Why is this snake all crinkly?

This guy was in our backyard yesterday. Actually, my wife says he’s out there a lot. It is a considerable understatement to say that she spends a lot more time outdoors than I do, so she would know.

Of course, he might be a she. I have zero idea on that. Fortunately, it’s the official style of this blog to use the inclusive “he” for reptiles. I’m still allowed to do that, right? I don’t want to tick off any feminist snakes or anything.

Beyond that, I’m pretty sure he’s harmless. Sure enough not to kill him, anyway. Of course, how reliable is the opinion of someone who can’t tell the difference between male and female?

If y’all know what it is, tell me. In advance, though, I’m not going to trust the expertise of any of y’all who told me that copperhead was nonvenomous awhile back.

Actually, I might do what I did then, and send it to Rudy Mancke. But not so much to ask him the species. What I want to ask him is, Why is this snake all crinkly? I mean, why is his body all compressed in a sort of sawtooth pattern? Kind of weird-looking. Is he just tense because I’m standing next to him (although he looked like this from a distance)? Is he about to shed his skin or something? Is this some variation on coiling — is he contemplating springing forward dramatically? Or does he not feel well?

I dunno. I dunno much about Nature, as I said in my second post about the copperhead. I really need to learn more. We all do…

Yes, we do have a ‘scorn problem’…

Thought I’d share this op-ed piece I found in the NYT this morning.

It’s pretty much dead-on in describing the problem, as I frequently try to point out here on the blog. I also try to address the problem by providing a civil forum for discussion — a project that is, at best, a work in progress. Ahem…

Anyway, the headline is “America Has a Scorn Problem.” Here’s an excerpt:

A Scientific American report on political polarization noted that Americans increasingly hold “a basic abhorrence for their opponents — an ‘othering’ in which a group conceives of its rivals as wholly alien in every way.” It continues, “This toxic form of polarization has fundamentally altered political discourse, public civility and even the way politicians govern.” A 2019 study by Pew said, “55 percent of Republicans say Democrats are ‘more immoral’ when compared with other Americans; 47 percent of Democrats say the same about Republicans.”

We find one another repugnant — not just wrong but bad. Our rhetoric casts the arguments of others as profound moral failings….

Please read it, and discuss. With a minimum of scorn, if you can manage that… (Oops; was I being a little scornful there myself? I hope not, because I’m very concerned, and discouraged, about the problem…)

The lady writes from a religious, clerical perspective (starting with a parable from the Gospel of Luke). I do that sometimes myself. Although I don’t think you have to be a believer to act like a grownup in dealing with other people. For that matter, I’d really like to see some of our “Christian” brethren learn to get along better, with each other as well as others.

Anyway, seems to me she’s with Jesus on this point. And I’m with both of them. At least, I try to be…

Changes for the coming primary

Yes, there’s a primary in June.

And our friend Lynn has been out there working hard to try to help us participate in it more fully, as citizens should do.

So I thought I’d share this release she sent out today:

MDW SC Update: Big Changes for June Primaries

The State Election Commission (SEC) has announced Act 165 changes in place for June primaries at https://www.scvotes.gov/early-voting-now-effect-june-primariesChanges have not been made consistently throughout the SEC website, so this page should be considered accurate when there are conflicts within www.scvotes.gov or with county websites. Everyone is doubtless scrambling to make changes.

The major changes in in-person voters affecting voters now:

  • Excused absentee in-person voting is no longer authorized in SC law.
  • No-excuse in-person voting will begin on Tuesday, May 31 and continue through  Friday, June 10. Early voting locations will be closed Saturday and Sunday, June 4-5.
  • Early voting locations will include county election offices. Additional locations will be posted by all counties to www.scvotes.govby May 24.
  • Early voting for June Runoffs will be held Wednesday, June 22 through Friday, June 24, at the same hours and locations as the primaries.

Excused absentee voting by mail will be open to all voters with disabilities, those 65 or over, members of the Armed Forces and their families residing with them, and voters admitted to the hospital on an emergency basis within four days of election day.

Others who may vote by mail are those who are unable to vote in person during both the two-week early in-person voting period and election day due to employment, caretaking responsibilities, incarceration, or other absence from the county of primary residence.

SEC indicates that new witness requirements for mail absentee ballots will not go into effect until the General Election in November. (Ballot materials are doubtless already at the printers.)

In November, and even now, we encourage voters who can do so to use the in-person early voting option, which presents far fewer opportunities for technical defects in applications or ballots, or just slow USPS, to lead to an inability to vote or a ballot that isn’t counted. (Legislators declined to require notice-and-cure so that voters could correct technical defects.)

Please read the SCVotes announcement at https://www.scvotes.gov/early-voting-now-effect-june-primariesfor more details.

Anyone with questions about other provisions of the new legislation should consult the final version of Act 165 at https://www.scstatehouse.gov/sess124_2021-2022/bills/108.htm.

Also, stay tuned for SEC announcements regarding public input into regulations to be developed under the new law. The new law requires regulations that will dictate consistency between county election offices and also regulate our organizations involved in voter services. It is a very important provision of South Carolina law that regulations must be developed with public input!

Lynn Shuler Teague
VP for Issues and Action, LWVSC

I agree, but do such signs make for good neighbors?

Here’s an interesting twist on the whole business of posting political signs, a practice that you know I have embraced since 2018.

I hope the Post doesn’t mind my using the image above — after all, I’m using it to encourage people to go read the whole story, which is headlined, “Battling yard signs on a quiet corner in Alexandria.”

Anyway, obviously, I agree with the sign on the right. As you know, if I’m about anything, it’s about expressing oneself at op-ed or greater length, not via bumper stickers. And the collection of blunt, emotion-invoking blurbs in the sign on the left is definitely in bumper-sticker mode.

But it’s still not enough to make sure viewers understand what the homeowner is saying, is it?

Hence this passage from the story:

They started to wonder what that second sign, available on Etsy for $31.95, was supposed to say. Was it a direct rebuke of the idea that all were welcome in their community? Was it an attack on the messaging of the Democratic Party, which often uses such phrases as rallying cries? Or was it just trying to be funny?

Either way, many neighbors said, the dueling yard signs made public a sort of tension that is rarely articulated in an area proud of its understated brand of liberalism….

Speaking of that bit about “liberalism”… The contrast between the sign on the left and the one on the right helps illustrate a point I frequently make in passing on the blog, and which is frequently misunderstood. The sign on the left illustrates a “woke” approach — a “ones and zeroes” way of looking at the world, making emotional arguments that set up a dynamic in which one can conveniently condemn anyone who fails to agree 100 percent. The other is more of a “liberal” approach, inviting a dialogue that could, if one is optimistic (and liberalism is optimistic), lead to people on opposite sides of an issue understanding each other and maybe even finding some things to agree upon.

Unfortunately, in this case, there was no such dialogue:

The 33-year-old man, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect his privacy, said he moved into his townhouse on Oronoco Street in January and noticed the “Black Lives Matter” sign in an adjacent front yard. He worried it spoke for his property, too, and wanted to separate himself from the words that he felt oversimplified issues that should be discussed with nuance.

So naturally, he googled “political yard signs” and looked for a placard for his side of the yard. He found one on Etsy that perfectly expressed his beliefs, soon placing the “Simplistic Platitudes” poster on his side of the grass. He said he tried to position it as far away from his neighbor’s as possible — out of respect.

A few weeks later, the third sign appeared countering his reply, and the man realized his sign might have bothered his neighbor. But he said they never talked about it, nor did he ever try to engage them on the cultural issues he thought were better addressed in person.

“We didn’t talk a whole lot before the signs,” he said. “But I admit, I don’t think the signs were a positive step there.”…

Yeah, probably not. That’s too bad. Fortunately, the neighbor says, “we are on pleasant terms with our neighbors.”

So maybe there’s still time for talking to each other…

Well, then… I don’t wanna be king.

What’s the main thing you do at a medieval feast? Or a Viking feast, for that matter?

You hoist a joint of meat up to your mouth with one hand and chomp down on it with great relish. That’s the main point of the feast. Oh, there are other activities, such as drinking ale or mead from a horn so that you have to drink it all before you put it down, or pulling serving wenches down upon your lap and laughing “haw, haw, haw!”

All of which, of course, is often frowned upon today, often with good reason. But I’m here to stick up for the savage-eating-of meat-thing, which more and more people try to discourage us from doing.

And now meddling scientists have gotten in on the act:

(CNN)Meat-heavy banquets have long been thought to be a common feature of early medieval life for England’s kings and nobles, who are often depicted feasting on legs of animal flesh and knocking back goblets of ale in the great halls of their realm.

However, a new study that examined the dietary signatures contained in bones of more than 2,000 skeletons has cast doubt on this assumption, finding that most Anglo-Saxons ate a diet rich in cereals and vegetables and low in animal protein — no matter what their social status.

Archaeologists were able to glean this information by analyzing the presence of different isotopes, or variants, of the elements carbon and nitrogen in bone collagen. Bones preserve an isotopic record of the different types of food an individual consumed over time. The study mainly looked at ribs, which represent a period of 10 years before a person’s death….

This is discouraging. I mean, what’s the point of being a king if you can’t display appalling table manners while enjoying a joint?

If this is true, then when I get a time machine, I may go to some other period instead. There’s always ancient Rome, but I don’t want to have to eat while lying down…

Yeah, I ‘won,’ but I’m still below average

Unable to resist the impulse to constantly humiliate myself, I take the Slate News Quiz most Fridays. Since it’s timed, which I hate, it only takes a moment.

And sometimes, when I do slightly better than usual, I share the result with y’all.

Today is one of those days. As you see, I defeated the “senior editor” who was this week’s star contestant.

But I still lagged behind the average reader. Of course, I suspect that a lot of them are hiding behind their anonymity and cheating. I just don’t know how.

This test is ridiculous, though. Seriously — I’m supposed to know which of four weird names starting with Z is that of the racehorse that “is the early favorite to win this year’s Kentucky Derby?”

I wish they’d stick to actual, relevant news that serious people could be expected to know. Of course, even then, I’d often miss because of the time pressure. I’m not a quick-draw artist. I have to think about things.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering how senior you have to be to be a “senior” editor at Slate, the answer is “about 29, apparently.” Whenever I see the title “senior something” next to a picture of a kid, I look that kid up. She graduated from college in 2015, so she’s probably about 29, but I can’t know for sure, can I?

We old guys are pathetic, aren’t we?…

Yep, I’m supporting Micah Caskey

Here’s the sign Micah put in my yard, and I’m fine with it. But I wish he’d picked a spot where my lawn looked better.

Ken misunderstood something earlier. He said the presence of the Micah Caskey ad you see at right was “apparently an endorsement.” No, no, no. That’s just an ad.

An endorsement would be, well… something like that sign I have for him in my yard, shown above. I didn’t put it there. But I did ask Micah recently when he was going to have signs available, and then one day earlier this week, this one appeared. And I’m fine with it. In putting it up, he was just doing what I would have done myself.

Not the same as the endorsements I used to do in the paper, but close enough, given my present circumstances. In the old days, I wouldn’t have endorsed him without talking to his opponent — or at least trying to (some people — like Hillary Clinton in 2008 — decline to come in).

This time — well, I’ve yet to see a lot from Micah’s opponent one way or the other. I had looked at her Facebook page, and as I was writing this, I finally looked again and saw a link to her campaign Facebook page, which led me to her actual campaign site. I don’t know why my usual approach — Googling “Melanie Shull for House” — didn’t work. Maybe she hasn’t had a lot of traffic. Anyway, I don’t know the lady; I haven’t met her. I just haven’t seen any reasons to support her over Micah. And I have seen some reasons not to. But I’m still looking, and listening.

My support for Micah goes back a ways. I’m not talking about the fact that Micah’s grandfather and great-grandfather were good friends with my mother and her family in Bennettsville long before I was born. Although that’s true enough.

I just mean — well, the stuff I’ve told y’all in the past. If you’ll recall, I briefly considered running for this seat myself when Kenny Bingham left it. But in doing my due diligence first, I met Micah, and decided not only that I really liked him and agreed with him on a bunch of things (in fact, on most things we talked about), but that he was a way stronger candidate than I would have been. I also liked his strongest primary opponent Tem Miles, although I preferred Micah.

Since then, I’ve had a lot of interactions with Micah, and have been pleased — mostly by the intelligent, straightforward way he approaches whatever subject we talk about, and his evident desire to serve all the people of South Carolina, not just this or that ideological clique. Do I agree with him on everything? Nope. And as the Republican Party has gotten crazier, and he has tried to keep his seat in spite of it, there have been more things I disagree with him on — such as the guns legislation last year. I went into that with him, and with y’all, in some detail at the time.

Ken mentioned some other things today. As did Doug. Well, I might disagree with Micah on some, but not all, of those things, too…

Interestingly, when I was at this point in writing this post last night, I got a phone call from a number that called itself CASKEY4STATEHOU. It was a sort of cross between a poll and an appeal for support. I think. The connection was very poor — which might be the fault of my hearing aids, or something — and I asked the guy to hang up and call back. But I didn’t hear from him again.

One of the few clear parts of the conversation was when he asked me whether I’d consider putting a sign for Micah in my yard, and I said, to put it the way John Cleese would, We’ve already got one.”

Anyway, after that call, I called Micah and we talked a bit. We spoke a little about the medical cannabis thing. I heard nothing one way or the other on that to make up my mind.

We talked more about this contested primary race he’s in. He didn’t have a lot of info about his opponent to share, although he did send me a video that he said was of her speaking at a “Moms for Liberty” event. In the video, she alludes to her reasoning for running. She doesn’t really have anything bad to say about Micah, beyond an assertion that he is not sufficiently “for the people.” Which I take to mean he fails to be ideologically pure, although it’s not entirely clear.

She is clearer about her strong opposition to Satan and his doings in the world. I’m with her on opposing that guy, but I fail to see what that has to do with this election. I think you have to be fully on board with her views of the world, and her own definition of what it means to be “Christian,” to get it. I believe she’s very sincere about her beliefs, but they are not the same as my own, so there’s a gap there.

To give you a sampling of her views, the latest post on her campaign Facebook page declares:

I will fight to halt the creeping and insidious integration of Critical Race Theory into SC’s education system. No child should be taught that they are defined by their skin color or ethnicity.

I completely agree with the second sentence of that. I could probably write a book on the first sentence. I haven’t really gotten into it here on the blog because I would pretty much have to write a book to explain what I think, as opposed to the ones-and-zeroes debate over CRT that is consuming so much oxygen these days. It’s gotten to be about enough fun to talk about as abortion.

On her campaign website, she says:

Melanie will be a voice for the silent majority suffering at the hands of cancel culture, government overreach, and progressive policies which threaten our freedom, our values, and our families.

That’s from her “issues” page. Anyway, I’m planning with an undivided mind to leave Micah’s sign up, and I plan to vote for him in June. And no, I don’t plan to give him his money back for the ad, either….

Of Micah, I say what I have for the several years since I met him. He’s a smart guy, and a fine American. He’s a good representative, one of the best. Some of y’all don’t like some of the stands he’s taken, but I actually admire him for some others. Here’s one where I was particularly proud to have him as my rep. And, of course, I’ve always appreciated his having served his country in combat as a Marine officer. To me, he’s very much a representative “for the people” — for all of us.

And now, you’re seeing him face something that the few reasonable Republicans left in our country are wise to fear — someone running to the right of them in a primary. (Cue another discussion of how gerrymandering is ruining our republic.) Here’s hoping he gets re-elected anyway. Because he’s a good guy, and a good rep.

Here, by the way, is Micah’s website. The ad also links to it.

Here’s that video he sent me of his opponent, in which I think (the audio is poor) she says she is at Maurice’s BBQ joint speaking to Moms for Liberty. By the way, if you saw this post last night and didn’t see it later, that’s because I realized just before going to bed that the video, which I mentioned above, hadn’t posted. So I switched it back to draft mode, then this morning added the video, and did some editing of the sort of free-association prose that was here originally…

Centrifugal bumble-puppy, and other games

My grandfather’s team, circa 1910. That’s him squatting at the far right of the seated row. Notice that in those days, they didn’t even bother to go out and buy matching uniforms. They just came and played ball.

Over the weekend, I was out running errands after a long day of working in the yard, and I decided it would be a good day for us to have a takeout dinner. So once that plan was approved by headquarters, I called La Fogata and placed the order. I was told it would take 20 minutes.

I was easily within five minutes of the restaurant, so I drove in the other direction, looking for a way to kill time. I decided to visit the park behind North Side Middle School, and see what was going on there — I figured that this time of year, there’d be some action on one or more of the ballfields.

I was right. I drove through the parking lot, and had to pick my way slowly and carefully because of all the boys, who were generally within a couple of years of 12 I’d guess, and parents who were apparently returning to their cars after a game that had just ended.

And then I noticed something: Their progress back to their cars, and my progress through them, were both impeded by the gear they were hauling. And by the elaborate gear for hauling that gear.

The most cumbersome were the wheeled contraptions that held bags, coolers, bats and such. They looked like people preparing to sell things from a barrow. Those were the most noticeable, but everyone had an unusual amount of gear. The lightest were elaborate, specialized backpacks many of the players were wearing. The packs seemed full, and each had two bats sticking up from the pack, one on each side.

Back in the day, when I played ball, you brought yourself and your mitt to the game, and that was it. (Unless, of course, you were the catcher.) The coach would have a duffel bag full of bats and balls, and sometimes conscientious players (who were perhaps eager for more playing time) would help the coach by carrying that bag from coach’s car to the dugout.

But now, every player or player’s parent I saw was hauling at least as much as the coach would once have, and often more. I don’t even know what some of that stuff they were carrying and pulling was. But there was a very great deal of it.

Of course, all this brought to mind one of the books I’ve been rereading lately instead of the books I was supposed to read this year: Huxley’s Brave New World. If you’ll recall, in this super hyped-up extrapolation of Western consumer culture, all the games — like centrifugal bumple-puppy, and electromagnetic golf — require elaborate, expensive, easily-broken equipment to play. Everyone is conditioned from birth to want to play these games at every opportunity. Not to keep themselves in shape or exercise sportsmanship, but to keep them buying the stuff.

And I got to thinking about the various social influences that must have been at work over recent decades to convince these kids, and parents, that they had to have all this stuff to play baseball. Huxley had sleep-conditioning to bring about this effect. I don’t know what happened with these folks.

We used to have this wonderful, simple, pastoral game called baseball. Originally, there weren’t even gloves. Just a ball and a stick for everyone to share. And even after the gloves came along, for a long time players would leave them out in the field while batting rather than carry them back and forth to the dugout.

No more. Now there’s all this junk, and all this hauling back and forth. And don’t even get me started on the designated hitter…

Two generations later — about 1969. That’s me in the back, standing next to the coach on the far left. By this time the uniforms matched, but we mostly only brought those and our gloves.

DeMarco: Lindsey Graham, the weathervane of the New Republican Party

The man who was: 26 March 2013

The Op-Ed Page

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

In September 2009, I attended a town hall meeting in the gymnasium of Francis Marion University featuring Lindsey Graham. It was about six weeks after the confirmation of Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Graham was the only Republican senator on the Judiciary Committee to vote for her and one of nine Republicans to vote in favor in the full Senate. When he took questions from the audience, an older man sitting behind me in the bleachers stood and grimly asked, “Why did you vote for that judge,” and here he paused to derisively enunciate each syllable, “SOH-TOH-MAAY-ORR”

Rather than try to placate his disappointed supporter, Graham forcefully rebutted him. “Elections have consequences,” he shot back. “If you don’t want liberal judges on the court, then elect a Republican president. I don’t agree with Justice Sotomayor’s judicial philosophy, but my job as a senator is to determine whether she is qualified. She is qualified, so I voted for her.”

Of the many conversations I have heard and participated in with my elected representatives, this exchange stands out as one of the best. Graham had a chance to dodge or pander; instead he was truthful and forthright.

Back then Graham was keeping company with another maverick senator, John McCain, and although they are both more conservative than I, I admired their respect for their office and their roles as guardians of our democracy.

I was also heartened by Graham’s eviscerations of Donald Trump during his short-lived presidential campaign in 2015. Back when he was speaking his mind he said things like, “You know how you make America great again? Tell Donald Trump to go to hell,” and “He’s a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.” He also tweeted “I also cannot in good conscience support Donald Trump because I do not believe he is a reliable Republican conservative nor has he displayed the judgment and temperament to serve as Commander in Chief.” That statement strikes me as remarkable for two reasons. First, for its eerie prescience in light of the January 6th attack. Second, for Graham’s complete abandonment of his own good advice: after Trump’s election, he became one of the president’s closest allies.

Many commentators have rightly criticized Graham for his lack of integrity. But, if you agree with the premise that we get the leaders we deserve, then Graham is not the only one at fault. Elections, as Graham once frequently reminded us, do have consequences. We could have elected Graham as president. A Graham-Clinton match-up in 2016 would have been an interesting and difficult choice for me. But our enthusiasms and our votes buoyed other candidates in the 2016 Republican primary. Graham never polled above 1% and dropped out in December 2015. I saw most of the remaining front-runners as they came through Florence in early 2016 including Kasich, Carson, Rubio, Cruz and Trump. Trump’s crowd almost filled Florence Center, holding as many supporters as all his rivals combined and more.

Graham got the message: he could no longer speak his mind about Trump and remain a senator. The Republican Party had moved far enough from him, especially from his conciliatory and bipartisan approach on immigration, that he risked a successful challenge by a conservative Trump supporter in the 2020 primary if he didn’t move with the party.

If you are a Democrat, you should take this as a lesson. In 2016, Democrats flirted with an extremely progressive candidate in Bernie Sanders, a man who described himself as a democratic socialist. The farther to the edge your standard bearers are, the harder it is for idiosyncratic politicians like Graham to remain true to themselves.

Do we want our parties to be cults of personality in which the thing that trumps (ironic that that’s the right word here) all is one’s allegiance to the party leader? How have we come to the place that acquiescing to Trump’s lie that he won the 2020 election is the current Republican litmus test?

The wholesale transformation of the Republican party is summed up in Graham’s suppression of his better instincts by voting against the nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson. It’s worth noting that just last year, Graham voted to confirm Jackson as a judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Washington, D.C. Circuit. That was an under-the-radar vote that he knew few of his base would notice. But with the voters watching, he renounced the principle that had guided him for more than two decades and voted against her.

If you are a Republican, understand how I offer this assessment. My hope is for both parties to be strong. My desire is that Republicans will right the ship and recognize their mistake in supporting a president who is actively threatening the fabric of our democracy (which, I fear, is more delicate than I learned in school).

Our country is more secure and more likely to thrive when the two parties allow representatives to vote their consciences. Demanding ideological purity creates parties for which compromise is impossible and intransigence is perversely celebrated. Since absolute victory is rare in policy debates, stymieing the opposition has become the accepted substitute for legislating. Democrats are not immune. Both parties have succumbed to such a rigid dichotomy on the issue of abortion that pro-life Democrats and pro-choice Republicans, once fairly common in Congress, are virtually extinct.

We cannot be party robots. Our future lies with men and women like Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney who put country over party. The Graham of old demonstrated similar laudable conviction. His recent choice to elevate his party over country has indelibly stained his legacy.

Paul DeMarco is a physician who resides in Marion, S.C. Reach him at pvdemarco@bellsouth.net. A version of this column appeared in the April 27th, 2022, edition of the Florence Morning News.

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Something about this made me think of this old clip, from May 15, 2007. It’s John McCain at an event in the Vista, calling Lindsey “that little jerk,” which was the way he frequently referred to friends and allies. But it’s the question that made me think of it: Where, indeed, is that little jerk? What happened to him?

The Roe decision leak

Since everywhere I turn, people are going on and on about this (I had to do a good bit of clicking to find stories that weren’t about this on my NPR phone app today) — even though it hasn’t actually happened yet — I’ll offer a few random thoughts about it:

First, why the leak? What exactly happened, and why? My first thought, of course, was that a pro-Roe clerk leaked it for any one of a number of reasons — to cast an aura of illegitimacy upon the decision by having it revealed unconventionally; to damage the court overall by tossing a grenade into the system of trust and discretion that has always been observed by those who work there; to try to exert direct and indirect pressure on justices to amend the decision by causing such a splash; and so forth. Or for that matter, someone on the other side thought, “This is going to be so huge that we should let people get used to the idea first.” But there doesn’t have to be a political angle. Someone might have simply been unable to keep a huge secret. Some people are like that. In any case, I hope Roberts can get to the bottom of it and make it amply clear such a thing is not ever to happen again. And of course, this is to be the end of the career of the perpetrator.

Democrats need to calm down. As you know, one of a number of reasons why I’m not a Democrat is this issue. It’s not simply that we disagree; it’s that they tend to be so rigid and adamant on the subject. The fury at any opposition to their position is over-the-top. And predictably, Democrats are saying a lot of foolish things, because they’re upset right now. As I have said every election year for the last few decades, the last thing we need this year is to have an election that is all about abortion. It’s also the last thing Democrats need. They need to stop talking like they absolutely don’t want a single person who disagrees with them on this to vote for them. Because if they keep it up, not a single one will (more or less). And Trumpism will be triumphant. I just wish I could get them to understand one thing: As adamant as their own base is, almost every word they utter to please that base alienates others who might have voted for them. If they could see what I see as a strongly pro-Biden Catholic, all this would be obvious. We wouldn’t even be talking about Trumpism, or whatever you want to call the insanity that has gripped the GOP, if it weren’t for the fact that — against all reason — about half of Catholics voted his way, because of the position that Democrats take on abortion. If not for that, and Trump’s willingness to exploit the situation, no Trumpist would ever be in hailing distance of an electoral victory.

What will happen next, legally? This is a subject I generally try to avoid because I believe far too much public conversation tries to make predictions, and we don’t know what’s going to happen. But to touch upon the subject — one of the ways some Dems are reacting is to say other Kulturkampf issues will now go the other side’s way — same-sex marriage and the like. Because, you know, that’s the way they think. Ones and zeroes. It seems more rational to think that issues actually related to the legal underpinnings of abortion would be on the line. Such as the imagined right to privacy that Griswold gave us. But we’ll see.

What will happen next, politically? Well, it’s going to be awful. In every state, and nationally.  (Even though it will become more of a state issue, do you think people on the national level are going to quiet down? They will not.) And it will be ugly, and it will go on and on, and no one will have the energy to expend breath on things we might be able to get people to agree upon, because they’re too busy shouting about the things that divide us the most. Of course, things have been this way for awhile.

I’ll stop now. I’m not even going to go into the substance of the draft decision, because I’m satisfied to wait and see the final decision. But I thought I’d provide a place for y’all to talk about it.

The Stupid Decade, and how it happened

Well, I just used up my last free read on The Atlantic — if I were to take out one more subscription, it might be that one, but I’ve really been overdoing it, so I’m holding myself back — and the piece was worth it.

One of y’all — was it Barry? — brought it to my attention the other day, and I just got around to reading the rest of it. The headline is, “WHY THE PAST 10 YEARS OF AMERICAN LIFE HAVE BEEN UNIQUELY STUPID.”

Which they have, as we all know. Or at least, all of us who were adults long enough before the last 10 years that we can tell the difference. If we were around that long, and really, truly paying attention, we know that a lot of really crazy stuff went down before the past 10 years, as a sort of a warmup, but we can tell that these last few have truly been stupid and yes, uniquely so.

Here’s a key bit that sort of sets up the piece. I include the subhed because always like to pat people on the back for citing Yeats. That poem has been profound since it was written, but more and more now the human race is living like we’re determined to act it out fully:

Things Fall Apart

Historically, civilizations have relied on shared blood, gods, and enemies to counteract the tendency to split apart as they grow. But what is it that holds together large and diverse secular democracies such as the United States and India, or, for that matter, modern Britain and France?

Social scientists have identified at least three major forces that collectively bind together successful democracies: social capital (extensive social networks with high levels of trust), strong institutions, and shared stories. Social media has weakened all three. To see how, we must understand how social media changed over time—and especially in the several years following 2009….

Yep, you see where it’s headed, right? We’re getting back to the Rabbit Hole.

And each time someone explores the Hole more thoroughly, I nod a little more, as it becomes clearer that this explains so much of what had been puzzling me since 2016.

You know that book I keep talking about, Sapiens? This piece makes similar observations, such as the fact that before all this stupidity, human history could be largely summed up by saying, “there is a direction to history and it is toward cooperation at larger scales.” Yep, there was. But this piece is about how things suddenly — extremely suddenly — went wrong.

I was rereading Sapiens a bit more today, and suddenly realized that Harari didn’t realize that this megatrend had hit a major snag. That’s because his book was written in 2011 (and came out in English in 2014). So the unique stupidity hadn’t kicked in yet. In fact, Jonathan Haidt, the author of this piece in The Atlantic, considers 2011 sort of the arguable “high point of techno-democratic optimism.” Then things fell apart.

Anyway, if you’re already with me on the whole Rabbit Hole thing, you don’t need to read all of this to be convinced — although you might enjoy it.

But I know some of you aren’t convinced yet, so I urge you to read the whole thing. Yeah, it’s more than 8,000 words, but as newsroom wags used to say about an overly long piece, it reads like 7,000….

Addressing the abominable conditions at Alvin S. Glenn

Attorney Stuart Andrews speaks at the press event Thursday.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Hey, y’all. Yeah, I know you haven’t seen a post in awhile. I’ve just been busy. A lot of stuff going on, some of it quite important. I thought I’d post an example. This is about a news story I’ve been helping an ADCO client with this week.

Just wanted to make sure you’ve seen the coverage of the lawsuit about the brutal conditions for detainees with disabilities (and for everyone else, although this legal action comes at it from this urgent perspective) at the Richland County jail.

Here’s an excerpt from The State’s story by Travis Bland, “Richland jail is ‘dangerous, inhumane’ in treatment of people with mental illness: lawsuit:”

Locked up in ‘moldy, filthy, infested’ cells, bitten by rats, and strapped to chairs so long they are ‘forced to urinate on themselves.’

These are some of the “dangerous, inhumane” ways people with mental illness detained at the Richland County jail have been treated, according to an extensive lawsuit filed Thursday morning.

Richland County is being sued in federal court by Disability Rights South Carolina, an advocacy group for people with disabilities. Attorneys Stuart Andrews, Nekki Shutt and Sarah J. M. Cox of the Burnett Shutt & McDaniel law firm are representing Disability Rights SC.

Detainees with mental illnesses at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center suffer cruel punishment and restraints; don’t get needed medication; aren’t properly supervised, even when on suicide watch, and are subjected to a heightened risk of harm because of “dangerously low staff levels,” the suit says. The lawsuit asks that the federal court take over the jail and oversee that Richland County implement fixes…

And this is from the version by Mike Fitts at the Post and Courier, “Mentally ill detainees face brutal conditions in Richland County jail, lawsuit alleges:”

COLUMBIA — Richland County’s jail subjects detainees with mental illnesses to brutal conditions including misuse of restraint chairs, shower stalls being used as cells and unsupervised solitary confinement, a federal lawsuit filed April 28 alleges.

The lawsuit, the latest in a series of issues at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center, has been filed to get the county to provide better care, not for financial gain, attorneys in the case said.

The special jail section where detainees with mental illnesses are kept at the jail is laden with mold, pests and standing water, thanks to broken plumbing, the attorneys allege….

Here is the full lawsuit as filed Thursday, and here is a press release about it. You can view video of the presser here. If you look at it, I call your attention in particular to what attorneys Stuart Andrews and Sarah J.M. Cox have to say. They add some details you might miss in the coverage, details that illuminate just how bad things are. Please listen in particular to Sarah’s description of how people who are on “suicide watch” are treated in ways that would make anyone, mentally ill or not, feel suicidal.

I call your attention to the fact that, as Mike notes, no one’s looking for money here. They’re looking for change. Stuart made that clear, emphasizing the plaintiffs — Disability Rights South Carolina — would like very much for the county to work with them to address these problems. Meanwhile, the complaint asks the federal court to assume jurisdiction and require that the problems be addressed.

How am I involved in this? A couple of ways. Burnette Shutt & McDaniel law firm is a client of ADCO. Beyond that, I have a very personal interest. My daughter is a public defender who spends a great deal of time visiting her clients in the jail. This is a constant worry for us, knowing what conditions are like there.

A number of things to keep in mind:

  • People in jail — as opposed to prison — have generally not been convicted of any crime.
  • People with mental illness are often there simply because they are mentally ill, and authorities have nowhere else to put them. (At this point we could go off on a long side discussion about deinstitutionalization and related issues, but for the moment I’m trying to stay on the subject of the jail.)
  • The jail is overcrowded, and alarmingly understaffed. As the lawsuit states, “It is not uncommon for a single frontline security officer to be directly responsible at one time for supervision of up to four housing units consisting of more than 150-200 detainees.”
  • People on suicide watch are not being watched. Instead, there are being subjected to forms of confinement that greatly increase their distress. But as Sarah noted, not sufficiently constrained to reliably prevent them from harming themselves. Which, you know, is why they’re supposed to be watched.

Anyway, I’m very glad Disability Rights and the folks at Burnette Shutt have taken this action, and I fervently hope it leads to real improvement.

How many ‘unblessed’ square inches are still left?

The view from my dorm room, taken in 2006, just before they tore the Honeycombs down. This, kids, is from the days when dorm rooms were a bit like prison cells, and were located on the actual campus.

I’ve probably mentioned this a few times before, but…

Often when I pass by the defunct K-Mart on Knox Abbott (it’s between my house and my older son’s), I think of the expedition I undertook to that location during my one semester as a student at USC, the fall of 1971.

My uncle in Bennettsville, which I visited most weekends, had asked me to get some vacuum cleaner bags for his machine, and the only place where he knew he could get them was at that store. (No, kids, there was no Amazon for such things.) That being a bit far from my dorm, the also defunct Snowden, I had to find a ride. So I asked my older roommate, who knew everyone on our floor (I was a freshman, he a junior), and he referred me to a guy who, as I recall, was the only one on the floor who had a car. How I persuaded this stranger to take me there I don’t recall, but that’s how I got the bags.

Of course, today every freshman at the University drives one (and possibly more than one) SUV that is no more than a year old. As a result, any trip across Columbia requires some strategy in order to avoid the hordes of erratically driven SUVs.

Frequently, I ponder whether the city would seem to be completely choked with kids between the ages of 18 and 22 if it were not for the traffic jams. Maybe not. Maybe walking down Main Street would just feel like being in the film “Logan’s Run,” in which everyone seems to be walking around in a mall and all humans are put to death at the age of 30. But I don’t know for sure.

I just know the high rises keep rising, with no end in sight. I’m all for having a thriving university, and I know that since the Legislature no longer supports “public” universities the way it did back when we didn’t have cars, a growing enrollment is pretty much essential. So it’s complicated.

Anyway, that’s what I was thinking when I replied to this tweet from Mike Fitts:

That said, I thought I’d check and see if y’all had any thoughts on this…

The ‘barbarism’ of the death penalty in S.C.

On Friday, Caitlin Byrd from The State tweeted out the above photo with this explanation:

The S.C. Department of Corrections just released this photo showing the renovated Capital Punishment Facility as seen from the witness room. The firing squad chair is on the left. The covered chair is the electric chair, which doesn’t move.

I was struck by how amazingly boring the photo managed to make such items appear. My friend Ashleigh Lancaster had something more interesting to say: “Weird thing to release on Good Friday, no?”

Yes, it was. And Ashleigh’s tweet reminded me that I had meant to post about the recent release on this subject from my diocese.

Here’s the entire release, to give you the full effect:

April 8, 2022
Statement from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston regarding the scheduled execution of Richard Moore on April 29
CHARLESTON, SC – The Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston released the below statement in response to the South Carolina Supreme Court scheduling an execution date for Richard Moore. He will be the first person executed by the state of South Carolina since 2011.
“The Catholic Church stands firmly in opposition to the Supreme Court’s decision and the use of the death penalty in South Carolina. Mr. Moore must choose his means of execution – between the firing squad and electric chair. This is modern-day barbarism.
“The tragedy caused by Mr. Moore’s actions is not justified by killing another human being. Justice is not restored when another person is killed.
“Capital punishment, along with abortion and euthanasia, is an attack on the inviolability and fundamental dignity of human life. Respect for life is, and must remain, unconditional. This principle applies to all, even the perpetrators of terrible acts.
“The Catholic Church will continue to stand for the inherent value of all life. We beseech the state of South Carolina to commute Moore’s death sentence and conduct a meaningful review of his case. The Church prays for the day when the state reverses its decision to end the cruel and unjust practice of capital punishment.”
###

Yep.

The essential problem, of course, is not the choice — it’s the death penalty itself. That’s the barbarism.

Requiring the condemned to choose the method is just an added little sadistic twist. Personally, I’ve always thought the firing squad is a less objectionable method than the electric chair, and definitely less twisted than lethal injection. If you’re going to kill a man, be honest about the violence by which you are dragging all of society down to the level of his crime. Don’t do it by a mock medical procedure.

But bottom line, the whole thing is barbaric, and beneath what society should always strive to be.

Forgive me for thinking of a movie quote while discussing something so grim, but deserve’s got nothing to do with it. It’s not up to us to become killers in order to give him what he “deserves,” if we can securely detain him for the rest of his life.

I’d like to find some more books like ‘Sapiens’ to read

The most impressive bit of prehistoric art I’ve ever seen, from the Cave of the Hands in Argentina.

Or to spread it more broadly, like that — by which I mean Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari — and like some other, similar books I’ve read in recent years. They include:

  • Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, by Jared Diamond.
  • 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles C. Mann.
  • 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, the sequel to the previous.

Remember how I said my New Year’s resolution was that I would finally start reading all those many fascinating books I had put on my Amazon list in recent years, and my loved ones had so kindly given me? I said I would start with the ones I received for Christmas (pictured on the post), and go on from there.

In that post, I mentioned that I had just finished, on New Year’s Eve, reading Sapiens. And stated my intention to charge forward and spend the whole year reading other interesting new books that would broaden my mind, instead of rereading things I’d read multiple times before, such as the volumes of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin novel series.

So what have I been doing? Well, the last few days I’ve found myself rereading Sapiens. And I’m again being thoroughly fascinated by all the interesting things I had already forgotten, even though I had read it so recently. (An aging thing, I guess. I never had trouble in school remembering things over summer vacation. But I guess I don’t retain things that easily now, being less “impressionable.”)

Just this morning, I was reading again how we humans messed up our lives with this whole Agricultural Revolution thing. And how we couldn’t help ourselves. But this time I took time to leaf to the back to check out a footnote, and found it was referring to… Guns, Germs and Steel. Yeah, I thought I had read something else that told me giving up hunting and gathering was a raw deal… not that we can do anything about it.

There’s a connection here somewhere to my decreasing interest in the “news” of the day, and the same stupid, overly simplistic arguments about what’s going on around us being offered by “both” sides — you know, the ones and zeroes people. (Not that I ignore current events entirely. For instance, this morning I learned a lot from a piece in The Wall Street Journal about the shadow war being conducted between Israel and Iran — something I had known next to nothing about.)

More and more, I’m interested in the Big Picture. I’m more fascinated, for instance, by how sapiens outlived (and quite likely of course, killed off) the Neanderthals — except for a few bits of DNA that I and other people of European ancestry are anachronistically carrying around. That interests me more than, say, how the billionahuhs are exploiting the proletariat — or, if you prefer the “other” interpretation (among the two and only two that we’re allowed), how the job-creators are building a better world.

I’m not sure that what I’m talking about here is “Big History,” which I’ve heard a good bit about recently. A lot of that has to do with all those billions of years before our ancestors came along and started walking on two legs. And those eons seem a bit… sterile… to me. I’m more interested in the last few million years — and particularly the millennia between what Harari calls The Cognitive Revolution and the Agricultural Revolution (between about 70,000 and 10,000 years ago), and what happened in the few millennia after that, shaping the world we now live in.

The books I’ve listed at the top of this post fit right in that sweet spot. So, to some extent, does one of those books I asked for for Christmas: The Discovers, by Daniel Boorstin. I started to read it long before I developed this recent interest, and remember being impressed at his description of one of the greatest bits of “progress” that has ever oppressed us: the measurement of time. But before I finished it, I misplaced my copy, and have been wanting for all this time to get back to it.

I also want to read those novels in that small stack as well. I mean, I know what happened to Thomas Cromwell, but I’m interested to find out how Hilary Mantel tells the tale.

But I want to read more in what I think of as the Sapiens category — the story of how humans got from hunting and gathering to where we are.

I’m particularly hoping Lynn Teague reads this, and has some good ideas. She’s the only archaeologist I know, and these books fit largely within her field…

DeMarco: Salkehatchie Summer Service and the hope for a new Church

The Op-Ed Page

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

I wrote in a previous column about my disappointment over the decline of my denomination, the United Methodists. We are not alone. Our shrinking membership is paralleled by the majority of other church groups in America.

Longtime church members tend to blame external forces – the banning of prayer in schools, ever-loosening morality, competition from sports and other entertainment, and the evaporation of Sunday as the Sabbath day.

But I lay the burden squarely at our own feet. It’s not Jesus’ fault; his life and teachings remain perfectly relevant. We Christians, like the original disciples, have failed to understand who He was.

Teenagers, which is the group one must convince for a church to survive, have an intense need to belong. The church seems like a natural fit for them. It offers a family of usually well-meaning people who hold up a suffering servant as their Lord. “Come to Me,” He says, “all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” This is a compelling invitation to teens, whose lives are often a tumultuous search for identity.

But we have bollixed up our evangelism so badly as to obscure the profound love that Christ offers. Ask young people what they think of Christians and many will tell you we are hypocritical and judgmental, especially towards LGBTQ people. Unfortunately, their criticisms are too often accurate.

The “love the sinner, hate the sin” approach has failed miserably. Too many of us cannot hide our palpable distaste for people that Jesus asked us to love the most – the different, the despised, the immigrant, the homeless.

Those of us who wish the church to endure have essentially two options. The first is to keep doing what we are doing, claiming that we have been right all along and that any deviation from traditional Scriptural views (from a Bible that endorses polygamy, the death penalty for adultery and homosexuality, second-class status for women, and implies that the earth is roughly 6,000 years old) is the work of a permissive, Satan-infused culture. Good luck attracting young people to that view of the world.

The second is exemplified by Salkehatchie Summer Service. “Salk” as it is known to participants, was started in 1978 by John Culp, a United Methodist minister. Rev. Culp was led to gather adults and teenagers to renovate substandard homes in Hampton County as a way for participants to live out their faith. It has grown from that single camp to more than forty camps in every region of South Carolina.

Salk allows young women and men 14 or older to test-drive their faith in a potent and beautiful way. The rhythm of the week is both invigorating and exhausting. We awaken in darkness, pray, eat, work, eat, work, eat, worship and fellowship, sleep, and awaken to do it again.

Young people of every generation, but this one more than ever, are not content to accept and obey. They are adept at seeking information and opinion through the web and social media. They have many skeptical questions about traditional beliefs and scriptural inerrancy.

The focus of Salk is not words on the page but people in their homes. Poverty does not need to be believed in. It can be observed and wrestled with. Most Salk campers have never been confronted by the kind of poverty they experience at Salk. They are invited into homes with buckets arrayed to catch rain through leaky roofs, rotten floors, gaping windows, and unsafe porches. Conversations about poverty that they have heard from us adults are often superficial and tend to the extremes of “lazy and shiftless” or “industrious but oppressed.“

At Salk, campers often spend hours with the homeowners, sometimes working side by side. This can result in a reversal of the description of a “poor person” to a “person who is poor.” Campers can no longer talk about poverty without acknowledging its humanity.

Differences are accepted at Salk in a way they might not be back at the teen’s high school. Gay and transgender youth participate in Salk and are embraced-literally. It’s impossible to make it through the week without being hugged dozens if not hundreds of times. Every year, I look forward to my first embrace from a towering young adult who renews our friendship by bear-hugging me and lifting me off the floor.

That said, Salk has a diversity problem. Its leaders and campers are primarily white. The lack of diversity is a symptom of the churchwide racial divide. My challenge to Salk would be to make real John Culp’s founding vision in which teams of black and white Christians working together were to be the rule, not the exception.

If young people are going to choose faith, to respond to that desire for meaning that Methodists believe has been planted in all our hearts, the places they will gather to worship and serve will likely look like Salk. The new church will be a community that reflects the fullness of God’s creation, seeks out those who have been made to feel unworthy, and makes the building of God’s kingdom on this Earth its core mission.

Paul DeMarco is a physician who resides in Marion, S.C. He is a layperson who has been participating in Salk since 2008. His comments are his own and do not reflect an official position of the United Methodist Church or Salkehatchie Summer Service. Reach him at pvdemarco@bellsouth.net For more information about Salk, go to https://www.umcsc.org/salkehatchie/.

My favorite Google AdSense ad this week

AdSense doesn’t allow me to click on the ads it posts on my blog, but this one made me so curious I had to resort to a workaround: I right-clicked, copied the link to the site, and called it up on a different browser.

It was disappointing. The chainsaw being advertised isn’t really that small. Dang. Although it looks like it could be useful for certain tasks, and the tiny one doesn’t seem too handy. Just cool. Or hilarious. Or something. In any case, it made me look.

In any case, gimme more of these kinds of ads, Google. I like them better than, say, the one I’ve been seeing all week tying critical race theory to Marxism. It was getting kind of tedious…

So you’re saying it’s the Raskolnikov Syndrome? Maybe, but that doesn’t explain 2016

Georgy Taratorkin as Raskolnikov in a 1969 Russian film adaptation.

As you know, people have been bat-poop crazy lately. We’ve discussed this a good bit.

It’s complicated by the fact that we’re looking at two separate developments, and sort of running them together.

I’ve been searching ever since 2016, trying to understand how this country elected — to the presidency — someone who at any previous time in our nation’s history would have been laughed off the stage the first time he stood up and said “I’m running.” A guy who had been known as a famous doofus since the ’80s. Elected to be the most powerful person on the planet.

I still haven’t arrived, although I did feel I got a lot closer to the answer when I heard that “Rabbit Hole” podcast.

Over the last year or two — starting in 2020, the year we (at least for a little while), corrected the 2016 insanity — we’ve been talking a lot about something else, which is the deleterious effect of the pandemic on human behavior.

I just read another good, thoughtful piece on that in The Atlantic: “Why People Are Acting So Weird.” It begins:

Everyone is acting so weird! The most obvious recent weirdness was when Will Smith smacked Chris Rock at the Oscars. But if you look closely, people have been behaving badly on smaller stages for months now. Last week, a man was arrested after he punched a gate agent at the Atlanta airport. (The gate agent looked like he was about to punch back, until his female colleague, bless her soul, stood on some chairs and said “no” to the entire situation.) That wasn’t even the only viral asshole-on-a-plane video that week.

In February, people found ways to throw tantrums while skiing—skiing. In one viral video, a man slid around the chairlift-boarding area of a Canadian resort, one foot strapped into his snowboard as he flailed at security guards and refused to comply with a mask mandate. Separate footage shows a maskless man on a ski shuttle screaming, “There’s nobody wearing masks on any bus in this goddamn town!” before calling his fellow passenger a “liberal piece of shit” and storming off.

During the pandemic, disorderly, rude, and unhinged conduct seems to have caught on as much as bread baking and Bridgerton. Bad behavior of all kinds —everything from rudeness and carelessness to physical violence—has increased…

You see what happened there? As you will find if you read on, most of the piece is a discussion of what’s happened “during the pandemic.” But the political problem that predates the pandemic by four years comes up as well: “…before calling his fellow passenger a ‘liberal piece of shit’ and storming off.” Do you wonder who that guy voted for? I don’t. I mean, I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure I know.

So yeah, behavior has been pretty bad during COVID, but that doesn’t explain 2016.

However, I did pick up something interesting that I hadn’t though of before, in terms of explaining the pandemic craziness, and that’s why I’m posting this. It comes up here:

We’re social beings, and isolation is changing us

The pandemic loosened ties between people: Kids stopped going to school; their parents stopped going to work; parishioners stopped going to church; people stopped gathering, in general. Sociologists think all of this isolation shifted the way we behave. “We’re more likely to break rules when our bonds to society are weakened,” Robert Sampson, a Harvard sociologist who studies social disorder, told me. “When we become untethered, we tend to prioritize our own private interests over those of others or the public.”

The turn-of-the-20th-century scholar Émile Durkheim called this state anomie, or a lack of social norms that leads to lawlessness. “We are moral beings to the extent that we are social beings,” Durkheim wrote. In the past two years, we have stopped being social, and in many cases we have stopped being moral, too….

Though it’s been a lifesaving tool throughout the pandemic, mask wearing has likely made this problem worse. Just as it’s easier to scream at someone on Twitter than in real life, it’s easier to rage at a masked flight attendant than one whose face you can fully see. “You don’t really see a human being so much as you’re seeing someone masked,” Sampson said. Though one study found that face masks don’t dehumanize the wearer, another small experiment found that they do impair people’s ability to detect emotions….

I read that, and it hit me: Whoa! They mean the Raskolnikov Syndrome! Why didn’t I realize this before? After all, I’ve been thinking about it, and sometimes talking about it, since I was in college — although I don’t think I actually wrote about it until 2012. Here, in part, is how I set out the idea at that time:

I’ve long had this theory that people who do truly horrendous things that Ordinary Decent People can’t fathom do them because they’ve actually entered another state of being that society, because it is society, can’t relate to.

Quite simply, people like James Eagan Holmes are able to spend time planning a mass murder, prepare for it, gather guns and ammunition and explosives and body armor, and actually go to the intended scene of the crime and carry it out, without ever stopping and saying, “Hey, wait a minute — what am I doing?” because they’re not interacting enough with other human beings.

This allows their thoughts, unchecked, to wander off to strange places indeed — and stay there, without other people making social demands on them that call them back.

I think there’s a quality in the social space between people that assesses the ideas we have in our heads and tells us whether they are ideas worth having, or so far beyond the pale that we should stop thinking them. This vetting doesn’t have to be conscious; it’s not like you’re overtly throwing the idea out there and seeking feedback. I think that in your own mind, you constantly test ideas against what you believe the people around you would think of them, and it naturally affects how you regard the ideas yourself. I think this happens no matter how independent-minded you think you are, no matter how introverted in the Jungian sense. Unless, of course, you are a true sociopath. And I believe a lack of sufficient meaningful interaction with other people you care about plays a big factor in turning you into one of those.

Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov was the perfect case, fitting all the criteria we keep hearing about. Brilliant young mind, but he suffered a series of setbacks that embarrassed him and caused him to draw away from his friends. Living hundreds if not thousands of miles from his family, he was forced by lack of money to drop out of school. Rather than make money doing the translations his friend Razumikhin tried to throw his way, he fell to brooding in his ratty garret, or wandering alone through the crowded city, thinking — and not sharing his thoughts.

His murderous plan started with a provocative, if not quite mad, idea that he wrote an essay about — setting out the theory that extraordinary people who were destined to do extraordinary things for the world had a right, if not a duty, to step over the normal social rules and boundaries that restricted ordinary people. Had he been in contact with friends and family, they would have challenged him on this, as Razumikhin did late in the book, when he learned of the essay. Maybe they wouldn’t have changed his mind, in the abstract, but if he had been having dinner each night with his mother and sister, and going out for drinks regularly with Razumikhin, it would have been impossible for him to have carried it to the next level…

I explained further, including sharing the passage that “proved” the theory to me, and I’d love for you to go back and read the whole thing. But that’s the essence.

So yeah, the piece in The Atlantic is referring to a form of that Syndrome. Which is cool, and helpful. I feel like I understand the pandemic-behavior problem a bit better now.

This is particularly an eye-opener to me because, as an introvert, I haven’t minded the isolation of the last two years at all. I haven’t found it stressful, and in many ways — such as not going to an office every day (or at all, really) — I’ve seen it as pretty awesome.

But I had forgotten about my own theory about Raskolnikov. Now I get it.

But to repeat myself, that still doesn’t explain 2016, or the fact that so many millions of people did that again in 2020, and can’t wait to do it again in 2024, whether the pandemic is still affecting our lives or not.

So, I’ll have to keep looking. Because helpful as it is, “Rabbit Hole” doesn’t explain it all — does it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sorry, but I won’t even call back ‘Silverado’

For the longest time, most of the spam calls I received claimed to be coming from towns in South Carolina — Clover, Jackson (which I didn’t realize was a place in SC before that), Camden and so forth.

Lately, they’ve been coming from California. Don’t know why. Maybe the algorithm got confused between the two USCs.

Have y’all noticed that happening?

Anyway, I got one a few minutes ago, while on a work-related call, and of course I ignored it. But I was intrigued. It claimed to come from “Silverado.”

I don’t know about y’all, but I loved that movie. Coming out as it did in 1985, I saw it as a collaboration of young actors (all about my age, or slightly older) who had grown up on Westerns, but had never had a chance to act in one. So they made an oater that was packed with every trope you could think of — the roving gambler, the saloon, the wagon train of sodbusters, the evil rich guy who ran the town, the gunslinger, everything.

I thought, briefly, about calling back. I imagined myself talking to “Emmett” or “Paden,” or if I really got lucky, “Hannah.” (Then I could say, “All I did was talk to the girl.”) But with my luck, it would end up being “Sheriff Cobb.”

So never mind…

Graham’s clown act during hearing wasn’t just an act. He meant it.

So many people were better people before 2016. Lindsey Graham is one of our country’s more dramatic and tragic examples.

Especially with regard to judicial confirmations. Before Donald Trump and his supports assumed total control of the Republican Party, our senior senator was one of the few senators of either party who could be relied upon to support qualified candidates nominated by presidents of the opposite party.

It was what he was known for. He was more likely than anyone to say “elections have consequences” and vote to confirm, say, Elena Kagan or Sonia Sotomayor.

Although he let his country down, bigtime, in failing to fight his leadership over Merrick Garland, the fact is that he stood out among senators in supporting the Democratic nominees he did support.

For years — including before Trumpism — Graham has walked a tightrope as a Republican from South Carolina. He took brave stands on court nominations and immigration, while at the same time trying to signal that he could be as big a yahoo as anybody. Sometimes, the attacks on “Grahamnesty” caused him to back down, but he was known for the times he stood his ground as one of the Gang of 14.

That fell apart when he decided that his political path forward involved developing a national reputation as Trump’s best buddy and most loyal toady. But he would still occasionally take a stand against the insanity, such as when Trump betrayed our allies in Syria.

So when he did something like trying to be the biggest, loudest clown in the room in giving Ketanji Brown Jackson a hard time during the recent hearings, I would wonder how much of it was just an act to give himself cover before quietly acting like Lindsey Graham and voting for her — since there was no legitimate reason not to.

But today we found out he didn’t have the guts to do that:

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on Thursday that he will oppose Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court, marking the first time the GOP senator will vote against a nominee for the high court since joining the Senate.

“I will oppose her and I will vote no,” Graham said from the Senate floor.

So the madness that has gripped our country just took another step deeper into the abyss…