Author Archives: Brad Warthen

Who da man? I da man, according to da NYT

Or one a da men. That is to say, one of the 23 percent of New York Times readers who scored 100 percent on the weekly news quiz.

Which is nice, since my score on the Slate quiz today was… not memorable.

They must be slipping up there in the Big Apple, considering the way I’ve done in the past on the NYT quiz.

Try it yourself. I hope you do well. Although obviously, you can’t do any better than yours truly did.

Of course, if you read this blog, you should know the first one…

Are we about to send ‘advisers’ to Ukraine? Seem familiar?

I guess we’ll have to repaint them first — some none-desert color.

The Ukrainians need heavy tanks to fend off the increasingly desperate efforts by Vladimir Putin to crush their country.

I’m glad they’re about to get them. And I hope and pray that a peaceful solution can soon be found — not the kind of “peaceful solution” Putin would like, in which Ukraine is under his thumb and the world trembles in fear of him, but one in which it is a safe, self-governed nation, living next to a Russia that will never do this again.

But right now, they need the tanks. So it is a good thing that the Germans are going to provide Leopard 2s, and allow other European nations to share theirs. But they refused to do it if we weren’t in it with them, so we have decided to hand over some Abrams main battle tanks.

The Pentagon had been unwilling to do this, “citing concerns about how Ukraine would maintain the advanced tanks, which require extensive training and servicing.” By contrast, the Leopards are relatively simple to maintain and operate, or so I read.

But since the Germans wouldn’t agree without our participation, we’ll be sending the M1s. They mostly likely won’t arrive until the fall, but that’s not the point. The Leopards are what is needed to help resist the expected spring onslaught. They’re a gesture of solidarity. To the Germans, this gives them the ability to say to Putin, “Hey, don’t just blame us…” That’s the point of all this.

Assuming, though, that we follow through, and assuming also that they are impossible to keep running without having a bunch of experienced people maintaining them, it seems highly likely that we’ll soon have “advisers” in Ukraine. They may just be maintenance crews for the most part, but it will be a presence we don’t have now.

(Mind you, I’m no expert on tank operations and maintenance. I couldn’t change the oil on an Abrams any more than I could repair a television. And maybe we can teach the Ukrainians everything they need to know before the tanks arrive there. But it doesn’t sound like the brass over here think that can be done. At least, they didn’t think so last week. It’s one thing to teach people to drive the tank and fight with it. It’s another to keep complex machinery going once it’s deployed, and that doesn’t sound to me like a long-distance procedure.)

There have been Americans in uniform there before now. But this will be different. It won’t be combat troops, but it will be people who are essential to the war effort, even if mainly in a political and diplomatic sense. Meanwhile, we have elements of the 101st Airborne Division right next door in Romania. And soon the 10th Mountain Division will also have a presence there.

Is this the moment that historians will look back on, 50 years from now, as the one that the “Ukraine Quagmire” began? Assuming historians still exist then. I mean, assuming this (or something else) doesn’t lead to the nuclear exchange that we worked so hard — and successfully — to avoid during the Cold War. Which is what enables us to sit around and argue now about how that was accomplished.

Will this be like when JFK sent the 500 advisers in 1961, to reinforce the 700 Ike had sent in 1955? (A sort of follow-up to the ones Truman sent in 1950 to help the French, but the French ignored the advice.) By the end of 1963, there would be 11,000 Americans in-country.

Today, the consensus is that boy, we really screwed that up. Correct me if this is not what you would say, but I can imagine most Americans saying, “We just kept sending more of our boys over there to a place where we had no business being.”

And Americans tsk-tsk about the foolishness, and worse, wickedness of it all. And they’re so sure they’re right, and that they are so much wiser then the Best and Brightest who got us into Vietnam, and couldn’t get us out. Or refused to get us out, until Nixon came along and saved the day by abandoning Saigon.

Myself, I can — with the benefit of hindsight — point to a truckload of mistakes and miscalculations made that got us deeper and deeper into a conflict that was simply not going to turn out our way. But I also look back and see how every mistake was made, and how it didn’t look like a mistake to those making it.

A lot of people around me think they know better. I guess I’m writing this to make sure they’re noting this as it happens — assuming I’m reading it right, and something similar, or at least analogous, is occurring. Yes, the situations are different in a thousand ways. But what I’m pondering here is the bits that seem familiar.

It would be great if we, as a country, could have foresight that is half as perfect and accurate as everyone’s hindsight is regarding Vietnam. That would lead inevitably to a happy ending in which Ukraine and the rest of Europe are safe, and Russia has learned the lesson we’d like it to learn.

But we don’t have that, and right now — in light of this and that and the other thing in the real world we’re looking at — it seems right to send the Abrams tanks. I hope and pray — yep, I’m repeating myself — that it is…

This is what a Leopard 2 looks like. This one was just a prototype, but it was the only image I could find in the public domain.

 

I’m impatiently waiting for this other stone to roll away…

This morning, America — the Jesuit magazine to which I subscribe online — had a headline that definitely grabbed my attention:

What the Catholic Church can learn from the resurrection of Barnes & Noble

And I was all like, say WHAT?

I haven’t seen any such resurrection — I mean the bookstore one. I just Googled to see if it came back when I wasn’t looking. I see no such signs or wonders.

As y’all know, my favorite store of any kind in the entire universe was the Barnes & Noble on Harbison. And they closed it, and replaced it with some stupendously unappealing thing called a “Nordstrom Rack,” thereby adding further insult to the injury. I went in there once. They didn’t even offer coffee, as I recall.

If my store is coming back, let me know, and I’ll run there almost as fast as the Apostle John ran to the empty tomb. (I say “almost” because he was young and spry, and, well, that was a much bigger deal. Infinitely bigger, if you will. But I still want my store back.)

Just roll away that stone, and watch me. I want my store back…

(I say “almost” because John was young and spry, and, well, that was a much bigger deal. Infinitely bigger, if you will. But I still want my store back.)

Open Thread for Wednesday, January 18, 2023

This is what a Leopard 2 looks like. This one was just a prototype, but it was the only image I could find in the public domain.

First time I’ve done one of these lately — since September, I think. And excuse the typo — I actually gave a date as 2023 in my headline there, and of course that’s obviously some weird date off in the future, from some sci fi story or something.

Anyway — it’s even longer since I’ve done a Virtual Front Page, but these topics won’t work for that, since some of the items are opinion pieces. Oh, well, here you go…

  1. Heavy tanks — and a push from the U.S. — are key to Ukraine’s success — This is an editorial from The Washington Post. It’s pretty persuasive. You might also George Will’s column, which is chock full o’ historical perspective. Ukraine needs them to hold off the increasingly desperate attacks coming from Putin. And this sure beats the U.S. sending troops, for a number of compelling reasons. All we have to do is persuade Germany to let the Ukrainians have those Leopard 2 tanks they’ve been holding back. Yes, we all appreciate Germany being a more peaceful country. It beats what we saw in the two generations before 1945. But meine Freunde, you don’t have to fight. You just have to make it possible for the Ukrainians to defend themselves. This is about as different as you can get from sending Panzers full of Nazis to pound all those Untermenschen to the East…
  2. Microsoft to Lay Off 10,000 Workers as It Looks to Trim Costs — Yikes. First the buggy whip industry, then newspapers, and now this. American ingenuity (see Max Boot, below) needs to come up with the Next Thing in a hurry. This is not good news, especially since it’s part of a series of such announcements coming from Big Tech.
  3. What if Diversity Trainings Are Doing More Harm Than Good? — A provocative title on an op-ed piece. I dunno. Did North Vietnam’s reeducation camps work? Is there solid research available on that? I know that the Captain had awful trouble persuading Luke to “get his mind right.” In my own personal experience, I always had trouble seeing the need for it. I would think, You say the company should have a workforce that looks like the community it seeks to serve, and we all need to work together better? I’m with you. Now let’s get back to work… Of course, I reacted that way to anything that took me away from the work — even recreational outings.
  4. World’s oldest known person, French nun Lucile Randon, dies at 118 — Wow, that’s impressive. And in the picture with that link, she looked amazingly good for her age just a year ago. God bless her. Of course, I’m reaching an age at which I can’t help thinking, so where does this put me in the running for the title?
  5. China records 1st population fall in decades as births drop — Which is very bad news for a country that wants to dominate the world. Good luck with that now, what an inadequate number of kids trying to support all those pensioners. As the big brains of Beijing realized too late (in 2016), this is where draconian One Child policies get you.
  6. U.S. politics is awful — but our science and technology offer hope for the future — This is a good column from Max Boot. He’s had a bunch of good ones lately, which reminds my I should go back and mention him on the list of columnists I’ve been enjoying. Anyway, I hope people read all the way to the end, where he says, “We need to maintain our lead by spending more on research and offering more opportunities for foreign-born talent.” You bet.

By the way, on that last part about reading “all the way to the end”… yeah, I know a lot of, probably most of, my readers can’t do that, not having subscriptions. I don’t know what to do about that. I can either bring up thoughtful ideas from the outlets that actually publish such things, or we can sit around yelling at each other on a grossly superficial level about the latest outrages on social media — which is free.

I’m planning to write about that in a subsequent post. If I have trouble finding the time to do so, please remind me…

An image from the James Webb Space Telescope, grabbed from a NASA site.

 

Enjoying and appreciating the work of David Von Drehle

Here I go doing that thing that journalists avoid, because nothing is more sure to draw a tidal wave of dissension and contempt from the world:

I’m going to say something nice about somebody.

The somebody is David Von Drehle, deputy opinion editor and columnist for The Washington Post. He’s written some really good columns lately, and I’ve recently added him to the fairly short list of people whose stuff I will make a point of reading simply based on the byline, whatever the headline might say.

Von Drehle

It’s the first time in while I’ve added anyone to that list. Probably the most recent newcomers were Frank Bruni and Ezra Klein in the NYT — and with Klein, it was probably his podcasts that got me started, not his columns. Those who have been on the list a longer time include E.J. Dionne, David Brooks, Nicholas Kristof, Bret Stephens, Jennifer Rubin, and South Carolina’s own Kathleen Parker. And going back even farther — Tom Friedman and George Will. And I really miss David Broder and Charles Krauthammer.

Some of them I agree with. Others add depth that help me amend my views. Some of them, I simply enjoy the way they write.

And now there’s a new one. When I started reading him, I wondered where he had been that I hadn’t noticed him before. He’s 61 years old — which is still quite young, mind you, but it seems I would have noticed him in the past. Had his duties as deputy opinion editor kept him from writing columns, or what?

The answer is that he’d jumped around in his career, developing a diversity of experience that shows up well in his columns:

David Von Drehle is a deputy opinion editor and columnist for The Post, where he writes about national affairs and politics from a home base in the Midwest. He joined The Post in 2017 after a decade at Time magazine, where he wrote more than 60 cover stories as editor-at-large. During a previous stint at The Post, Von Drehle served as a writer and editor on the National staff, in Style, and at the magazine. He is the author of a number of books, including the award-winning bestseller “Triangle: The Fire That Changed America.” He lives in Kansas City with his wife, journalist Karen Ball, and their four children.

You can read more about his diverse career on Wikipedia.

So he’s done a lot, and you can tell that by reading him. And the fact that he writes from WAY outside the Beltway Bubble probably doesn’t hurt, either. He possesses the rare perspective of actually having the experience to know what he’s talking about, but in a position to do so from arm’s length. This is the combination that modern technology should provide, but too seldom does.

Here’s his latest column, headlined “If the Mar-a-Lago case collapses? Disaster dodged, America.” Basically, he’s saying that the emergence of Joe Biden’s documents problem “should spell the end of any realistic prospect of criminal charges against former president Donald Trump over his Mar-a-Lago portfolio of pilferage.”

And that’s a good thing. Of course, the cases are light-years apart. One involves criminal defiance of the law — a raid necessitated by Trump’s refusal to simply hand over the documents the government was seeking, versus a problem we’d only know about because Biden’s people found the documents, reported it and turned them over — and then kept looking. Not to mention Garland’s appointment of a special prosecutor. The Biden example is one of going all-out to obey the law and correct a problem. The Trump case is the opposite.

Nevertheless, the steam is leaking out of any likelihood that Trump will pay for what he did. And the columnist explains that that’s a good thing:

Before continuing, let me be clear: I believe Trump is a bad person of low character, selfish and dishonest, intellectually lazy, childish and shameless, and that his presidency has been a terrible thing for the country I love. For this reason, I’m relieved by the likely collapse of the classified documents case against him. Because it was the strongest case against Trump, in terms of trial strategy, it was the most likely to produce an indictment — and indicting Trump is a terrible idea for those who genuinely hope to be rid of him.

Politically, Trump is a dead man walking. He has lost the ability to drive the news cycle. His outlandish social media posts fall as silently as unheard forest trees. His declaration of his next campaign produced a yawn worthy of another run by Ralph Nader. As drum major of a wackadoodle parade, he marched through the Republican primaries last year, delivering candidates who bombed in the general election. Now no one marches to his tune. When he tried to influence the election of a House speaker, even the surviving zealots ignored his instructions….

To be indicted and hauled into court for history’s most heavily publicized trial would invigorate Trump, and the spectacle would galvanize his dwindling base of support….

And we know what that would lead to.

In short, von Drehle is a perceptive observer who knows how to think about an issue — rather than get in line behind a partisan talking point of the day — and has the skill to effectively express his thoughts.

I appreciate that. I hope the Post will forgive me for the long quote above. I also hope that if you’re not a subscriber (and I recommend that you become one), you can at least read all of this column before the pay wall stops you.

And if you can go even beyond that, here are some other recent columns to check out:

I loved that last one. And the one before it, about the lasting effects of Pat Buchanan’s campaign in 1992, is about something I alluded to back in this comment.

Anyway, I’m glad to have discovered his work, and look forward to being enlightened further in the days to come…

Want to see something really disturbing?

Yikes.

See the item on the far left of the image above.

I saw this teaser for a story on my Washington Post app this morning. I certainly didn’t click on it. There will be hundreds of such stories in the coming months, and I will have an overabundance of opportunities to torture myself reading complete nonsense.

Perhaps, at some point, there will be such a story that will have a positive answer to my perpetual question: “Can you give me a list of potential candidates who are both sane, and somewhere remotely close to being qualified?” I won’t be holding my breath. It’s been quite a few years since I’ve seen such a list. And of course in this case, the guy in the back fails the first test, and the South Carolinians in front of him fail the second.

And yes, I realize the people who write such stories only apply one test: Who might have some chance of securing the support of Republican primary voters? As I mentioned, I apply other standards.

Why do national media persist in taking South Carolinians seriously when anyone familiar with them wouldn’t spend a second entertaining such delusions?

Remember when they actually wrote about Mark Sanford as presidential timber? Every time they did, my head practically exploded. Then finally, after he disappeared for several days and then popped up to deliver his Argentina presser, it dawned on them that maybe, just maybe, they needed to take him off their list.

I certainly hope neither Nikki Haley nor Tim Scott have to endure anything that traumatic to correct this misperception. I don’t want that for them, or for the rest of us. But I would love it if people assigned to the absurd task of telling us what will happen in the future would stop and ask themselves whether there is anything in either person’s background that indicates readiness to become POTUS.

The inevitable conclusion would be no, there is not…

If only they were trees or something

Sunsets are supposed to be beautiful, colorful — and, you know, natural, right?

But I liked this view I saw last night, when I was walking across the Dominion right-of-way that runs through Quail Hollow — can you imagine a less romantic setting than that” — and saw the symmetrical pattern the huge concrete electrical towers formed against the setting sun.

Sorry they’re not trees or something inherently, traditionally beautiful. But I kind of liked the pattern…

Trying to wrap my head around the immensity of the problem

And how do you argue with a forest?

I wrote this as a reply to a comment — a thoughtful comment by Bud, explaining his view on this previous post — and it was so long that I decided to turn it into a separate post.

Also, it moved me toward a larger subject, a realization that’s been dawning on me for some time. I’ve been meaning to write about it, but it’s really hard to explain, so I’ll just take a step or two toward it by posting the comment…

I’m still not that interested in Shane Beamer and whether he’s worth all that money. If you accept that society values football enough for him to be able to make that much, then why shouldn’t he?

My point is, should society value football that much? I say no. Others obviously disagree.

Lately, I’ve found myself approaching a lot of things in a new way. Well, not entirely new: I guess I’ve started taking my usual forest-over-the-trees approach to a new level.

I’ve started realizing more fully that so many problems we have are not because of this person or that program or whatever. People tend to think that if you just replace the person, or reform the program, everything is fixed.

The problems are because of much broader, more complicated phenomena that are hard to understand, much less do anything about.

The madness over football is one of those things.

But to show you how my thinking goes, let’s take another example: Trumpism.

I’ve said from the start that as thoroughly obnoxious as he is, Donald John Trump is not the problem. He’s just the jerk who showed up at the right moment to take advantage of the real problem — the mass insanity in the electorate that would cause millions of voters to do something that the American electorate would nave have done before, which is even consider someone as useless and unsuitable as Trump.

I remember the America that would have laughed him off the stage. Suddenly (and yes, folks, you can point to all sorts of things that led us here — racism, Reaganism, Social Darwinism, the Tea Party, etc. — but while it almost happened in 2012, it didn’t fully happen until 2016), we are the kind of country that would actually consider electing such a grossly inappropriate person as president.

Anyway, this — that the problem isn’t Trump, but the sickness that caused people to respond favorably to him — was fairly evident from the start, but it’s become much, much more so. That’s because we’ve watched Trump himself decline in influence in recent months — not that he’s gone, but he’s clearly faded a bit — but the madness continue, as people like DeSantis have worked hard to replace him, and a bunch of yahoos have just taken over the House.

Aliens could drop down tomorrow and carry Trump away — why they would want him I don’t know, but bear with me — and the problem would still be here.

And increasingly, I’ve realized that the country won’t be sane and well again until millions of people wake up and realize they’ve been on the wrong course.

“Good luck with that!” you say, and you’re right. It’s a depressing way of looking at things, because I don’t know how to achieve such a thing. His supporters will no more pay attention to the mountains of evidence that their hero caused what happened on Jan. 6 than football fans will stop and think maybe they should stop being so crazy about a game that causes so much brain damage.

I don’t have a program for fixing it. It’s taken me this long just to sorta kinda start understanding the problem — at least, understanding it here and there, around the edges, and vaguely intuiting the immensity of the whole…

Anyway, that was the comment. I’ll return to the subject soon. And if you think that was crazy, wait until you see how this line of thinking applies to… never mind, I’ll tell you later…

Leave the judges alone

I saw a disturbing headline in The State the other day: “SC Supreme Court makeup may face GOP scrutiny after abortion ban struck down.”

I didn’t have time to read it at that time, so I emailed the story to myself, intending to write about it when I had time. Of course first, I had to read it.

Fortunately, the story wasn’t as disturbing as the headline. Still, I’m afraid Shane Massey is right in this prediction:

State Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, echoing his statement last week that the court’s “decision will almost certainly result in the politicization of South Carolina’s judges to yet unseen levels,” said Monday he “will be amazed” if there isn’t political pushback over the way the Legislature vets and elects judges to the state’s high court…

Yes, I’m afraid so. Some will see themselves just as justified in making abortion a litmus test for court fitness as U.S. Senators on both sides of the issue have done ever since Roe removed the issue from the place where it should be — the political branches.

Because of what’s happened since 1973, public confidence in the very existence of an independent judiciary has been badly damaged across the political spectrum. And when that confidence is completely gone, we might as well close up this shop called the United States of America. The experiment in a liberal, representative democracy has had an impressively long run, but it would be over at that point.

When candidates’ positions on the most controversial political issue in the land becomes a condition for serving on the bench, it is over. I’ve been pointing this out for years on the federal level. The last 50 years have been pretty ugly.

We don’t need to be engaging in the same madness on the state level. South Carolina has enough problems without that.

I can understand that, after all these years of waiting, and finally seeing SCOTUS give legislatures the power to make the laws again, some lawmakers will be frustrated that another court is overruling them.

But the proper response to that is to work to shape legislation that the court will not dismiss as violating the state constitution. And yes, in this case, the law involved is the state constitution, not the federal.

Interestingly, unlike the federal version, the state constitution actually mentions privacy — it uses the actual word. (We can argue back and forth at another time whether “privacy” means “you can have an abortion if you want one.” But for quite some time, courts have assumed it does. This one certainly has.) Of course, you can try to amend that if you’d like. I expect that would be tougher than passing acceptable statutes, but that’s another legitimate path.

Just don’t pick judges based on whether they agree with you. Agreeing with you is not their job.

Oh, and one more thing: Not only would that approach undermine the rule of law, but it might not even work for you in the short run. I urge you to check out Cindi Scoppe’s latest column, which grows out of the court’s abortion ruling: “How the SC Legislature’s ‘conservative justice’ killed its fetal heartbeat law.

Oh, and as long as I’m pointing to stuff in the P&C, they have a news story that does what I actually feared the story in The State would do: It quotes lawmakers saying the very things that I dreaded, and which made me cringe at that first headline. This one is headlined, “Abortion ruling brings new scrutiny on the 3 candidates.

The State‘s story predicted it. The P&C‘s story shows it starting to happen…

More on sports and what we value…

I think Coach Dale would agree.

My point in this previous post was NOT that teachers should make “$1 million a year,” or to be more relevant in this case, $6.125 million a year.

My point was that a football coach should NOT.

Let’s relate it to the ongoing discussion about the pay of coaches of women’s teams.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think Dawn Staley makes $2.9 million. I think that’s the latest figure.

That, I take it, is the result of her supporters advocating strenuously for her to make more money. Well, congratulations to them, and to her — she’s obviously a great coach. Ask my mom, who gets frustrated any time she can’t get a game featuring Coach Staley’s team on her YouTubeTV account.

But folks, that’s way too much money to pay someone for training people how to throw a ball through a hoop. I think even the main character of one of my fave movies, Coach Norman Dale, would have agreed with me on that. (Also, he would want me to remind all of you that you are to pass at least four times before shooting — team, team, TEAM!)

Oh, but wait, you rise up to shout: $2.9 million is way LESS than Beamer makes, which means hers should be raised even MORE. Well, no, it doesn’t mean that. I mean, you’re right that Beamer makes more. You’re wrong that the way to address it is to raise her pay to the same level.

It’s kind of nuts that someone is paid $2.9 million to, as I say, teach people to throw a ball through a hoop. And it’s more than TWICE as crazy to pay a football coach $6.125 million to teach people to run around and smack into each other really hard — or however you want to describe what it is that he does.

Of course, you’d have a point if you want to argue that he has a bigger job than she does — heading up a larger organization with more employees, more other staff, more players, all sorts of avid constituencies to deal with, etc. And you also have a point when you say what he does brings in more money, from tickets and other things.

But MY point is that the fact that football IS such a big frickin’ deal, with so many people SO excited about it and willing to shell out SO much money for tickets and parking spaces and food and beer for tailgating and little flags to go on their garnet-and-black SUVs, and the extra gas to run their SUVs’ engines for an hour creeping along in the traffic to the game, and their wardrobe of special clothing they wear on game days, and the extra-huge TV to watch the games when they can’t be there, yadda-yadda…

All of THAT shows how messed up our values are, not only in term of where our money goes, but in terms of the time and energy spent. This is something we should ponder.

Anyway, that was the topic of my post. I wasn’t arguing that teachers should be paid $6.125 million. I was saying a football coach should not. And I was saying that a society in which the marketplace allows for him to make that much is a society with pretty confused values…

Can we still let Shoeless Joe into the Hall of Fame? If so, let’s.

Soon, I need to write the post I’ve been meaning to about how I’ve been enjoying The Boston Globe since they let me subscribe for six months for next to nothing.

I need to do it soon, because the deal’s about to run out, and I’m pretty sure I can’t handle paying for yet another newspaper at full price.

In the meantime, though, I think I’ve said before how much I appreciate that at least their sports department acknowledges that baseball is worthy of attention and respect. I want to say it again.

Whatever the time of year, you can usually see something about the Red Sox on the front of the section — if only a little teaser to content inside. Of course, this is a town that actually has a storied major-league team (and possibly the best ballpark in baseball). But they have teams in those other sports, too, and they still don’t slight baseball at any time of year. Meanwhile, how did the National Pastime fare in my own hometown paper? Today’s Sports front has football… and football… and basketball… and football. As per usual.

Yesterday, I got an email from The Globe calling me to read this story, about how sportswriters have voted this year for entrants to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The piece complains about the writers being stingy by only naming one entrant. Of course, I don’t know what Boston has to complain about — the last one was Big Papi.

But being a South Carolinian, bereft of baseball, I have my own complaint, and I know it’s a bit of a trite one around here: They should forgive Joe Jackson and let him in. I’m no expert on either him or the Hall, but everything I’ve seen indicates Shoeless Joe was at worst a reluctant dupe in the Black Sox deal. I mean, the guy batted .375 in the series. How is that trying to throw it?

As for his worthiness for admission to the Hall, Joe had the fourth-highest career batting average in history — .3558. (And mind you, this was all before the scandal of the lively ball.) Ty Cobb had the best, and he got in — and Cobb was a major a-hole. But boy, could he play.

Yeah, it’s been said a thousand times. I just thought I’d say it again…

There might be some kind of statute of limitations keeping players from being admitted so long after their careers ended. I tried looking it up, but didn’t find it. But maybe there is. Still, I’d change the rule just to let Joe in…

Cobb and Jackson.

What do we value? And why?

Note the two headlines from The State‘s app yesterday.

Here’s the nut graf of the one that says “It’s official: Massive raise makes Shane Beamer highest-paid coach in USC history:”

The South Carolina board of trustees approved a new deal for the Gamecocks’ head football coach on Friday that will pay him $6.125 million in 2023 with escalators of $250,000 each year through the 2027 season — making him the highest-paid coach in school history. That’s up from his previous salary of $2.75 million annually….

And here’s the essence of the one that says “McMaster calls for $2,500 pay raise for SC teachers, plus a bonus:”

Gov. Henry McMaster wants to increase starting pay for South Carolina teachers by $2,500 to bring the base salary to $42,500….

This past year, the minimum teacher salary was set at $40,000….

Yes, I know there are ways to dismiss such comparison as silly. For instance, you can point out that the teacher pay raise will cost the state $254 million. On account of, you know, there being a bunch more teachers than head football coaches at USC. (Note that I limited that by saying “head” football coach. There are a lot of coaches. I tried to Google it and count them just now, but I got tired.)

I dismiss that by asking why you would value one football coach more than any one of those teachers. Of course, if you’re one of those public-school haters, you’ll single out the weakest teacher in the state and say, “I value him more than this teacher.” So let’s derail that argument by saying, why would you value the football coach over the single best teacher in the state (use your own standards, if you’d like)? For that matter, why would you value him as much as the very best 1,350 teachers in the state — since that’s how many times $2,500 goes into the raise Beamer received?

Of course, you could also say that you can’t compare the two, since one is purely state money, and the other is largely money voluntarily paid by people who are nuts about football. My response is that you’re missing the point. The point isn’t about public expenditures. The point is about what we humans in South Carolina value most — whether we pay for it through taxes or football tickets, or those premium parking spots around the stadium, or however we shell it out.

Of course, the “What do we value?” question is rhetorical. It’s obvious what we value.

Which takes me to my second question: Why?

A small epiphany

Then, she noticed me, not knowing what I was…

I experienced a little epiphany just before going to bed last night. To explain…

This being the Feast of the Epiphany, Bishop Robert Barron spends his sermon today talking about that word. Epiphany, from the Greek for “intense appearance.” The Magi experienced two such appearances — the star, and then the baby Himself.

But he spends most of the sermon exploring other instances in which the term can be used. He starts with James Joyce. Joyce was formed in Catholicism, but recorded in “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” his realization that he was not to be a priest, but to be “a kind of priest.” His vocation would be to notice epiphanies when he saw them, and then to describe them. Of course, being Joyce, he was able to do so masterfully.

The great example the bishop cites isn’t the birth of Christ, or the Transfiguration, or anything like that. It’s the moment when he first spotted the young woman who would become his wife, down by the shore near Dublin. The bishop calls it “one of the most beautiful scenes in 20th century literature.” It’s not the basis of a religion or anything, but it was the moment that transformed Joyce’s life, and he realized it. Everything changed then for him. And he was able to share that with us.

The bishop then gives various such moments from his own life, things that might have no significance in a plain, factual telling, but had significance to the person experiencing them. These “moments of intense manifestation” just happen. We can’t control them. We can’t “make it happen again.” They are moments of grace that are granted to us.

As I say, I had a very minor one of those last night.

Or rather, very early this morning. At 12:17 a.m. I had turned off the tube after rewatching a bit of “Wolf Hall.” My wife had already turned in, and I was doing my usual walking about making sure doors were locked and lights were turned out. And at one point I glanced out the door that leads to our garage, and through one of the windows in the garage, I saw an extraordinary thing.

The first glimpse, out the garage window.

There was a deer standing on the corner of my neighbor’s lot, directly under a streetlight, peacefully and calmly grazing on the lawn.

Deer are not a miraculous sight in our neighborhood. They leave hoofprints in my wife’s garden, letting us know who’s been feasting on the vegetables. Occasionally, one will streak across the street, running from one clump of trees to another — and then be gone.

But this one might as well have been standing in the Garden of Eden — peacefully, without any sort of nervousness, enjoying the natural bounty available in that spot. It was safe, unthreatened, unconcerned.

I quickly shot a grainy picture through the window. Then I slipped out, as quietly as possible, through the garage — fortunately the door was still open, so I didn’t have to activate the noisy opener — and out into the yard, moving carefully into a spot where my driveway light wasn’t on me, and my profile wouldn’t stand out from the creature’s perspective.

And I got another couple of pictures — something I’ve never had time to do before when deer have briefly appeared.

And then, the deer looked up, and looked directly at me. Or rather, at the something that it sensed out there in the darkness, beyond the pool of light in which it stood. Then, she turned her body in my direction.

She… it (I took it for a doe, but what do I know? It could have been a young male, without antlers. Perhaps one of you can tell me)… considered this unseen manifestation. She turned her head one way, considering me as a quizzical dog might do. Her tail twitched. She leaned her head the other way. She was in no nervous hurry. She felt safe to consider the situation at leisure. Her tail twitched again.

At one point, I thought I detected a slight movement in one of her front legs that meant she was starting to walk in my direction, and, transfixed, I wondered what I should do. Should I stand and wait for her, or should I move toward her myself, given her a chance to see what I was and take evasive action if the spell was broken and she felt the need? What would panic her the least? What was the right way to respond to this moment?

A few long seconds later, it was over. She reacted to the car coming down the street behind her, and turned, and took off into the darkness.

I went in, and woke up my wife, to share the experience. I wasn’t sure how she would react to that, but fortunately she got it, and didn’t mind.

She thought it was pretty cool, too…

On the ever-accelerating compression of time

The old and the young just don’t see time the same way.

Tonight, as I drove home from an Epiphany mass, my wife was checking her email on her phone, and found a missive from Experian about a supposed account.

Since she does not have an account with Experian, she found this mysterious, and she mentioned it to me.

“Don’t delete it,” I said. I said it quickly, because she’s not like me. She wouldn’t let 12,000 emails pile up. She dispatches them with, well, dispatch…

She wanted to know why not? Surely I didn’t have an account for checking my credit score or anything…

Well, no. I have never wondered what my “credit score” was. I only have the vaguest notion what a credit score is, or why anyone would want to know about such a thing. I think it has something to do with one’s ability to borrow money, and I find it hard to imagine wanting to do that — or do anything else that involves thinking about money. As I often mention.

But that name, “Experian,” rang a bell. I poked around in my memory as I drove, and decided it had something do to with something I had done for ADCO. I couldn’t remember what that something was, or whether it meant I was still in some way entangled with this Experian outfit. So I wanted to get home and check my ADCO email before she deleted that.

I explained that it was awhile back — maybe as much as a year. And that’s why I couldn’t remember details. I could only say it had something to do with something else that company does, something unrelated to credit scores.

So I got home, checked my old email — if it had to do with work, I would have filed them away. And I had. I found that I had even created a folder called “Experian” in that gmail account, and it had six emails stored in it. Apparently, I had briefly created an account with the company for them to do email verification on a list of people a client wanted to send something to. Not a task I’d normally perform. In fact, I had only ended up being the person to do it this once.

So, pretty good memory, right? I had sorta kinda remembered having done something with this company on one brief occasion. I can’t remember who the client was or what the eblast was about, but I remembered something. That’s good, right?

Please affirm me here. Because my point in writing this is to tell you that all those six emails were sent in 2017. In May and June of that year. Almost six years ago. And I had thought it was maybe as much as a year back.

This happens to me all the freaking time now. Usually, I’m being surprised when I hear some younger person talking about something that happened a long, long time ago. And I’ll think, “No, no, that just happened — it was right around the time of the 9/11 attacks.”

I’ll read some retrospective in a newspaper about something that happened 30 years ago, or 20 years ago, or even more absurdly, 10 years ago, and I’ll wonder why the writer is going on about this thing that just happened as though it were history, ancient history, something that many readers might not even be able to remember.

I hear younger people reminiscing about, say, the 2012 election in tones I might use in talking about, I don’t know, the Beatles. Or the Cuban Missile Crisis.

It’s one of the oddest things about aging, this powerful distortion of temporal perspective. Expect me to write more about it. You know how we old people are…

Missing our holiday guest, Dembe

Before any more days pass, I just wanted to say that since Monday, we’ve really been missing Dembe, the mostly pit bull mutt who stayed with us from Christmas Eve to Jan. 2.

He’s my eldest granddaughter’s dog, and he’s a great one. I’m told his name means “peace” in Uganda, and that suits him, despite his bellicose body type. He’s mostly quiet — except for the occasional gruff whenever anyone came to the door, or when he’d hear a noise from upstairs and forget that it was me. Not an alarming, blood-and-murder howling, just a calm reporting of the possibility that maybe there was an intruder about, and that we were free to make of it what we would. An FYI thing.

He’s the only dog we’ve had in this house who would simply let us know with a brief whine that he needed to go out, and then go on his own without being contained by leash or invisible fence, and come back in. Very disciplined, very civilized.

I would put a leash on him when I took him off the property for walks, because while I trusted him to stay with me, I doubted the neighbors would share my faith. The leash was made of chain, because his mighty jaws would make short work of nylon or any other lesser materials, if he really wanted to get loose. But he never tried. And he didn’t try to pull my arm off the way other dogs have — even though it was probably in his power to do so. He’s a very gentlemanly walker.

I could go on and on about his virtues, but I wanted to tell you something else about him. You know how crazy I am about the whole genealogy thing. Well, Dembe is the first dog I’ve known who has had his DNA done. Or rather, my granddaughter had it done. Unlike me, he could care less. And he’s right not to care, of course, but it’s fun to see his rich heritage quantified. I love a mutt — I much prefer them to those purebred toffs you see on the Westminster show each Thanksgiving.

And Dembe is such a mutt, sometimes in surprising ways.

Of course, the plurality of his genetic makeup — 43 percent — is what he looks like. And he is 89 percent various bulldog breeds — pit, Staffordshire terrier, plain bull (I guess “Bulldog” means English bulldog) — or boxer. You know, tough-guy breeds. I was a little surprised at the Staffordshire designation, but look at these pictures. Whom does that look like, especially the brindled one? Dembe’s legs are just longer, which is probably the boxer influence.

But he’s also a sporting chap — 5 percent Lab, although he showed little interest in tearing off after squirrels or anything. He’d chase a tennis ball, and then challenge you to try to take it away from him (that was his idea of how “fetch” was to be played, and it gave him a chance to show off his bulldog superpower — his powerful jaws), but if a small animal passed in front of him, he’d just give it a glance and move on. And then there was collie, and a bit of chow chow.

I don’t know if anyone has told him that he’s also part Chihuahua. I’m certainly not going to bring up the subject. I look forward to seeing him again soon, and wouldn’t want to damage our relationship…

He really enjoyed our new storm door, which kept out the 13-degree air, and let in the sun…

Just FYI, SC’s Ralph Norman is one of the main clowns in the speaker-election circus

I don’t have a lot of time for commenting on it, but I wanted to make sure you knew this — because until today, I did not.

That’s because my main source of South Carolina news, and SC angles on national news, is The State. And while you can go thestate.com looking for the information and find it, I still look at the paper through the lens of the print edition. No, I don’t read the dead-tree version literally — I dropped that years ago. I read all the newspapers to which I subscribe on my iPad. But some apps are better organized than others, and while I find the NYT‘s very helpful, I’m not pleased with the way The State‘s is organized. So I look at the e-edition each morning, before moving on to NYT and The Washington Post and the Boston Globe for national and international news and commentary.

And as near as I can tell, the fact that Ralph Norman is one of the 20 or so GOP crazies repeatedly sabotaging Kevin McCarthy’s bid for U.S. House speaker has not appeared in those reproductions of the print edition. (Maybe it’s been in those “Extra” pages that the app provides, but I don’t read those pages, because I read other papers for more timely news on those topics.)

I learned that this morning from The New York Times. You might always want to peruse this item, which breaks down every vote in the nine ballots.

By the way, in case you wondered, he’s the ONLY member of the SC delegation doing this. The other Republicans are dutifully lining up behind the guy who they think will win. Which doesn’t make them profiles in courage or anything, but it does make Norman alone.

Now, let’s get something straight: I’m no fan of Kevin McCarthy. I not only don’t want him to be speaker, I am embarrassed that such a person is in position to be seriously considered.

He is unsuitable for the position, to say the least.

But these Republicans who keep voting against him are doing so because they don’t think he’s unsuitable enough. So I wanted to make sure you knew Ralph Norman was one of them.

I suppose I should enjoy the situation. As David Frum wrote in The Atlantic (in a piece headlined “No Tears for Kevin McCarthy“):

Because the people attempting to inflict that defeat upon McCarthy include some of the most nihilistic and destructive characters in U.S. politics, McCarthy is collecting misplaced sympathy from people who want a more responsible Congress. But the House will function better under another speaker than it would under McCarthy—even if that other speaker is much more of an ideological extremist than McCarthy himself.

The defeat of Kevin McCarthy in his bid for the speakership of the House would be good for Congress. The defeat of Kevin McCarthy would be good for the United States. It might even be good for his own Republican Party.

McCarthy is not in political trouble for the reasons he deserves to be in political trouble. Justice is seldom served so exactly. But he does deserve to be in trouble, so justice must be satisfied with the trouble that he’s in….

We could talk about this back and forth all day, but I just wanted to make sure that as we watch this, my fellow South Carolinians know that Ralph Norman is one of those “most nihilistic and destructive characters in U.S. politics”…

 

 

 

I feel SO clean after ridding myself of 12,000 useless emails!

Just wanted to brag a bit.

Of course, before bragging I have to confess that I let that many stupid emails pile up to start with. They dated back to sometime in early September. How does this happen? Well, the email slave — that being me — fails to keep up with it for a few busy days. Then, it’s too much to deal with in less than an hour, and my fitful, inadequate efforts to whittle it down by a couple of days become more and more obviously pointless, and I lose hope.

So despite those puny efforts, at the start of the holidays the pile was at about 12,000, even though I had eliminated thousands since September, in small batches. I say “about” because I didn’t take an inventory, which requires taking a second to add up the “Primary,” “Social” and “Promotions” subdivisions of my In box. And who wants to do that? The specific number would be too depressing.

I thought I’d get to it during the holidays, since paying work was slow. I didn’t. And I don’t regret that, because I value the things I did instead during the holidays infinitely more.

In the early 90s, I thought email was an awesome invention — for about five minutes. By the turn of the century, it was eating my life — loudly, with its mouth open. I hate it with a passion.

Two days ago, I got ruthless and resolved to get up a couple of hours early each morning and make myself use that time — before breakfast, before coffee, even — on absolutely nothing but the mass destruction of email. At this stage, when all hope of having the time to spend paying attention to these thing was gone, I could justify glancing at messages fitting into one or two small categories, and slaughtering the rest. I was like Conan, interested only in crushing my messages, seeing them driven before me, and hearing the lamentations of their senders!

And it took me only two days. I had predicted at least 10.

Now my In box looks like this, and it is beautiful:

Why didn’t you come see US this time, Joe?

I had to say this on Twitter this morning:

I mean, you came here in August, as per usual. You had a good time, didn’t you, as always? So why didn’t you…

Oh. That was August. This is December.

OK, we’ll let it go this time, but we hope to see you again soon. I don’t want to engage in coercion or anything, but remember who put you into the White House

President Joe, having an awesome time at Kiawah in August.

So, how many bags do I GET for that?

As I mentioned the other day (as if you didn’t already know it), inflation and other money-related matters don’t interest me much, but occasionally some small detail grabs my attention for maybe half a minute.

That was the case when I went to buy some Fritos to enjoy with chili — I’m not a big chip-eater, but I consider the Bandito‘s product to be essential to the full enjoyment of chili — and was struck by the sign here that boasted the apparently startlingly-low price of $4.49.

So of course, I immediately wondered, “How many of these little bags do I get for that amount?”

I figured it would have been at least two, and I definitely wouldn’t have felt like I was getting a bargain at the price.

And when I’m really honest about the value of things, and assess what I think it really ought to cost, I set the number at five bags. I’m applying the AMIAVI (that’s the Absolute, Moderately Inflation-Adjusted Value of an Item). No, don’t Google that. That’s my own, made-up standard which, since it’s based in personal experience, makes way more sense to me than such more generally employed acronyms such as CPI or EBITDA.

Only I can apply this standard, because no one else has the sufficiently detailed knowledge of my life experiences. (If I figure out a way to monetize this special skill, I’ll let you know.) In this case, I remember that in the vending machine in the main hall of Garrison-Williams School (nowadays shortened to “Williams School“) in Norfolk, Va., the private school where I attended 1st grade because my birthday was inconveniently timed for the public schools, you could get a small, kids-lunch-sized bag of Fritos for a nickel. Yes, 5 cents. I can’t prove that, but that’s the way I remember it, and that’s what is relevant to the AMIAVI.

Note that I’m allowing generously for inflation here, expecting only five bags for the lordly sum of $4.45. That’s because I’m applying the easygoing AMIAVI. If I were applying my stricter, but seldom-used, ANIAVI (Absolute, NonInflation-Adjusted Value of an Item), five bags would be worth a quarter. That means I could get at least 17, and maybe 18 bags. But that would be the little, kiddy bags, and several (but not many) of those would fit in one of the bags pictured above, so let’s go with the AMIAVI, which involves less math and more gut feeling.

Anyway, enough with the complicated monetary terms. What do you think one of the bags in the picture is really worth? Apply any standard you like, but it would be cool if you’d also explain it…