DeMarco: A New Confederate Statue?

The Op-Ed Page

Florence County Museum.

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

Casting a likeness in bronze and setting it on public property establishes a long-term relationship between a community and the person being honored. Some communities, spurred by an awakened consciousness of the messages Confederate statues send, have chosen to remove them. Others have added markers to provide a broader historical context than the monument alone provides.

But few are placing new statues to honor Confederates. Enter Florence County Council, which has decided by a 5-4 vote that 2022 was finally the time for Florence to do so. “This guy (William Wallace Harllee) formed the reason the town is here,” Council member and statue supporter Kent Caudle told The Post and Courier. “I don’t think that has anything to do with racism.”

Placing a statue because it acknowledges a historical person or event is not rationale enough. Those who argue that statues teach us history misunderstand their purpose. There is not enough bronze in the world to properly convey a complete picture of Florence’s 150 years of history. Learning that history requires reading, walking the streets, visiting the museum, and talking with those whose families have lived there for generations.

Statues accomplish a different objective. The best statues are about our values and our future. They capture someone whose life embodies important and timeless principles, ones that can continue to guide us. The worst statues point only backwards, evincing nostalgia for a romanticized version of the past.

Weighing a person’s life is an uncomfortable but critical part of the process. The key is to determine the person’s primary legacy. Lincoln had disabling bouts of depression and, although he always opposed slavery, whether he truly believed blacks were the equals of whites is a question historians still debate. But summing up Lincoln’s life, these are just footnotes. He was the Great Emancipator and Commander-in-Chief in the war that preserved the Union.

The County Council should apply a similar rubric to their decision to place a statue of Harllee at the Florence County Museum. Here is how I would encapsulate his life: He was a lawyer, businessman, military officer, and legislator from the Pee Dee who was lieutenant governor from 1860-1862, during the time South Carolina seceded from the Union. The fact that Florence is named after his daughter is a footnote in his story.

It seems strange that the County Council would want to honor this man, even stranger that it would override the museum board’s unanimous vote rejecting displaying the statue on museum property.

Perhaps if Gen. Harllee had a strong connection to Florence or had been an important part of the city’s development, it might make more sense. Gen. Harllee did found the Wilmington and Manchester Railroad in 1852, which was first railroad to locate a depot near what would become Florence. However, Harllee resigned from the company in 1855. Florence was not established until 1872, and Harllee did not live there until 1889. Florence Harllee’s obituary from 1925 states that the railroad construction superintendent, Colonel Fleming, gave the depot the name Florence during its construction circa 1853.

The statue, which is titled “This Place Will Be Called In Your Name, Florence” and shows a larger-than-life Harllee standing beside a railroad track with his left hand on Florence’s shoulder, is deceiving. It invites us to believe we are seeing Gen. Harllee sharing with his daughter a vision of the great metropolis into which her namesake city will grow. However, it appears that Gen. Harllee had no such vision; it was someone else who suggested the name.

The lives of Gen. Harllee and Florence are well documented in the museum as well as online. The sculpture, in the vein of other Lost Cause memorials, attempts to rewrite and idealize the city’s history. Some cities are named after giants. Florence is named after the daughter of a secessionist who oversaw South Carolina’s decision to go to war for the right to continue to enslave. This is a history to be overcome, not to be celebrated.

I do not intend to besmirch the name of the daughter, Florence. She was a devout woman who was proud of her city. She lived more than three decades in Florence, and served the community as a teacher. At one point, Florence was her town’s librarian.

It’s doubtful that Florence would have enjoyed all the fuss we are currently making. According to an article in the Florence News Journal in 2015, she was “quiet and unassuming.” In 1923, when she was seventy-four, she was invited to an elaborate celebration marking the opening of a bridge spanning the Great Pee Dee River to connect Florence and Marion counties. Seats for her and several other family members were reserved, and she was to be publicly recognized. The article reports that Florence said “The very idea of being willing to make a spectacle of ourselves!” and wrote back to the planning committee to politely decline their invitation.

Harllee’s ancestors and other admirers had every right to commission this sculpture. But it is a private homage and up to them to find private property on which to display it (although I would urge them not to display it at all). No public funds should be spent on it nor should it be displayed on public property, because it doesn’t do what public sculpture must do: ignite a sense of shared purpose, reminding us of those in our past whose values can propel us into the future.

Paul DeMarco is a physician who resides in Marion, SC. Reach him at pvdemarco@bellsouth.net. A version of this article appeared in the Florence Morning News on 8/17/22.

Postscript: On 8/18, the members of the Florence County Council voted unanimously to reverse their decision after receiving a letter on 8/15 from the Harllee Memorial Statue Committee asking them to do so. The letter stated “It was never the intent of the Harllee Memorial Sculpture Committee to cause any division in this great and prosperous community where we live, work, play, learn and enjoy life.” The Florence branch of the NAACP deserves the credit for mobilizing the community. The council had already received the letter by the time my column was published, so it likely played no role in their decision. I’m just glad they came to their senses so quickly.

Thank goodness I didn’t try eating haggis

Nor did I make myself watch “Braveheart,” on the off chance I would like it better this time.

In fact, I made no effort to acclimate myself to being Scottish, in spite of Ancestry’s bold claim that I was 52 percent thataway. Oh, when my wife and I were discussing where in the world we should travel to next, I mentioned that maybe I had a sort of ancestral obligation to try out Scotland — but I didn’t push it. Frankly, I’d rather go back to England or Ireland — or maybe Wales.

Bottom line, though, I never really believed it. And in spite of Ancestry’s long disinformation campaign of declaring me more and more Scottish — boosting me from a negligible amount to 40 percent, then 48 percent, and then, earlier this year, to 53 percent! — I retained my doubts. And I hoped Ancestry would realize its mistake, and start dialing it back.

Which they have now done, to a rather dramatic degree:

So now, I’m allegedly somewhat more Scots than anything else, but not mostly Scottish. I now await the next adjustment, which should get us back down to something based more in fact. Which means more English, and a good bit more Irish.

Nothing against being Scottish, mind you. It’s just that I don’t think its accurate, based on my family tree. Near as I can tell, I’m mostly English, followed by Welsh, Irish and Scottish all vying for a distant second.

Of course, as I’ve acknowledged before, this may just be because the English managed to keep better records — while busy lording it over those other three groups (and likely destroying a lot of those records). It’s particularly difficult tracing ancestors once they get back to Ireland. I can get them back there, but once in Ireland, they seem to have had no parents or any other antecedents.

But this latest assessment seems closer to reality…

The Ned Stark gimmick

Apparently, a prequel to “Game of Thrones” is about to air, and some folks are very excited about it.

Perhaps you are among them. I am not, although I confess I made a point of watching the original series. Each year that a new season appeared, I signed up for HBO Now (later succeeded by HBO Max) for a few weeks to watch it — and catch up with such things as “Barry.”

I found it entertaining in its own weird way, but was not a fan in the original sense of a fanatic. For instance, I wasn’t the sort to sign petitions demanding that the final season be reshot with a different ending. I thought the ending was fine. I mean, come on — Daenerys needed to go, and if you can’t see that, I suspect you might be one of those who believes the 2020 presidential election was stolen. And the ways the writers tied up the other loose ends were, I suppose, satisfactory. Time to move on, people.

Now the prequel is about to start, which I know because this morning The Washington Post went on and on about it, in five separate stories by my count. You see four of them in the screengrab above. And no, I’m not planning to sign up for HBO Max to watch it. I did skim through some of the stories, though.

For instance, this one, which tries to parse the alleged 6,887 deaths that occurred in the series, began with this (I’d say SPOILER ALERT here, but if you don’t know this, you obviously don’t care about the topic, and therefore haven’t read this far):

The season that started it all. When Ned Stark, the main hero and character supposedly least at risk, was beheaded, viewers everywhere realized that no one was safe.

Exactly. And this reminds me why, from the very beginning, I would never love this series. I don’t like being manipulated that way.

And this was major-league manipulation. You have bewilderingly numerous cast of actors you’ve never seen before (with the possible exception of Aidan Gillen, if you’re a fan of “The Wire”), but you know Sean Bean, right? And he’s the hero, right? So at the end of the first season, he gets killed off, so that two things will happen:

  1. You’ll get more invested in the other characters, whom you’ve sort of gotten to know over the course of the first season.
  2. You’ve been shocked into believing, with all your heart, that anybody can get killed at any time, which adds suspense during every subsequent second of the rest of the series. (Which only makes the Red Wedding slightly less shocking.)

(And no, this was not a big surprise to those who had read the books, I suppose, but I’m not a member of that set.)

Anyway, I had seen this before, and the first time, I was more impressed by it. Remember the opening scene of “The Hurt Locker?” It starts with Guy Pearce, as a bomb-disposal specialist, getting suited up to approach and disarm an IED. Every little detail of the scene persuades you that he will be the star of the show. He’s obviously the central character of this scene, suiting up for his task with a certain heroic elan. And you know him, from L.A. Confidential and, more impressively, from “Memento.” He’s the only then-famous actor in the whole movie, with the exception of the brilliant David Morse, whose later scene as a wound-too-tight colonel pretty much steals the movie.

And then, in that very first scene (SPOILER ALERT, although you’ve certainly seen this coming), he gets blown up. And the “star” of the rest of the movie is Jeremy Renner, whom at this point in his career, you’ve probably never seen before. (Really. Check out IMDB for any major flicks in which he was the star before this one.)

And you watch the rest of the film thinking, “This nobody could get blown up any second. Hey, they killed off Guy Pearce at the very beginning!”

This is such an obvious and effective gimmick that I’m sure Hollywood had used it before. Maybe you can give me a Top Five list of previous films that did the same thing. (In fact, here’s such a list on which Guy Pearce shows up as No. 6.) But this was the first time I really noticed it, and identified all the elements. It was quite well done. And it impressed me.

When I saw it again in “Game of Thrones,” I was far less impressed. In fact, I was kind of ticked, particularly since they didn’t hit me with it until I had watched a whole season.

Next time I see it, I’ll probably just stop watching…

Guy Pearce, in the opening scene of “The Hurt Locker.”

Well, I had a leg up on THAT question, anyway…

And I did really well — 10 out of 12 questions right!

But it wasn’t good enough. My score of 40 on the Slate News Quiz was edged out by Bill Carey, who is the editorial director for strategy (whatever that is) at Slate, and Mr. Average just squeaked by at 408.

Of course, I wouldn’t have done even that well if not for the gimme question you see above. And I admit I got lucky on guesses on a couple of others. Educated guesses, of course.

Here’s hoping you do better. As practically everyone does, time after time…

 

I’m a bit obsessed with my iPad, and my iPhone knows it

I hardly go anywhere without my iPad.

Certainly not if I’m going somewhere work-related — a meeting or an interview or whatever — because it’s easy to carry and can perform most work-related functions.

But I don’t go on vacation without it, either. And in the past, I haven’t even left the hotel or B&B without it. When we went to Thailand and Hawaii several years ago, I carried it in a drawstring bad strapped across my chest (I long ago outgrew the trying-to-look-cool thing) or back. See the embarrassing image below.

But by the time we went to Ireland and then to Boston, I’d decided if I absolutely had to do something while walking about on vacation, my phone would do. If I can keep the blasted thing charged.

Still, the iPad goes with me nearly everywhere.

And my iPhone has noticed. Lately, it’s been acting a bit sarcastic about it. Every time I leave the house now — for a walk, or to go to the grocery — I’ve started getting these notifications, like the one above, as soon as I’m a few blocks from the house.

They’re like, “Hey, you — it looks like you left your baby behind! Don’t you want to run back home and get it?”

OK, so maybe this isn’t petulance on the part of the phone. It seems to have started when I allowed the iPad to update its operating system recently. And there seems to be an easy way to turn off such notifications.

But… maybe one of these times, I really would want to go back and get it. So I’m leaving it on for now. I’ll just have to see how much it bugs me going forward…

Here I am with me mate Mark, whom I met on the road to Kanchanaburi in 2015. He’s a retired roofer from England. Note that in addition to the drawstring bag, I’m wearing my tropical-weight travel vest. So I’m really not kidding when I say I’ve outgrown trying to look cool on the road.

 

There go the trees…

There they go…

I’m sitting here uneasily listening to the buzzing of chainsaws right behind me. Followed by booms.

The trees are coming down today, having been struck by lightning last month.

It happened the first night we were in Boston. July 7.

It had been a long day, flying in from Columbia, with a brief stop at LaGuardia. We had ridden around Boston to get our bearings, then checked into our B&B in Newton before walking around that area — checking out the location of the dance studio where the twins had their training with Boston Ballet, and other local features. We’d been up since 3:30 a.m., had put in 18,515 steps, and were ready to relax when we went to have dinner at O’Hara’s Food & Spirits on Walnut St.

My wife had ordered a chicken pot pie, while I had chosen the broiled steak tips, with a Guinness to wash it down. The food had arrived, and we had just started enjoying it when… I got a text from our neighbor in West Columbia.

A shot my neighbor took that night. Note the Harry-Potter-scar effect…

He was checking on us to see if we were still alive. He was wondering why we hadn’t come out to see what had happened in our front yard — on account of the loud, booming crash. He had had a perfect view of it. He’d been in his garage watching the storm we knew nothing about, and his garage door perfectly framed the spectacle.

He said it was really something — the light flashed around multiple trees in the yard in various colors. He said it seemed to go on for about 10 seconds. He wished he’d shot video. Then, as soon as he said that, he apologized for seeming to speak of the event as a source of entertainment. I said no, don’t concern yourself — I wished he’d gotten video, too. I’d like to have seen it.

He did his best, though, going over and shooting some pictures of the damage. It was pretty spectacular, without the light show. There were streaks of stripped-away bark on at least three of the trees — a couple of pines and a sweetgum.

After we got back, we watched the pine nearest our house start going brown. I had an arborist out to look the situation over, and he said that one would definitely have to go, and mostly likely a couple of others as well. In the end, we decided to say goodbye to five of them, and they’re coming down now.

Mind you, this was not an isolated incident. We’ve had a rash of this sort of thing on our street lately. A neighbor across the other street (we’re on a corner) had trees behind the house hit a week or so before we did, and those came down just recently. They also had some damage in the house, from the charge running to it underground.

What greeted us when we got home…

We had a bit of that ourselves. At the bottoms of the streaks down the trees were pits where earth had been blasted away, and then trenches dug toward the house where the roots ran. But the damage was minimal. It put two HD TV antennas — the kind you put in a window — out of action, without harming the TVs. It also, I just realized to my sorrow a couple of days ago, destroyed the electronics of my elliptical trainer — which was plugged into the same outlet as one of the antennae, on the same side of the house as the trees.

The worst damage, the thing that worried us the whole time we were in Boston, was that our upstairs air-conditioning went out. When my son checked on things the day after the storm, he found it was 105 degrees up here, so he turned the system off.

But we lucked out there. The only damage was to a valve, the loss of which had confused the system so that it was trying to cool the house by blowing heat. It was easy, and cheap, to fix.

The biggest deal is what’s happening now — the felling of the trees.

After this, the view from our house will be radically different. See that house across the street in the picture below (this is the other street, not the one from which my neighbor witnessed the event)? We’ll have a perfect, unobstructed view of that house after today, since all five trees between us and it will go.

Maybe we’ll plant something in place of them. I’m thinking a Japanese maple. Those are pretty cool…

We’ll have a perfectly clear view of my neighbor’s house when we’re done.

A quick follow-up on that Will column…

Oh my, look! THERE’S an attractive candidate…

If you read the piece that inspired the previous post, you know that Will launched into his topic about the debasement of our politics and our political journalism with the observation that for the likes of Josh Hawley, it’s not about getting anything done, or saying anything meaningful (in his case, certainly not!) — it’s about getting attention.

Like an infant feeling ignored and seeking attention by banging his spoon on his highchair tray, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) last week cast the only vote against admitting Finland and Sweden to NATO. He said adding the two militarily proficient Russian neighbors to NATO would somehow weaken U.S. deterrence of China.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who is an adult and hence not invariably collegial, said: “It would be strange indeed for any senator who voted to allow Montenegro or North Macedonia into NATO to turn around and deny membership to Finland and Sweden.” That evening, Hawley appeared on Fox News to receive Tucker Carlson’s benediction….

Which, for someone like Hawley, is the point.

Anyway, I was reminded of that point this morning when I saw, and reacted to, this: “Cunningham wants end of ‘geriatric’ politicians. Will it cost him help from Biden, Clyburn?

My response was to say:

But I decided to post this to take it to the next step, which is to point out the connection to what Will was saying yesterday. You don’t have to look far. It’s the lede of The State‘s story:

Joe Cunningham made national headlines when he suggested an end to the “geriatric oligarchy” in political office and said on national television that President Joe Biden should step aside in 2024 and let someone younger run…

You see, he “made national headlines!” He got “on national television!” How terribly exciting. What more could he want?

Well, I’ll tell you what more I want, as a voter. I’d like him to step up and tell me why he, Joe Cunningham, would be a better governor than Henry McMaster. That shouldn’t be hard, if he has anything to say in his behalf at all.

And no, being younger doesn’t cut it. Just as it wouldn’t if you boasted that you are white, and male. I’m looking for something a tad more substantial than that. Yeah, I’m picky…

The nonreading public, and the media that serve it

George Will had a good piece yesterday. It offered multiple levels upon which you could enjoy it.

There was the headline, of course: “Josh Hawley, senator-as-symptom of a broken news business.” But it’s not really about that insufferable little twerp — although you may enjoy the link Will provides toward the end (rendered above in gif form), showing him skedaddling away from his good friends in the Jan. 6 mob. (Frank Bruni had some fun with that as well, in light of Hawley’s new book, which is, hilariously, about being a man.)

It was more about… well, here’s the most appropriate excerpt:

… (T)oday’s journalism has a supply-side problem — that is, supplying synthetic controversies:

“What did Trump say? What did Nancy Pelosi say about what Trump said? What did Kevin McCarthy say about what Pelosi said about what Trump said? What did Sean Hannity say about what Rachel Maddow said about what McCarthy said about what Pelosi said about what Trump said?”

But journalism also has a demand-side problem: Time was, journalists assumed that news consumers demanded “more information, faster and better.” Now, instantaneous communication via passive media — video and television — supplies what indolent consumers demand.

More than half of Americans between ages 16 and 74 read below the sixth-grade level. Video, however, requires only eyes on screens. But such passive media cannot communicate a civilization defined by ideas. Our creedal nation, Stirewalt says, “requires written words and a common culture in which to understand them.”…

The first part of that provides a certain understanding of what is wrong with today’s political journalism, and we can talk about that all day. Will employs the analogy I’ve used a gazillion time in recent decades about how reporters cover politics the way they would sports — there are only two sides to anything, and all we care about is which of the two wins, to the extent that we care.

Of course, that’s an insult to sports, the more I think about it. Actual sports contain far more nuance, variety, color and humanity than the ones-and-zeroes coverage we get of politics these days.

But the thing that really grabbed me was this one sentence:

More than half of Americans between ages 16 and 74 read below the sixth-grade level.

It grabbed me not simply because such low levels of literacy are distressing in themselves. It’s because of the larger point Will is making, which is that in an atmosphere of such plunging intellectual engagement, we’ve seen political journalism change “from reporting what had happened to reporting what was happening, and now to giving passive news consumers the emotional experience of having their political beliefs ratified.”

And that’s the essential problem, or at least one of the essential problems. To engage with politics meaningfully and constructively requires the active mental process of reading. The passive mob, engaged only to the extent of its members’ sense of identity with one of the two sides (and there can only be two, under the current rules of the stupid game), cannot possibly maintain a healthy, vital republic of the sort our Founders established.

To be a citizen, you can’t just twitch. Nor can you merely go about feeling strongly about this or that. You have to think. And of course, we don’t see very much of that anymore…

 

The Hero’s Journey

Sometimes in this distracted age, our myths let us down.

I got to thinking about that this morning:

OK, I remember that Obi-Wan let Darth win. It was a deliberate sacrifice, which I’m sure means a great deal in the theology of the Force, or would if there were such a theology. For us caught up in the film, I suppose the point was that it was so important to let the guys rescue Princess Leia, and even more importantly, destroy the Death Star (remember what it did to Alderaan), that he was willing to give his life to make it happen. (I’m not entirely sure why he couldn’t do all that and beat Darth, too, but I suppose Darth needed to live so there could be another movie, and so Anakin could be redeemed in the end.)

But anyway, he lost. And in this case, I’d rather see Rep. Cheney win and You-Know-Who lose. But I guess we can’t have everything.

My point, if I have one, is that this reminded me of something I’ve thought about a good bit lately. Actually, I’ve been thinking about it for several years, but I’m not asking you to be impressed — I suppose others have thought about it for millennia. It was when I was reading Rubicon by Tom Holland.

And as always, when I read about those days, I’m struck by how much the Trojan War comes up. Over and over and over again. It’s like the Greeks just had this one story they kept going back to, and of course, the Romans — as industrious as they were in so many other ways — couldn’t be bothered even to come up with one story of their own, so they stole the Greeks’. Which was their way.

If they came up with another story — like the one about Odysseus/Ulysses — they couldn’t even separate that new one from the big one. Sure, that’s about him and his boys being lost for years on the way home — but they were on the way home from… the Trojan War.

It even comes into the Romulus and Remus story, although I’m always forgetting how exactly.

Seems like they could have come up with some other stories. But they didn’t. They liked that one, and they stuck with it. Sort of makes me feel bad that I’ve never read the originals — not the Iliad, or for that matter the Aeniad. But you see, I have no Greek beyond Kyrie Eleison, and my Latin — despite the best efforts of the legendary Mrs. Sarah T. Kinney of Bennettsville High School — remains inadequate to tackling literature. I mean, I know that Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, but I don’t know what comes next.

And yes, I know millions of people over the ages — or a lot of them, anyway — have contented themselves with translations, but it just seems that after all this time, I could have made myself learn Greek. But I didn’t, so I leave it alone. I know the basic story, though — that horndog Paris caused a heap of trouble, and it went on for a bunch of years, and ended with a fake horse. I content myself with that. At least I don’t have to study Communism or Nazism or anything to get what the war was about. Pretty basic, really, even though it’s a bit hard for a modern mind to fully grasp why most of those other people went along with having a war over it.

That’s not my point, though. My point is that I started thinking about it again lately when I read a piece in The Wall Street Journal headlined, “The Power of Our New Pop Myths.”

Yeah, I know — the paywall. Actually, it’s getting in my way at the moment, too — some problem with my password I’ve had for about 20 years. Which I’m not going to change. But anyway, the subhed is “Marvel, Star Wars and other franchises have become central to our culture by returning to a primal form of storytelling.,” and it begins like this:

And so forth. It’s sort of related to a complaint I frequently voice about Hollywood being unable to come up with fresh stories. They just keep recycling the same yarns. (How many Spider-Man origin movies have we had in the past few years?)

Kind of like with the ancient Greeks and Romans, but at least we have more than one story. There’s Marvel, there’s Harry Potter, there’s Bilbo Baggins, and Dune if you like. There’s the Matrix. All of which are at least entertaining, the first time you hear them.

And of course, between the Trojan War and Peter Parker, we Westerners who have at least paid some attention to the actual bases of our culture have had, with the help of the ancient Hebrews, the rich stories of the Bible, and a religion that speaks to me and many others of eternal verities, which if you’ll forgive me, I find even more meaningful than learning about the Kwisatz Haderach.

Which brings me back to Bishop Barron, who as you know continues to impress me with the power of his Sunday sermons.

He had a good one this week, in which he got all Jungian on the way to teaching an important lesson about what God wants from us.

His title was “Go on a Hero’s Journey,” and in it he gets into such stories as “The Hobbit.” It’s about how comfortable Bilbo was in his Hobbit hole, as hobbits tend to be, and beyond that about the inconvenient fact that that’s not what God wants. Like the dwarves who invade Bilbo’s sanctuary, and like Gandalf, he wants us to get out there and have an adventure, one that actually matters.

Anyway, I’m not going to recite the whole sermon to you; you can watch it below. I recommend it highly…

Sometimes, history is quite disappointing

I’ve remarked a number of times recently, I think, on the fact that no matter how much history I think I know, I keep getting slapped in the face by the fact that I don’t know squat about it.

Even when you limit it to a certain period I’ve obsessed over, I keep learning things that you would have thought anyone would have known. But I didn’t. Makes me humble — almost. I wish it would make those people on both sides of the CRT battles — who all think they know everything they need to know about what went before, and what it means — humble. Or at least quiet them down a bit. Because they get tiresome.

I had this happen again a few minutes ago. For reasons having nothing to do with this post, I happened to look up a town called Jeannette, Pennsylvania. A guy named it for his wife. It’s a pretty new town, only founded in 1888. You’d think it was out West or something, but no. Near Pittsburgh, which is only out West if you’re in Philadelphia.

Anyway, I read that its 2010 population was 9,654. Which made me think of my hometown, Bennettsville. Y’all know, of course, that I use that term “hometown” loosely, as only a Navy brat can. I grew up in America — mostly — rather than one bit of it. But I was born there, and it was the place I returned to in the summers, and I spent the entire 9th grade at Bennettsville High School, back when there was one (go, Green Gremlins!). I feel a great fondness for the place, but as I’ve said repeatedly, I could walk all the way through downtown on Main Street and not be recognized by anyone, unless I got lucky.

So I looked up B’ville on Wikipedia as well, and found that as I thought, the population was close to the same — 9,069 in 2010.

But then I read on, and got to this:

The city of Bennettsville was founded in 1819 on the Great Pee Dee River and named after Thomas Bennett, Jr., then governor of South Carolina….

I’d never thought about it before, but I guess I’d always assumed it had been named for, you know, somebody who lived there in the early days. Some plucky pioneer who was among the first Europeans to turn the sod on the banks of the Pee Dee, or who operated a ferry, or some such.

But no, this guy was just — the governor. Some guy from Charleston. It appears he raised some questions about the conduct of the Denmark Vesey investigation, trial and executions. Perhaps the points he raised were to his credit. It’s a bit hard to tell, because the article isn’t very well written.

But that’s all irrelevant to the point that, aside from having it named for him, I don’t see anything that indicates he had anything to do with Bennettsville. Or Marlboro County, for that matter. Or the Pee Dee, even.

Which is rather disappointing. It’s like founding a town and naming it for Henry McMaster, even though he’d never been there. Don’t you think that’s kind of lame? I’d think it was lame even if Henry were a more interesting and distinguished governor. Which, as we know, wouldn’t take much.

I’m not lobbying to change it, of course, even though B’ville has plenty of more interesting sons and daughters — Hugh McColl, Marian Wright Edelman, or if you want someone more recent, Aziz Ansari. I mean, come on — it was the home and base of operations of Sen. Jack Lindsey! Why, my Uncle Woody embodies the town, far as I’m concerned, and could entertain you enormously telling stories about it. But it’s not named for him, either.

But again, I love the name “Bennettsville,” and wouldn’t change it. It has a certain warm, rounded feel. It’s part of my own deepest identity, one of the essential “B” names and words for which I’ve always felt such a keen comfort and affection. (Have you seen me in my new B hat?) Like the color blue.

I just wish we had a better reason for the name. Maybe there is one, and it didn’t make Wikipedia. I’ll have to ask Walter Edgar, next time I see him. Being a real historian, he knows stuff like that…

Stop shocking me, people!

If seeing this movie is a childhood memory to you — or worse, you don’t remember it — don’t tell me about it.

Well, I suffered another shock today, of a sort that has become familiar.

I was reading my Washington Post app, and ran across a story that begins this way:

In 1993, I was nominated for homecoming queen at my high school in a conservative Southern California city. It wasn’t meant to be a political act. One of my girlfriends had suggested, “Nominate Trey — he’ll do it,” after the girls had agreed none of them wanted to parade around in a rayon dress from Windsor Fashions while being judged.

I was used to this. While most of my peers spent weekends at football games and rodeos, I slipped into black high heels and Russian Red lipstick and drove to Los Angeles, where I snuck into the clubs with my fake ID and innocent smile. That was just me being me….

It’s written by some guy named Trey, and the subject is the fact that Brad Pitt recently appeared in public in a skirt.

In any case, I’m sure you can see immediately what it is that I found shocking about this story.

Yep, there it is, at the very start of the very first sentence; “In 1993…”

What?!? I thought. You were hanging out with a bunch of high school kids in 1993? You, a grown man who wrote a column appearing in one of America’s leading newspapers, refer to one of those kids as “one of my girlfriends?”

What kind of a perv are you, sir? Are you one of those guys who hangs around, leaning against walls and saying, “Alright alright alright!”

Or rather, “I get older; they say the same age…

Of course, I’ll admit that I read far more shocking stuff than this — in a temporal sense — every day. Frequently, I’ll hear an apparent grownup referring to some event happening “when I was a little kid,” and the thing he’s referring to happened after (or shortly before) the recent turn of the century — which was what, about a week or two ago?

By contrast, 1993 was more like several months ago, or maybe a year. That was the year I turned 40. In fact, to nail it down further, the day I turned 40 was the day the Battle of Mogadishu happened.

This happens more and more, and I’m finding it more and more disorienting. So cut it out, people. The last think we need — or the last thing I need, anyway — is to hear people talking about events of the Clinton administration as though they happened during Charlemagne’s reign over the Holy Roman Empire.

Get a grip, people — before I lose mine…

DeMarco: Randy, Please Write Back

The Op-Ed Page

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

After my June column, “Losing well is critical to democracy,” in which I praised Tom Rice for his grace in defeat and compared his response to Donald Trump’s incessant lying about his loss, I received an email from someone whom I will call “Randy” who is a Trump supporter. Randy told me he grew up in Florence and now lived out west. He was back home visiting and saw the column. He is a volunteer poll worker and has witnessed “serious problems with conducting fair elections” although the only example he cited was an error that involved 40 votes in a local election.

Given that Steven Wukela won the Florence mayoral Democratic primary by a single vote in 2008, I agree with Randy that election integrity is paramount: votes must be properly counted and only eligible voters should vote.

I was curious about his poll-working experience and wanted to know more. Did he believe that the 2020 election had been stolen? How did he think it had occurred?

But the most interesting statement in his email was “Trump gets his power from loyal voters like me. He is nothing without the huge support he enjoys from voters. Whenever you insult him, you actually insult voters like me which cost Tom Rice his job from fellow Trumpers!”

I found this very helpful. For someone like me who knows and respects many people who voted for Trump but sees Trump himself as reckless and solipsistic, I wanted to engage with Randy and find out why he is such a devoted follower.

I was also encouraged that he ended his missive with this benediction: “I enjoyed reading your column but could not disagree with you more.”

Randy’s sentiment, that he could both enjoy my column but totally disagree was refreshing and is largely missing from current political discourse. My intuition is that there are many Americans like Randy, who can disagree enjoyably and leave an argument respecting their opponent.

I quickly composed an answer. The first draft was civil but contained the accusation that due to his fealty to Trump “he had a ‘chip-on-the- shoulder’ attitude” and that he was “primed to be insulted.”

When I reread it, I realized that I was making the error that so many of us make – I assumed I understood his motives, that I could read his mind. It’s always better to allow people to tell you why they feel the way they feel. Of course, they may or may not reveal their true motivations, but it is worth hearing them out.

So I edited my draft. Here is what I sent:

“Randy, I really appreciate your responding to my column. Thank you for your service as a poll worker and the insights in your email. I would be happy to entertain evidence that there was significant fraud in 2020. I agree that elections are not perfect. But the fact that 40 voters voted twice in (your home state) is a far cry from what would be needed to overturn a presidential election… After almost two years and 60 court cases in which no evidence of fraud was found, I think your position that significant fraud existed is weak. Your position is also opposed by attorney general Bill Barr, countless election officials including the Republican Secretary of State who certified the result in Georgia, Brad Raffensperger (who recently beat the Trump-backed candidate in his primary reelection campaign), and the U.S. Congress. Again, I would be open to hearing the evidence and being swayed by it.

I’m interested in your statement ‘Whenever you insult him, you actually insult voters like me.’ I’m not out to insult Trump and certainly not people like you who support him. I’m stating what I believe to be a fact, that he knows he lost the election and is purposely pushing a lie about fraud because it is effective with many of his supporters. He has a unique and strong bond with you and many others. I would benefit from your telling me more about why he means so much to you.

I truly value your willingness to engage with me civilly. If you would, please write back. Thanks and best wishes, Paul”

I sent that over a week ago and as of this writing have not received a response. But for me the possibility that he might respond is energizing. So much of what I read and listen to makes me grit my teeth in despair. I sit between the two warring sides as they lob innuendo- and contempt-laden grenades at one another. It’s depressing and deeply boring. There are many of us in this no-man’s land. If what was said on Twitter was what most of us truly felt about our political opponents, fistfights should be breaking out daily in every grocery store in the country.

Truth is, only a small fraction of us participate in our media dialogues and fewer still enjoy it. Most of us would rather have honest discussions that include various points of view. I hope Randy writes back, or if not that someone else who disagrees with me will.

This column appeared in the Florence Morning News on 7/20/22. Still no response from Randy, but I plan on sending him the blog post. Maybe we can engage him that way.

Yet another way baseball could save America

One of my grandfather’s baseball teams. That’s him squatting on the right. Note that some guys wear jerseys that say “P.O,” while others don’t.

My wife brought this story to my attention this morning, knowing I would like it: “Companies worried about worker turnover could try baseball.”

It’s about how measures that employers instituted at workplaces a century ago might help with today’s Great Resignation problems. A number of things were done to make workplaces more pleasant, but this was my (and the headline writer’s) favorite step:

Goodyear President F.A. Seiberling … embraced employee welfarism with a wide-reaching program in Akron, Ohio, that included an improved working environment, a thrice-a-week employee newspaper, a housing development and even a company baseball team to make workers feel like part of the “Goodyear family.” Confronted with the same problems, his crosstown competitor Harvey Firestone followed suit.

These companies met others on baseball fields in a league they organized that spanned at least two other states. The brick stadium where the Firestone Non-Skids played (named for the company’s first treaded tires, “non-skids”) seated 4,500 cheering workers, and it still stands in front of the old company headquarters. The idea was that when employees sat in the stands and cheered for the company, they’d be more loyal, and as a result, they were encouraged to do so. Goodyear told workers in 1920, for example, that attending the games alone wasn’t enough; “moral support, organized cheering, [and] boosting 24 hours a day” were critical as well.

The quality of baseball had to be good enough to attract these fans, though. In rising industrial cities like Akron and Michigan’s Flint and Grand Rapids, where there were no professional teams, fans typically watched amateur clubs compete. Industrial teams played as part of that environment, and so increasingly, companies hired men who were good baseball players. During World War I, Frank Stefko remembered hearing from a fellow soldier, Glenn “Speed” Bosworth, that Goodyear was hiring ballplayers in Akron, so after the war, he traveled to the Rubber City from Scranton, Pa. The personnel office said the company didn’t have openings until he mentioned Bosworth’s message. “Oh, you’re the ballplayer!” They hired him on the spot….

It worked. Employee morale and longevity improved, as did productivity. Employers did this not just to be nice guys, but because it was good for business. It also helped stem union efforts — until the Depression led to cutbacks in such expenditures, so the great heyday of unions arrived in the 1930s.

My wife knew I would like the story because of my grandfather. She never met him — he died of lung cancer when I was four — but he found some time to teach me some basics of baseball before we lost him.

And playing baseball on the workplace team is a big part of his legend. I’ve told you all this before, but I’ll tell you again, because I love these kinds of stories from the days when this was a baseball-loving country. Here’s something I wrote about it before, with a picture of the house where my grandmother lived with her family before her marriage:

Here’s how she met my grandfather — she would see him walking past her house on the way to the train station each day in a suit and straw boater, carrying a bag. She thought he was a salesman, and the bag contained his wares. Actually, he was a ballplayer, and bag contained his uniform and glove. He worked for the Post Office, but he only worked there so that he could play ball for its team. He was a pitcher. Gerald “Whitey” Warthen would eventually be offered a contract with the Senators, which he turned down to work in his father’s business.

A couple of minor corrections: He worked, I think, for the Railway Post Office, which I take it was some subset of the P.O. we all know. More importantly, he wasn’t just a pitcher, as I have learned since reading about him in recent years in old copies of The Washington Post and other local papers. He was also an infielder. Basically, he played anything as long as it was baseball. Oh, and before he launched on this working-for-baseball period, he had been captain of the team at Washington and Lee.

Anyway, I guess I am genetically predisposed to see baseball as a great way to attract employees. Unfortunately, the end of that story in the Post sounds a discouraging note:

Today, companies are also experimenting with ways to boost worker welfare in the context of the Great Resignation. Baseball spectatorship has been replaced by team-building activities that include workplace climbing walls, wine-tasting events, table tennis, family picnics, free lunches and special doughnut days. At the turn of the last century, employers experimented to identify which perks resonated with workers. While the jury is still out on whether such programs will be successful today, companies are following in the footsteps of NCR, Goodyear and Kellogg’s in experimenting with programs that employees find meaningful and useful — enough so to stay in their jobs.

You see that? No baseball. That’s the sad state of America today. Baseball is no longer seen as a way of pleasing the masses. Is there any hope for us?

The Rolling Stones love me so much, they’re going to let me buy something!

Don’t you love these kinds of come-ons?

I just got an email — and y’all know how much I love having people send me email — from Spotify headlined, “The Rolling Stones made you something special.”

Below that was a pic of the lads — the unbelievably ancient-looking lads, but as we all know, they’ve looked that way since they were very young — looking at me oh, so fondly. You know, because we’re such mates and all. (Except that Ron Wood. He’s looking off to the side for some reason. Oh, well. We were never that close. I still think of him as that guy from Rod Stewart’s band.)

And then below that was this message:

Thanks for being a fan

To celebrate their 60th anniversary, The Rolling Stones have designed an exclusive t-shirt and mug for their top fans on Spotify.

A limited quantity is available for this offer – until August 7th or while supplies last – so act quickly!

And below that, the critical button that said “BUY MERCH.” Here’s where it leads, although you may not be able to call it up, if you’re not as tight with Mick and the guys as I am. Sorry. You should make an effort to be cooler in the future.

Anyway, clicking the button offers me the chance to buy both a T shirt and a coffee mug for only $48! This is amazing because the T shirt costs $40 alone, while the price of the mug alone is $20!

I’m overwhelmed. But sorry, guys — I’ve been buying a bunch of stuff lately. Also, I already have a lot of T shirts. And a lot of coffee mugs — more than I need, if you can believe it.

But thanks for thinking of me. It really touches me to think of y’all putting down your guitars and such and making these things for me with your own hands and all. Get back to me when your 70th anniversary rolls around. Or maybe your 75th, OK?…

And next, the email…

Now that I’ve spent every spare moment I could find for several days gradually putting that post about Boston together — determined to get that done once after one of my trips — I can turn to catching up on email.

Not work email — I’m up to date on that chore. I mean my personal email. The screenshot above from my iPad indicates the scale of the problem. Not exactly, but that “2,031” you see over the email icon is roughly how many I have sitting unexamined in my personal In box.

Which I hate. Of course, I’ll delete most of them — not even opening the overwhelming majority of those before I do — and save most of the few left to folders, also unread. You know, just in case they prove useful at some point in the future. Which they almost certainly will not. But even the system I have for committing unthinking mass murder to hundreds or thousands of messages can take me a couple of hours, when there are this many. Of course, it’s not the many that cause it to take so long — it’s the few I open and glance at, and perhaps even read.

Remember when — 25 to 30 years ago — we thought email was a convenience? And certainly it was, compared to snail mail, which takes so much time and physical effort to process even a single letter. It was made more seductive, there in the early-to-middle ’90s, by the fact that relatively few people out there had email, which really cut down on the volume.

Yesterday, I was talking about something else with an IT professional — no, not a funny one like this guy, but a real one — and he was talking about some new technology he was working with, and I asked him to let me know if he ran across any new technology that eliminated the hassle of email.

Trying to be helpful, he made a suggestion or two, but I had tried them already, leading to failure. For instance, he suggested creating folders in which to dump things that might require some action (or at least reading), so they can be addressed later. With bitter regret, I told him of my hundreds of such folders, which have done nothing to reduce the work — and which, of course, I pretty much never look back at. The junk just sits there.

Part of it is my personality. I’ve always been a pack rat, and I have a great, almost mortal, dread of having something in my hands at one point, throwing it away, and then desperately needing it at some later date. (This, of course, predates email. My office, or my desk if that’s all I had, would always be a forest of piles of paper. To this day, I defend this system because of something that happened once in the very early ’90s — Managing Editor Paula Ellis, knowing my habits, came to me and asked whether I had a copy of a memo that had been distributed in the newsroom several months earlier. Certainly, I said. I went immediately to the right pile and shuffled through it for a moment — then proudly handed it to her. See? My way was the right way. It may have only happened once, but it happened…)

Then there is the problem of my chosen profession — or rather, the profession that chose me. It’s very difficult for a journalist — at least this one — to throw away written information. It may not be useful later, but on rare occasions it can be critical later. This only got worse when I turned to opinion writing — and much worse than that when I took up blogging. At least, when I was a beat reporter 40-odd years ago, there was a limit to the range of things I might write about. No longer. And since I still blog, this perceived need to hang onto things has continued well past the end of my newspaper career.

Even the stupidest, most useless, boring piece of crapola — say, an appeal for money from a political campaign — can inspire me to write something, depending on my mood. Sometimes, I write only to share how stupid, useless and boring it is.

Oh, well.

I’ll turn to it later, and get it done eventually. Right now, I think I’ll turn, however briefly, to some actual paying work…

 

 

 

Highlights of the Boston trip, July 7-July 13, 2022

One of the twins shot this of me at the Navy Yard in Charlestown, with the Boston skyline in the background.

The main attraction in going to Boston was to spend time with our twin granddaughters, who are doing a summer intensive program at the Boston Ballet. Of course, they were only free to hang out on Saturday and Sunday, so we planned our itineraries with them in mind on those days.

On Friday, Monday and Tuesday, we did other stuff. On almost every day of the trip we had a great time, although I had to do the last day alone because my wife developed some serious back problems and had to stay at the B&B. How serious? Serious enough to make her give up seeing things she had really looked forward to. But the rest of the time was great. (We think it was the walking — miles and miles more than we were used to, on a daily basis. My legs got stiff and sore, but I was able to walk it out the next morning. So I was the lucky one.)

This was our first time in Boston. It was also my first time this far north in this country, although we were at much higher latitudes in England and Ireland.

Quincy. This filled the schedule for Friday (the Red Line will take you all the way down there, but it’s still a trek) — the home town of John Adams (and Abigail, and their boy John Quincy), my favorite Founding Father. We saw and toured… John’s birthplace, John Quincy’s birthplace, the more palatial home where John and Abigail lived in later years (and where they both died), the Church of the Presidents where John Quincy had four pews at his disposal, and where all three of them and John Quincy’s wife, Louisa, are buried (in the crypt downstairs). And it was an interesting town to walk around and see how it has changed over time. We had lunch at a Mexican restaurant, but we could have gone with Chinese, Italian, Korean, Indian or Vietnamese. We could have had a Thai massage, too, but I was sure it would cost a lot more than the one I had in Kanchanaburi. Back in John Adams’ day “diversity” in Quincy meant being Congregationalist or Unitarian instead of Church of England.

The farmhouse in which John Adams was born — and where he started his law practice.

This stone structure is the Adams library, behind their later home — but John didn’t live to see it. It’s about the size of his birthplace.

Newton. We didn’t stay, technically, in Boston, but way out west in Newton — originally because that’s where the twins’ classes are, but that ended up not mattering since we could only get them over the weekend. But it was a delightful town, full of very old houses in fantastic restored condition — including the B&B we stayed in. Within a block or two were several nice places to eat, but my fave was O’Hara’s Food and Spirits. I recommend the Broiled Steak Tips. We were staying less than 100 yards from a Congregationalist church with a bell that rang the hour every hour — but if we kept the AC on in our bedroom, we couldn’t hear it. Best part: We were only about a block from the Newton Highlands station on the Green Line. Which leads us to…

The starting point of each day’s trek — Newton Highlands station on the Green Line.

Newton is full of old houses, beautifully restored. Dig the stained-glass windows above the porch.

Public Transportation. We flew there, and of course we didn’t rent a car, because this is a Civilized City, and provides ample, efficient, affordable public transportation. Which as you know, I love. I don’t go to places like London, New York and Boston for the subways alone, but they add greatly to the attraction. It’s so wonderful to go wherever you want without having to freaking drive. If I’d had a car with me, I’d have parked it on the outskirts of town.

When it comes to subways, I love the stations almost as much as the trains.

… especially this one. And no, it’s not Fenway — it’s Kenmore, which is more convenient to the ballpark.

Masks. As I said, this is a Civilized City — a place that doesn’t ignore things — so people wore masks. Not everybody. I’d say at least half the people on the trains did, and more than that in museums and restaurants. And all the kids there for Boston Ballet wore them all the time — they get tested every day, and if you’re positive, you’re on your way home, and none of them want that. There was one big exception: Fenway Park was full for that game with the Yankees on July 10, and my wife reckons she and I were the only two masked people. She enjoyed the game, but she figures that’s where she got the COVID that showed up in a positive test three days after we got home. Fortunately, despite the back problem, she didn’t feel sick until we’d been back a day or two. (She’s usually the healthy one, but she’s had a rough few days.)

In most situations, masks were the norm.

But sometimes, when they were most needed, they were not.

Unfamiliar features of the Earth. We knew the weather would be different — which is to say it was not insane the way it is here. Since it was July, it was very warm in the middle of the day, but blissful in the evening. And I knew intellectually that the days would be longer this far north. I was a bit surprised, though, when the sun rose and woke me up at 5:16 the first morning. It wasn’t to rise in Columbia for more than an hour after that. So we got up and got started.

The weather up there mostly felt the way this garden at Isabella’s museum (below) looked.

Isabella Stewart Gardner. She was an amazing woman, and she left behind an amazing museum. It’s surprising there were any cultural artifacts left in Europe — or the Far East — after her Gilded Age shopping spree. We were numb after a couple of hours of turning yet another corner and being confronted by yet another work of art we’d seen pictures of all our lives — including some personal favorites, such as John Singer Sargent’s El Jaleo (which is way, way bigger than I would have expected). Name it, she had it — Rubens, Raphael, Matisse, and yes, Rembrandt. (Where did she keep the Raphaels? In the Raphael Room. Duh.) I kept thinking, would it be possible for one individual today — Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, take your pick — to amass such a collection? I think not. Not at current art prices.

If you’re a dancer, you respond to great art in your own way.

See what I mean?

The Navy Yard. (Or, as the driver/guide on the trolley my second time over there explained, the Navy Yahd. He also told us that 8,500 women wuhked theh while the men were off fighting the wah.) This was the first thing I added to the itinerary as my wife was planning it. (Or maybe it was tied with Fenway Park). That’s because the U.S.S. Constitution, Old Ironsides, the world’s oldest ship afloat, is tied up there, and I was determined to inspect her. She did not disappoint. One of the nation’s original Six Frigates, laid down in 1794, you can easily see how she would have intimidated the Brits a few years later. I wasn’t piped aboard, and had no sideboys, but the ship — which is still commissioned as part of the U.S. Navy — was thinly manned (and in some cases, womanned), no doubt because the Americans didn’t press sailors. But they did serve grog in those days, and you can’t say fairer than that. I loved it, and my wife and granddaughters seemed to take interest as well. (For my part, I went back again on that last day, when I was alone.) I hadn’t planned it, but one of the twins and I also toured the USS Cassin Young, which was meaningful in a different way: My Dad served on destroyers just like that one, and I was able to explain a lot of it to my granddaughter.

Beautiful from here, but if you saw the paint on the larboard side, the 1st lieutenant would hang his head in shame.

Aim carefully: 32-lb. carronades are genuine smashers, but unless you’re right alongside, you can’t hit anything.

You can’t charge your phones. This is my one complaint about Boston — it’s hard to find public places where you can recharge, which is a huge problem when you’re taking enough pictures to fill a museum. I should have taken one of those portable pocket batteries, but I did not. This was particularly rough on Sunday, the 10th. We scrambled about the area around the Kenmore station for more than an hour, trying to find a fast-food place or somewhere we could have a bite and recharge at our table. No dice. For that reason, I only took about four pictures during the ball game at Fenway, and before the game was over, both our phones were dead. Which is a little spooky when you’re not 100 percent sure your train will be running after 11 p.m. on a Sunday (it was). I had another bad experience the last day, when my wife had stayed at the B&B nursing her bad back, and I was trying to stay in touch. I ended up walking from Bunker Hill down to the river, across it, and up several blocks past Faneuil Hall, trying at multiple places to recharge — McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks. I finally ended up squatting in a corner of Chipotle, next to the garbage bin, at the only outlet they would allow me. After about 20 minutes, my phone’s charge had only increased about 10 percent, and I’d had enough. I headed for the train to Newton. At Logan airport when we were leaving, I found sockets between a lot of the seats at the gate. It would have been nice to have a few of those when we were in town.

If you need to recharge your phone while having a bite before a ball game, don’t go here. Image from Google Maps.

Red Sox crush the Yankees. If you like the Red Sox, as I do, I can recommend few more enjoyable experiences than watching them trounce the New York Yankees in Fenway Park. Of course, it’s a bit tricky determining in advance when that will happen, but we chose a good night. The Sox not only won, thereby splitting a four-game home stand with the most hated of rivals, but they did it in a most satisfying way. The pinstriped guys scored two runs in each of the first three innings, which was enough to give a Boston fan the sinking feeling this pattern would continue until the end. It did not. After scoring three in the first three, the Sox scored three in the fifth, one in the sixth, and four in the seventh — just to put a nice, shiny finish on the job — while the Yanks put up nothing but goose eggs the rest of the game. Our honored Gamecock Jackie Bradley Jr. — who was right in front of us there in right field — went one for two before he and several others were taken out for pinch hitters during that hitfest in mid-game. We were also in good position to keep a watchful eye on that Aaron Judge fellow. It was a beautiful night. The game was perfect, the weather was perfect. I ate both peanuts and Cracker Jack, and while I did not care whether I ever got back, when it came time to do so, we were jammed like sardines into the train with a very, very happy crowd, all the way out to Newton.

I’d thought the Curse was broken in ’04, but then this guy sat down in front of us. The Sox won anyway.

One of only three shots I managed to get after the game started. But a great crowd, and a great game.

Salem. Ken had warned me it was just a tourist trap, and he was right enough. But we went anyway, partly to see the statue of Roger Conant, the twins’ great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather (but no ancestor of mine — the twins are my daughter’s children, but Conant is on their father’s side). Of course, maybe even Ken would have been impressed by the first statue we saw there — of Samantha Stephens from “Bewitched.” Really. Can you imagine anything tackier than that — a ’60s sitcom witch memorialized in the place where 19 innocents were killed in an early incident of mass insanity (by “early,” I mean “before 2016”)? And it was a terrible statue. Elizabeth Montgomery was a lovely woman, and it didn’t do her justice. And there were some really sad-looking tourists about, dressed in black like Theater majors and seeming to be living out a supernatural fantasy — a group of them had a great time taking each other’s pictures in front of Samantha. But we enjoyed walking about looking at the old houses in the McIntire Historic District.

Elizabeth Montgomery was way better-looking than this.

A reminder that more has happened in Salem than witch trials.

The North End. The night before our last day, my wife bought tickets for the hop-on, hop-off trolley that rides around the Freedom Trail — on account of her back. Her plan was that we’d hop on at the start of the route, but I wanted to go first to the North End — Boston’s Little Italy — for an espresso or two to start the day. As things turned out, by the time we got to the station that last morning, she urged me to go on alone, while she headed back to the B&B. I went to catch the trolley, but first went to Hanover Street for an espresso. But I wasn’t totally selfish. I also bought her a chocolate cannoli, which I then carried all day in the drawstring bag on my back. I did this in response to hearing Clemenza in my head, saying, “Drink the espresso; take the cannoli.” I then went to join the trolley over near the Aquarium station. I only rode it as far as Paul Revere’s house. Then, after taking advantage of the restroom at Old North Church and having another espresso across the street, I got back on the trolley to head over to the Navy Yard, and walked from there up Bunker Hill. Or Breed’s Hill. Whatever. Yeah, I told you this story just so I could paraphrase Clemenza.

“Drink the espresso. Take the cannoli.”

Just so you know the North End is Boston’s version of New York’s Little Italy.

The Freedom Trail. This is sort of the obligatory thing to do in Boston, especially if you spent as much time in college studying the early days of our republic as I did. We had intended to try to do it when the twins were with us over the weekend, but we couldn’t work it in. So it became a last-day thing. And I’ll confess I didn’t do it as thoroughly as I should have. But I did tour Paul Revere’s house, and admire his statue, and check out the gift shop of Old North Church. (There wasn’t as much in the church itself I needed to see. One if by land, two if by sea. Got it.) I did ride over to Charlestown and walk up to the Bunker Hill monument, just to check and make sure it was a hill, which I couldn’t tell from a distance. It was. For the first time, I felt the summer heat. After that, I was struggling with a phone running out of charge, and eventually got back on the train.

The guy who rode the horse in the poem…

Not my favorite Adams, but they seem to like him around Faneuil Hall…

Aside from the planned sightseeing, we ran across all sorts of wonderful things we hadn’t expected, such as the installation of bells by Henri Matisse’s grandson, which my granddaughters played as we crossed the Charles River at the locks. And did you know that they have a hotel named for that storied lawncare business in Philadelphia? Oh — and the Edgar Allen Poe statue! (Which confused me, because I thought he was from Baltimore.)

Oh, dang! As I wrote this, it suddenly occurred to me that I forgot to do something. I didn’t eat a single Boston bean! I guess we’ll have to go back…

You got that right, John. Quote posted on front wall at Peacefield in Quincy.

THIS is what a Sports section front should look like

From my iPad this morning…

Just thought I’d share this, since some of you younger people may not have ever seen the like.

THIS is what the front of Sports section should look like, in the middle of baseball season.

This is from today’s Boston Globe. I subscribed to the Globe when we were in Boston, mainly so I could read about the Red Sox. And on that score, the Globe definitely delivers. They don’t bore me with stuff about the Celtics or the Bruins or that football team way down in Foxborough — not in the middle of July.

This is a sports department that actually understands that in America, this is the time of year when you write about baseball. Period.

Oh, you can throw in some tidbits about other sports for those who are interested. For instance, you’ll see mentions of golf and car racing down at the bottom of this page (see screenshot below). That’s fine, as long as you don’t mention football — which, as you see, they did not (not even in the refers at the bottom, bless them). Football has its own season, and it’s too long already.

The sports editors at this paper know what they’re doing. I half expected to find a column from Ring Lardner. (See how I included an explanatory link for you youngsters out there?) But hey, Shaughnessy’s not too bad, from what I’ve seen.

Of course, I’d like it better if they had some GOOD news to report about the Sox. But hey, you report what you’ve got…

It’s OK to mention other sports, down at the bottom of the page, as long as you first do justice to BASEBALL.

Sometimes there’s some good news in this world

Then again, sometimes it takes 110 years to arrive:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I creamed the competition on the Slate quiz — slightly

Hey, y’all. I’ve been back from Boston for a couple of days now, but I’ve been way too busy for blogging. It’s not just catching up with work. The first night we were up there, there was a big thunderstorm down here, and it struck several trees in our front yard. My neighbor across the street saw it happen, and said it was amazing — the glow was multicolored, and seemed to last about 10 seconds. He was sorry he wasn’t shooting video. I’m sorry, too, because I would have liked to post it here.

It damaged our upstairs HVAC system. When our son checked on it the next day, it was 102 upstairs. A damaged valve was causing heat to blow instead of AC. Fortunately, that wasn’t terribly expensive to fix. I’m now dreading what an expert might tell us about the trees (a friend is sharing with me the name of an arborist, so I can get him to look at them before we call the tree-felling guys). Meanwhile, I’m glad none of them fell on the house.

I’ll tell you about my Boston trip later. In the meantime, I DID find a minute to take the Slate quiz, and managed to triumph — crushing the appointed Slate staffer by two whole points! (But what do you expect from someone who spells it “Werthan?”)

Of course, I was still 49 points below average, so I’m not planning to throw a party to celebrate my victory.

See how y’all do. I expect y’all will all do better than I did. But hey, aside from reading about the Red Sox in the Globe over the past week, I haven’t been intentionally following news. So cut me a break….

Form over substance: When a big story gets buried

I see this happen a lot these days, but I ran across a couple of fairly dramatic examples yesterday in The Washington Post — or rather, on the Post’s iPad app, which is the only way I read the several newspapers to which I subscribe. So I thought I’d say something.

It’s particularly startling to an old newspaperman who once spent hours each day agonizing over the precise way to play each story — particularly on the front page, that premium real estate where you had only about six possible positions (some days five, and some days you’d cram on seven, but the goal for a diversified presentation of the biggest news of the day was six). Those of you who still look at the dead-tree version will think that sounds high, and you’re right. Over the last quarter century newspaper pages have shrunk and shrunk again, so it’s hard to get more than three or four stories on that page.

But online — even in a well-designed app that makes an effort to prioritize news and present it in a non-jumbled manner — you don’t see the same kind of agonizing over position, for a couple of reasons. First, there’s no time for it when deadline is always, always right NOW. Second, there’s no need when the space is unlimited. As with my blog — one reason I started blogging in 2005 was to shrug off the limitations. I can post as much as I can find time to post.

This is glorious in many ways. But in other ways, perspective and proportion fly out the window. One problem is that the most important news of the day — or the one deemed most interesting to readers (those are two different things, that we had ways of distinguishing between in the old days) — tends to spread out and dominate your first screen or maybe your first two. This happens for three reasons that I can spot:

  1. You can have as many different stories on this interesting thing as you have people to write. In the past, you’d have a main story and maybe a sidebar or two, and the sidebars were often played inside with the jump of the main copy.
  2. If you’re The Washington Post, and backed by Jeff Bezos’ wealth, you have plenty of people.
  3. Editors usually try to group related material together. But the only place to do that — the way most apps and browser sites are organized — is up front with the main story. While there are different “pages” you can reach by clicking on a category link (“Opinion,” “National,” “Sports,” etc.), containing additional content, there are no inside jump pages that the story on the “front” leads you to.

Anyway, on the Post’s app Wednesday morning, two big stories — one that would be big news any time, while the other would at least have been considered huge within recent memory — essentially got buried, to the extent that can happen when there is, for most practical purposes, just one gigantic page. They were:

  1. Epstein accomplice Ghislaine Maxwell sentenced to 20 years in prison — Remember when the charges against her were huge? It was a while ago — before COVID, I think — but the coverage of Epstein and Ms. Maxwell just went on and on. But here was the climax, the ultimate chapter, and… it was played way, way down, many screens down, more than halfway to the bottom of the available content on my app. In the subcategory of “National,” it was the fifth story listed — and of the four stories above it, only one was a breaking development: someone being attacked by a bison in Yellowstone Park. The others were “trend” stories, rather than breaking news.
  2. NATO summit developments — Maybe the Maxwell story was something in which the nation had only been momentarily interested — the scandal of the moment. But this is monumental stuff that at most times would have led a national newspaper. Actually, it was two ledes in one. One headline would be, “U.S. to increase military presence in Europe” (which is the headline you see on the link). The other would have been, “Sweden, Finland to be asked to join NATO.” Both in response, of course, to the biggest story in the world — Russia’s war on Ukraine, which everyone worries could be the opening of World War III.

Here’s the way the Maxwell story was played. I couldn’t get the headline onto this screenshot of the National block, but it’s the item where you see the courtroom artist’s drawing, bottom right:

As for the NATO story — at this point I must confess that I started writing this post yesterday (which is when I saved the screengrabs you see), then got pulled away. Of course, the app content is radically different now, so I can’t go back and see just how far down the NATO story was. But it was well past the first two or three screens, so fairly far down. The defense would be that it was packaged with other Ukraine war news, which you had to scroll down for, but that’s really not a great excuse.

What was played above these stories? Other important stories, I freely admit: The rather explosive Jan. 6 hearing from Tuesday (the testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson), and the ongoing aftershocks of the Roe ruling on Friday. Some Tuesday-night elections across the country as well.

But again, the problem is what I mentioned earlier. The Post now writes so many stories on the same subject, and packages them all together, so that other big news gets pushed far, far down. But it gets rather weird. For instance, Miss Hutchinson is a striking subject for a photograph, but the app showed me five such photos of her — all sitting at the table testifying, in her white suit, with pretty much the same serious expression — before I got down to the two “buried” stories I mention above.

On the screen displaying top stories from the Opinion section, there were three of those pictures. That’s because four of the eight columns or editorials on display were about the hearing. Three were about abortion. One was about something else. It was visually striking, to an eye seeking variety:

No, I’m not saying there should have been op-ed columns about the breaking stories on NATO and Ms. Maxwell. It was a bit soon for that. I am saying that in a medium in which you can provide an unlimited amount of content, it seems the screen promoting the most interesting opinion pieces of the moment should provide a tad more diversity.

Why am I boring you with this stuff that would only matter to an editor in the news trade? Well, because this is yet another thing contributing to our nation’s political schizophrenia. It’s not just people consuming social media instead of professionally presented mainstream media. It’s that the credible organizations, as hard as they try, present their well-crafted content in a way that leads to disproportionate responses among the reading public.

Once, news was presented to the readers in a way that carefully sought to give them — especially on the front page — a range of important news of the day, and to do so in a way that communicated relative importance of those stories.

While the new way of presenting content is wonderful — if you offered me dead-tree versions of all the papers I subscribe to, I still wouldn’t read them; this is much preferable — this way of presenting all that content is an invitation to obsession. Give me eight or ten stories about the same thing on the only screen I can see without scrolling, and you invite me to develop the impression that THIS IS THE ONLY THING WORTH THINKING ABOUT. Which I think helps explain some of the overly excited responses you see these days to news.

Anyway, editors are still trying — and I can see them trying hard — to sort all this out. Maybe they will work out ways to restore a sense of proportion, while still presenting all this added content. I hope so.

And in fact, the editors at The New York Times seem to be a bit farther along toward achieving that. Shortly after seeing what I described above, I opened my NYT app and saw the NATO  developments clearly leading the paper. See below. I thought, “It’s been a little while. Maybe the Post has done the same now.” But I looked, and it had not….

 

 

 

 

I was struck by that in two