Catching up with Chris Verenes, now a bank CEO

Chris Verenes at lunch today.

Chris Verenes at lunch today.

Some of you — the ones involved in state politics or media at the time — may remember Chris Verenes, the young executive director of the SC Democratic Party back in the late 80s.

I had sort of lost touch with Chris after those days, when I was governmental affairs editor at The State. I knew he had gone to work for Westinghouse at Savannah River, which sort of placed him in that area, but I was totally surprised to run into him at an event several months ago, when Midlands Fatherhood Coalition introduced itself to community leaders in Aiken. (The Coalition would formally open its Aiken office in July.)

Chris was his same genial, unassuming self. I had been feeling bad because I hadn’t worn a tie to the event — the ad game has had that casualizing effect on me, so that I don’t wear one most days now — and most men at the event were better-dressed than I.

Chris made me feel better because he was in a golf shirt, giving the impression that he’s doing something really laid-back these days.

But it turns out he’s a bank president – even though he neither dresses nor acts like Milburn Drysdale. He’s president and CEO of Security Federal Bank. His golf shirt had the bank logo on it. That’s the way executives dress every day at Security Federal, a community institution that started in Aiken back in the 1920s, but has grown and expanded into Richland and Lexington counties over the past decade.

In fact, he had to write a memo to himself to wear a coat and tie today, since I had invited him to lunch at the Capital City Club. As you see in the photo above, he remembered.

I enjoyed hearing from him about Security Federal, which he said differentiates itself by offering very customer-oriented services, from late hours and being open on weekends to offering financial advice that’s more about maximizing financial advantage to the customer than to the bank. The bank also has several employees devoted entirely to providing individualized coaching in financial literacy — a service he made a point of offering to the Dads who are helped by Midlands Fatherhood at the grand opening.

That kind of human-scale, community-oriented approach seems to fit Chris Verenes to a T, and I can see how he has thrived in that environment. As he tells it, he found a great bunch of people to work with.

But what I want to share with y’all is this: As we were heading to our cars in the garage after lunch, Chris was remembering his days in politics, and he shared this: He has been blessed by working with some superlative people in leadership positions at Security Federal, people he admires for their intellect, their community spirit and their selflessness.

But, he remembers, he also got to work with people like that in SC politics. He felt privileged to get to know people like John Spratt and Butler Derrick. And he noted that while, for multiple reasons, he found himself supporting Nick Theodore in his successful bid for the 1994 Democratic nomination for governor, he has the greatest respect for Joe Riley, who just barely lost the runoff to Theodore that year (which to me, is one of the saddest election results in my time covering SC politics, a huge missed opportunity for our state).

Y’all will recall that I tried making that point — that politics features a lot of really admirable people, and that most pols, even the more ordinary ones, are people who sincerely want to do good, according to their notions of “good” — on the radio recently. Only to draw heavy scoffing from Will Folks.

Of course, that’s a point I’ve tried to make fairly regularly, in one way or another, here on this blog, only to hearing multilateral scoffing from our more cynical friends.

But there are, and have always been, a lot of good people in politics. People like Chris Verenes, to name one — a guy many of you may not be familiar with, but who was involved in politics for the right reasons, trying to make a positive difference. And still strives to do the same today.

Can Tom Ervin spend his way to viability?

Tom Ervin Releases First Campaign Ad as Candidate for Governor from The Post and Courier on Vimeo.

First, I’ve got to learn that his name is “Ervin,” not “Erwin.” I keep confusing him with Joe, the former state Democratic Party chair (and there hasn’t been one as good since).

Maybe his new media blitz can help me with that. (Although I’m dependent on press releases or news coverage of the ads to call them to my attention, since I seldom see these things on the boob tube. All that money spent to place them on broadcast outlets is lost on me. Fortunately for me, it’s impossible to stick them into old episodes of “The West Wing” on Netflix.)

Now I’ll get to the substance, and the question of the day: Will Mr. Ervin’s (just typed “Erwin” again, but caught myself) expenditure of $2 million on three TV ads through Labor Day make him a contender?

Or will it just make him more likely to pull votes from Nikki Haley, thereby putting Vincent Sheheen within reach of a win?

The later seems more credible to me, and it’s apparently what is causing the Sheheen campaign to be very careful not to do anything that might mess with this developing dynamic.

That’s his first ad above, the point of which is to say that Tom is a really nice guy. And also a guy who can afford to do something like this, which has got to be nice.

Here, by the way, is Ervin’s second ad, and his third one. He seems to be pretty good at sounding folksy. It’s a gift for a Southern pol to be able to sound genuine when saying “bidness”…

Richard Nixon, impersonated in all his awkwardness

Hard to believe that Friday marked the 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon’s resignation speech.

I was already working at my first newspaper job at the time. I was a copy clerk at The Commercial Appeal in Memphis. I spent a good part of that evening running back and forth between the newsroom and the composing room (on the next floor), as the managing editor sent me up to have various headlines blown up to full page-width, and I brought full-sized proof of those heds back down for him to peruse.

That was how you did an eye-popping, historic headline in those days. Now, you’d just try various heds on your screen, and see immediately how they’d look on the page. Then, with the news pages still done on hot type (loud, clanking linotype machines, cutting-edge technology in the late 19th century), we had to get the hed set in the desired font by a compositor, have a high-resolution proof of it made, and have a camera shoot it at the right distance and magnification to blow it up on the page camera — a process even more tedious than that employed by David Hemmings in Antonioni’s “Blow-Up.” Then, a proof was made of that.

At least, I think that’s how we did it. It’s been so long.

I saved at least one of those proofs I brought down to the M.E. Don’t know what I did with it.

Anyway, to celebrate the milestone, I share the above weird little video with Harry Shearer playing Nixon. Here’s a description of the video:

In a new video just posted online, Harry Shearer inhabits Richard Nixon in a verbatim comedic re-creation of Nixon’s poignant last 6 minutes before he resigned the Presidency, forty years ago today.

This excerpt, from Shearer‘s TV series “Nixon’s The One,” includes Nixon’s previously little known – and surprising – words to the CBS camera crew, which Shearer uncovered using advanced audio restoration techniques.

Watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rD46pHpRVzo

For the rest of “Nixon’s The One,” Shearer and his co-writer Nixon historian Stanley Kutler combed through thousands of hours of the legendary Nixon audio tapes, and re-enacted word for word the best moments as if filmed by a hidden camera.

“Nixon was one of the great comic characters of the 20th century,” Shearersays. “When I first began listening to his secret tapes, the revelation to me was the crazy conversations that went on in this place on the public dime. Stanley and I aimed to be as accurate as humanly possible in the way these lines are spoken, in the intonations, in the pauses, in the way people interact. Our job was to be faithful transmitters of this incredible record of craziness.”

Stay tuned for more news on the US launch of the series in fall 2014, which aired earlier this year on Sky Arts in the UK.

Frankly, THIS looks kinda like spam to me…

I’m puzzled when I get automated replies like this, generally to having sent a “reply all” to a group:

I apologize for this automatic reply to your email.

To control spam, I now allow incoming messages only from senders I have approved beforehand.

If you would like to be added to my list of approved senders, please fill out the short request form (see link below). Once I approve you, I will receive your original message in my inbox. You do not need to resend your message. I apologize for this one-time inconvenience.

First, a message like that looks a lot like spam to me — it’s something I had to call up, thinking I have a reply to my message, only to find out I’m wasting my time looking at it.

Second — I find that spam filters work pretty well these days, compared to their lame antecedents 10 years or so ago. Avoiding spam just doesn’t sound to me like good reason to slam virtual doors in people’s faces. Does it to you?

I don’t hit “reply all” on anything unless I have something legitimate to share with the group. Once or twice a month is about it. It just doesn’t seem that I should encounter things like that in the year 2014.

But thanks for the apology, anyway…

I’m so sorry to hear about Anne Postic’s (ShopTart’s) Dad

I don’t know if y’all saw this, or made the connection, but our friend Anne Wolfe Postic, whom we know as The Shop Tart, lost her Dad, Rhett Oliver Wolfe, in a shocking accident at Litchfield Beach on Friday.wolfe

According to one friend, “Rhett and his wife Glenda were visiting some property that needed repair. Rhett leaned against a railing and it gave way. He fell… and apparently died instantly.” Here’s a news story about the accident.

He was only 65. Anne lost her Mom just a little over three years ago.

Here’s a link to his obituary in The State. As you can see, he was heavily involved in good works in the community.

Mr. Wolfe’s business was ADCO’s next-door neighbor on Pickens Street, but I just knew him as Anne’s and Elizabeth’s Dad. I am so terribly sorry for their loss.

 

No comment from Sheheen on refugee children

File photo.

File photo.

On Saturday, July 26, while on vacation, I posted “The pettiest thing I’ve ever heard Nikki Haley say,” which referred specifically to this comment about the refugee children from Central America being billeted in South Carolina:

“You want me to educate them, right? And you want me to pay their health care, right? It does cost us something”…

We had a moderately lively discussion of the matter here on the blog, and it got more buzz on social media than weekend items usually get.

Anyway, as I was writing that, I put in a phone call to the Sheheen campaign, seeking his thoughts on the matter.

I tried Phil Bailey, who works for Senate Dems and can usually put me in touch. He suggested I call Kristin Sosanie, the state party spokeswoman, who has been working closely with the campaign. I tried to call her a couple of times. Then I moved on…

I only went to that much trouble, on a Saturday on vacation, because I thought it was really worth knowing whether he took a different position from the governor’s, and no one in the MSM seemed to be asking him about it. But I figured two or three attempted calls from the coffee shop of a Barnes & Noble was above and beyond. I went on to write another, unrelated post and went back to my family and my vacation.

But after being reminded of it late last week, I reached out again to Kristin, reminding her of my previous call. She responded, “Yes, sorry we were on the road that day and I dropped the ball. Will talk to him and let you know, thanks!”

I bugged her about it again this morning, and received this response:

We don’t have any comment for you in this, sorry!

Which is disappointing.

When I mentioned last week my initial unsuccessful attempt to get a response on the subject, Doug Ross — ever the cynic — responded:

It’s another issue he has to avoid (like gay marriage) to try and hang onto Republican votes. If he says anything, it will be through a mouthpiece and be sufficiently obtuse as to not be clear what he thinks.

He’s trying to win an election, not be open and honest. I can picture the campaign meetings where consultants tell him what he can and cannot say in order to appease crossover Republicans.

I responded that I would hate to think that’s why I didn’t hear back, but the possibility did occur to me.

Anyway, I told y’all I would try again to get a response, and so I’m sharing what I got back. I told Kristin I was sorry to hear that they weren’t going to respond. And I am.

With a program like this, maybe even I could have served

I’ve always chafed at the fact that I could not serve in the military, because of something as simple and stupid as chronic asthma.

As long as I use Asmanex and Singulair daily, it’s totally under control, as my nightly strenuous workouts on the elliptical trainer prove. (Although, I confess, the drugs available when I was military age were considerably less effective.) But as an Army general confirmed for me recently, they don’t want you if you need to take anything on a regular basis.

But according to this video shared by Stan Dubinsky, Israel makes it possible for anyone and everyone to serve in the IDF.

That’s the way it should be. I think everyone should serve. It’s good for the individual, and good for the society overall. But at the very least, you should be allowed to serve if you want to.

Here’s a piece about the Israeli program:

Children with special needs in Israel face an often harsh disappointment at the age of 18, when they are left behind as others join the IDF. A unique project seeks to change that, allowing disabled children to overcome their limitations and enlist.

Maj. Col. (res.) Ariel Almog founded the project ten years ago, to integrate disabled youth into the IDF in a three-year program, helping prepare them for independent life in Israeli society.

A few months ago the association “Lend a Hand to a Special Child,” founded in 2005 by parents of special needs children, joined the project to help increase its scale and allow thousands of disabled youth to join.

Rabbi Mendi Belinitzki, CEO of Lend a Hand to a Special Child, explained that the project “starts in the army but doesn’t end there. We can clearly see how afterwards it leads to a better integration into the society, the community and the workforce.”…

Yeah, I know, wise guys out there. This indeed invites comparison to the classic Onion piece about “very special forces,” which was funny but cruel.

But this is a serious matter. Everyone should have at least the opportunity to serve.

The best thing I’ve ever read in a newspaper advice column (and the best political commentary I’ve read in a long time)

Bryan Caskey brings this to my attention as being “right in your wheelhouse of looking past partisan politics and seeing people as people,” and I very much appreciate it.

Sorry, Miss Manners, but this easily qualifies as the best thing I have ever read in a newspaper advice column. No contest.

It starts with a letter from a young man who describes himself as “ more or less a liberal democrat with very progressive values,” who “just can’t deal with my father anymore” because “He’s a 65-year-old super right-wing conservative who has basically turned into a total asshole intent on ruining our relationship and our planet with his politics.”

Right off, you want to give this kid a slap upside the head. Or I do. Figuratively speaking, anyway. But Andrew W.K. (born Andrew Fetterly Wilkes-Krier) does something much, much better, and along the way gently makes me feel guilty for wanting to slap anyone upside the head, even figuratively. He begins:

Andrew W.K.

Andrew W.K.

Go back and read the opening sentences of your letter. Read them again. Then read the rest of your letter. Then read it again. Try to find a single instance where you referred to your dad as a human being, a person, or a man. There isn’t one. You’ve reduced your father — the person who created you — to a set of beliefs and political views and how it relates to you. And you don’t consider your dad a person of his own standing — he’s just “your dad.” You’ve also reduced yourself to a set of opposing views, and reduced your relationship with him to a fight between the two. The humanity has been reduced to nothingness and all that’s left in its place is an argument that can never really be won. And even if one side did win, it probably wouldn’t satisfy the deeper desire to be in a state of inflamed passionate conflict.

The world isn’t being destroyed by democrats or republicans, red or blue, liberal or conservative, religious or atheist — the world is being destroyed by one side believing the other side is destroying the world. The world is being hurt and damaged by one group of people believing they’re truly better people than the others who think differently. The world officially ends when we let our beliefs conquer love. We must not let this happen….

But you should just go ahead and read the whole thing. It’s amazing. It runs the gamut of things that ought to be said again and again with fierce conviction, from the UnParty view of politics to a theology of Love.

Who is this sage, Andrew W.K.? Well, Wikipedia describes him this way:

Andrew Fetterly Wilkes-Krier (born May 9, 1979), better known by his stagenameAndrew W.K., is an American singer-songwritermulti-instrumentalistentertainer,motivational speaker, and music producer. He was the host of the television seriesDestroy Build Destroy. As a musician, he is known for his singles “Party Hard” and “We Want Fun“.

Apparently, on the side, he also dabbles in wisdom. And at least in this case, does so better than anyone I’ve read recently…

Today’s best political news: Alexander wins handily

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Alexander welcomes U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to Tennessee earlier this year for the unveiling of construction plans for the Joint Curatorial Collections Facility to be built in Townsend, Tenn. Imagine that — allowing himself to be photographed with a Democrat, with the Tea Party breathing down his neck. (from campaign website)

I was very glad to see this news out of Tennessee:

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) easily won his primary on Thursday, defeating a conservative challenger and effectively ending the tea party’s hopes of unseating a Republican senator for the third straight election cycle.

Alexander beat state Rep. Joe Carr, a conservative insurgent who ran hard to his right on immigration. Five other candidates also fell short.

It seems that after seeing some longtime colleagues get picked off in two consecutive elections, Republican senators may have finally found the formula to keep primary competitors from defeating them: Take tea party upstarts seriously. And take them on early…

Alexander beat Carr 50 percent to 41 percent, with five other challengers splitting the other 9 percent. That’s not as good as the 56 percent Lindsey Graham received against his six challengers, but ’tis enough, ’twill serve.

Alexander’s win is particularly meaningful to me, and not only because he looms large in my memories of the first statewide election I ever covered (as you know, since I have so often bored you with the stories). Alexander is a direct connection to a better generation of political leadership in Washington, the days of Howard Baker and Sam Nunn and Scoop Jackson. And for that matter, Dick Lugar, who lost to a Tea Party challenger in the last election.

This time around, not one incumbent Republican senator fell in a primary to such a challenge from the extreme fringe of his party. Most of us should be able to celebrate that.

‘A close race?’ Now, that’s what I call optimism…

This came in a few minutes ago from the Hutto campaign:

BH-slider-first-1

Sen. Brad Hutto

Brad-

Brad Hutto is fighting hard in a close race to replace Senator Lindsey Graham, and there is some good news out of Brad’s campaign that we didn’t want you to miss.

A poll of Graham’s approval shows that more South Carolinians disapprove of how he is doing his job than approve. What’s more, Lindsey Graham never polls above 50% – this is a huge opening for Brad!

What Brad needs more than anything is our support in this race. Will you sign now to join the SCDP in telling Brad that you are behind him 100%?

It’s been a long time since South Carolina sent a Democrat to the Senate, but because of the strong campaign that Brad Hutto is running and the abysmal job that Lindsey Graham is doing, we’ve got a chance.

But it won’t happen without you! Sign now and let Brad know that you are ready to help the SCDP send him to replace Lindsey Graham this fall.

Thank you,

Kaye Koonce
1st Vice Chair, SCDP

“A close race?” Really?

Are you talking about this poll? Yeah, it has Graham under 50 percent — 49 percent, to be slightly more precise — but it has Hutto at 30 percent.

Other matchups show Graham at a minimum of 12 percentage points ahead. (The headline on that link is “Sitting S.C. senators looking solid, poll finds.”)

So how is that “close”?

Anton Gunn announces, with fanfare, his return to SC

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Ran across this on Facebook today:

Long before anyone ever thought I would end up in Washington, DC working for The President of the United States, or helping to lead the implementation of healthcare reform, I was that big guy from South Carolina. South Carolina is where I decided to go to college in 1991. It’s where I played football. It’s where I met my wife. It’s where I became a man. It holds a special place in my heart. People there have seen me grow up. Even though, I was born and raised in Virginia, I actually feel like I’m a native son of South Carolina. I have done community work and professional work in nearly every single county of South Carolina. I have built great relationships with people all over the state. Their love, commitment and passion about the goodness and potential of the state can be overwhelming. I share this overwhelming love, commitment and passion for South Carolina. It also it drives me. I have spent nearly two decades focused on doing my part to make South Carolina better. I have worked on health care issues, early childhood education, predatory lending, tax policy, small business issues, economic development and social service issues. I have done this as a community organizer, policy advocate, trainer, non-profit executive and small business owner. I also served in the South Carolina Legislature and did my best to be a positive force for change in the state.

Four years ago this week, I was asked to leave South Carolina to serve our country by working at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, I took this obligation seriously. I come from a long legacy of family members who were drafted or signed up to serve our country in some way. So I took this obligation seriously and I wanted to do my part (from a national position) to help South Carolina. I am proud of my time in federal service because I believe that I was able to have an impact in South Carolina. I got the chance to work with lots of great people while in the regional office in Atlanta and when I worked in Washington, DC. It felt good to be of help to South Carolina but I really missed working IN South Carolina.

Now, four years after I moved away, I am excited to announce that I will be coming back to South Carolina after I complete my Resident Fellowship at Harvard’s Institute of Politics. I will come back to South Carolina and do what I am most passionate about…health care. Specifically, I will continue doing my part to improve health outcomes for all people in the state. I firmly believe that good health and good healthcare are essential to being successful in life. If you are not healthy in your mind, body or your spirit how is it possible to achieve your God given potential in life? I truly don’t believe you can. I am sure you have seen how a deprived and unhealthy state of existence can impede the success of a person, organization or community. However, if we understand, engage and master our health and healthcare system, we can unleash the unconquerable power of the human spirit in all of us and impact our state. We become a stronger community when we all are healthier. We become a better community when we embrace diversity as a strength and use it make our futures brighter, together. It is with good health and good diversity that we can achieve all of our goals and dreams in South Carolina.

Those that know me should know that I have a sense of humor and a love for sports. I thought it would be pretty funny to use a morphed photo of my favorite basketball player’s (sarcasm) way of announcing that he was going back to his home state, as an image for my reasons of returning to South Carolina. So if you don’t like my LeBron James morph, please just take it for face value, a joke. But in all seriousness, LeBron’s reasons for going back to Cleveland are very similar to my reasons for coming back to South Carolina. I love the state. I love the people. I want to raise my daughter there and I want to use all of my skills, experiences and will power to add value to South Carolina. I think South Carolina is stronger when we get everyone who lives outside of South Carolina, but are from South Carolina or have a passion for South Carolina to move back and help make the state better for all of ours future.

So I am coming home and I am so excited to be coming back. See you all in January 2015.

P.S. I am moving to Charleston, SC…news story to follow shortly!

Far as I’m concerned, SC should be grateful to get him back. He was a very positive force in the House during his brief stint there, and I was sorry to see him go.

By the way, not being a sports guy, I didn’t get the LeBron James reference. Apparently, he was referring to the image below…

Screen-Shot-2014-07-11-at-12.49.18-PM

George W. Bush and the Trivago Guy: Separated at birth?

trivago guy

Can’t you see it? It’s right there — the patented “W” smirk…

Troy Patterson says it well in Slate:

Trivago, the Düsseldorf-based travel search engine, has a most peculiar on-air pitchman—a sallow avatar of middle-aged masculinity, a found object and a cult item, an accidental enigma.

Just look at this guy. The voice is deep with command, round with Shatnerian ham gravity, rich with a Peter Graves graininess. The eyes are beseeching but confidently steady. The clothes have been woken up in. The man is seedily creased, grayly stubbled, distractingly beltless. He may be looking for a hotel after coming home at 3 a.m. to find that his wife changed the locks. These unusual ads have been attracting baffled notice for a while, but now is the season for big travel-industry ad buys, and the Trivago pitchman is, unlike the blades of his rotary shaver, in heavy rotation.

Some viewers find his ubiquity annoying, while others fail to succumb to annoyance because they are entranced by his skeevy vibe. Who is he? Why should I trust his judgment? What is his profession? Record producer? Is his travel-planning wisdom born of bitter experience? Has he got any drugs? How did this oddity come to pass?…

Shatner, yes. Peter Graves, maybe — although neither of them ever displayed this level of seediness. He looks like a bank executive who’s been on a three-day bender.

What were the ad wizards at Trivago thinking when they picked this guy to be their official face?

But there was something that Troy Patterson didn’t pick up on, something that nagged at me through most of this ad. I sensed a presence, once I had not felt since…

Aha! Right at the end, I saw it. This guy stole that smirky half-smile from George W. Bush. This actor could not have tested well among Democrats, whose teeth are always set on edge by that smile…

Nikki Haley’s progression from backbench bomb-thrower to Establishment figure

Kristin Sosanie over at the state Democratic Party resurrects this from the archives today:

Well, this could be awkward. Today Nikki Haley is holding campaign events with the SC Chamber of Commerce, but take a look at how she slammed them less than four years ago:

‘The state Chamber is a big fan of bailouts and corporate welfare, so it’s no surprise that they would prefer a liberal like Vincent Sheheen over a conservative like Nikki Haley,’ Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said earlier this week, according to the AP.”

Question of the day: Do Nikki Haley and her staff still think the state Chamber is “a big fan of bailouts and corporate welfare.”?

Well, we know that she doesn’t. Or at least, wouldn’t say so now. And that has implications that extend far beyond her relationship with business leadership, and point to why the incumbent is a more formidable opponent for Vincent Sheheen than when she barely squeaked by him four years ago.

That petulant statement from Rob Godfrey was standard operating procedure for the Haley team back then. She was all about being the darling of the Tea Party, the Southern answer to Sarah Palin, “going rogue” by slapping at the Establishment as much as at perceived “liberals.”

She’s learned better since then. The successes of Bobby Hitt’s Commerce Department (for which she can legitimately claim credit, since she chose Bobby) has more than persuaded her that embracing the economic development community is her best path to continued electoral success.

Along with that shift from the fringes to the establishment has come a significant shift in communication style.

I touched on this in a post a couple of days ago, one which y’all seem to have utterly ignored (whine, mutter, moan). That mature, professional, focused op-ed piece was a real departure from the style of the Nikki Haley who threw red meat to the Tea Partiers. It stands 180 degrees from that Godfrey quote four years ago, which accurately reflected the attitudes of the Haley camp at the time.

I urge you to go look at it again. Yes, I know I’m reading a lot into style and tone, but that’s what I do. And I’m telling you, this new mode of expression reflects a strategic shift for Nikki Haley. And this is significant…

OK, now THIS is impressive technology

This is very cool, and very impressive:

Your bag of potato chips can hear what you’re saying. Now, researchers from MIT are trying to figure out a way to make that bag of chips tell them everything that you said — and apparently they have a method that works. By pointing a video camera at the bag while audio is playing or someone is speaking, researchers can detect tiny vibrations in it that are caused by the sound. When later playing back that recording, MIT says that it has figured out a way to read those vibrations and translate them back into music, speech, or seemingly any other sound….

Alexei Efros, a University of California at Berkeley researcher, says in a statement…. “This is totally out of some Hollywood thriller. You know that the killer has admitted his guilt because there’s surveillance footage of his potato chip bag vibrating.” The research is being described in a paper that will be published at the computer graphics conference Siggraph.

Although it’s only marginally more amazing than what my iPhone can do — know me by my thumbprint, not by scanning it visually (which my laptop can do), but by touch. The sensor in the Home button is so sensitive that it reads the tiny ridges in my thumb — either thumb, from any angle — and recognizes the pattern. Which just floors me. This is that kind of analysis of the tiny, the subtle, taken to another level…

Who’s actually going to see all of these Hobbit movies?

Hobbit

I just saw a trailer for the third Hobbit movie, titled “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.” (Here’s a link; I didn’t find the embed code right away, and wasn’t interested enough to keep looking.)

And I had to wonder, not for the first time: Who is paying to go see all three of these things?

I watched the first one — after it became available on Netflix. It was… about like the beginning of the book, only dragged way out.

Haven’t seen the second. But what I’m wondering is, where is Peter Jackson getting all the material? From that one slim little book?

It’s been many years since I read the book, and here’s what I remember: The Hobbit gets pulled into an adventure against his inclinations, and it involves dwarves and orcs and trolls and some giant spiders. He and the dwarves are on a quest to get something back from a dragon. The eventually do that, and go home. The one significance of the narrative to the imaginary history of Middle Earth is that Bilbo runs into Gollum, and obtains the One Ring, thereby setting the stage for the trilogy.

I don’t remember anything about a Battle of Five Armies. That sounds more like something out of Return of the King. It was a small story, an intimate story. Not a spectacle involving a CGI cast of thousands.

Basically, this just seems ridiculous. The three “Lord of the Rings” movies made sense. There were, after all, three books. But this was one book, one little adventure story, and I don’t see how it sustains three long films.

I like Tolkien. I’m not one of the fervent fans, but I like his stories. I’ve been a Martin Freeman fan since the original “The Office.”

But come on, people. What’s next — The Silmarillion, stretched into nine movies?

What’s wrong with Sheheen’s road plan, in no uncertain terms

Today, Cindi Scoppe did what I should have done — tear apart Vincent Sheheen’s roads plan and show why, if anything, it’s worse than Nikki Haley’s complete refusal to tell us what her plan is.

For my part, I more or less just looked at it when it came out and saw it didn’t have a gas tax increase in it, and walked away dissatisfied. Cindi, who still gets paid to spend time doing this sort of thing (my only defense), did far more:

Technically, Sen. Sheheen has a plan. And Gov. Haley says she has a new plan, although she won’t reveal it until after the election. Unless she’s playing with semantics, her no-new-tax pledge leaves her no place to go besides where Sen. Sheheen has gone.

That’s because once you decide to take on the state’s $29 billion infrastructure backlog, you have only two options: Raise taxes or starve government.

I suspect that if the Republican-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate were to send a bill to a Gov. Sheheen to raise the gas tax, he would treat it the same way Gov. Carroll Campbell treated the Legislature’s last gas-tax increase, a quarter century ago: Sign it into law. Of course, we have no idea whether the Legislature would do such a thing, because most lawmakers who support a gas-tax increase say there’s no reason to even try it as long as we have a governor who is promising a veto.

But candidate Sheheen isn’t proposing to raise the gas tax. He proposes instead to divert 5 percent of the state’s general fund and surplus revenue to the Transportation Department, and rely on unspecified new revenue, to reduce the backlog by about a third to a half.

He says he wouldn’t have to cut existing programs to do this because he would rely on the revenue growth that occurs every year as a result of inflation and population increases.

That’s certainly not a new approach. To anything….

She then goes on to explain how it’s the same old approach and a bad one. Devoting new growth in revenues to roads means making the recession-caused cuts of the last few years permanent, and deeper, as inflation and population growth take more and more out of the general fund. And despite what the Grover Norquist acolytes will tell you, those cuts have not served our state well.

Here’s the ending:

If our Legislature decided next year to divert all the revenue growth to infrastructure, it wouldn’t be able to hire those 200 caseworkers that the Department of Social Services says it needs — and Gov. Haley says she supports — to get staffing up to pre-recession levels, and maybe keep a few kids from being killed by their parents.

And just as with the individual, it’s not merely a case of being unable to do anything new. Diverting all the revenue growth to roads and bridges means there’s no money to cover inflation — much less population growth.

We wouldn’t just be unable to hire those additional case workers; we’d have to further reduce the number we have, even as the number of families who need DSS supervision grows. We wouldn’t just be unable to expand 4K and hire reading specialists; we’d have to lay off teachers, even as the number of students increases.

No, you don’t necessarily have to cut government programs if you divert all the new revenue — for one year. But by year two, you have to start making some cuts. By year 20, well, you probably don’t want to think about how big those cuts would be. And you’d still have half the job left undone.

Know your Democratic nominees…

dems

I enjoyed getting the above graphic as part of a release from the state Democratic Party today. I’ve never laid eyes on some of these people, so it’s good to have their mugs in a handy guide.

Also, I can now refer back to this post whenever I’m trying to remember whom the Democrats have nominated for what. (Mental note: Search on “handy guide.”)

Of course, this being South Carolina, and these being statewide candidates, this might be the last you see of some of these folks, so look your fill.

I wish the Republicans would send out something like this, just so I could have it to refer to.

Gitcher programs right here! Ya can’t tell a RINO from a Tea Bagger widout a program!…

Remembering Lamar Alexander’s walk across Tennessee

Lamar Hand Shaking_Display

I got this email yesterday…

Hi Brad,

I am a staff writer for Governing Magazine and came across your blog while doing some Googling about Lamar Alexander’s walk across Tennessee. (Governing covers state and local governments across the country and our audience is largely elected officials/public employees.) I’m working on a fun piece for one of our upcoming issues about the political stunt of walking and was wondering if you were available this week to chat about the topic as you covered Alexander’s campaign in ‘78. The piece will take an overall look at some of the more famous “walks” by pols – from Missouri’s Walkin’ Joe Teasdale to Illinois’ (aptly named) Dan Walker, the public stroll has been a popular political tool. More recently, Adam O’Neal, mayor of the small town of Belhaven, N.C., took a 273-mile trek to Washington, D.C. to protest the closing of his local hospital. President Obama this spring took an impromptu stroll to the Dept. of the Interior for a meeting.

I’d love to hear your take on the effectiveness of Alexander’s 1,000-mile walk and how it resonated with people. And I’m also curious about your broader thoughts on the gimmick as a whole. How effective has this type of stunt been? Who’s done it right and are there pitfalls?

Are you available Wednesday or Thursday for a phone call? Or you can always reach me directly at the number below.

Thanks,

Liz

# # # # # # # # # # # # #

Liz Farmer | Staff Writer
Governing Magazine

… and I talked with Liz for about 20 minutes this morning.

I didn’t have anything really profound to say. Here are some of the points I hit on:

  • First, I wasn’t on the actual, full walk across Tennessee (which, if you follow I-40, is about 450 miles). I was covering him during the last weeks of the general election campaign, and he had completed the walk (if I remember correctly) well before the primary. His walk was a campaign trope in the past tense: “On my walk across the state, I found yadda-yadda…” BUT I got the general flavor of it, because everywhere he went, he’d get out and walk a mile or so along the side of the road in his trademark red-and-black checked flannel shirt, khakis and hiking boots, waving at the cars. I got some photos of him doing that along a busy thoroughfare in Nashville. The brand was working for him, so he kept it going through to the end.
  • Lamar was trying to set himself apart at a time when politicians-as-usual had a particularly seedy reputation. The state had endured four years of astoundingly bold corruption under Democrat Ray Blanton. And Lamar himself had worked in the Nixon White House, a fact that might have figured in his failure to get elected four years earlier. Nixon was the master of limited access and staged availabilities, since he was so socially awkward. This walk was the opposite, and allowed him to project as an outdoorsy, clean-cut kind of guy — he looked and sounded like Pat Boone (Boone did some PSAs that were airing on the radio at about that time, and whenever he came on, I thought it was Alexander).
  • Since she was looking for examples of politicians talking long walks for political purposes, I urged her to look into Joe Riley’s march from Charleston to Columbia in 2000 to demand that the Confederate flag come off the dome. That had an impact at the time — and was mentioned recently in a nationally syndicated column, so it should be easy to look up.
  • Even though we’re far more cynical and suspicious these days, I think Tennesseans who remember Alexander’s walk still have positive connotations connected to it, largely because he wasn’t a disappointment to them. He was open and aboveboard in his dealings as governor. He worked VERY well across the aisle, persuading Speaker Ned Ray McWherter and the other Democratic leaders to go for the kinds of education reform that were usually anathema to Dems. He harks back to a better time, when Republicans like him and his mentor Howard Baker disagreed with Democrats, but didn’t see them as the enemy, but as people to work with for the betterment of the state and country.
  • That, of course, is why Alexander has Tea-Party opposition in this Thursday’s primary (Tennessee has primaries at a much more rational and voter-friendly time than we do; our June primaries mean there’s plenty of time for mischief in the Legislature after filing deadlines). Here’s hoping his opponent does no better than his counterpart in Kansas, the president’s distant cousin. Lamar Alexander is exactly the kind of senator this country needs in Washington, and there too few like him left. (See “In Tennessee, consensus politics makes a last stand” by Dan Balz in the WashPost.)

I wished I could have put my hands on one story I wrote, right after Alexander won the 1978 election, which ran on the front page of The Jackson Sun. It was an exclusive, and one of the best stories I wrote during my brief time as a reporter. It was Alexander’s own account of how he had come back after defeat four years earlier. A week or two before Election Day, at the end of a long day of campaigning, Alexander and a reporter from the Tennessean were relaxing over a drink on the campaign plane on the way back from an event at one of the far ends of the state. (We had access to candidates in those days that reporters only dream of now, and our papers thought nothing about paying a pro-rata share of the plane rides.) Alexander just started talking about how he come to that point, and the Tennessean guy just listened and enjoyed his drink, and I took notes like mad. Even John Parish, the gruff dean of Tennessee political writers, praised the piece I got from that eavesdropping.

That probably would have provided Liz with some insights, but this was years before electronic archiving. That clip is probably moldering in a box in my attic somewhere…

Mind the gap there, cobber! Crowd works together to rescue fellow commuter

Does the public transit system in Perth, Australia, warn commuters to “Mind the Gap” the way the Tube does in London?

If so, this man failed to heed the warning, and might have lost his leg and even his life if not for the quick reaction and concerted effort of his fellow riders.

From the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

“Transperth spokesman David Hynes said the man was boarding at the tail end of peak hour, but the train was still fairly busy.

” ‘He stood in the doorway and as he was sort of taking up his position there, one leg slipped outside the door, slipped outside the gap, and he was stuck,’ he said.

” ‘We alerted the driver, made sure the train didn’t move.

” ‘Then our staff who were there at the time got the passengers, and there were lots of them, off the train, and organised them to sort of rock, tilt the train backwards away from the platform so they were able to get him out and rescue him.’ “

The man was fine, by the way, thanks to all those strangers.

Brigid Schulte of The Washington Post once teased me after I had said for the umpteenth time that I loved public transportation, saying something like, “I know you do, you communitarian, you.”

But this public transit incident is communitarianism squared…

mindthegap

Our governor’s mature, calm, professional op-ed piece

During my vacation last week, I saw Nikki Haley’s op-ed piece taking issue with an editorial that took issue with her, shall we say, lack of precision with facts and figures. An excerpt from the Haley piece:

The State newspaper’s editorial board recently reminded its readers that they should verify the things I say (“There she goes again,” July 22). I couldn’t agree more. It’s a good reminder, and I encourage the editorial board to verify the statements of all public officials. The people of our state deserve an honest, open and accountable government that serves them, not the other way around. It’s something I’ve fought for every day of my administration….

If The State editorial board believes that I meant to imply that all 3,000 regulations the task force reviewed were recommended for extinction, then either I misspoke or the members of the board misinterpreted what I said. Either one could be the case — I am not always perfect in the words I choose, and I’d guess that The State editorial writers are not perfect either….

Here’s what struck me about the piece: It was lucid, mature, and to the point.

While it verged on sarcasm in one or two spots, it was considerably less defensive than I expected it to be, based on the topic and the author and her usual tone when complaining about being mistreated by the press.

She made effective use of her opportunity to get her own message out, rather than wasting a lot of her words and energy whining about the newspaper being mean to her.

I considered it to be a very grown-up, professional response. And it made me wonder who is behind this shift in style of communication.

And yeah, I know that sounds really, really condescending. But I don’t mean it to be. This governor has shown a tendency to be thin-skinned, and has lavished little love on the MSM, but based on my experience with op-eds from thin-skinned politicos in the past — not just her — this was a departure.

I’ve been in this situation enough to know when someone departs from the pattern, which goes like this: A politician or other public figure who doesn’t have the greatest relationship with the paper asks for space to rebut something said about him or her or something he or she is involved in. You indicate openness to running such a piece. It comes in, and it’s nothing but an extended whine about how mean the paper is, and the writer’s defense gets lost amid the moaning.

At that point, I would delicately suggest that the writer was doing himself or herself an injustice, and wasting an opportunity. I would suggest bumping up the parts that actually rebut what we had published, and leaving out all the unsupported complaining that was beside the point and bound to make the writer look petty and turn off a disinterested observer.

The writer’s hackles would rise, and I’d be accused of suppressing legitimate opinion and just wanting to leave out the stuff that made the paper look bad. When what I was honestly trying to do was help the writer avoid looking bad, and help him or her make the most of the space. To help the reader focus on the actual difference of opinion, rather than the acrimony.

Anyway, I started reading this piece expecting one of those experiences. But it wasn’t like that at all. The governor did a good job of fighting her corner, and looking cool and above the fray — and managed to spend some paragraphs getting her own message out beyond the immediate point of contention.

It was a very smart, professional job, and I was impressed.