Category Archives: Self-flagellation

I’m not as arrogant as I look

Folks, it takes a certain amount of conceit to express opinions day in and day out, but it is not an unlimited commodity. I would even go so far as to say what Twain’s Hank Morgan said:

Now what a happy idea that was! — and so simple; yet it would never have occurred to me. I was born modest; not all over, but in spots; and this was one of the spots.

Well, this is one of my spots: I do not draft highly technical policy proposals. I’m a pretty fair hand at deciding what works and what doesn’t in somebody else’s policy proposals, and suggesting improvements. But I lack the confidence to take a blank sheet of paper and sketch out a full-blown projet, as the French would call it.

bud and Doug, our regular correspondents, probably have their own humble spots. This isn’t one of them. Both of them have recently sketched out a number of smart ideas about how to improve health care in this country. I admire their ability to pull something like that from thin air. I particularly admire the tiered approach that bud came up with (no offense, Doug; yours was good too).

The two of them are constantly hitting me up for projets of my own, but my brain just doesn’t roll that way — and if it did, the kind of time I would have to spend on something like that to feel confidence in it would demand that I publish it first in the actual newspaper. Dismiss me for lack of  seriousness if you will, call me the critic who never creates, just criticizes. But hey, I can praise, too. That’s something.

Part of it is the aforementioned humility; part of it is my attention deficit problem. I am endlessly fascinated by everything, and I am dependent on other people to call my attention to a particular thing in order for me to focus on it effectively. Once I’m staring at it, I can get creative and sometimes even clever. But I’ve got to have that focal point.

Anyway, back on this post bud challenged me again to come up with my own original plan, and this is all I can say in reply (I tried to post it as a comment, but my browser collapsed, and I decided then that this was worth a separate post on what this blog is and what it isn’t):

bud, if reform is dependent on me coming up with the details, we’re

Maybe if I quit my job (thereby
losing my expensive benefits) and spent a year immersing myself and
sweating over it, I could come up with something that would satisfy you, but I’m not sure I would succeed even then. But it’s a moot point. My job, and my life, demand that I address many different things a day, every day.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses. That’s one of my weaknesses. I drown in unlimited possibilities.

I can react to your details because they are finite. If I try to
come up with my own, I would never be satisfied that THESE were the
right, proper and inclusive things to consider. To give but one
example, I would NEVER have confidence in my ability to compute the
costs of a plan. A lot of people tell me they would be intimidated at having to write
a column for the newspaper. I am not. Different

Anyway, the subject is so complex that it’s taken me a lot of years
to get to the point that I can say with confidence that what we have is
fundamentally flawed (that it’s not just case of a few uninsured; it’s
a bad deal across the board), and that the biggest thing that is wrong
is that we expect private employers to help us purchase insurance from
for-profit providers, and do so from the relatively weak position of
having purchasing pools no larger than the companies’ respective
rosters of employees.

That leads me to single-payer (and if you want to see that spelled out as a specific proposal, see HR676),
and the way I approach that — knowing how complex this is — is by
asking my readers to help me find flaws in it that maybe I’m missing.
After we go through that for a while, and I’ve heard lots of pros and
cons. I might gain the confidence to say that yes, I endorse that
bill.The bottom line is, I’m not as arrogant as I look. So if you’re
waiting for detailed plans to come from me like Minerva springing from
the brow of Zeus, you should go to another blog.


Sure, I’ve come up with "proposals" in the past. But when you see me set out something like my suggested platform for the Energy Party or the UnParty, what I’m doing is selecting from among ideas that are already out there, and which I’ve had plenty of time to mull over. I didn’t invent the gas-tax increase idea; I was persuaded to it by a lot of people whom I regard as smarter about it than I am.

I wouldn’t attempt a health care plan from scratch without a team of experts from various disciplines helping me.

I get dissed by one of ‘Jake’s Boys’

This morning, before arriving at the office, I got an e-mail from Cindi to the following effect:

A comment on a Shot blog post about the Sanford grant story, for your amusement:

It is interesting to see who the Sanford boys are …the blogs that won’t touch this story.

Palmetto Scoop…not a peep.…not a peep.
Brad Warthen…not a peep…

Certainly instructive, though not surprising…

That is funny, and I want to make sure the governor and his actual boys see that, and stop whining about what I write about the gov. I was wondering, though, why the boys over at The Shot — Tim Cameron or that other one — would be so confused. After all, Tim wants to be treated as a journalist, so you’d think he’d read the paper once in a while.

But it turns out this was not a post but a comment, written by some brave soul hiding behind the handle "Dingle," so Tim is off the hook. (Oh, and Dingle — is produced by Campaigns & Elections magazine, and I’m not entirely sure those out-of-staters know who Mark Sanford is. Not that I feel any need to defend them, even though they’ve been kind to me.)

Next, I had to wonder what "Dingle" was talking about, and I finally realized it was this thing Jake Knotts and Rod Shealy had been pushing about some grant that somebody Sanford knows got, and which, by the time I’d heard about it, Sanford had gotten his pals to pay back — or some of it, anyway. I read the story a couple of days ago and promptly forgot about it. (I didn’t even bring it up at our morning editorial meeting, which I seem to recall having a vague notion to do when I was reading it.) Seemed like a footnote on a larger issue I’d written about in the past, although there was a certain irony to Sanford being at the trough, too.

But let’s treat this as seriously as we possibly can, and beat up on ol’ Brad a bit: Brad has a sort of dull spot in his brain where stories about "ethics" — by which I mean the appearance of ethical impropriety,  as opposed to its substance, which is usually what we’re talking about in these sorts of stories — about about money go to die. This, by most folks’ reckoning, is a weakness.

Here I am kicking myself because, other than passing on this tip after the fact, I haven’t had anything to say about this story, which (unlike the Jake thing) lots of other folks actually seem excited about, and I had not even thought about kicking myself over this one.

There’s no question that people who are into self-flagellation really ought to go into journalism. There’s just buckets of fun in it, for masochists.

The War on Spontaneity

This morning, I had a meeting with Supt. of Ed. Jim Rex, Education Oversight Committee czarina Jo Anne Anderson, and various members of their respective retinues.

That is, I was supposed to have a meeting with them. It was placed on my calendar a couple of months ago (and had somehow neglected to set the Treo to remind me the way I always do), and for a time earlier than I usually arrive at the office, and I didn’t realize it was happening until I was halfway through breakfast, and by the time I got here I was more than half an hour late for it. I can’t remember the last time anything like this happened, and I am very, very sorry it happened this time; it was embarrassing.

The meeting was ostensibly to talk about the 2007 Report Cards, and I missed that part (since Cindi Scoppe had been hosting them, and I rely on her to pay attention and remember stuff even when I am here, we were covered — I just haven’t had time to get Cindi to regurgitate it to me yet). I know that the info they had to share wasn’t amazingly good news, since we had already seen the PACT scores — upon which the report cards are mostly based — and because I saw Jim Foster’s face (see below). Jim’s more of a class clown than I am, always with the jokes. (Long ago, three superintendents ago, Jim worked at the paper.) If he’s looking this glum, watch out.

Anyway, right after I got into the room, talk turned to discipline, and I started to squirm, not only because I’d come to class late and unprepared, but because I was once one of those one or two kids who distract the class, to put it mildly. (So was Jim, I’m sure, despite his severe mien below.) I sat there thinking how very, very lucky I am that I made it out of school before the era of Zero Tolerance. Which suggests a digression…

Honest, I’ll try to come back with some serious info from this meeting once I’ve caught up with it, but for now I’d like to share a piece from this morning’s WSJ about how increasingly unfriendly this country is getting toward kids like me. The op-ed was headlined "Adult supervision." An excerpt:

    The Christian Science Monitor reports that colleges across the country now require permits or permission slips for undergraduate pranks. This was perhaps inevitable: First they came for dodgeball. Then tag. How long could something as spontaneous and fun as the prank escape?
    Educational administrators justify the new prank rules by invoking 9/11, though most college pranks have as much to do with terrorism as a greased pig in the hallway has to do with the invasion of Poland. But the war on spontaneity continues….

At this point, either you’re nodding in smug approval at efforts to get those hooligans in line, or you’re cringing like me. Another taste:

At Mascoutah Middle School in Illinois, 13-year-old Megan Coulter was recently given detention for hugging two friends goodbye before the weekend — a violation of the school’s ban on "public displays of affection." One California school district worried about "bullying, violence, self-esteem and lawsuits" also banned tag, cops and robbers, touch football and every other activity that involved "bodily contact."

You know, when it comes to most things, I try to side with the grownups. Society needs to have rules. Hence my strong disagreements with the libertarians. But at some point, short of engaging in life-threatening behavior of the kind I worried about in my Sunday column, there’s a space where adults should let the children play. And please, please forgive them when they wander in a bit late… I’m sure they feel bad about it.


Bad Blood, Part II

Well, it happened again. I went to give blood at the Red Cross — as promised in a previous post — and they wouldn’t take it.

I walked in, signed the register, and the lady at the desk gave me a cool hat. Then she said they’d been waiting for me, and handed me the binder full of stuff you have to read before you give.

And there, on the first page, I saw that if you’re taking antibiotics, you can’t give.

I said well, I’m taking an antibiotic, but it’s no big deal. I’ve just had this sinus headache for years, and it got worse in recent months, and they took a CT scan a couple of weeks ago, and decided it was a sinus infection. So they told me to take these expensive (my co-pay was $148) pills for a month.

I haven’t had fever; I haven’t been sick. I don’t think I’m contagious. But I couldn’t give anyway.

They let me keep the hat, though. They said it didn’t matter, because "your editorials" caused hundreds of extra people to give blood over the last couple of days. Well, I’m pretty sure that it would have been the news story
that ran the same day, because that was much more prominent. But in any case, the effect seems to have been dramatic. In a period in which 40 people would normally give at the Columbia Red Cross facility on Bull Street, they had had 200.

I hesitated to mention that, because I don’t want people thinking, "Well, then, I don’t have to give then." No, they need people to keep giving at that rate. This rate was just enough that in another day or so, they expected to no longer have to ration certain types. And blood only lasts 40 days or so; they have to keep getting more.

To schedule your appointment, call 1-800-GIVELIFE, or do it online.

Anyway, they said I could give as soon as I quit taking the antibiotic. I will.

My bad. Sorry, Mr. Holcombe

Well, I screwed up ETV last night — once. I was reading off results from a laptop that Andy Gobeil had put in front of me (in response to my constant off-air griping that I didn’t have up-to-date info to speak from), and I got one thing wrong.

I said William Malinowski was the new councilman from Richland County Council District 1. Actually, while he got the plurality of votes, he and Jim Holcombe will be in a runoff.

Mea culpa.

I’m still trying to get the hang of this TV thing — you have to keep talking to avoid "dead air," but you don’t get to edit yourself.

Besides that, though, how do y’all think I did? Should I keep my day job?

Repeating myself

Nobody else is likely to notice this, so I’ll just go ahead and tell it on myself.

I realized that in my Sunday column, I was referring to an anecdote I had used once before, so I boiled it down to as brief a reference as possible:

I was once told that someday I would have to decide whether I wanted to be right or effective. There is no doubt which paths these two have chosen.

Only after the page was gone on Friday did I realize I had told this story twice before, once toward the bottom of a column on July 6, 2003

One of the many long-suffering bosses I’ve had in my career, thoroughly exasperated with the bullheaded way I tended to play with others, said that if I wanted to be successful, I would have to make up my mind: Did I want to be right, or be effective?

This was at least a decade ago, so I don’t recall exactly how I responded. But I remember being torn between saying either, "Both, of course," or "If I have to choose, I’d rather go down in flames being right."

… and, in an expanded form that actually led the column, I wrote about it again on April 4, 2004:

I ONCE HAD a boss who, in the throes of frustration with me (not an uncommon state among bosses I have known), told me that one of these days, "You’re going to have to make up your mind whether you want to be right, or you want to be effective."

Of course, I wanted to be both. But if absolutely forced to choose, I would dig in and choose the former, and go down in flames if necessary. Hence his frustration.

He was definitely on to something. I’ve had a number of setbacks in my career based on that very propensity. Still, I tend to want politicians to exhibit a similar trait. I keep wanting politics to be about honestly advocating what you believe at all times, and stoically accepting the consequences if your ideas prove to be insufficiently popular to have the effect you desire.

Both references were to make a point about Gov. Mark Sanford, by the way.

You know, the former boss in question — Gil Thelen, who ran The State‘s newsroom back in the long-ago days (more than 12 years ago, now) when I was a part of that department — would probably feel gratified that his point comes to my mind so frequently. Maybe that’s because I still struggle over which one I want more. My answer still tends to be, "both."

Sure, I could just not have mentioned it at all in the first place, but it seemed the
quickest way to introduce the whole organizing dichotomy of the column. And it was in that context that the idea struck me.

And I didn’t think it was worth the wasted money of redoing the page, when I found out I had done it twice. If I had realized what I was doing sooner, I might have introduced the idea another way. I could have said,

I’ve written more than once that Gov. Mark Sanford must choose whether he wants to be right or be effective.

… and so forth. Then I would have felt a little less like a bore. Too late now, though. And here I’ve gone and bored you again with this pointless explaining. Oh, well. You didn’t have to read it.

This thing’s gone far enough

OK, I should probably admit to you where I was going when I drove by the girl who was talking on the phone while jogging. I mean, if I don’t face up to my problem, how am I ever going to get better?

I was on my way to … well, to this place again. What’s so bad, or noteworthy about that? Well, this was the first time ever that I left work and drove halfway across town and back for no other purpose than to fetch myself a cup of coffee. In the past, it’s always been, "Hey, I think I’ll go book-browsing," or, "I have an errand to run in Five Points," or, "I need to go to a hotspot to do some blogging" — and pretty much always on a weekend.

(Oh, and for those of you keeping score on my time management: Except for that 20 minutes, which substituted for a lunch hour, I was very productive the rest of the day. Especially after that last coffee. So judge not, lest ye also become a blogger.)

This time, I didn’t even pretend there was an excuse. I had been thinking about my next cup of coffee ever since I had my last one, at breakfast (unless you count that half a cup I got at mid-morning, after begging the guy in the downstairs canteen to open back up just for me to get a refill, and then draining what little was left in the insulated carafe thingie). So first chance I got between meetings and such, I put on my coat, muttered something about "an errand or two to run," and drove straight there.

Here I am acting all bemused at the idiosyncracies of youth (my last post) one minute, then the next I’m standing in a long line of them waiting for a caffeine fix. I listen to them rattle off elaborate, absurdly complex orders that sound like litanies chanted in a foreign tongue — with repetitive responses intoned by the help behind the counter — and edge forward, waiting for when I can order my "plain coffee." The lad in front of me actually asks, "What do you have?" The reply is, "Depends on whether you want hot or cold." Everyone — except me — is hugely entertained when he asks for something in-between, and is informed that’s one thing they don’t have.

By the time he removes his inconvenient self and I belly up, I’ve scrapped plans for "just a small one," and order the "grande." The counterman overfills it — no objections from me there — and I ruin a perfectly good dress shirt and pair of gray pants trying to drive back. Ah, but it’s worth it. It tastes lovely. I even find myself tearing away the insulating wrap to savor the inanity of "The Way I See It No. 49." I am utterly lacking in discrimination at this point.

This is madness. I managed to quit Vicodin when I had taken it day and night for weeks after I broke my ribs kickboxing several years back. (And believe me, I felt its pull. No wonder it’s the favorite addiction of TV writers, from "House" to "The Book of Daniel.") So what’s with this? Why does this dark brew charm me to greater foolishness each day?

Well, I’m going to summon what shreds of self-respect I have left. Tomorrow, one coffee with breakfast. A big one. But that’s it. Or maybe another small one, if they’re just going to dump it out anyway. But no more mad, mid-day quests.

Today I hit rock-bottom. There’s only one way to go now.

Sorry for the inconvenience

I’m really sorry about what happened yesterday. If you were frustrated not being able to access the blog or place comments on it, I know exactly how you feel. I was pretty panicked when I looked Friday morning and it looked like I’d lost a week of material. It was worse when I tried to get into the guts of the thing, and got an error message.

Anyway, I am particularly sorry if you tried to comment, and it got lost. Please give it another try; I think it’s working now. If you have any more trouble, please e-mail me at I won’t be there until Monday, but I promise to get right on it then.

Now that I’ve said my sorries, I’ll give my excuses: It wasn’t my fault! It was something to do with Typepad. I don’t understand it, frankly; something about routine maintenance that went awry.

Just don’t give up on the blog.

Boy, did we screw up

His name is Jim St. Clair.

He is a member of the Lexington 4 school board, he works for U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, he is a major in the S.C. Air National Guard, and he is running for the Republican nomination for the District 1 seat on Lexington County Council. And his name is Jim St. Clair. His name most assuredly is NOT "Jim Sinclair," as we said today in what is the worst mistake we have made in a political endorsement within my memory.

There is absolutely no excuse for that happening. The associate editor who wrote it knew better, I (who edited it) knew better, and yet it still happened. And we are deeply sorry. Warren Bolton and I have both called Mr. St. Clair to apologize. (Incidentally, anyone else who read these proofs had no reason to doubt Warren and me — since we’ve never fouled up quite like this before — and therefore no reason to suspect that something was wrong. "Snclair" would have looked wrong to them, but "Sinclair" did not, since they had never met or heard of Mr. St. Clair.) A correction will run on Sunday’s editorial page. We’re doing that because it has higher readership than Saturday. In the meantime, this blog item is all I can do.

Why are we so embarrassed by this one misspelling (aside from the fact that ALL errors are embarrassing)? Because Mr. St. Clair is one of three highly qualified candidates for this position — all of them with good records for community service — and we endorsed one of his opponents, Pelion Mayor Charles Haggard (the third candidate is Jim Kinard, also a member of the Lexington 4 school board). So by misspelling his name, we added insult to injury, which makes it worse than making the same mistake under other circumstances. As Mr. St. Clair himself said, the misspelling bothered him more than not being endorsed. I understand that, given the importance of name recognition in a political race. Politicians aren’t usually joking when they say, "Write what you want about me; just spell the name right."

(By the way, I keep saying this was a "misspelling" rather than "the wrong name" because it occurs to me that "Sinclair" is actually derived originally from "St. Clare" or "St. Clair." People with that particular Scottish name can claim kinship to one Henry St. Clair, who fought alongside Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn in 1314, according to one Web site. That’s no defense; it’s just as bad either way. I didn’t even think of it until the error was pointed out to me this morning. I have irrelevancies run through my head in times of stress — and the rest of the time, too — and in this case, as my eyes focused on the error like a laser beam as they failed to do yesterday, I thought, "Those names MUST be from the same root." I looked it up, and I was right. Which doesn’t make it any better; I just thought it was interesting. We didn’t make the mistake because we thought it was the same name spelled differently; we made the mistake because it looks roughly like the right name, and since we didn’t know this gentleman or write about him before this week, we didn’t have alarm bells go off automatically in our heads saying "That’s wrong!" the way we would if someone wrote "Sandford" or "DiMint.")

Anyway, we screwed up, and this is the best I can do today to make it right. I realize it isn’t enough.