he says.

Aside from that, it was another job where experience counted: “I could see things other people wouldn’t see – booby traps and such,” he said. “You develop a sixth sense. You do. You start reverting back to your animalistic instincts.”

Today, when he tells someone he was a tunnel rat, they look him over with doubt in their eyes. That’s because those tunnels were tight, and he now weighs about 225 pounds. “They look at me kinda funny and get a grin on their faces.” So he tells them they’ve probably put on a few pounds in the last 52 years, too. When he was in Vietnam, he weighed 138 pounds, and had a 28-inch waist.

All of that happened during his first tour, from January-December 1967. When he came back for a second tour, “I got a jeep shot out from under me in Saigon.” It was the beginning of the Tet Offensive.

If you look up the Tet Offensive, you’ll realize that was just weeks after his first tour ended. Yes, he says, “I stayed drunk for 30 days and I went back.”

Originally from Bordentown, N.J., C.W. Bowman has called South Carolina home since 1973. He was drafted into the U.S. Army on Aug. 10, 1966, a month shy of his 20th birthday. After his Vietnam service, he was a drill sergeant at Fort Jackson.

He has a lot of interesting stories to tell. Come hear them on March 29.

About the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum

Founded in 1896, the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum is an accredited museum focusing on South Carolina’s distinguished martial tradition through the Revolutionary War, Mexican War, Civil War, Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, Vietnam, the War on Terror, and other American conflicts. It serves as the state’s military history museum by collecting, preserving, and exhibiting South Carolina’s military heritage from the colonial era to the present, and by providing superior educational experiences and programming. It is located at 301 Gervais St. in Columbia, sharing the Columbia Mills building with the State Museum. For more information, go to https://crr.sc.gov/.

After reading the release, Bowman wondered whether “anybody’d want to come out and hear a crazy man.” I told him they probably would. For my part, I’ve been fascinated speaking with him about his experiences over the phone, and look forward to meeting him. I hope to see some of y’all there.

Bowman as a drill sergeant at Fort Jackson, after his Vietnam service.

Bowman as a drill sergeant at Fort Jackson, after his Vietnam service.

I’m a Sorkin originalist

58afb6ba0f0c80732fadf0be4a9c52c0 (1)

Since I did all that typing over on Twitter, I thought I’d share this exchange I had with Bryan.

Ainsley, look all modest as she kicks Sam's butt...

Ainsley, look all demure as she kicks Sam’s butt…

My beef with the newest NYT app

The old app: This is the way, uh-huh, uh-huh, I like it...

The old app: This is the way, uh-huh, uh-huh, I like it…

Being invited by email to complete a survey for The New York Times, I said this when they asked me why I liked reading the paper best on my iPad app:

It works well for me. But I prefer the old app to the new one, for the simple fact that I can see the name of the author of an opinion piece before clicking on it. That’s important to me, because there are certain columnists I don’t want to miss. I have no idea why that feature is missing in the new app.

See what I did there? I told them what I didn’t like about it, even though they didn’t ask that. I’d been looking for a chance to get that gripe in, and I figured this was my chance. I’m putting it on my blog now on the slim chance that it might get to the attention of someone who can do something about it this way.

It’s a small thing, but it makes a big difference in my enjoyment of the paper, as well as in its usefulness to me.

The NYT keeps trying to get me to read the new app. Although I have it on my iPad, I don't. And won't, as long as the old one works.

The NYT keeps trying to get me to use the new app. Although I have it on my iPad, I don’t. And won’t, as long as the old one works.

Over the years, I have come to spend most of my time interacting with newspapers reading the opinion pages. I prefer that to “straight” news. I like getting my information within the context of an argument. Don’t just tell me who, what, where… tell me what you think of it, and I’ll decide what I think of what you think of it.

This is a deeper way of engaging with news than reading the front page. I’ve written about this a number of times over the years. I find that there are certain questions I want answered about an event or an issue, and too often those questions don’t even occur to “straight” news reporters. Why? Because they’re not trying to figure out what they think about the event or the issue, so they approach it on a more superficial level.

When you’re going to make an argument about something, and thousands of people are going to read that argument and judge it, you think harder about it. And yes, this process works best with people who do it for a living. The same principle seldom applies in the case of the loudmouth on the barstool proclaiming his own gut impressions to everyone around him. Not necessarily because the professional is smarter; he’s just doing it within a more demanding context. And doing it day in, day out. And when you’re doing it for a living, and even more so when you’re syndicated, or appearing in a publication with famously high standards — such as the NYT — you’ve got to prove yourself every day.

And while I will sometimes click on a piece purely because of the headline, I’m just much more likely to do so when I see it’s by someone whose thoughtfulness I’ve come to respect.

And no, it’s not about just reading people I agree with (although I’m sure it would work that way with a lot of people, such as the blowhard on the barstool, assuming he reads). It’s about reading people who, whatever they think, have demonstrated to me over and over that they will make a good case well. I like people who make me think, “He’s wrong, but he almost convinces me…”

By the way, this preference of mine came into play when I became editorial page editor of The State in 1997. I immediately started requiring my writers to write at least one column a week, in addition to editorials (which by definition are not signed, because they speak for the institution rather than an individual, and represented a consensus of the board). I did this so that readers would see the editorial board less as a monolith, and know the people who crafted our positions. But I also did it because it made the page more the kind of page I liked to read myself.

These days, some of my favorites in the NYT are David Brooks, Bret Stephens and Ross Douthat. And yes, those three have some views in common with me — they are all never-Trumpers, and none of them are Democrats.

What that means is that, in explaining the problems with the current occupant of the White House, they have to think harder about their views and how they want to express them — unlike someone like Paul Krugman, who is painfully predictable. I’ve never been able to stand Krugman, as I’ve said many times before — although if the headline intrigues me, I may read even him.

I keep thinking at some point the NYT will upgrade the new app so that it shows the bylines. But they haven’t yet…

The new app: This is NOT the way I like it.

The new app: This is NOT the way I like it.

 

 

Open Thread for Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Moisture Festival 2010, photo by Michelle Bates

Moisture Festival 2010, photo by Michelle Bates

I’m super busy with catching up on work, but I wanted to give y’all something new to chew on.

If you are old enough, you will remember something on television called a “variety show,” and you will also remember that periodically someone would come on such a show whose claim to fame was the ability to keep a number of plates spinning simultaneously atop spindly sticks. (And yes, young people, we actually watched this, because the Beatles might come on next — also, there was no Netflix.) Well, me pausing in catching up on work to post this is like that — another plate set to spinning.

Some topics:

  1. House fails to override Trump’s veto of emergency declaration challenge — Which you knew was going to happen because arithmetic. So now, this particularly stupid saga moves on to the courts.
  2. Charges dropped against actor accused of lying about a hate-crime attack — If there’s a moral to this story, I have no idea what it is. But if this development means we hear no more about this particular episode, I’m all for it.
  3. SC House passes millions in tax breaks to lure Carolina Panthers across border— Really? As in, seriously? I liked that Henry proposed some light rail as part of his pitch on this. Could we just have that, without the football?
  4. 2020 presidential candidate to make commencement address at SC university — I just include this as an example of the newfangled type of headline that doesn’t tell you anything more than it has to to get you to click. Here’s the Old School version: “Cory Booker to speak at S.C. State graduation on May 10.” (I even padded it, as the usefulness of “Cory” and “on” are debatable.) Note how I told you everything you might conceivably want to know, in less space. Now you don’t have to click. You can thank me later.
  5. Tory rebels asked by No 10 if they would back Brexit deal if May quit — You can see the appeal of this plan to the PM. It’s a twofer: She’d get a win, and she wouldn’t have to deal with stupid Brexit any more.

I’m deeply shocked to learn of the death of Burl Burlingame

After our tour of Ford Island in 2015, we dropped by our Alma Mater to pay respects.

After our tour of Ford Island in 2015, we dropped by our Alma Mater to pay respects.

Y’all know I’m not a big Facebook user. So I had to return to America to learn that my high school friend and blog regular Burl Burlingame had died suddenly on the Ides of March — just two days after we left for Ireland.

I had just gotten into the office this morning, and Lora said she had been looking for Ireland pictures on my Facebook (there were none — I was putting them all on Twitter), and she noticed that my friend had died. That’s how I learned about it.

His most recent FB profile photo, from 2018.

His most recent FB profile photo, from 2018.

WHAT?!?!?

“Sudden” was the way his passing was described. It was certainly that from my perspective.

Wow. The world has lost an extraordinary person. Even, in high school, Burl was a Renaissance Man — writer, photographer, cartoonist, musician, actor. Wherever you looked, Burl was there and playing a major role. Larger than life. Before I had even done so much as work on a school paper, he wrote, illustrated and published his own underground newspaper in which he regularly referred to our principal, Mr. Yamamoto — who was seldom seen by students — as the Ghost Who Walks. He used to carry around a briefcase with multiple harmonicas in it, which he could really, really play. When he portrayed the secret policeman in the senior class production of Woody Allen’s “Don’t Drink the Water,” his was easily the most memorable performance.

Burl in 1971.

Burl in 1971.

As an adult, he just expanded on all of that. Like me, he spent 35 years as a newspaperman, but while I was concentrating on that one thing, Burl was making his mark in other spheres — writing books on military history, becoming a master modeler (of course, like most of us, he had taken up that hobby as a kid, but then turned pro), and establishing himself as probably the leading expert in the world on Japanese minisubs. So it was perfectly natural when he left the paper to become staff historian at the Pacific Aviation Museum.

I feel privileged that I got to reconnect with Burl, through this blog, almost 40 years after we graduated from Radford High School together. And I’m glad I got to see him twice in recent years, first when he gave my wife and me a personal tour of his museum and Ford Island, and again when he came to Columbia for an international modelers convention.

And I’m having trouble absorbing the fact that I’ll never see him again in this life.

On Ford Island in 2015.

On Ford Island in 2015. Note the rainbow.

Wonderful news for Cindi, and even better for SC!

Cindi

Cindi Ross Scoppe shared her good news with me last week, but told me to embargo it while she and the folks at the Post and Courier decided how to announce it. So I did. And then, she went ahead and scooped me herself on social media!

It’s those kind of killer instincts that have made her the finest political journalist working in South Carolina today.

And yes, she is indeed back working. As she wrote:

I’m starting my new job on Thursday, as an editorial writer for The Post and Courier. I’ll be working with a great team, writing editorials and columns primarily about state government and the Legislature. And yes, I’m staying in Columbia, where I can keep a close eye on everything. I’ll have a column in a few days introducing myself to readers, and I’ll share that here.

This is tremendous news — the Charleston paper creating this new position, in Columbia, and hiring Cindi for it is the kind of fairy-tale ending that just doesn’t happen for experienced journalists these days. It’s wonderful for Cindi, and even better for South Carolina.

Y’all might not know this, but the Post and Courier is the last daily newspaper in South Carolina that actually employs an editorial department (with an editorial page editor and everything), offering opinions on the issues that affect our state. The State, as you know, doesn’t do it — they didn’t even bother to have an “opinion page” today, which is just as well, since when they do run it it’s just canned stuff from elsewhere and a few letters. And I learned during the campaign, when I was checking around to set up endorsement interviews, that the Greenville and Spartanburg papers don’t do editorials any more, either.

Cindi told me that the Charleston folks asked why, toward the end of her career at The State, she wrote only columns and no editorials. The answer was as obvious to me as it was to her — there was something vaguely false about offering editorials when you’re the last member of the editorial board. Might as well sign them. (For those still confused about the difference, I’ll explain further on request.)

I’m just so happy for Cindi. But I’m thrilled for South Carolina. We all needed her back on the job.

How ‘soaking the rich’ could work (A Modest Proposal)

Command Chief Master Sgt. Greg Nelson sits in the dunking booth at the 916th Air Refueling Wing Family Day held on Oct. 3. U.S. Air Force photo by TSgt. Gillian Albro, 916ARW/PA.

Doug keeps asking Bud how a “soak the rich” plan would work. (Yeah, they’re having that argument again.)

I thought I’d step in and help. I’ve got it all worked out:

Carnivals would be set up in each county across the country. Each one would feature a dunking booth. The richest people in each county would be placed, one at a time, on the seat in the booth. In large metropolitan areas, only billionaires would be used for this purpose. In the nation’s biggest markets, such as New York and Los Angeles, these would be famous billionaires. Mind you, we’re not just talking Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates, but some REALLY irresistible targets like, say, Kylie Jenner and Justin Bieber.

In Washington, it would be Trump in the booth.

Members of the middle class would be charged $100 a throw, folks below the poverty line only $20 (Doug will object to this approach, but he should reflect that if they can’t afford the $100, we don’t get anything). Some of them would be so eager, they would take out loans in order to throw until their arms wore out.

With the proceeds, we could have single payer.

We could have these carnivals periodically — say, once a month — and my next way to spend it would be on a 600-ship Navy.

Then, I’d start socking it away to save Social Security.

Oh, and we’d finally have those bases on the Moon and Mars I’ve been wanting.

The sky’s the limit. We’d be rolling in dough….

You don’t have to thank me. Just give me 1 percent of the proceeds. I’ll make do with that, and be content…

If we're ever REALLY desperate for funds, we can take this approach.

If we’re ever REALLY desperate for funds, we can take this approach.

The ‘impossibly glamorous’ Mandy Powers Norrell

This is a recent shot from an event in Mandy's home town. I think it was called "That '70s Gala"...

This is a recent shot from an event in Mandy’s home town. I think it was called “That ’70s Gala”…

No, it’s not me saying it. I would never say such a… I mean, not that I disagree!… I mean… well, I don’t quite know what to make of an article that describes my former boss in those terms.

But Mandy wants it to go viral, so I’m happy to help. Here’s the piece, in a publication called News Growl, and here’s an excerpt:

When it came time for South Carolina gubernatorial candidate James Smith to pick a running mate in May 2018, he chose fellow Democrat and South Carolina House member Mandy Powers Norrell.

“I have found a woman who has the experience and strength of character that we need, a woman who shares our core values as South Carolinians, a woman who is ready now to serve and to lead South Carolina,” he said at the announcement.

What Smith did not say (but could have) is that he had found a running mate who also had an unusually keen sense of fashion and enough glamour to make a Kennedy blush….

It goes on in that vein.

For her part, Mandy was a bit bemused that her attire caused such a stir:

Of course, Republicans get terribly envious when Democrats get such positive press, which is what I suppose stirred my own representative to respond:

The jockeying for partisan advantage just never ceases, does it?

So I suppose that, as the communications director, I missed a major opportunity not making Mandy’s appearance a talking point in the campaign. No doubt if I had, it would have put her and James over the top. Well, it’s their fault, not mine — for hiring a campaign novice for such a crucial position. As I keep telling Doug: Experience counts!

Open Thread for Thursday, March 7, 2019

Shazam! No, wait -- that's the other one...

Shazam! No, wait — that’s the other one…

Some possible topics:

  1. Men seeking sex in SC massage parlors are likely abusing human trafficking victims, experts say — Long headline, but I’m glad to see it. Mandy has been trying to address this problem for awhile, and this should help in the cause.
  2. Megachurch had 4 alleged child predators — and over a dozen victims, SC police say — The Catholic Church has an additional scandal, having to do with the mishandling of these kinds of cases. But sexual predators are just as common in other institutions where men have access to trusting victims. And everyone needs to wake up to it, and put a stop to it.
  3. Martin Shkreli Steers His Old Company From Prison—With Contraband Cellphone — He’s back: the scumbag we all love to hate.
  4. House passes broad measure condemning hate after allegations of anti-Semitism — But will that solve the problem? Hope so. Otherwise, principled Democrats should take a hint from those across the pond who quit the Labour Party over this very problem.
  5. How Captain Marvel went from love interest to the most powerful Avenger — OK, but if she’s the most powerful Avenger, how come she wasn’t in any of the other Avenger movies? And how did she go from being a guy to a gal? Was it like a Bruce Jenner thing? And what about the DC one? Guess I’ll have to see this one to find out…