Form over substance: When a big story gets buried

I see this happen a lot these days, but I ran across a couple of fairly dramatic examples yesterday in The Washington Post — or rather, on the Post’s iPad app, which is the only way I read the several newspapers to which I subscribe. So I thought I’d say something.

It’s particularly startling to an old newspaperman who once spent hours each day agonizing over the precise way to play each story — particularly on the front page, that premium real estate where you had only about six possible positions (some days five, and some days you’d cram on seven, but the goal for a diversified presentation of the biggest news of the day was six). Those of you who still look at the dead-tree version will think that sounds high, and you’re right. Over the last quarter century newspaper pages have shrunk and shrunk again, so it’s hard to get more than three or four stories on that page.

But online — even in a well-designed app that makes an effort to prioritize news and present it in a non-jumbled manner — you don’t see the same kind of agonizing over position, for a couple of reasons. First, there’s no time for it when deadline is always, always right NOW. Second, there’s no need when the space is unlimited. As with my blog — one reason I started blogging in 2005 was to shrug off the limitations. I can post as much as I can find time to post.

This is glorious in many ways. But in other ways, perspective and proportion fly out the window. One problem is that the most important news of the day — or the one deemed most interesting to readers (those are two different things, that we had ways of distinguishing between in the old days) — tends to spread out and dominate your first screen or maybe your first two. This happens for three reasons that I can spot:

  1. You can have as many different stories on this interesting thing as you have people to write. In the past, you’d have a main story and maybe a sidebar or two, and the sidebars were often played inside with the jump of the main copy.
  2. If you’re The Washington Post, and backed by Jeff Bezos’ wealth, you have plenty of people.
  3. Editors usually try to group related material together. But the only place to do that — the way most apps and browser sites are organized — is up front with the main story. While there are different “pages” you can reach by clicking on a category link (“Opinion,” “National,” “Sports,” etc.), containing additional content, there are no inside jump pages that the story on the “front” leads you to.

Anyway, on the Post’s app Wednesday morning, two big stories — one that would be big news any time, while the other would at least have been considered huge within recent memory — essentially got buried, to the extent that can happen when there is, for most practical purposes, just one gigantic page. They were:

  1. Epstein accomplice Ghislaine Maxwell sentenced to 20 years in prison — Remember when the charges against her were huge? It was a while ago — before COVID, I think — but the coverage of Epstein and Ms. Maxwell just went on and on. But here was the climax, the ultimate chapter, and… it was played way, way down, many screens down, more than halfway to the bottom of the available content on my app. In the subcategory of “National,” it was the fifth story listed — and of the four stories above it, only one was a breaking development: someone being attacked by a bison in Yellowstone Park. The others were “trend” stories, rather than breaking news.
  2. NATO summit developments — Maybe the Maxwell story was something in which the nation had only been momentarily interested — the scandal of the moment. But this is monumental stuff that at most times would have led a national newspaper. Actually, it was two ledes in one. One headline would be, “U.S. to increase military presence in Europe” (which is the headline you see on the link). The other would have been, “Sweden, Finland to be asked to join NATO.” Both in response, of course, to the biggest story in the world — Russia’s war on Ukraine, which everyone worries could be the opening of World War III.

Here’s the way the Maxwell story was played. I couldn’t get the headline onto this screenshot of the National block, but it’s the item where you see the courtroom artist’s drawing, bottom right:

As for the NATO story — at this point I must confess that I started writing this post yesterday (which is when I saved the screengrabs you see), then got pulled away. Of course, the app content is radically different now, so I can’t go back and see just how far down the NATO story was. But it was well past the first two or three screens, so fairly far down. The defense would be that it was packaged with other Ukraine war news, which you had to scroll down for, but that’s really not a great excuse.

What was played above these stories? Other important stories, I freely admit: The rather explosive Jan. 6 hearing from Tuesday (the testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson), and the ongoing aftershocks of the Roe ruling on Friday. Some Tuesday-night elections across the country as well.

But again, the problem is what I mentioned earlier. The Post now writes so many stories on the same subject, and packages them all together, so that other big news gets pushed far, far down. But it gets rather weird. For instance, Miss Hutchinson is a striking subject for a photograph, but the app showed me five such photos of her — all sitting at the table testifying, in her white suit, with pretty much the same serious expression — before I got down to the two “buried” stories I mention above.

On the screen displaying top stories from the Opinion section, there were three of those pictures. That’s because four of the eight columns or editorials on display were about the hearing. Three were about abortion. One was about something else. It was visually striking, to an eye seeking variety:

No, I’m not saying there should have been op-ed columns about the breaking stories on NATO and Ms. Maxwell. It was a bit soon for that. I am saying that in a medium in which you can provide an unlimited amount of content, it seems the screen promoting the most interesting opinion pieces of the moment should provide a tad more diversity.

Why am I boring you with this stuff that would only matter to an editor in the news trade? Well, because this is yet another thing contributing to our nation’s political schizophrenia. It’s not just people consuming social media instead of professionally presented mainstream media. It’s that the credible organizations, as hard as they try, present their well-crafted content in a way that leads to disproportionate responses among the reading public.

Once, news was presented to the readers in a way that carefully sought to give them — especially on the front page — a range of important news of the day, and to do so in a way that communicated relative importance of those stories.

While the new way of presenting content is wonderful — if you offered me dead-tree versions of all the papers I subscribe to, I still wouldn’t read them; this is much preferable — this way of presenting all that content is an invitation to obsession. Give me eight or ten stories about the same thing on the only screen I can see without scrolling, and you invite me to develop the impression that THIS IS THE ONLY THING WORTH THINKING ABOUT. Which I think helps explain some of the overly excited responses you see these days to news.

Anyway, editors are still trying — and I can see them trying hard — to sort all this out. Maybe they will work out ways to restore a sense of proportion, while still presenting all this added content. I hope so.

And in fact, the editors at The New York Times seem to be a bit farther along toward achieving that. Shortly after seeing what I described above, I opened my NYT app and saw the NATO  developments clearly leading the paper. See below. I thought, “It’s been a little while. Maybe the Post has done the same now.” But I looked, and it had not….

 

 

 

 

I was struck by that in two

 

Should Trump be criminally prosecuted?

This has come up more and more, with what the Jan. 6 hearings have brought to light. It came up, in passing, on a previous thread. And since I wrote almost 500 words in response, I thought I’d post it separately. Here’s that comment, unedited (except for two misspelled words):

Generally speaking, it’s a bad idea to talk about prosecuting presidents. There’s something disturbing, to me, about the idea of a president, duly elected, taking actions consistent with the reasons he was elected, and then being prosecuted because the political winds changed. Sure, the president could be doing things he was NOT elected to do, criminal things, such as happened with Watergate. But I’m not one of those people who get outraged over Jerry Ford pardoning Nixon. Nixon was gone, he was in no way a threat to the country or our politics, and the country needed to move on.

Of course, we have a different situation with Trump. Nixon was fully qualified and suited to the job of president. But he had character flaws that manifested as paranoia, which caused him to do things — behind the curtain — that were wrong. With Trump we have a unique situation, qualitatively different from the situation with anyone else who ever held the office. We have someone who was painfully obviously unsuited to the position, someone who should never, ever have been considered, for even an instant, for such high office. The characteristics that made him unsuitable (and utter lack of any that would have made him suitable) were on clear display 24 hours a day. And it was those characteristics that led quite naturally to the actions for which people talk about prosecuting him.

The way to deal with — that is to say, prevent — this sort of situation is to make absolutely sure that no such individual is ever elected president to begin with. And yet he was, despite his gross defects being fully on display. And almost half of the country voted to <em>re-elect him</em>. And to this day, despite the way his defects exploded in our faces as he went, kicking and screaming, out the door, the Republican Party is in utter bondage to him.

He remains a clear and present danger. Unlike Nixon, from whom Republicans had turned away.

That argues for prosecution, as a way of eliminating the continuing threat to our country. BUT… prosecution implies that once convicted, the almost half of the country that supports him would change their minds, and things would settle down. But that wouldn’t happen, just as it didn’t happen when he was TWICE impeached. His supporters would regard him as a martyr to whatever dark cause made them vote for him in the first place.

And they’d be more ready to attack the Capitol than ever.

As I’ve said before, the problem isn’t Trump. It’s the sickness out in the electorate that caused so many people to vote for him. It’s whatever caused people to vote for someone who, at any previous point in our history, the electorate would have laughed off the stage.

That’s the problem that needs addressing. How, I don’t know. But that’s the problem…

Photo by Gage Skidmore, via Wikimedia

Have you voted? I hope it went well (for all of us)…

That is, I hope you have if you had an important runoff where you live, in the primary in which you voted two weeks ago.

My wife and I went, and there was NO ONE else there but the poll workers.

I was just there to vote for Kathy Maness for Superintendent for Education. Not only because she’s the best qualified, but as a vote against the disgusting stuff I’ve gotten attacking her.

I hope she wins, even though the odds seem against it. If the people who voted for the other candidates — the ones who were eliminated two weeks ago — turn out today, it seems to me they’re more likely Weaver voters, which could enable her to overcome the front-runner.

On the other hand, folks who are disengaged to the point they can’t see Kathy Maness is the better candidate (and the only legally qualified one) tend not to show up for runoffs.

We’ll see.

I’ve got to run, but I urge you to read the last-minute editorial in The Post & Courier supporting Ms. Maness, which begins:

We don’t usually like to talk about campaigns in the immediate runup to the election. But the emails, postcards and TV ads that Ellen Weaver and her supporters distributed last week after her second-place finish in the Republican primary for S.C. education superintendent are the sort we’re used to seeing from duplicitously named out-of-state special interests — not what S.C. candidates are usually willing to put their own names on, especially not in primaries. And they demand a closer look….

Anyway, if you voted, let us know how it went…

Sometimes, robots try too hard, and assume too much

Those of you who travel more than I do (these days, I hardly leave my house!) probably noticed this before, but it’s the first time I’ve run into it.

As I mentioned, we took a quick trip to Memphis a few days back, and while we were there, I looked at my phone and noticed I had an appointment with one of my doctors set for the next day — which was the day we’d be driving back. The time was for right about the time we’d be leaving Memphis. (I knew I had an appointment that week, but I’d thought it was later in the week.)

So I called, and they called me back the next morning as we were about to leave, and reset the appointment for this coming Friday at 9:10. So I entered that into my iPhone.

At least, I think that was the time. I just looked at my calendar, and it says 10:10. (As you can see above, I smudged the doc’s name. Y’all know I usually don’t worry too much about my own privacy in a medical context, but I try to respect that of my physicians’.)

So… I’m left to assume that since I entered the time as 9:10 when I was in the CDT zone, my iPhone automatically “corrected” it when we cross the line back into EDT.

I fixed it earlier on my phone, but it still shows up on my PC as 10.10. (Which is another technical problem.) So now I’ve put in a call to the doctor’s office to make sure.

Anyway, I hadn’t known iOS could be quite that “helpful.” Or that presumptuous…

Anything you want me to tell Jackie Bradley Jr.?

Well, this is exciting.

In the next couple of weeks, my wife and and I are taking a trip to Boston — the first time either of us have been there. The last time I even had a chance to go there was 2004. I managed to work into the budget travel for one editorial board member to attend each of the presidential nominating conventions. I decided it would be really selfish of me to go to both of them, so I sent Mike Fitts to the Democratic convention in Boston. I went to New York. I didn’t regret it, because it was the first time I’d been to NYC since a day spent there when I was 9 years old. But I’ve always regretted missing Boston.

This time, we’re going up to see my twin granddaughters who are doing a summer program training with the Boston Ballet. But since they’ll be busy all day in classes, we’ve got a lot of sightseeing planned, including:

  • Historical walking tours downtown. One if by land and two if by sea, and all that. A big deal to a guy who concentrated on the Revolutionary era in college.
  • The Adams National Historical Part in Quincy. Walking the home ground of my fave Founding Father John, and other members of his distinguished clan.
  • “Old Ironsides.” Walking the deck of the U.S.S. Constitution will be a big deal. One of the U.S. Navy’s six original frigates and now the oldest ship in the world still afloat, this is a treat for a guy who loves naval stories from that period so much. I expect to walk about exclaiming, “What a fascinating modern age we live in!”
  • A game at Fenway Park. And not just any game. The Sox will be playing — wait for it — the New York Yankees!

I’m particularly excited about that last one after something I just learned yesterday.

As I’ve probably written in the past, I’m a weird sort of baseball fan. I’m more in love with the idea of baseball than I am the game of the moment. For instance, I enjoyed Halberstam‘s Summer of ’49, which is why think it’s great to be able to see these two teams play each other. No, the DiMaggio brothers won’t be there, but still…

I would follow the sport on a more current basis, but I can’t. I don’t have cable, and in case you haven’t noticed, the freely available TV stations very rarely show baseball games any more. Back in the days when everyone had only two or three channels, you could see baseball any weekend. Now, you can find all the football you want (and far more than I want), and staggering amounts of golf — but rarely is an inning of the National Pastime available.

Which, of course, is what is wrong with America today. In case you were wondering.

During playoff and World Series season, I go to great lengths, sometimes signing up for absurdly overpriced subscriptions, to see the games. And often, that’s the first time in the whole season I become familiar with even my favorite teams’ current players. (My favorite teams are the Braves and the Red Sox. At various times, many years back, I was also a fan of the Cardinals, the Phillies and the Reds.)

So it was that I was surprised yesterday to learn a wonderful thing. I was doggedly viewing highlights of some recent games online, and… there was Jackie Bradley Jr. in right field! Last year he was with the Brewers, and now the MVP of the Gamecocks’ 2010 College World Series was back with the Red Sox. Just in time!

And guess where our tickets — which I bought a couple of days before learning this — are?

Yep, right field. So, assuming he’s not injured or not playing that night for some other reason, he’ll be the player we can see the best.

No, Babe Ruth won’t be playing for either team. We won’t get to see Ted Williams, or Carl Yastremski, or Big Papi. And Mookie Betts is still playing for somebody else.

But we will (most likely) get to see Jackie, and that’s good enough.

Yeah, some of you avid fans will think I’m a big idiot for not having already known he was back in Boston. And maybe I am. But in this case, I’m a happy idiot…

Sequels are seldom as good as the original

Hold it right there — no sequel will be as good as this.

Especially not the sequels of one certain genre — messianic fiction. You know, the type of story where you’re all in suspense as to whether the protagonist is The One, and eventually everyone learns that yes, he is. All of which happens in the first book, or movie, or whatever.

After that, you have sequels in which the author or director tries really, really hard to reproduce the magic of the original, usually by being super repetitive in terms of plot.

Some of you will disagree strongly with this Top Five list — I’ve found that in the past when I’ve pointed this out. But I think a lot of that is that the author or director just did an exceptional job of recreating the magic of the first, and you loved the first so much you loved the others, too. But for me, after the reveal has occurred, I’m ready for a different story — or at least, a story about a completely different messiah.

Here’s my list of examples. Oh, and for those who haven’t read or seen these, HUGE SPOILER ALERT!

  1. Dune — I loved the first novel. But it turned into the worst generator of sequels I’ve ever encountered. Nevertheless, they kept coming out, even after the author was dead. Think about it: By the end of Dune, we learn that Paul is definitely the Kwisatz Haderach, all his main enemies are dead, and he even becomes emperor of the known universe. How do you top that? You don’t. Herbert certainly didn’t. The following stories try way too hard, and take liberties with characters that I found highly objectionable.
  2. Harry Potter — This one will engender some of the strongest objections. But I was totally satisfied by the first book: Harry is rescued from a cartoonishly horrible life by Hagrid, who informs him not only that he is a wizard, but “a thumpin’ good’un I’d say, once yeh’ve been trained up a bit.” So he wanders in awe about Diagon Alley, and goes to Hogwarts, and spends the full school year there. You learn all about the magical world, and how it differs from that of muggles. And then, when it’s all over, Harry comes back to Hogwarts, and spends another whole year doing many of the same things. And because my kids and so many others loved the stories so much, I read the first three books or so in a vain effort to keep up, but then I stopped. But, you will cry, the stories after that get so serious and dark! Well, that’s not an attraction to me. Life is serious and dark enough, and this was a children’s story.
  3. The Matrix — Let me confess, up front, that if I even tried to watch the sequels, I’ve since forgotten them. Frankly, I had no interest. “The Matrix” (the film, not the graphic novel) had bowled me over completely. I thought it was great. But then I was done. Neo was The One, and he could kick agent butt without breaking a sweat. What else did I need to see?
  4. Star Wars — I’m flying in the face of some people’s religion here, but no, “The Empire Strikes Back” was not better than the original movie. Nothing was better than the original movie. “Empire” was good — especially the parts on Hoth — and other works in that fictional universe have sometimes been very engaging, especially “The Mandelorian.” But the first film contained everything that I would most enjoy from the characters and their respective arcs. And the overall premises of the fictional universe were fine for one film, but got a bit thin beyond that. A story such as this is fun, but needs to remember not to take itself too seriously.
  5. The Godfather — Again, the second movie was most assuredly NOT better than the first. Yes, that’s that wonderful section that tells the story of how Vito became Don Corleone. But hey, that was in the novel that the first movie was based on — it just got left out. The first movie tells us how Michael, seemingly the least likely son, becomes the don’s successor, and seals the deal by overcoming all the family’s enemies. But he also becomes something terrifying, as the look on Kay’s face in the final shot drives home. I don’t need to see him manifesting his monstrosity in the second tale, as the family itself becomes consumed.

Not all sequels fall flat. Here are some that really worked:

  • Post Captain, and the other 18 books that follow Master and Commander. I refer here to the book, not the movie — which unfortunately based its plot vary roughly on the 10th book in the series, and pilfered good bits from various others. Each book tells a complete story, and the 20 taken altogether tell a saga of immense scale. Each deserves more than a film of its own. Each book should be a full season of a masterful television series — one that would last 20 years. Anyway, the “sequels” work because while the characters and the historical universe are the same, each story is fresh and different. And compelling.
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn — Yep, it’s a sequel — to Tom Sawyer.  And it starts out in the tone of a sequel to that light celebration of youth in the 19th century, and a particularly amusing one at that. But Twain set it aside for several years, and then came back and turned it into the Great American Novel. If you’re the pedantic type, you might say that such an uneven book can’t be a great anything. But America is filled with different voices telling different stories, and its actual history is buffeted by mood swings and changes of tone. So it’s no surprise its greatest fictional work should be so “uneven.”

Note that none of those are of the “revelation of a hero’s destiny” type — what I referred to earlier as the “messiah” story.

I could mention more that worked and didn’t work, but I guess that’ll do for now…

A completely suitable ending to the story.

My all-time favorite historical marker

Hey, y’all. I’ve been out of pocket for a few days. We drove to Memphis on Friday, came back yesterday, and boy are my arms tired. Yeah, I know that old joke doesn’t really work there, but I’m wiped out and not fully functional at the moment.

But I thought I’d share this with y’all. On Saturday, we drove from Memphis to Jackson, Tenn., for a family get-together. That’s the place where I had my first newspaper job after graduation from Memphis State. We were there for 10 years. It’s where my wife, and our first three children, were born.

Anyway, before the family party, we showed my youngest daughter (who was born right here) around town. We hit various landmarks, including the houses we’d lived in, the newspaper building, and the Madison County courthouse square, the location of my favorite historical marker anywhere.

I think I’ve told you about it before, but it was good to see it again. But you know what? I don’t think I’d ever noticed before that the inscription is missing several commas. (How many are missing by your count?)

Oh, well. It’s still my fave. And here I am in front of the paper…

How did things go at YOUR polling place?

I didn’t think to take any pictures at my polling place, so I took this when I got home.

Well, I went and voted — and voted as I said I would — and it went pretty well.

In the past, I’ve posted pictures showing the long lines at my precinct, but there was none of that stuff today. My wife and I walked right up without waiting, and were done in moments — 1 or 2 in her case, and maybe 10 in mine. Because, you know, I obsess about it.

We were lucky, from what I hear, that our polling place was even open. A friend who works the polls had told me they couldn’t open several precincts in Lexington County because of a lack of poll workers. And when my wife took my mother to vote this morning, her precinct was open, but voters from one next door were using it, too.

(My wife says Micah was there working the site, which I’m sure was nice for my mother, since she knew his grandparents and great-grandparents in Bennettsville.)

No such problem at ours. The usual folks — my neighbors — who have run the Quail Hollow precinct were there and doing their duty, bless them.

And all went smoothly.

How did it go for y’all?

And if you haven’t voted yet, as I type this you have one hour left in which to do so…

How I’m going to vote today

I’m not going to go into a lot of detail here. But I’m going to go vote in a while, and this is what’s on my mind at the moment — still trying to work out how to vote on two or three of the races/questions.

Of course, I’m going to take a Republican ballot. The Democratic one gives me exactly three decisions to make, and none of them is particularly worth making. Henry is going to win re-election, and I’m not crazy about any of the Dems running to oppose him. If I were voting on that, I’d choose Joe Cunningham, but that’s mainly because last week Mia reminded us about her tendency to fly off the handle at people in a particularly immature manner (kind of reminds me of Nikki’s Facebook rants during her first term as governor).

Then there’s the three people running for superintendent of education, whose chances in the fall are more or less equally dismal. I’ve never heard of any of them but Jerry Govan. You know Jerry. He was accused — and acquitted, let me note — of assaulting Rep. Gilda Cobb Hunter in the State House. I’ve known who Govan was for many years, but that’s the main thing I remember about him.

Finally, there are three Dems seeking to run for U.S. Senate. I’ve only heard of one of them — Catherine Fleming Bruce. I’ve never met her; I just know the name because she has run for office before — multiple times, I think. Anyway, they’re seeking to oppose Tim Scott. I don’t think he’s worried about it.

So I’m taking a Republican ballot, and here’s how I plan to vote:

  • It turns out Henry has an opponent — name of Harrison Musselwhite, a.k.a. “Trucker Bob.” But I just looked him up, and his main problem with Henry is that Henry isn’t crazy enough. So much for voting for him as a protest. Looks like I won’t vote for governor. (So, since I have a slight preference in the Democratic vote, that’s one reason to question passing up that opportunity. But it’s not a strong reason.)
  • I’ll vote for Mark Hammond because he’s been in office quite a few years without messing up. But even more because Keith Blandford doesn’t really offer anything that would make me want to vote for him. Seriously. The URL of his website is blandford4america. Which leaves us puzzling over what federal office he thinks he’s running for.
  • I’m still torn about attorney general. Alan Wilson used to be a pretty sane human being, but now he’s endorsed by Trump. But have you checked out his opponent? Yikes. So either I vote for Alan to protect us from her, or skip this one, as I’ll do on governor. Alan’s going to win anyway.
  • Superintendent of education. This one I’m sure about. Molly Spearman has endorsed Kathy Maness, and so has Mandy Powers Norrell, who called her “an actual educator who has worked her entire life for public schools.” I will vote for her with enthusiasm, to try to keep the crazies from running our schools. Especially the one who has raised the most money, and is clearly not qualified for the job.
  • I’m also voting with an undivided mind for Hugh Weathers, who is running for the last time for commissioner of agriculture. We endorsed Hugh back when he first ran, even though he was running against Emile DeFelice. (Emile ran a great campaign and we really liked him, but he didn’t have a fraction of Hugh’s background in agriculture.) I like Hugh’s “Certified SC Grown” campaign (even though it’s not as cool as Emile’s “Put Your State on Your Plate”). Also, Hugh has — like Mark Hammond — been in office a long time without embarrassing us. This is particularly relevant in Hugh’s case, given his predecessor’s entanglement with cockfighting. Yes, in SC we do have a low bar, but there it is.
  • And I’m going to vote for my representative, Micah Caskey. This has been quite a race. I’ll be interested to see how much he and his opponent spent. I’m pretty sure it’s a record for this House seat. On my desk here are — let me count them — seven slick mailers from the two candidates combined. Plus a number of phone calls, and texts, from both. Melanie Shull seems to be a nice enough lady for someone who is WAY ideological. (From one of her mailers: “I will be a strong conservative voice for the silent majority that suffer at the hands of progressive policies and an increasingly intrusive, overreaching government.”) When I told Micah one of his signs was stolen from my yard, his immediate response was that he didn’t think she had anything to do with it — just overzealous supporters. I agreed. Have I been wildly happy about Micah’s mailers arguing that he is, too, a conservative? Nope. I was even less happy to get a phone call and a text from Henry supporting him (assuring us Micah is “a true conservative”). But you can’t get everything you want in this world.
  • Then there are the three mock-referendum questions at the end. If the machine allows it, my answer on the first two will be “hell, no!” I’ll likely answer no on the third, too, as a vote against including these stupid questions on ballots — even though the way it’s worded, it’s not necessarily objectionable. It would depend on how legislation trying to accomplish it were worded.

Here is a copy of the sample Democratic ballot in my precinct, and here is the sample GOP one.

Top Five (and Ten) TV Shows of All Time

Sure, I could have gone with Omar for ‘The Wire,’ but I’m going with my man Bubbles, who doesn’t get enough credit.

One nice thing about a Top Five list of TV shows is that you can bill it as “all-time” and still stick to stuff you know from your own lifetime. You don’t feel like you have to go back and pull in “Greensleeves” or “Veni, veni, Emmanuel” to make up for neglecting Top Songs before Elvis.

Sure, there was some TV before my time, like “Your Show of Shows,” which went off the air about eight months after I was born. But while I’ve heard people rave about it, I suspect I didn’t miss all that much. I mean, I’ve seen some of Sid Caesar’s stuff, and he was good, but to me, Imogene Coca was the cavewoman on “It’s About Time” — which I assure you isn’t going to make my Top Ten.

I thought at first that I wouldn’t have the discipline to stick to the Top Five format, since this is a pretty broad field — All TV Shows, ever. I figured I’d do 10, and then go back to the Nick Hornby standard when we do top sitcoms or something narrower like that.

But after I’d made a list of 10 and started trying to rank them, I realized the Top Five were very clear, and stood out well above 6-10. So I did five, and then another five. I hope Barry will be proud.

And yes, this is inspired by what I mentioned a couple of days ago — the Rolling Stone list that outrageously didn’t include “Band of Brothers” in its top 100. Bud already reacted with his own Top Ten list, which I urge you to peruse as well.

Anyway, here goes:

  1. The West Wing — If not for streaming, I would not even be a fan. I never watched my first episode until years after the show ended. I’m so glad I was able to watch it on Netflix. I regret that it’s only available now on a service I don’t subscribe to. Why do I love it? It makes me feel happy about the world I live in. (It makes me actually appreciate human beings, and have hope for the species.) Not many things do that out there in the media universe. But someone who understands America as well as Aaron Sorkin does can do that.
  2. Band of Brothers — You should understand that I felt invested in this from the beginning, long before the first episode appeared on HBO. I had been thinking for some time about what an awesome TV series Stephen Ambrose’s book would make — if it were made by the right people. Specifically, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, who brought us “Saving Private Ryan.” (I was also thinking about “From the Earth to the Moon” as a model, so I should probably mention Ron Howard as well.) I even thought about writing them to suggest the idea, but I’ve never done fanboy stuff like that. As it worked out, I didn’t have to. They went ahead and did it anyway. You might say I wished it into being — and it was everything I had wished for. I need to figure out how I did that, so we can finally get that Jack Aubrey series
  3. The Wire — Wow. This was just so awesome on so many levels. It’s a newspaperman’s fantasy — an amazingly high-quality production that shows exactly what things are like in his city. And of course, it was written by an unusually gifted newspaperman, former cops reporter David Simon. He switched careers for a very newspaperman reason: “I got out of journalism because some sons of bitches bought my newspaper and it stopped being fun.” Well, it was often intensely painful to watch, but The Wire was also fun. I will end by simply naming some favorite characters: Omar, of course. Major Rawls. Kima Greggs. Beadie Russell. Jay Landsman. Brother Mouzone. Tommy Carcetti. And most of all, Bubbles the snitch.
  4. Firefly — I’m not going to go into the horrible thing that happened, and how all the people in charge at Fox network are a buncha gorram idiots. Although obviously they are. I mean, come on! It’s the only series ever that’s about space cowboys — something that previously only existed in the imagination of Steve Miller. That made it automatically better than any show that was merely a space opera or merely a western. And then, the characters and the writing took that advantage and blasted it clear across the known ‘verse. The use of language alone — “‘verse,” “shiny,” and the odd bits of Chinese thrown in — made it irresistible. Not quite on a “Clockwork Orange” level, but way up there. Favorite characters? Well, I guess Kaylee was my true favorite, but my publicly admitted favorite (so I don’t seem to be a dirty old man) is Jayne. Third would be Mal. Sorry, captain…
  5. The Andy Griffith Show — Yep, I’m a sentimentalist. If I wanted to be critical and judge it by Golden Age of Television standards, I’d object to the flaws. Like, how come only about two characters beyond Andy have Southern accents? Or how come, if he’s the sheriff, he seems to work for the mayor of Mayberry rather than being a separately elected county official? Why did Andy go from being the main comic figure to being the straight man in later seasons? But never mind all that. I love it, and I’ve loved it almost all my life (it wasn’t around for my first few years). If you want to love it as well, remember the main rule: Never watch an episode that’s in color. The good ones are all in black and white. Favorite character? Ernest T. Bass. Second fave is Floyd the barber. But I love the others as well. Except some of those who came along after Barney left.

Just barely got in one comedy, because the list needed it, and because I love me some Mayberry. Here’s the next five:

  • The Sopranos — I didn’t mean to disrespect you, Tony. Really. The show was awesome, and probably launched the whole Golden Age. I respect Rolling Stone‘s decision to make it No. 1 on their list. And I had it in my Top Five, truly. But then I realized I had completely forgotten “Firefly.” Anyway, fave characters: Paulie Gualtieri (played by an actual Wise Guy), Silvio Dante (possibly the most inspired casting decision in TV history), Adriana La Cerva, Artie Bucco.
  • Seinfeld — This came just about as close as you can get to being the perfect sitcom. And there was never another one like it. It did not fit in any kind of category. I could say much more, but do I really have to convince you? The only way I can imagine you disagreeing is if you get on my case for not having it in the Top Five.
  • 30 Rock — And this one may have been THE perfect sitcom. It took the same foundation upon which Carl Reiner based “The Dick Van Dyke Show” — in his case, his experience writing for “Your Show of Shows” — and expanded upon it and went wild with it. So many great characters, from Liz and Jack down to guest stars like Al Gore playing themselves (“Quiet!… A whale is in trouble! I have to go.”) But the one who amazed me the most, and could alone have put it on this list, was Kenneth Ellen Parcell.
  • Hill Street Blues — Kind of dated now, but wow was it impressive at the time. We had a sort of minor cult following at the paper in Jackson, Tenn. I remember one night watching it over at the publisher’s condo. He and his wife, who was our business reporter, served nachos. I had never heard of nachos. Of course, I couldn’t eat them anyway. But we all enjoyed “Hill Street.” Capt. Furillo was my ideal leader. As news editor at the paper, I wanted to be just like him in dealing with my reporters. But my favorite character? Renko.
  • Mad Men — One of the most glittering examples of Golden Age TV — brilliant in writing, direction, cinematography and acting. Like entering another world — one in which we got to see Christina Hendricks way more than we did in “Firefly.” For some reason though, once we got way into the 60s and people started dropping acid, I stopped watching. I need to go back and finish. I suppose I’ll have to start from the beginning, dagnabbit. Favorite character? Not sure. Maybe Joan. Or maybe Roger, the acid-dropper. Now I’ll do something different and list by far my least favorite: Pete Campbell. What a creep and a half.

There were a lot of other great shows out there, some of which didn’t even get a mention from Rolling Stone. So here’s a random bunch of honorable mentions:

  • Key and Peele — I suppose this is the thing on this list that I got into most recently — like, within the past decade. These guys are incredibly brilliant, and there’s no one else like them. However they first met and teamed up, we’re lucky they did. Best bits? Well, I love the obvious choices, such as “Obama’s Anger Translator,” “Substitute Teacher” and “I Said (I quickly look around before continuing) Biiiiiiiitch.” But my fave might be “Retired Military Specialist.”
  • The IT Crowd — For years, I saw this available on Netflix, and ignored it, having no idea what it was. Then my younger son talked me into watching one episode — and now I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve watched the whole three seasons. It’s hard to describe how funny it is. Now, I’ll watch pretty much anything that has the players in it. Fortunately, Chris O’Dowd has gotten a lot of work, and if I need a Richard Ayoade fix, I can always watch some “Travel Man” on Prime. But my greatest frustration is that it’s hard to find my favorite, Katherine Parkinson, anywhere. Last time I saw her was in “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,” and it really wasn’t all that funny. Best episode is either “The Work Outing,” “The Dinner Party,” or “Are We Not Men?”
  • Breaking Bad — Are you thinking it’s kind of weird that this didn’t make either the Top Five or the next five? I sort of am, too, but I just kept thinking of things I liked better. It might be that this was the most stressful TV show I have ever watched, and the stress has lingered. But it still seems worthwhile to have watched it all, because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have appreciated the last episode, and that was really good.
  • Green Acres — I have mentioned a number of times that the possibly the most amazing night ever on television (from an 11-year-old’s perspective) was Sept. 15, 1965, the night that “Lost in Space,” “Green Acres” and “I-Spy” all debuted. We had returned to America — and to television — five months earlier after two-and-a-half years in Ecuador, and I was already overdosing on popular culture, and loving it. But that was the biggest night. At the time, my fave was probably “Lost in Space,” but “Green Acres” was definitely the one that aged the best. As was written in my favorite reference work, The Catalog of Cool, “To be truly cool, one must genuinely understand the uselessness of logic and reason in a world gone mad. ‘Green Acres’ understood it better than any other show.” I’d never seen anything like it before, and I haven’t since. Favorite character? Eb, of course.
  • The Office — The real one, the British one. Absolutely brilliant, although admittedly sometimes hard to watch, because David Brent. Favorite character? Probably Gareth.
  • Friday Night Lights — I’m sort of putting this here as a way of thanking Bryan for getting me to watch it. But I’m also putting it here because it was really, really great. Even though it was about, you know, football…
  • The State — I loved MTV when it started, when it knew its job was to show music videos, and have them be introduced by people like Martha Quinn or Daisy Fuentes. And it was wonderful. Then it got into other stuff. I will never forgive it for launching the scourge of reality TV. But I can almost forgive “The Real World” when I consider “The State.” If only it had lasted. And if only I could find the old skits online somewhere. Best one ever? “Prison Break.” (But that’s “off-limits”…)
  • Life on Mars — OK, this show was really uneven, and sometimes the writing was shaky. But it was a lot of fun, and I’ve watched the two seasons (the two series, since it’s British) several times. And not just to see Liz White as Annie. When I saw it on The Guardian‘s 21st-century list, I decided I had to mention it. A warning, though: Do not try to watch the American imitation. I couldn’t even make it through the first episode. Sure, it’s got Harvey Keitel in it, but he couldn’t save it.

Finally, I know I’ve forgotten something. Maybe several somethings. The way I was almost done when I remembered “Firefly.” But you’ve got to start a discussion somewhere…

Yes, I am a sentimentalist.

But he’ll remember with advantages What feats he did that day

This is pretty cool.

A significant number of the actors from HBO’s “Band of Brothers” did this a couple of years back, 20 years after the release of the series. But I didn’t see it until now.

I wish I’d seen it on D-Day itself, but hey, the Battle of Normandy was still far from won on June 7. So I pass it on, and hope you enjoy. Curahee!

It starts with “Captain Winters,” but you’ll recognize a number of the guys. Quite a few are Brits, which works well with Shakespeare, as they don’t have to put on American accents. But there are some Yanks as well — “Malarkey” and yes, the incomparable “George Luz.” (Actually, Luz should have done it as an impersonation of Major Horton.)

One or two of the guys look too young to have played soldiers two decades earlier. But on the whole, you see graybeards who seem ready to play the “old man” part of the “Henry V” speech:

He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’

Of course, the real old men, the ones with real scars to show, are all gone now. At least, all the ones whose portrayers in the series had speaking parts. (Unless you know of someone I don’t know about.) To them truly should go the honor.

But I also honor everyone involved in this series. And I’m glad quite a few of the real guys were still alive to see the tribute, and be a part of it.

I think this is James Madio, who played Frank Perconte. Isn’t it?

DeMarco: McKissick Puts Party Over Country

The Op-Ed Page

Drew McKissick

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

I appreciate Drew McKissick, the Chair of the South Carolina Republican Party, responding to my Florence Morning News column of May 25thDemocrats, Let’s Elect Tom Rice” with one in the June 3rd edition entitled “Democrats, stay out of GOP primary.”

I’ve been writing monthly columns for not quite a year now. After they are published I email them out to a small group of friends under the heading “Civil Discourse.” Here’s my first chance to practice what I preach with a prominent Republican.

Before we get to what is contained in McKissick’s response, let’s discuss what’s not there: no insinuation that I’m evil, crazy, deluded, or that I hate America and want to destroy it. He provides reasonable arguments why his position is better than mine. The tone is a little snarky here and there, but in my book, McKissick gets an “A” for the form of his rebuttal.

Now to the substance, which I wholeheartedly dispute. The core of his argument is “Why should a lifelong and current Democrat have the opportunity to meddle in another party’s candidate selection process and encourage others to do so as well? In short, he shouldn’t.”

First of all, I would never describe myself as a “lifelong Democrat.” I have always been suspicious of political parties (as were some of the Founding Fathers) and more today than ever. Since I doubt parties will disappear, my solution is to encourage more of them. Third parties have had a rough go in American politics, but I am following Andrew Yang’s latest attempt, the Freedom Party, with some interest.

Second, he assumes that party affiliation is like binary computer coding, 0 = Republican, 1 = Democrat. In his view, voters are either with you or against you and should be completely impervious to the ideas of the other party. While that may work in the virtual world, in the real world, few people agree completely with either party’s platform. Most of us have some beliefs that align with each party and vote based on which of those beliefs are most important to us at the time of the election. A gun owner who believes assault weapons should be banned might support Biden; a pro-choice voter who wants stricter border controls might support Trump.

McKissick assumes that because I generally vote for Democrats I must wish his party ill. He is mistaken. I want both parties to be strong. I reject the extremism of both sides, as do most of my fellow countrymen and women. That McKissick can’t fathom the idea that I might want what’s best for his party is revealing.

It is, of course, true that some voters play politics as a team sport. These voters choose a candidate simply because of the “R” or “D” behind the name. But there are many independent-minded voters who reject that way of thinking.

My goal is to highlight to my Republican friends that Trump is dangerous and anti-democratic. His advocacy of overturning an election involving 155 million votes by subterfuge and violence is the closest America has ever come to authoritarian rule. Trump is exactly the kind of demagogue of whom our Founding Fathers were afraid. In George Washington’s Farewell Address, he warned against the rise of “cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men” who “subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards” democracy itself.

Another disturbing part of McKissick’s argument is that he is so willing to reject my participation in the primary. What makes someone a Republican? Fealty to Trump? Devotion to the platform? How does he know that any of the voters on June 14th meet his litmus test? Republicans have struggled for decades to expand the tent. They have no luxury to pick and choose.

His desire to have a closed primary has some historical precedent. Up until 1948, the Democratic party, then the party of white conservatives, had an all-white primary. After the US Supreme Court struck down segregated primaries in 1944, the South Carolina Legislature revolted. Rather than accept the ruling, it abolished all state statutes related to the party in an effort to claim it was a “private club,” a gambit that was also rejected by the courts. McKissick seems interested in a return to those days when only certain people were allowed to vote in a primary.

McKissick is paid to be a partisan. Therefore, he advocates for party over country. I don’t get a paycheck from either political party. My highest obligation as a citizen is to vote, one I never shirk. This election I am heeding Washington’s admonition, also from his Farewell Address, that political parties “gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.”

Tom Rice understands history and the threat Trump and his ilk pose. He recognizes that sometimes parties can be antithetical to democracy and was not afraid to vote for his country over his party. We must keep men and women like him in Congress.

McKissick is a savvy professional political operative. But he lets his guard down in his concluding remark “So, to our liberal friends we say, “Keep out.”

Telling people they are forbidden to do something they have every right to do only increases the chance they will do it. So thank you, Mr. McKissick. Your southern inhospitality may be the thing that gets Tom Rice elected.

Paul DeMarco is a physician who resides in Marion, SC. Reach him at pvdemarco@bellsouth.net.

Well, at least I know more about history than THESE guys…

You know how, for the last three weeks, I did really badly on the Slate News Quiz but still beat the Slate staff person assigned to compete that week?

Well, half of that happened this week. I only got five right out of 12, for an embarrassing 186. But this time, I got creamed by Technology Editor Jonathan Fischer, who scored a 370.

So let’s not talk about that.

Let’s talk about history. I’m a lifelong student of it, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how very, very little I know about it. Even with the small slices in which I’ve taken a particular interest through the years — World War II, the first years of our republic at the end of the 18th century, Rome in the time around Julius Caesar’s assassination — I am constantly shocked at the major things I suddenly learn that I did not know. Happens all the time.

For instance, reading all those Patrick O’Brian novels has made me try to learn more about the Napoleonic Wars, and particularly the Royal Navy during that period.

Well, I was over visiting my Mom the other night, and she always watches “Jeopardy” in the evening. This night, the Final Jeopardy question — or rather answer — was the one you see above, under the category, “The Early 19th Century”: “Admiral Pierre-Charles Villeneuve signaled ‘Engage the enemy’ around noon & surrendered at 1:45 PM during this battle”.

So we know he’s French, and it’s the early 19th century, and one can reasonably assume that this was a battle of some significance — a fleet action, say, as opposed to a meeting between a couple of frigates, where you wouldn’t have an admiral in charge. And Villeneuve’s name was vaguely familiar to me, but I wasn’t sure which significant battle he had lost. As far as I knew, it could have been the Nile, or Algeciras. Although I don’t think those were known for being brief.

So I just went with the biggest one of all, and said “Trafalgar.” The climax (and end) of Nelson’s life, his greatest triumph — the one that got him the column.

But I didn’t know, and I felt bad about that.

Soon, though, I felt better.

The three contestants all answered some variant of “What is Waterloo?”

Seriously, they did. These were three fairly bright people — they did well on plenty of other answers — and all three of them had bet money that an admiral was in command at Waterloo.

Oh, and it was Trafalgar. But I should have known, as a Jack Aubrey fan.

Anyway… if y’all want to take the Slate quiz, here’s the link. If you don’t do any better than I did, you don’t have to share…

 

 

 

If not for the presence of the gun

While I was waiting to get some blood tests done at Lexington Medical Center and reading my iPad, I tweeted this:

Then I got the blood drawn, and went to Radiology for my chest x-ray. All of it being routine follow-up on my long COVID case. After I had checked in for that and was waiting to be called back for the x-ray, I got a couple of texts from my wife. She said:

So, we sat and ate our lunch behind… little cricket because there’s an active shooter thing going on in our neighborhood. But finally we came on in because it’s located in the Apartments. So, it’s OK if you come home.

The “we” in the text was her and two of our grandchildren, who had spent their first morning off from school at our house. “Little Cricket” is the convenience store where you turn off Sunset Boulevard to get to our subdivision.

I called her immediately, and she said there were about 25 emergency vehicles in the area, but they were letting people into the subdivision, but not letting them go to Quail Hollow Apartments or the nearby gated community, Hulon Green.

I got my x-ray and headed straight home. All of the abovementioned places are within about a mile of the hospital. At the roundabout at the main entrance to Quail Hollow, two cops were waving people into the subdivision, but blocking them from heading right — toward Hulon and the apartments. I asked what was going on, and got an incomplete answer, to the effect that yeah, that area was still blocked off.

I had to wind around a sheriff’s vehicle and some others to get into the neighborhood. A car marked with WIS livery was stopped on the side of the road, which made me glad I’d called the paper to make sure they knew about it back before my x-ray. Yeah, I still do things like that.

Details are still coming in, but this latest version of The State’s story has a good bit more than we knew when I called:

Lexington police shoot at armed man after mental health call, 1 dead, investigators say

By David Travis Bland and Morgan Hughes
Updated June 03, 2022 2:27 PM

A mental health crisis call turned into a fatal shooting near a Lexington County neighborhood on Friday, according to the sheriff’s department.

The shooting happened in the area of Feather Run Trail and Quail Hollow, the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department said. Police are still in the area.

Lexington County Coroner Margaret Fisher told The State that one man died during the incident and that deputy coroners are at the scene. The identity of the deceased man has not been released.

The department said that a 911 caller reported a mental health patient with a handgun was threatening to shoot family members and himself. When police arrived, the man ran into some woods and fired at pursuing officers. The officers fired back.

The sheriff’s department did not say if the officers shot the man.

However, the department did say “there is no active threat to the community.”

“As we can, we are letting people come and go from the area,” the department said….

When I first learned that the man was evidently dead, I texted the reporter to say that while I had been far more worried about other things — such as the safety of my family — I had not wanted that to happen, either. “Yeah,” he responded. “Shootings never cease to suck.”

I wrote back:

They never cease, period. That guy would be safe in mental health care if not for the presence of the gun…

One last thing I should mention: This incident will not add to that count I mentioned at the top of this post. It wasn’t a “multiple…”

At 3:46, much of the area had been opened to traffic, but I think this is where the shooting occurred…

… and these other vehicles were blocking that area from another direction.

 

Open Thread for Thursday, June 2, 2022

A screenshot from WSJ video…

Some news, and a few odds and ends:

  1. The latest horrible, senseless shooting — Because it keeps happening, over and over and over. This one bought his “AR-15-style weapon about an hour before the attack.”
  2. Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl — Unfortunately, I think she got a bit knackered with all the celebrating today, and I’m glad she’s going to take a break tomorrow. After all, she’s 96. And while I thought “Charles III” was an interesting “what-if” drama, I’m in no hurry to get to the real thing. I don’t think many of us are…
  3. Are the Movies Liberal? — An interesting, although not awesome, piece by a critic at the NYT. The subhed is, “Everyone knows Hollywood is progressive. But look at the films it churns out. They tell another story.” Well, yeah. Because as the piece says, movies are for everybody, and so they generally offer something for everybody, in order to keep the bucks rolling in. The piece makes some interesting points — and some that are off-kilter — but it’s an interesting read, even though it falls short of having all the answers.
  4. Top Democrats challenging McMaster say Republicans setting the wrong course for SC — Well, yeah, but what are you gonna do about it? I means in terms of actually getting elected so you can do anything about it? I have to say I’m not terribly impressed, and probably won’t sacrifice my chance to have an actual say in who represents me in June by asking for a Democratic ballot. I did so in 2018 because James offered me somebody I could actually feel positive about voting for — and of course I went on to do far more than just vote. I don’t see anyone offering me that this year.
  5. Russia Now Controls a Fifth of Ukraine — That’s depressing, even though 100 days ago, we would have expected it to be all of Ukraine by now. I just hope the country can continue to hang on, and that we continue to do what we should to help.

Ways to talk to each other about a tough issue

In my last post, I expressed my appreciation to Nicholas Kristof for his efforts to remind us that we can work together and find solutions, even to the hardest of issues.

I thought that today I’d share a couple of examples of how that is done. Just a couple, because I haven’t been saving them up or anything — these moved in the last few days. And they deal with the same issue as Kristof was writing and talking about — guns.

Gail Collins

I’ve praised in the past the regular exchanges between Gail Collins and Bret Stephens that the NYT posts under the heading of “The Conversation.” They’re not only instructive, but fun to read. What we have here is a pretty orthodox liberal — but with a sense of humor — and a never-Trump conservative who obviously enjoy interacting over issues upon which they disagree.

Their latest installment moved Saturday and is headlined, “One Nation, Under Guns.” This one is not a classic left-right discussion, because Stephens isn’t wedded to the extremes of the right. For instance, he says such things as:

The United States seems to have a not-so-secret death cult that believes that the angry god known as the Second Amendment must be periodically propitiated through ritual child sacrifice….

…and…

You know, it used to be that Republicans weren’t all bonkers on this subject. I remember George H.W. Bush quitting the National Rifle Association over some outrageous comments it made back in the 1990s — and the N.R.A. actually apologizing to him. I also remember when people could support the general principle of a right to bear arms without thinking it was a limitless principle, just as conservatives used to claim to appreciate the idea that rights had to carry corresponding responsibilities in a sane and civilized society….

Between her usual wisecracks (which make her fun to read), Gail seizes the opportunity to try to move her colleague a bit further in the direction of agreement:

Once again, we are in accord. But let me push a bit. If the real problem is mental health, isn’t it time to produce a big, bipartisan, Senate-ready bill appropriating a serious amount of money for mental-health treatment? Something that would let teachers, counselors, sports coaches and other caring authority figures easily summon up services for troubled kids?..

And it works, because Bret responds, “Sign me up for that. It should be a national priority, especially postpandemic.”

Bret Stephens

No, this isn’t a classic pro-gun-vs.-anti-gun debate. But that’s because they are intelligent, thinking people, not flat cut-outs who think it helps somehow to yell at each other. I bring it to your attention as much as anything to invite you to read these “Conversatons” regularly, if you can get past the paywall. (I subscribe, so I don’t have that problem. I assure you I have found the subscription worthwhile, although it’s not cheap.)

For a more stark contrast, check out “We Clerked for Justices Scalia and Stevens. America Is Getting Heller Wrong.” It’s written by Kate Shaw (who clerked for Stevens) and

Their subject is District of Columbia v. Heller, “in which the court held for the first time that the Second Amendment protected an individual right to gun ownership.”

They both revere their former bosses, and they disagree to this day on their interpretations of the 2nd Amendment:

We continue to hold very different views about both gun regulation and how the Constitution should be interpreted. Kate believes in a robust set of gun safety measures to reduce the unconscionable number of shootings in this country. John is skeptical of laws that would make criminals out of millions of otherwise law-abiding citizens who believe that firearm ownership is essential to protecting their families, and he is not convinced that new measures like bans on widely owned firearms would stop people who are willing to commit murder from obtaining guns.

Kate Shaw

Kate believes that Justice Stevens’s dissent in Heller provided a better account of both the text and history of the Second Amendment and that in any event, the method of historical inquiry the majority prescribes should lead to the court upholding most gun safety measures, including the New York law pending before the Supreme Court. John believes that Heller correctly construed the original meaning of the Second Amendment and is one of the most important decisions in U.S. history. We disagree about whether Heller should be extended to protect citizens who wish to carry firearms outside the home for self-defense and, if so, how states may regulate that activity — issues that the Supreme Court is set to decide in the New York case in the next month or so….

But they agree on one important thing: That Americans, from lawmakers to the rest of us, have misunderstood Heller, and seen it as a barrier to effective gun control, which it should not be.

Heller does not totally disable government from passing laws that seek to prevent the kind of atrocities we saw in Uvalde, Texas. And we believe that politicians on both sides of the aisle have (intentionally or not) misconstrued Heller. Some progressives, for example, have blamed the Second Amendment, Heller or the Supreme Court for atrocities like Uvalde. And some conservatives have justified contested policy positions merely by pointing to Heller, as if the opinion resolved the issues.

Neither is fair. Rather, we think it’s clear that every member of the court on which we clerked joined an opinion — either majority or dissent — that agreed that the Constitution leaves elected officials an array of policy options when it comes to gun regulation….

They go on to quote Scalia himself in mentioning measures are not at all prevented by Heller, and that could be quite effective in preventing horrific shootings.

John Bash

Anyway, I urge you to read it if you can. I think it’s a very helpful piece, and particularly hope lawmakers on both sides of the issue will read it and learn from it.

This is the way grownups talk about difficult issues — not yelling to try to shut each other up — but looking for the ways forward to solutions.

I’m going to try to be more alert than ever to such examples, and share them with you, to the extent that I can…

Can ‘baby steps’ keep guns from killing babies?

By Don Holloway via Wikimedia Commons

As y’all know, I seldom write about gun control. That’s because I have long seen the problem as hopeless. We have another mass killing, and we talk about various legislative proposals — background checks, red flag laws, whatever — and the “remedies” seem like nothing compared to what they’re up against.

What they are up against is a number: 400 million. That’s how many guns we have in this country in private hands. We have 329.5 million people, and 400 million guns. As long as that is the case, anybody who is really set on getting his hands on a gun — including the monsters who have the urge to go shoot up a school — will be able to get one. It’s an economic problem: Too many lunatics chasing too many guns.

And of course, reducing the number of guns is just the most extreme, most politically impossible gun control measure of all. It’s the “horrible” thing that the most extreme defenders of the bloody status quo raise to argue against even discussing doing anything about the problem: They want to take our guns!

Of course, sensible people who want to do something always immediately say, Oh no! We don’t want to do that! as they trot out another idea for incremental change. Another idea that, in my view, will do nothing to prevent something like what happened in Uvalde, Texas.

But I’d love it if y’all could convince me I’m wrong, because God knows we’ve got to do something. And it seems the place to start would be at a point that lies somewhere in the vicinity of being politically possible.

Nicholas Kristof has tried to convince me a couple of times lately. Remember how I mentioned running across a column from him in another recent post? Well, that column was headlined “These Gun Reforms Could Save 15,000 Lives. We Can Achieve Them.” A headline like that sort of demands that a pessimist like me listen to what he has to say. Because while we might not save everybody, it would be profoundly worthwhile to save 15,000 lives. Which would be about a third of annual gun deaths.

After I saw that, I listened to a Kara Swisher podcast in which her guests were Kristof and another guy named Frank Smyth. I wasn’t familiar with Smyth — a gun enthusiast who isn’t afraid of gun control, and author of The N.R.A.: the Unauthorized History — but he seemed to be a pessimist along the same lines as me:

There’s no — I don’t see any hope for gun reform now despite this disgusting shooting and these series of shootings and the racist shootings and other shootings by incels and others by different motivations, but the common denominator is easy access to guns….

Kristof disagreed. He thinks taking what Smyth called “baby steps” is worthwhile:

I would say that when you’re already 400 million guns out there, then simply dealing with new guns has limited effect, but you were critiquing baby steps. And I just wanted to speak in favor of baby steps.

I think of a model for — whenever I write about gun policy, then people — I get hostile emails. People say, look, cars kill about as many Americans each year as guns do, and you don’t ban cars. No, but cars are a great example of the public health approach that we should be taking with firearms, and since 1921, we’ve managed to reduce the fatality rate per 100 million miles driven with motor vehicles by more than 90 percent. And it was no one thing. It was a whole series of baby steps. It was — [“seatbelts,” Kara Swisher interrupts to say, before Kristof resumes] — It was airbags. It was padded dashboards. It was divided highways, better lighting. It was roundabouts rather than left turns, and the graduated driver’s license, crackdowns on drunk driving. And I think in the same way that there are baby steps in the world of firearms that they’re not going to be transformative overnight, but I think they are politically feasible. And I think they would save lives and, perhaps, turn the trajectory around…

That makes a great deal of sense to me. Kristof almost always does. Which is why I hope he’ll soon be back at the NYT on a regular basis.

Kristof is very consistently what I strive and too often fail to be.

All my life, I’ve believed in reasoning with people, that’s it’s something that makes a difference. It’s a belief that our system is based upon here in this country. And too few people believe in it now, which is why the system is falling apart.

This belief is what undergirded my newspaper career, and it’s what this blog is about. It’s about having a place where people with different views can discuss issues in a civil and constructive manner. It’s been an uphill battle making that happen since I started blogging 17 years ago, and it’s gotten worse lately.

But I’m going to keep trying. Nicholas Kristof keeps trying, even after he was barred from running for office after he gave up a spectacularly successful career in order to do so. He’s a guy who says things like this:

This will be painful for many of my fellow liberals, but I suggest that we work harder to engage centrists, talk about “gun safety” rather than “gun control,” and jump into the weeds. Social scientists suggest “complexifying” an issue to reduce polarization, and, sure enough, I find that I can (sometimes) have productive conversations with gun enthusiasts if we focus on technocratic details….

A guy like that is worth listening to, worth engaging with. And thanks to him, I’m going to try to be more optimistic on gun control. Saving a third of the people who die unnecessarily due to guns in this country is a worthwhile objective. Saving just one of those children who were murdered the other day would absolutely have been worthwhile.

So I’m willing to try. How about you? As Kristof says in his column:

The truth is that we’re not going to ban guns in the United States any more than we ban alcohol, motorcycles, hunting knives, cigarettes or other products that can be deadly. Screaming, maximalist fights about “gun control” versus the “Second Amendment” have created a political stalemate as we continue to lose 45,000 lives a year to guns. That’s 123 lives lost a day.

This does not happen in other countries. Japan typically loses a single-digit number of people to gun murders in a year; we lost twice that in a single school on Tuesday…

So let’s do something…

DeMarco: Democrats, Let’s Elect Tom Rice

The Op-Ed Page

Tom Rice

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

Tom Rice and I have different political philosophies. On many controversial issues, we disagree. Yet, I have never felt more strongly about voting for a candidate than I do about voting for him.

This election cycle, rather than focusing on individual races, my goal is to do my part to repair American democracy. After being rammed broadside by Donald Trump and his acolytes, our ship of state is listing. What can I, as a single voter, do to repair the breach?

My answer is to elect Tom Rice. In South Carolina, voters can participate in whichever primary election they choose. I generally, although not always, vote in the Democratic primary since the traditional goals of the party, such as expanding access to health care and education, protecting the planet, and supporting the advancement of previously marginalized people, align with my values as a citizen and a Christian.

This election, there is no greater good than to stymie Trump-endorsed candidates. This is not because they have the same policy positions as Trump. The conservative agenda that Trump advocated during his presidency must be part of the American debate. Many of Trump’s policies, such as lower taxes, less regulation, gun rights, restricting abortion and immigration, and renegotiating trade deals, can be robustly defended. But Donald Trump the man is a threat to our country. He came within a whisker of upending our nearly 250-year-old tradition of orderly transfers of power. If Mike Pence had capitulated to his demands and failed to certify the electoral votes on January 6th, we would have faced a constitutional crisis unlike any this country has seen.

Rice’s strongest opponent, Russell Fry, a state legislator from Horry County, is a Trump lackey. He dutifully recites the lie that Trump won the 2020 election and if a similar circumstance were to arise in 2024, he would undoubtedly choose to overturn a fair election in order to seat his party’s candidate.

While many politicians on both sides lack spine, the invertebrate nature of Republican officeholders and candidates since Trump was elected has been noteworthy. Even more extraordinary, rather than being celebrated for upholding the Constitution, Rice and others who voted to impeach Donald Trump are being drummed out of the party.

I have been politically active for more than 40 years. Until recently, I had confidence that the vast majority of our elected leaders, regardless of party, had an unwavering commitment to democracy. It was a given that the will of the people would be respected, that presidential candidates who had lost even the closest of elections, as Al Gore did in 2000, would, once their legal challenges had concluded, encourage their countrymen and women to put aside their divisions and come together behind the victor. After the Supreme Court had rendered its decision in Bush v. Gore, Gore said “partisan rancor must now be put aside…for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession.”

That centuries-old understanding of presidential decorum changed with Trump. After his legal challenges had been exhausted, Trump encouraged his supporters to rally on January 6th, hoping the crowd would do for him what the courts would not. He waited in silence for three hours as a mob attempted violently to overturn the election. When he finally sent out a video asking them to disperse, he said, “We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election, and everyone knows it… We love you. You’re very special.” Trump’s behavior that day was mendacious, despicable, and impeachable. Tom Rice recognized that.

If you are a Democrat, you may worry about not participating in your usual primary. However, this June 14, the pickings are slim on the Democratic side. No Democrat opted to challenge Rice. In the statewide races on the ballot that day, Democrats fielded candidates for only three of six positions: governor, state superintendent of education, and U.S. Senate. Odds are that none of the Democratic primary victors will win in November. Please check your local city and county races (you may have to call your voter registration office about these). Fortunately for me, there are no local Democrats that I support up for re-election. But even if there were, there is nothing more important to me than voting for Rice. Almost certainly Rice will make a runoff, most likely against Fry. Having voted in the Republican primary, I will be eligible to vote in the runoff. Remember, if you vote in the Democratic primary, you cannot vote in a Republican runoff.

It’s easy to take votes that are both popular and good for the country. But the true measure of officeholders is what they do when forced to choose between the two. Rice, Pence and a few of their Republican colleagues showed courage in the aftermath of the January 6 attack, for which we should all be grateful. Republicans, Democrats, and independents, I urge you to re-elect Tom Rice.

A version of this column appeared in the Florence Morning News on 5/25/22. I have no affiliation with the Rice campaign and had no communication with it before the column was published.

I’m dumber than ever, but still a winner, folks!

Things are increasingly weird over at the Slate News Quiz.

For the third week in a row, I have been declared a “winner” for having scored higher than the designated staff ringer. Each time, I have done this in spite of having scored below the reader average.

And this week, I outdid myself. I’m pretty sure I scored my worst grade ever, by a substantial margin — 182 points. Really. However, Senior Advice Editor Paola de Varona had, amazingly, only scored 139. I am not making this up, as Dave Barry would say. Meanwhile, the average slob out there had scored 302 points — pathetically low, but a genius level compared to Paola and yours truly.

And I had started out so well! I got all of the first three (out of 12) right, and done so very quickly. I felt I was on my way, maybe, to a record high…

And then I got only one of the next nine questions right! You’ve gotta be impressed by that, right?

I think it’s time Slate took a long, hard look at the quiz. Maybe they’ll realize that they need to start asking questions about things that reasonably observant people can be expected to know. Here are some of the questions I missed:

  • The U.K. government has granted permission for the sale of the Chelsea soccer team to Todd Boehly for more than $5 billion. Boehly is also the co-owner of which Major League Baseball team? Really? I’m supposed to not only know who is buying a British soccer team, but I need to know further trivia about him?
  • Which actress has been selected to receive the 2022 Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre at the June 12 awards ceremony? First, it’s an awards show, and I don’t follow those. Second, it’s the Tonys, and if I followed an awards show, it wouldn’t be that one. Third, and I stress this, it hasn’t even happened yet!
  • Researchers have developed which gene-edited plant that may provide a new vegan source of vitamin D? I don’t know about you, but I have a condition that causes my brain to turn off when I see the word, “vegan.”
  • Which petroleum company’s annual shareholder meeting was interrupted by dozens of climate protesters chanting slogans and holding banners? It could have been ANY of them, right? Is this not a routine occurrence when oil shareholders meet? This is so dog-bites-man, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the protest was on the official agenda of the meeting.

And so forth. I had kinda followed the news. But not this stuff. And obviously, based on everyone’s horrible scores, I’m not alone on this…