The blog is dead; long live the blog!

At least, I think the old blog is dead.

I’ve got a new one up and running, but problems with it remain.

Please bear with me…

If you’d like to try to post a test comment, go ahead. I don’t know what will happen.

I would ask you to email me if you have trouble, but my email isn’t working, either — possibly because it uses the blog domain name. Or something. Anyway, see you later. I hope…

UPDATE: My email’s working again, and the URL is corrected on the blog, but there are still some major problems. If you’ve tried to comment, I assume you’ve failed. I’m working on it…

Let’s talk about ‘sex work.’ Or rather, let’s not…

No, that’s not just a cheap bid to attract readers who think there will be pictures…

Lately I’ve been gathering threads for a thus-far ill-defined post I want to write. It would be a Top Five post (maybe). It’s about words I’ve heard too much lately, and that need to be sent somewhere (very far away, in some cases) for R&R. But sometimes it’s phrases. And sometimes the words (or phrases) should never have been coined. Other times they’re perfectly fine words (or, as I say, phrases) that have simply been overused — or misused — recently.

Anyway, while I’ve been diddling trying to figure out how to define the post, someone went ahead an wrote an op-ed for The New York Times addressing a term that should never have been conceived, and which is also terribly overused. As soon as I saw it, I thought, Yes! That needs to go on the list! But while we wait for me to get around to it, let’s look at this…

The headline is “OnlyFans Is Not a Safe Platform for ‘Sex Work.’ It’s a Pimp.” Well, I don’t know what “OnlyFans” is, beyond some recent headlines about it. What interested me was that “Sex Work” was in quotes, and that drew me in, and I was not disappointed. An excerpt:

We are living in the world pornography has made. For more than three decades, researchers have documented that it desensitizes consumers to violence and spreads rape myths and other lies about women’s sexuality. In doing so, it normalizes itself, becoming ever more pervasive, intrusive and dangerous, surrounding us ever more intimately, grooming the culture so that it becomes hard even to recognize its harms.

One measure of this success is the media’s increasing insistence on referring to people used in prostitution and pornography as “sex workers.” What is being done to them is neither sex, in the sense of intimacy and mutuality, nor work, in the sense of productivity and dignity. Survivors of prostitution consider it “serial rape,” so they regard the term “sex work” as gaslighting. “When the ‘job’ of prostitution is exposed, any similarity to legitimate work is shattered,” write two survivors, Evelina Giobbe and Vednita Carter. “Put simply, whether you’re a ‘high-class’ call girl or a street walkin’ ho, when you’re on a ‘date’ you gotta get on your knees or lay on your back and let that man use your body any way he wants to. That’s what he pays for. Pretending prostitution is a job like any other job would be laughable if it weren’t so serious.”

“Sex work” implies that prostituted people really want to do what they have virtually no choice in doing. That their poverty, homelessness, prior sexual abuse as children, subjection to racism, exclusion from gainful occupations or unequal pay plays no role. That they are who the pornography says they are, valuable only for use in it….

Yes, absolutely.

After that, the piece goes on to discuss the thing in which I’m not interested, OnlyFans, but along the way it makes some good points about pornography and, of course, the absurd euphemism “sex work.”

As with so many fashionable neologisms, we can do without that term because the English language already has a perfectly serviceable word: “prostitution.”

Yes, I know what my libertarian friends will say. And I’m familiar with the views expressed by this movement. (It takes a lot of attitudes to make a world, and some are induced by something akin to Stockholm Syndrome. By the way, in keeping with my mania for genealogy, I even have a distant cousin who famously underwent such a process.) And perhaps I’ll be harrumphed at by “sex-positive feminists.” But in general, I’m curious what the rest of you will say…

prostitution copy

By the way, looking for an image that did not titillate, the NYT went with this. Determined to outdo them, I went with the above, from a link in the op-ed. So I win…

Hey, y’all, the whole blog is about to disappear!

Uhhhh... say WHAT?!?!

Uhhhh… say WHAT?!?!

That is, unless I do something. I’m not sure what yet…

Today has not been a good day. I had just been talking to my wife about how three things had happened in my world today already that caused great consternation to various people, and every one of them had seemed like someone who thought there wasn’t enough trouble in the world had gone out of his or her way to create the problem. Not that they had meant to do it; it just seemed like it, and it was weird how similar these unrelated problems were in that regard.

I’m sure you’ve had days like that. Anyway, other folks affected and I were staggering along trying to deal with these things and keep going, and then came a fourth in the series.

The first three are none of y’all’s business, but I’m going to share the fourth with you, because all of you have shown some degree of interest in this blog, so it kind of affects you:

Important information about the closure of WebFaction

Dear customer,

We’re getting in touch regarding your ‘bradwarthen’ account with WebFaction.

As previously communicated WebFaction is closing down on September 15th.

Before this time you need to ensure any sites, services, applications, email addresses
and domains (including NS records) are either migrated away from WebFaction to your new
service provider or you have made local archive copies outside of the WebFaction systems.

Please also make sure you have copied all relevant account information from WebFaction
that you may require, this includes any invoices and receipts alongside support contacts.

As of September 15th access to login to your WebFaction account will be fully disabled.

The platform will be archived, purged and fully shutdown soon after.

Regards,

The WebFaction team

Oh, yeah? Well, regards back atcha, buddy.

Webfaction is this outfit that the person who redesigned my blog a decade or so ago picked to be my host, and I’ve been automatically paying something like $9.50 to them every month since then. To the best of my knowledge, this outfit was based in England. Recently — like, the last year or so — it changed names a couple of times. The second time, suddenly my automatic payments stopped working, and they dunned me for the money, and I spent an hour of my life that I’ll never get back navigating through their system, trying to figure out how to do it. I thought I had done it, but then later my wife asked why I had paid something in pounds rather than dollars, and I said I didn’t know, because I didn’t.

And now this.

So now I have to spend time I definitely can’t afford right now dealing with this problem.

I’ll keep you posted, if I can find the time…

Teague: Math and Redistricting: Diagnosing a problem

The Op-Ed Page

An image from the presentation Lynn links to in the last graf.

An image from the presentation Lynn links to in the last paragraph.

By Lynn Teague
Guest Columnist

Brad drew my attention to an article in The Washington Post about mathematics and
redistricting. This brought to mind some important math about South Carolina’s current
legislative districts. The majority of South Carolina’s legislative districts are non-competitive in
the general election. The winning candidate is selected in the primary in June. This makes
November elections meaningless in many cases and encourages polarization, since highly
engaged and often extreme voters are especially likely to participate in primaries. It also seems
odd, since we know that in S.C. statewide races the majority party draws about 55% of the vote,
while they now control a super-majority in the Senate and House. The most common
explanation for this disparity in proportions is partisan gerrymandering.

However, you can’t fix a problem if you don’t know what the problem really is, and guessing
isn’t good enough. Even well-designed districts can look odd, and gerrymandered districts can
look okay. An eyeball test isn’t enough. So, League of Women Voters of South Carolina board
member Matthew Saltzman supervised a Clemson grad student thesis to evaluate whether our
districts meet mathematical tests of partisan gerrymandering. Anna Marie Vagnozzi used a test
originally employed in the 2017 case League of Women Voters v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Vagnozzi generated millions of maps and found that the current S.C. maps do not fall at the extremes of the resulting distribution and do not seem to have been pushed to extremes by partisan bias. Instead, they fall very much where the presumably fair post-litigation Pennsylvania maps do.

So, why are South Carolina’s maps so non-competitive? Some of this arises from demography.
South Carolina retains a significant level of racial polarization in voting, so the tendency of black
voting-age populations to be concentrated in some areas, especially urban centers, is a major factor. Votes are wasted when a group of voters are clustered together in such high numbers that their district would have been won by the same party without many of them. White populations are more evenly distributed throughout the state and this provides an automatic electoral advantage, giving them greater voting strength with fewer votes wasted.

The other big factor is incumbent protection. Incumbents of both parties have engineered their
districts to be “safe.” They have amplified the differences caused by demography to create even
more extreme differences by carefully choosing their boundaries to include neighborhoods favorable to them and exclude others. This bipartisan process, repeated through successive redistricting cycles, has led to some excessively predictable districts. (Bipartisanship is not always the Holy Grail of good politics.)

A very recent presentation on redistricting in South Carolina is posted on-line at the League website. It includes maps of our noncompetitive districts as well as a short summary of Vagnozzi’s research and discussion of where we are in the redistricting process.

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.

Giving NPR another try…

I thought the reboot of 'The Wonder Years' sounded OK, but I didn't watch the first one, either, so...

I thought the reboot of ‘The Wonder Years’ sounded OK, but I didn’t watch the first one, either, so…

Editor’s note: I’m experimenting with editing the new version of the blog.

Following up on my previous post about how fed up I am with most news these days…

I just did a quick walk around the block (it’s a big block, just under a mile) — after lunch and before diving back into work.

I listened to NPR One, and resolved from the start that I would immediately click past anything that had to do with any of the topics mentioned in that post. (That includes, as an extension of the ban on Afghanistan stories, anything that tried to take a “20th anniversary of 9/11” approach, which tends to get you into the same stuff). Oh, and I also clicked very quickly past anything that smacked of Identity Politics. You know how I am about that. You can take any interesting subject in the world, and ruin it by trying to interpret it solely in demographic terms.

I was trying to be optimistic. I was hoping to find something like the Myers-Briggs podcast I wrote about in this separate post.

That didn’t happen.

In the more than half an hour I walked, I only allowed three stories to play, and only one of those all the way through. Two of them dealt with people who play the piano — a 4-year-old prodigy, and a… well, I didn’t listen to enough of it to remember. (Sorry, Phillip!)

The one thing I listened to all the way through was this piece about the TV season about to be unveiled. I was curious because, this not being 1965, I didn’t realize people still seriously talked about “the new fall TV season.” In fact, if you had asked me whether any such thing even still existed, I might not have answered correctly.

I listened all the way through because I was curious to see whether any of the shows mentioned would be something I might want to watch. None met that standard…

I DID listen to this one, but it wasn't awesome...

I DID listen to this one, but it wasn’t awesome…

The story of how Myers-Briggs happened

OK, enough with the complaining!

I do occasionally find things to read in my various newspapers and magazines that I actually enjoy. And while I find myself clicking through the stories on NPR One rather quickly and impatiently these days, I occasionally run into something I can dig there as well.

Like this…

I was flipping through the aforementioned NPR app while walking, and found something fun. Longtime readers know about my interest in the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator. I’ve written about it often enough. And of course, I know a lot of smart expert types look down on it. But I like it, possibly for some of the reasons they hate it. More about that in a moment.

Anyway, I ran across this three-part podcast about how the MBTI came to be, and I was immediately hooked. Really. Go listen to the first few minutes, and see if you don’t find it intriguing, even if you thought it was an excruciatingly stupid topic before.

Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, early 1900s

Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, early 1900s

One of the first things you learn about the test is that it wasn’t whipped up in a psych lab by a couple of nerdy colleagues in white coats named Myers and Briggs. No, it’s named for the eccentric, uncredentialed woman who developed the test, over the protests of experts, based on the theories of her own equally-if-not-more eccentric mother, Katharine Cook Briggs. The mom, born in 1875, was unusually well-educated and only had one child who survived infancy — and then dedicated herself to discovering innovative ways to raised the perfect child. The daughter was named Isabel, and she married a man named Myers. She developed the personality-type inventory — based on her mother’s ideas about types — as a way of figuring out why she and her husband were so wildly different and incompatible. It saved her marriage, and gave rise to possibly the most widely-used personality test in the world — which she named for her mom and herself.

Why is the test so popular? Well, one thing you learn is that the system tells everybody, from INTPs like me to our irritating opposites, the ESFJs, that we’re all fine. None of our personality quirks are problematic. We just all have different strengths. The test offers us ways to understand each other and work together better, with an appreciation of the differences that helps us not throw lethal objects at each other. Everybody feels affirmed by what they learn. (I suspect this is sort of related to why LGBTQ people like to go to “Pride parades.” Everyone feels affirmed, and we all like that, right?)

That’s how it was offered to all of us editors at The State in the early 90s. We had a newsroom managers’ retreat — and back then, there were more editors with managerial responsibility than there are employees today at the whole newspaper. Anyway, an HR person out of Knight Ridder headquarters in Miami tested us all, and then released the results about everybody to the whole group.

People who look down on the MBTI tend to think it runs on the Barnum effect. Sort of like fortune cookies in a Chinese restaurant. It tells you something vague and nonjudgmental that is allegedly about you, and no matter what it says, you tend to nod and cry, “So true! How did they know?”

Well, I did feel the test pegged me, particularly on the first two categories, because I am about as introverted and as intuitive as people get. (On the other two, I’m closer to the middle.) But personally, I feel like I learned a great deal about my co-workers as well, and while it didn’t revolutionize the way we worked together, it helped explain some things. For instance, there were certain people who I knew I tended to irritate, sometimes a lot. And I wondered about it. It turns out they were all S types, who tended to think we intuitive types were, for instance, just making stuff up and trying to foist it on them without justification. I couldn’t change the way they were or the way I was, but at least I could better understand the cause of the friction. And maybe I could explain my conclusions more patiently — show more respect, for instance, for steps 2, 3, and 4 in making my wild leaps from 1 to 5. That is, if wanted to. (We extreme introverts are known for not caring very much about other people’s opinions of us, yet another irritating thing about us — especially when combined with the intuition thing.)

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Oops — just realized I posted this at some point when I meant to save it as a draft. Oh, well. I was almost done. I wrote all of the above yesterday when I had only heard the first two installments, and today I heard the third. Anyway, I recommend it. It’s a good listen. Give it a try…

Are you consuming more news these days, or less?

WashPost

For me, it’s definitely less. I can only bear so much.

And maybe the problem is just me. You know, I lived and breathed this stuff for so long, and I subscribe to multiple newspapers so I don’t miss a beat, and maybe I’ve just reached an age where I’m like, “Nobody is paying me to do this anymore, so…”

But I don’t think that’s it. At least not entirely.  I think the news is actually worse. More than that, the way people engage issues has become so counterproductive that immersing oneself in it seems pointless. Once, we had energetic discussions of issues we disagreed about, and found elements to agree upon. Now, we yell at each other. And too often, it’s not even about trying to win an argument. It’s about establishing one’s bona fides as a member of this or that tribe, and expressing how you hate that other tribe more than anyone else does.

So much of it is depressing. Other bits are just stupid. Often, the items I read and hear are both.

This past week, whenever I call up one of the papers I read or turn on my NPR One app, I’m greeted by one of the following:

  • Abortion. Abortion, abortion, abortion. This is particularly true whenever I turn on NPR. It’s usually the first story, and it goes on and on. One story that was on when I entered the kitchen a day or two ago must have used the word, “abortion,” ten times in the first minute. I tried to be positive about it. I tried to say, “Well, at least these folks are being honest and using the actual word, instead of evasive euphemisms such as ‘women’s healthcare’.” But that didn’t cheer me up. I just turned it off before having my breakfast.
  • Masks. And other repetitive stuff about the coronavirus, but mostly unbelievably moronic disputes over wearing masks or being required to wear masks or being forbidden to require people to wear masks, just on and on and on and over and over again. This is particularly a problem when reading South Carolina news. And this one fits securely into the “stupid” column. But of course, it’s so stupid, and persistent, that it’s also deeply depressing.
  • Afghanistan. The utter misery of the situation, the idiotic things that are said about it, the stunning fact that apparently all sorts of people seem surprised that our precipitous abandonment of the enterprise would have any other effect than the one it did, the lifetime of misery that is ahead for people who are there and can’t get out, and the disastrous effect it is all likely to have on U.S. foreign policy for so long into the future, and I just can’t go on…
  • Mind-numbing local horror. This one, of course, is as far into the depressing column as you can get. A couple of nights ago, my wife — who watches TV news shows, even though I don’t, called my attention to the screen, on which was an early story about the two babies dying the van. Horrified, I had the pointless thought, “I hope it wasn’t twins.” Somehow, I thought that would be even worse, although that’s debatable — is one family suffering such a double tragedy necessarily worse than two families having their joy destroyed forever? Of course, it was twins. I’ve done my best not to read or hear another word about it, because it’s just too painful.
  • Bad weather. Or, if you prefer, call it “global warming.” Now I know that those of you who want to call it global warming and those who don’t want to yell at each other, so go ahead, but out of my hearing. And comfort yourselves with the knowledge that if a break occurs between hurricanes, it will be filled with huge fires in California. So you can keep yelling.

So I’ve generally been avoiding news this week. You?

 

Film processing: It might be easier to find an alchemist

It's still in great shape -- but it uses this stuff called FILM...

It’s still in great shape — but it uses this stuff called FILM…

Anybody out there still shooting film? If so, what are you doing with it?

Yeah, I know it’s an odd question in the Year of Our Lord 2021. Our phones long ago started shooting pictures with resolution that greatly exceed the quality we got from most 35 mm film. My mother, who’s 90, still prefers prints on paper, while I run in the opposite direction — I’m constantly borrowing those prints from her so I can digitize them, and use them on the family tree.

But here’s the thing: Back in the 90s, about a decade before anyone saw digital photography as anything other than a low-quality thing to play with, I made the greatest investment I’ve ever made in a long career as a photo hobbyist and semi-pro (ever since I was a reporter more than 40 years ago, I was as likely to shoot my own art as to take a photog along). I bought a Nikon N8008s, the best 35 mm SLR you could buy short of the F professional series. In fact, some of the full-time pros I knew used 8008s because they were lighter and more convenient.

And up to about, oh, 2005, I used that almost exclusively. That, or under circumstances in which a heavy camera (yes, lighter than than the F series, but if you’re used to digital cameras, I’ll warn you before handing you this, because you’ll be shocked at the weight) would be awkward, a little rangefinder job. For instance, I borrowed my wife’s little sureshot to take with me to New York when I covered the 2004 GOP Convention there, and shot several rolls just in case the paper wanted art with something I wrote. I even offered what I shot to the newsroom (an unusual case) in case they wanted it — we had little room for photos on our pages.

Here’s how that worked, just to remind you. Wherever I’d been — Madison Square Garden or wherever — on the way back I’d drop the film off at a Duane Reade drug store near my hotel. (It was one of Leona Helmsley’s places, on the Park. In fact, she lived in the top of this one.) As you may know, like Starbucks, Duane Reade pretty much has a location on every block — or did back then. Anyway, I’d go back an hour later and pick up my negatives and a disc with my scanned images on it. Very, very convenient.

But a year after that, I’d pretty much shifted to using a digital Canon because of my blog — both for stills and video. (Which was great in 2005, but it was pretty lame compared to what my iPhone can do now.)

Anyway, my 8008, still in beautiful condition because I’d always been so careful with it, went into a drawer and has mostly stayed there.

And while there are many things I used to do with that that I can’t do with my phone, I’ve never seriously considered buying a good digital SLR. The reason is — I already have a perfectly good camera, and I’m attached to it, and I can’t see spending all that money on another.

So… three or four years ago, I put some film on my Amazon wish list — some Tri-X, and also some color negative film. And my kids gave it to me, and every once in awhile — Christmas, or another big family occasion — I take a roll out of the refrigerator and shoot away. And then I take the exposed roll out of the camera and put it back in the frig for safekeeping. The idea is that I’ll buy some chemicals to process the Tri-X at home once it’s all shot — as I’ve always done —  and I’ll send the color stuff off… somewhere.

But I don’t know where.

All I want is a deal like what was always available at Duane Reade — and loads of places closer to home, such as CVS and Walgreen’s and Walmart. Drop it off and get my developed negatives back with some scanned jpg files. I used to also get prints, but I don’t care about that. I don’t care all that much about the jpgs, either, but my good scanner that scans film is shot, and until I invest in a new one it’s nice to have the jpgs.

But the main thing is, I want my developed film back.

And I’ve discovered a shocking thing: Some of these places that will still process film won’t give you back your negatives. I suppose they throw them away, as horrifying as that sounds (to me, anyway). I guess they’re catering to folks who think of a print as the finished product, as all they’ll ever want. Which I can’t imagine.

Anyway, this evening I tried to send off one 36-exposure roll of the color film at Walmart. Here’s how it went:

I went to the electronics department where they used to have that desk set up just for dropping off film. Finding nothing of the kind, I did that thing I seldom get desperate enough to try at Walmart — I asked a clerk.

She didn’t even try to decipher what I was asking, but called out to a young man who looked like he’d be comfortable working on the Geek Squad at another big-box. I nodded at her decision, because based on stereotyping alone, I’d have asked him first if I’d seen him.

As he approached with a questioning look, I held up the roll, and said, “Do y’all still handle film processing?” Hearing only “film” I suppose, he led me to an aisle where such anachronisms were to be found — several rolls of Fuji that I assume had been there for years and not refrigerated.

The roll I took to Walmart.

The roll I took to Walmart.

I tried to set him straight, and had some success: I held up the roll again, and explained that I was seeking a service rather than a product: film processing. Then, I decided to use a more mainstream word for the arcane art: “I want to get it developed…”

He nodded with understanding, and beckoned me to the back wall of the store, and led me to the other side of that wall, toward the back restrooms. And there, sitting looking very forlorn in that abandoned place, was a table with a box on it. And the box had a slot in it for inserting envelopes with your film in it.

This is where it gets good. The young man told me that I had missed this month’s shipment, but at some point in September they’ll be sending off another batch, and the developed pictures will come back 10 days or so after that. So I should be sure to put my info on the envelope so they can let me know when it’s ready.

There was no pen on the table, so I asked for one. He went behind a nearby counter to find one, and as he did I asked when in September the film would be set off. He pulled a thick, tattered ring binder from behind the counter and looked it up before telling me, “September 5th.”

I thanked him and told him I’d like to just take the envelope with me and see if I could find a quicker deal before I sent it off. He said that was fine.

Oh, yeah. Having heard the horrible news that another chain didn’t send back your negatives, I asked about that. He said it was his understanding that I would be get my negatives back.

After I got home and dropped everything on the kitchen table, my wife asked what was up with the envelope. I explained, and said if I didn’t find a better deal somewhere else, I’d send the roll — just one roll, until I saw how it went — off through Walmart. I said all I really wanted was my negatives back and the digitized images.

She said, “They don’t give you your negatives back.” I said, “Oh yes, they do…” She pointed to the envelope, where it said, quite clearly in decent-sized type, “Your negatives will NOT be returned.” Yeah, they had even put the “NOT” in all caps.

So… I’m Googling around, looking for some esoteric, discrete professional organization to run this roll through the C-41 process and give me back my frickin’ negatives.

Yeah, I know people don’t shoot film any more. Hey, I don’t shoot film anymore, either. But I have this great camera, and I just want to use it once in awhile. Get some nice old-school pics of my grandchildren, just so I could say I did it.

But I’m beginning to think it would be easier to persuade Walter White to cook me up some meth. Or find someone schooled in alchemy to turn my film into gold.

And I thought I’d ask whether any of y’all do film, and see if you have any suggestions…

See? They even put the "NOT" in all caps...

See? They even put the “NOT” in all caps…

Hollywood’s idea of a ‘spy’ (plus, Top Five REALISTIC Spy Films)

Austin and his lovely, sexy sidekick strike the classic pose, in an only slightly more ridiculous way than Bond.

Austin and his lovely, sexy sidekick strike the classic pose, in an only slightly more ridiculous way than Bond.

The amazing thing about the first Austin Powers movie was that it didn’t have to change much from the original to make it hilarious.

I didn’t fully realize that until “Thunderball” became available on one of my streaming services some time later, and I watched it for the first time in decades. A lot of the silliest tropes — the villain with his cat, the assistant villains sitting around a table and the head guy pushing a button that sent them to their deaths when they displeased him, and other things — were copied almost frame by frame. And it was just as silly in the original, although perhaps not as enjoyably funny.

Of course, no one had to remind me that about such things as putting the hero into an unnecessarily elaborate death trap and walking away, trusting it will work. We had all seen that many times. And “Austin” had a lot of fun with it.

But all the Bond films were like that. And so were other things my generation grew up on, from “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” to “The Avengers.” Austin didn’t add much more than a goofy grin. And it worked.

And yet audiences continue to shell out money for Hollywood’s completely ridiculous notion of what a “spy” is. You know the recipe. A Hollywood spy is pretty much always:

  • Extremely violent, and outrageously good at it. You know it’s a “spy” film if the hero is posing on the poster with a handgun — sometimes held pointing at the sky, other times directly at the camera. Why the “spy” needs a firearm is somewhat bewildering, because he or she is so fantastically skilled at unarmed combat. It doesn’t matter how good the opposition is, or how well-armed, or how many there are, the hero will overcome them without breaking a sweat — usually while making corny jokes. That is, until the climactic scene, in which someone — maybe the chief villain, more likely his superhuman assistant — gives the hero a real challenge, for dramatic purposes.
  • In fact, the “spy” is pretty much a superhero, with inhuman abilities that extend beyond fighting, to driving a wide variety of hot cars and other vehicles, manipulating technology, etc.
  • Good-looking, whether male or female (and if female, extremely sexy and usually dressed provocatively). Which is convenient for our hero, because the “spy” is as sex-obsessed as a 14-year-old boy, but unlike that boy, gets plenty. Which is why that demographic tends to love these films. (That could be me!…)
  • Does almost nothing that an actual, real-life spy would recognize as intelligence work, such as collecting, you know, information. Or building a network of agents, or leaving chalk marks on lampposts, or clearing dead-letter boxes, or any of those kinds of things that can mind-paralyzingly dangerous, but aren’t that exciting for 14-year-olds to watch.

And when you add it all up, all the glittering, exploding cliches actually get pretty boring in the aggregate, no matter how much expensive property is destroyed in the chase scenes.

And in a way, everyone sort of knows that it’s a joke — I guess. Because all sorts of comedies get made using this material. Long before Austin, there was “Get Smart!,” and for that matter the first film iteration of “Casino Royale,” and today there’s… well, just look:

spycom 1

Which is fine, if you don’t mind monotony in your comedy. Hollywood has seen the absurdity in its own caricature of espionage, in fact, since the beginning of the genre, as you can see if you Google “1960s spy comedies.” Even Graham Greene himself mocked the form before James Bond really took off on the silver screen. (Of course, being Graham Greene, he did so masterfully.)

And yet, there is nothing at all funny about intelligence work. In fact, in real life it can be more than a little depressing, in its gray, sordid day-to-day exploitation of human weaknesses. But in the hands of the right creator, it can be fascinating.

There have been a few, a very few, serious spy films (and TV shows) over last few decades, and the best do what the best spy novels have always done: Dig down very deep into the complexities of the human mind, the human soul — the lies, the contradictions, the moral ambiguities, the psychological conflicts, the betrayal. The cover story, the fallback story, the real story, and the interplay between them all.

And there’s almost never an explosion or a car chase. In the most realistic such stories, the hero never so much as touches a gun. You know where some of the most suspenseful moments in John le Carre novels occur? In meetings. Irritating, apparently boring, bureaucratic affairs around a table in a conference room (“Stupid bloody cabaret” said a key character of such a gathering in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy). But they can be tense as all get out, and lives can hang in the balance.

The truest spy stories are mystery tales in which you’re often not sure, at the end, whodunit. Ever see the rather obscure “Yuri Nosenko, KGB,” starring Tommy Lee Jones? It’s based on the true story of a KGB officer who defected to us in the early ’60s. Or did he? People still debate what was really going on — was he a defector, or a plant sent to deceive us about Russian involvement in JFK’s assassination? (I think about that movie a lot when I hear people say with such certainty, “Bush lied, people died,” simply because he apparently chose to believe the wrong bits of intel among contradictory accounts that were available to him. It’s just not that simple.)

Anyway, the other night my wife and I saw a good one: “The Courier,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch. It was another one based on a true story — that of Greville Wynne, the British businessman recruited by MI6 to contact Oleg Penkovsky, one of the most important spies the West ever had in the East. He’s the guy who let us know the Soviets were putting those missiles in Cuba. The possible fate of the planet lay in the plans he sent us through a complete amateur, because it was considered too dangerous for a professional to get near him (the KGB were tailing all such people). As it worked out, matters of global importance hung on the friendship that developed between these two wildly different men from opposite ends of the Cold War divide. By the end, these two strangers were willing to die for each other. And nobody had to make it up.

By the way — here’s a sort of blog post in a blog post. You’ve heard that, between streaming and COVID, movie theaters are dead? Well, true enough. What does it cost to go to a movie these days? I don’t know, but I’m sure it’s ridiculous. And popcorn and a drink (which is where theaters’ profits have always come from) costs more.

Well, we rented “The Courier” from Apple for 99 cents. That’s almost as little as I paid to get into movies on military bases when I was a kid. Hard to beat. And I didn’t have people talking or bouncing on the seats around me, and I could turn on subtitles, and pause and repeat dialogue if I missed something. There’s no comparison.

Oh, and now I see we wasted our money, because now Amazon Prime will show it to us subscribers for “free.” I may watch it again now. (Meanwhile, you have to pay $4.99 for “The Spy Next Door.”)

Anyway, all that meandering is way too much of an intro to a very quick Top Five Most Realistic Spy Movies list. And yes, I know it seems like I’ve done this before. But you’re confusing it with “Top Five (and other) Cold War Movies” or “Top Five John le Carre novels.” So pay closer attention, people.

Here’s the list:

  1. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold — Yeah, yeah, I’ve mentioned this on other lists. Still amazing. But pay close attention, if you want to understand what’s happening.
  2. The Little Drummer Girl — No, not the recent TV show — the movie, with Diane Keaton. This one has gotten way too little attention over the years, but it’s about as pure a spy film as you’ll find: A reluctant agent is recruited by the Mossad (the part about the recruitment is the best part of the original novel) to go as deep as you can get into a Palestinian terrorist cell. I have it on DVD, but it was hard to find. If you can get ahold of it, see it. And yeah, Le Carre again. What can I say?
  3. The Lives of Others — OK, this is really marginal as a spy movie — it’s about domestic surveillance by the internal security organ of a totalitarian state, rather than the collection of information about another country — but it’s close enough, and I wanted to put it on the list just in case you haven’t seen it. Oh, yeah, it’s in German. (Yeah, Hollywood, I know: The Rock is way more bankable than Ulrich Mühe.)
  4. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy — The film was really good, but you need to see the TV show, with Alec Guinness. This is my way of urging you to do that. Also “Smiley’s People,” if you can get ahold of it. OK, no more le Carre mentions.
  5. The Third Man — More about a murder mystery and black-market crime than espionage if I recall correctly, but the setting is so perfect — Vienna right after the war, the place where Cold War spies first cut their teeth. It’s the atmosphere, you see, more than the plot, that gets it on the list.

I’d have put “The Courier” on there, but I’d already mentioned it.

Speaking of “The Third Man” — if you try googling “most realistic spy movies,” you’ll get some excellent flicks that are not on my list because they’re not spy movies. Like “Munich.” The thing is, while you see a lot of intelligence-gathering and some interesting tradecraft and truckloads of moral ambiguity, it’s a movie about a team of assassins, not your usual sort of spies.

Which brings me to something we could discuss all day: “The Bourne Identity.” I really, really liked it (although not really the sequels), even though it contains, in refined forms, some of the stuff I despised above — the super-violent figure, who has skills rising to the superhero level. But you see, it’s not a “spy” movie. It’s a thriller about people who have been re-engineered as super-assassins. Not the same thing. It’s really more from the paranoia genre — you know, the “what if powerful people in dark corners of the government were secretly doing horrible things” genre. Like “Three Days of the Condor,” which was also a lot of fun. But not a spy movie…

OK, one last honorable mention: Have you seen “The Ipcress File?” Well, you should — just so you’ll know where Austin Powers got his glasses. It’s an interesting mix of serious spy stuff and the smart-ass attitude that made the better “comical” films work. But more than that, as I’ve probably said multiple times before, go read the book. It’s the one that turned me on to spy fiction, and I’d like to see my friends get hooked as well…

Where Austin got his specs...

Where Austin got his specs…

 

Open Thread for Thursday, August 26, 2021

Screenshot 2021-08-25 at 10.17.38 AM

I initially typed, in the headline, “August 25, 2921.” That would have been… revelatory. But then, who would care what we say about it, eight centuries from now?

(And then, since I didn’t get it posted last night, I had to change the day as well.)

  1. Hawaii governor says ‘now is not the time’ for tourists to visit — Every once in a while you see a headline that emphasizes dramatically how different this moment in history is from every other. And that’s what this headline does. Let’s just say Burl and I didn’t hear anything like that back when we were both living on Oahu 50 years ago. Now I’m waiting to hear something similar from Henry McMaster — something that shows he is aware of the difference between now and other times. I expect to be waiting a long, long time…
  2. Charlie Watts was a gentleman in the world’s most dangerous band — I kind of enjoyed this as a a second-day take on our loss of this guy. So I pass it on.
  3. Stop Politicizing the Misery in Afghanistan — Amen, Frank Bruni. It’s a good piece, and I’d take it a bit farther: We need to stop doing this with every fricking thing in the world, not just Afghanistan. Back in the days when our nation’s politics were functional, and often even rational, I was dismissive of people who complained about “politics” intruding upon this or that. I would say, “Politics” is simply our term for how we, in a free society, discuss and deal with issues that affect us all in the public sphere. The term describes something that is not only not bad, but essential. But that has changed in recent years. For a couple of decades, the mindless competition between the two parties got more and more poisonous. And then came Trump, and everything got exponentially worse, and disconnected from reality. It’s one reason I blog less than I used to — there is less opportunity to discuss anything in a way that leads to any sort of practical consensus on anything. This is worth a separate post, if I can get to it.
  4. Inconclusive review of virus origins prompts calls for more probes: ‘We have to get to the bottom of this’ — No, we don’t. This is an example of what I’m on about with the previous item. Again, this is stupid, Trump-era politics. Supposedly, we’re supposed to respond to it in one of two stupid ways: Either we see it as essential to get to the bottom of how “Ji-na” inflicted the “Kung-Flu” on us, or to somehow demonstrate the opposite, conclusively. Which is not only impossible (I mean the “conclusively” part, in such a complex situation), but in no way essential at this moment in history. We don’t “have to get to the bottom of this” right now. What we “have to” do is beat the virus, and save as many lives as possible. And that’s enough. As for how it started, I can’t see how that’s immediately relevant, unless we’re looking to identify someone to prosecute, or seeking a premise for war. I suppose it’s also good, looking ahead, to have tips on how to avoid such pandemics in the future. But it’s nowhere near the most essential aspect right now.
  5. A naked baby helped Nirvana sell millions of records. Now 30, he’s suing the band for ‘child pornography.’ — Of course, it’s not just politics that displays the fact that, as our lawyer friend Bryan often says, this is a stupid time to be alive. You really don’t have to read beyond the headline to get that point, I think.
  6. The viral Milk Crate Challenge has left people injured. Doctors are begging them to stop. — I just included this in case the other posts didn’t convince you about the rampant stupidity thing that is sort of this post’s theme.

I didn’t really mean to embark on such a riff. But actually, it’s an important reason why I don’t post as much as I used to. Everywhere I look, I find it hard to take the foolishness…

My first ad ever in Spanglish, I think

spanglish

I sometimes see ads in Spanish, probably the result of some small signal I’ve sent out to the cloud — such as the fact that I follow the Pope’s Spanish Twitter feed (after all, it’s his native language) as well as his English one, or something like that. They come and they go.

But this was the first ad I’ve noticed in Spanglish. It came up when I clicked on the wrong thing on my Spotify app, or something. I don’t know why it popped up.

Anyway, after I click on the link offering it en españolthe ad looks more normal (except that, weirdly, the logo is still in Spanglish: “MÁS QUE A MONTH”). But that page offers a link to “English,” and I click it and find myself back on the Spanglish page. It once again says things such as “It’s building forward juntos,” and “Meet the creadores.”

I prefer it to be one way or the other. I don’t care which very much. It’s just that I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to languages. Gimme real Spanish, or real English…

in Spanish

 

 

DeMarco: If there was a vaccine for cancer that was 99% effective, would you take it?

Covid vaccine TheState 2021 8 21

The Op-Ed Page

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The vaccinated among you who read this will rightly wonder why, as a doctor, I don’t make a stronger case for vaccines. First, plenty of frontal assaults on the unvaccinated have already been published. Second, it’s one thing to talk theoretically about vaccine hesitancy and another to have a one-to-one conversation about the vaccine with someone for whom you are providing medical care. Although I am frustrated and confused by the widespread resistance to vaccines, unleashing that frustration on my patients would do no good. If the piece leaves you wanting a more direct, robust argument, I sympathize. But I’m not writing for you. I’m hoping to address readers who can be convinced to join your ranks.

When I hear stories about illness, I often imagine that I am the physician for the sick person being described. So when I read about people who decline the opportunity to be vaccinated against COVID-19, I envision them sitting with me in one of my exam rooms. By now I’ve had hundreds of conversations about the vaccine.

In the winter, many of them were about where patients could get the vaccine most quickly.

Over the past several months, the discussions have evolved; now it’s mostly coaxing the unvaccinated to overcome their hesitation. Hard-won experience has taught me that as I attempt to persuade a reluctant patient to accept a therapy, the harder I push, the less I succeed.

I begin by asking whether my patients have been vaccinated. If they say yes, I exhort them to encourage everyone they know to follow suit. I have several vaccinated ministers who tell me that every week they implore the disinclined among their flocks to get the vaccine.

There are very few patients (myself included) who do everything their doctor recommends. Countless patients of mine have refused my offer of a flu shot because “I got the flu from the flu shot.” Despite my gentle rebuttal that it is impossible to get the flu from the flu shot (although you can get flu-like symptoms from the vaccine), I rarely win the argument. I recognize that my advice is only part of my patients’ decision processes: Personal experiences, advice from other people they trust, and information from media also inform their decisions.

With the COVID-19 vaccine, I have had more success with ambivalent patients, although the majority still decline. Since I have an office practice, I spend much of my time trying to prevent illness rather than saving lives. But during a pandemic, convincing a patient to get vaccinated can be lifesaving, and therefore has been a source of intense focus for me. Most of my patients are over 50 and have chronic diseases that put them at higher risk. Thus far, I’ve lost two patients to COVID-19. Several more of my patients have lost family members. One patient lost a brother, a sister-in-law, and a niece in the space of just a few days.

If patients says they have not been vaccinated, I ask “Do you want to talk about it?” Most do, and express legitimate concerns – it was created and tested quickly; it’s still under emergency authorization or it had been when I wrote this); there have been side effects (blood clots and heart inflammation, to name two); they are not in high-risk groups; they don’t go out much; and they social-distance. A number can’t articulate a reason except that they are afraid of the vaccine.

My response goes like this: I acknowledge their fears. I admit that I can’t guarantee that they will not have a rare side effect from the vaccine. For those who express fear of dying from the vaccine, I acknowledge that the risk of death is currently unknown. All I can say is that it appears to be exceedingly rare.

My argument for the vaccine is based on what we do know. The latest data I can find from the CDC (for the calendar year 2020) shows the COVID-19 death rate in South Carolina was 78 per 100,000, making it the third leading cause of death in our state behind heart disease and cancer. Since the beginning of the pandemic, approximately 10,000 South Carolinians have died. The vaccine is approximately 99% effective in preventing death from COVID-19. If there was a vaccine that had a 99% efficacy in preventing death from heart disease or cancer, I ask, would you take it?

Surprisingly, a few of my patients, when I ask whether they want to talk about being unvaccinated, say “No thanks.” If that is the response I leave it be, but I wonder what they are reading or watching to make them unwilling to hear from the person in whom they have entrusted their medical care.

I suspect their unwillingness is driven by cable news or internet media. One of the worst things that has happened during the pandemic is the unwarranted attachment of political and philosophical meaning to the virus. Recently, I heard a caller to a radio talk show describe people who wear masks as “our enemies.”

COVID-19 is no respecter of political party or religion. It’s a simple virus with no brain. All it knows how to do is reproduce itself in our cells. The longer it has susceptible hosts, the longer it will continue to infect us, and the more efficient it will become. The delta variant is the latest example of this. The longer it takes for us all to be vaccinated, the more likely another, even more infectious and more deadly, variant will arise.

You may not be my patient, but as a doctor I care about people’s health whether I know them or not. Please get vaccinated.

Paul DeMarco is a physician who resides in Marion, SC. Reach him at pvdemarco@bellsouth.net. This was first published as a column in the Florence Morning News on Aug. 18.

Covid vaccine DHEC 2021 8 21

‘Carl… what have you done?’

Switching to lighter subjects… (Actually, I had written most of it much earlier, and was nearly done with it over the weekend, but set it aside to work on the Afghanistan post. Since it was just sitting here, I’m posting it.)

In many ways, the TV commercial has had its day, and that day was a long time ago. Personally, I don’t even see as many of them as most people do. I generally don’t watch TV news, and since I’m seldom offered a baseball game on the few broadcast channels I get, I don’t see much sports. And beyond those two things, I can’t think of any reason anyone would watch live, commercial TV.

But I do watch Hulu sometimes, and since it’s not a premium account, I do see ads. And mostly, I’m unimpressed, if not put off entirely after seeing these things over and over (remind me never, ever to drink Grand Marnier, not that I think you’ll need to). I can tell the makers of these things are trying really, really hard — too hard, really. They try so hard to be creative, I often can’t tell you afterward what the product was they were trying to sell. Other times, I wish I couldn’t tell — such as the one with the young guy who sits there and earnestly explains that he started a company to help people with “erectile dysfunction” because of his own problems getting things up and going. Which. I. Did. Not. Need. To. Know. (By the way, I hope y’all appreciate my sacrifice here. I did a couple of searches to find a link to that ad, not knowing the guy’s name or the name of his company, so you know what the internet is going to be showing me from here on out, every time I look at a screen…)

But there are highlights. Geico can still, occasionally, make a good one. And sometimes they outdo themselves. The one they call “Lining the Field” is the best since the wonderful “Was Abe Lincoln Honest?” spot. And that’s saying a lot.

I don’t know who the genius was who decided they had to do an ad using the song “Build Me Up Buttercup,” but the Geico team took several stabs at it — and then, surprisingly, actually released several of them instead of just the best one. The others are… OK. (Here’s one. Here’s another. There are more.) But this one is brilliant. They just got so many things exactly right.

So many things that, when I first thought about writing about this a couple of months ago, I kept putting it off because there were so many things to mention, and, you know, it’s a pretty lightweight, silly topic. But pop culture interests me, and one of the things about it that interests me is the way I can hear a pop song my whole life, and then suddenly, I realize for the first time how awesome it is. And I wonder what causes that to happen. I’ve written about it before (in another lightweight post that took a LOT of time to write). Is it that my judgment has matured? Some new chemical in my brain? Or had I just not heard it in a sufficiently appealing context?

Anyway, this ad was kind of a multimedia earworm, and here are some of the reasons it grabbed me:

  • First, the song. Remember it? If you’re my age you certainly do, but I don’t recall ever taking the slightest notice of it before. I didn’t even know who wrote or performed it. When I first saw the ad and started thinking about it, I thought: East-coast beach music. It sounded like something out of the same moment and place as “Can’t Help Myself” — something that was on the radio constantly when I was at the Grand Strand in 1965. And now that I was listening to it for once, I realized it rivaled that Four Tops masterpiece in sheer pop awesomeness. But it wasn’t the Four Tops. It wasn’t even beach music, East Coast or West. “Build Me Up Buttercup” came out at the end of 1968! And it was by, of all things, a British band that hadn’t even existed in ’65 — The Foundations! This demonstrated the extraordinary degree to which I had ignored the song at the time. Since we moved every year or two when I was a kid, I can usually remember when a song was a hit by recalling where I heard it. But that didn’t work at all with this.
  • The Foundations — I knew nothing about them! So I started Googling, and right away found another great song I had ignored at the time: “Baby Now That I’ve Found You.” Yeah, it’s a lot like the other one — so much so that when both of them were stuck in my head (a double-earworm!) when I was at the beach in June, one would pop up and I’d have to softly sing a few lines to myself, walking along the shore, to remember which one it was. (Is this the one from the ad or the other one?) But I’m not complaining. None of their other songs reached out and grabbed me in the same way, but I’m happy just to have fully recalled and finally embraced these two.
  • Syncopation? I’ve learned quite a few things over the last 67 years or so. As have y’all. Or most of y’all, anyway. 🙂 But there are some things that, try as I might, I’ve just never gotten straight in my head. A lot of them have to do with music, and one of them is “syncopation.” But I keep trying to wrestle with it. For instance, listening over and over to “Build Me Up Buttercup,” I focused on the hesitation in the opening lines, the pause in lyrics after “build me up”– and again after “let me down” — and I thought, is that syncopation? But I don’t think so. I read the descriptions of the musical phenomenon the word describes, and I really don’t think so. I tried looking it up, again. I watched a video or two, and I thought this one was good. So that’s syncopation, huh? Yeah, it sort of fits the descriptions I’ve read. That’s not what’s going on in the song, I don’t think — is it? I looked at the sheet music, and didn’t see any indication something unusual was happening in the beat structure. (But can you see syncopation on sheet music? Maybe not.) What my brain perceives as hesitation (since I’m a word guy, who thinks in terms of complete sentences) is apparently just space for the background vocal. I think. But I could be wrong. Maybe it is syncopation that creates that hook that pulls you right into the song. But I can’t tell. My damaged brain isn’t up to the task. Of course, it wasn’t back before it was damaged, either. Whatever it is, I like it.
  • Casting. I have no idea who the actor who plays Carl is. (So far, Google hasn’t told me; I’ve tried.) But he’s amazing. I’m not saying he’s necessarily an amazing actor in general — he might not make an impression in a Shakespearean production. But he’s perfect for this. Or maybe it’s not him. Maybe it’s the direction, or the skillful editing. But the dialogue is perfect, and perfectly delivered: “Think anyone will notice?… Yeah. (hesitation). Yeah they will.” He’s not tearing himself apart with remorse or anything; he’s just acknowledging a point, with complete honesty. The comic timing is exactly right. Which could be all him, or could be the one out of 100 takes that the makers of the ad chose. But it’s great.
  • The helmet. Of course, “Carl” is hilarious way before that, before you even know what’s really going on. That unbelievably goofy smile as he, in his imagination, rides his bike down the curving road and really, really gets into singing the song. Not just the smile, but the way he bobs up and down over the handlebars and cocks his head to the side as he sings “and mess me around…” Just digging it. So, more good work by the actor. But you know what? I think the helmet adds a lot to it. It makes him look so different from the guy lining the field (even though his hair is kind of helmet-like) that it almost introduces an element of imperfection to the ad, since your brain has to adjust a bit to realize it’s still him. Especially since in his imagination, his smile is even goofier, has an entirely different quality, as he rides down the road. But helmets can do that. They often make people look wildly different, and hilarious in surprising ways. Just ask poor Michael Dukakis. Perhaps this is why all those goofballs protest against helmet laws. They’d rather have their brains splattered on the pavement than look like that.

OK, I’ll stop now.

I’m (rather obviously) not writing this as some kind of expert on TV commercials. Because I’m not. Oh, I wrote a few forgettable spots for an ADCO client several years back. But I’m a writer and an editor, and that’s about it.

But I know what I like, and I often spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking about why I like some scrap of ephemera that zips past me as I go through life. This one’s been loitering in my head most of the summer, and I thought I’d go ahead and try to evict it…

"... and mess me around..."

“… and mess me around…”

 

Afghanistan, Joe Biden’s biggest mistake as president

1

At least, I hope and pray it will be his biggest mistake. We — by which I mean the United States, and the world that depends on it — can’t afford any bigger ones.

That takes a lot of explanation, more than I have time to address tonight, but let me at least get started.

It’s complicated, which is why, in these last few months, when I’ve had so little time to blog, I’ve not addressed the topic. Especially since I knew nothing I could say would change anything — not my readers’ minds, and certainly not the president’s course of action. But the Taliban, with its rough impatience to oppress the country again, wasn’t polite enough to allow me to wait any longer. So, this being an opinion blog, I need to express some opinions now.

As y’all know, I am profoundly grateful that Joe Biden is our president. Not only did he save our country from Donald Trump by winning the election, he has taking office done a great many impressive things. Good things.

But there’s nobody I agree with on everything, and sometimes I disagree profoundly with even the best leaders, people I admire greatly.

In the past couple of years, since he launched his campaign in 2019, Joe Biden has done two things I disagreed with to that extent. The first was at the very start of the campaign, when he dropped his support for the Hyde Amendment. No, I don’t want to have another argument with any of y’all about abortion. But I mention it just to set up what I want to say about Afghanistan.

As I understand it, Biden abandoned what he believed about the Hyde Amendment because it seemed impossible, to him and his staff, for him to obtain the Democratic nomination without doing so. Democrats, who tend to congratulate themselves on their open-mindedness, have zero tolerance for anyone who opposes any facet of the party’s doctrinaire position on abortion. If he had held on to his principled position, he would not have become the Democratic nominee, and Donald Trump would still be president of the United States.

No one could have removed Trump from office except the right Democratic nominee. And Joe had lost the argument within the Democratic Party on the Hyde Amendment decades ago. A mere senator could get away with that. But not the party’s presidential nominee.

Similarly, those of us who believe the United States needed to stay in Afghanistan in order to prevent the Taliban from retaking the country lost our argument long, long ago. And not just in one party. The hordes of those who disagreed marched upon us from the left and right both, and overwhelmed us politically long before Joe became president. I suppose he decided he had no choice on Afghanistan in light of that, so he might as well get it out of the way to concentrate on all the other ambitious things he wanted to do. A simple matter of political pragmatism, like the change on the Hyde Amendment. LBJ badly wanted to accomplish so many things domestically, and hated having Vietnam on his hands. But he didn’t dare withdraw, and you see how he came out on that. Joe was avoiding that mistake. “Our leaders did that in Vietnam when I got here as a young man,” the president said today. “I will not do it in Afghanistan.”

In his earlier post, Bryan said his objection was tactical, not strategic. He’s not arguing we shouldn’t have left; he’s criticizing the way we did it. Well, my objection is strategic. Leaving was the wrong thing to do.

Note that I don’t disagree with Joe on the politics. As I said, our opponents across the spectrum “overwhelmed us politically” on this long ago. But that didn’t make us wrong. We are told that our venture in Afghanistan was a failure. It wasn’t. Note what I said above. I believe “the United States needed to stay in Afghanistan in order to prevent the Taliban from retaking the country.” And we did that, for 20 years. In perhaps the most fragmented, ungovernable (by Western notions of governance — stable administration, rule of law, etc.) large country in the world — or one that at least was in the running for the title. And it had been that way for centuries, if not millennia. (Don’t ask me to be more specific; I don’t claim to be a student of Afghan history going back to Alexander.)

The goal was not, in the phrase of those looking for a phrase that made our presence there seem as absurd as possible, to establish a “Jeffersonian democracy.” (I’m not sure I would embrace that as a goal even here. Madisonian, maybe.) We just needed it to be a place where the Taliban didn’t rule. Where the Taliban didn’t oppress the people, especially, to a shocking degree, the women and girls. And, from the purely practical American perspective, where the Taliban couldn’t provide a safe base for entities such as Al Qaeda.

Did our presence completely shut the Taliban out of power? No, they were always holding onto this or that piece of the country. But it was like that when the Taliban itself was the chief national power. Look up the Northern Alliance, for instance. Look up tribalism (we have Identity Politics; they have tribalism, with AK-47s). Afghanistan wasn’t a showplace for what the Taliban wanted any more than it would ever be for us.

But our presence there held them in check, kept them from sweeping in and doing whatever they could.

Our presence. Not our perfection. Not our 1945-style victory. Just our presence, which in and of itself was better, far better than our absence (ask those thousands of Afghans scrambling to get on one of the last rides out).

Not even our fighting. No U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan since February of 2020. Just our presence.

And here’s the thing: If we’re going to have this big, strong military, the forces should be positioned where their presence does some good. As it did in Afghanistan. What good does it do to have the troops in, say, Georgia or North Carolina or Texas, where they just sit around and train. Why not have them where they do good just by being there? As they have, say, in Germany since 1945?

Of course, if you don’t believe we should have this big, strong military, well then I can’t possibly say anything that will make any sense to you. I, for one, believe it is essential that the world’s largest, richest liberal democracy have the strongest military forces, rather than ceding that position to, say, China — which would love to be in that position. If you don’t agree, well, perhaps you want to go read something else.

And as long as we have that military, why hide it away in places where the only good it does is provide an artificial boost to the local economy?

This, of course, is what John McCain was talking about when he said the thing that made people from the extreme left to the extremer right regard him as a lunatic, saying that we might need to stay in Iraq for 100 years, or as he said in 2015, we might need a permanent presence in Afghanistan:

INSKEEP: Is the United States headed toward a permanent presence, then, in Afghanistan?

MCCAIN: Oh, I think we are, just as we have a permanent presence in South Korea and in Japan and in Germany and other places where we’ve fought conflicts. That does not mean that we would continue to see casualties, but I am totally sure that if we pull everybody out to the degree as it’s presently planned, we will see the Iraq movie again. And that is the place, I would remind you, where the 9/11 attacks were inaugurated….

I don’t know why people think that was crazy. It makes perfectly calm, reassuring sense to me. We’re not talking about, to use another favorite phrase of the “let’s get out” contingent, a “forever war.” We’re simply talking about a presence. One that might not be permanent, but let’s just call it that to keep the kids in the back seat from saying, “Are we there yet?” every five minutes.

After Bryan wrote his post earlier, he and I had a brief discussion via text. In that context, he agreed with me to this extent: “I think we should have kept a presence in Afghanistan, but my group of folks lost that argument.”

I responded,

Maybe you lost the argument, but you’re not commander in chief.

If I were commander in chief, and people wanted to abandon Afghanistan (which I agree they do want), they’d have to remove me from office to get it done.

I like to make dramatic statements like that, but I do have that kind of stubborn streak. I’d rather fail at many other things than hand over to the Taliban all those people who put their lives on the line to help us help their country — not to mention every single woman and girl in the country. That’s something I couldn’t live with, if I had the power to stop it. And if I lost my job for refusing to go along, well, I’ve lost jobs before.

What worries me is that so much more than Afghanistan is at stake. Joe Biden probably has no more important international task than restoring trust in the United States after the nightmare of the past four years. This collapse in Afghanistan does serious damage on that front. And as I suggested in my first graf above, the world can’t really afford that kind of lack of confidence in America.

I could go along and say Trump put Biden in this spot. He made an agreement that would have had us out in May; Joe at least delayed that. Some make that argument, while at the same time noting, as did Bryan, that there were better ways to do this.

The president — my president, I’m still proud to say — gave a good speech today about all of this. I admired it, mostly. And I agree with him on this: “After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces. That’s why we’re still there.”

But in my book, this wasn’t a good time, either…

He gave a good speech...

He gave a good speech…

 

 

It’s artificial, all right, but let’s not call it ‘intelligence’

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As y’all know, I worry a good bit about what the internet is doing to us. But I don’t worry about “artificial intelligence” taking over the planet in some deliberate, organized way like in “The Matrix.”

That’s because I don’t see it as intelligent, either in a bad way or a good way. Oh, it’s capable of some impressive tricks. Some of them, like Google Maps, I think are pretty wonderful. But intelligent? Nope. I worry about the things it does that are the opposite of intelligent. And I worry about how it’s making us dramatically less intelligent. That’s what all those “Rabbit Hole” posts are about.

And on the good, useful side of intelligence, I’m never going to trust it to operate any car that I or people I love are riding in — or driving next to. Yep, it can react more quickly and often more logically than a human to many situations. But it is so very, very far from being able to see and understand everything we do.

My email today provided two examples that brought all this to mind for me, yet again.

First… I recently wanted to re-read Post Captain, the second book in the Aubrey-Maturin series, for the first time in years. But I had lost my copy of it. I figured if I bought another, I might lose that, too. So I bought access to a Kindle version, which I can read on my iPad’s Kindle app.

And now, using the “brilliant” capabilities of Amazon’s recommendation code, it sends me invitations to read some other books in the series, having no clue that all of those are sitting, well-thumbed, on my bookshelves.

OK, you say, that seems reasonable. A clerk in a bookshop could make the same mistake. Seeing me buying Post Captain, he might reasonably say, “Hey, if that interests you, have you read the other 20 books in the series?” And I wouldn’t think he was stupid at all.

But that clerk isn’t the vaunted, imperial technology of Amazon, which supposedly has instantaneous access to everything about me that’s on the Web, and possesses an uncanny ability to process all that information and act effectively upon it, even to the point of planting (with my help!) two spies — my Echo devices — to listen to everything I ever say in the privacy of my home.

Which should not make it hard for it to know that I am a compulsive blogger — something not hidden at all, since the blog bears my name — who bores the ever-loving crapola out of all my readers by mentioning my Aubrey-Maturin mania over and over and over again, for years on end.

No, again, I’m not saying a human couldn’t make the mistake. But if a human being was in touch with all that information, and was able to process it constantly with superhuman speed, he wouldn’t make the mistake of thinking I haven’t read HMS Surprise. (The Stasi wouldn’t have made that mistake in even a casual effort to manipulate me, and East Germany ceased to exist well before the rise of artificial you-know-what.) So he would just suggest something else.

No, Amazon isn’t stupid for doing this. It’s just utterly failing to impress me with its supposedly amazing intelligence.

OK, I sense I’m losing you on that one. The example doesn’t come across as sufficiently stupid to you, even after I explain why it drew a snort of contempt from me.

So here’s another one. My Ancestry app has recently stopped defaulting to my tree when I open it. I have to tell it I want to open the tree after it has shown me various offers of really cool stuff that’s supposed to make me super-impressed at what Ancestry has to offer me.

And the one it keeps offering first is something it calls “your Photoline.” And there’s one of my great-great grandfathers, along with his son my great-grandfather, my Dad, and me.

I infer that Ancestry expects me to react like this:

Wow! That’s me! And there’s my Dad when he was young! I wonder who those other, old-timey guys are! Am I related to them? Can Ancestry really tell me amazing things like that? Where did it find all these pictures?

And so forth.

But here’s the thing: Ancestry has these pictures because I put them on my tree. Every single one of them. I not only scanned them, but I recognize the way I cropped them in Photoshop. I remember wondering whether I should remove that streak across the picture of me, and deciding to leave it because the streak is part of the story of the picture.

(That’s a mug someone at The Jackson Sun shot in the newsroom’s studio in 1985 to go with a story for the business page about the fact that I, the Sun‘s news editor, was leaving to become news editor of the Wichita paper. The streak is there because the Sun had recently started trying to save photographers’ time by shooting such routine mug shots with a Polaroid camera. They’re quicker, but often they leave streaks like that — which I suppose makes them sort of like “artificial intelligence.” I’ve always liked the picture anyway, including the cocky grin I had, because I didn’t know yet what an awful place to work the Wichita paper would be.)

There’s some human stupidity here, too. A human thought this would be a great way to pull people into Ancestry, and wrote (or caused to be written) the code that would automatically skim the database for such pictures, and match them up. And it might have impressed someone utterly clueless, like those celebrity guests on that PBS show who are so amazed to learn who their grandparents were.

But why doesn’t this brilliant code know where it got the pictures, which was from me, the guy it’s trying to impress? It doesn’t seem like that would take many ones and zeroes at all. It seems like the one thing it ought to know the most easily. Even a pretty dumb human would know that.

Anyway, I’m not worried about this kind of intelligence taking over. Oh, it can perhaps destroy society, by destroying our ability to think clearly. But it can’t run the place… or drive a car to my satisfaction, either…

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Oh, and don’t even get me started on referring to a single person as “them.” Of course, plenty of human do that, unfortunately…

How about if we pay attention to reality instead?

Oh, look -- Henry's "urging" vaccines! But read the actual story. The news is that he's NOT mandating masks, and he's only URGING vaccines....

Oh, look — Henry’s “urging” vaccines! But read the actual story. The news is that he’s NOT mandating masks, and he’s only URGING vaccines….

For a couple of months, I’ve had in mind a certain blog post, but haven’t written it because of the time it would take — time I don’t have. The basic idea was this: As you know, I’m sick and tired of the usual stupid news stories with ideologues yelling about whether people should, for instance, wear masks in public.

My idea was to contrast that with the real world. When I go out in public — to the grocery, to Lowe’s, to Walmart, and especially to medical facilities (which I visit a lot, usually to take my parents to appointments), people, generally speaking, wear masks. Everyone does at the medical facilities, because otherwise they don’t get in. Elsewhere, sure, fewer people were wearing them, but it was never perfect. Even at the worst moments of 2020, there were always some twits who didn’t wear them — in places where folks in charge lacked the nerve to enforce the rules. This summer, the numbers of maskless were greater — even serious people were starting to think they didn’t have to — but it wasn’t some ideological war. Reality was complicated, and most people were trying to be sensible.

But I missed my time for writing that. In recent days, things have changed. For instance, on a personal level, last night my wife told her high school classmates she would not be attending the 50th reunion in Memphis. Everyone else in the class was sending in similar messages. She attending a Catholic girls’ school that had only 37 seniors graduating in 1971. Of those, 22 had planned to attend. Now none are going, so once again the event is postponed.

This morning, she followed that up with a note of regret that she would not be attending a wedding she had planned to go to while in Memphis.

As she did these things, I nodded, because it seemed consistent with what I’ve seen around us in recent days — hospital beds filling back up, people re-evaluating gatherings and resuming precautions when they go out, all because of such factors as the Delta variant and the insanely large number of people who have refused to get vaccinated. Here and there, you even see a report of someone who had refused but has wised up.

Normal, rational human behavior — people adjusting to shifting circumstances. All that is in the real world in which we live.

But then I look at the world being described most prominently in media we consume — from mainstream to social. And I see the idiotic ideological arguments, the same taking of absurd positions that would be laughable if they weren’t so harmful to public health.

You know what I’m talking about. Locally, our alleged “governor” continuing to refuse to take any responsibility for public health. (At least he’s consistent, right? This is what the majority out there voted for, to its great shame, in 2018.) Our attorney general reaching out to try to prevent other elected officials from taking any such responsibility as well. Other such behavior across the country, from local to federal levels.

Occasionally, I comment, usually on social media, when things get really far from reality:

But mostly, I just look around and wish I could see more reporting on what’s really going on, and less about what stupid things “leaders” who refuse to lead are prattling about.

Sometimes I do see it. For instance, there was this, put out by The State in the past 24 hours:

Lexington Medical Center is experiencing a critical shortage of intensive care unit beds as it approaches a record-high number of COVID-19 patients, hospital officials said.

More than 90% of the West Columbia hospital’s 557 beds were occupied Tuesday morning, including 146, or about 26%, of which were filled with coronavirus patients, Lexington Medical Center spokeswoman Jennifer Wilson said.

“We are approaching our highest number of COVID patients hospitalized at one time ever,” said Wilson, who added that the situation at Lexington Medical Center was “very serious” and encouraged South Carolinians to get vaccinated.

The vast majority of the hospital’s COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated, she said.

Only 16% of coronavirus inpatients at Lexington Medical are vaccinated, and just three of the 43 COVID-19 patients in the hospital’s ICU are fully dosed….

That’s about the hospital that you can see from the street I live on, if you walk down that street a bit to get a better angle on it. What’s going on there, and in the hospitals across South Carolina — and the nation, and the world — is infinitely more important to me than the pronouncements of people who have made it startlingly clear, over and over, that they will in no way do or say anything that reflects what’s happening in the world.

Oh, and by the way, Jennifer Wilson — quoted in that news item I cited above — is married to that same attorney general mentioned above. The difference between them is that she lives and works in the real world, while her husband lives in one in which continued employment depends on showing people you are devoted to Trumpism.

Yes, reporters should continue to cover what the governor and AG say and do. Who knows, they might even run across a “man bites dog” story like this one from Arkansas: Arkansas’ governor says it ‘was an error’ to ban mask mandates. You know, a point at which reality and Republican political speech actually coincide.

Maybe someday our governor will stop trying to outstupid Texas, and instead endeavor to outsmart Arkansas.

But while you wait for that actual astounding news to develop, cover the reality more, please…

House begins a shadowy reapportionment process

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We have this report today from Lynn Teague, to whom we owe so much for her diligence in following this process:

Making Democracy Work in SC: House Redistricting Ad Hoc Committee meets

 The House held the first meeting of their Redistricting Ad Hoc Committee this morning, Tuesday, August 3, in Room 110 of the Blatt Building. The committee includes Chairman Jay Jordan, Jr., and representatives Bamberg, Bernstein, Collins, Elliott, Henegan, Brandon Newton and Weston Newton.

After a lengthy delay in starting, the committee discussed – without revealing – a schedule for public hearings on redistricting. The meetings will occur well after August 16 receipt of Census Bureau data and will end on October 4. In response to a question from the committee, Chairman Jordan indicated that the House will not allow virtual testimony from the public, despite growing pandemic conditions. Technical difficulties were cited as the reason.

Since the General Assembly is expected to return at a date (not yet announced) in October and vote on final maps, it seems likely that the House hearings will be focused on giving the public a look at the maps that the House committee has decided to propose.

The House public meetings will not address criteria because that was decided today without public input. The committee voted (with no discussion from any member) to adopt the previous House guidelines. I have attached those to this Update. Incumbent protection will continue to be an accepted criterion and indeed a priority.

We were told that the public hearing schedule will be posted at some time, possibly today but possibly later. Chairman Jordan suggested that the public look for the webpage link under the list of House Judiciary subcommittees at www.scstatehouse.gov. In 2011 the information was posted at www.redistricting.schouse.gov, but at present that page is not available.

Lynn

Lynn Shuler Teague

VP for Issues and Action, LWVSC

Note that there will be no virtual testimony from the public because of alleged “technical difficulties.” The public will get a look at the maps once the House has decided upon them. But don’t worry; everything is well in hand: “Incumbent protection will continue to be an accepted criterion and indeed a priority.”

So no worries, right?

Meanwhile, here are those guidelines reaffirmed without public input:

2011 (and now 2021) Guidelines and Criteria For Congressional and Legislative Redistricting

The South Carolina House of Representatives, the House Judiciary Committee, and the House Election Laws Subcommittee have the authority to determine the criteria that the South Carolina House of Representatives will use to create Congressional and legislative districts. Therefore, the Election Laws Subcommittee of the South Carolina House of Representatives adopts as its criteria these guidelines and criteria.

  1. Constitutional Law

Redistricting plans shall comply with the United States Constitution and the opinions of the United States Supreme Court.

  1. Voting Rights Act.

Redistricting plans shall comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended. Pursuant to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and in accordance with the opinions of the Supreme Court, race may be a factor considered in the creation of redistricting plans, but it must not be the predominant factor motivating the legislature’s decisions concerning the redistricting plan and

must not unconstitutionally predominate over other criteria set forth in these guidelines. The dilution of racial or ethnic minority voting strength is contrary to the laws of the United States and of the State of South Carolina, and also is against the public policy of this state. Accordingly, these criteria are subordinate to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended, and the laws of the United States or of the State of South Carolina. Any proposed redistricting plan that is demonstrated to have the intent or effect of dispersing or concentrating minority population in a manner that prevents minorities from electing their candidates of choice will neither be accepted nor approved.

III. State Constitution and Laws.

Except as otherwise required by the Constitution and laws of the United States, redistricting plans also shall comply with the South Carolina Constitution and the laws of this state.

  1. Equal Population/Deviation
  2. The population of the Congressional and legislative districts will be determined based solely on the enumeration of the 2010 federal decennial census pursuant to the United States Constitution, Article I, Section 2.
  3. The number of persons in Congressional districts shall be nearly equal as is practicable. The ideal population for Congressional districts shall be 660,766. In every case, efforts shall be made to achieve strict equality or produce the lowest overall range of deviation possible when taking into consideration geographic limitations.
  4. The ideal population for a South Carolina House of Representatives district shall be 37,301. In every case, efforts should be made to limit the overall range of deviation from the ideal population to less than five percent, or a relative deviation in excess of plus or minus two and one-half percent for each South Carolina House district. Nevertheless, any overall deviation greater than five percent from equality of population among South Carolina House districts shall be justified when it is the result of geographic limitations, the promotion of a constitutionally permissible state policy, or to otherwise comply with the criteria identified in these guidelines.
  5. Contiguity

Congressional and legislative districts shall be comprised of contiguous territory. Contiguity by water is sufficient. Areas which meet only at the points of adjoining corners shall not be considered contiguous.

  1. Compactness

Congressional and legislative districts shall be compact in form and shall follow census geography. Bizarre shapes are to be avoided except when required by one or more of the following factors: (a) census geography; (b) efforts to achieve equal population, as is practicable; or (c) efforts to comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended. Compactness may require the division of population concentrations when to do otherwise would mean dramatically altering the character of a district or would require tortuous configuration of an adjoining district.

Compactness will be judged in part by the configuration of prior plans. Particular reference will be made to prior plans implemented after the 2000 census because these configurations more accurately reflect the present realities imposed by the state’s most recent ongoing population shifts. Compactness will not be judged based upon any mathematical, statistical, or formula-based calculation or determination.

VII. Communities Of Interest

Communities of interest shall be considered in the redistricting process. A variety of factors may contribute to a community of interest including, but not limited to the following: (a) economic; (b) social and cultural; (c) historic influences; (d) political beliefs; (e) voting behavior; (f) governmental services; (g) commonality of communications; and (h) geographic location and features. Communities of interest shall be considered and balanced by the Election Laws Subcommittee, the House Judiciary Committee, and the South Carolina House of Representatives. County boundaries, municipality boundaries, and precinct lines (as represented by the Census Bureau’s Voting Tabulation District lines) may be considered as evidence of communities of interest to be balanced, but will be given no greater weight, as a matter of state policy, than other identifiable communities of interest.

It is possible that competing communities of interest will be identified during the redistricting process. Although it may not be possible to accommodate all communities of interests, the Election Laws Subcommittee, the House Judiciary Committee, and the South Carolina House of Representatives will attempt to accommodate diverse communities of interest to the extent possible.

VIII. Incumbency Protection

Incumbency protection shall be considered in the reapportionment process. Reasonable efforts shall be made to ensure that incumbent legislators remain in their current districts. Reasonable efforts shall be made to ensure that incumbent legislators are not placed into districts where they will be compelled to run against other incumbent members of the South Carolina House of Representatives.

  1. Priority Of Criteria
  2. In establishing congressional and legislative districts, all criteria identified in these guidelines shall be considered. However, if there is a conflict among the requirements of these guidelines, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (as amended), equality of population among districts, and the United States Constitution shall be given priority.
  3. If application of the criteria set forth in these guidelines will cause a violation of applicable constitutional, federal, or state law, and there is no other way to conform to the criteria without a violation of law, deviations from the criteria are permitted. However, any deviation from the criteria shall not be any more than necessary to avoid the violation of law, and the remainder of the redistricting plan shall remain faithful to the criteria.
  4. Public Input

Subcommittee shall make reasonable efforts to be transparent and allow public input into the redistricting process.

What? You mean that guy’s still governor of New York?

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About a week ago, I ran across the name of Andrew Cuomo in The New York Times, and saw that they still referred to him as “governor.” (Or maybe just “Gov.” before his name. I can’t find the piece right now.)

I hadn’t seen the name in awhile, and my first reaction was, Really? That guy is still governor of the state of New York?

And when I got this notification on my phone this morning, I had the same thought again: “New York Gov. Cuomo Sexually Harassed Multiple Women, Investigation Finds.

Well, actually, I had two thoughts. The first one was to the statement in the headline itself: Yeah, we all knew that.

The second thought was Really? You mean that guy is still governor up there?

Perhaps you will have other thoughts. Personally, I dismissed this sleazeball quite a while back. I see that I last made a reference to him here, in an open thread on March 10:

What about that Cuomo guy? — I’ve never paid much attention to this guy, which was probably wise on my part. I’m not hearing anything good about him. And I don’t just mean the nursing-home deaths. I mean, who hires a 25-year-old “health adviser?” This guy does, if he likes her looks. Wow. Have you seen the picture included with this story about the gov making his unwelcome moves on a tiny, vulnerable, appalled young woman? He looks like Dracula with his latest victim. What a jerk. By the way, I have a problem with the hed to that Gail Collins column I linked to above: “Sex and the Single Governor.” He married Kerry Kennedy in 1990 and they have three kids. Yeah, they divorced in 2005. But he’s Catholic; she’s Catholic. He’s not “single.”

Yo, New York: Deal with your problem. We have enough headaches dealing with the various absurdities cranked out on a regular basis by our own governor. I don’t have time to waste worrying about yours

Missing the point on gerrymandering

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As y’all know, I’m no fan of Identity Politics. Often, though, I seem to fail to explain why to the satisfaction of all my readers. Let me try again.

Today, I eagerly called up an op-ed piece in The Washington Post that was headlined, “The voting fix that cannot wait: Stopping partisan gerrymandering.” I did so harrumphing to myself, Yes, yes, quite right…

But it wasn’t quite right at all. The writer seemed to fail to understand why gerrymandering is a problem, one that is perverting our politics and tearing the country apart. He starts out this way:

The recent wave of voter suppression laws has rightly drawn much attention. But another, even more pernicious wave of anti-voter laws will begin shortly: the redrawing of congressional maps. Unless Congress acts quickly, Americans are on the verge of some of the most aggressive gerrymandering in the country’s history. Inevitably, communities of color, which provided almost all of the country’s growth over the past decade, will bear the brunt of this anti-democratic line-drawing….

His misconception of the problem with the way we redistrict wasn’t confined to his lede. He kept coming back to it again…

Such a ban — along with beefed-up remedies for abuses and uniform standards for drawing maps, including strengthened protections for communities of color — would amount to the most consequential federal redistricting legislation in history….

And again…

What can we expect going forward? In the South, where most of the redistricting hot spots are located, gerrymanders historically have come at the expense of communities of color. This cycle could be even worse….

And again…

Federal legislation would transform how congressional districts are drawn, stepping in where the Supreme Court has stepped out, to restore fairness to the process and strengthen frayed legal protections for communities of color. It also would make it easier and faster for voters to challenge politically or racially discriminatory maps in court, and for the first time require meaningful transparency in a process that historically has taken place behind closed doors….

“Color” appears five times in the piece. Worse, there’s not a mention of “extremism” or “radicalization.” Which, of course, is the real problem with letting the party in power draw the lines for the next decade’s elections: It not only turns primaries into the real election, but causes those primaries to be contests to see which candidate can best appeal to the most committed extremists — the most loyal voters in such party contests. And election after election, the incumbents go farther and farther out on the wings in order to chase away nuttier opponents in the next primary. The members of the two parties give up talking across the aisle, and our republic falls apart.

And if you make the conversation about race, you help them do it. We’ve seen this in every reapportionment since 1990. That’s when Republicans discovered that if they draw a few more “majority-minority districts,” they can create a LOT more unnaturally white districts. Herding all the minorities into (as we’ve seen in South Carolina) a single congressional district, for instance, guarantees that the rest of the state’s delegation will be (with the occasionally brief exception such as the one we saw in the 1st District from 2018 to 2020), fully Republican.

And in election after election, the incumbents and certainly their challengers get more and more extreme. As we saw during the Tea Party and Freedom Caucus stages, leading to the insanity of Trumpism. And now we have a crowd lining up to toss out Tom Rice for the sin of failing to worship the idiot who is their master with sufficient ardor.

Bottom line, if you make it about race, you not only fail to address the real problem, but you can make it worse. As we’ve seen.

What we need is diverse districts — diverse in ways that go far beyond the superficial measure of the color of voters’ skins — that reflect entire, real communities. Not “communities of color” (which apparently is this column writer’s favorite phrase) or communities of ideological nutballs, but true communities that include all people, and elect representatives who try in good faith to serve all of those people.

That’s the only way to save the country from gerrymandering…