Je ne suis pas Charlie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m really, really ticked off at WordPress right now

I had just finished writing a lengthy, complex post with all sorts of links and such in it, and before looking for a video clip to add to it, decided to save as a draft, upon which I got one of those “retry” error messages. Which usually means I have to hit “back” a couple of times to get to my work before I can copy and paste it somewhere to save it from this technological hiccup.

But I went back, and back, and my work wasn’t there any more.

I haven’t had this happen in years.

Anyway, I blame WordPress. It recently upgraded, and I think this is a glitch of the upgrade. And I’m really, really ticked about it…

Runyan stance may generate an actual challenge this year

Remember Cameron Runyan’s solitary stance on a vote dealing with an aspect of the same-sex marriage issue?

There was a flurry of rhetoric at the time to the effect of “somebody oughta run against this guy.” There was a Twitter feed and everything — although the last Tweet was Dec. 10.

Well, “somebody” may. Free Times is reporting this:

On Nov. 18, Columbia City Council voted — by a count of 4-1 — to extend benefits to the spouses of city employees who are in legal same-sex marriages, including legal marriages from any of the 50 states. Councilman Cameron Runyan cast the lone dissenting vote.

Avatar from the "Replace Runyan" Twitter feed.

Avatar from the “Replace Runyan” Twitter feed.

A day later, on Nov. 19, longtime Columbia political consultant Tige Watts posted the following on his Facebook page: “As God is my witness, I will do everything I can to make sure Cameron Runyan is not re-elected to Columbia City Council 349 days from now.”

It’s looking like Watts wasn’t kidding.

On Monday afternoon, Watts told Free Times that he is heavily considering a run for the at-large seat on Columbia City Council currently occupied by Runyan. Watts says he is in the process of preparing campaign materials and would likely make an official announcement at the end of the month.

Runyan’s at-large post is one of three seats that will be up for election in November…

 

Mulvaney: House insurgents can’t be trusted

At first, I thought SC’s Mick Mulvaney had had an awakening, and was spurning the Tea Party fervor that put him in office. I thought maybe his views had matured as a result of four years’ exposure to political reality. I was misled by this headline in the WashPost this morning: “House Republican slams anti-Boehner movement hard. Like, really hard.

That sounded as though maybe he was criticizing the thinking, or the goals, of the ineffectual insurgents. But no. He apparently still shares the goals. But he doesn’t trust the insurgents because they’re ineffectual.

Here’s his statement:

“There was an attempt to oust John Boehner as Speaker of the House today.  I didn’t participate in it.  That may make some people back home angry.  I understand that, but I’ve got some experience with coup attempts against the Speaker, and what I learned two years ago factored heavily in my decision today not to join the mutiny.

First, I learned two years ago that people lie about how they are going to vote.  And you cannot go into this kind of fight with people you do not trust. We walked onto the floor two years ago with signed pledges – handwritten promises – from more than enough people to deny Boehner his job.  But when it came time to vote, almost half of those people changed their minds – including some of those who voted against Boehner today.  Fool me once, shame on you… Today was even worse: there were never enough votes to oust Boehner to begin with.   On top of that, some people who had publicly said in the past that they wouldn’t vote for Boehner did just that. This was an effort driven as much by talk radio as by a thoughtful and principled effort to make a change. It was poorly considered and poorly executed, and I learned first-hand that is no way to fight a battle.   This coup today was bound to fail.  And in fact, it failed worse than I expected, falling 11 votes short of deposing the Speaker.  At least two years ago we only failed by six.

I also learned that the Floor of the House is the wrong place to have this battle.  The hard truth is that we had an election for Speaker in November – just among Republicans.  THAT was the time to fight.  But not a single person ran against Boehner.  Not one.  If they had, we could’ve had a secret ballot to find out what the true level of opposition to John Boehner was.  In fact, we could’ve done that as late as Monday night, on a vote of “no confidence” in the Speaker.  But that didn’t happen…and at least one of the supposed challengers to Boehner today didn’t even go to the meeting last night.  That told me a lot.

Some people wrote me encouraging me to vote for Louie Gohmert.  I like Louie, but let’s be clear: Louie Gohmert was – is – never ever going to be Speaker of the House.  I respect his passion, but he isn’t a credible candidate.  That was proved today by the fact that he got three votes, despite all the national media attention he managed to grab.  My colleague who got the most anti-Boehner votes was Daniel Webster of Florida who got 12 votes. I like Daniel.  He is a nice guy, and a good thinker…but his lifetime Heritage Action score is 60% (by comparison, mine is 91%).  And this was supposed to be the savior of the conservative movement?  Would the House really have been more conservative if he had won?

The truth is, there was no conservative who could beat John Boehner. Period.  People can ignore that, or they can wish it away, but that is reality.  

Some people tried to argue that voting against Boehner would give conservatives leverage, or somehow force him to lead in a more conservative fashion, even if the coup attempt failed.  All I can say to that is that the exact opposite happened two years ago:  conservatives were marginalized, and Boehner was even freer to work with moderates and Democrats.  My guess is that the exact same thing will happen again now.  And I fail to see how that helps anything that conservatives know needs to be done in Washington.

I understand people’s frustration and anger over what is happening in Washington.  And I also acknowledge that John Boehner may be partly to blame. But this was a fool’s errand.  I am all for fighting, but I am more interested in fighting and winning than I am fighting an unwinnable battle. 

Finally, the most troubling accusation I have heard regarding the Boehner vote is that I have “sold out” my conservative principles.  All I can say is this: take a look at my voting record.  It is one of the most conservative in Congress.  And I was joined today by the likes of Jim Jordan, Raul Labrador, Trey Gowdy, Mark Sanford, Trent Franks, Tom McClintock, Matt Salmon, Tom Price, Sam Johnson, and Jeb Hensarling.  If I “sold out” then I did so joined by some of the most tried and tested conservative voices in Washington.

I can say with 100% confidence that I have done exactly what I said I would do when I came to Washington: fight to cut spending, stop bad legislation, work to repeal Obamacare, and hold the President accountable for his actions.  That will never change, and neither will I.”

The Post may be right that this statement “is remarkably blunt and the kind of thing that is rarely seen from a member of Congress.” But it in no way reflects a change of heart. Unfortunately, this is still a guy who thinks mainstream Republicans aren’t radical enough.

SC House Dems announce priorities, lose me on the 1st one

This just in from SC House Democrats:

SC House Democrats Announce Priorities for 2015-16 Legislative Session

Columbia, SC – South Carolina House Democrats released their legislative priorities for the 121st South Carolina General Assembly. Caucus priorities are centered on “Modernizing South Carolina for the 21st Century.” Over the next two years, House Democrats will focus on finding adequate and stable sources of revenue to fix our crumbling roads and bridges, reform the state’s K-12 Public Education funding system, providing affordable and accessible health care options, establishing a state minimum wage, increasing teacher pay, strengthening the state’s ethics laws, and a host of other challenges and issues important to all South Carolinians.

“House Republicans have now been in charge for twenty years; and on almost every single issue – employment, education, roads, healthcare – things have gotten demonstrably worse in South Carolina,” said House Democratic Leader Todd Rutherford of Columbia. “At some point Republicans have to realize that their agenda of abandoning our public schools, putting government in our bedrooms and doctor’s offices, and completely ignoring our state’s roads, simply isn’t working. House Democrats are prepared to make this session about new, innovative ways to specifically address our state’s problems and modernize South Carolina for the 21st Century.”

House Democrats have already pre-filed several pieces of legislation that address a number of our most critical challenges including:

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

“House Republicans have spent three decades digging a very deep hole with their negligence and extreme ideology,” said Rutherford. “Now it’s time for them to stop digging. We must try something new, and we must do it quickly.”

House Democrats plan to unveil their legislative agenda the second week of the 2015 Session.

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Of course, they lose me immediately on the very first proposal listed.

Really, Democrats? This is what you want the party of FDR and JFK to be known for in SC? A plan to introduce ANOTHER scheme to exploit human weakness, as an alternative to simply raising the tax that we already have in place to pay for roads? Really?

Graham on Paris terror attack

Since reading about the terrorist attack in Paris this morning over breakfast I’ve meant to post something but been busy.

So I’ll share what Lindsey Graham put out, to get a conversation started:

Graham on Terror Attack in Paris

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today made this statement on this morning’s terrorist attack in Paris which has left at least 12 people dead.

 

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, the families, and the French people in the wake of this horrendous attack.

 

“Simply stated, radical Islam – through extreme violence and intimidation – is trying to replace our way of life with theirs.  I have no doubt they will ultimately fail, but the question is how many will be injured or killed before that day arrives?

 

“Here at home, we must use this horrific attack as an opportunity to reevaluate our own national security posture.  I fear our intelligence capabilities, those designed to prevent such an attack from taking place on our shores, are quickly eroding.  Through a combination of poor policy choices made by the Obama Administration regarding detention and interrogation policies, and budget cuts approved by the Congress with President Obama’s support, I believe our national security infrastructure designed to prevent these types of attacks from occurring is under siege.

 

“President Obama should immediately change his interrogation and detention policies as we are gradually losing the ability to detect, disrupt and prevent future terrorist attacks.  In addition, it is time to restore the necessary funding to our intelligence-gathering and national security operations.

 

“I fear we can expect and must prepare for more attacks like this in the future.  ISIL is well-funded and has an entrenched command structure that is actively inspiring terrorist attacks throughout the world.  And while President Obama has the right goal in destroying ISIL, I fear the policies he is using are grossly insufficient and leave our homeland increasingly exposed.

 

“Finally, we should acknowledge that radical Islamists have no limits when it comes to destruction and the taking of human life.  That is why it remains imperative that we never allow radical Islamic terrorists to acquire weapons of mass destruction.  While today’s attack in Paris involved conventional weapons, I fear the terrorist attacks of the future could be even more lethal and even more tragic if these organizations acquire chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.  Denying them this capability is the challenge of the time.”

 

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Ground broken on Bull Street ballpark

This just in from those promoting the Bull Street development:

“Today we break ground; In April of 2016, we’ll play ball!”

This morning, Columbia came together to ceremoniously break ground on Spirit Communications Park.  The park will be a state-of-the-art multi-use sports and entertainment venue home to an affiliated Minor League Baseball team in April, 2016.
 

“This is a milestone day for our entire city,” Mayor Benjamin said. “It’s taken hard work by many to make this possible, and more hard work is still in store, but our vision for a more vibrant Columbia is coming closer and closer to fruition. The countdown is now on to Opening Day in 2016.”
 
“It’s exciting to think about how Spirit Communications Park will add to what is already one of America’s great cities,” said Freier, who was at a similar groundbreaking for Parkview Field in Fort Wayne, Ind., in 2007. Parkview Field has since been named the “No. 1 Ballpark Experience” in Minor League Baseball in three of the past four years. 
 
Spirit Communications Park will anchor development at Columbia Common, the new gateway to Downtown Columbia. The 181-acre Columbia Common, under the guidance of master developer Hughes Development, is primed to become the ultimate live-work-play community in the region. 
 

“We’ve seen this kind of development centered around a ballpark work throughout the country, including not so far away from Columbia,” said Bob Hughes, who led a similar project a decade ago around Fluor Field in Greenville. “Folks in Columbia are in for a treat with Spirit Communications Park.” 
 
We can expect more than 900 jobs to be created during the construction of the ballpark. Once complete, Columbia’s professional baseball team will bring on approximately 35 full-time and 550 part-time employees.
 
This park would not be possible with out support from people like you; people who gave their time and energy to support Building Bull Street. Let’s play ball!

Graham’s statement on beginning new term

This came in this afternoon:

Graham Takes Oath of Office

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today made this statement after taking the oath of office as a United States Senator for South Carolina.

“The greatest experience and privilege of my life has been to represent the people of South Carolina in the United States Senate.

“I appreciate each and every person who believed in me and supported me for another term as your senator.  For those who preferred someone else, I will continue to work to earn your trust and confidence and assure you my door is always open.

“I still believe solving problems and being conservative are not mutually exclusive, and I return to the Senate with a burning desire to right the ship before it’s too late.  The question for the country now is — can a conservative, Republican Congress work with a liberal, Democratic president to move our nation forward? The answer should be ‘yes,’ and I believe it will be ‘yes.’  There are areas where we can find common ground.

“I will continue to fight for South Carolina’s interest in the Senate, and above all else I will continue to have the back of those who risk their lives to defend our nation. Time and again, brave men and women stand in harm’s way to protect the freedoms you and I hold dear.  Let’s honor their dedication and sacrifice by working together to improve the nation they are willing to fight and die for.”

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FYI, the third graf of his statement (the fourth in the release), the one that begins, “I still believe solving problems and being conservative are not mutually exclusive,” is the reason I count myself among those who wanted to see him serve another term.

‘Selma’ controversy brings ‘inspiration vs. results’ debate back into focus. But it’s not either/or; it’s both/and

The new film “Selma” opens in theaters in Columbia Friday. So I haven’t seen it, any more than you have. But I’d like to comment on the controversy regarding the movie’s portrayal of LBJ.

Go read Richard Cohen‘s latest column, headlined “‘Selma’ distorts the truth about LBJ.” A couple of excerpts:

In its need for some dramatic tension, “Selma” asserts that King had to persuade and pressure a recalcitrant Johnson to introduce the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The movie also depicts Johnson authorizing FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to smear King and — as King himself suspected — try to drive him to suicide. It is a profoundly ugly moment.

But a bevy of historians say it never happened. It was Robert F. Kennedy, the former attorney general, whoauthorized the FBI’s bugging of King’s hotel rooms. Yet, for understandable reasons, Kennedy appears nowhere in the film. By 1965, he was no longer the AG and, anyway, he remains a liberal icon. But LBJ — Southern, obscene and, especially when compared to the lithe Kennedy, gross of speech and physique — was made the heavy. He should get a posthumous SAG card….

[Those defending LBJ] include the historian Mark K. Updegrove, director of the LBJ Presidential Library; Diane McWhorter, author of “Carry Me Home”; David J. Garrow, author of “Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference”; and, when it comes to the atmospherics of the Johnson-King relationship, Andrew Young, once King’s deputy. He told The Post that the contentious meeting between King and LBJ depicted in the film was, in fact, cordial. “He and Martin never had that kind of confrontation.” Young was there.

As for Garrow, he told the New York Times that “if the movie suggests LBJ had anything to do with” Hoover’s attempt to destroy King, “that’s truly vile and a real historical crime against LBJ.” The movie depicts exactly that….

As I say, I haven’t seen the movie, but I’ve seen the above trailer, which hamhandedly drives home the same falsehood that LBJ, and every other authority figure in the country, stood as a barrier that only MLK’s witness, courage, and eloquence could knock down. (If the filmmakers were not trying to make that point in the trailer, they should go back and try again).

We’ve been here before. Back during the 2008 presidential primaries, Hillary Clinton enraged some when she said that the eloquence of an MLK or a JFK — or, by implication, a Barack Obama — only gets you so far. You need an LBJ to effect real change. She, of course, was casting herself as the savvy insider, the latter-day LBJ. Here’s my column at the time on that subject, to refresh you.

But there’s more here than whether you prefer fine words or practical action. There’s also the constant tension between people who believe sincere passion, emotional purity expressed through public demonstrations by ordinary folk is better, more legitimate, and ultimately more effective than working through a system of laws, through elected representatives, to bring about needed reform.

I don’t have to tell you that I believe in the rule of law, in effecting change through the mechanisms of a republic, as opposed to marching in the streets. I had little patience with Occupy Wall Street, as you’ll recall. And as for the protests following the Ferguson fiasco, I think Dave Barry hit the nail on the head with this passage from his satirical look at the year just past:

Domestically, the big story is in Ferguson, Mo., which is rocked by a wave of sometimes-violent protests following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. The shooting ignites a passionate national debate whose participants have basically as much solid information about what actually happened as they do about Malaysia Airlines Flight 370….

So am I discounting the importance of all those civil rights marches, at Selma and elsewhere? Absolutely not. In fact, I believe they represent the one time in my life that such demonstrations were needed, were essential, and made a positive difference in the country. The moral, peaceful witness that Dr. King and the other marchers placed before the eyes of the country led to the development of a political consensus that made LBJ’s efforts possible. They prepared the ground.

But those protests did NOT force concessions from a hostile country, or hostile leadership in Washington. What they did was force the country to face the reality of Jim Crow. They made it impossible to look away. And the country, the great mass of public opinion, white as well as black, decided that we needed the change that the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act represented. And master legislator-turned-president Johnson was the one who led us through that essential process.

It’s not either/or. It’s not black vs. white, or The People vs. The Man. It’s not passion vs. reason.

It’s both/and. We needed MLK and LBJ.

Cohen calls attention to an earlier piece by Joe Califano, vehemently defending his old boss LBJ from the film’s slander. I like this passage from a recording of the conversation:

On Jan. 15, 1965, LBJ talked to King by telephone about his intention to send a voting rights act to Congress: “There is not going to be anything as effective, though, Doctor, as all [blacks] voting.”

Johnson then articulated a strategy for drawing attention to the injustice of using literacy tests and other barriers to stop black Southerners from voting. “We take the position,” he said, “that every person born in this country, when he reaches a certain age, that he have a right to vote . . .whether it’s a Negro, whether it’s a Mexican, or who it is. . . . I think you can contribute a great deal by getting your leaders and you, yourself, taking very simple examples of discrimination; where a [black] man’s got . . . to quote the first 10 Amendments, . . . and some people don’t have to do that, but when a Negro comes in he’s got to do it, and if we can, just repeat and repeat and repeat.

“And if you can find the worst condition that you run into in Alabama, Mississippi or Louisiana or South Carolina . . . and if you just take that one illustration and get it on radio, get it on television, get it in the pulpits, get it in the meetings, get it everyplace you can. Pretty soon the fellow that didn’t do anything but drive a tractor will say, ‘Well, that’s not right, that’s not fair,’ and then that will help us on what we’re going to shove through [Congress] in the end.”…

You have a couple of key points there:

  • First, the president is stating clearly that he not only appreciates what Dr. King is doing, but sees it as essential to educating the public so that it will embrace change. Change will come when that average guy says “that’s not right; that’s not fair.” After that, and not before, you can “shove” reform through Congress.
  • Then, you have his assertion that in the end, however, true change will be effected through the system — by black Americans voting, as well as by raised consciousness among whites. Marching in the streets only gets you so far.

Which is why he pushed so hard for his signature achievement, the Voting Rights Act.

The trailer flits past this image so quickly that I had trouble freezing it on this frame to grab this image. But the reason what happened in Selma was effective was because it caused THIS reaction in mainstream America.

The trailer flits past this image so quickly that I had trouble freezing it on this frame to grab it. But the reason what happened in Selma was effective was because it caused THIS reaction in mainstream America.

How much longer must we shoulder the White Man’s Burden?

Being under the weather yesterday (NOT the flu, and I’m on an antibiotic, so should be myself again soon), I finally got around to watching a couple of DVDs from Netflix that had been collecting dust in front of the tube for months now.

The first was “12 Years a Slave,” which told us of a fortunately long-ago time when we white men — or at least our great-great granddaddies — ran everything. (The other was “Dom Hemingway,” but I have no editorial point to make about that.)

Based on what I saw, it’s a really good thing those days are way, way behind us, gone with the wind, etc. Right? Right?

So today, I read this on The Fix:

The new Congress is 80 percent white, 80 percent male and 92 percent Christian

The 114th Congress, which gets to “work” on Tuesday, is one of the most diverse in American history, comprised of nearly 20 percent women and just over 17 percent of which is non-white. Which means, of course, that four out of five members of Congress are white and four out of five are men. Ergo, given the name of a member of Congress (at random: Oregon GOP Rep. Greg Walden), you can probably guess his or her gender and race. (In case you want to see if you were right about Walden: here.)…

The trend is slow, but it’s clear: Congress is getting a bit less white and a bit less male….

Yeah, uh-huh. Given that this is where things stand a couple of centuries after the time depicted in “12 Years a Slave,” check back with us in another 175 years or so hence and… well, actually, at this rate we white guys are still gonna be running things. Or rather, our great-great grandsons will.

Come on, people! Step it up! How much longer must we bear this, the White Man’s Burden (domestic version)? Help us out!

It’s not like the job is hard. To serve in Congress, all you have to do is pick up on the talking points of the day each morning, recite them loudly, demonizing the other side (which is also made up mostly of white guys), and raising money. (OK, admittedly it’s historically been easier for white guys to raise money, although you couldn’t tell by me.)

Or, you could do it differently if you like. You could actually study issues and think about them, if you want to be such a radical.

But come on, my multicultural friends. Somebody different — and I mean, really different — needs to step in and take over. Soon…

The only really decent white man in the movie was Brad Pitt, which stands to reason, because everyone knows that all really decent white men are named "Brad."

The only really decent white man in the movie was Brad Pitt, which stands to reason, because everyone knows that all really decent white men are named “Brad.”

You want to REOPEN the epic school-equity case? Really?

I was a bit surprised that this was played at the bottom of The State‘s front page today. Back in my front-page-editor days, I would have found a way to get it above the fold along with the Metts plea deal — to the right of it, in the traditional lede position.

We spend two decades trying a case in which the poor, rural school districts of our state petition for an equal chance for the children in their charge. Finally, finally, the state Supreme Court issues its ruling — that the state is indeed not providing an equal chance for all its pupils, and must remedy the situation.

And now, this:

Gov. Nikki Haley and state lawmakers are fighting a court order aimed at improving the state’s school system in rural, poor districts.

In two petitions filed with the S.C. Supreme Court on Tuesday, attorneys representing Haley and lawmakers asked the justices to rehear a landmark school equity lawsuit that rural school districts, including Abbeville, brought against the state more than 20 years ago…

The court ruled 3-2 in November that the state failed to provide children in poor, rural districts with an adequate public education as required by the S.C. Constitution.

Without recommending specific policies or actions, the court ordered lawmakers and the school districts to devise a plan to address the problems the court identified, including weak rural tax bases, aging facilities and the difficulty of recruiting quality teachers to rural areas. The court also said the state’s method of paying for schools was unfair and needs to be updated, and hinted some small school districts may need to be merged.

However, Haley and Attorney General Alan Wilson’s petition for a rehearing says the Supreme Court’s majority “overlooked recent education initiatives put in place by (Haley’s administration) and the General Assembly that will directly affect rural school districts in South Carolina.”…

Really? You want to reopen a case that took this long, rather than go ahead and do what you should have done without a lawsuit?

What — do you think the court didn’t spend enough time pondering it before?

Look, I appreciate that the governor and lawmakers took steps in this past session to do more to help the poorer schools out. I’ve praised them for it. But that improvement is the sort of thing you would hold up to show, as we go forward, that you’re trying to implement the ruling — not used as an excuse to ask the court to reconsider.

But going back and trying to drag this thing out further is no way to follow up that good first step. The governor and lawmakers should instead be competing with one another to come up with the best ideas to improve the rural schools, starting perhaps with something that most politicians at least give lip service to — consolidating districts, to eliminate duplication in administration and give the poorest districts access to the tax base in the more affluent districts in their counties.

Or something. Show some leadership, folks. Instead of what I can only categorize as sullen foot-dragging.

The 6,000-word, apparently random spam poem

helen and paris

Helen’s world/Sea son, that night you at virtuous make to admire/Disappear aforetime light in/Light subtle fragrance

 

Spam is getting more creative all the time.

Today, waiting among the pending comments in the bowels of this blog, hoping for approval, was an opus the like of which I have not seen before. It’s a 6,046-word random poem, which actually at times verges on the beautiful, or at least the evocative.

An excerpt:

Destine a meeting by chance of beauty
The stone stairs of Mount Taishan
The passing years
The passing years, at etc. whose mutually Ru with Mo
The quicksand will also stop
Wander about a person
Wander about an animal
Flow breeze to recall¡«to the min
Zhejiang on the seventh-study
Wave Tao sand ¡¤the greatly clear lake feeling keep in mind
Bathe fire rebirth
Sea
Helen’s world
Sea son, that night you at virtuous make to admire
Disappear aforetime light in
Light subtle fragrance
The light day floats joss-stick
Light deep feeling
Light handwriting, very sweet sadness
Cool
Dead hour with think
Deep autumn, the dance of end treads
Pure clear seasonal changes rain is in succession
In the morning affairs
Pure song
Clear water she
Very pure tears
Pleasant breeze from come to spend proper open
Visit zoo in Guangzhou
Visit a river the beam son lake scenic area is for summer
The somniloquy of the river
Billowing world of mortals, our everybody is the trip person who drifts on water all the way
A full sky of snowflakes that see float to spread again
The time in the driftage bottle
The Xiao Xiao rain Xie
Under the hot sun of lotus pond
The smoke flower is easily cold, heart as well such
Cook a pot of heart for month, Chi one a life time the passing years
Sleep soundly
Love

If you’d like to read the whole thing, I found it on this odd, possibly-randomly generated page, the purpose of which I can’t discern. Scroll down to this line — “101.The life is shallow to talk-return to Mou things of the past(is original)” — and the entire thing follows.

Keep it up, spammers, and I just might take the time to read them. But I won’t approve them…

Your Virtual Front Page, December 30, 2014

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There actually is some news today, which is fairly unusual for this week of the year:

  1. Metts pleads guilty, ends storied career in disgrace (thestate.com) — The judge accepts the deal this time, since it doesn’t rule out prison time.
  2. Jet Debris and Bodies Found; Little Hope of Any Survivors (NYT) — But we sort of knew that was the case, tragically. FYI, these horrific stories are seeming less distant to me lately, since I have tickets to fly to Southeast Asia myself in a couple of months.
  3. Putin critic among ‘hundred held’ (BBC) — He dared to attend a political rally while under house arrest. Pussy Riot weighs in with a video. As an aside, if this is typical, they’re not a very good band…
  4. Here’s Why Obama Said The U.S. Is ‘Less Racially Divided’ (NPR) — He said we feel worse about race just because we’re talking about it more. I can identify with that explanation. This is from an NPR interview with POTUS. (See video below.)
  5. Boehner Stands By Scalise After Revelations (WSJ) — Revelations that he addressed a white nationalist group in 2002.
  6. Release of Bergdahl Reshaped America’s Talks With Cuba (NYT) — It made the White House hesitate to make a swap deal. I’m glad to hear the Bergdahl mess made someone in the administration rethink something

Hillary Clinton holds record as most admired woman. But is ‘admired’ really the right word?

I sort of raised an eyebrow at this this morning:

And I puzzled more over it when I followed the link:

Hillary Clinton has been named the most admired woman in the world for the 13th straight year in a Gallup poll of Americans released Monday.

The results are an indication of how long the former secretary of State has been admired in the public sphere, as she heads toward a likely presidential campaign.

In addition to being the most admired for the last 13 years, Clinton also has held the title for 17 of the last 18 years, stretching back to her time as first lady. Her streak was interrupted only by first lady Laura Bush in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Clinton has been named most admired in the Gallup poll more times than anyone else. She beat Eleanor Roosevelt by six victories….

She beats Eleanor Roosevelt’s record? Wow…

If you’d like to read more about the “most admired” women and men (Barack Obama tops that list), here’s the original Gallup report.

I’m not surprised that she tops a list that measures one’s notoriety. But most “admired”? Really? Respect, yes. Appreciation of the role she has played in public policy in recent years? I can see that. But admired?

I mean, don’t most people know a woman they personally admire more than ex-Sec. Clinton? Or Oprah Winfrey, or Angelina Jolie (really? Did you seeSalt?” I was trapped on a plane back from England with it… the horror…). How about your mother, people? Or the widow down the street holding two jobs to feed her kids?

Yeah, the survey sort of implied that it wanted famous people, but it didn’t come right out and say that. (Actual wording: “What [woman/man] that you have heard or read about, living today in any part of the world, do you admire most? And who is your second choice?”)

Of course, it could be that a majority of respondents DID name their Moms, but individual mothers were never going to get as many votes as the celebs, given that there would always be a certain percentage of people who would only think of celebrities, because that’s the kind of culture we live in. Note that Hillary only got 12 percent of the vote (although that’s 50 percent more than Oprah got).

Still, I think people glossed over the word “admire,” and just went with name recognition. Yes, a couple of people on the list may actually be admired — Malala Yousafzai, and Pope Francis.

But most of the rest? I just don’t think “admired” is the word. Princess Kate? Nothing against the royals, but her one great accomplishment was to marry well. So unless you’re Elizabeth Bennet‘s mother, I doubt you “admire” her for it.

“Envy,” yes. But “admire” doesn’t sound right…

Hillary Clinton should very publicly rebuff the Warrenistas

Ya se van los warrenistas…
Porque vienen clintonistas…

— paraphrase of ‘La Cucaracha”

You would think that Democrats, horrified by the way the Tea Party has pulled the GOP to the extreme right, would immediately and utterly reject any efforts to pull their own party toward populist extremism.

And yet, we keep hearing that there are some who seriously want to see Elizabeth Warren mount a challenge to Hillary Clinton.

Today, we have this piece in the WashPost, headlined “Democrats see rising populist sentiment. But can it shake Hillary Clinton?

Well, let’s hope not. In fact, the sooner Hillary Clinton publicly repudiates the Warren movement and all who sail in her, the better. Assuming that she wants to get elected in the fall of 2016.

Because folks, I rather like the Wall Street-friendly, hawkish Hillary (admittedly, I like the hawkish bit better than the Wall Street bit), and don’t want to see her having any truck with the self-appointed guardians of the 99 percent.

And you know, I’m the guy you’ve gotta please. I’m the swing voter. I’m the constituency that decides elections, even though you don’t hear much about us, what with the media being obsessed with the left-right dichotomy.

And with things sort of uncertain on the GOP side (it could be Jeb Bush, but it could also be Rand Paul), I find it reassuring that there is likely to be at least one (reasonably) acceptable candidate on the November 2016 ballot.

With that in mind… Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if there were a fairly robust challenge to ex-Sec. Clinton from the left, as long as she in no way kowtowed to it, and soundly defeated it. That could have a salutary effect….

‘Better Call Saul’ teaser, theme song

From Slate today:

We haven’t exactly been flooded with details on Breaking Bad spinoff Better Call Saul in the lead up to its February premiere. Over the last few months, there’s been a music video, some snippets, and a brief clip of one scene. But now, AMC has dropped a new teaser featuring a lot more action — most notably, Saul, a.k.a. Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), yelling a lot.

It’s only a brief glimpse, but it does seem to indicate at least one thing for certain: Saul’s life was pretty stressful even before Walter White entered into the picture.

But I feel like I got more out of the leaked theme song, below. It’s performed by Junior Brown, and boasts lyrics by show creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould. Enjoy. (And here are some more, very short, Saul clips.)

The New Yorker: ‘Ayn Rand reviews children’s movies’

I really got a kick out of this feature in The New Yorker headlined, “Ayn Rand Reviews Children’s Movies.” Excerpt:

“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”

An industrious young woman neglects to charge for her housekeeping services and is rightly exploited for her naïveté. She dies without ever having sought her own happiness as the highest moral aim. I did not finish watching this movie, finding it impossible to sympathize with the main character. — No stars.

“Bambi”

The biggest and the strongest are the fittest to rule. This is the way things have always been. — Four stars.

“Old Yeller”

A farm animal ceases to be useful and is disposed of humanely. A valuable lesson for children. — Four stars.

You’re worried about spoiling your skin with a ZIT? Really?

Zit

Last time I went to the mall, I ran across these pictures.

This time, what caught my eye was this instance of extreme irony.

Take a look at this guy, and look at what he’s advertising.

So let’s see — “every single day,” he uses this expensive product so that he doesn’t get acne. You know, zits — those things that are here today, gone tomorrow, and that in any case, you usually (but not always) outgrow around the time you become an adult and have other things to worry about.

And yet, he has deliberately and permanently defaced most of the visible skin on his body. I mean, if he had zits on his arms, who could even tell?

My daughter, who was with me in the mall, saw my sense of irony on this as being just another clueless old guy thing. She also told me who this model is. He’s someone famous, apparently. (And get this: He’s married to a Victoria’s Secret model, an unexpected tie to that previous post about posters in the mall. So I guess Proactive Plus really works.)

Look, even if I didn’t find all tattoos uniformly unappealing, I still wouldn’t get one. You know why? Mainly because they’re permanent. Because every day of my life, there’s something else I want to say. What I choose to say on Tuesday is not as pertinent, to me, as what I want to say on Wednesday. If I were to walk around with a sign hanging around my neck, I would keep changing, refreshing, refining and/or elaborating upon the message. With a computer screen, you start every day with a fresh canvas for self-expression. Or you can take yesterday’s and improve upon it. You only have one body. Cover it with tattoos, and you’re out of medium. Worse, you’ve got a bunch of stuff on you that you now regard as stupid, embarrassing, not quite the thing — something you’d like to at least edit, but you can’t.

You want to say something? Start a blog. Your medium is unlimited, and you can correct yourself, or even go back and delete stuff you’ve thought better of.

It is of course fitting that only (mostly) young people go in for this sort of thing. They haven’t learned that as they mature (assuming that they do), their notions of Ultimate Statements that they wish to make will evolve. (Personal disclosure: Most of my kids have tattoos. But they are all discreet, tasteful ones.)

There are only two scenarios in which I can remotely imagine having a tattoo — if I were a marine, or a sailor, and I was really drunk and bored one night (not a far-fetched prospect for that demographic) when I stumbled upon a tattoo parlor. If I were a marine, I’d get the letters “U.S.M.C.” on one deltoid, like the title character’s “S.P.Q.R” in “Gladiator” (and remember, the day came in which Maximus no longer wanted to make that statement). And if I were a sailor, a simple anchor. Because if you’re a marine or a sailor, that’s always a part of who you are.

Since neither of those scenarios is ever likely to occur at this point in my life, it’s a pretty safe bet that I’ll never get a tattoo…