Category Archives: Uncategorized

Vote ‘no’ to all those questions on the ballot

Something else that needs to be said before the voting tomorrow (and if you voted early, I’m sorry I missed you).

It’s to answer a question I get a LOT from mystified voters: “How should I vote on those questions on the ballot?”

The simple, easy-to-remember answer is: “Vote NO.” Pretty much always. I would simply say “always,” but of course, there are exceptions to everything.

In this case, the question on South Carolina’s GOP presidential primary ballot are:

  1. Should South Carolina law be changed to give people the right to register to vote with the political party of their choice?
  2. Should South Carolina adopt reforms to increase the independence and accountability of our judiciary by improving transparency and reducing conflicts of interest in the process of reviewing judicial qualifications and electing judges.
  3. Should it be an immediate legislative priority to protect South Carolina’s competitiveness and small businesses by changing state law so that a person’s responsibility for financial damages in a lawsuit is based on that person’s actual share of responsibility?

To address them:

  1. The proper answer to the first one is “HELL no,” but all they offer is “no.” The Republican Party has been trying to close our open primaries ever since I came home to South Carolina in 1987. Sometimes, the Democrats help them. (Remember the “loyalty oath” back in 2004?) I especially love the Orwellian language they used on this one: “give people the right to….” Very Putinesque. If an oppressive power wants to take away your freedom (in this case, to vote in either primary you choose, based on which is offering the best choices), whenever he can, he’ll couch it as giving you a “right.”
  2. The second one isn’t so awful. Its virtues are explored in this editorial in the Post and Courier, headlined, “Manipulative GOP ballot questions deserve ‘no’ votes — even for the good idea.” Note the overall point, though. As the editorial explains, this “taxpayer-funded public opinion poll about sometimes-obscure legislative issues is an affront to the most sacred aspect of our republic: the ballot.” To continue quoting: “The questions aren’t binding, and they don’t reflect the collective wisdom or even priorities of most of our elected officials. They were written by political party hacks, to whom the Legislature has foolishly given the authority to sully our ballots. If party officials get the answers they want, they’ll use them to browbeat legislators into passing laws that were ill-explained. That is to say: The purpose of the questions is to fuel a lobbying campaign, courtesy of S.C. taxpayers.”
  3. The third is an attempt to push legislators to initiate a particular form of tort reform. The editorial mentioned above mentions the efforts of dram shops to escape responsibility for serving too much alcohol.

If you’re for tort reform — this kind or any kind — tell your legislators. But don’t be taken in by this nonsense.

A question such as these on a primary ballot is NOT in any way, shape or form a referendum. Those can only go on a general election ballot. These are just con jobs. And you should feel insulted.




Open Thread for Friday, July 28, 2023

Meant to do this earlier, but got sidetracked. Oh, well. Nobody reads blogs on Friday afternoons, anyway. Here you go:

  1. New Charges in Documents Case Add to Trump’s Legal Peril — Here’s where one of my readers “there you go again, obsessing about Trump.” Personally, I don’t recall the last time I said anything about his indictments and so forth. Usually, I ignore it — how is it news that this guy’s a crook? But at this point, I sort of feel like I have to take note of the avalanche, you know? And of course, there’s likely more to come. Which of course raises the next question…
  2. GOP support for Trump softens as the former president’s legal troubles mount — Yeah, I’ll believe that when I see it. This seems pretty thin to me. Of course, in the relatively sane world in which we lived before 2016, this is what you would expect to happen (back then, he would have fallen off the radar at the time of the Access Hollywood revelations, way before these “legal troubles). Today, I’d have to see more than what’s in this story to convince me the sanity effect is kicking back in in the GOP.
  3. Harvard “legacy” tradition should end — That’s what Jennifer Rubin said, but I say it, too. But to me, this is not because of the affirmative action policy that was struck down. The legacy policy never, ever made sense, and that was long before anyone ever thought about affirmative action. I see no point to legacies, beyond courting the money of the kids’ affluent parents — which short-sighted and even shameful. This is supposed to be the nation’s best university, and it should be admitting the nation’s best students (and of course, finding a way to help them pay for it). Of course, a lot of the best students would be the children of former best students. But plenty would not. Ditching the “who’s your daddy?” consideration would be fair, it would be good for Harvard, and I suppose it would be good for the nation’s intellectual gene pool, because the smartest would have a fairer chance to get into the best school.
  4. The war in Ukraine is spurring a revolution in drone warfare using AI — This is a good story in the Post, and I know a lot of you can’t read it. But basically, it says, “Drones empowered with artificial intelligence hold huge promise for Ukraine’s military but could also benefit nefarious non-state actors like terrorists and drug cartels.” And this is very true. It gives an advantage to Kyiv, but does the same for a lot of bad guys out there. Which is something that has worried me for some time. There are tradeoffs with everything, I guess…
  5. Tim Scott’s amendment passes key vote. But he didn’t vote on it. This is where he was. — This one isn’t about Tim Scott. It’s about the headline itself. This is a particularly egregious case of abandoning the basic journalistic value that you tell a reader all you can cram into a headline. That has been replaced by heds that tell you little, and entice you into clicking. How would the Old School, inform-the-reader-style hed have been different? Well, instead of “This is where he was,” it would have said “He was in Iowa.” It’s not only shorter, but it tells readers the main thing they want to know. Which means, of course, that they wouldn’t click. This is how the world has changed. Well, one of the ways…
  6. The IT Crowd is coming to Britbox — I get WAY too many promotional emails from all the streaming services to which I subscribe, but this one excited me today. I had been watching this over and over on Netflix for years, and while that might not be the healthiest, best practice for someone who knows he needs to work on his time management, I always got a kick out of it. But then suddenly it quit working. Netflix had dropped it. And I couldn’t get it to play anymore, even when I turned the Netflix app off and turned it back on again. So I’m looking forward to Thursday. You say you’ve never seen The IT Crowd? Well, you should remedy that. Personally, I’d consider the subscription fee to be worth it, just to see this one series.

Sometimes there’s some good news in this world

Then again, sometimes it takes 110 years to arrive:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should Trump be criminally prosecuted?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Gage Skidmore, via Wikimedia

How I’m going to vote today

I’m not going to go into a lot of detail here. But I’m going to go vote in a while, and this is what’s on my mind at the moment — still trying to work out how to vote on two or three of the races/questions.

Of course, I’m going to take a Republican ballot. The Democratic one gives me exactly three decisions to make, and none of them is particularly worth making. Henry is going to win re-election, and I’m not crazy about any of the Dems running to oppose him. If I were voting on that, I’d choose Joe Cunningham, but that’s mainly because last week Mia reminded us about her tendency to fly off the handle at people in a particularly immature manner (kind of reminds me of Nikki’s Facebook rants during her first term as governor).

Then there’s the three people running for superintendent of education, whose chances in the fall are more or less equally dismal. I’ve never heard of any of them but Jerry Govan. You know Jerry. He was accused — and acquitted, let me note — of assaulting Rep. Gilda Cobb Hunter in the State House. I’ve known who Govan was for many years, but that’s the main thing I remember about him.

Finally, there are three Dems seeking to run for U.S. Senate. I’ve only heard of one of them — Catherine Fleming Bruce. I’ve never met her; I just know the name because she has run for office before — multiple times, I think. Anyway, they’re seeking to oppose Tim Scott. I don’t think he’s worried about it.

So I’m taking a Republican ballot, and here’s how I plan to vote:

  • It turns out Henry has an opponent — name of Harrison Musselwhite, a.k.a. “Trucker Bob.” But I just looked him up, and his main problem with Henry is that Henry isn’t crazy enough. So much for voting for him as a protest. Looks like I won’t vote for governor. (So, since I have a slight preference in the Democratic vote, that’s one reason to question passing up that opportunity. But it’s not a strong reason.)
  • I’ll vote for Mark Hammond because he’s been in office quite a few years without messing up. But even more because Keith Blandford doesn’t really offer anything that would make me want to vote for him. Seriously. The URL of his website is blandford4america. Which leaves us puzzling over what federal office he thinks he’s running for.
  • I’m still torn about attorney general. Alan Wilson used to be a pretty sane human being, but now he’s endorsed by Trump. But have you checked out his opponent? Yikes. So either I vote for Alan to protect us from her, or skip this one, as I’ll do on governor. Alan’s going to win anyway.
  • Superintendent of education. This one I’m sure about. Molly Spearman has endorsed Kathy Maness, and so has Mandy Powers Norrell, who called her “an actual educator who has worked her entire life for public schools.” I will vote for her with enthusiasm, to try to keep the crazies from running our schools. Especially the one who has raised the most money, and is clearly not qualified for the job.
  • I’m also voting with an undivided mind for Hugh Weathers, who is running for the last time for commissioner of agriculture. We endorsed Hugh back when he first ran, even though he was running against Emile DeFelice. (Emile ran a great campaign and we really liked him, but he didn’t have a fraction of Hugh’s background in agriculture.) I like Hugh’s “Certified SC Grown” campaign (even though it’s not as cool as Emile’s “Put Your State on Your Plate”). Also, Hugh has — like Mark Hammond — been in office a long time without embarrassing us. This is particularly relevant in Hugh’s case, given his predecessor’s entanglement with cockfighting. Yes, in SC we do have a low bar, but there it is.
  • And I’m going to vote for my representative, Micah Caskey. This has been quite a race. I’ll be interested to see how much he and his opponent spent. I’m pretty sure it’s a record for this House seat. On my desk here are — let me count them — seven slick mailers from the two candidates combined. Plus a number of phone calls, and texts, from both. Melanie Shull seems to be a nice enough lady for someone who is WAY ideological. (From one of her mailers: “I will be a strong conservative voice for the silent majority that suffer at the hands of progressive policies and an increasingly intrusive, overreaching government.”) When I told Micah one of his signs was stolen from my yard, his immediate response was that he didn’t think she had anything to do with it — just overzealous supporters. I agreed. Have I been wildly happy about Micah’s mailers arguing that he is, too, a conservative? Nope. I was even less happy to get a phone call and a text from Henry supporting him (assuring us Micah is “a true conservative”). But you can’t get everything you want in this world.
  • Then there are the three mock-referendum questions at the end. If the machine allows it, my answer on the first two will be “hell, no!” I’ll likely answer no on the third, too, as a vote against including these stupid questions on ballots — even though the way it’s worded, it’s not necessarily objectionable. It would depend on how legislation trying to accomplish it were worded.

Here is a copy of the sample Democratic ballot in my precinct, and here is the sample GOP one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

You see, he’s the PRESIDENT, so I want him doing PRESIDENT stuff…

EDITOR’S NOTE: Just so you know — I wrote this freaking post three days ago, and as I was finishing, my PC went into one of those paroxysms that I complained about earlier, and I had to go somewhere and had zero time to deal with it. So I’m just coming back now to finish posting it. It still works. The latest headline on the situation: “U.S. calls Russia’s actions an ‘invasion,’ readies new sanctions.”

On the same day this was leading The New York Times and every other serious news outlet:

President Biden spoke amid fears that Russia was setting the stage for an invasion that could ignite the biggest conflict in Europe in decades.

WASHINGTON — President Biden said on Friday that the United States has intelligence showing that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has made a final decision to reject diplomatic overtures and invade Ukraine, in what Mr. Biden said would be a “catastrophic and needless war of choice” in Eastern Europe.

Speaking from the Roosevelt Room in the White House, Mr. Biden said “we have reason to believe the Russian forces are planning to and intend to attack Ukraine in the coming week, in the coming days,” adding that “we believe that they will target Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, a city of 2.8 million innocent people.”…

I received an email from the Democratic Governor’s association:

It was inviting me to express my approval of Joe Biden. I figured, OK, I’ll take a second. He’s my boy, even though this email is nothing but yet another particularly ham-handed attempt to get money out of me.

The “poll” didn’t have much to ask me before getting to the give-money part. But there was this page:

You can’t completely see my answer there. I said, “Dealing with the crisis in Ukraine. You know, keeping it from becoming World War III.”

Yeah, they had sort of changed topics on me, asking “Which of the following should be Democrats’ top priorities?” Which is something I don’t particularly care about. Don’t involve me in your party platform drafting.

But since I came to talk about Joe, I gave the answer I did. In a vain hope that it would be seen and sink in with somebody. It won’t, but I do what I can…

Teague: Redistricting South Carolina: Nearing the end

The Op-Ed Page

By Lynn Teague
Guest Columnist

The House has adopted its Congressional plan. On Tuesday the Senate Judiciary Committee will meet to consider two alternatives and will send one to the floor for a vote. After that, the two houses will go to conference committee to adopt a common plan to go back to the houses for final approval, and then to the Governor for signature. All of this will move fast, within a few weeks. So, what are the plans under consideration and what can we say about them?

The House plan and one of the Senate plans, Senate Amendment 1 (SA1), have a lot in common. They are somewhat similar to the existing Congressional map, although they are less competitive than the current map, which allows the southern coastal district, CD 1, to vary in partisan representation. These proposals would make CD 1 solidly Republican. leaving no South Carolina Congressional districts to be decided in November. Senate Amendment 2 (SA2) is very different, reimagining our Congressional map altogether. It is more competitive than either the current map or the two others under consideration, allowing both CD 1 and CD 5 to be decided in general elections while keeping both Charleston and Beaufort counties whole in CD 1. It is far superior to the other maps in every standard measure of redistricting proposal fairness.

Some of those testifying in the Senate Subcommittee hearing last week said that they support SA 1 because it keeps Beaufort in that district and “keeps the Lowcountry whole.” SA 1 does not keep the Lowcountry whole. The SA 1 map drives CD 6 south through Berkeley and Charleston counties to encompass parts of West Ashley and ALL of the Charleston peninsula and North Charleston. Mt. Pleasant and James Island are contiguous only by water. Both Charleston and North Charleston would be in a district with Columbia, a hundred miles away. What is happening here? There is an obvious clue. Like the House proposal and an earlier Senate proposal, SA 1 would reduce the Black Voting Age Population (BVAP) in CD 1 to about 17%, far lower than the black population of either Charleston County, which is 26% black, or Berkeley County which is 25% black. This is a racial gerrymander.

In contrast, SA 2 has a BVAP of 21%. The map proposal submitted by the League of Women Voters has a BVAP of 23%. Both these proposals keep Charleston County whole and in so doing produce a CD 1 that is competitive between the parties within a 1% range, the natural product of the racially and politically diverse community of interest made up of Charleston and its satellite cities and suburbs. SA 2 achieves this while keeping Beaufort County in CD 1, but whether Beaufort is in or out of CD 1, there is no rational argument that the Lowcountry is “whole” when the Charleston peninsula, in whole or in part, is carved out from CD 1.

One of those testifying last week was an Asian American resident of Hilton Head who asserted that minorities do not need special consideration in drawing Congressional maps, that they share the same interests as everyone else on the coast – such as the preservation of sea turtle eggs. However, throughout the redistricting process we have also heard from many black residents of South Carolina who do not agree and who ask that their voting influence not be diluted by gerrymandered maps like these. The voters they speak for are concerned about affordable housing, access to health care, and adequate wages, which are not concerns universally shared by residents of gated golf communities.

This week we will learn what map the Senate will pass, and then we will see whether South Carolina is once again embroiled in legal challenges to maps designed to dilute the influence of minority voters – especially black minority voters – and make all voters obsolete in November through non-competitive maps that decide our general elections in the map room, not the polling booth.

To see the plans for yourself, go to House and Senate redistricting websites or to:

Lynn Teague is a retired archaeologist who works hard every day in public service. She is the legislative lobbyist for the South Carolina League of Women Voters.


Well, I’ve got it. What now?

Just got the above notice, from my test yesterday morning.

How am I? I feel like crap. I have since last night. I’m going to do a quick couple more work things, including a phone interview at 1 p.m., then I’m going to eat some lunch and lie down.

After that… what?

I thought when they told me it was “DETECTED,” they’d say, and here’s what you should do in addition to what you’ve already been doing.

I thought it would be like, I don’t know, getting a draft notice: “GREETINGS,” followed by specific instructions on where to report for my physical.

But nope.

Kind of anticlimactic, really…


I’ve got to read more Joan Didion

Ross Douthat reminded me of that this morning with his column, “Try Canceling Joan Didion.”

The headline — which by itself made me smile, before even reading the column itself — is framed as a challenge to the self-righteous mobs of cancel culture. Noting that there’s some rumbling about canceling Norman Mailer, he snorts with derision at the idea of attacking such an easy and obvious target. Want a challenge?, he asks. Try Didion.

He notes that this may be difficult. After all, she has been so recently absolved by the ideologically correct following her death. The official story is that she may once have been the sort of confused creature who would compose a hymn of praise to John Wayne, but she later got her mind right and pounded the Reaganites, etc. A lost lamb recovered, in other words.

But Douthat notes that her best work — sharper, more focused, more brilliant — was in the ’60s when she was casting a jaded eye upon the hippies. More than that, he suggests it’s an insult to such a brilliant writer to suggest that she would ever have consented to be confined within the narrow fold of either of the two (and you’re only allowed two, remember!) sides in our perpetual cultural-political wars.

I suspect he’s right on the first point — that her earlier stuff was better — and not on the basis of ideology. While I knew a lot less when I was young, I was a better writer. This is a pretty standard pattern among members of our species. The best writers are those who are able to see things clearly and maturely when they’re young enough to write about it in an impressive manner. Didion was one of those.

And I have little doubt that he’s right on the second — that neither faction within the “ones and zeroes” crowd has any right to claim her as one of their own.

That I have any doubt and merely “suspect” he’s right is a function of the fact that I am a Didion neophyte. I only discovered her a couple of years back. I had always wanted to read her Slouching Towards Bethlehem collection for the simple reason that, like most people who have read it, I love that Yeats poem. I may have mentioned this before.

I thought I bought it and downloaded it to the Kindle app on my iPad, although Amazon says I “borrowed” it. Whatever. The point is, it’s been on my device for three years now, and occasionally I have dipped into it — say, when I’m in a doctor’s waiting room and it looks like I’ll be there for a bit.

From the first essay I read, I was rather excited. “I’ve found another Tom Wolfe!” I thought, congratulating myself. Not only in a literary sense, but politically. While I didn’t think about it one way or the other when I was adoring his stuff in the ’60s and ’70s (I was too busy just digging the writing), the man had a genius for puncturing the pretensions of the left, which was so dominant in our culture at the time.

Were celebrated writers allowed to do that? Well, yes, if they were as wonderful as Wolfe. I’ve always enjoyed this anecdote from Acid Test, in which Ken Kesey plays a role with which Wolfe no doubt identified….

… blast it. Google Books won’t show me the page I want. Well, here’s the page that leads up to it:

The good bit comes right after that. Kesey shows up for the antiwar rally and takes the stage, and instead of delivering a lecture on American “imperialism” or whatever, he takes out a harmonica and plays “Home on the Range,” delivering a few cryptic remarks that seems to dismiss the whole event in a way that kind of pops the event’s balloon. (Or so I remember it. I guess I need to run down my tattered paperback copy, wherever it is.)

Who asked this bastard, indeed? But why not ask him, they would have said in self-defense! He’s a writer! And a significant figure in the counterculture! Surely he’s one of us!

No doubt Wolfe got similar reactions when he wrote such things as Radical Chic.

But that didn’t make him the right’s boy, any more than Didion’s later work made her the left’s. Or so I gather from what I’ve read. They were both too bright and perceptive for that.

Douthat bases his judgment on “many years of reading the essays of Joan Didion.”

Well, I need to read more of her myself. I suspect I’ll enjoy it, as I enjoy anyone who refuses to become a plaster saint of either of our two narrow-minded, monolithic tribes.

I guess I need to add to that reading list

I’m making the resolutions easy, and pleasant: books

I’ve mentioned here many times how bad I feel about all the nice, new books in my house that I never get around to reading.

I could blame Amazon, but the fault is mine.

When I was young, I devoured books. Not at any blazing rate, because I’ve always been a slow reader, but with ridiculously good retention. Whenever I had a free moment, that’s what I did. Perhaps it expanded my mind somewhat, but that’s not why I did it. I did it because it was fun.

But when I was an adult, I became lazy. I didn’t have much leisure time — wasting my days working and such — so when I did grab a few minutes to read, I kept it simple. Usually, I read something I’d read before, and which I could easily put down at any point.

I made some new discoveries, of course — John le Carré, and Patrick O’Brian, and to a lesser extent some others like Martin Cruz Smith. And I loved all of those, but I fell into a nasty habit. When I got time to read, I’d pick up Master and Commander or Tinker, Tailor or Gorky Park yet again, rather than committing to something new.

I’d see new books that interested me, or read a good review, and put that book on my Amazon wish list, with all the best intentions in the world. And my loved ones would dutifully give them to me, and I’d proudly put them on the shelf, yet when I got a moment for reading I’d pick up a dog-eared copy of Smiley’s People or perhaps something even older such as Stranger in a Strange Land, which first cast its spell on me when I was 16.

Well, no more. I asked for several books for Christmas, and I got them, and I’m going to read them.

I am. I’ll start with the ones pictured above, all Christmas gifts. I cleared my decks by finally finishing — on New Year’s Eve — a new book (new to me) that I’d dawdled over for half of 2021: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. I enjoyed it, whenever I made myself buckle down and read any of it. I still hope to write a post about it, once I figure out how to tackle something that sweeping in a blog post.

On New Year’s Day, I started the new ones. That is, I started a book that I’d received for my birthday in October that I felt I needed to read before one of the ones below. It’s wonderful, truly. I should read new stuff all the time.

I haven’t promised a timetable or anything, but I’m going to get these read and then turn to some of the other couple of dozen I’ve got sitting around waiting. We’ll see how it goes. But I’ll definitely get to these:

  • The Discoverers, by Daniel Boorstin. I actually read at least a third of this one years and years ago, and then set it down somewhere and managed to lose it. Having given up on finding it, I put it on my Amazon list way back when I first started such a list. Finally, someone has given it to me and I can’t wait to jump back into it. By the way this isn’t about Columbus and conquistadores and such. It’s about how humans invented such artificialities as the hours of the day and clocks to keep track of them. That’s what I remember from before. More interesting than you might think. Or as Wikipedia describes it, “Discovery in many forms is described: exploration, science, medicine, mathematics, and more-theoretical ones, such as time, evolution, plate tectonics, and relativity. Boorstin praises the inventive, human mind and its eternal quest to discover the universe and humanity’s place in it.”
  • Agent Running in the Field, by John le Carré. This is one of two that had remained unread by me when David Cornwell died, so I put them on my list. My wife gave me A Legacy of Spies for my birthday, and that’s the one I started yesterday, because it was the earlier of the two. My younger son gave me Agent Running for Christmas. The rush I’m getting from the one I’ve started is like reading Tinker, Tailor for the first time, back in the ’70s, not least because it is about the same characters (Peter Guillam mainly, but also Smiley and Alex Leamas, with mentions of Bill Haydon, Percy Alleline, Jim Prideaux, Toby Esterhase, Roy Bland and Connie Sachs)! This is amazing. Why did I take so long to do this?
  • Old Abe, by John Cribb. This is a novel about our greatest president by an author I know nothing about, except that I’d heard glowing reports about his book, so I look forward to checking it out.
  • The Mirror & the Light, by Hilary Mantel. This is the third book in her Wolf Hall trilogy about the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell and others who were sufficiently unfortunate to find themselves within the close orbit of Henry VIII — Thomas More, Anne Boleyn and such. I read the first two sometime back, and have every expectation of it being good, although not so much for poor Cromwell.

You’ll note that this is a bit novel-heavy. Which presents a problem, because I’ve set myself a rule of alternating between fiction, which is fun, and nonfiction — which can also be fun but tends to be more of a hard slog, or at least easier to put down.

So in between, I’ll probably make myself finally finish reading Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton (or his Grant), or take up that massive volume I also asked for and received for my birthday, Napoleon by Andrew Roberts. I feel particularly obligated to know more about Buonaparte. I often find references in my O’Brian novels to the geopolitics of the day confusing. It’s embarrassing to know so little about such an important period in semi-recent history. I figure an exhaustive biography of old Boney should be the cure for that, if I can make it through.

In any case, I’m determined to keep this resolution. I hope y’all will hold me to it.

What’s with these red pickup trucks and Christmas trees?

Editor’s note: I wrote this early last week. The pictures that illustrated it would not load onto the blog. Again the next day, they refused to load. I set it aside and didn’t try again to post this or anything else until now. I was busy, and didn’t need the aggravation. But rather than let it sit in oblivion, I’m posting the blasted thing now, before writing anything else. And you know what? Even though it’s now Dec. 30, I’m backdating this sucker to before Christmas.

Those of you waiting for Brad to comment on something you consider “relevant” will just have to wait a bit longer. I’m busy.

But this question is timely and urgent, so I thought I’d ask: What’s with this image meme I’ve been seeing everywhere, with the red pickup truck with a Christmas tree in it?

Sometimes the tree is decorated (for reasons that completely evade me), and sometimes it seems fresh-cut from the forest. Sometimes the truck has wooden slats added to the sides of the bed; sometimes it does not.

But it’s everywhere. In these pictures alone, you see ones I’ve encountered in widely different venues. From top to bottom, they are:

  • A napkin from (I think) Publix.
  • A gift bag at Walmart.
  • Two other items that were at Walmart in the gift-wrap area.
  • An image in the L.L. Bean catalog.
  • A card placed in a live plant.
  • A decoration standing in the yard of a neighbor.

The answer is probably obvious to everyone except me, and that’s fine: That’s why I’m asking you.

During my lifetime I’ve figured out most things that we see over and over and over again this time of year:

  • Frosty the Snowman. (But what this has to do with Christmas, I still don’t know. I can see how it has to do with the season, but only if you live way up north.)
  • Rudolph.
  • The Grinch.
  • Buddy the Elf.
  • The Elf on the Shelf. (This one took me awhile, since I no longer had small children at home when the promotion came along, but I eventually figured it out. By the way: Marketing materials for this thing call it “A Christmas Tradition.” There’s nothing traditional about it. It was invented in 2005.)

Anyway, if you can tell me where this came from, I’d appreciate it. A cartoon? A song? A movie? A video game? Not knowing bugs me. The whole thing even seems a bit intrusive to me, since I drive an old, red pickup truck myself. I mean, if anyone knows, I should. But I don’t.

Pew tries to figure out what we really think. Good for Pew.

Pew Research Center keeps trying to figure out what Americans really think. I’m aware of three different sets of political “typologies” the organization has created in recent years. I appreciate that, although personally I kind of liked the first one. Maybe it’s just that I preferred where the country was politically at that time. Of course, I prefer where the country was at almost any time in our history to the place where we are now.

Anyway, I want to thank Bryan for trying to keep the blog going while I’ve been dealing with a lot of difficult things, particularly the loss of my father. And I want to thank him particularly for this post, because I had not been aware that Pew was at it again.

Bryan’s post was headlined, “Neither of the Two Political Parties Suit You? Here’s Why.” The simple answer I would normally give a question like that is, “No, they don’t, and here’s why: Because I think.” But that’s because, as you know, the two parties have been making me cranky for a long time.

Pew, as always, takes a more thoughtful and patient approach than my gut response.

To help you get engaged with the topic, take the test. See where Pew puts you.

As I said, while Pew may have gone through this process many times, I’m only aware of three times. The first was in 2014, and it tagged me as being in what it called the “Faith and Family Left.” I made a joke about how apparently Pew thought I was a black preacher or something, but I really mostly felt comfortable in that category, which Pew described this way:

The Faith and Family Left combine strong support for activist government with conservative attitudes on many social issues. They are very racially diverse – this is the only typology group that is “majority-minority.” The Faith and Family Left generally favor increased government aid for the poor even if it adds to the deficit and believe that government should do more to solve national problems. Most oppose same-sex marriage and legalizing marijuana and most say religion and family are at the center of their lives.

And yeah, while I suspect no political group in the history of the world is with me on every issue, I was mostly comfortable with that one. I think it described why I felt such kinship with the black Democrats of South Carolina who came out to save the country on Feb. 29, 2020, by launching Joe Biden toward the nomination. The Identity Politics people would look at me and disagree, but as far as I’m concerned, those are my people. They stood up and went for the right man, not giving a damn about the trendy considerations roiling the Democratic Party in other parts of the country. And the rest of the country, thank God, got the message and got on board.

There are a lot of forces tearing our country apart and directly menacing our republic right now. One of them is what I’ve come to think of as the “ones and zeroes” problem. This was actually a serious problem 20 years ago, but it is far, far worse now than it was even then. I mean the increasingly blind members of the two tribes, and particularly the utter insanity that has gripped the Republican Party, followed by the failure of the opposition to coalesce consistently behind the one rational alternative, which Joe Biden represents. (If Democrats could shed the woke crowd and the Bernie Bros and demonstrate that the approach Joe embraces and personifies was the path it embraces without hesitation, I believe Trumpism would melt away as the vast center got behind the rational alternative. But we’re just not that kind of country right now, are we? More’s the pity. At least the Dems did the right thing long enough to get Joe elected.)

Then, in 2017 — when the nation had gone stark, raving mad, and more than ever needed a non-binary way of thinking about politics — Pew tried creating a new system, and utterly failed. It was awful, worse than useless. It put me in a bin full of obnoxious strangers, the “New Era Enterprisers.” The description it provided of that group made it sound like I was Martin Shkreli  or something — you know, the Pharma Bro.

I’d never seen Pew get anything as wrong as that before. But hey, it was 2017 — every thinking person in the country (and much of the world) was traumatized, when it came to politics.

Things are still awful, but they’ve settled down a bit.

And now Pew has a new model, the one to which Bryan called attention.

This one I like, although I’m not sure whether I like it as much as my “Faith and Family” designation. I liked that group. Still, this one has much to recommend it. It’s called “Establishment Liberals.” I like “establishment,” because as a communitarian and a traditionalist, I cherish the institutions that hold our civilization together — and were doing a great job of it until these last few years. But, I must confess, I don’t like it quite as well as “Faith and Family.”

As for the rest, well, I never was comfortable with “Left.” That sounded like they were making me out to be some sort of Bolshie, and I’m anything but. Not my sort at all. I much prefer “liberal,” but that’s because I use the word as a political scientist would, not the way it is so popularly used among the general population today — as a cussword among the GOP base, and as a badge of honor among the folks who see themselves as the sworn enemies of any “conservative.”

I wish Pew would steer clear of both those words — liberal and conservative — because of the way they’ve been corrupted by the in or out, good or bad, “my team or the enemy” crowd, which sees everything in tribal absolutes.

They’re both fine words, or were, originally. I can embrace both and apply them to myself, depending on the issue and the context. “Liberal” meaning generous, open, fair-minded, tolerant, and “conservative” meaning traditional, respecting core institutions and established ways. They’ve both fine things.

So I embrace the new label in that sense — the sense that Bret Stephens is using it when he laments the ways that both ends of the current political spectrum are eroding, even trashing, the liberalism that has made it possible for our country to live up to its finest aspirations. Stephens defines it this way:

By “liberal,” I don’t mean big-state welfarism. I mean the tenets and spirit of liberal democracy. Respect for the outcome of elections, the rule of law, freedom of speech, and the principle (in courts of law and public opinion alike) of innocent until proven guilty. Respect for the free market, bracketed by sensible regulation and cushioned by social support. Deference to personal autonomy but skepticism of identity politics. A commitment to equality of opportunity, not “equity” in outcomes. A well-grounded faith in the benefits of immigration, free trade, new technology, new ideas, experiments in living. Fidelity to the ideals and shared interests of the free world in the face of dictators and demagogues.

All of this used to be the more-or-less common ground of American politics, inhabited by Ronald Reagan and the two Bushes as much as by Barack Obama and the two Clintons. The debates that used to divide the parties — the proper scope of government, the mechanics of trade — amounted to parochial quarrels within a shared liberal faith. That faith steadied America in the face of domestic and global challenges from the far right and far left alike….

So yeah, I embrace liberalism in that academic sense, a sense that respects the meanings of words. I always have.

So “Establishment Liberals” sounds pretty good. Kind of like “Conservative Liberals,” in a way. It sort of cocks a snook at the people using words to try to tear us apart. I like that.

But so far I’ve dealt only with the name. Let’s look deeper. Pew provides a lengthy description, but let me just quote some of the bits I like best:

… Establishment Liberals are some of the strongest supporters of the current president … of any political typology group.

…Establishment Liberals are the typology group most likely to see value in political compromise and tend to be more inclined toward more measured approaches to societal change than their Progressive Left counterparts. Like other Democratic-oriented groups, most Establishment Liberals (73%) say a lot more needs to be done to ensure racial equality. Yet they are the only Democratic-aligned group in which a majority of those who say a lot more needs to be done also say this can be achieved by working within the current system….

Establishment Liberals stand out for their current satisfaction with the direction of the country and optimism about the future. Roughly half (51%) say they are satisfied with the way things are going in the country today, compared with 36% of Democratic Mainstays and even smaller shares in other typology groups….

An overwhelming majority of Establishment Liberals approve of Joe Biden’s job performance as president as of mid-September, including six-in-ten who strongly approve….

You see where I’m going with this: Joe’s our boy. Always has been, is now, and probably always will be (because, thank God, I don’t see him changing at this point).

Some of the rest, like the fact that folks in my group are strongly Democratic, doesn’t work for me. For instance, Pew says “On a ‘feeling thermometer’ ranging from 0 to 100, where 100 represents the warmest, most positive feelings, Establishment Liberals give Democrats an average rating of 77.”

Not me. I gave the party a score of 30. Of course, I gave the GOP a zero, so I guess by comparison a 30 is kinda “pro-Democratic,” at this moment. Whatever.

The point is (yep, I’ve again taken 1,500 words to get to the point) that it’s great that Pew keeps trying to find ways of explaining the way people really think about politics in this country. They need to keep doing this, and the rest of us need to join in. Because too many — far, far, too many — of us have been buying into the stupid, insulting idea that there are only two ways to think (using the word “think” extremely loosely), and you’ve got to choose one and hate the other. Up or down. Left or right. On or off. Black or white.

This sickness, this “ones and zeroes” thing, is destroying us. It’s tearing us apart. It’s destroying any chance we have of living together peacefully, with all our differences, and continuing to build a civilization that cultivates and embraces real, thinking human beings.

And Pew’s helping us see that, however imperfect its changing models may be. Bottom line: Good for Pew for trying.


Supreme Court Possibly to Overrule Roe v. Wade?

By Bryan Caskey

Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is a case in front of the Supreme Court concerning a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Since Roe, all the court’s abortion decisions have upheld Roe‘s central framework — that women have a constitutional right to an abortion in the first two trimesters. However, the Mississippi law is counter to the core of Roe, setting the stage for the Supreme Court to modify Roe, or do away with it altogether.

If you want to hear the oral arguments, the Supreme Court’s official audio transcript is here.

You can’t always tell from oral arguments what Supreme Court Justices are thinking, much less where they will land in a final decision, but it’s nice to hear the questions they ask. You learn much more about the Justices actually watching them do their job at oral arguments than you get from the Senate confirmation hearings that are essentially an opportunity for Senators to grandstand and audition to be President.

I have no idea what the Supreme Court will do.

Happy Birthday to Winston Churchill

Churchill at age 21 (1895)

By Bryan Caskey

Today in 1874, Winston Churchill was born in  at his family’s ancestral home, Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. Considered by some historians to be the greatest man to occupy 10 Downing Street, he was the larger than life man who guided Great Britain through WWII. After Dunkirk, he gave one of his most famous speeches. He was a skilled craftsman with the English language. Here’s the soaring conclusion:

I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty’s Government-every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation. The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength. Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

Little known fact: His mother was an American.

President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation: Union and Fraternal Peace

By Bryan Caskey

In 1863, just a few weeks after the bloody Battle of Gettysburg, President Lincoln issued what some view as the beginning of a national day of Thanksgiving. At the time, hundreds of thousands had died in the bitter Civil War, and the nation was as divided as it has ever been. At the time, Lincoln requested the “…Holy Spirit to subdue the anger what has produced and so long sustained a needless and cruel rebellion, to change the hearts of the insurgents, to guide the counsels of the Government with wisdom….”

This idea rings true especially in today’s time as we feel can feel divided and frustrated. Reading back through President Lincoln’s proclamation, perhaps we work anew each day to find that sense of “union and fraternal peace”.

Thanksgiving Week Art Thread

The Hunters’ Supper – Frederic Remington

By Bryan Caskey

Happy Thanksgiving Week, campers. I hope you enjoy the time off. I have always liked Frederic Remington’s works. Since it’s Thanksgiving week, I thought this painting of the hunters cooking was somewhat appropriate.

Feel free to use the comments to talk about any other art (any medium) that you relate to Thanksgiving.

Neither of the Two Political Parties Suit You? Here’s Why.

Boston Public Library

By: Bryan Caskey

So often we are told that the country is clearly divided into two groups: the Republicans and the Democrats, or it’s liberals and conservatives. And then there’s a small group in the middle that can’t seem to make up their minds – the undecideds. And each election cycle, the two groups try to win over these undecideds. Sounds simple and straightforward, right? Well, life is more complicated than all that, as it turns out.

Pew Research did a large survey and just released the results. They identified nine separate ideological groups.

Here’s an overview of Pew’s nine categories (to see where you fit, you can take Pew’s quiz here):

Faith and Flag Conservatives (10% of the public)

Committed Conservatives (7%)

Populist Right (11%)

Ambivalent Right (12%)

Stressed Sideliners (15%)

Outsider Left (10%)

Democratic Mainstays (16%)

Establishment Liberals (13%)

Progressive Left (6%)

You can read the NPR article that breaks down each group and describes it further. Anyway, thought this would be interesting to talk about. The picture at the top doesn’t have anything to do with the Pew Research survey. It’s just a picture I took last week of the main reading room in the Boston Public Library, and I really like the picture.