Category Archives: History

Remembering (or not) the royal funeral

Of course, I refer to the funeral of King Edward VII, on May 20, 1910.

Y’all remember that one? It was a biggie. I cite the first paragraph of The Guns of August:

I don’t mean to disrespect Her Majesty’s funeral yesterday, by any means. Based on all I’ve heard and the few photos I’ve seen (the reverence, the solemnity, the dazzling colors — except for the two disgraced princes in mufti), it was splendid — as it should have been.

I’ve just got this one on my mind because a couple of days back, I started re-reading the Tuchman book. I’m using the term “re-reading” loosely here, because I didn’t finish it the first time. After it shifted to the Eastern front, it seemed to bog down. All I remember about it was the incompetence of the tsar’s government (sort of like Putin’s in Ukraine), which gave me a bit of insight into why the revolution happened.

So I decided to start over, partly because I knew the first chapter was awesome, beginning with that portrait, excerpted above, of the old world that was about to end — that ruled by closely related kings, attending the funeral of their kinsman. He was known as “the uncle of Europe,” which Mrs. Tuchman explained thusly:

Anyway, I had remembered all that — not each and every relationship, or even the precise number of royal highnesses and such in the cortege. But I had remembered the main points — the pomp and splendor, the significance of this last gathering of the fam, and the general reasons why this was all to come to an end.

But I didn’t remember everything. And that’s my point. When I was young, I remembered any book I had read — no matter how much earlier — in absurd detail. Not photographic memory exactly, but I remember details clearly, and could quickly find them. Long before Google, I could in a brief moment find a quote I wanted in a book read 20 years earlier, by leafing through it thinking, OK, it was in the upper part of a left-hand page, and it was before this… but after that… a couple more pages… there! And when I got there, it was as I had remembered.

To some extent, that’s still there. And I remembered there were certain alarming ideas current in Germany at the time, and how I was impressed when I first read about them, thinking, As much as we make of Nazi ideology, this stuff didn’t just come from the twisted mind of Hitler a generation later….

But I had forgotten her portrait of the most prominent of those foreign cousins riding in the cortege — Kaiser Wilhelm II. “William” was glad his uncle Edward was dead. It meant, he thought, he — and Germany — would get more recognition, more respect. Note the way the author describes the kaiser’s reaction to Edward’s triumphant visit to Paris a few years earlier:

(Sorry about all the long screenshots, by the way. I would copy and paste much shorter quotes, but Google Books won’t let me, so I do this. I know it’s rather unsatisfactory. I don’t do it just because I’m lazy; retyping introduces a greatly increased possibility of errors.)

I’d forgotten what a cranky, needy child the Kaiser was. Of course, he comes across a lot like Trump — all that whiny me, me, me. Maybe it strikes me more strongly now because I first read that chapter pre-2016, when Trump was still this ridiculous figure from the 1980s whom we are all free to ignore.

Now, I think, Well, as messed up as our democracy not is, and as much as I like and will miss the queen, here’s another reason to appreciate that we don’t have a monarch. Think about it. As much as Trump tried to become king — on Jan. 6, and so often before and since — he failed. But imagine how much more awful things would be were he a sovereign, and his identification with the country were such that he was the country and the country was him? (Yes, I know this isn’t the Middle Ages and things were different by 1914, but there’s still the psychology of identification that lies at the heart of the idea of monarchy.)

Of course, if we had a monarchy, Trump would never have been the king. But let’s not get lost in speculative details.

Anyway, that’s not my point. My point is to bring up one of the few fun parts of getting older: It’s forgetting things, and enjoying the delight of rediscovering them.

It’s not that I’ve become a goldfish. I remember most things, and since I’m an intuitive type, I pretty much always remember, and can accurately describe in general terms, the forest. Which is what matters to someone who thinks the way I do. But I let go of a lot of the trees.

I first saw this coming on maybe 15 or 20 years ago (or, from my perspective, a few days ago) when I suddenly realized that I longer remembered all of the lyrics of every single Beatles song. I had always taken that knowledge for granted, and now there were many holes in it. Big deal, I was able to say to myself — those weren’t details I needed in my life. Still, it was a loss.

Then, about the time I entered my 60s, the delightful thing came along: I didn’t retain any new TV shows I saw. Oh, I remembered what Jethro did in “The Beverly Hillbillies” back in the mid-60s. But I could watch an episode of some British murder mystery and enjoy it in 2012 or later, and then come back in a year or so with NO idea whodunit, and enjoy it all over again. Because my personal hard drive was no longer adding this stuff to the database.

Which is awesome. Lately, my wife and I have been rewatching “Endeavour” from the beginning, and having a great time. Oh, something about a scene will be familiar; I might even say “I know this scene; this is the moment I realized the writers were basing this episode on ‘The Great Gatsby’.” But I still won’t know what’s going to happen. And there are episodes I don’t remember at all.

Which is great. It’s so much easier to be entertained whenever I want to be. I don’t have to look so hard for “new” content.

For some time, I’ve been thinking, What if this could happen with books, too? I mean, what if I could completely forget O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series, and start over and experience it for the “first time” again? That would be bliss.

I’m not there yet, by any means. But this bit of forgetfulness with the Tuchman book is a promising beginning…

Maybe it would help to have a POINT to the story

The Washington Post ran a review of the new Tolkien prequel — financed by the newspaper’s owner, Jeff Bezos, or at least by his company — today.

It was headlined, “‘The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’ is beautiful, banal boredom.

Which, frankly, was about what I expected. I think if Tolkien thought what had happened (in his imagination, not Tommy Westphall’s) in Middle Earth 3,000 years earlier was as compelling as The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings, he’d have written the stories out, rather than summing them up in an appendix.

Coincidentally, the Jesuit magazine America ran something related today, headlined “C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and the Inklings: Telling Stories to Save Lives.

It concentrates on those Oxford writers as besieged Christians taking comfort from their friendship — and their work — in a time and place of growing indifference and even hostility to faith, and it’s worth reading. You can probably do so without subscribing as I have — as I recall, America still uses the model in which you can read two or three pieces before the pay wall goes up.

Frankly, when I read Lord of the Rings, I saw it as a warning against the isolationism that was so dominant in Britain and this country before the Second World War. (The writing of the work started in 1937 and continued until several years after the war.) I tended to see Sauron as Hitler, Saruman and Wormtongue as the quislings who were undermining Europe — I mean, Middle Earth — ahead of the orc blitzkrieg, and Gandalf as the sort of Churchill/Roosevelt figure who ran about trying to wake everyone up before it was too late.

But yes, Tolkien’s mind was working on deeper levels as well, as the piece in America notes:

Everyone loves an underdog, of course, but these tales feel more meaningful than a standard superhero film because their authors had their eyes on a deeper set of truths. Sin and corruption are real, but salvation is still available. They knew, as Tolkien explained to Lewis in the early years of their friendship, that the Christian story is the truest story, of which all others are echoes. When all appears to be lost, we always have recourse to the deep magic from the dawn of time.

Recently, I drew your attention (or tried to, anyway) to a homily by Bishop Barron in which he used the experiences of Bilbo Baggins as an example of what God expects of us — that we’re supposed to get out and encounter the world and have a great adventure, not sit comfortably in our hobbit holes smoking choice Shire pipeweed, and enjoying the copious food and drink of our larders.

Anyway, however you interpret it, it helps for your story to have a point, and consist of more than breathtaking CGI scenery and battle sequences. Those can leave you feeling rather empty…

What would we do if we had REAL inflation?

Yeah, I know we have real inflation now. Of course, unless the economy has come to a halt and is in danger of sliding into deflation, like during the Depression, we always have inflation. It’s just it’s somewhat higher right now. Now, it’s more like what we lived with in the early ’80s. It feels familiar, unless you’re very young.

Oh, and before you think I’m shrugging it off, not only the young are feeling the pinch. My wife, who is the one in the family who has to make our modest income stretch to feed and house us (this is not a task you would want to assign to me), reminds me of it frequently. She did so multiple times when we were shopping together yesterday, and that was at Walmart. She normally shops at Aldi.

But what I mean is, what if we really had the kind of inflation — commonly called “hyperinflation” — that really shows your country is messed up and falling apart? You know, the kind that means your whole system, or your leadership, needs to be replaced? I mean, the kind that you’d think we were having now, if you listened to Republican politicians. And for that matter, some Democrats.

Including some Democrats I really like, such as Abigail Spanberger, who’s in a tough race for reelection to her congressional seat up in Virginia. There was an update on that race on the front page of The Boston Globe today (see above), and it said in part:

Spanberger and her Republican opponent, Yesli Vega agreed that inflation is the most pressing issue for voters.

“We’re facing a time when people have to decide whether they’re going to pump gas or buy groceries,” said Vega, a member of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and a former law enforcement officer who still serves as an auxiliary sheriff’s deputy. “I do believe that we’re in the condition we are right now because of President Biden’s failed policies and representatives like Abigail Spanberger enabling him every step of the way.”…

“I have certainly found that people want to talk about gas prices, they want to talk about grocery prices, they want to talk about the challenges they’re facing,” Spanberger said after a recent Fredericksburg event highlighting the bipartisan infrastructure law enacted last year that she supported.

“I’m acknowledging the problem and trying to fix it,” she said. “Your other option is somebody who’s just trying to cast blame for the problem.”…

Anyway, I look at this situation in which polls keep showing that voters care more about inflation than anything — as this story states, “ahead of abortion rights, an increase in violent crime during the pandemic, a war in Europe, and attacks on voting rights.” And, presumably, global climate change.

The worst problem in the world? Presumably, you don’t think that if you live, say, in Ukraine. But America is apparently full of people who, at this moment at least, think 8.5 percent inflation is our biggest problem.

They might have had a point, if they were living in the Weimar Republic 100 years ago.

I met a guy named John Toland in 1976. I gave him a ride from the airport to the book festival that had brought him to Memphis. I wasn’t really there to talk to him. I wanted to talk to Mary Hemingway about her new book, being a huge fan of her late husband. The publicists set me up to have lunch with her, but asked me to pick up Toland, who had just come out with a weighty tome about Hitler. I hadn’t read his book, wasn’t planning to read his book, but I gave him a ride, and enjoyed chatting with him.

Years later, I finally read the book, and it left an impression. (I recommend it.) Burned into my memory in particular is an anecdote it related about the night of the Beer Hall Putsch. Hitler and a couple of his boys were hanging out in the beer hall, waiting for the time to make their move. They decided they would blend a bit better if they all were holding beers. So one of his boys went and bought three brews.

They cost three billion marks.

Not having the book at hand — I’m not sure where it is now — I looked up  “Hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic” in Wikipedia. It stated in part:

A loaf of bread in Berlin that cost around 160 Marks at the end of 1922 cost 200,000,000,000 Marks by late 1923.[14]

By November 1923, one US dollar was worth 4,210,500,000,000 German marks.[16]

The line about the cost of bread reminded me of another anecdote I read somewhere years ago. I can’t remember whether it was in Toland’s book or somewhere else. Anyway, a woman was on the way to buy a loaf of bread. She had a laundry basket overflowing with paper money to pay for it. Some emergency came up, and she had to put down the basket and go deal with it.

When she came back, someone had dumped out the money and stolen her basket.

Now that’s inflation.

But you don’t have to go back to Weimar to find examples of serious, profound inflation problems. As I’ve often mentioned, I lived in Ecuador when I was a kid. I lived there longer than I lived anywhere growing up — two years, four-and-a-half months. I’ve never been back there since leaving in 1965. But I became aware of the fact that at some point, the currency that we used there in my day — the Sucre — had been ditched, and the U.S. dollar adopted in its place.

One day, I decided to look that up — also on Wikipedia. In my day in Guayaquil, a Sucre was worth a nickel — it took 20 to make a dollar. I didn’t realize it had been declining in value for years. In 1946, it had taken only 13 to make a dollar. After I left, things sped up. In 1970, the dollar was worth 25 Sucres. In 1983, it took 42. In 1990, it was 800 Sucres, and it plunged to 3,000 in 1995.

Just before the switch to the dollar standard in 2000, you needed 25,000 Sucres to buy what the dollar would buy.

That, too, is real inflation, even if not quite on the billion-for-a-cerveza level. I can see how someone living under those conditions might see it as the biggest problem of the moment.

But 8.5 percent? You’d think a country that saw that as its biggest problem didn’t have any real problems.

And yet, we do — and inflation is one of those problems, although not the worst. For the first time in my life, the first time in our 246 year history, our republic is in profound danger. It could really, truly be falling apart. Look at the number of people who are outraged — our senior senator suggests we’re on the verge of riots in the street (again) — that the government thought it out to go take back those classified documents you-know-who stole and hid in his place down in Florida.

Also, many of the same people, and others, think — and I’m using the word “think” very loosely here — that we ought to turn fine people like Rep. Spanberger out of office over something that is in no rational way her fault — inflation. Note the comments in that Globe story from guy who voted for Biden in 2020, but says maybe he’d vote for Trump next time, “because in Donald Trump’s time, we didn’t have these issues.” (How’s that for steel-trap, cause-and-effect logic? As we all know, the condition of the U.S. economy depends entirely on who happens to be in the White House, right?)

These are serious problems, and considerably more disturbing than this other actual, but more transitory, problem, inflation.

Remember, Germany came up with a “solution” to their Weimar problems.

That solution was Hitler…

Adolf and his posse sitting in prison after the Putsch, all hoping someone else offers to buy the next round of beers.

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…

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?

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

This is pretty cool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let’s not talk about that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soon, though, I felt better.

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

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

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

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




Well, then… I don’t wanna be king.

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

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

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

And now meddling scientists have gotten in on the act:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to 1939. (Or is it more 1938, with worse to come?)

For weeks now, I’ve been wondering: Is this Ukraine business just something that will pass (just bluffing and maneuvering), to the point that a year from now we’ll hardly remember it? Or is this what it was like to live in 1939? Of course, I’ve fervently hoped it was the former.

So much for my fervent hopes on this front.

Oh, by the way, before I continue: All of you who hasten to jump on what you consider to be misguided historical allusions, just calm down. No, I don’t think Putin (or for that matter, Trump) is Hitler. I don’t think the MAGA phenomenon equals the Nazi party. I don’t for a moment consider the forces leading to this moment to be precisely the same as those that led Europe into its second conflagration in a lifetime. Nor do I know what will happen next.

You see, I actually am a student of history. I study it. I am constantly perplexed by it. Almost daily, I am stunned by something I didn’t know about it, and should have known. And I think about this, a lot.

What I’m talking about here is less about explaining this moment in a neat bumper-sticker encapsulisation. It’s really more about me still trying to understand 1939.

It’s always puzzled me. I grew up in the years in which the course of the 1930s and 40s were plain, and fixed, and obvious. I marveled at things: How was it possible that after the events of 1939, the vast majority of Americans believed this was something we could stay out of? I applauded FDR’s foresight and courage with the Lend-Lease Act and all the other ways he tried to keep Britain free until our own blindness ended. Which stunningly, did not happen until Japan, for its own complex reasons, attacked us and Hitler, demonstrating his madness to anyone who had not yet perceived it, declared war on us. It was one of history’s more remarkable turnarounds. On Dec. 12, 1941, Congress was planning on interrogating the director a film regarded as a bit too supportive of Britain’s war effort. The sentiment motivating that vanished in a flash in the days before the scheduled hearing.

But that wasn’t about just the American brand of isolation, not entirely. Britain had been just as attached to magical thinking in 1938, when it applauded Neville Chamberlain for bringing home such an awesome deal from Munich. During my lifetime, poor Chamberlain has been condemned as the ultimate appeaser. But he was doing exactly what the folks back home wanted. Britain had understandably had enough of war on the continent from 1914-18, and wanted to avoid any more of that sort of thing at pretty much any cost. A lot would have to happen before the voters wanted to exchange Chamberlain for that war-monger Churchill.

Oh, speaking of war mongers, there goes that Brad saying that what needs to be done in 2022 is just as obvious as what should have been done in 1938 would be 20 years later!

Nope. Try to keep up, folks. I don’t know what to do right now. I think my man Joe Biden has been doing fine, doing and saying the right things, even though so far we’ve seen that there is no “right thing” that will dissuade Putin from doing what every fiber of his being urges him to do. And I certainly don’t think we need to dig up George Patton and have him sweep in there with the Third Army posthaste. Even if we could.

It is precisely because I’m so uncertain about how to solve the problem that makes me think, “So this is what 1939 was like.” Those people, lacking omniscience, were also clueless. I’ve wondered all these years how they could have been so clueless, and now I’m getting a little insight into it.

Hence my headline.

I choose 1939 for obvious reasons, most notably I suppose the invasion of Poland. But what if what is happening is more of a prelude, more like the Anschluss than Poland? I got to thinking that reading Robert Kagan’s piece this morning, “What we can expect after Putin’s conquest of Ukraine.

After. As in, the Baltics. Assuming we can know the future. Which we can’t. But it was an interesting piece.

It’s hard enough to know the present. Oh, some things seem obvious enough. When The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that Putin wanted “muscle Moscow back to the superpower table,” I was all dismissively omniscient on Twitter, which of course is what Twitter is for:

Oh, I am so smart.

But I know so little about the complexities of what motivates Putin and the base he plays to, and about a thousand other relevant things. Sure, I think I understand the destructive power of a great nation that has been humiliated. It eats at Putin, just as it ate at those who lined up behind Hitler in the 20s and 30s.

But of course, it’s always more complicated than that, isn’t it? When I finally got around to reading The Guns of August several years ago, I was startled to read about the long-standing ideas that pushed Germany into war, and how much they read like something Hitler would have written 20 years later. The Germans had been into this master-race stuff for awhile.

And just this week, I ran into something that mentioned the West’s hero of the Cold War, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. OK, so he was kind of a cranky, back-and-forth hero, hard for us to always understand, but we applauded when he condemned communism exposed the gulag. Anyway, as so often happens, running across his name made me want to look up something about him, so I went to Wikipedia, where I found:

According to William Harrison, Solzhenitsyn was an “arch-reactionary”, who argued that the Soviet State “suppressed” traditional Russian and Ukrainian culture, called for the creation of a united Slavic state encompassing Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, and who was a fierce opponent of Ukrainian independence

Of course, this Harrison guy also accused the author of “hankering after an idealized Tsarist era,” which doesn’t really seem consistent with his writings. So maybe we shouldn’t believe all Harrison tells us.

But it underlines how little I know about how Russians and for that matter Ukrainians think and feel about their own respective national identities, and what that might motivate them to do. Basically, I’m so ignorant I don’t know whether that Harrison guy is full of crap or not.

I need to read and study and think about this a lot more. Which seems like kind of a self-indulgent luxury right now, with Russian boots on the ground…

Today may be George’s birthday, but I’m thinking about ‘Lincoln’

The very first time I posted a “Top Five” list on this blog — during the first year, on Jan. 9, 2006 — I threw away the opportunity.

I did the most obvious topic of all — best movies of all time — and while the five were all completely deserving, I didn’t really think about it. I listed them, and didn’t even bother to explain my choices. I guess I just thought there was all the time and space needed in the future to fill in the gaps.

Here were the five:

1. “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
2. “The Godfather.”
3. “Casablanca.”
4. “The Graduate.”
5. “High Noon.”

Recently, I had occasion to ask, “Why wasn’t ‘His Girl Friday’ on the list?”

Well, I was asking myself something similar last night when, just before hitting the hay, I watched a few minutes of Spielberg’s “Lincoln” after seeing it was available on Prime.

And of course, since I needed to get to bed, I spoiled myself by scrolling to the very best scene of all. I’ve talked about it here before. Which, for whatever reason, I can’t find on YouTube — although here’s a piece of it, for some reason messed up with a sepiatone effect.

It’s that scene when Abe explains to his confused Cabinet exactly why the 13th Amendment has to pass, and has to pass now, before the war ends. It is the most amazingly perfect explanation of a political situation — of perhaps the key legislative moment of our nation’s history — that I have ever heard or read. His explanation of why the Emancipation Proclamation is on the ragged edge of uselessness (something many in the room likely understood, but as we see all the time these days, the audience does not), all the contradictions he has had to navigate to get this far without such an amendment — treating escaped slaves as “contraband,” which meant regarding them as property, which meant respecting the laws of the rebelling states, and sometimes regarding them as a foreign entity when his most core conviction is that they are not, and so forth…

And it’s all delivered by one of the best actors who’s ever lived, in what is probably his greatest performance, speaking in that backwoods aw-shucks way Lincoln had, the plain man so comfortably dissecting the most complex truths…

It’s amazing. And while this is the best, the film contains scene after scene like it. I remind you of the one in which Tommy Lee Jones takes his oh-so-self-righteous fellow Radicals to task by demanding that they try thinking, just for once, about the opportunity before them: “But… Hasn’t he surprised you?”

And so forth.

It would be amazing, a top-drawer film, on the most superficial of terms — based on mere wonder at how much they make Day-Lewis look like Lincoln. See the image above from my Prime account. I mean, if Lincoln didn’t look like that, he should have.

But there’s just so much more, in every detail. Of course, one is tempted to dismiss in on those grounds alone — Spielberg was such a mature master craftsman, at the peak of his game (which impresses us more — Scorsese’s raw “Mean Streets” or his polished “Goodfellas?”), and he had so many resources that previous generations never dreamed of. He was deliberately making a great film, and he did it.

Lacking that freshness factor, it seems out of place on a list that includes “Casablanca” or “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Those people had no idea whatsoever they were making something for the ages. It just happened. Poor combat-fatigued Jimmy Stewart was just trying to get a movie cranked out, having just returned from the war, and Capra was just doing that thing he always did, loving America the way he did…

But it’s right up there, however you count its virtues.

Anyway, I just wanted to say something about it, again (yes, I’ve praised it and praised it before).

Confession time: When I got the idea to write this, I was thinking this was Abe’s birthday (although Wikipedia had set me straight before I started writing). When I was a kid, and we celebrated both of them separately, I always had trouble remembering which was the 12th and which was the 22nd. I mean, come on — they’re practically the same number.

So I guess it’s just as well we mashed them into one day. Although, of course, I don’t think I’ve ever had that day off. Whatever…

Bonhoeffer and the stupidity factor

You know how I have made this resolution to finally start reading all the good books around the house that I have asked for over the years? I don’t know how many there are, because they’re all over the place and I haven’t done an inventory.

But there’s one I need to move up on the list: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas.

I say that because something about the martyred theologian has been brought to my attention a couple of times in recent days.

It’s the fact that he considered stupidity to be more dangerous than evil. And in my book, when a guy who stood up to the Nazis and was executed for trying to rid the world of Hitler says something like that, we should sit up and take notice. Because he knew a thing or two about evil.

Here’s a quote:

“Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we have no defense. Neither protests nor force can touch it. Reasoning is of no use. Facts that contradict personal prejudices can simply be disbelieved — indeed, the fool can counter by criticizing them, and if they are undeniable, they can just be pushed aside as trivial exceptions. So the fool, as distinct from the scoundrel, is completely self-satisfied. In fact, they can easily become dangerous, as it does not take much to make them aggressive. For that reason, greater caution is called for than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.”

This addresses a question I’ve been pondering a good bit over the past six years — since, you know, 2016. I haven’t written that much about it, because I don’t feel like I can answer my own question — and raising it just gets people so upset. So what’s the point?

Oh, I’ve referred to it in passing. Deep down in a post, you can find me saying things like, So which is it: Is Trump evil, or stupid? Or rather, since he’s obviously both, which is the main problem? What are we dealing with?

Then, of course, the next logical step is to ask the same question regarding his supporters. Because Trump isn’t the actual problem. Trump was an idiot, and a slimeball, for decades, and we all knew it. He was famous for these characteristics. But no one took him seriously. He was just some gross clown at the edges of our society. Sort of a Kardashian, or one of those people on Jersey Shore.

Then, in a complete reversal of American political history up to that point, people started voting for him. So the question becomes, what happened to them — these voters? Yeah, we’d had a long buildup of gross, mindless partisanship for two or three decades leading up to it, and a lot of it was ugly, but what caused it all to go off a cliff in 2016?

I’ve written a good bit about that. But I’ve generally avoided that one question that keeps occurring to me: Is it evil, or stupidity?

Whenever I’ve been about to tackle it with some determination, I dismiss the question as itself being stupid: Obviously, both things are at work. There’s a lot of foolishness out there, and a lot of plain, rotten meanness.

And does it matter what label we put on it? Well, yes, I think so, at least on a moral plane. Being stupid doesn’t make you a bad person, does it? And yet, people often get more offended at being called stupid than evil, don’t they?

So why go there? These folks seem angry all the time anyway; why make it worse? The thing to do is try to think of something to do or say that would make things better, not just increase the massive heap of ill feeling in the world.

In fact, that’s the last thing I want. I want to turn down the temperature, calm everything down, get people to stop being furious and start listening to each other and learn how to live together. To stop thinking in terms of ones and zeroes, and start seeing each other as fellow humans.

But the fact that Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote these things makes it worth trying to understand better what he was thinking. He wasn’t some idiot Twitter partisan sniping at the “other side” to elevate his own side (“You people are stupid!” “No, we’re not; you are!”). This was a thinking, spiritual man willing to wrestle with moral complexity, and to give everything in that cause.

And there he was, face-to-face with the greatest evil of the past century, if not of all history. And he sat there in his prison cell and wrote that as bad as evil was, stupidity was the greater danger.

Of course, some of why he did this is self-evident: Nazism was stupid. It was an ideology for brutish, ticked-off people, for brawlers battling in the streets, outraged at their lot in life between the wars and wanting something that would show the rest of the world how wrong it was.

But of course, it was also evil as all get-out. Which parts were mainly evil, and which parts mainly stupid? And what was the relationship between the two factors, as they worked together to make horrors happen?

Seems worth exploring. So I need to read that book…

Happy Birthday, Dad…

At this time 80 years ago, the attack hadn’t come yet. I’m writing this at 11:14 a.m. our time, but it’s still 0614 at Pearl Harbor. If I remember correctly without looking it up, the Japanese planes arrived at 0755.

At least some of them came in over the Waianae mountains. When my wife and I visited the museum in 2015, I pointed toward the range and told her that’s where they came from. I had seen those ridges often enough from our backyard when I was in high school.

Burl cut in to provide perspective. He said yes, they came from there, but they didn’t skim low over them the way you may picture it. They were up high — when they bombed the harbor they were that high, he said, pointing to models that were little larger than flies glued to the ceiling of the museum entrance, about 10 or 12 feet above us. I had had no idea. Of course, the torpedo planes had to get low, but the bombers did not. At any rate, the way those battleships were lined up next to Ford Island, if you missed one from that height, you hit another.

There are other details I’ve known at one time or another, but I’m not going to look them up to check.

Today is about memory rather than precision. But there is one memory I’d like to check out, to make sure I have it just right: As I recall from being told, that afternoon my Dad helped another kid deliver papers with news of the attack. It was an extra, if it was the Post. Probably also an extra if it was the Star.

It was my Dad’s 13th birthday, and that’s how he celebrated it.

I’d like to hear him tell the story again, so I have the details fresh in my mind.

But I can’t.

Did he use this bike to deliver those papers? I don’t know…

Freedom as another word

It’s hugely important, but is freedom THE word that sums it all up?

Editor’s note: Y’all, this was supposed to post last night and somehow it did not. Don’t know what happened. So here it is. I’m not going to read through it yeah again to make sure there are no “today” that should be “the other day.” Just, you know, here it is…

Yeah, I know that headline is not the lyric. But while I wanted to suggest it, I didn’t want to say exactly what Kristofferson did: that freedom is “just another word.” The thing is, it’s not just another word. It’s a pretty important word — one of the most important ones we have in our culture.

But in terms of the way we use it, I’m not sure it’s always the right word. And that’s what I want to talk about.

It’s something I think about a lot, mostly when I hear someone try to sum up what America’s all about — particularly when describing what our soldiers have fought for in this conflict or that one — and they just say that one word, and I wonder, “Is that really the right word in this instance?”

But I’m bringing it up today because of a podcast I listened to while walking a couple of days back. Actually, I read about it first, and it read like it would be a good examination of my point. I read:

Maggie Nelson is a poet, critic and cultural theorist whose work includes the award-winning 2016 book “The Argonauts.” Her newest work, “On Freedom,” pierces right into the heart of America’s founding idea: What if there’s no such thing as freedom, at least not freedom as a state of enduring liberation?

And more than that: What if we don’t want to be free? Perhaps that’s the great lie in the American dream: We’re taught to want freedom, but many of us recoil from its touch….

Nelson describes herself as a “disobedient thinker,” someone who enjoys looking at “the difficulty of difficult things,” and this conversation bears that out. We talk about when and whether freedom is hard to bear, the difference between a state of liberation and the daily practice of freedom, the hard conversations sexual liberation demands, what it means to live in koans, my problems with “The Giving Tree,” Nelson’s disagreements with the left, the difficulty of maintaining your own experience of art in an age when the entire internet wants to tell you how to feel about everything, and more.

OK, those are not exactly the things that I was thinking, but it sounded like a conversation that might go where I wanted it to.

It didn’t. In fact, some of it got pretty silly. Sometimes the conversation sounded sort of like possibly my favorite scene from “Love and Death”:

SONJA: Perception is irrational. It implies imminence. But judgment of any system of phenomena exists in any rational, metaphysical or epistemological contradiction to an abstracted empirical concept such as being, or to be, or to occur in the thing itself, or of the thing itself.

BORIS: Yeah, I’ve said that many times….

And now that I go back and read the description again after listening, I realize I should have seen that.

So let me start my own conversation about what American mean when they say “freedom,” and whether it’s the right word.

But first, three words from the French Revolution: Liberté, égalité, fraternité. Of course, freedom comes first, but it is implied that at the very least, these are equally worthy goals for a civilization. But are they?

If you’re on the right in America — or at least the more libertarian neighborhoods of the right — you will insist vehemently that liberté is what it’s all about, and the one main thing we need. Freedom, baby.

If you’re on the more woke, Bernie and AOC portions of the left, then the main thing is égalité, and we need to spend all our political energies fighting to overcome the billionayuhs and make everybody equal in every way, whether they want to be or not.

But when I look around and think about what we most need in our society, that quality that’s most painfully absent from our country, I tend to focus on the third word. We need to get along, more than anything else. Brotherhood is what we should and must pursue, or this whole experiment is over. What sort of label should be slapped on that kind of thinking? Communitarian, I suppose. Or Catholic, maybe, taking it beyond the here and now. That’s what the pope would say, and in fact did say last year in Fratelli Tutti.

But that’s not to dismiss the importance of liberty in the sense of having a liberal form of government, or the critical principle of equality before the law. But here’s the thing: We have those things in generous plenty. Our nation’s history is basically a story of ensuring and broadening the guarantees of such things. What we’re hurting for is something our system doesn’t even legally mandate, fraternité.

But that’s not my point here today. That is in fact my second digression, counting the one about the podcast. My third, if you count “Me and Bobby McGee.” If I didn’t have all the room in the world — say, if this were print — I’d be showing more discipline. Eventually. My columns in the paper would initially be written more or less this way, but when I got serious about getting the paper out, I’d ditch everything above, and the published column would start right about here, after the warming-up exercises….

In this country, in this culture, freedom is a very important concept, to be sure. It’s something our way of life can’t do without.

Unfortunately, the word is often used to excuse an abandonment of adult responsibility that might make a child in the Terrible Twos blush. It’s used to defend hating government — which means hating the system that enables us to live together as a civilization, to dwell together in the hundreds of millions without randomly killing each other. It means hating the thing that makes rights — freedoms — possible. (Here we could have a big philosophical argument — and we may — over whether the Bill of Rights were necessary. Some opposed them on the grounds that rights are natural, God-given, and that to spell them out would be to limit them. I don’t think so. And if you think such things exist in a state of nature, you need to study the record of our species more closely. In fact, have any of you read Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari? I’m still reading it, but when I’m done I’m going to write a post or two about it. There’s some nonsense in it — some of it insulting, if you’re, you know, a Homo sapiens — but a lot of interesting stuff as well.)

Often, another word meant to appeal to our sense of the importance of freedom — choice — is used in our politics to defend ideas that would be a tough sell on their own. Hence abortion is sold as “choice.” So is the execrable practice of diverting public money away from public education. So yeah, go ahead and call me “anti-choice,” since you’re going to do that anyway. I certainly am against “choice” when you’re using it to mean, “I get to do any damned thing I choose to do, and I have no responsibility to anyone else concerned whatsoever.” But since I suspect relatively few of you would agree with me on both those points, I’ll just move on…

But not without saying that “freedom” gets used in exactly the same way — such as to defend otherwise indefensible things such as banning mandates on masks or vaccines. Yeah, it’s stupid and horrible, but it’s about freedom, so…

Beyond that, though, is freedom what we’re all about, in the sense of being a one-word answer that completely does the job? I don’t think it does. It expresses a lot of what we’re about, but it sort of cries out for elaboration, if you’re going to truly understand the country and what makes it what Madeleine Albright and I would call the indispensable nation, or — to use a term many of my friends hate — if you’re to explain what makes us exceptional. We can argue all day about that word, too. But my point is, when people pick a word to express that exceptionalism, they tend to fall back on “freedom.” Which I don’t think gets the job done. (And of course, a lot of you who are offended by “exceptionalism” think people who believe in it are idiots who want to oversimplify anyway, but that’s another side argument.)

Let’s look at our history, starting with the Revolution. Of course, as long as I’m being picky about words, in my mind, “revolution” has always been a bit of a misnomer. Compared to real revolutions like the French or the Russian, it’s pretty tame stuff. It wasn’t about the peasants rising up to overthrow the brutal overlords (or however those folks saw their elites). Basically, the guys who were already running these colonies wanted to be left alone to run them, and didn’t like the way London — the Crown or Parliament or whomever you want to blame the most — was interfering.

If you want to go by the best-known oversimplification of the time, it was more about representation than freedom. (And no, my libertarian friends, it wasn’t “no taxation.” It was “No taxation without representation.”) You can say they wanted to be free of the king. But if I recall correctly (and I confess that in college I studied the period right after the Revolution far more closely than that just before), they had very much liked being British subjects, but they felt like they were starting to lose some of the benefits of that status. Hence the fight for independence.

Let’s move to 1861. In the great scheme of things, that was certainly about freedom. But interestingly, most of the soldiers were fighting not for freedom for themselves, but for the freedom of other people who weren’t even allowed to take up arms until late in the process. Also, I’m not sure how many of those fighting — or supporting the fighting on the homefront — would have said that’s what they were fighting for. But certainly “freedom” played a huge role in the memes of the day, and with more justice than during other periods of our history.

In later conflicts, we saw that pattern repeated. Often, Americans fought and bled and died for freedom — but as often as not (in fact, probably more often than not) it was for other people’s freedom. Which is one of the most exceptional things about us.

Take WWII. When the Japanese attacked, were they trying to take over the United States and repeal not only the Bill of Rights, but the Constitution? Or were they just trying to grab as much of the western Pacific Rim and its resources as they could, and correctly saw us as an obstacle to that? And the Germans were certainly taking the freedoms of Europeans, but at what point was there ever a real possibility of their marching into Washington or New York? Had Hitler won the war, I think the U.S. would have existed in a less free world, and that would have put huge strains on our own system. (Like the Cold War, only much worse.) But was it really about our freedom?

This brings us to Afghanistan. If you’re an Afghan woman, you bet it was about freedom, and you can rely on someone like me to use that reason a lot in explaining why we needed to be there. And I’m not trying to mislead you: I’m a big believer in using our strength to help oppressed people everywhere, when possible and practicable. You may have noticed that.

But is that why we were there? No. The Taliban had allowed their country to be used as a safe base for, well, the Base, and that presented a shockingly demonstrated physical threat to the United States — the kind of threat to which an oppressive country would likely have responded more or less as strongly as a “free” one.

Mind you, I’m not saying “freedom” is a bad word for what we’re about. I’m just saying we’re about so much more.

It’s kind of like “democracy.” People use that much the way they use “freedom.” But if I thought “democracy” summed up what our system is all about, I’d be slightly alarmed. I’m not a fan of direct democracy. I think having a system in which we all voted online on yes or no questions regarding major policy issues would be utterly insane. What we have is something more accurately described as “representative democracy” (to bring up that concept that seemed so important at the time of our revolution) or, in a Madisonian sense, a republic. And thank God for that.

This bothers those who smell “elitism” when they hear things like that. Well, their noses aren’t working right. I don’t believe for a moment that people who are elected to make decisions are by definition wiser, or in any other way better, than those who elect them (although I certainly respect them more than people who say they “hate politicians”). It’s about the process more than the people. If you just grab people at random off the street, and send them to Washington to study issues and engage in debate with people of various views, you will get better laws than if you simply ask those people on the street to state their uninformed, gut preference on a complex issue (which is why I’ve always hated “man-in-the-street” interviews — they make me embarrassed for the human race).

This is why I am so dismayed by Trumpism, and the extreme partisanship that was ruining our politics before Trumpism. When you go out of your way to elect people who are so aggressively idiotic that they will not engage in debate in good faith, the system cannot possibly work, no matter how “free” we say we are. (I’m stopping myself here from returning to another tangent, about the “freedom” to refuse vaccines and not wear masks, thereby killing thousands of your neighbors and destroying our economy. If you use “freedom” that way, you are definitely on the wrong track.)

Bottom line, I’m an American, and I cherish my freedom. It is worth fighting for and dying for, and I am profoundly grateful for everyone who has ever done that. Which anyone who has followed what I write knows. The least the rest of us can do is speak up in favor of it.

But does the word by itself sum up what I love about my country? No. You have to use other words as well, carefully and thoughtfully. And you have to insist that when people say “freedom,” they use it correctly and respectfully. Or else you’re missing what our country is about.

Speaking of words, I’m going to stop at 2,464…

DeMarco: Reconsidering Thomas Jefferson

The Op-Ed Page


A version of this column appeared in the July 21st edition of the Florence Morning News.

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

Reconsidering learned history is difficult. As we are educated, most of us create a world view that portrays the tribe with which we identify in a positive light. For most of America’s existence, schoolchildren have been taught a story favorable to whites. This narrative persists and tends to harden in adulthood.

As I wrote about in a previous post, I continue to learn that my formal and informal education about my country’s and world’s history has been skewed in my favor. This relearning has been particularly difficult with one of my heroes, Thomas Jefferson.

I am a proud class of 1985 graduate of the University of Virginia. More than most universities, UVa reflects the personality of its founder. As I walked the Lawn, I had a window into Jefferson’s expansive mind. I saw him at the drawing board at Monticello, poring over competing designs for his “academical village.”  I was grateful to be one of thousands of students he had inspired. I spent four years at the university in awe of Jefferson’s creativity, intellect, and eloquence.Jefferson

Although I knew he owned enslaved people, I never grappled with the awful reality of what that meant. Despite my four-year sojourn at UVa, I emerged with a child’s understanding of Jefferson. He was an icon, as near to a perfect American as there would ever be. This is partly my own fault; somehow I managed to graduate from UVa without taking any history courses.

One of the things I did learn about Jefferson while at his university was his epitaph. His gravestone is engraved with the following: “Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia.” He was so accomplished that his two terms of president of the United States did not make the cut.

After I graduated, when rumors of Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman whom he owned, gradually bubbled into the press, I was skeptical. This information did not fit with the nearly faultless image I had fashioned for him. I was of the same mind as Dumas Malone who wrote an exhaustive six-volume biography, Jefferson and His Time. Malone opined in the fourth volume that the accusations related to Hemings were “distinctly out of character, being virtually unthinkable in a man of Jefferson’s moral standards and habitual conduct,” and I agreed.

However, in 1998 DNA evidence revealed that Jefferson could have been the father of one or more of Hemings’ six children. To be clear, the evidence is not definitive and there remains a group of scholars who argue strongly that it was another Jefferson relative (his younger brother, Randolph, seems the most likely candidate).

What is known is that Sally Hemings (who was 30 years younger than Thomas Jefferson) was herself the child of Jefferson’s father-in-law and an enslaved woman, Elizabeth Hemings. This made Sally Hemings half-sister to Jefferson’s wife, Martha.

I struggled with the fact that the possibility Jefferson could have been like many of the slave masters of his era who fathered children by their enslaved workers had never occurred to me (or was communicated to me) during my years at UVA. Despite seeing statues of Jefferson on the grounds almost every day, multiple visits to Monticello, and hours of reading, I had not fully reckoned with who Jefferson was. I saw what I wanted to see.

Irrespective of whether Jefferson was the father of Hemings’ children, my subsequent reading forced a deeper examination of the sharp contrast between Jefferson’s exalted words and his actions. Although he did make strong statements condemning slavery throughout his life, he was closely involved in the management and disciplining of the enslaved workers at Monticello. He, like many planters, would have been destitute without them. A nailery at Monticello, which ran mainly on the labors of 10- to 16-year-old boys, was critical to the economic stability of the plantation. The overseers occasionally whipped the children to ensure a sufficient output of nails, a practice about which Jefferson was fully aware. He also recognized the investment potential of enslaved people and calculated that “he was making a 4 percent profit every year on the birth of black children.”

It was unsettling to have my comfortable images of Jefferson transformed in such a disfiguring way. It highlighted for me the fact that when Jefferson wrote the words “All men are created equal,” he was writing about people like himself, white male landowners: not women, not people of color, nor even white men who did not own property. Certainly not Hemings.

I’ve been included in Jefferson’s vision since he penned it over two centuries ago. I have had to fight for none of my rights. My freedom, my ability to live where I wanted, to be educated where I chose, to compete for any job, to expect only respectful deference from the police or any other representatives of government has been guaranteed since the founding of the republic. Not so for so many others.

Seeing our nation for what it really is – both great and deeply flawed, like Jefferson himself – will allow us to better understand and support those for whom the American dream remains unrealized.

Dr. DeMarco is a physician who lives in Marion, and a long-time reader of this blog.

DeMarco: When Did You Learn About the Tulsa Race Massacre?

The Op-Ed Page

Tulsa, Oklahoma burns during the race massacre of 1921.

Tulsa, Oklahoma burns during the race massacre of 1921.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was supposed to run a couple of weeks ago, at the time of the anniversary of what happened in Tulsa, but it didn’t, and it’s entirely my fault. As y’all know, I’ve had a lot going on lately, day and night, and so certain routine activities — such as blogging, and checking my personal email — have fallen by the wayside. Well, yesterday, I managed to put up a post, and I’m getting close to catching up on email (maybe an hour or two of intense monotony left to do, whenever I can find an hour or two). Anyway, I still think we can have a useful conversation on this subject, so with my sincere apologies to Paul, I pass on his column, “When Did You Learn About the Tulsa Race Massacre?”

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

I am astonished and embarrassed that I learned about it so late in life. It’s particularly galling because the black freedom struggle is something I’m interested in and have read about. The March on Washington occurred the year of my birth, and I have always felt a connection to the Civil Rights Movement. The PBS documentary series Eyes on the Prize brought the movement to life for me and propelled me to read the first volume of Taylor Branch’s trilogy Parting the Waters: America in the King Years. My interest in the subject has recently been rekindled and I have resumed my reading about it, focusing on South Carolina’s role in the movement. I just finished Claudia Smith Brinson’s Stories of Struggle: The Clash over Civil Rights in South Carolina which tells of some of the unsung heroes and moments in our state.

I have no memory of hearing about the massacre until earlier this year while I was listening to the podcast Teaching Hard History, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. I learned that the massacre was a brutal decimation of the wealthiest black community in America by an organized white mob. Estimates vary but dozens to hundreds were killed and more than a thousand black homes and hundreds of black businesses were destroyed. After two days of annihilation, approximately a 35-block area had been burned to the ground. No one was ever prosecuted. The 100th anniversary of the massacre coincides with Memorial Day.

The reclamation of this suppressed history is part of the George Floyd effect. Many whites, myself included, had been lulled into believing that America was becoming a post-racial society. But over the past decade there has been a growing sense of incompletion, of too much left undone. This unease began to disturb the national conscience in 2013 with the death of Trayvon Martin, was inflamed by the election of Donald Trump, and reached a tipping point with Floyd’s death. Each name that made national headlines (Garner, Brown, Rice, Scott, Castille, Taylor, etc.) was a message: We are nowhere near finished with racial reconciliation in the U.S.

I’m glad that this part of history is finally being told. The title of the podcast Teaching Hard History is apt. We know the easy, comfortable parts. If you’re a Christian, you will recognize a parallel with our religious education. The story of Tulsa has been treated by whites in a way similar to the way Christians have treated the hard sayings of Jesus. All of us have our favorite comforting verses. But some of what Jesus spoke to his followers was searing. One of the most demanding of Jesus’ prescriptions is found in the gospel of Mark. When a rich young ruler asks Jesus what he must do to have eternal life, Jesus replies, “One thing you lack: Go and sell all you possess and give it to the poor.” Only courageous preachers use this as a sermon text.

Mixed with my gratitude that these neglected stories are finally being told is a disappointment that I have been deliberately miseducated. In contrast to my ignorance of Tulsa, I have retained the name of Denmark Vesey, a free black man who planned a slave revolt in Charleston in 1822. The plot was discovered and he and about thirty of his followers were executed. I remember being taught several times about this. How could I know the name of a man who killed no one but simply scared the bejesus out of white Southerners and not know about Tulsa?

Reasonable people can disagree about what history is essential to teach our children. However, I would submit that not teaching me about the Tulsa massacre was a deliberate omission by a white society that didn’t want to spoil the narrative of its benignity and wholesomeness. In that same vein, in the late seventies when I took South Carolina history in middle school, I was taught the Lost Cause narrative, the crux of which is that the Civil War (usually referred to as “The War Between the States” and sometimes as “The War of Northern Aggression” in my classroom) was about states’ rights, not slavery. Even at that tender age, I remember being confused. Wasn’t the right that all the fighting was about the right to own slaves? I remember arguing this point after class with a friend whose family had lived for generations in the Charleston area. We did not reach consensus.

Some whites are not interested in any reappraisal of our history. Exposing our middle and high school students to this and other episodes of ruthless racially-motivated violence takes some of the shine off the narrative that we have always been the good guys. Conservative politicians and news outlets recognize whites’ fear of this long-overdue reexamination and their desire to change the subject. This desire is the motivation behind the focus on critical race theory (CRT). I suspect that most people who oppose CRT have a very shallow understanding of it. Since they can’t say they are against studying the truth of our racial past, they beat up on the straw man of CRT, which they portray as a shadowy Marxist plot to convince our children to hate America.

Some states, including Oklahoma, have banned CRT and others are trying (Note to legislators: the best way to stoke interest in a subject among young people is to ban it). But most of those who recognize the omissions in the history we teach have no interest in CRT. All we want is for the full, unvarnished story to be told. Hearing the truth of Tulsa and other history like it will be a painful. But it will also set us free.

Dr. DeMarco is a physician who lives in Marion, and a long-time reader of this blog.

The burned-out Greenwood District after the Tulsa Race Massacre.

The burned-out Greenwood District after the Tulsa Race Massacre.

DeMarco: Why Confederate Statues Should Come Down

The Op-Ed Page

statue in Marion

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there remain more than 700 statues in our nation honoring Confederates. I pass one regularly in my hometown of Marion. It is by far the most impressive statue in the county. The city of Marion website gives its dimensions: a seven-foot bronze replica of a Confederate soldier and a 22-foot Winnsboro blue granite base.

Paul and statue

Paul DeMarco with the statue.

Like many similar statues, the statue was purchased with funds raised by the local chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy. When it was erected in 1903, it was located in one of the intersections of Marion’s small business district. It was moved out of the intersection to its current location near the public library in 1952.

Legend has it that is was moved after being struck by more than one wayward (and as related by some wags, drunk) drivers. The website offers a much less interesting reason – to make way for new traffic lights. Whatever the motive, the soldier retreated southward only a few dozen yards, but he remains north-facing, gazing tirelessly at the horizon for the reappearance of Yankee invaders.

As far as I know, there has been no public discussion of whether to remove Marion’s version of Johnny Reb from his high perch.  Both sides would have their proponents. Some, including former President Trump, argue against removal. In a campaign speech in June 2020, Trump said “This cruel campaign of censorship and exclusion violates everything we hold dear as Americans. They want to demolish our heritage so they can impose a new oppressive regime in its place.” Trump has argued that the fight to save the statues “is a battle to save the Heritage, History, and Greatness of our Country.”

Many Americans, some of whom are black, have a less bombastic anti-removal argument: The statues serve as an important part of our collective memory. They assert that we should leave the statues up to remember who we as a people were, including the terrible mistakes we have made. Even if the statues glorify Southern politicians and military men who supported the enslavement of blacks, remembering these men is a way of inoculating ourselves against that kind of hatred creeping back into our national psyche.inscription

While I appreciate those arguments, I come down on the side of removing Confederate statues. I would argue that statues are not raised to teach history. That is the job of families, schools and universities. History is too broad, too nuanced, and too complex to be taught with public monuments.

Rather than teaching history, statues are erected to reflect our shared values. We carefully select the people and events from history that best represent who we are and enshrine them for generations to come.

The city of Marion’s Confederate statue was erected at a time when racial oppression was ironclad. I think it can be accurately seen as symbolizing and perpetuating the white supremacist society that blacks were forced to endure during the Jim Crow era. The inscription on the plinth gives it away. It says in part, “To the memory of those valiant souls who went forth from Old Marion to yield up their lives in patriotic devotion to the South and all that the South stood for.”

Remove the euphemism “all that the South stood for” and chisel in less-vague descriptions of the racial reality at the turn of the twentieth century. Take your sculptor’s mallet and mentally carve “oppression,” “persecution,” “brutality” and “terrorism.” Then the inscription is revealed for the propaganda that it is, propping up the lie that the Civil War was fought for something other than the preservation of black subjugation.

Confederate soldiers should be memorialized. They were men with families that loved them. They had lives before, and, if they survived, after their service to the Confederacy. Their living descendants can decide how that should best be done in the cemeteries in which they lie. The National Park Service maintains 17 Civil War battlefields, and states maintain many more. Multiple opportunities for reenactments still exist for those who are captivated by that conflict.

I wish I had a foolproof algorithm for whether a statue should be removed. The central question for me is, “What was the primary legacy of the person memorialized?” That approach, in my mind, disqualifies the political and military leaders of the Confederacy, a failed attempt to fracture the Union for the purpose of maintaining slavery.

But I don’t think owning slaves alone necessarily disqualifies a historical figure, particularly the Founding Fathers. Their role in establishing a new country dedicated to the ideal of freedom is their overarching legacy, even though many of them owned slaves.

To that point, there is only one other statue of a historical figure in the city of Marion. Located on the courthouse square, it is a likeness of Revolutionary War Brigadier General Francis Marion, known as the “Swamp Fox.”  It was dedicated in 1976 as part of our town’s celebration of America’s Bicentennial. Marion was a slaveholder. But his part in the Revolutionary War effort and his later service in the South Carolina General Assembly make him an inspirational, if flawed, figure. I would argue his statue stays.

Once a Confederate monument is removed, many communities struggle with how to choose its replacement. In Marion County that choice would be easy: Clementa Pinckney, the South Carolina state senator and senior pastor of Mother Emmanuel who was murdered along with eight of his parishioners in 2015. Pinckney had family in Marion County and is buried here. His life and legacy represent the values and hopes of Marionites in a way that a Confederate memorial never could.

How about that Joe Biden, huh? You go, Joe: Do it!

Joe Speaks

How relaxed have I become since Joe Biden became my president? This relaxed: I forgot to watch his speech last night.

I had intended to watch it. But then I had a busy day, getting my stitches out and all, and ended up working pretty late — until well after 9 p.m. Finally I turned on the tube about 10 — intending to stream something, but the TV input happened to be set on broadcast — and there was Joe, in the chamber, shaking hands with people! I had missed it!

I was disappointed, but it was OK. I was sure whatever he had said was fine, and I could read all about it in the morning. Which I did. And if you need to catch up, here’s a transcript.

As you know from last year, I wasn’t all that interested in what Joe would do once in office. As I’ve said so many, many times in the past in many contexts, I don’t like campaign promises, and don’t want to hear grand plans (which kind of eliminated Elizabeth Warren right off). What I want is character. That, and solid experience. You don’t know, can’t know, what the big issues will be during an upcoming term (although in this case, we knew covid had to be dealt with). So I want someone I trust to cope with whatever happens competently, and decently. Someone who I believe will do the right thing both in terms of effectiveness and morality.

And Joe fit that bill perfectly.

Of course in this case, it was also about replacing the malevolent, clueless lunatic who had occupied the office for the past four years. Once that was done and covid was competently dealt with, I’d be happy.

What I didn’t reckon on — in fact, practically no one did — was that once in, Joe would be this ambitious. I didn’t know he would come in and try to accomplish more than any president since LBJ, if not FDR.

But hey, that’s fine with me. Pretty much everything he’s trying to do makes sense, and I’m on board. And pleased. What Joe is doing is saying, “These are the things government ought to do. Let’s get them done.”

One thing I’m seeing people say about him — and they’re right — is that he’s not content to just undo the damage done by Trump. He’s looking to roll back all that Republicans have done — in terms of alienating the American people from their government — since Reagan.

It had never occurred to me that that could be done — returning us to being the kind of confident country, with faith in each other and our way of governing ourselves, that we were before Reagan, before Watergate, before Vietnam. The country of FDR, Truman, Ike (Mr. Interstates!), JFK and LBJ (pre-credibility gap). The country whose leaders said, “Let’s do this!” and we just went out and got it done.

Will it be easy? Not at all. There are 50 people in the Senate determined to stop him from doing anything he tries to do. If the Republicans had a party platform — which they don’t; the sick personality cult of Trump doesn’t need one — Joe could try to accomplish everything on their list, and they’d oppose it because it’s him trying to do it. In a situation like that, you might as try to do the right thing instead. Especially if you’re Joe.

Obviously, Joe is more of a visionary than I am. And I bless him for it. We’ve needed this, for such a long time…

There are things we should do. Let's do them...

There are things we should do. Let’s do them…

Turning the clock back to 1691…

William III, by grace of God king of South Carolina?

William III, by grace of God king of South Carolina?

Hey, y’all, I’m super-busy today, but just to give you something to chew on, Jeffrey Collins over at the AP posted this yesterday, sort of riffing on the new census figures:

That started a little bit of conversation on Twitter (our own Lynn Teague joined in). For my part, I responded, “What on Earth would be the motivation for combining two such strikingly unlike states?”

Coming back at me, Jeffrey quickly explained, “Just an observation — certainly not an endorsement. I will say the separation 300+ years ago probably accelerated the differences between the Carolinas.”

Quite likely, I agreed. And of course, I understood it was merely an observation, which others took up and enjoyed discussing. But I couldn’t resist adding: “A technical point: If we went to the status quo ante of 1691, would Elizabeth II be our sovereign? Or would we say it was William III?”

Anyway, I saw Bud mentioned something about the new census figures on a previous post, and I thought y’all might enjoy kicking this around.

So, should SC and NC merge and become one? Talk amongst yourselves…

linda richman