Jack Van Loan unloads on Colin Kaepernick

Jack Van Loan, campaigning for his friend John McCain back in 2007.

Jack Van Loan, campaigning for his friend John McCain back in 2007.

Just a few minutes ago, I got a call out of the blue from a man I’m honored to call my friend, Jack Van Loan.

A lot of you know Jack as the long-time power broker of Five Points, who for many years ran the St. Patrick’s Day party there. Most of you who know him also know about the almost six years (“I was in for 70 months. Seven-zero — seventy months.”) that he spent as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese in the “Hanoi Hilton” with his good friend John McCain and other fellow heroes.

An excerpt from my column a number of years ago about his experience:

ON MAY 20, 1967, Air Force pilot Jack Van Loan was shot down over North Vietnam. His parachute carried him to Earth well enough, but he landed all wrong.
“I hit the ground, and I slid, and I hit a tree,” he said. This provided an opportunity for his captors at the prison known as the “Hanoi Hilton.”
“My knee was kind of screwed up and they … any time they found you with some problems, then they would, they would bear down on the problems,” he said. “I mean, they worked on my knee pretty good … and, you know, just torturing me.”…

Again, that experience lasted 70 months.

Tonight, Jack called me to ask me if I knew anyone with the San Francisco 49ers organization or anyone at all who could get a message to quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Well, I couldn’t help him there because you know me and football. I didn’t even know who Colin Kaepernick was — although when I looked him up, I remembered the controversy from last year.

I told him the best I could do for the moment was share his message on my blog.

His message is this: That he did not spend six years in that hell of a North Vietnamese prison so “some long-haired punk” could show his disdain for the flag of the United States of America. And if Kaepernick can’t bring himself to show basic respect to the country for which it stands, he should leave it.

Jack further promised “that there is no way I will spend one second watching” any game that Kaepernick plays in.

That shouldn’t be a hard promise to keep in the near future, since Kaepernick doesn’t have a team at the moment — some say because the quality of his play had declined; others say it’s the controversy.

But if he does play again, Jack’s going to be boycotting whatever team picks him up.

That probably won’t make Kaepernick lose sleep at night. The guy has other problems.

As for why Kaepernick did what he did… I’m not interested in getting into that in this post. I’m just here to testify to the pain and dismay those actions engendered in my friend Jack.

Yeah, I know all the arguments about how that flag stands for the right of people like Kaepernick to express their views. I’ve used those arguments myself. I’m just sharing how Col. Van Loan feels about that expression, and telling you that he’s earned the right to feel that way — he’s got rights, too, and has done a great deal to earn them.

And I’ll mention one more thing I discovered in trying to remind myself who Kaepernick was. He, a guy who spent six years playing professional football, has an extensive Wikipedia page devoted to him. Jack Van Loan spent six years of torment in the Hanoi Hilton, and has no Wikipedia page. There’s something wrong with that equation…

How was the eclipse for YOU?

Just moments before totality: Some of my neighbors were SERIOUS about this thing. I found this scene when I race down the street in my truck trying to escape the shadow of a cloud.

Just moments before totality: Some of my neighbors were SERIOUS about this thing. I found this scene when I raced down the street in my truck trying to escape the shadow of a cloud.

I thought it was pretty great. The hype failed to ruin it for me, as I feared it might.

Your thoughts? Here are some of my Tweets before, during and after:

That was pre-totality. The following are post-totality…

My front walk during totality. The lights actually came on several minutes BEFORE, but didn't show up as well in that photo...

My front walk during totality. The lights actually came on several minutes BEFORE, but didn’t show up as well in that photo…

Is it safe to use my prescription specs with my eclipse glasses?

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Stupid Internet! Nobody had this problem the last time we had a total solar eclipse.

We have been drowning in information, much of it useless, about today’s celestial event. We’ve had no end of warnings, all of which should be unnecessary, since anyone who’s spent five minutes on this planet should know not to stare at the sun. But we are a curious species, both in the sense of “strange” and “interested in novelties,” so we need the warnings.

And a lot of those warnings involve not looking at the phenomenon through lenses. You know, “Don’t look at the eclipse through a telescope,” etc.

So… what about my glasses? Can I look through them, with my special eclipse glasses over or under them?

Reasonable inference tells me that it’s safe. After all, there have been SO many warnings about unsafe practices, and anyone with any sense knows that people who need their prescription spectacles to see anything won’t be able to see the eclipse without them. So, you know, telling those millions of people it’s unsafe to do so, if it is, would be one of your very first important safety tips to share.

Still, reasonable surmise doesn’t seem enough where my eyesight is concerned. So I’d like a definite affirmative from an authoritative source: Yes, it’s OK to use your eclipse glasses with your regular glasses.

And surely someone out there has answered that question.

The trouble is, it’s a tricky question to ask clearly on a search engine. You end up repeating “glasses” in a confusing way. I tried being technical and saying, “Is it safe to wear prescription eyeglasses with eclipse glasses?”

But however I search, I only find one web page that seems to answer the question directly. (The second result Google offers in response to that query says, “No, You Can’t Use 3D Movie Glasses As Eclipse Glasses – Here’s Why,” a response so idiotic that it makes me want to slap somebody upside the head.)

But there is that one page, the first result, with the headline “Can I wear eclipse glasses over my regular eyeglasses …

Yes! Just what I need!

But every time I try to call it up, I get the above error message.

So… can anyone help me out her in the couple of hours we have left? Preferably, by giving me a link to an authoritative source?

If so, it will be appreciated…

Micah Caskey gives utility contributions to poor ratepayers

Micah Caskey general

So far, I have not once regretted having Micah Caskey as my state representative. I received this release from him today:

Rep. Caskey Donates SCANA Contributions to Ratepayers in Need

Former Prosecutor Caskey Seeks to Protect Integrity of Investigation   

(West Columbia, SC) – S.C. Representative Micah Caskey (District 89-West Columbia/Cayce/Springdale) announced he has donated all contributions to his political campaign by utilities to the Salvation Army’s Woodyard Fund. The Woodyard Fund helps residents in need pay their utility bills.  Rep. Caskey was recently selected to serve on the House Utility Ratepayer Protection Committee, which is charged with investigating the abandonment of the VC Summer nuclear facility in Jenkinsville, SC.

“The scale of this debacle is deeply unsettling and I am firmly committed to getting to the bottom of it all. I am looking at this entire situation with eyes wide-open and that includes looking in the mirror. While campaign contributions are vital to re-election, I cannot in good conscience keep contributions that might undermine my neighbors’ confidence in the integrity of my part in the investigation into this debacle.  As a former prosecutor and U.S. Marine, my deep and abiding sense of duty demands I do what I can to eliminate the possible appearance of impropriety,” Representative Micah Caskey stated.

Caskey chose to deliver the $1,750 in donations from Utility-related entities to the Salvation Army Woodyard Fund. The Woodyard Fund traces its roots back to 1816, when the Ladies Benevolent Society provided firewood to needy families during winter months. Today the fund works to help our community’s neediest families stay warm in the winter.

“I initially considered returning the funds directly to SCANA, but I decided that helping Midlands families who can’t afford the high cost of energy was a better use of the funds. SCANA just announced they made $121 million in profit last fiscal quarter – despite gross mismanagement of the Nuclear Project – so why not try to help someone else with their money?  Apparently, they have plenty; there’s no sense in giving it directly back to them.  I’d rather the money help our neighbors that need it most,” Representative Caskey explained.

S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas has called for Representative Caskey and 19 other House members to begin holding hearings next week to investigate and study the abandonment of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Plant construction and offer viable solutions.

“Hopefully, even this small amount will provide some relief to the hard-working people that need help.  I encourage my colleagues and neighbors to join me in supporting the Salvation Army’s Woodyard Fund. To the extent this can help reinforce people’s confidence in my commitment to be a voice for them, all the better.” Representative Caskey concluded.

###

Buh-bye, Bannon!

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Just thought I’d put up a place for folks to discuss this. I’ll try to join you later, but I’ve got a lot on my plate at the moment:

Trump gets rid of Stephen Bannon, a top proponent of his nationalist agenda

President Trump on Friday dismissed his embattled chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, an architect of his 2016 general election victory, in a major White House shake-up that follows a week of racial unrest, according to multiple administration officials.

Trump had been under mounting pressure to dispense with Bannon, who many officials view as a political Svengali but who has drawn scorn as a leading internal force encouraging and amplifying the president’s most controversial nationalist impulses.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said in a Friday afternoon statement to reporters: “White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day. We are grateful for his service and wish him the best.”

Some White House officials also said Friday they expect some of Bannon’s allies inside the administration to exit with him. Bannon works closely with a number of White House officials, including national security aide Sebastian Gorka and assistant Julia Hahn….

This raises a lot of questions for me, such as, “Does this mean we can try to resurrect TPP?” and “Will we stop giving the world the finger on the Paris accord?” And others. But I’ll let y’all get the ball rolling…

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The State Grand Jury is hurting my feelings

Everybody I know is getting called before the State Grand Jury. The latest:

University of South Carolina Harris Pastides was one of the people who testified this week to the State Grand Jury in a secret session.

“He was called as a fact witness,” university spokesman Wes Hickman told The State newspaper Thursday morning in answer to a query.

Pastides is one of an unknown number of people who have testified in an ongoing public corruption probe involving the public relations firm of Richard A. Quinn….

Pam Lackey, Trey Walker. Now Harris? Who hasn’t been called? Next thing you know, John Monk’s going to write that Lizard Man was sighted entering the Grand Jury room.

Future witness?

Future witness?

I’ll tell you who hasn’t been called: Me! What am I? Chopped liver?

Of course, I don’t know anything about the subject of the investigation beyond what I read in the papers. I’d have nothing to tell. You might as well call anybody at random off the street. But I’m not entirely sure, given this growing list of luminaries, that knowing anything about the matter at hand is a prerequisite.

Any of y’all been called? I wouldn’t be surprised. When and where will it all end, Mr. Natural?

Graham speaks to Trump as one does to a child

Another day, another statement from Lindsey Graham about Charlottesville. I was particularly struck by the wording of this one:

Graham Response on Charlottesville

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today made this statement on Charlottesville.Graham mug

“Mr. President, like most I seek to move our nation, my state, and our party forward – toward the light – not back to the darkness. 

“Your tweet honoring Miss Heyer was very nice and appropriate.  Well done. 

 “However, because of the manner in which you have handled the Charlottesville tragedy you are now receiving praise from some of the most racist and hate-filled individuals and groups in our country.  For the sake of our Nation — as our President — please fix this.

 “History is watching us all.”

 #####

I think you know the part I mean:

“Your tweet honoring Miss Heyer was very nice and appropriate.  Well done.

What a big boy you are! Here’s a sucker, and a pat on the head… Now remember to act that way all the time, and we’ll all be so proud of you…

Of course, you can see how he might speak to him that way, three hours after these Tweets:

Cindi gets the Wilson-Quinn memo issue just right

Cindi got it exactly right in this column:

Here’s an excerpt from the column:

So Mr. Wilson was not asking for advice from a target of the investigation, which would have been a resign or be removed from office sort of infraction. And worse.Wilson cropped

What he was doing — what no prosecutor should do — was consulting his political adviser about a criminal case. Mr. Wilson points out that he was not asking how to prosecute a case. He says his concern was to get through the exchange with “a cordial relationship” with Mr. Pascoe intact; and indeed, Mr. Quinn suggested removing some snark and making the letter more diplomatic. (In the end, Mr. Wilson called Mr. Pascoe rather than sending a letter.)

But the underlying topic was still a criminal matter.

Pretend that Mr. Wilson’s consultant had been named John Smith or Jane Jones or anything other than Richard Quinn. Pretend that his political consultant had never met Richard Quinn or Rick Quinn or Jim Merrill. Pretend that Alan Wilson was the only South Carolinian his political consultant had ever heard of. It still would have been inappropriate for Mr. Wilson to consult him. It simply is not acceptable for a prosecutor to seek political advice about anything involving his job as a prosecutor….

The point here is that the memo was sent at a time when there was little or no reason to suspect that Quinn would at some time be a central figure in the investigation. So all that stuff from the Democrats about how Wilson should resign or be fired is off-base.

But it is improper for a prosecutor to seek political advice on how he’s dealing with a criminal investigation. The fact that all elected AGs most likely do it is no excuse.

So, if and when Wilson faces re-election to his post, and voters are tallying the pros and cons as to whether to vote for him, this should go in the “con” column. And that’s about it.

One way to think about Confederate monuments

The soldier monument, back before the flag came down.

The soldier monument, back before the flag came down.

Ross Douthat, the conservative columnist for the NYT, set out an interesting train of thought in a dozen Tweets today. Maybe they’ll turn into a column; maybe not. But here are the Tweets:

I like the dichotomy — separating monuments to soldiers who suffered and died in a cause that was above their pay grade from monuments and plaques to people who had a choice, and decided policy.

Oh, by the way, the monuments debate is coming home now. I suppose we’ll need to discuss it:

But, along the lines of Douthat’s argument, I can’t see ever going after the generic Confederate soldier monument that stands at the juncture of Main and Gervais.

In any case, I’m with Joel Sawyer on this point. If you want to go after statues of individuals, I’d start with Ben Tillman. But by way of full disclosure, I suppose I’m biased: My grandmother’s family was squarely opposed to Tillman, which made it awkward when he was their neighbor in Washington. And my newspaper The State (it’s still my newspaper) was founded to fight the Tillman machine.

So consider the source…

Thoughts about the ‘fashy’ haircut?

fashy

One morning this week — probably Monday — I made my way to my usual table for breakfast, and just before sitting noticed the two young men at the table behind me.

I had noticed them before, for one reason only — their haircuts. One of them is more noticeable than the other, because his hair is blond, which makes the cut pop out more. His hair is always the same — cut almost down to the skin on the sides and back, longer but cut and shaped with obsessive care on the top, and plastered down. Not a hair is out of place.

Again, I successfully resisted the temptation to ask, “How often do you get your hair cut?” Because it always looks like he rose from the barber’s chair in the last five minutes, if not more recently. What kind of commitment to one’s appearance must that take?

As a guy who likes to get his hair cut really short so I don’t have to go back for a couple of months, maybe three — saving time and money — I idly wondered how much it would cost for me to maintain a look like that, all the time. And then I immediately thought, no one wants to see me with that haircut, ever, even for a moment — because I’d look like a colonel in the Waffen-SS. No, let’s be precise: I’d look kind of like Reinhard Heydrich, who may well be the scariest-looking man to have lived in the past century. Not an image I’m going for.

Sitting down to my breakfast, I immediately forgot about the guys behind me and their hair. For about one minute. Then, reading about what happened in Charlottesville, I ran across this:

Yes, there were swastika-tattooed, Ku Klux Klan-hooded 50-somethings on the streets of Charlottesville. The most chilling photos, however, show hordes of torch-bearing, fresh-faced, “fashy”-coiffed white men in their teens and 20s.

And immediately, without following the link, and in spite of my bottomless ignorance about current fashion, I knew exactly what sort of coif she meant. Here’s how the story at that link, from 2016, describes it:

We need to talk about a haircut. Also about identity, and hatred, and maybe about the total end of American civilization — but first about a haircut.

You have seen it. It is short on the sides and long on the top. It is clean and tidy, with a military sheen. It’s been popular among young people for several years. But now this haircut is making us ask ourselves, with seriousness that seems unthinkable in 2016: hipster or Nazi?

Young city-dwelling men leaving their SoulCycle classes in leftover “I’m With Her” T-shirts.

Young white-nationalism enthusiasts leaving a recent conference in Washington, D.C., where several of them performed a Nazi salute.

The same haircut. The exact same haircut….

By the way, about those two young fellows sitting behind me: I’m quite certain that they are not neo-Nazis, or white supremacists. Why? Because I keep seeing them at the Capital City Club, which was founded for reasons that are the precise opposite of white supremacy. If you want to be a white supremacist, there are other clubs you can join. I’m assuming they’re just go-getter young businessmen who want to look sharp.

John Dillinger, hipster?

John Dillinger, hipster?

And it’s a time-honored way of looking sharp. It was popular a century ago, and continued to be fashionable into the 1930s, based on old photos. You see that cut on everyone from actors on “Boardwalk Empire” (set right after the Great War) to John Dillinger. OK, maybe Dillinger’s another bad example. But the fact is, about 20 or 30 years before I was born, lots of guys wore their hair that way, and not all of them were fascists or gangsters.

I wonder if those two guys I keep seeing know some people are calling it a “fashy” cut, or that hipsters have for some time ironically called it a “Hitler Youth?

I suppose I could give them a heads-up (sorry), but I don’t think that’s the best way to start a conversation with someone you don’t know…

 

 

Joel Lourie: Time to invoke the 25th

Joel Lourie has retired from politics, but today he could not restrain himself. He sent this out as an email:

JLourieUnder the 25th amendment, if the President becomes unable to discharge the duties of the office or becomes incapacitated, he can be replaced by the vice-president. Regardless of what I may think of the vice-president’s politics, he strikes me as an honorable man and a stark contrast to Trump.

Time to invoke the 25th…

I don’t know if the 25th is the way to go or not, although some have made strong arguments in favor of it. What do y’all think?

Oh, by way of disclosure: Joel’s business is an ADCO client…

SCE&G backs off plan to charge ratepayers for abandoned nuclear project

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Sheesh. Earlier, I had a headline that said, “Never mind: SCE&G drops request to abandon nuclear project.” That was from a report at thestate.com. That is no longer the operative statement, as Ron Ziegler would say. This is the operative statement:

SCE&G backs off plan that could hit customers for costs of failed nuclear plant

Still an important story, but not nearly as important as initially reported.

 

Graham’s healthcare plan: I’m just not seeing it

Graham pushing his healthcare plan in Columbia today.

Graham pushing his healthcare plan in Columbia today.

Y’all know I tend to be a fan of Lindsey Graham, but sometimes I just can’t go along.

The healthcare plan he’s touting is one of those times.

Yeah, I appreciate that he’s been dismissive of what other Republicans have been putting up in their desperation to be able to say they “repealed Obamacare.” And I like that he says “federalism” a lot in advocating for it. And that it’s really, really different from anything the GOP leadership in Washington has come up with yet.

But that’s about it.

Basically, he wants to turn it all over to the states: Have the feds give the states block grants, and let the states decide for themselves what kind of system they want. His plan for getting it through an Obamacare-repeal-weary Senate is to enlist governors to help him push it — he says our own Henry McMaster likes it.

There are a couple things about it that bug me. First, the whole idea of having 50 little systems instead of one big one. To my mind, that throws away one of the greatest advantages of having a governmental system — a gigantic national system that includes everybody (which you’d have if you had real mandates with teeth) gives you economies of scale, and the mother of all bargaining positions when it comes to negotiating costs down.

I asked the senator about that at a press availability he had at his Columbia office today. He replied that costs have risen dramatically in the Medicare and Medicaid systems, so my principle doesn’t work.

This was a general availability for working press, so I didn’t do what I would have done in an editorial board meeting: argue with him. I didn’t say, How do you know costs wouldn’t have risen much higher with 50 separate systems? Nor did I say, if there’s any reform that might lower costs or slow increases, wouldn’t it be easier to implement nationally than in 50 different systems?

And I didn’t get into the essential unfairness of forcing Americans to leave their homes and move to another state if their state doesn’t provide the health benefits they need.

Which seems a scenario South Carolinians would likely face. I ask you, what sort of system do you think we’re likely to get in a state that said “no” to Medicaid expansion — to a deal under which the feds would have covered the whole additional cost for the first three years, and 90 percent of it thereafter? How savvy was that? Do you want the same elected leaders who turned that down designing a system?

I may have voted for John Kasich last year (partly because the decision he made to expand Medicaid), and would do so again given the same primary choice, but I wouldn’t want to have to move to Ohio to get decent coverage. Would you?

Some other topics Graham covered at the presser:

  • Charlottesville. He said Trump missed a big opportunity Saturday to “jump on hate with both feet.” He said the white supremacists think they have an ally in the president, and “Donald Trump’s job is to persuade them that he is not their friend.” He gives Trump credit for saying good things Monday, but that must be followed by action. The administration needs to “come down like a hammer” on hate groups. He wants to see Sessions prosecuting what happened aggressively. “Don’t let these people drag us back into the darkness.”
  • The abandonment of SCANA and Santee Cooper’s nuclear project. Setting aside the fact that what he said may now be out of date, I liked what he said. He said if these two plants and the one in Georgia all fail, “that’s the end of the nuclear renaissance.” And that’s bad news for anyone who cares about global warming or energy independence. He points to France as a country that wisely gets most of its power from nuclear, and notes with satisfaction that at 50 percent, South Carolina already gets a higher proportion of its power from that source than any other state. He doesn’t want to see us, or the nation as a whole, lose that advantage, and asks, “What has happened to our industrial base that we can’t do big things anymore?”
  • “I don’t think war is imminent with North Korea.” But he does worry about the future if Kim is not stopped. He worries less, though, about a direct attack on the United States — he thinks Kim’s generals can restrain him — and more about a future when Kim has the H bomb, and is in a position to sell it to others who may use it. And he puts the onus on North Korea’s big neighbor, saying “China is 100 percent responsible for North Korea.” Without Chinese support, he said, there is no Kim regime.

Advertise on my blog, or I WILL BLOT OUT THE SUN!

Hank Morgan tied to the stake: Illustration of the eclipse scene in Connecticut Yankee.

Hank Morgan tied to the stake: Illustration of the eclipse scene in Connecticut Yankee.

I will smother the whole world in the dead blackness of midnight; I will blot out the Sun, and he shall never shine again; the fruits of the Earth shall rot for lack of light and warmth, and the peoples of the Earth shall famish and die, to the last man!

— Hank’s threat to Arthur’s realm, in Connecticut Yankee

I loved it that Cindi Scoppe cited one of my all-time favorite books in her column today.

Even though we worked together all those years, I don’t recall her ever mentioning Twain’s Connecticut Yankee. In fact, I don’t recall her speaking with interest about any works of fiction. Cindi’s too busy for fiction. She spends her evenings reading bills and legal filings, so she can knowledgeably dissect them in the paper.

I, too, have been thinking a lot about Hank Morgan, what with all this talk about the eclipse.

Ah, to have a gullible 6th century population so that I, too, might be able to control them with my knowledge of the coming moments of midday darkness! Morgan not only saved himself from the stake, but seized control of Arthur’s Britain by claiming credit for the eclipse.

What would I do with such superior knowledge? I suppose I could greatly increase my revenues by saying, “Advertise on my blog, or I will blot out the sun!” (Might as well. Nothing else seems to work. That is, my personal strategy of sitting back and waiting for ads hasn’t worked too well. I suppose there are other avenues.)

Of course, they didn’t have blogs in Arthur’s day. But that wouldn’t have stopped Hank Morgan — in no time at all, he had all the knights of the Round Table talking on telephones and playing baseball (in their armor). If Twain had written it a century later, he’d have made Clarence a webmaster.

I’ve got to go back and read that again. Fortunately, I have it on my iPad…

My car is SUCH a crybaby

crybaby

Stop me if I’ve mentioned this before…

These days I drive a 1997 Volvo. It’s a great car, although a bit worse for wear. It was my father-in-law’s car, and my wife inherited it from him. The last few months I’ve been driving it, because our larger, newer Buick is more suitable for my wife to chauffeur the grandchildren in.

I love it, especially in the winter, as it’s the only vehicle among our three with heated seats. I hate having hot, dry air in my face. So I fire up the seat, and let the air I’m breathing stay relatively cool. It’s great.

But, being from Sweden, the car gets seriously traumatized by Columbia summers. For one thing, it has air-conditioning that probably works great in a place where a hot summer’s day is about 75 degrees, but tends to get overwhelmed by our Famously Hot days. But that’s OK; I stay comfortable enough.

I can’t say the same for the car. It freaks out, and the most dramatic manifestation of this is that it starts lying pathologically. On a typical summer day, it pretty much always claims that the temperature is 10 degrees higher than it is. It’s like it’s making excuses: You expect air-conditioning to deal with this kinda heat? Are you nuts?!?

Today, I left it parked with the windows and sunroof open, so it wouldn’t get too hot. I came back to the car, and it was claiming that the temp was 108 degrees!

I checked my phone. It was 92.

Again, I love the car, but it is such a whiner…

How far have we come in 70 years? Maybe not so far…

cadet

When I saw the above story, and especially the picture with it, I had to smile.

Look at that young woman! She has worked hard, and achieved a milestone toward a lifelong goal. She deserves the joy I see in her face. God bless her. I’d like to meet her and shake her hand, and thank her for her service, and her drive to excel in that service. For the rest of the day, I’d probably feel much better about Life, the Universe and Everything — and especially the human race, which as we know can be disappointing at times.

But when I read stories like this, this tiny, cynical voice tries to ruin it by saying something like “Another ‘first’ story. It’s 2017, and ‘first’ stories still get big play in The New York Times.”

Don’t blame me. On this point, I was warped early on. In high school, I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. And a lot of things about that book have stuck with me. Here’s one of them…

X tells this colorful sort of comic-opera story about himself that is much like the one Arlo Guthrie tells in “Alice’s Restaurant,” about how he got his draft notice, and upon arrival at the intake station went into an elaborate, over-the-top act to get a psychiatrist to rule him unfit for service.

This was 1943. X acts as crazy as he can while standing in line with the other draftees during the physical, and marvels at how long it takes them to pull him out of the queue. But eventually they do, and when he gets to the shrink’s office, he describes this scene:

firsts

Ignore the “not bad to look at” part. This was 1943, and even 20 years later when the book was written, we guys got to say stuff like that without being condemned for it.

Malcolm X in 1964

Malcolm X in 1964

No, my point is what X is saying about “first” stories. Reading this at 17, and rereading it today, I get the strong impression he held such stories in contempt. Part of this arises from the attitudes he would embrace through the Nation of Islam (views he would just be in the process of turning away from as the book was being written). He apparently held all involved in contempt — the white man for so grudgingly allowing black people such small achievements, and black folks for being so thrilled at such crumbs from the white man’s table.

I have never been a bitter cynic in the league of Malcolm X, and hope to God I never will be. I’m pleased for people who accomplish anything that improves their lives and inspires other people. But that anecdote has stuck with me over the years. And every time I see a story like this one today, that memory looms up.

About the time X was working with Alex Haley on that book, the white press joined the “Negro press” in celebrating such firsts. Which in and of itself was a fine thing, a form of progress, of the nation forming a consensus around its highest ideals.

But here it is 2017, and we’re still reading these stories? Almost a decade after the election of our “first black president,” this is still news?

To go back to where I started: I liked reading this story. I like reading about the achievement of a fellow human being named Simone Askew. This world needs more like her! But that part of me that was influenced by that book when I was younger (and far less accomplished) than she is makes me wonder whether it doesn’t take something away from her personal achievement to couch it in terms that Malcolm X scoffed at in 1943…

Identity politics is not the way forward for America

You ever see a Latin American Casta painting? They were used in colonial times to help everyone keep straight in their minds the rigid caste system based meticulously on various shades of racial heritage.

You ever see a Latin American Casta painting? They were used in colonial times to help everyone keep straight in their minds the rigid caste system in the Spanish colonies, based meticulously on various shades of racial heritage.

That would seem to be obvious, wouldn’t it, when we’re speaking of the white supremacists who demonstrated in Charlottesville?

But I mean it more broadly. This comes to mind because of a piece I read in the NYT Saturday, before the violence that led to three deaths.

The column, by Frank Bruni, wasn’t about Charlottesville. At least, he didn’t mention it. It was the sort of piece that steps back from the news and asks where we’re headed. It was headlined “I’m a White Man. Hear Me Out.” As a guy who’s been concerned about the Left’s obsession with Identity Politics for some years now, I was immediately drawn to that headline. And it was a good piece. It began:

I’m a white man, so you should listen to absolutely nothing I say, at least on matters of social justice. I have no standing. No way to relate. My color and gender nullify me, and it gets worse: I grew up in the suburbs. Dad made six figures. We had a backyard pool. From the 10th through 12th grades, I attended private school. So the only proper way for me to check my privilege is to realize that it blinds me to others’ struggles and should gag me during discussions about the right responses to them.

But wait. I’m gay. And I mean gay from a different, darker day. In that pool and at that school, I sometimes quaked inside, fearful of what my future held. Back then — the 1970s — gay stereotypes went unchallenged, gay jokes drew hearty laughter and exponentially more Americans were closeted than out. We conducted our lives in whispers. Then AIDS spread, and we wore scarlet letters as we marched into the public square to plead with President Ronald Reagan for help. Our rallying cry, “silence = death,” defined marginalization as well as any words could.

So where does that leave me? Who does that make me? Oppressor or oppressed? Villain or victim? And does my legitimacy hinge on the answer?

To listen to some of the guardians of purity on the left, yes…

Of course, being a thoughtful sort, he disagrees with that assessment. He goes on to explain why, and pretty persuasively, I think. But then, I didn’t need persuading.

I urge you to read the whole column.

I like his ending, so I will share it and hope the NYT regards it as fair use:

… At the beginning of this column I shared the sorts of personal details that register most strongly with those Americans who tuck each of us into some hierarchy of blessedness and affliction. So you know some important things about me, but not the most important ones: how I responded to the random challenges on my path, who I met along the way, what I learned from them, the degree of curiosity I mustered and the values that I honed as a result.

Those construct my character, and shape my voice, to be embraced or dismissed on its own merits. My gayness no more redeems me than my whiteness disqualifies me. And neither, I hope, defines me.

Bruni seemed to expect to get some criticism for his column. That’s something that all opinion columnists expect. His one beef was his concern that too much of it would be of this variety. Shut up, white man. You have nothing of value to contribute.

He had a cautionary example before him: The reaction to a piece written right after the election by Mark Lilla, described by Wikipedia as “a self-described liberal,” was of just that sort — criticism rooted in his white-manness, not in the quality of his arguments.

That essay in November was somewhat optimistically headlined “The End of Identity Liberalism.” What he is describing is something that has by no means ended. But he suggests that its time as a viable strategy for winning elections is past, if there ever was such a time.

Lilla, like Bruni, made good arguments. (Again, I was part of the choir on this, so maybe reaching me wasn’t a major accomplishment.) It’s a longer piece, in which Lilla introduces his theme this way:

But how should this diversity shape our politics? The standard liberal answer for
nearly a generation now has been that we should become aware of and “celebrate”
our differences. Which is a splendid principle of moral pedagogy — but disastrous as
a foundation for democratic politics in our ideological age. In recent years American
liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual
identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a
unifying force capable of governing.

One of the many lessons of the recent presidential election campaign and its
repugnant outcome is that the age of identity liberalism must be brought to an end.
Hillary Clinton was at her best and most uplifting when she spoke about American
interests in world affairs and how they relate to our understanding of democracy.
But when it came to life at home, she tended on the campaign trail to lose that large
vision and slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to AfricanAmerican,
Latino, L.G.B.T. and women voters at every stop. This was a strategic
mistake. If you are going to mention groups in America, you had better mention all
of them. If you don’t, those left out will notice and feel excluded. Which, as the data
show, was exactly what happened with the white working class and those with strong religious convictions. Fully two-thirds of white voters without college degrees voted
for Donald Trump, as did over 80 percent of white evangelicals…

And here’s the kind of future toward which Lilla urges liberals:

We need a post-identity liberalism, and it should draw from the past successes
of pre-identity liberalism. Such a liberalism would concentrate on widening its base
by appealing to Americans as Americans and emphasizing the issues that affect a
vast majority of them. It would speak to the nation as a nation of citizens who are in
this together and must help one another. As for narrower issues that are highly
charged symbolically and can drive potential allies away, especially those touching
on sexuality and religion, such a liberalism would work quietly, sensitively and with
a proper sense of scale. (To paraphrase Bernie Sanders, America is sick and tired of
hearing about liberals’ damn bathrooms.)

Teachers committed to such a liberalism would refocus attention on their main
political responsibility in a democracy: to form committed citizens aware of their
system of government and the major forces and events in our history. A post-identity
liberalism would also emphasize that democracy is not only about rights; it also confers duties on its citizens, such as the duties to keep informed and vote. A postidentity
liberal press would begin educating itself about parts of the country that
have been ignored, and about what matters there, especially religion. And it would
take seriously its responsibility to educate Americans about the major forces shaping
world politics, especially their historical dimension…

Amen to that. And I would likewise say “amen” to a “post-identity conservatism.” Personally, I don’t care where it comes from on the ideological spectrum, because I don’t believe in the ideological spectrum, which I see as just another way that short-sighted people seek to divide us.

The liberal, conservative or (oh, consummation devoutly to be wished!) independent who compelling invokes what we have in common as Americans, and builds a vision for our future on it, has my vote.

About what happened in Charlottesville…

Lee

Y’all, I’ve had quite a few thoughts about this, but they’re all pretty involved and would take me time to develop and I haven’t had the time. But for now, I’ll do what I should have done Saturday — put up a sort of Open Thread devoted to what happened at Charlottesville, so y’all can get a conversation rolling.

Some possible avenues of exploration:

  1. Trump’s statement — As I’ve said many times before, I don’t think the president’s job description should, normally speaking, include issuing statements in reaction to every traumatic thing that happens across the country. But if he’s going to say something, it should be something that, for starters, doesn’t make matters worse. Trump utterly failed to meet that standard. And it wasn’t just his usual complete lack of thoughtfulness or hamhandedness with the English language. We know why he responded the way he did: He does not share the fundamental values of most Americans. He actually values the rock-solid backing of white supremacists, and doesn’t want to say anything that erodes that support.
  2. How do we prevent such violence without violating the 1st Amendment? If the ACLU stood up for the “right” of Illinois Nazis to march through Skokie, surely it would sue to uphold that right with this latter-day group of racist yahoos. And who’s to say the ACLU would be wrong? Personally, I think they were wrong in the Skokie days — sure, the Hitler fan club had the right to say what it wanted, but letting them do it in Skokie is too much of an offense against human dignity to allow it. This case seems fuzzier. Again, yes, they have free speech rights. But they went out of their way to express themselves in a place guaranteed to create as much tension, and likely violence, as possible. Should that be allowed? Does the free-speech clause guarantee freedom of venue? Such as, say, a crowded theater?
  3. If there would to be such a rally in Columbia, would you attend? I mean to protest, or for any other reason. Would you see yourself as having an obligation to show up in public to register your disapproval, or would you dismiss it by staying away and not giving the Brownshirt types the attention they crave? I can see arguments both ways.
  4. What about that Robert E. Lee statue? I hesitate to mention this because I don’t want to dignify the supposed “issue” that motivated the demonstration. But I mention it only to say that I have no position on the “issue.” What the University of Virginia chooses to display or to take down is none of my business, and I think Charlottesville homeboy Thomas Jefferson would back me on that. I feel like we have enough going on here in South Carolina and don’t need to weigh in on what they do up there. I would argue that any of those white supremacists who were not from Virginia lack such standing as well…

Anyway, that’s for starters. Happy conversing…

Dr. Strangetweet or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Don

Nothing. I just wanted to use that headline.

What a week.

Do you remember in the movie, when Peter Sellers as the President has his phone conversation with the Soviet premier?

Hello? Hello, Dimitri? Listen, I can’t hear too well, do you suppose you could turn the music down just a little? Oh, that’s much better. Yes. Fine, I can hear you now, Dimitri. Clear and plain and coming through fine. I’m coming through fine too, eh? Good, then. Well then as you say we’re both coming through fine. Good. Well it’s good that you’re fine and I’m fine. I agree with you. It’s great to be fine. laughs Now then Dimitri. You know how we’ve always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the bomb. The bomb, Dimitri. The hydrogen bomb. Well now what happened is, one of our base commanders, he had a sort of, well he went a little funny in the head. You know. Just a little… funny. And uh, he went and did a silly thing. Well, I’ll tell you what he did, he ordered his planes… to attack your country. Well let me finish, Dimitri. Let me finish, Dimitri. Well, listen, how do you think I feel about it? Can you imagine how I feel about it, Dimitri? Why do you think I’m calling you? Just to say hello? Of course I like to speak to you. Of course I like to say hello. Not now, but any time, Dimitri. I’m just calling up to tell you something terrible has happened. It’s a friendly call. Of course it’s a friendly call. Listen, if it wasn’t friendly, … you probably wouldn’t have even got it.

The source of the comedy is that he is SO reasonable, so measured, so like a supremely patient elementary school teacher in his effort to calm the drunken Russian. Deferential. Diffident. Studiously unprovocative.

That doesn’t seem quite as funny now…

Dr-Strangelove-3-1