Our proud American tradition of anti-intellectualism


There’s a piece in The Washington Post today about the rise of denial in our society, as in denial of climate change, the efficacy of vaccines, the Holocaust.

What grabbed me, though, was the subhed “Anti-intellecualism on the rise.” That drew me because my study of history all those years ago in college deeply impressed me with what a powerful theme that has been in our history (particularly coming into its own when the flat-Earther Andrew Jackson beat John Quincy Adams in 1828).

Anyway, to quote from the piece:

In the United States, anti-intellectualism dates back to the founding fathers, when Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans favored the wisdom of the common man over the expertise of the elites, embodied by Alexander Hamilton. Since then, the American population has tended to support a belief that ‘regular people’ know best and experts are suspect. This notion flares up when we think that our core values are under attack, as with McCarthyism, and today — with immigration, cyber security and other national concerns — it seems to be back with a vengeance….

Yeah, we’ve noticed. Although the chief evidence, it seems to me isn’t suspicion of vaccines, but the rise of Donald Trump, to whom facts are inconvenient, hostile things.

And let me hasten to say, had I lived in Jefferson’s day, I’d have been a Federalist…

Please don’t send in the clowns

Do you like clowns? Have you ever liked clowns? If so, why?

My earliest memory of clowns is this: I can distinctly remember being surprised, and filled with doubt, when an adult explained to me that they were humans in disguise. I had assumed, based on the evidence, that they were some separate species — like aliens, or some particularly bizarre-looking animal. Hey, I was a little kid. Until somebody told me they were people, I saw no reason to think so.

I wouldn’t say I have a complex about clowns, but I’ve never really warmed up to them, even after learning they were just people. And I find myself wondering how this clowning thing got started, and who it was who decided that they were a nonthreatening form of entertainment for children — something that seems highly unlikely.

A piece in The Guardian today gives a little history:

Nobody laughs at clowns anymore.

Maybe antiquated proto-clowns did make people smile. But the legendary Chinese jester Yu Sze and the imperial Roman stupidus would be unrecognizable to us today.

The first clown who fits our description – painted face, frilly collar – was Joseph Grimaldi, who entertained Londoners in the 19th century but had a decidedly dark side. “I am Grim-all-day,” he told people.

A young Charles Dickens ghost-wrote Grimaldi’s memoirs, a saga of abuse, addiction and agony. “A tale of unmitigated suffering, even when that suffering be mental, possesses but few attractions for the reader; but when, as in this case, a large portion of it is physical,” Dickens wrote, it “grows absolutely distasteful”.

Dickens recognized, even with the very first modern clown, that what fascinates us is not the exaggerated painted face, or the dull face of a man underneath. It’s the tension between the two. The dissonance between what is and what appears to be.

That conflict plucks at some ancient strand of human genetic code….

That’s in a piece that starts with the recent sightings in the Greenville area of threatening clowns.

It’s all very well and good for a newspaper in London to be bemused by these sightings — they’ve got a whole ocean between them and the threat.

Not that I’m worried, you understand. But I am kind of creeped out…


The vice-presidential debate last night

Still from NYT video feed.

Still from NYT video feed.

Yeah, I watched it until the end, although I want you to know I didn’t enjoy it.

I liked this Tweet:

… to which I responded by reTweeting, with the added comment, “Rephrase: ‘Please, be gentlemen!’…”

A few general observations:

  • If you have to pick a winner, it was Mike Pence. But it’s less that he won, and more that Tim Kaine lost it — threw it away, really. Yeah, I understand that the running mate is supposed to be the attack dog so that his principal seems more likable, but now we have a situation in which neither Hillary nor Kaine is seen as likable — which means, I don’t think we saw the real Tim Kaine. He was playing a different character last night, and it was awful.
  • When I say Kaine lost, we’re talking in terms of the impressions we got of the candidates’ characters, not about issues. I can’t begin to tell you who did better on issues, although I’ll say that with some exceptions, Kaine did better on facts, especially when the facts involved Donald Trump — which most did. Kaine would cite an incontrovertible fact, and Pence would look incredulous, pained, saddened that Kaine would say such awful things — when all Kaine was doing was quoting Trump. Since Pence stayed above the fray, but failed to offer any substantive defense of his principal, some analysts today are saying Pence won, but Trump did not. (The one way Trump would be a winner is if he did a credible impression of his running mate in the next debate. But is he capable of that?)
  • About that moderator… Last night, I saw something bizarre happening over on Facebook — a couple of Trump fans I’m friends with were protesting vehemently about how the moderator was biased against their guy. One said of Pence, ” Poor guy had to deal with PLANNED INTERRUPTIONS FROM TWO!” Another said, “Can you not see that the questions are biased?” Which kind of made me wonder what debate they were watching. The moderator was a cipher, a nonentity, utterly ineffectual. I know that she asked some questions, but I can’t remember any of them. She was like a substitute teacher in middle school, pathetically trying to keep order, completely in vain. The moments I came closest to turning the thing off was when all three of them were talking at once, and no one listening to anyone.
  • I started off praising them for their civility and maturity, and then having to quickly eat those words. Which were not tasty.
  • Civility returned at the end when both men talked about their faith, for which I was grateful. It caused me to Tweet that “At least they’re not shouting over each other over their religious beliefs. So our politics have made SOME progress since the 15th century.” Toward the end of that segment, Pence did get on Kaine’s case a bit over abortion, but then he was just saying what I was thinking — especially after having read this piece that morning in the WSJ. And it stayed civil.
  • I liked a point that Mark Shields made after the debate was over on PBS. He said yeah, the veep candidate is supposed to build up the head of the ticket, but Kaine was just too fawning when talking about Hillary. Absolutely. Yeah, she’s way, way better than Trump, but she’s not that awesome.

Shields also said this, which I appreciated: “This was supposed to be the nice guys.” Right. So the night was a great disappointment — especially Kaine. I still think he’s a guy I’d like in a quiet meeting in an editorial boardroom. But he did himself no favors last night…

For the next debate, instead of these media types, how about having a Marine drill sergeant 'moderate?'

For the next debate, instead of these media types, how about having a Marine drill sergeant ‘moderate?’

Open Thread for Tuesday, October 4, 2016

You've got to watch the video of Nikki's presser if only to see the dude doing the sign language. I had no idea it involved such dramatic facial expressions....

You’ve got to watch the video of Nikki’s presser if only to see the dude doing the sign language. I had no idea it involved such dramatic facial expressions….

See how you like these:

  1. Here comes Matthew — My wife is scrambling because she’ll have four grandchildren at the house with schools closing. How is it affecting you so far? Meanwhile, the effect in Haiti is described as “catastrophic.”
  2. In their only debate, Pence and Kaine prepare to defend running mates — I suppose I’ll watch this, and I suppose I’ll live-Tweet it. Unless I think of something else to do.
  3. Fact-Checking Family Lore With DNA Tests — I read this with great interest for two reasons — 1) I’m spending all my spare time working on my family tree; and 2) I got an AncestryDNA kit for my birthday, and can’t wait to send my spit off and see what they tell me. Have any of y’all done this? Did you find out anything cool?
  4. British Pound Hits Three-Decade Low on Brexit Concerns — So don’t tell me there’ve been no negative effects of Brexit…
  5. Report: Russians slipped ‘roofies’ to U.S. diplomats — No, really. There’s a news story about it and everything.

I’ll stop on that note. Y’all have anything else?

Today’s mystery earworm: ‘Misty’

This one had me going for more than an hour this morning, and I feel great relief that I finally got to the bottom of it.

I heard the song as a jazz instrumental on the Muzak system at the Cap City Club at breakfast this morning, during a lull in the conversations going on around me. I knew it was an old standard (meaning, from before my time), one that was as familiar as my own heartbeat, but could… not… place it!

Trying to sing along in my mind, I thought the lyric at one point said something about “puppy on a string.”

But that couldn’t be right, could it? Obviously, it would have to be the cliche, “puppet on a string.” Unless, of course, it was a play on the cliche, but I doubted it was. So I started searching on my phone for songs with lyrics containing the phrase, and had trouble getting past the song of that name. Actually, there’s more than one song by that name, although I don’t think I ever heard this one, I’m happy to say.

Then I decided that the last words in the verse were “so much in love.” (Those words turned out to be “holding your hand,” but my words would have worked there just as well, evoking much the same feeling.)

Of course, that produced this. Great pop song, but definitely not what I was seeking.mv5bmtizmtmzotg5n15bml5banbnxkftztcwotc0nzyymq-_v1_uy268_cr40182268_al_

So I gave up trying to figure it out detective-fashion (Tom Sawyer would be ashamed of me) and decided to close my office door and hum it into the SoundHound app on my phone. Since I couldn’t remember the crucial first three notes (“Look at me” in the lyrics), SoundHound wasn’t at all sure what I was humming, but it suggested that maybe, just maybe, I was trying to hum “Misty.”

YES! Finally, I can turn to other things and get on with my day.

Oh, and by the way, the lyric I remembered as “puppy on a string” was “kitten up a tree.” But you can see the association, right? Please say “yes.” Anyway, “puppy” was definitely closer than “puppet.”

That was a toughie…

Your Virtual Front Page, Monday, October 3, 2016


Here’s what we have on this auspicious day:

  1. U.S. Ends Syria Talks Over Russia’s Role in Aleppo Attacks (NYT) — And it that’s not bad enough, consider this related story, which if anything is more ominous…
  2. Russia suspends weapons-grade plutonium deal with US (BBC) — This was one of those reassuring byproducts of the end of the Cold War. Now, Putin’s backing away from it.
  3. Colombia and FARC scramble to rescue peace deal amid worries of return to war (The Guardian) — Talk about an election shocker. All those stories about peace at last; now this…
  4. The bombshell about Trump’s taxes (NYT) — Yeah, this broke over the weekend, but I didn’t post about it then, so it still makes the VFP today. This is such a big story, the rival Washington Post wrote a piece on how this fell into the NYT‘s lap.
  5. N.Y. attorney general orders Trump Foundation to cease fundraising (WashPost) — This shaped up to be a pretty big news day, but where would we have been without Trump and his best bud Putin?
  6. Years before his ‘Aleppo moment,’ Gary Johnson showed little interest in the details of governing (WashPost) — Hey, Johnson got some major media attention! But it doesn’t help! Sorry, Doug.

Hey, I would have included something light, to help with the mix, but there was too much news.

Thanks for all the birthday wishes!

Today it’s my birthday, and as has become the custom in this decade, scores of people have reached out to wish me joy.

So here I am thanking all of you:

Dawndy Mercer Plank , Jaime Harrison , Michael Kohn , Stanley Dubinsky , Susan Coleman Fedor , Jennifer Sheheen , Gay Lynne Rouse , Meghan Hughes Hickman , Robin Rawl , Randy Page , Debbie Turner , Gary Karr , Nancy Atkinson , Jack Kuenzie , Alice Brooks Youngblood , Angela Crosland , Cheryl Levenbrown , Deb Kohler Woolley , Lori D. Roberts Wiggins , Dave Moniz , Kay Thomas Packett , Kim Fowler , Lora Keenan Prill , Pat Dixon , Julie Leaptrott Ruff , Walter Powell Jr , Judith Wylie , Andy Phelan , Deenie Phelan , Steve Phelan , William Maxwell Gregg , Joseph Azar , Jim McLaurin , Bryan Caskey , George Johnson , Jessica Cross , Lisa Pratt , Kathy Allen , Chris Roberts , Henry Dukes , Thom Fladung , Shannon Staley , Debbie McDaniel , Walter Durst , Jean Chesno , Jack Claypoole , Will Cooper , Cindi Ross Scoppe , Maria Gonda Smoak , Jim DuPlessis , Elliott Edward Powell , Allison Dean Love , Steve Robertson , Karen Blackmon , John Boudreaux , Robert Bowers , Libby Lambert Lewis , Debra-Lynn Hook , Patty Lambert Gursky , Cherie Abee Mabrey , Kathy Duffy Thomas , Carol Plexico , Kenley Young , Peggy Miller Lawrence , K. Wade Smith , Dan Cook , Stephanie Scholler Hinrichs , Shell Suber , Kathy Randall , Howard Hunt , Manuel Gaetan , Chris Burnette , Carlos Primus , Joan Lucius , Deborah Funderburk McDonald , Beth Tally , John Steinberger , Michael Albo , Amy Kuenzie , Jack Balling , Murrell Smith , Richard Chalk , Doug Ross , Frank E Barron III , Allison Wells , Liz Krejci , Bishop Redfern II , Mike Briggs , Walter Caudle , Harold Watson , Sherry Shealy Martschink , Kathryn Braun Fenner , J Ted Creech , Robert Adams , Bill Connor , Ben Werner , Ginny Wolfe , Sybil Gleaton , Howard Hellams , Jason Collins , Nola M Anderson , Mary Dierkes 

… plus any who came in late or which I otherwise missed. (And I left out immediate family members, whom I am thanking in person.)

Thank you,

your most humble, obedient servant, etc., etc….

A member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote this

I just thought I’d say that to clarify because, as Bryan Caskey suggested in a Tweet earlier today, one might be forgiven for thinking Brad Warthen wrote it. Because I have, several times. Here’s what he was talking about:

The end of the election is now in sight. Some among the anti-Hillary brigades have decided, in deference to their exquisite sensibilities, to stay at home on Election Day, rather than vote for Mrs. Clinton. But most Americans will soon make their choice. It will be either Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton—experienced, forward-looking, indomitably determined and eminently sane. Her election alone is what stands between the American nation and the reign of the most unstable, proudly uninformed, psychologically unfit president ever to enter the White House.

Smart woman, that Dorothy Rabinowitz.

Anyway, that was the last graf of a column headlined “Hillary-Hatred Derangement Syndrome.” In it, she stated the painfully obvious fact that far, far too many Americans — mostly Republicans — that she is the only person who stands between us and the complete degradation of the U.S. presidency.

It simply is not intellectually or morally defensible to say, as too many of our Republican friends do, “Yes, Trump is awful, but so is Hillary.” No. Not even close. Not even in the same universe. Whatever else you say about her, she is a person with the experience, intellectual capacity and temperament to be president of the United States.

And Donald Trump most emphatically is not. All the rest is a waste of breath…

Open Thread for Friday, September 30, 2016

President Barack Obama attempts his best split with the gold medal 2016 U.S. Olympic Women's Gymnastics Team with First Lady Michelle Obama watching in the Map Room, prior to an event to welcome the 2016 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams to the White House to honor their participation and success in the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sept. 29, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama attempts his best split with the gold medal 2016 U.S. Olympic Women’s Gymnastics Team with First Lady Michelle Obama watching in the Map Room, prior to an event to welcome the 2016 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams to the White House to honor their participation and success in the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sept. 29, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

We’re almost in my favorite month (which I learned to spell for a school program in kindergarten because it was my birth month, and I can still do it, see: O-C-T-O-B-E-R), and wasn’t that nice cool air lovely this morning? Some topics for your consideration:

  1. Family: Jacob Hall on life support after Townville Elementary shooting — That’s the precious, innocent 6-year-old boy who was shot. Meanwhile, the 14-year-old was charged with one count of murder and three of attempted murder.
  2. Trump berates ‘disgusting’ Alicia Machado on Twitter — Seriously: Four days after the debate, this yo-yo is getting up before 6 a.m. to attack this young woman, with allegations of a “sex tape” among other things. We’re getting way past merely being unqualified for the presidency. I’m starting to wonder why someone this unhinged is walking around loose. Maybe Howard Dean is onto something.
  3. Citing Hitler, Duterte Says He Would Kill 3 Million Addicts — Meanwhile, from the Trump of the Philippines…
  4. The ‘beating heart of Myrtle Beach’ went silent 10 years ago with closing of Pavilion — I don’t normally go in for “10 Years After” stories, but I don’t think we discussed this at the time. I just could not believe MB would close this, although friends who live there told me at the time I didn’t realize what a drag it had become on the town. Any of y’all have belated thoughts? Perhaps you’d like to go watch “Shag: The Movie” (which is NOT an Alicia Machado sex tape) and then get back to me.


On ‘truthiness’ and the 2016 election


What is truth?” asked Pilate, and washed his hands. Sometimes I ask the same question, because it’s not always as simple as people like to think it is. At least, not in politics. (As a Catholic, I accept that the One of whom Pilate asked the question did trade in actual Truth.)

I had the chance to explore that a bit over at WACH-Fox studios this morning. Cynthia Hardy asked me to participate in a discussion of truth, lies and the current presidential election for the weekly TV version of her OnPoint show. Catch the show on WACH Sunday morning at 8:30. (Hey, you can DVR it, can’t you?)

At this point, I don’t recall precisely what was said during the taped segments, because we were talking about all this before and after the taping, and during breaks. But here are some of the points I made at some time or other while I was there:

  • Someone raised the question of why, with so many of his statements being easily proved to be false, Donald Trump’s followers still accept, and even cheer, them. I mentioned the point, made here so often before, that even though most of us once accepted Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s dictum that “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts,” people today believe they are entitled to the “facts” they prefer, and gravitate toward those who offer them such.
  • Continuing on that point, I said we should think in terms of the Stephen Colbert concept of “truthiness.” Trump regularly says things that are wildly untrue, but his supporters eat it up because his claims strike them as “truthy.” It’s what they want to be true, and they appreciate him for saying it is, and never backing down on the point.
  • I tend to look askance at all these people who propose to do “fact-checking” in real time. First, even if one can determine incontrovertibly whether a statement is true or not, getting the job done frequently takes a lot of time. Not all facts can be instantly Googled. And sometimes — quite frequently — there is no pat answer. Some things are demonstrably untrue — for instance, we are spending tens of billions updating our nuclear arsenal, in direct contradiction of something Trump said in the debate Monday night. On the other hand, some assertions are more slippery, more matters of opinion. For instance, the NYT tried to “fact-check” Mrs. Clinton’s assertion that the U.S. needs an “intelligence surge” to stop homegrown terrorists before they act. The Times said we already collect and share more intel than ever. Perhaps so, but if something happens because we didn’t know something that might have enabled us to prevent it, how can one say we had enough intel? That said, there is the eternal debate over how much we need to protect people from snooping. Since Snowden, we’ve unfortunately erred in the wrong direction on that, but striking a balance will always be difficult. Bottom line, I can give you a pretty good answer to whether what she said was true if you give me 1,000 words or so to do it. Anything less and I’m shortchanging you. But be forewarned that the answer will contain a lot of my own opinion. Why? Because it’s that kind of question.
  • Elaborating on that: People who think it’s easy to separate fact from opinion should try editing editorial pages for a couple of months. The challenge is this: You’re publishing a lot of stuff written by nonprofessionals with strong opinions — letters to the editor and their big brothers, guest columns. If you’re me, you’ll have a rule against letting people make assertions of fact that are false in the course of expressing their opinions. Frequently, in the proofreading process, one of the editors — some of the top, most experienced journalists in South Carolina, when I was doing it at The State — would cross out something in a letter or oped because it was false. But then a terrific argument would ensue as we editors disagreed over whether that point was a matter of fact, or of opinion. In the latter case, we’d allow the writer to say it. These matters were never easily settled, because if you’re intellectually honest and doing your best to be fair to people and not dismissive of their views, it’s complicated.
  • It’s seldom black and white. Even lies have gradations. That’s why The Washington Post‘s pinocchio_1respected Fact Checker feature has levels. A “lie” can earn one, two, three or four “Pinocchios,” with four denoting something that is completely false. Then there is the rare “Geppetto Checkmark” for things found to be completely true. And these judgments are subjective. I forget the “fact” in question, but a couple of months ago, they gave Donald Trump four Pinocchios for something that, having read their findings, I thought should only have earned him two or three. (Of course, even if they had amended that would, Trump would still be the all-time record-holder for four-Pinocchio statements.)

I could go on and on, but there’s real work to be done. I’ll check back in and see what y’all think…

How can a man with no gray in his beard be interesting?

'Stay thirsty, my friends!" An official portrait of the Most Interesting Man in My House.

‘Stay thirsty, my friends!” An official portrait of the Most Interesting Man in My House.

In a profile last year, NPR told us some interesting things about Jonathan Goldsmith — the actor who had for years portrayed Dos Equis beer’s “Most Interesting Man In the World.”

Here’s how he got the job of doing those ads:

He arrived at the audition and, to his surprise, was surrounded by hundreds of young, Latino actors.jonathangoldsmith-042714-038rt-8456a1b9f98cd0b98234ac641be288e6a29eeb67-s1500-c85

“The line is out into the street. And I said, ‘Oh boy,’ ” Goldsmith says. “If they’re looking at these Latino guys, I better put on an accent.”

The voice of the late Argentine-born actor, Fernando Lamas, instantly popped into his head. The two were sailing buddies and good friends, and Goldsmith had perfected an impression of him.

“So I thought about him and how funny he was and how charming and a great raconteur, so I put on my best Fernando imitation,” Goldsmith says. “And they started laughing.”

Barbara received a call from Joe Blake, the casting director. He told Barbara that they loved Goldsmith’s performance, but they felt like they had to go younger.

“And in her infinite wisdom, she took a long pause and she said, ‘Joe, how can the most interesting man in the world be young?’ ” Goldsmith says. “He said, ‘I’ll get back to you.’ “

Exactly! How can some young punk be the world’s most interesting man — someone who is not worldly, who has not been there and done that many times? (Imagine that in a Fernando Lamas accent.) The answer is easy! He can’t be!

And yet, mere months after that story was told celebrating Goldsmith’s success, Dos Equis retired him — sending him, not merely out to pasture, but on a one-way trip to Mars!

And replaced him with the tenderfoot shown below! A mere puppy! There’s no gray in his beard! There’s no way sharks would have a week dedicated to him!

On behalf of all men old enough to be interesting (whether we are or not), I’m taking this personally…




Your Virtual Front Page for Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016

Haven’t given you one of these in awhile. And unfortunately, there’s a lot of news today:

  1. Two children shot at SC elementary school, suspect in custody (The State) — This is what I meant by “unfortunately.” Beyond horrible. A teacher was also taken to hospital.
  2. In a first for Obama, Congress overrides veto on 9/11 bill (WashPost) — Because, you know, what we really needed was for our relations with Saudi Arabia to get more tense. On the other hand, we’ve been tiptoeing around their stuff for a lot of years…
  3. Trump stumbles into Clinton’s trap by feuding with Latina beauty queen (WashPost) — The guy just can’t help himself. If there’s a mess of his making, he’ll step right into it, and jump up and down.
  4. Clinton gathers Republican endorsements (BBC) — One was from five-time senator from Virginia John Warner, who says “National Security for Dummies” is not an appropriate approach to the presidency. The other was from The Arizona Republic, marking the first time the paper has endorsed a Democrat for president since its founding in 1890. This joins a trend of longtime Republican-leaning papers endorsing her. As well they should. Maybe, with enough of these, people will start really understanding this is no normal election.
  5. SC lawmakers may rethink controversial property tax law (The State) — Remember when I wondered whether we might actually get comprehensive tax reform this time? I would be deeply impressed by lawmakers’ gumption if they took on this 10-year-old mistake, by which I mean Act 388.
  6. Natural born killers: humans predisposed to murder, study suggests (The Guardian) — Of course, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to back it up. But I’d be interested to see what Dave Grossman, author of On Killing, would say, since he writes of most humans having such a powerful inhibition against killing.

‘There is no such thing’ as ‘the media’


Long ago, when my friend and colleague Warren Bolton and I were both still in The State‘s newsroom, before moving to editorial — we’re talking maybe early ’90s — Warren helped lead some newsroom discussions on race.

The idea was help us all do a better, more informed job writing about subjects bearing on that issue, or set of issues, in South Carolina.

One thing I remember in particular was a meeting in which Warren and another African-American colleague urged us to avoid the habit of referring carelessly to “the black community,” as though it were some monolithic, coherent entity that thought and acted in unison, like a colonial animal.

I took that to heart because it made a lot of sense to me, and ever since I’ve hesitated to use that construction, as well as similar ones such as “LGBT community,” “Hispanic community,” and what have you. After all, we don’t write of, say, women as “the female community,” because most of us recognize women as a set of individuals containing too much diversity for such a generalization. We should follow suit with other broadly defined groups.

(Of course, it in part appealed to me because we in the white heterosexual male community are well known to prefer to deal with people as individuals rather than in terms of aggregations, something which sometimes causes members of other “communities” to counsel us to “check our privilege” and stop trying to destroy other groups’ sense of solidarity so that we may oppress them individually. Which we, both communally and individually, tend to find maddening. Smiley face.)

I am reminded of all this because of this piece in The Washington Post urging the great unwashed out there to stop referring to “the media” as though they were a single, coherent thing with one mind, acting in unison. An excerpt:

Please stop calling us “the media.”

Yes, in some sense, we are the media. But not in the blunt way you use the phrase. It’s so imprecise and generic that it has lost any meaning. It’s — how would you put this? — lazy and unfair.

As I understand your use of this term, “the media” is essentially shorthand for anything you read, saw or heard today that you disagreed with or didn’t like. At any given moment, “the media” is biased against your candidate, your issue, your very way of life.

But, you know, the media isn’t really doing that. Some article, some news report, some guy spouting off on a CNN panel or at CrankyCrackpot.com might be. But none of those things singularly are really the media.

Fact is, there really is no such thing as “the media.” It’s an invention, a tool, an all-purpose smear by people who can’t be bothered to make distinctions….

This piece, by the way, was not written by “the media,” or even by The Washington Post. It was written by this guy named Paul Farhi who is one of many individuals who works at the Post. If you want to be properly pedantic about it (and who wouldn’t want to be that?), you would only say that “The Washington Post said” something if it was said in an editorial — an editorial being an unsigned piece by the Post‘s editorial board, not something written by an op-ed columnist or someone else whose byline appears on the piece.

Yeah, I know — confusing. But to keep it simple, you’ll sound a lot smarter if you don’t refer sweepingly to “the media” as doing or saying or thinking this or that.

And we in the media community (which includes the vast army of us who no longer have actual media jobs, and a more cantankerous crowd you are unlikely to find) will appreciate it….

Open Thread for Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Who you gonna believe: Trump, or this woman? Me, too...

Who you gonna believe: Trump, or this woman? Me, too…

Fortunately, there’s no debate tonight. Here’s what we have:

  1. Trump Lashes Out, Calling Debate Unfair — What all is he whining about today? He’s complaining about the moderator, his microphone, the beauty queen… As for Hillary Clinton, he says he may “hit her harder” next time. So, you know, he’s just a bundle of maturity and good sportsmanship. Sounds like he knows he lost. But again, will it matter?
  2. U.S. Government To Pay $492 Million To 17 American Indian Tribes — What?!? Didn’t we already give them 24 whole dollars for Manhattan?
  3. Plan surfaces for new nuclear disposal ground in SC — I don’t really know enough about this yet to have an informed opinion, but I feel about the way the Seinfeld characters felt about low-flow shower heads: I don’t like the sound of that!
  4. Elon Musk Outlines Mars Plans — Sounds good, depending on how the election comes out.

Perhaps you have some other topics to suggest…

Sure, Hillary ‘won’ the debate, but does it matter?


To most people who know anything about debating, or about national and international issues, or about the presidency, Hillary Clinton pretty much cleaned Donald Trump’s clock last night.

She was serious, focused, informed, composed, presidential. He was thin-skinned, blustery, illogical, inarticulate, uninformed — the usual.

But does it matter? Does it make a difference? In 2016, that is the operative question.

I’ve had several conversations with folks this morning, and everyone has more or less agreed with this assessment. But I tend to speak to well-informed people.

I keep thinking about the first Kennedy-Nixon debate in 1960. Debate experts said Nixon won. So did most people who heard it over the radio. But those who saw it on TV said Kennedy won. And that was the new factor that the professionals, the experts, didn’t take into consideration.

Today, the new factor is that a significant portion of the electorate has gone stark, raving mad.

A debate like what we saw last night would have been inconceivable in 1960. Regardless of whether you think Nixon or Kennedy won, both of them did an excellent job by any informed standard. It would have been completely impossible for someone like Donald Trump to be on that stage. (Some would say it would be impossible for someone like Hillary to be there, but such people are looking at the superficiality of gender. The fact is with regard to factors that matter, she fits comfortably into the Nixon-Kennedy set of candidates.)

No one like Trump would be the Republican nominee. No one like Trump would have made any kind of showing in the primaries. Anyone as blustery and undisciplined as Trump would have been lucky to have been allowed to sit in the audience and watch.

So the difference between him and Hillary Clinton last night is far, far starker than the minimal contrast between Nixon and Kennedy. It’s not a contest between two qualified candidates. It’s between a qualified candidate and a nightmare.

But our politics are so messed up today, the electorate’s Kardashian-numbed sensibilities so accepting of the unacceptable, that the fact that she beat him like a drum last night — in the eyes of the knowledgeable, the thoughtful — may be as irrelevant as Nixon beating Kennedy on points. More so.

Trump’s support is such an illogical phenomenon that one cannot logically predict the effect of the debate.

And that’s yet another very, very disturbing thing about this election…


Let me tell you about my Hillary Clinton dream last night…

This might be the suit she was wearing in the dream. Only more disheveled...

This might be the suit she was wearing in the dream. Only more disheveled…

I haven’t done one of my special “what’s wrong with Brad?” dream-journal posts in years now, so this seems like as good a time as any to dust off the category.

Let me share with you the Hillary Clinton dream I had last night.

It was… typically weird. And confusing…

I was walking down the street in some town that I think was someplace where I used to live and work, perhaps a variation on Jackson, Tennessee. I crossed a street, stepped up and started walking along a sidewalk. The sidewalk was covered, like in a western movie or a situation where there’s living quarters over a shop and the upstairs projects out over the sidewalk.

Anyway, immediately someone is walking my way on the sidewalk, and it’s Hillary Clinton. And she’s not looking good. Her hair is disheveled as though she had just been in a high wind. Her light blue pantsuit is rumpled as though she had slept in it. She looks horribly exhausted, even dazed. She’s staring straight ahead and sort of staggering, and isn’t looking at me.

We’re about to pass each other, and I feel like the civil thing is to say something, but I can’t decide how to address her. I’m not going to say “Hey, Hillary.” I consider, “Hello, Madame Secretary,” but I’m considering, “Sen. Clinton.”

I can’t decide, and she’s right alongside me, so I make myself say something, and it comes out as “Hey… uh…”

She continues staring ahead, but after a second she acknowledges me with a grunt that is if anything less articulate than what I had said. It sounds sort of like “Hmmph!”

So… brilliant interview, right? But I don’t want to chase after her and try to have a real conversation, because it looks like she’s having a bad enough day already. So I continue on, and enter a place that seems to be a sort of restaurant and bar. The proprietress walks up and greets me, and… it’s Hillary Clinton.

Except, for whatever reason, I don’t realize that’s who it is until later. She looks exactly like herself, except she looks younger, fitter, more energetic. Her hair is longer and she has it held back with a band, like in this picture.

This Hillary is, unlike the other, having a good day. She has a prosperous business; things are going well and she’s brimming with confidence. We seem to know each other. We start to chat, and I immediately tell her who I just ran into. And I describe how the Hillary I had run into didn’t look good; she seemed all worn out.

Hillary Two starts to walk away from me to deal with a customer or something, but says to me as she’s leaving, “I’m not at all surprised.”

I say, “What do you mean? Do you say that because of her recent bout with pneumonia?”

The woman looks back and with a sarcastic smirk says “Yeah, right — that’s what I meant,” in a way that communicates she meant something else entirely, and I should know what that was.

I turn and leave, thinking I’ve just picked up on a hell of a good news story — for some reason, the two exchanges seem fraught with meaning — and I’d better head back to the paper and write it. (Along the way, I fret about whether all that was on the record, and I decide it was.) I’m not sure what paper that was, but as I walk into the newsroom and pass the conference room where the editor’s meeting is being held, I see Bobby Hitt is presiding (which would place it at The State between 1988 and 1990). Only I’m not in the meeting, which tells me I’m a writer and not an editor, which is a bit odd. (In my 35-year newspaper career, I was only a reporter for a little over two years, very early on. The rest of the time I was an editor.)

I’m looking for a place to start writing — I need to produce a budget line ASAP (it should have been in before the editors’ meeting, but I know this will be a welcome late addition to the budget) — and all I see near me is manual typewriters of a vintage that places them decades before this picture of the first newsroom I worked in. Like something Ring Lardner would have typed on. I notice, though, that elsewhere there are terminals of the sort we used in the mainframe days of the ’80s and early ’90s, so I head toward one of those, wondering if I can remember my login from way back then. As I do, I pass by a TV that’s playing an old movie about newspapers, and in it a crochety old character actor is saying that computers will be the death of newspapers, just mark his words…

As I go looking for an unoccupied terminal, I run into an editor whom I decide should be briefed on the story. So I start telling it to him, and when I get to the part about the restaurant proprietress, I’m thinking this is someone everybody at the paper knows, but I’m blanking on her name. I’m saying, “You know, that woman who runs that place that I know you know, oh, what’s her name…?”

At that moment, I suddenly realize that she was Hillary Clinton, too. Hits me like a ton of bricks, and stops me cold as I wonder how I could not have realized that. And I’m wondering what this new wrinkle does to my story.

And the dream kind of ends there.

If you can find any meaning in it, congratulations…

Dreading tonight’s debate (but follow me on Twitter)


Come join me on Twitter tonight, if you’re so inclined. Just click on the image anytime after 9 p.m…

I have been dreading this presidential debate tonight, which I think may be the most hyped that I can recall.

Perhaps something good will come of it. Perhaps Trump will do or say something that causes him to lose all his support, and the nation will be saved. What that would be, though, I have no idea. The bigger jerk he makes of himself, the more they love him.

Or maybe…

No, that’s the only thing good I can see coming out of it. I honestly can’t imagine anything in particular that Hillary Clinton can do to help herself in this debate, against such a damage-proof opponent. About all she can do is hurt herself, and there are plenty of ways she could do that. I wouldn’t be in her shoes for anything.

But I’m less concerned about her, and truly concerned about the nation.

I’ll be there on Twitter tonight, commenting away. Come join me if you’re so inclined. The torment begins at 9 p.m., pretty much anywhere you care to look…

OK, WHAT was the point of this reading yesterday?

Following up on Friday’s Faith and Family post…

I frequently have ideas for blog posts during Mass on Sunday, and then I promptly go home and take a nap or something and then get busy with other stuff on Monday and forget about it.

Which I shouldn’t do because, you know, He’s not the kind you have to wind up on Sunday.

Jeremiah makes a deal.

Jeremiah makes a deal.

Anyway, yesterday I wasn’t at my own church — it was an Episcopal Church — but the readings are the same as ours, so I assumed the same question would have occurred to me. Unfortunately, the homilist chose the Gospel reading as his text — which was fine, except that the Gospel was a pretty straightforward cautionary tale, the one about the beggar Lazarus and the rich man who die and go to separate places, and didn’t need much explication to my mind.

What I had hoped somebody would explain to me was the first reading, the Old Testament one, which went like this:

No, wait! It wasn’t the same reading! We Catholics had an entirely different one, I find — and one that makes perfect sense to me in the context of the day’s theme (the Gospel readings were the same, and apparently the 2nd Reading, too, although I confess Paul’s letters tend to go in one ear and out the other — too much throat-clearing). You can find it here; it’s from Amos Chapter 6.

Here’s the Episcopal one, the one that confused me:

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him.

Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.” Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.” Then I knew that this was the word of theLord.

And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.

That’s from Jeremiah; the Amos reading is offered as an alternative.

Anyway, can someone explain to me why we were reading that Jeremiah passage? Why is it in the lectionary at all? What’s the moral of the story? Where’s the editorial point, to put it in my vernacular? God tells Jeremiah to do a real estate deal, and he does, and then goes into more detail about it than I’d want even if I were a real estate attorney?


Here’s my wild guess as to what the point is: I think it’s sort of, even when you’re in a time of great social upheaval (Nebuchadrezzar bearing down on Jerusalem), you should carry on with life and its dealings. If that’s true, then it’s related to one of my favorite OT passages, also from Jeremiah, on carrying on normal life even while in exile:

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their fruits. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters. Increase there; do not decrease. 7Seek the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you; pray for it to the LORD, for upon its welfare your own depends.b

(And yeah, I love that one in part because the last bit is way communitarian.) But if that is the point, it’s made really awkwardly and obscurely. Other thoughts?

Sho Baraka could head up the Faith and Family Left Party


Remember a couple of years back when Pew Research Center offered a group of political typologies that sought to find better ways of thinking of our political proclivities than “right” and “left?”

I took the test, and it put me in what it called the “Faith and Family Left.” Briefly Pew defined the group thusly:

The Faith and Family Left combine strong support for activist government with conservative attitudes on many social issues. They are very racially diverse – this is the only typology group that is “majority-minority.” The Faith and Family Left generally favor increased government aid for the poor even if it adds to the deficit and believe that government should do more to solve national problems. Most oppose same-sex marriage and legalizing marijuana and most say religion and family are at the center of their lives. Compare groups on key issues.

At the time, my reaction was “faith and family OK, but left?” If was not a perfect fit, but better for me than the other options, such as “Solid Liberals,” “Hard-Pressed Skeptics” or “Bystanders.”

And then I didn’t think about it much until I was listening to NPR this morning and heard an interview with a guy who could very well be the chairman of the Faith and Family Party, were that group to form a party.

He’s a hip-hop performer named Amisho Baraka who was talking about how uncomfortable he is with both major political parties. He recently described his predicament this way in an essay (you know me; if I’m going to get interested in a hip-hop “artist,” it’s going to be one who also writes essays):

As a black Christian in an urban environment, I consciously struggle to give my allegiance to either political party. In this way, this election gives many white evangelicals a sense of what it’s like to be a black believer in America today.

As an African American, I’m marginalized by the lack of compassion on the Right. As a Christian, I’m ostracized by the secularism of the Left. As a man, I’m greatly concerned by subversive attempts to deconstruct all “classical” definitions of manhood.

I fraternize with a remnant of people who have the cultural and theological aptitude to engage both Carter G. Woodson and G. K. Chesterton. We walk the tightrope between conservatives and progressives. We share an anxiety and sense of displacement in the current sociopolitical landscape.

I have had zero interest in either candidate this election. Many people are fearful about the next president, as they should be. Our newly appointed chief will likely nominate Supreme Court justices. The thought of either candidate appointing justices scares me. Many Clinton supporters seek a secular utopia that progresses past logic. Many Trump supporters want to resurrect bigoted ideologies. Neither of these Americas is great to me….

I can sort of identify (especially with “sense of displacement in the current sociopolitical landscape”), right up to the point when he says he’ll vote, but not for Hillary or Donald. I can’t begin to agree with that. That is truly an assertion of false equivalence, to use the terminology of some of my critics here. Dislike Hillary all you want, but she’s the only semi-normal person in the country in a position to save us from Donald Trump, and a vote for anyone but her is inexcusable. I don’t care how tightly you have to hold your nose.

But anyway, I think this young man’s political journey is worth watching…