Author Archives: Brad Warthen

A quick follow-up on that Will column…

Oh my, look! THERE’S an attractive candidate…

If you read the piece that inspired the previous post, you know that Will launched into his topic about the debasement of our politics and our political journalism with the observation that for the likes of Josh Hawley, it’s not about getting anything done, or saying anything meaningful (in his case, certainly not!) — it’s about getting attention.

Like an infant feeling ignored and seeking attention by banging his spoon on his highchair tray, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) last week cast the only vote against admitting Finland and Sweden to NATO. He said adding the two militarily proficient Russian neighbors to NATO would somehow weaken U.S. deterrence of China.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who is an adult and hence not invariably collegial, said: “It would be strange indeed for any senator who voted to allow Montenegro or North Macedonia into NATO to turn around and deny membership to Finland and Sweden.” That evening, Hawley appeared on Fox News to receive Tucker Carlson’s benediction….

Which, for someone like Hawley, is the point.

Anyway, I was reminded of that point this morning when I saw, and reacted to, this: “Cunningham wants end of ‘geriatric’ politicians. Will it cost him help from Biden, Clyburn?

My response was to say:

But I decided to post this to take it to the next step, which is to point out the connection to what Will was saying yesterday. You don’t have to look far. It’s the lede of The State‘s story:

Joe Cunningham made national headlines when he suggested an end to the “geriatric oligarchy” in political office and said on national television that President Joe Biden should step aside in 2024 and let someone younger run…

You see, he “made national headlines!” He got “on national television!” How terribly exciting. What more could he want?

Well, I’ll tell you what more I want, as a voter. I’d like him to step up and tell me why he, Joe Cunningham, would be a better governor than Henry McMaster. That shouldn’t be hard, if he has anything to say in his behalf at all.

And no, being younger doesn’t cut it. Just as it wouldn’t if you boasted that you are white, and male. I’m looking for something a tad more substantial than that. Yeah, I’m picky…

The nonreading public, and the media that serve it

George Will had a good piece yesterday. It offered multiple levels upon which you could enjoy it.

There was the headline, of course: “Josh Hawley, senator-as-symptom of a broken news business.” But it’s not really about that insufferable little twerp — although you may enjoy the link Will provides toward the end (rendered above in gif form), showing him skedaddling away from his good friends in the Jan. 6 mob. (Frank Bruni had some fun with that as well, in light of Hawley’s new book, which is, hilariously, about being a man.)

It was more about… well, here’s the most appropriate excerpt:

… (T)oday’s journalism has a supply-side problem — that is, supplying synthetic controversies:

“What did Trump say? What did Nancy Pelosi say about what Trump said? What did Kevin McCarthy say about what Pelosi said about what Trump said? What did Sean Hannity say about what Rachel Maddow said about what McCarthy said about what Pelosi said about what Trump said?”

But journalism also has a demand-side problem: Time was, journalists assumed that news consumers demanded “more information, faster and better.” Now, instantaneous communication via passive media — video and television — supplies what indolent consumers demand.

More than half of Americans between ages 16 and 74 read below the sixth-grade level. Video, however, requires only eyes on screens. But such passive media cannot communicate a civilization defined by ideas. Our creedal nation, Stirewalt says, “requires written words and a common culture in which to understand them.”…

The first part of that provides a certain understanding of what is wrong with today’s political journalism, and we can talk about that all day. Will employs the analogy I’ve used a gazillion time in recent decades about how reporters cover politics the way they would sports — there are only two sides to anything, and all we care about is which of the two wins, to the extent that we care.

Of course, that’s an insult to sports, the more I think about it. Actual sports contain far more nuance, variety, color and humanity than the ones-and-zeroes coverage we get of politics these days.

But the thing that really grabbed me was this one sentence:

More than half of Americans between ages 16 and 74 read below the sixth-grade level.

It grabbed me not simply because such low levels of literacy are distressing in themselves. It’s because of the larger point Will is making, which is that in an atmosphere of such plunging intellectual engagement, we’ve seen political journalism change “from reporting what had happened to reporting what was happening, and now to giving passive news consumers the emotional experience of having their political beliefs ratified.”

And that’s the essential problem, or at least one of the essential problems. To engage with politics meaningfully and constructively requires the active mental process of reading. The passive mob, engaged only to the extent of its members’ sense of identity with one of the two sides (and there can only be two, under the current rules of the stupid game), cannot possibly maintain a healthy, vital republic of the sort our Founders established.

To be a citizen, you can’t just twitch. Nor can you merely go about feeling strongly about this or that. You have to think. And of course, we don’t see very much of that anymore…

 

The Hero’s Journey

Sometimes in this distracted age, our myths let us down.

I got to thinking about that this morning:

OK, I remember that Obi-Wan let Darth win. It was a deliberate sacrifice, which I’m sure means a great deal in the theology of the Force, or would if there were such a theology. For us caught up in the film, I suppose the point was that it was so important to let the guys rescue Princess Leia, and even more importantly, destroy the Death Star (remember what it did to Alderaan), that he was willing to give his life to make it happen. (I’m not entirely sure why he couldn’t do all that and beat Darth, too, but I suppose Darth needed to live so there could be another movie, and so Anakin could be redeemed in the end.)

But anyway, he lost. And in this case, I’d rather see Rep. Cheney win and You-Know-Who lose. But I guess we can’t have everything.

My point, if I have one, is that this reminded me of something I’ve thought about a good bit lately. Actually, I’ve been thinking about it for several years, but I’m not asking you to be impressed — I suppose others have thought about it for millennia. It was when I was reading Rubicon by Tom Holland.

And as always, when I read about those days, I’m struck by how much the Trojan War comes up. Over and over and over again. It’s like the Greeks just had this one story they kept going back to, and of course, the Romans — as industrious as they were in so many other ways — couldn’t be bothered even to come up with one story of their own, so they stole the Greeks’. Which was their way.

If they came up with another story — like the one about Odysseus/Ulysses — they couldn’t even separate that new one from the big one. Sure, that’s about him and his boys being lost for years on the way home — but they were on the way home from… the Trojan War.

It even comes into the Romulus and Remus story, although I’m always forgetting how exactly.

Seems like they could have come up with some other stories. But they didn’t. They liked that one, and they stuck with it. Sort of makes me feel bad that I’ve never read the originals — not the Iliad, or for that matter the Aeniad. But you see, I have no Greek beyond Kyrie Eleison, and my Latin — despite the best efforts of the legendary Mrs. Sarah T. Kinney of Bennettsville High School — remains inadequate to tackling literature. I mean, I know that Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, but I don’t know what comes next.

And yes, I know millions of people over the ages — or a lot of them, anyway — have contented themselves with translations, but it just seems that after all this time, I could have made myself learn Greek. But I didn’t, so I leave it alone. I know the basic story, though — that horndog Paris caused a heap of trouble, and it went on for a bunch of years, and ended with a fake horse. I content myself with that. At least I don’t have to study Communism or Nazism or anything to get what the war was about. Pretty basic, really, even though it’s a bit hard for a modern mind to fully grasp why most of those other people went along with having a war over it.

That’s not my point, though. My point is that I started thinking about it again lately when I read a piece in The Wall Street Journal headlined, “The Power of Our New Pop Myths.”

Yeah, I know — the paywall. Actually, it’s getting in my way at the moment, too — some problem with my password I’ve had for about 20 years. Which I’m not going to change. But anyway, the subhed is “Marvel, Star Wars and other franchises have become central to our culture by returning to a primal form of storytelling.,” and it begins like this:

And so forth. It’s sort of related to a complaint I frequently voice about Hollywood being unable to come up with fresh stories. They just keep recycling the same yarns. (How many Spider-Man origin movies have we had in the past few years?)

Kind of like with the ancient Greeks and Romans, but at least we have more than one story. There’s Marvel, there’s Harry Potter, there’s Bilbo Baggins, and Dune if you like. There’s the Matrix. All of which are at least entertaining, the first time you hear them.

And of course, between the Trojan War and Peter Parker, we Westerners who have at least paid some attention to the actual bases of our culture have had, with the help of the ancient Hebrews, the rich stories of the Bible, and a religion that speaks to me and many others of eternal verities, which if you’ll forgive me, I find even more meaningful than learning about the Kwisatz Haderach.

Which brings me back to Bishop Barron, who as you know continues to impress me with the power of his Sunday sermons.

He had a good one this week, in which he got all Jungian on the way to teaching an important lesson about what God wants from us.

His title was “Go on a Hero’s Journey,” and in it he gets into such stories as “The Hobbit.” It’s about how comfortable Bilbo was in his Hobbit hole, as hobbits tend to be, and beyond that about the inconvenient fact that that’s not what God wants. Like the dwarves who invade Bilbo’s sanctuary, and like Gandalf, he wants us to get out there and have an adventure, one that actually matters.

Anyway, I’m not going to recite the whole sermon to you; you can watch it below. I recommend it highly…

Sometimes, history is quite disappointing

I’ve remarked a number of times recently, I think, on the fact that no matter how much history I think I know, I keep getting slapped in the face by the fact that I don’t know squat about it.

Even when you limit it to a certain period I’ve obsessed over, I keep learning things that you would have thought anyone would have known. But I didn’t. Makes me humble — almost. I wish it would make those people on both sides of the CRT battles — who all think they know everything they need to know about what went before, and what it means — humble. Or at least quiet them down a bit. Because they get tiresome.

I had this happen again a few minutes ago. For reasons having nothing to do with this post, I happened to look up a town called Jeannette, Pennsylvania. A guy named it for his wife. It’s a pretty new town, only founded in 1888. You’d think it was out West or something, but no. Near Pittsburgh, which is only out West if you’re in Philadelphia.

Anyway, I read that its 2010 population was 9,654. Which made me think of my hometown, Bennettsville. Y’all know, of course, that I use that term “hometown” loosely, as only a Navy brat can. I grew up in America — mostly — rather than one bit of it. But I was born there, and it was the place I returned to in the summers, and I spent the entire 9th grade at Bennettsville High School, back when there was one (go, Green Gremlins!). I feel a great fondness for the place, but as I’ve said repeatedly, I could walk all the way through downtown on Main Street and not be recognized by anyone, unless I got lucky.

So I looked up B’ville on Wikipedia as well, and found that as I thought, the population was close to the same — 9,069 in 2010.

But then I read on, and got to this:

The city of Bennettsville was founded in 1819 on the Great Pee Dee River and named after Thomas Bennett, Jr., then governor of South Carolina….

I’d never thought about it before, but I guess I’d always assumed it had been named for, you know, somebody who lived there in the early days. Some plucky pioneer who was among the first Europeans to turn the sod on the banks of the Pee Dee, or who operated a ferry, or some such.

But no, this guy was just — the governor. Some guy from Charleston. It appears he raised some questions about the conduct of the Denmark Vesey investigation, trial and executions. Perhaps the points he raised were to his credit. It’s a bit hard to tell, because the article isn’t very well written.

But that’s all irrelevant to the point that, aside from having it named for him, I don’t see anything that indicates he had anything to do with Bennettsville. Or Marlboro County, for that matter. Or the Pee Dee, even.

Which is rather disappointing. It’s like founding a town and naming it for Henry McMaster, even though he’d never been there. Don’t you think that’s kind of lame? I’d think it was lame even if Henry were a more interesting and distinguished governor. Which, as we know, wouldn’t take much.

I’m not lobbying to change it, of course, even though B’ville has plenty of more interesting sons and daughters — Hugh McColl, Marian Wright Edelman, or if you want someone more recent, Aziz Ansari. I mean, come on — it was the home and base of operations of Sen. Jack Lindsey! Why, my Uncle Woody embodies the town, far as I’m concerned, and could entertain you enormously telling stories about it. But it’s not named for him, either.

But again, I love the name “Bennettsville,” and wouldn’t change it. It has a certain warm, rounded feel. It’s part of my own deepest identity, one of the essential “B” names and words for which I’ve always felt such a keen comfort and affection. (Have you seen me in my new B hat?) Like the color blue.

I just wish we had a better reason for the name. Maybe there is one, and it didn’t make Wikipedia. I’ll have to ask Walter Edgar, next time I see him. Being a real historian, he knows stuff like that…

Stop shocking me, people!

If seeing this movie is a childhood memory to you — or worse, you don’t remember it — don’t tell me about it.

Well, I suffered another shock today, of a sort that has become familiar.

I was reading my Washington Post app, and ran across a story that begins this way:

In 1993, I was nominated for homecoming queen at my high school in a conservative Southern California city. It wasn’t meant to be a political act. One of my girlfriends had suggested, “Nominate Trey — he’ll do it,” after the girls had agreed none of them wanted to parade around in a rayon dress from Windsor Fashions while being judged.

I was used to this. While most of my peers spent weekends at football games and rodeos, I slipped into black high heels and Russian Red lipstick and drove to Los Angeles, where I snuck into the clubs with my fake ID and innocent smile. That was just me being me….

It’s written by some guy named Trey, and the subject is the fact that Brad Pitt recently appeared in public in a skirt.

In any case, I’m sure you can see immediately what it is that I found shocking about this story.

Yep, there it is, at the very start of the very first sentence; “In 1993…”

What?!? I thought. You were hanging out with a bunch of high school kids in 1993? You, a grown man who wrote a column appearing in one of America’s leading newspapers, refer to one of those kids as “one of my girlfriends?”

What kind of a perv are you, sir? Are you one of those guys who hangs around, leaning against walls and saying, “Alright alright alright!”

Or rather, “I get older; they say the same age…

Of course, I’ll admit that I read far more shocking stuff than this — in a temporal sense — every day. Frequently, I’ll hear an apparent grownup referring to some event happening “when I was a little kid,” and the thing he’s referring to happened after (or shortly before) the recent turn of the century — which was what, about a week or two ago?

By contrast, 1993 was more like several months ago, or maybe a year. That was the year I turned 40. In fact, to nail it down further, the day I turned 40 was the day the Battle of Mogadishu happened.

This happens more and more, and I’m finding it more and more disorienting. So cut it out, people. The last think we need — or the last thing I need, anyway — is to hear people talking about events of the Clinton administration as though they happened during Charlemagne’s reign over the Holy Roman Empire.

Get a grip, people — before I lose mine…

DeMarco: Randy, Please Write Back

The Op-Ed Page

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

After my June column, “Losing well is critical to democracy,” in which I praised Tom Rice for his grace in defeat and compared his response to Donald Trump’s incessant lying about his loss, I received an email from someone whom I will call “Randy” who is a Trump supporter. Randy told me he grew up in Florence and now lived out west. He was back home visiting and saw the column. He is a volunteer poll worker and has witnessed “serious problems with conducting fair elections” although the only example he cited was an error that involved 40 votes in a local election.

Given that Steven Wukela won the Florence mayoral Democratic primary by a single vote in 2008, I agree with Randy that election integrity is paramount: votes must be properly counted and only eligible voters should vote.

I was curious about his poll-working experience and wanted to know more. Did he believe that the 2020 election had been stolen? How did he think it had occurred?

But the most interesting statement in his email was “Trump gets his power from loyal voters like me. He is nothing without the huge support he enjoys from voters. Whenever you insult him, you actually insult voters like me which cost Tom Rice his job from fellow Trumpers!”

I found this very helpful. For someone like me who knows and respects many people who voted for Trump but sees Trump himself as reckless and solipsistic, I wanted to engage with Randy and find out why he is such a devoted follower.

I was also encouraged that he ended his missive with this benediction: “I enjoyed reading your column but could not disagree with you more.”

Randy’s sentiment, that he could both enjoy my column but totally disagree was refreshing and is largely missing from current political discourse. My intuition is that there are many Americans like Randy, who can disagree enjoyably and leave an argument respecting their opponent.

I quickly composed an answer. The first draft was civil but contained the accusation that due to his fealty to Trump “he had a ‘chip-on-the- shoulder’ attitude” and that he was “primed to be insulted.”

When I reread it, I realized that I was making the error that so many of us make – I assumed I understood his motives, that I could read his mind. It’s always better to allow people to tell you why they feel the way they feel. Of course, they may or may not reveal their true motivations, but it is worth hearing them out.

So I edited my draft. Here is what I sent:

“Randy, I really appreciate your responding to my column. Thank you for your service as a poll worker and the insights in your email. I would be happy to entertain evidence that there was significant fraud in 2020. I agree that elections are not perfect. But the fact that 40 voters voted twice in (your home state) is a far cry from what would be needed to overturn a presidential election… After almost two years and 60 court cases in which no evidence of fraud was found, I think your position that significant fraud existed is weak. Your position is also opposed by attorney general Bill Barr, countless election officials including the Republican Secretary of State who certified the result in Georgia, Brad Raffensperger (who recently beat the Trump-backed candidate in his primary reelection campaign), and the U.S. Congress. Again, I would be open to hearing the evidence and being swayed by it.

I’m interested in your statement ‘Whenever you insult him, you actually insult voters like me.’ I’m not out to insult Trump and certainly not people like you who support him. I’m stating what I believe to be a fact, that he knows he lost the election and is purposely pushing a lie about fraud because it is effective with many of his supporters. He has a unique and strong bond with you and many others. I would benefit from your telling me more about why he means so much to you.

I truly value your willingness to engage with me civilly. If you would, please write back. Thanks and best wishes, Paul”

I sent that over a week ago and as of this writing have not received a response. But for me the possibility that he might respond is energizing. So much of what I read and listen to makes me grit my teeth in despair. I sit between the two warring sides as they lob innuendo- and contempt-laden grenades at one another. It’s depressing and deeply boring. There are many of us in this no-man’s land. If what was said on Twitter was what most of us truly felt about our political opponents, fistfights should be breaking out daily in every grocery store in the country.

Truth is, only a small fraction of us participate in our media dialogues and fewer still enjoy it. Most of us would rather have honest discussions that include various points of view. I hope Randy writes back, or if not that someone else who disagrees with me will.

This column appeared in the Florence Morning News on 7/20/22. Still no response from Randy, but I plan on sending him the blog post. Maybe we can engage him that way.

Yet another way baseball could save America

One of my grandfather’s baseball teams. That’s him squatting on the right. Note that some guys wear jerseys that say “P.O,” while others don’t.

My wife brought this story to my attention this morning, knowing I would like it: “Companies worried about worker turnover could try baseball.”

It’s about how measures that employers instituted at workplaces a century ago might help with today’s Great Resignation problems. A number of things were done to make workplaces more pleasant, but this was my (and the headline writer’s) favorite step:

Goodyear President F.A. Seiberling … embraced employee welfarism with a wide-reaching program in Akron, Ohio, that included an improved working environment, a thrice-a-week employee newspaper, a housing development and even a company baseball team to make workers feel like part of the “Goodyear family.” Confronted with the same problems, his crosstown competitor Harvey Firestone followed suit.

These companies met others on baseball fields in a league they organized that spanned at least two other states. The brick stadium where the Firestone Non-Skids played (named for the company’s first treaded tires, “non-skids”) seated 4,500 cheering workers, and it still stands in front of the old company headquarters. The idea was that when employees sat in the stands and cheered for the company, they’d be more loyal, and as a result, they were encouraged to do so. Goodyear told workers in 1920, for example, that attending the games alone wasn’t enough; “moral support, organized cheering, [and] boosting 24 hours a day” were critical as well.

The quality of baseball had to be good enough to attract these fans, though. In rising industrial cities like Akron and Michigan’s Flint and Grand Rapids, where there were no professional teams, fans typically watched amateur clubs compete. Industrial teams played as part of that environment, and so increasingly, companies hired men who were good baseball players. During World War I, Frank Stefko remembered hearing from a fellow soldier, Glenn “Speed” Bosworth, that Goodyear was hiring ballplayers in Akron, so after the war, he traveled to the Rubber City from Scranton, Pa. The personnel office said the company didn’t have openings until he mentioned Bosworth’s message. “Oh, you’re the ballplayer!” They hired him on the spot….

It worked. Employee morale and longevity improved, as did productivity. Employers did this not just to be nice guys, but because it was good for business. It also helped stem union efforts — until the Depression led to cutbacks in such expenditures, so the great heyday of unions arrived in the 1930s.

My wife knew I would like the story because of my grandfather. She never met him — he died of lung cancer when I was four — but he found some time to teach me some basics of baseball before we lost him.

And playing baseball on the workplace team is a big part of his legend. I’ve told you all this before, but I’ll tell you again, because I love these kinds of stories from the days when this was a baseball-loving country. Here’s something I wrote about it before, with a picture of the house where my grandmother lived with her family before her marriage:

Here’s how she met my grandfather — she would see him walking past her house on the way to the train station each day in a suit and straw boater, carrying a bag. She thought he was a salesman, and the bag contained his wares. Actually, he was a ballplayer, and bag contained his uniform and glove. He worked for the Post Office, but he only worked there so that he could play ball for its team. He was a pitcher. Gerald “Whitey” Warthen would eventually be offered a contract with the Senators, which he turned down to work in his father’s business.

A couple of minor corrections: He worked, I think, for the Railway Post Office, which I take it was some subset of the P.O. we all know. More importantly, he wasn’t just a pitcher, as I have learned since reading about him in recent years in old copies of The Washington Post and other local papers. He was also an infielder. Basically, he played anything as long as it was baseball. Oh, and before he launched on this working-for-baseball period, he had been captain of the team at Washington and Lee.

Anyway, I guess I am genetically predisposed to see baseball as a great way to attract employees. Unfortunately, the end of that story in the Post sounds a discouraging note:

Today, companies are also experimenting with ways to boost worker welfare in the context of the Great Resignation. Baseball spectatorship has been replaced by team-building activities that include workplace climbing walls, wine-tasting events, table tennis, family picnics, free lunches and special doughnut days. At the turn of the last century, employers experimented to identify which perks resonated with workers. While the jury is still out on whether such programs will be successful today, companies are following in the footsteps of NCR, Goodyear and Kellogg’s in experimenting with programs that employees find meaningful and useful — enough so to stay in their jobs.

You see that? No baseball. That’s the sad state of America today. Baseball is no longer seen as a way of pleasing the masses. Is there any hope for us?

The Rolling Stones love me so much, they’re going to let me buy something!

Don’t you love these kinds of come-ons?

I just got an email — and y’all know how much I love having people send me email — from Spotify headlined, “The Rolling Stones made you something special.”

Below that was a pic of the lads — the unbelievably ancient-looking lads, but as we all know, they’ve looked that way since they were very young — looking at me oh, so fondly. You know, because we’re such mates and all. (Except that Ron Wood. He’s looking off to the side for some reason. Oh, well. We were never that close. I still think of him as that guy from Rod Stewart’s band.)

And then below that was this message:

Thanks for being a fan

To celebrate their 60th anniversary, The Rolling Stones have designed an exclusive t-shirt and mug for their top fans on Spotify.

A limited quantity is available for this offer – until August 7th or while supplies last – so act quickly!

And below that, the critical button that said “BUY MERCH.” Here’s where it leads, although you may not be able to call it up, if you’re not as tight with Mick and the guys as I am. Sorry. You should make an effort to be cooler in the future.

Anyway, clicking the button offers me the chance to buy both a T shirt and a coffee mug for only $48! This is amazing because the T shirt costs $40 alone, while the price of the mug alone is $20!

I’m overwhelmed. But sorry, guys — I’ve been buying a bunch of stuff lately. Also, I already have a lot of T shirts. And a lot of coffee mugs — more than I need, if you can believe it.

But thanks for thinking of me. It really touches me to think of y’all putting down your guitars and such and making these things for me with your own hands and all. Get back to me when your 70th anniversary rolls around. Or maybe your 75th, OK?…

And next, the email…

Now that I’ve spent every spare moment I could find for several days gradually putting that post about Boston together — determined to get that done once after one of my trips — I can turn to catching up on email.

Not work email — I’m up to date on that chore. I mean my personal email. The screenshot above from my iPad indicates the scale of the problem. Not exactly, but that “2,031” you see over the email icon is roughly how many I have sitting unexamined in my personal In box.

Which I hate. Of course, I’ll delete most of them — not even opening the overwhelming majority of those before I do — and save most of the few left to folders, also unread. You know, just in case they prove useful at some point in the future. Which they almost certainly will not. But even the system I have for committing unthinking mass murder to hundreds or thousands of messages can take me a couple of hours, when there are this many. Of course, it’s not the many that cause it to take so long — it’s the few I open and glance at, and perhaps even read.

Remember when — 25 to 30 years ago — we thought email was a convenience? And certainly it was, compared to snail mail, which takes so much time and physical effort to process even a single letter. It was made more seductive, there in the early-to-middle ’90s, by the fact that relatively few people out there had email, which really cut down on the volume.

Yesterday, I was talking about something else with an IT professional — no, not a funny one like this guy, but a real one — and he was talking about some new technology he was working with, and I asked him to let me know if he ran across any new technology that eliminated the hassle of email.

Trying to be helpful, he made a suggestion or two, but I had tried them already, leading to failure. For instance, he suggested creating folders in which to dump things that might require some action (or at least reading), so they can be addressed later. With bitter regret, I told him of my hundreds of such folders, which have done nothing to reduce the work — and which, of course, I pretty much never look back at. The junk just sits there.

Part of it is my personality. I’ve always been a pack rat, and I have a great, almost mortal, dread of having something in my hands at one point, throwing it away, and then desperately needing it at some later date. (This, of course, predates email. My office, or my desk if that’s all I had, would always be a forest of piles of paper. To this day, I defend this system because of something that happened once in the very early ’90s — Managing Editor Paula Ellis, knowing my habits, came to me and asked whether I had a copy of a memo that had been distributed in the newsroom several months earlier. Certainly, I said. I went immediately to the right pile and shuffled through it for a moment — then proudly handed it to her. See? My way was the right way. It may have only happened once, but it happened…)

Then there is the problem of my chosen profession — or rather, the profession that chose me. It’s very difficult for a journalist — at least this one — to throw away written information. It may not be useful later, but on rare occasions it can be critical later. This only got worse when I turned to opinion writing — and much worse than that when I took up blogging. At least, when I was a beat reporter 40-odd years ago, there was a limit to the range of things I might write about. No longer. And since I still blog, this perceived need to hang onto things has continued well past the end of my newspaper career.

Even the stupidest, most useless, boring piece of crapola — say, an appeal for money from a political campaign — can inspire me to write something, depending on my mood. Sometimes, I write only to share how stupid, useless and boring it is.

Oh, well.

I’ll turn to it later, and get it done eventually. Right now, I think I’ll turn, however briefly, to some actual paying work…

 

 

 

Highlights of the Boston trip, July 7-July 13, 2022

One of the twins shot this of me at the Navy Yard in Charlestown, with the Boston skyline in the background.

The main attraction in going to Boston was to spend time with our twin granddaughters, who are doing a summer intensive program at the Boston Ballet. Of course, they were only free to hang out on Saturday and Sunday, so we planned our itineraries with them in mind on those days.

On Friday, Monday and Tuesday, we did other stuff. On almost every day of the trip we had a great time, although I had to do the last day alone because my wife developed some serious back problems and had to stay at the B&B. How serious? Serious enough to make her give up seeing things she had really looked forward to. But the rest of the time was great. (We think it was the walking — miles and miles more than we were used to, on a daily basis. My legs got stiff and sore, but I was able to walk it out the next morning. So I was the lucky one.)

This was our first time in Boston. It was also my first time this far north in this country, although we were at a much higher latitudes in England and Ireland.

Quincy. This filled the schedule for Friday (the Red Line will take you all the way down there, but it’s still a trek) — the home town of John Adams (and Abigail, and their boy John Quincy), my favorite Founding Father. We saw and toured… John’s birthplace, John Quincy’s birthplace, the more palatial home where John and Abigail lived in later years (and where they both died), the Church of the Presidents where John Quincy had four pews at his disposal, and where all three of them and John Quincy’s wife, Louisa, are buried (in the crypt downstairs). And it was an interesting town to walk around and see how it has changed over time. We had lunch at a Mexican restaurant, but we could have gone with Chinese, Italian, Korean, Indian or Vietnamese. We could have had a Thai massage, too, but I was sure it would cost a lot more than the one I had in Kanchanaburi. Back in John Adams’ day “diversity” in Quincy meant being Congregationalist or Unitarian instead of Church of England.

The farmhouse in which John Adams was born — and where he started his law practice.

This stone structure is the Adams library, behind their later home — but John didn’t live to see it. It’s about the size of his birthplace.

Newton. We didn’t stay, technically, in Boston, but way out west in Newton — originally because that’s where the twins’ classes are, but that ended up not mattering since we could only get them over the weekend. But it was a delightful town, full of very old houses in fantastic restored condition — including the B&B we stayed in. Within a block or two were several nice places to eat, but my fave was O’Hara’s Food and Spirits. I recommend the Broiled Steak Tips. We were staying less than 100 yards from a Congregationalist church with a bell that rang the hour every hour — but if we kept the AC on in our bedroom, we couldn’t hear it. Best part: We were only about a block from the Newton Highlands station on the Green Line. Which leads us to…

The starting point of each day’s trek — Newton Highlands station on the Green Line.

Newton is full of old houses, beautifully restored. Dig the stained-glass windows above the porch.

Public Transportation. We flew there, and of course we didn’t rent a car, because this is a Civilized City, and provides ample, efficient, affordable public transportation. Which as you know, I love. I don’t go to places like London, New York and Boston for the subways alone, but they add greatly to the attraction. It’s so wonderful to go wherever you want without having to freaking drive. If I’d had a car with me, I’d have parked it on the outskirts of town.

When it comes to subways, I love the stations almost as much as the trains.

… especially this one. And no, it’s not Fenway — it’s Kenmore, which is more convenient to the ballpark.

Masks. As I said, this is a Civilized City — a place that doesn’t ignore things — so people wore masks. Not everybody. I’d say at least half the people on the trains did, and more than that in museums and restaurants. And all the kids there for Boston Ballet wore them all the time — they get tested every day, and if you’re positive, you’re on your way home, and none of them want that. There was one big exception: Fenway Park was full for that game with the Yankees on July 10, and my wife reckons she and I were the only two masked people. She enjoyed the game, but she figures that’s where she got the COVID that showed up in a positive test three days after we got home. Fortunately, despite the back problem, she didn’t feel sick until we’d been back a day or two. (She’s usually the healthy one, but she’s had a rough few days.)

In most situations, masks were the norm.

But sometimes, when they were most needed, they were not.

Unfamiliar features of the Earth. We knew the weather would be different — which is to say it was not insane the way it is here. Since it was July, it was very warm in the middle of the day, but blissful in the evening. And I knew intellectually that the days would be longer this far north. I was a bit surprised, though, when the sun rose and woke me up at 5:16 the first morning. It wasn’t to rise in Columbia for more than an hour after that. So we got up and got started.

The weather up there mostly felt the way this garden at Isabella’s museum (below) looked.

Isabella Stewart Gardner. She was an amazing woman, and she left behind an amazing museum. It’s surprising there were any cultural artifacts left in Europe — or the Far East — after her Gilded Age shopping spree. We were numb after a couple of hours of turning yet another corner and being confronted by yet another work of art we’d seen pictures of all our lives — including some personal favorites, such as John Singer Sargent’s El Jaleo (which is way, way bigger than I would have expected). Name it, she had it — Rubens, Raphael, Matisse, and yes, Rembrandt. (Where did she keep the Raphaels? In the Raphael Room. Duh.) I kept thinking, would it be possible for one individual today — Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, take your pick — to amass such a collection? I think not. Not at current art prices.

If you’re a dancer, you respond to great art in your own way.

See what I mean?

The Navy Yard. (Or, as the driver/guide on the trolley my second time over there explained, the Navy Yahd. He also told us that 8,500 women wuhked theh while the men were off fighting the wah.) This was the first thing I added to the itinerary as my wife was planning it. (Or maybe it was tied with Fenway Park). That’s because the U.S.S. Constitution, Old Ironsides, the world’s oldest ship afloat, is tied up there, and I was determined to inspect her. She did not disappoint. One of the nation’s original Six Frigates, laid down in 1794, you can easily see how she would have intimidated the Brits a few years later. I wasn’t piped aboard, and had no sideboys, but the ship — which is still commissioned as part of the U.S. Navy — was thinly manned (and in some cases, womanned), no doubt because the Americans didn’t press sailors. But they did serve grog in those days, and you can’t say fairer than that. I loved it, and my wife and granddaughters seemed to take interest as well. (For my part, I went back again on that last day, when I was alone.) I hadn’t planned it, but one of the twins and I also toured the USS Cassin Young, which was meaningful in a different way: My Dad served on destroyers just like that one, and I was able to explain a lot of it to my granddaughter.

Beautiful from here, but if you saw the paint on the larboard side, the 1st lieutenant would hang his head in shame.

Aim carefully: 32-lb. carronades are genuine smashers, but unless you’re right alongside, you can’t hit anything.

You can’t charge your phones. This is my one complaint about Boston — it’s hard to find public places where you can recharge, which is a huge problem when you’re taking enough pictures to fill a museum. I should have taken one of those portable pocket batteries, but I did not. This was particularly rough on Sunday, the 10th. We scrambled about the area around the Kenmore station for more than an hour, trying to find a fast-food place or somewhere we could have a bite and recharge at our table. No dice. For that reason, I only took about four pictures during the ball game at Fenway, and before the game was over, both our phones were dead. Which is a little spooky when you’re not 100 percent sure your train will be running after 11 p.m. on a Sunday (it was). I had another bad experience the last day, when my wife had stayed at the B&B nursing her bad back, and I was trying to stay in touch. I ended up walking from Bunker Hill down to the river, across it, and up several blocks past Faneuil Hall, trying at multiple places to recharge — McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks. I finally ended up squatting in a corner of Chipotle, next to the garbage bin, at the only outlet they would allow me. After about 20 minutes, my phone’s charge had only increased about 10 percent, and I’d had enough. I headed for the train to Newton. At Logan airport when we were leaving, I found sockets between a lot of the seats at the gate. It would have been nice to have a few of those when we were in town.

If you need to recharge your phone while having a bite before a ball game, don’t go here. Image from Google Maps.

Red Sox crush the Yankees. If you like the Red Sox, as I do, I can recommend few more enjoyable experiences than watching them trounce the New York Yankees in Fenway Park. Of course, it’s a bit tricky determining in advance when that will happen, but we chose a good night. The Sox not only won, thereby splitting a four-game home stand with the most hated of rivals, but they did it in a most satisfying way. The pinstriped guys scored two runs in each of the first three innings, which was enough to give a Boston fan the sinking feeling this pattern would continue until the end. It did not. After scoring three in the first three, the Sox scored three in the fifth, one in the sixth, and four in the seventh — just to put a nice, shiny finish on the job — while the Yanks put up nothing but goose eggs the rest of the game. Our honored Gamecock Jackie Bradley Jr. — who was right in front of us there in right field — went one for two before he and several others were taken out for pinch hitters during that hitfest in mid-game. We were also in good position to keep a watchful eye on that Aaron Judge fellow. It was a beautiful night. The game was perfect, the weather was perfect. I ate both peanuts and Cracker Jack, and while I did not care whether I ever got back, when it came time to do so, we were jammed like sardines into the train with a very, very happy crowd, all the way out to Newton.

I’d thought the Curse was broken in ’04, but then this guy sat down in front of us. The Sox won anyway.

One of only three shots I managed to get after the game started. But a great crowd, and a great game.

Salem. Ken had warned me it was just a tourist trap, and he was right enough. But we went anyway, partly to see the statue of Roger Conant, the twins’ great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather (but no ancestor of mine — the twins are my daughter’s children, but Conant is on their father’s side). Of course, maybe even Ken would have been impressed by the first statue we saw there — of Samantha Stephens from “Bewitched.” Really. Can you imagine anything tackier than that — a ’60s sitcom witch memorialized in the place where 19 innocents were killed in an early incident of mass insanity (by “early,” I mean “before 2016”)? And it was a terrible statue. Elizabeth Montgomery was a lovely woman, and it didn’t do her justice. And there were some really sad-looking tourists about, dressed in black like Theater majors and seeming to be living out a supernatural fantasy — a group of them had a great time taking each other’s pictures in front of Samantha. But we enjoyed walking about looking at the old houses in the McIntire Historic District.

Elizabeth Montgomery was way better-looking than this.

A reminder that more has happened in Salem than witch trials.

The North End. The night before our last day, my wife bought tickets for the hop-on, hop-off trolley that rides around the Freedom Trail — on account of her back. Her plan was that we’d hop on at the start of the route, but I wanted to go first to the North End — Boston’s Little Italy — for an espresso or two to start the day. As things turned out, by the time we got to the station that last morning, she urged me to go on alone, while she headed back to the B&B. I went to catch the trolley, but first went to Hanover Street for an espresso. But I wasn’t totally selfish. I also bought her a chocolate cannoli, which I then carried all day in the drawstring bag on my back. I did this in response to hearing Clemenza in my head, saying, “Drink the espresso; take the cannoli.” I then went to join the trolley over near the Aquarium station. I only rode it as far as Paul Revere’s house. Then, after taking advantage of the restroom at Old North Church and having another espresso across the street, I got back on the trolley to head over to the Navy Yard, and walked from there up Bunker Hill. Or Breed’s Hill. Whatever. Yeah, I told you this story just so I could paraphrase Clemenza.

“Drink the espresso. Take the cannoli.”

Just so you know the North End is Boston’s version of New York’s Little Italy.

The Freedom Trail. This is sort of the obligatory thing to do in Boston, especially if you spent as much time in college studying the early days of our republic as I did. We had intended to try to do it when the twins were with us over the weekend, but we couldn’t work it in. So it became a last-day thing. And I’ll confess I didn’t do it as thoroughly as I should have. But I did tour Paul Revere’s house, and admire his statue, and check out the gift shop of Old North Church. (There wasn’t as much in the church itself I needed to see. One if by land, two if by sea. Got it.) I did ride over to Charlestown and walk up to the Bunker Hill monument, just to check and make sure it was a hill, which I couldn’t tell from a distance. It was. For the first time, I felt the summer heat. After that, I was struggling with a phone running out of charge, and eventually got back on the train.

The guy who rode the horse in the poem…

Not my favorite Adams, but they seem to like him around Faneuil Hall…

Aside from the planned sightseeing, we ran across all sorts of wonderful things we hadn’t expected, such as the installation of bells by Henri Matisse’s grandson, which my granddaughters played as we crossed the Charles River at the locks. And did you know that they have a hotel named for that storied lawncare business in Philadelphia? Oh — and the Edgar Allen Poe statue! (Which confused me, because I thought he was from Baltimore.)

Oh, dang! As I wrote this, it suddenly occurred to me that I forgot to do something. I didn’t eat a single Boston bean! I guess we’ll have to go back…

You got that right, John. Quote posted on front wall at Peacefield in Quincy.

THIS is what a Sports section front should look like

From my iPad this morning…

Just thought I’d share this, since some of you younger people may not have ever seen the like.

THIS is what the front of Sports section should look like, in the middle of baseball season.

This is from today’s Boston Globe. I subscribed to the Globe when we were in Boston, mainly so I could read about the Red Sox. And on that score, the Globe definitely delivers. They don’t bore me with stuff about the Celtics or the Bruins or that football team way down in Foxborough — not in the middle of July.

This is a sports department that actually understands that in America, this is the time of year when you write about baseball. Period.

Oh, you can throw in some tidbits about other sports for those who are interested. For instance, you’ll see mentions of golf and car racing down at the bottom of this page (see screenshot below). That’s fine, as long as you don’t mention football — which, as you see, they did not (not even in the refers at the bottom, bless them). Football has its own season, and it’s too long already.

The sports editors at this paper know what they’re doing. I half expected to find a column from Ring Lardner. (See how I included an explanatory link for you youngsters out there?) But hey, Shaughnessy’s not too bad, from what I’ve seen.

Of course, I’d like it better if they had some GOOD news to report about the Sox. But hey, you report what you’ve got…

It’s OK to mention other sports, down at the bottom of the page, as long as you first do justice to BASEBALL.

Sometimes there’s some good news in this world

Then again, sometimes it takes 110 years to arrive:

Jim Thorpe, stripped of his 1912 gold medals because he’d been paid to play minor league baseball, was reinstated Thursday as the sole winner of that year’s Olympic decathlon and pentathlon by the International Olympic Committee.

This is an injustice that has simply been a fact of life for my entire life. A clear fact, which was clearly unfair.

Yep, Thorpe had been paid to play baseball. He was paid $2 a game. He did not know that would disqualify him from the Olympics, as he explained in a letter to the secretary of the Amateur Athletic Union:

I hope I will be partly excused by the fact that I was simply an Indian schoolboy and did not know all about such things. In fact, I did not know that I was doing wrong, because I was doing what I knew several other college men had done, except that they did not use their own names …

Unlike the guys who played under the protection of pseudonyms, Thorpe wasn’t trying to hide anything, because he didn’t know there was anything to hide. But it was not excused, partly or in any other way. And he lost the glory that should have been his.

And now, long after his death, that has been rectified. I’m glad to see it, even though he isn’t around to experience it.

Does this mean I’m for paying college football players, or that I think it’s awesome to send professional “Dream Teams” to the Olympics? No, it doesn’t. Very different dynamics. I’m not an advocate of erasing amateurism. I’m just thinking about this one human being, who got jerked around over a tiny, technical and innocent mistake. And I’m glad the decision has been reversed.

Jim Thorpe played in good faith, and he won, because as King Gustav said, he was the greatest athlete in the world. And now we acknowledge that…

I creamed the competition on the Slate quiz — slightly

Hey, y’all. I’ve been back from Boston for a couple of days now, but I’ve been way too busy for blogging. It’s not just catching up with work. The first night we were up there, there was a big thunderstorm down here, and it struck several trees in our front yard. My neighbor across the street saw it happen, and said it was amazing — the glow was multicolored, and seemed to last about 10 seconds. He was sorry he wasn’t shooting video. I’m sorry, too, because I would have liked to post it here.

It damaged our upstairs HVAC system. When our son checked on it the next day, it was 102 upstairs. A damaged valve was causing heat to blow instead of AC. Fortunately, that wasn’t terribly expensive to fix. I’m now dreading what an expert might tell us about the trees (a friend is sharing with me the name of an arborist, so I can get him to look at them before we call the tree-felling guys). Meanwhile, I’m glad none of them fell on the house.

I’ll tell you about my Boston trip later. In the meantime, I DID find a minute to take the Slate quiz, and managed to triumph — crushing the appointed Slate staffer by two whole points! (But what do you expect from someone who spells it “Werthan?”)

Of course, I was still 49 points below average, so I’m not planning to throw a party to celebrate my victory.

See how y’all do. I expect y’all will all do better than I did. But hey, aside from reading about the Red Sox in the Globe over the past week, I haven’t been intentionally following news. So cut me a break….

Form over substance: When a big story gets buried

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

I was struck by that in two

 

Should Trump be criminally prosecuted?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Gage Skidmore, via Wikimedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll see.

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

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

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

Sometimes, robots try too hard, and assume too much

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anything you want me to tell Jackie Bradley Jr.?

Well, this is exciting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sequels are seldom as good as the original

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A completely suitable ending to the story.