I just put up my Russell Ott for state Senate yard sign

The main spur was when a sign — actually, two of them — appeared in the yard of a neighbor. That one was for Chris Smith, who’s one of three Republicans also seeking the Senate seat from which Nikki Setzler is retiring.

None of those three has given me any reason to want him as my senator. More about them later. As I’ve said before, for me as a voter, this is about Democrats Russell Ott and Dick Harpootlian. This remains to me the most interesting SC legislative contest of 2024. It would seem so even if I didn’t happen to live in the district.

And between the two, I’m planning to vote for Russell on June 11.

Why? Well, several reasons, but let’s start with this one: Have you ever had a conversation with one, or preferably both, of those guys? Dick is clever and endlessly entertaining, and a gold mine if you’re a journalist. You’ve gotta like a guy who says things like “I don’t want to buy the black vote. I just want to rent it for a day.” Now that’s some good copy. I wasn’t there when Dick said that, way back in 1986, but I can picture the smirk on his face when he said it. If you know him, you’ve probably seen that look.

I’ve never seen anything like that on Russell. You know why? Because he’s a really nice guy. More than that, he’s a respectful guy. He listens to you. He cares about what you think, and respects it even when — maybe especially when — you disagree with him. Does that make him sound like some weathervane who’s just looking for the crowd’s approval? Hardly. He thinks for himself. But when he arrives at a conclusion that’s going to outrage Democratic voters — such as, say, on abortion — he’s just as thoughtfully considerate.

I bragged on him for that back in 2021. You might want to go back and read that, particularly the statement that inspired the post. When you read it, note the tone. You don’t see many people who speak of that issue the way he did. Most, on both sides, are in the “I’m right, and you can go to hell!” camp. Not Russell. He models the way a representative should relate to people no matter what the issue is — and even on the most explosive and divisive issue in the country.

Meanwhile, Dick Harpootlian sees that statement as something to use as a bludgeon against Russell. Note this tweet from Dick last week:

You’ve likely seen the way Dick’s been pounding Russell about the head and shoulders for failing to be what Dick sees as a proper, orthodox, toe-the-line Democrat. Well, that Tweet was presented within that context. Dick obviously sees it that statement from Russell as conclusively damning.

And perhaps you’ll recognize it as the very statement that impressed me so favorably in 2021.

Now watch. Someone from the ones-and-zeroes camp will say, “Well, of course Brad’s putting up his sign! Ott’s against abortion!”

The person who says that doesn’t know me, and doesn’t pay attention. I have little patience with single-issue voting. Not my style. I mean, look back at the other folks whose yard signs I’ve put up in the last few years. Or look at the bumper stickers I still haven’t taken off my truck (see the selfie below from the day I voted in the 2024 presidenial primary).  Those are not what most people call pro-life candidates. And each of them had an opponent who at least claimed to be pro-life. But look at which ones I chose to support.

Russell is used to taking heat on positions he takes, such as when he led the charge last year to legalize online betting on horse races, an issue he mentioned to me this morning when he dropped the sign off at the house.

But he doesn’t lash out at the people who disagree with them. Not that I’ve seen. And I like that, and I’m happy to support him for it…




Let me know if you can read these two good Dionne pieces

OK, I’m going to conduct an experiment here. Please help me out.

The last couple of weeks, E.J. Dionne has had two really excellent columns. There’s nothing unusual about that. But there’s something new — or something that I hadn’t previously noticed — about them. Here’s the first:

Did you see that at the end of the tweet — “my column free access?” I’m asking y’all to try to link and read the column, and let me know if you’re able to do so without being a subscriber. Then, leave your thoughts on the column.

I loved the piece, because E.J. is getting to the heart of my great appreciation of Joe Biden. Because I am both liberal and conservative myself, I see Joe as the only hope left to the country. We had plenty of such people to choose from in the decades after 1945. And we needed them. We need them more than ever now. But now there’s just Joe.

But E.J.’s piece also shames me a bit. I say the same things he’s saying here all the time, but I tend to present them as truth without the careful documentation and explanation. This is possibly because I grow weary of repeatedly explaining how I arrive at conclusions that have taken seven decades of thought and observation to reach. And people shrug it off, because they think it’s just the ranting of an alter cocker.

But I guess it’s also because I don’t get paid anymore to put in the time to dig up all the evidence supporting conclusions I reached long ago. So I don’t. Too much time spent doing what little I do to make a modest living. And doing it around those naps that are the residue of my stroke in 2000. I can do all the things I used to do, but I have less time in which to do them.

In any case, I’m very appreciative to E.J. for taking the time to explain it to his readers, especially since I know he’s busier than I am.

Now, the other column, which features the same “free access:”

First, again, please let me know if you can read it. Beyond that…

Another good piece. There are, of course, many things that, considered alone, tell us “all we need to know about him.” You could compile a lengthy list of things that, considered singly, should cause any voter to run the opposite way. But this should be, if not the top item, at least very close to it.

Anyway, I wanted to share these columns because they’re important, and I’m thinking E.J. gets these points across batter than I do.

Beyond that, though, I really want to know whether those links work for nonsubscribers.

This is one of the things that concerns me most about blogging these days. To me, almost everything worth discussing these days is from things I subscribe to. This was fine 10 or 15 years ago, before everybody got so serious about pay walls. Now, it’s a huge problem — I bring up something, and I want everyone to read it so we can have a discussion with everyone fully informed, but most people can’t open it. Because normal people don’t subscribe to four or five newspapers.

So when I get a chance to share, I seize it. But please let me know if it worked for you…

Submitting myself once again to that great time thief, Gmail

No, I won’t read this or thousands of others. But it still takes time to glance over them and delete en masse…

I’m getting close to cleaning out my personal email once again. By “close,” I mean I succeeded in going through everything that comes in under the “Primary” tab on my Gmail IN box. Right now, I’m working on the 2,500 that still remained today under “Promotions” (which is much easier, since I delete almost everything — I’ve gotten it down under 2,000 in just a few minutes). I haven’t yet looked at the 238 I have under “Social” (doesn’t sound like much, but I have to look at quite a few of those individually).

But I’m taking a moment now to share with you something I read in The New York Times this morning. It’s a column from Ezra Klein, whose podcasts I enjoy so much. Here’s the special link that’s supposed to allow me to share it. I don’t know whether that means I can share it here, or just with one person. Please try it and let me know if it works.

The headline is “Happy 20th Anniversary, Gmail. I’m Sorry I’m Leaving You.” Basically, Ezra has a much worse Gmail problem than I do, so he’s given up, and trying alternatives. Here’s part of his explanation as to why:

A few months ago, I euthanized that Gmail account. I have more than a million unread messages in my inbox. Most of what’s there is junk. But not all of it. I was missing too much that I needed to see. Search could not save me. I didn’t know what I was looking for. Google’s algorithms had begun failing me. What they thought was a priority and what I thought was a priority diverged. I set up an auto-responder telling anyone and everyone who emailed me that the address was dead….

On one level, that makes me feel so much better. “More than a million?” Now, I won’t feel such shame when I let mine get up around the 20,000 range, which I occasionally do. That is technically manageable. All I have to do is neglect work, reading, and of course blogging, for at least several days. Then I have a clean IN box, and everything starts piling up again as I resume my life.

I’m not ready to do what Ezra has done, however much I understand why he did it. He says he’s moved to an email provider called “Hey.” My eyes lit up at that, because he said “Hey assumes that only the people you want email from should be able to email you.” Sounds nice, but then he went on to describe numerous drawbacks to Hey.

But I applaud his courage in striking out in search of an alternative. And I think he should not beat up on himself this way:

I do not blame anyone but myself for this. This is not something the corporations did to me. This is something I did to myself….

Lighten up, Ezra. You’re a busy man. You have a life. Actual humans (not the algorithms that send you most of those emails) are depending on you to do things in Meat World.

And if this were 1980 or 1814 or 44 BC or any other time — when you were only expected to answer an occasional letter from an actual acquaintance — you’d have no cause to issue such a mea culpa.

I’m sure the robots will have a time machine ready for us soon. Just kick back and wait…

The Bluebirds of Ultra-violence

Sorry to bum y’all out again about the joys of spring, but…

You remember my post the other day about the green bird at our feeder? Down in the comments, I shared a beautiful bluebird photo from Jim Greene up in Virginia, who has a much better camera than my iPhone.

Well, in an email over the weekend, Jim shared some less-lovely images from bluebirddom.

Above, you see a couple of males engaged in combat. Down below, you see something more unusual — a fight between two females.

The good news is that Jim says there appeared to be no injuries. More of a harmless bluebirds-will-be-bluebirds matter. But it’s not always that way. A couple of weeks back, my wife was shocked to see images on a South Carolina birding Facebook page of a fight to the death between two males. It kind of darkened her perception of a beloved species.

Have they always been like this? Jim said he’d never seen bluebirds acting this way, despite his years of nature photography — and now he has documentation of both males and females mixing it up! Is this evidence of a recent breakdown in bluebird culture?

What could have caused this increase of bitter polarization among the members of this handsome species? Social media? Probably. Yeah, let’s go with that. Remember, you read it here first…

DeMarco: Want to learn what Biden and Trump are really about? Watch their speeches.

The Op-Ed Page

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

By some estimates, there are still about a quarter of Americans who haven’t settled on a presidential candidate. I had a recent conversation with one of them. He’s a smart, middle-aged, college-educated man who is somewhat more conservative than me. But he has unplugged from politics for his mental health. When our conversation turned to the election, he parroted the conservative media narrative about Biden being senile.

I admitted to him that I to had been stunned by Special Counsel Hur’s report describing Biden as a “sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.” I spend some time with conservative media, which for months had been peddling inaccurate descriptions of Biden as a doddering senior ready for the nursing home. But then I watched the entire State of the Union address and was reassured.

So I asked my friend to watch 15 minutes of the SOTU. I knew he wouldn’t agree with some of Biden’s policies, and conceded that he is not as animated as Trump. But I expected he would come away from the viewing confident that Biden was not cognitively impaired. As a general internist, I have seen hundreds of patients with dementia of all varieties in my career, and it would be impossible for someone with dementia to have given that speech or handled the heckling as he did.

I also encouraged him to give Trump 15 minutes of equal time. After I watched Biden’s SOTU, it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen more than snippets of either man for months. So I watched Trump’s Super Tuesday victory rally in Rome, Georgia, from two days after the SOTU.

Our enhanced ability to watch people speak for themselves is one of the major advances of modern politics. I enjoy political theatre and try to see as many competitors as I can in person (whether I will vote for them or not) when they come within striking distance. In 2016, I saw Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Carson, Kasich, and Clinton (Bill, who was stumping for Hillary) when they came to Florence. I’d recommend everyone visit the Gallivants Ferry Stump, the longest running stump meeting in the country. There’s no substitute to being in the same location as the candidates. Sometimes you learn as much about them by the crowds they attract as by the speeches they make.

But if you can’t attend in person, you have the next best option – YouTube. With that ability, why not transfer some of the time you are spending being told about the candidates to time listening directly to them? I hadn’t listened to Trump at length but a handful of times since I saw him in person in 2016. That speech is still ringing in my ears. The moment he shouted, “And who’s going to pay for it?!” and the crowd shouted “Mexico!!” was the most frightening example of demagoguery I’ve ever witnessed.

Trump has always been bombastic and vulgar, but watching the Rome speech right after the SOTU highlighted the contrast with normal political speechmaking. Although Biden made many references to “my predecessor,” his allusions to Trump were based on differences in their positions and accomplishments. Right out of the gate in his Rome speech, Trump launched a fusillade of personal attacks. He dismissed Biden’s speech as “The worst president in history making the worst State of the Union in history.” He imitated Biden’s stutter; he mocked his cough.

Although I felt my friend could watch any 15-minute segment of the SOTU and come away with an accurate assessment of Biden, I asked him to watch the last 15 minutes of the Rome rally. If not for the American flags in the background, it would be easy to image Trump’s concluding monologue being delivered from the canvas of a WWE ring.

As foreboding music played in the background, Trump presented the U.S. as a sulfurous wasteland. He intoned “We are a nation in decline, we are a failing nation… we are a nation where free speech is no longer allowed and where crime is rampant like never ever before… and now Russia and China are holding summits to carve up the world… we are a nation that is hostile to liberty, freedom, faith and even to God… we are a nation whose economy is collapsing into a cesspool of ruin… where fentanyl… is easier to get than groceries to feed our beautiful families… we have become a horrible and unfair nation.”

Biden’s SOTU is anchored in reality. I’m not sure what nation Trump is describing, but it’s not America. The surreal and disconnected nature of Trump’s speech can’t be adequately conveyed by my words. It must be seen to be believed. Spend fifteen minutes with each man before you make a decision.

A version of this column appeared in the March 21st edition of the Post and Courier-Pee Dee.

Paul DeMarco at the Gallivants Ferry Stump Meeting in 2006.

Dave’s not here, man…

I get multiple texts every day — not to mention all the emails — asking me for money for electoral candidates.

Usually, they’re Democrats — because of all the lists they must have put me on when I was with James Smith’s campaign. But not all.

Today, I’ve heard from folks raising money for Joe Biden (and I just gave him $25 a couple of weeks ago — surely he hasn’t spent it already!), Dick Harpootlian and some guy named Dave. That last one cracked me up:

I had no idea who this Dave was. Actually, he addresses my wife in the message, but there’s no point in asking whether she knows him, because I know how that happens. If I call you from my number, it might say my wife’s name instead of mine, because hers is first on the account. But actually, I’m being too logical. Sometimes texts come to my phone, but address me by the names of my kids and grandkids. There’s no logic to it.

Anyway, I didn’t figure out who “Dave” was until I looked back at previous messages from this same number. Apparently, he’s the Republican running against Bob Casey in Pennsylvania.

But he just says “Dave,” like that’s supposed to mean something to me.

Well, you see how I answered him. I was hoping that, if a human ever sees it, he or she (but most likely some A.I. “it,” will think, maybe just for a second, Hey, maybe we should throw “McCormick” in there next time. 

Probably not. But just in case, I sent a link to explain the gag. Because I figure whoever it was wouldn’t know that routine…

But this was nice. What was it?

Just so y’all won’t think I’m a total curmudgeon about springtime, or that I hate nature or whatever, I thought I’d share this.

This inexplicable (to me) green bird visited our deck feeder this morning. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it in my yard. I’m used to the dull greys and browns of wrens and the like, occasionally relieved by a cardinal or bluejay.

But green?

Can anybody identify it?

I thought it was pretty nice. Regrettably, as I was texting it to my wife, who was out of the house, I missed a better shot when two dull grey-and-brown birds landed next to this one on the feeder. It really made the green pop out more. But I couldn’t get my phone into position to shoot it before the green one flew away.

But despite the limitations of my iPhone shooting through a window at several yards distance, I think you can tell that this is an unusual bird…

An even darker sign of Spring

Excuse me for being such a bummer at this beautiful time of year. Perhaps as you read, you can listen to a bit of “Le Sacre du Printemps” as a way of keeping your own head in a nice place.

But of course for me, one of the most allergic people you know, this season is less than pleasant. Not always, but a lot of the time. Especially the last few days. I go out to enjoy one of my walks, and then I pay for it all day and night. So I’m sticking more to the elliptical here in my office for getting my steps in.

People complain about their “seasonal allergies.” I have allergies all the time, and take several drugs every day to keep them in check. But of course there are times when the allergies are worse, and not in check, even with extra drugs. This is one of them.

So, when I went out for a walk over the weekend, I knew I was letting myself in for some unpleasantness. But I wasn’t quite prepared for the sight above, which I encountered a couple of blocks from my house.

This is not an unusual sight in my neighborhood. Copperheads abound, and a lot of them seem to like to slither on the paved road, regardless of traffic. I’ve found at least a couple of them in this condition alongside my own yard in recent years.

But that’s usually in the summer. Remember when my wife and I encountered a live copperhead traveling down the street back in 2020, as bold as though he owned it? That was… well, it was late summer, but still summer (Sept. 13).

So it’s particularly creepy to find this rather mature pit viper on March 23. Even creepier, it occurs to me that maybe not all of them are this stupid. Before I got home from the walk that day I tweeted this:

Maybe they’re all that stupid, but I doubt it. So stop and smell the beautiful flowers, if you’re not allergic to them. But watch where you’re putting your feet…

I shot these back on March 5, which also seemed early to me — but more pleasant that the snake.

Open Thread for Friday, March 22, 2024

Some of the Ghost Army’s inflatable tanks.

Various things:

  1. Trump Media Merger Is Approved, Providing Fresh Source of Cash — So does this mean he will be able to pay that find that no bonding company will back him on? Let’s hope so. Meanwhile, can you imagine investing money in a Trump social medium? That means you’re betting on the continuing collapse of this country…
  2. Justice Department, states accuse Apple of holding a smartphone monopoly — I see different figures, but it appears that between 50 and 60 percent of smartphones in this country are iPhones. (This story says the government alleges that “iPhone dominates more than 70 percent of the high-end smartphone market.”) To me, that number seems a little low. Everybody in my family uses them. How about y’all? Do you use something else, and why?
  3. Two major newspaper chains dropped The Associated Press — This is a serious shocker. “Major” is too weak a word. We’re talking Gannett and McClatchy. Does this mean no more AP content in The State? Apparently so, but that just seems too incredible. Dropping the AP is like dropping use of the English language. It’s just that much of a building block. Of course, I admit I haven’t really kept track lately of how much The State is using it these days…
  4. The Philippines’ top defense secretary talks about tensions in the South China Sea — So the Philippines’ leadership is worried about the Chinese? Then I have a question: When is the U.S. base at Subic Base going to reopen? With our strategic shift to the Pacific, it’s completely insane that that is still closed. Bob Amundson, do you have any thoughts on that? Bryan maybe?
  5. After decades of secrecy, the ‘Ghost Army’ is honored for saving U.S. lives in WWII — Y’all know how into history I am. But as I frequently say, I’m am constantly stunned by how little I know about it — even about recent topics that have particularly fascinated me. Just as the Second World War. I saw this headline and thought, Oh, that’s something about Operation Fortitude — but to whom will they give the medals? Well, the Ghost Army was involved with Fortitude, but it was an actual force of fakers who physically moved across Europe fooling the Germans time and again. And seven were still alive to receive the Medal of Honor. I had no idea. Maybe all of y’all knew about this small force, but I did not.



What has the Deep State ever done for us, eh?

I liked this little coincidence today.

First, while I was working out on the elliptical right after getting up, I watched the above video for about the hundredth time, and once again thoroughly enjoyed it.

Then, going through my email just now, I found one from The New York Times, with the subject line “Opinion Today: How the deep state works for you.”

That linked to this item, which began:

It Turns Out the ‘Deep State’
Is Actually Kind of Awesome

As America closes in on a major election, mistrust is brewing around the mysterious government entity that’s now denounced in scary-sounding terms — “the deep state” and “the swamp.” What do those words even mean? Who exactly do they describe?

We went on a road trip to find out. As we met the Americans who are being dismissed as public enemies, we discovered that they are … us. They like Taylor Swift. They dance bachata. They go to bed at night watching “Star Trek” reruns. They go to work and do their jobs: saving us from Armageddon.

Sure, our tax dollars pay them, but as you’ll see in the video above, what a return on our investment we get!…

I haven’t watched the accompanying video, because I don’t need to. I already know what this piece is trying to communicate to me. These are things I’ve known all my life, which is why I’ve watched in horror as the absurdly childish hostility to government has spread like a plague through our society, and is now threatening to end our republic.

Some people seem to need to have these things explained. And this writer is trying hard to explain it as simply as possible, with such pop-culture silliness as “They like Taylor Swift.” Personally, I think this next paragraph says it a bit better:

When we hear “deep state,” instead of recoiling, we should rally. We should think about the workers otherwise known as our public servants, the everyday superheroes who wake up ready to dedicate their careers and their lives to serving us. These are the Americans we employ. Even though their work is often invisible, it makes our lives better….

This reminds me of a regular feature that I inherited when I arrived at The State in 1987. As governmental affairs editor, aside from daily political and government coverage, I had the duty of filling a full page every week in the Sunday viewpoint section. One of the features we ran there each Sunday was something we internally called “Bureaucrat of the Week.” Nobody liked writing this feature — it took them away from keeping up with their own beats — and we spread the pain across the newsroom, beyond that team that actually worked directly for me. The reporter on the schedule for that week would have to go out and find a state employee — preferably one with a job different from others recently featured — who was willing to be profiled in this way.

I liked the idea behind it — let people know what these unsung folks are doing for you. But I thought it was unnecessary. Sure, we’d had several years of Ronald Reagan fanning the embers of anti-government sentiment, but the flames weren’t all that high yet, and I still assumed most grownups understood that their taxes paid for people to do things that were pretty essential to living in a tolerable civilization.

I later realized I was wrong in giving the average voter out there that much credit. That was a good feature. We should have done a lot more of that sort of thing. A few years later, a lot of us realized that, which is where things like “public journalism” came from. That generated a lot of seminar discussions, but not a lot of effective work — probably because even the advocates of the movement didn’t really understand the problem.

The problem was that it was the nature of news people to report what’s wrong. You had to tell people about the airliner that crashed. You didn’t have to tell people about the thousands that did not crash. Apply that principle to covering government, and every day, newspapers were giving people the very strong impression that everybody in government was embezzling, or lying about his resume, or doing something else nasty. Journalists knew better, because every day they dealt with the thousands of honest people in government who were dedicated to public service. Trouble is, they weren’ making news.

And we would never have the resources to cover them the way we covered the scoundrels. (No news organization that ever existed had the people and time to cover all the planes that land safely.) And we also knew people wouldn’t read it if we did. And somehow the less-thoughtful readers — never got the obvious point that we were telling them about the crooks because their behavior was a shocking departure from the norm. So we have the mess we have today.

But I digress. I just thought I’d share the fun video from Monty Python pointing to the absurdity of the kinds of people who go about ranting about things like, well, the “Deep State”…

Regarding the privacy of public people…

I’ve been wondering what to think about all the hullabaloo over the Princess of Wales and her picture. You know what I mean:

Why haven’t we seen Kate? Is she dying? Has her beauty been marred by her illness? Why did the Palace release a doctored picture? Why did Kate say she was the one who doctored it? Was she covering up for somebody? Who really did it and why? Why haven’t we seen the unedited version? When was the original taken? Couldn’t she just lay this all to rest by making a public appearance? Yadda-yadda…

And in her case, I find myself wondering why people don’t just chill. Of course, maybe they will chill now, with the release of that video. But why didn’t they do so earlier?

I mean, what is the legitimate public interest in her health status and how she’s looking at the moment? She’s not a public official. She’s not ever going to be the monarch, although she’s married to someone who will, and is the mother of someone who will, assuming the monarchy lasts that long. And even if she were going to be the monarch someday, what does that mean, in terms of modern expectations of transparency? The main duty of a modern British monarch is to make sure that he or she has no effect on public policy. Any member of Parliament has a greater effect upon the lives of average British subjects. And even if she were going to be the  monarch someday, she’s not the monarch now.

So how does anyone feel they have the right to intrude on her health problems, assuming she’s still having them. What’s at stake to the public?

On the other hand (and this is why I’m still pondering it), the whole reason folks are interested is that this young woman married the heir apparent and has born his children, thereby willingly adopting a huge public role, however we might argue about where the limits of that public interest should lie.

So there’s that question. Another has come up, in my reading of The Boston Globe.

The governor of Massachusetts, Maura Healey, took a four-day trip out of state last month. During that trip, her executive powers constitutionally shifted to the Massachusetts secretary of state.

Despite transparency promises when she ran for the office, she has resolutely refused to share any information about that trip. From the Globe yesterday:

The first-term Democrat told reporters Monday that she intends to share information publicly about her “work-related travel.” But she suggested that even basic details about personal trips, like the one she took in mid-February, will not be disclosed — breaking from her predecessors and further narrowing the scope of what information Healey says she’s willing to make public, and when.

“My personal life is my personal life,” Healey said at the State House on Monday. “I’m going to work to make sure that privacy is maintained for my family.”

At least superficially, this seems creepily familiar to us South Carolinians — but at least she didn’t tell her staff to tell folks she was hiking the Appalachian Trail. And of course there was no wildly oversharing public confession when she returned, for which the people of Massachusetts should be grateful.

So… should she be allowed to make a distinction between private and public when reporting her whereabouts? I’m inclined to say yes, if she draws the line in the right place. Which means, since you don’t know whether she’s done that or not, you have to decide whether you trust her, based on everything else you’ve seen and heard from her.

Of course, you only have a reason to do that if you’re a Massachusetts voter. It’s none of our business down here. Maura Healey has zero obligation to me. But I do find the issue intriguing, in the abstract, from afar…

Open Thread for the Ides of March, 2024 Anno Domini

OK, I’m cheating on this one. As I’m finishing this, it’s now Saturday, but I assembled all the pieces, including the picture, on Friday, and I didn’t want to change the headline, so as I finish it, I’m backdating it to last night:

  1. The Recent Glitch Threatening Voyager 1 — I’m leading with this because of the cosmic significance. Voyager is possibly the most amazing achievement of the space age — a vehicle that was supposed to cruise through part of the solar system for four or five years, but is now in interstellar space and still going, almost half a century later. Alas, it’s developed a problem. The “elderly spacecraft” has apparently developed dementia, and is just sending back babbling nonsense. Hey, I’m sure I’d do the same if somebody made me work nonstop for that long. We should let it rest for awhile. It’s done its job, and won’t reach another solar system for 40,000 years.
  2. Pee-cycling could help to solve Cape Cod’s wastewater problem — Just bringing things down to Earth. I thought it was interesting. And since it’s on NPR, you can read it, or listen to it, for free.
  3. See-Through Baseball Pants Have Fans, and Brands, Pointing Fingers — Last year, it was all the stupid new rules, like the pitching clock (shudder). Now this. Stop messing with baseball. As for unis, go back to the flannel outfits the guys wore back in Black Sox days. Those were cool — although not for the wearer, I suppose… In any case, these are ridiculous.
  4. Joe Biden’s Superfans Think the Rest of America Has Lost Its Mind — And we’re right. About time media paid some attention to the slice of America that has some sense.
  5. The Ides of March — Yeah, I know. I mention this nearly every year. But hey, it was a huge event in history, and this is the — oh, wait. I thought this would be an anniversary ending in a zero, because it happened in 44 B.C. and it’s now 2024. But it doesn’t work that way when you go back to B.C. So never mind that. But I was thinking about what happened — 60 or so senators ganging up to attack Caesar. And I was thinking how we’re lucky to live in a time when that doesn’t happen. But then I realized that today, if you’re a political leader, you have millions of people sniping at you via social media. So, progress. But is it better? Well, at least we don’t have violent mobs taking over our seat of government. No, wait…

Notice how there’s no actual breaking news? Well, there wasn’t. I may write a separate post about that. The only breaking national news Friday was about Fani Willis, and that wasn’t news, it was gossip — or rather, a court ruling that gossip won’t interfere with a prosecution. We have days like that from time to time.

Back when I was the editor in charge of the front page (at the two papers before I came here), that presented a problem. I had to put out a front page everyday, even with nothing happening. Now, I can just decide to do an Open Thread instead of a Virtual Front Page…

And He did it with no mass (or social) communication

If you’d come today
You could have reached a whole nation
Israel in 4 BC
Had no mass communication…

— Jesus Christ Superstar

After persusing the various papers I subscribe to this morning, and finding little to engage my interest, I turned to my daily (well, most days) Bible readings for the day, and this was in the Gospel:

“If I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is not true.
But there is another who testifies on my behalf,
and I know that the testimony he gives on my behalf is true.
You sent emissaries to John, and he testified to the truth.
I do not accept human testimony,
but I say this so that you may be saved.
He was a burning and shining lamp,
and for a while you were content to rejoice in his light.
But I have testimony greater than John’s….

And it occurred to me that it would be great to know a lot more than we do about John the Baptist. We know he was this highly countercultural dude who lived in the wilderness and wore camel fur and ate locusts and honey. And he baptized people, most famously Jesus himself. And he came to a horrible end on this Earth.

But that isn’t enough to fully explain how big a deal he was in his day. Or apparently was, anyway. To a lot of people who lived in that place and time, it seems like he was even a bigger deal than Jesus for awhile. I infer that from the fact that so often in the New Testament, Jesus is explained to people in terms of his relationship to John. There seems to be an assumption at times that the writer of the Gospel or epistle knows people knew about John, and uses him as a launching point. For instance, The Gospel of Mark starts with John.

It would be great to be able to read a biography of John that’s as in-depth and detailed as a modern book such as Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, or David McCullogh’s John Adams, or Edmund Morris’ Theodore Rex. And then go from there to fully grasping the foundation of Christianity.

But we can’t. The sources just don’t exist. And not just about John, but about any historical figure from before, say, Gutenberg came along. In fact, we should be grateful that we have more info on John that we do a lot of the more obscure Roman emperors.

Still, to a modern person, it’s frustrating. So we can all dig Judas’ complaint in “Superstar,” about Israel in 4 B.C. having no mass communication. Or even a printing press.

But you know what? That’s what makes Jesus more impressive. You don’t have to be a believer to grasp how awesome his achievement was. This rabbi from the boondocks took a local religion that was only embraced by this one tribe on the borders of an ancient empire, and made it into the dominant faith of the world (yes, Islam is big, but…). And he did it with word of mouth, for the first generation. That, and a few letters written by others.

Which, to me, is exactly the way God would do it. It’s more impressive (and certainly more dignified) than building a rep on “American Idol” and inspiring a billion tweets.

It’s sort of like the way I view evolution. I shake my head at all the arguments between creationists and Darwinists. Of COURSE evolution (and geology and cosmology and all that other stuff) is the way God would make the world. The abracadabra opening of Genesis is a great way to tell an allegory, but come on, people. Look at the sheer, gradual majesty of doing it through subtle changes over billions of years.

Anyway, that’s what I was thinking while doing today’s readings…

St. John the Baptist Preaching, c. 1665, by Mattia Preti

Which five movies SHOULD be Best Picture nominees?

The stars of my fave.

I see that the Academy Awards are being broadcast as I type this. So, let me go ahead and get to my point before the Oscars do. Which should be easy.

As y’all know, I don’t follow this stuff, at least not in this century. I’m not going to bore you yet again with why. But I do have a new thing to say — new to me, anyway.

Because I haven’t followed this nonsense since the late 1990s, I didn’t know that nominations for Best Picture had been expanded from five to 10, back in 2009. I ran across this fact when reading about something else, and since it was new to me, I was shocked and appalled.

Oh, I’m not one of these people who goes around griping and moaning because all the kids in Little League get a trophy. They’re kids. They should get a trophy just for showing up at the games.

But with the Oscars, we’re talking about grownups. Rich and powerful (within their own little world) grownups. You don’t have to give them all a trophy. And you don’t have to pretend that ten films — more new movies than I’m likely to see in a year, now that I don’t worry about seeing all the nominees before the Oscars show — are worthy of serious consideration for the highest honor (to the extent that the Academy is capable of confering honor).

And yes, I know that there were 10 back before 1945. But that was during the Golden Age. Ten nominees made sense in 1939. Not so much now.

Anyway, as it happens, I’ve actually seen four of the Best Picture nominees. My wife and I watched the fourth of them just last night, on Peacock. I haven’t seen the rest, because from everything I read and heard about them, I was content to wait until they became available for free, which they haven’t yet. Nothing I’d seen about them in any way suggested “must see.” So, in presenting the five I’m about to list, I’m giving a gift to those who wish to disagree with me. You get to yell, “He hasn’t even see the others!” That’s fine. You go ahead. I’m pretty sure I chose the right ones to spend my time on — mainly, the ones acclaimed on all sides as Best Picture material since the moment they came out.

But I know I can be wrong, and I look forward to seeing your alternative lists. I was wrong abtou this sort of thing once before, back in 1998. That was when I dismissed the idea that “Life if Beautiful” could be Best Picture material. I was appalled by the idea of a comedy about the Holocaust. But it worked, and it was wonderful. I would have been happy to see it win in that highest of categories. It’s made me more open to films that fit more or less into that category. Before I learned that lesson, I might have avoided “Jojo Rabbit.” MIssing that would have been a sad loss.

So maybe you, too, will give me a gift, and turn me on to something I had overlooked. Please do, if you possess such a gift to share.

But for now, here are my five:

  1. The Holdovers — This is the one I saw last night. Yeah, it’s a little small and quiet to be the winner, but at least at this moment, it’s my fave.
  2. Oppenheimer — The most impressive film I’ve seen this year, so the one I would choose if “impressive” were my only criterion. I meant to write a detailed post about it, but haven’t gotten to it.
  3. Maestro — Also a very impressive biopic, about an impressive guy. Hard to watch sometimes, but then so was Oppenheimer. That’s not a disqualifier for a Best Picture.
  4. Barbie — Lots of creative fun.
  5. Killers of the Flower Moon — The only one I haven’t seen, and only because it was on Apple TV+, and I cancelled that service (once I finished the most recent seasons of “Slow Horses”) before getting to it. I still intend to see it, but… I love Scorcese, and I was SO disappointed by “The Irishman.” I don’t want to go through that again…

That’s it for me right now. I’m going to go get some dinner now…

The one I’d have gone with, had impressiveness been my one criterion.

Top Five Worst Cases of Using Nouns as Verbs

If you’ll recall, the Stooges often negatively impacted each other. And when I hear these words used these ways, I feel like Curly.

One of these just smacked me in the face a moment ago when I was innocently looking for something entirely unrelated. It came from a supposed institute of higher learning — although I assume it was written by an undergraduate intern or some such in the press office. (I did a word-study job like that at Memphis State in the early ’70s, for a dollar sixty-something an hour. But I wouldn’t have done this.)

So it’s time for a list.

I had trouble deciding upon criteria for this distinction. They aren’t necessarily the worst, although some a pretty horrible. I gave a lot of weight to their being overused. Some I could perhaps wink at if I heard them once every couple of years. But our ears and eyes are constantly hammered by these. They are ubiquitous, and therefore, in a sense, among the “worst.”

Here they are:

  1. impact — Don’t cite your “authorities” that say it’s all right. Yes, this mistake has been made for centuries — like using “they” to refer (in casual, lazy conversation) to a single person, which is a separate issue, of course. But “authorities” defend it because they have friends — academics, bureaucrats, and such — who think it makes them sound official, and serious, and expert. It’s like saying “persons” instead of “people” like a normal person. And it’s insufferable.
  2. gift — This one may be the most profoundly awful — particularly since the verb that should be used, “give,” is so short and convenient. But it’s not used as frequently in news stories as “impact.” and therefore is slightly more forgiveable.
  3. parent — Just gross. You can “be a good parent.” But you cannot “parent well.”
  4. partner — I couldn’t decide which of the “p” words to list first; they’re on about the same level. Seriously, what’s wrong with “work with?” Why the hell would you say “partner with?”
  5. dialogue — This one’s bad, but not as obviously so as the ones above. I just had to come up with five. Maybe you can come up with a worse one.

On another day, I’ll lecture the garment and advertising industries on the fact that there’s no such garment as a “pant.” “Pant” is what a dog does. People wear pants, and that’s what they are called. The singular item is called a pair of pants. Got that? If so, I won’t have to return to the the subject…

Did y’all watch the State of the Union?

As I’ve said about so many TV political extravaganzas in the last couple of years, I did not. I started to, but after a few minutes of waiting for him to enter the chamber, and listening to jabber about this or that other person entering the room, I switched to doing something else.

And then I did what I’ve done other times: Read about it the next morning. I listened to the NYT’s “The Daily” podcast, which contained about half an hour of clips and analysis. That gave me the gist. I copied the whole text from the NYT to a Word file — all 7,968 words of it — but haven’t read it all yet. Or even close to it.

I know the various topics covered, and it sounds like he addressed them well. But I expected that, because he has presided over our country well for the past three-plus years. He knows what he’s doing.

Of course, in reading about it a lot of my time has been wasted listening to bloviating about how important it was for this old man to demonstrate that he had the cognitive capacity and energy for the job. And of course everyone agrees he crushed that. Big deal. Of course he did. Joe Biden has more energy than I had when I was 30. He’s kind of phenomenal. But I find that a lot of people either don’t pay attention, or aren’t very perceptive. I don’t have much patience with them.

So we have two old men running for president? So what? Their age isn’t the critical thing. What matters is, in all the years they have lived, what kinds of men have they become?

Joe addressed this squarely. And as a voter, you don’t have to be very astute about world affairs, or domestic policy, or any of the other things Joe spoke about so well in his speech. All you have to know is that Joe is a profoundly decent, other-oriented human being, while life has twisted his opponent into a sort of parody of cupidity, stupidity and evil, a caricature of the worst of human nature.

It’s rather embarrassing — I mean it makes me embarrassed for the human race — that he has to point this out. But he did so, and he did it well. So I’ll just quote that, and stop:

I know I may not look like it, but I’ve been around awhile. When you get to my age, certain things become clearer than ever before.
I know the American story. Again and again I’ve seen the contest between competing forces in the battle for the soul of our nation. Between those who want to pull America back to the past and those who want to move America into the future.
My lifetime has taught me to embrace freedom and democracy. A future based on core values that have defined America. Honesty, decency, dignity, equality. To respect everyone. To give everyone a fair shot. To give hate no safe harbor.
Now other people my age see it differently.
The American story of resentment, revenge and retribution — that’s not me…

And we all know who that is

What Nikki Haley should have said and done from the start

‘Hints’ are not, and were never, enough…

Finally, Nikki Haley has a headline she can cut out and frame, if she has access to a print edition:

Nikki Haley Wins the Washington, D.C., Primary, Ending Trump’s Streak

Not that it means much. Do any Republicans actually live in D.C.? Is there not a local ordinance against that?

But we cherish whatever we have to celebrate.

Meanwhile, on Super Tuesday — possibly her last day in the race — she’s still trying to figure out who she is and how she wants to run. And she’s REALLY confused about her primary opponent, and the man the GOP nominee will face in November.

Let me refer you to this Washington Post story, “Haley hints she isn’t bound by loyalty pledge to support GOP nominee.”

But she still backs away from saying things you should say if you ever really want to beat the man who is almost certainly going to be the GOP nominee.

The NYT says it even better: “Nikki Haley Ducks and Weaves on Trump Endorsement, I.V.F. and Jan. 6.

If you’re running against Trump, the very first thing you have to do is tell the truth — about everything. That’s assuming you know what the truth is, and I’m not sure Nikki does. But let’s say she does — because she would need to know what it is, and tell it, to win.

Not that the odds would be in her favor. They never were. So she’s absurdly careful. She’s terrified of offending Trump supporters. So she says such idiotic things as this:

When asked directly if she would endorse Trump if she dropped out, she wouldn’t answer but said she has “serious concerns about Donald Trump. I have even more concerns about Joe Biden.”

Nikki may lack the sophistication and judgment to be president of the United States. And I think she does. But I don’t believe even she has more “concerns” about Joe Biden, or about anyone on the planet, than about Trump. If she believes that, she shouldn’t be running.

Which is why — even though we see examples of Democrats and independents turning out for her in states with open primaries — we won’t ever see enough of them for her to win unless she inspires far more of them, and the Never-Trump Republicans, to get behind her.

She needs every one of them. And she’s not going to get them to step up for her unless she throws all her timidity to the winds and tells the complete, unvarnished truth about everything.

Of course, it’s almost certainly too late now. But I’m Monday-morning quarterbacking here. And from the very beginning, from the moment she launched her campaign, she should have said, loudly, clearly and boldly:

  • The fact that Donald Trump ever occupied the White House, and even worse, the fact that we know “Republicans” will vote for him again, makes me ashamed to be a Republican. And it was once such a noble party. (Yep, I’m burning bridges right off the bat. They need to be burned, and a person who could seize this nomination would have the guts to do it.)
  • It would be extraordinarily dangerous for him to regain that power — for the country and for the whole world. And it would be the greatest gift we could give to those abroad who hate America.
  • And don’t give me that nonsense about “the world didn’t come to an end when he was president before.” Even if you’re too blind to see the damage he did to our country, especially on the world stage (something I learned a lot about when he named me, a completely unqualified person, to be ambassador to the U.N, solely to make a man who supported him governor of South Carolina), you certainly hear the things he’s saying now. He’s made it clear what he will do, given another term. And rest assured that there will be no “grownups in the room” this time. His appointments would no longer make any attempt at a veneer of legitimacy.
  • There are so many reasons to say these things — he give us more every day, but this one would be enough: On Jan. 6, 2021, he egged on a mob to attack our nation’s capital. And he did it to overthrow the clear results of a legitimate election removing him from power. We all know this, regardless of how the court cases come out. (“We all know this” works, remember, because she’s not trying to appeal to people who pathetically try to deny it.)
  • As for you who think — as I once did when I was parroting silly nostrums like “I want to run government like a business” — that he’s a good businessman, so he’s a good leader… This is probably the sleaziest businessman any of us have ever encountered. And you don’t have to wait for a court case to be settle to convince you of that. We recently got 355 million confirmations on that point. (OK, she couldn’t have said that when she launched, but she could say it now.)
  • Not only will I not support Donald J. Trump if he becomes the nominee, I assure you: In that tragic event, I will be voting for Joe Biden in November. I don’t much like President Biden. I disagree with him on a LOT of things. And even if I agreed with him, I think he (like Trump) is too old. But wrong as he is, he’s a normal, decent, sane human being. And voting for him will be the ONLY way to stop Trump — which anyone who cares at all about this country should be committed to doing. A write-in to make yourself feel good will accomplish nothing. You have to vote for the one person with the chance to beat him.

And thousands of other things. She could say something different every day, never repeating herself, illustrating why it is essential for anyone who loves this country to stop Trump — and it is especially a duty for anyone who also cares about the Republican Party, which is facing its last chance to recover and redeem itself.

She should have said all these things without hesitation, because she had nothing to lose — and everything to gain.

But, she didn’t.


Open Thread for Monday, March 3, 2024

At some point, I need to change the name of this feature. It doesn’t really work. Someone here long suggested that I post an “open thread,” I think so that people could just talk about whatever. But it seemed goofy to post, what — a blank space? So I started offering little variety packs of topics.

Anyway, here’s your variety pack:

  1. Prepositions are permissible, now — will English language be ok? — This is the best story I heard or read today. The NPR story featured a Columbia University linguist who cheered the decision by Merriam-Webster that it’s now OK to end sentences with prepositions. I agree, especially in the case of such awkward constructions as the legendary, even if apocryphal, Churchill quote.
  2. Supreme Court rules Trump can remain on Colorado’s ballot — This was unanimous, which was helpful. But I understand the justices quibbled over the scope of the decision, with a minority saying the majority went too far. Perhaps they did, but I haven’t studied it closely enough to have an opinion yet on that. I’m just glad it was unanimous. Things would have gotten uglier than they already are if there had been a different result.
  3. White House uses Kamala Harris to run Gaza options up the pole — That’s my headline, not one I pulled from any news outlet. This is fascinating. The Biden administration has used the veep to publicly air some (somewhat) stepped-up efforts to push for a ceasefire. She did it in a speech over the weekend, then she met with Benny Gantz, Israeli war cabinet member and rival of Netanyahu. This is an interesting way of working around Bibi in a way that explores his political vulnerability, while at the same time letting Kamala look like she has some foreign policy gravitas. And if it all flops, hey, it was just the veep, not POTUS. I like it. Sort of like 3D chess…
  4. The Spy War: How the C.I.A. Secretly Helps Ukraine Fight Putin — I first heard this on NYT Audio over the weekend, and it was fascinating. I learned a great deal about the close ties we’ve formed with Ukrainian intelligence over the past decade or so — since long before Putin invaded. It started because the folks at Langley found that the Ukrainians were great at gathering intel we needed on the Russians, on topics such as the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, and Russians efforts to get Trump elected in 2016. As a spy novel fan, I ate it up, but it also made me really uneasy — but obviously a decision was made somewhere to give these reporters access, right? Still, I hope that joint underground Ukrainian-American intelligence base was moved right after the NYT was allowed to tour it. Its location was described in some detail.

I guess that’s enough for now. I usually give you more than four, but I’ve got a headache, so… y’all come up with something. After all, it’s an “Open Thread”…

Those Americans are still bragging about their big frigates!

I used Twitter a couple of days ago to bring this to the attention of the two biggest Patrick O’Brian fans I know — our own Bryan Caskey and my old friend and colleague Mike Fitts (who got me interested in the books to start with). And they politely gave me a “like,” which I appreciate.

I thought I’d post it here as well for anyone else who’s been to Boston and checked out this attraction — I know you have, Bud!

I enjoyed seeing it myself so much — how could I not, since it’s the oldest ship still commisstioned in the U.S. Navy, the Service in which I grew up — that on the one day that my wife’s unfortunate back problem prevented her from sightseeing with me, I went back to see it for the second time in three days. That first day had been glorious — we both went aboard with our twin granddaughters, and that night we went to Fenway to watch the Red Sox beat the Yankees! Boston doesn’t get better than that.

And if I lived in Boston, I’d probably go see the Constitution every week or so. (It’s a lot more affordable than ballgames at Fenway — I’d have to save that for special occasions.)

Y’all know I’m really into military history and as historical sites go, Old Ironsides can’t be beat. She’s alive! She’s still afloat! After seeing her that second time, I hiked up through Charlestown from the Navy Yahd to check out the Bunker Hill site. That was nice, and I learned things from it, but nothing compared to walking the living deck of one of America’s original Six Frigates.

Months after we’d been there, I found myself again rereading The Fortune of War, and really got a kick out of being reminded that USS Constitution was the ship that captured Jack and Stephen when it took HMS Java, and transported them to Boston as prisoners. There are several pages in which they walk the decks — and so did I!

And yes, I know they are — to you people — fictional characters. But Constitution actually did capture Java!

Anyway, I’ll go away now, and try to make myself read something new before the day is out…

Bunker Hill was fine, but didn’t come close to this…

I dunno. CAN they?

This is just me griping about media again, like in the last post. This one is about headlines.

I’ve been enjoying my NYT Audio app, but some content is better than others. And today, I’m ticked because earlier this week, I found something that sounded intriguing, headlined “Can Humans Endure the Psychological Torment of Mars?

Well, that grabbed me. Especially since I’m a longtime (since my teens) fan of Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, which begins:

So yeah, I wanted to know the answer to the question. Was Heinlein right that “the greatest danger to man was man himself?” And could that challenge be overcome? SPOILER: All that work to build a compatable crew didn’t work out so well in the story.

But would it work better in real life? This NYT Magazine story was heavily hinting that somewhere in its thousands of words, there would be an answer to the question. So, even though it would take 43 minutes and 45 seconds, I thought it would be worth the listen.

It wasn’t. I mean, I was on a long walk, and it was interesting and passed the time. But no answer. Yet I kept expecting it, even when, at the beginning, it went into this long examination of how two people who had applied to be “crew” members felt about being chosen for the experiment. (I put “crew” in quotes because they’re just going to be locked up together here on Earth to see how they deal with it.)

They were excited, by the way. But torn about being away from loved ones for more than a year. There. Now, you can skip the first 30 or 40 minutes. Then, at the very end, one of the two excited folks gets cut from the program and replaced just before the experiment begins. She is devastated.

She goes home, and watches the beginning of the mission on TV, and starts trying to get over her disappointment. Which she gradually starts to do. The last sentence of the story is:

Then she baked a whole-wheat sourdough pizza, and she and Jake ate it, together.

Really. That was it. I think I yelled “WHAT?!?” as I walked down the street. Not a hint of an answer to the question posed in the headline.

Admittedly, the experiment isn’t over. The people went into the biodome thingy back in June, and they have months to go yet. But how about an update? How are they doing? Anybody crack up yet? I searched and found a progress report on the NASA site, and this was the most exciting paragraph in the post:

Over the past 200 days, the crew grew and harvested its first crops grown inside the 1,700-square-foot habitat, including tomatoes, peppers, and leafy greens, participated in a host of simulated “Marswalks” with relevant time delay, tempo, and activities consistent with future Mars mission concepts, and took part in science investigations in biological and physical sciences…”

No word on whether anyone has gone bonkers. Which, I suppose, is something they might not want to report until it’s all over. I get that.

But still. I don’t like it when a headline creates expectations that the story — especially an extremely long story — fails to fulfill.

So don’t do me like that…

The day back in June when the “crew” entered the “ship.” As the story said, “It was not a special hatch with airlocks or anything: It was just a plain white office door.” So it appears to have gotten that right.