Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Thursday, November 5, 2015 9:36 pm

RIP J. Howard Coble — by Sam Rayburn’s standards, the last honest congresscritter

“Son, if you can’t take their money, drink their whiskey, screw their women, and then vote against ’em, you don’t deserve to be here.” — attributed to U.S. House Speaker Sam Rayburn, c. 1950.

Howard Coble, who represented North Carolina’s 6th Congressional District for 30 years, died late Tuesday evening — Election Night here in Greensboro, as it happened — and a tsunami of respect and even love has flooded the Internet as a consequence.

The News & Record’s news story called Coble a Republican icon who also was “beloved by area Democrats.” The News & Record’s editorial page said that Coble, popular though he was, “wasn’t appreciated enough.” My Facebook feed was filled with tributes from local folks from both parties and no party at all.

Like almost anyone who has lived in the district any length of time, I have my own Howard Coble story to tell, one that goes beyond our interactions as politician and journalist. He was extremely helpful to me when I was job hunting after I took the News & Record buyout in 2009 even though he had no particular reason to be. He got in touch on my behalf with people whose names you see regularly in the paper and on TV. I don’t owe my current jobs to him, but it certainly wasn’t because he wasn’t working for me.

And, yes, even by the standards of Congress, where good constituent service is considered the bare performance minimum for a congresscritter to have a hope of re-election, Coble’s constituent service — or, more precisely, that of the staff he hired and oversaw — was legendary.

But there was a big and important contradiction at the heart of Coble’s politics that all this outpouring overlooked. My friend Lynn Holt-Campbell, who runs an insurance agency in High Point with her husband, wrote something on Facebook that sums it up: ” I met Howard a few times (and yes, he told me to call him “Howard”) … though we were just about polar opposites on a lot of political issues, he was a very, very nice man who deeply loved his state.”

In a nutshell, Coble cultivated a tone of bipartisanship — arguably a necessity for a Republican politician who came of age when Democrats were still in control and who won his second term by only 79 votes — but from 1989 on he voted a very conservative line in Congress; if you look at his record, you’ll see that he was pretty much straight Gingrichite/Tea Party without the idiotic rhetoric. The result was that while he professed to love the people of his district, he voted for many things that hurt most of them.

He supported trade policies that ultimately decimated the 6th District’s predominant industries of furniture and textiles. A former N.C. state revenue secretary, he professed an emphasis on a balanced budget but voted consistently for budget-busting GOP tax cuts that benefited the very wealthy to the detriment of an overwhelming majority of his constituents. He once told me on the record that Congress ought to use its constitutional power of interstate-commerce regulation to ban the use of tax-paid economic incentives to lure employers across state lines, but in all his time in the House he never lifted a finger to do anything about it. And American intellectual-property law, with its gifts to behemoth content creators, became, on his watch as the chairman of the House subcommittee overseeing it, the place where creativity goes to die.

Moreover, a former federal prosecutor, he voted for Bill Clinton’s impeachment even when he knew (or should have known) that not all the elements for a perjury charge were present, but he utterly ignored the far more thoroughly documented war crimes (including torture) and crimes against humanity committed by the Bush administration after 9/11. He cast himself as favoring small government, but there was no big-government overreach he didn’t back, from the PATRIOT Act to warrantless domestic wiretapping. He never took sometimes declined to take a public position on gay marriage — ostensibly because, as a lifelong bachelor, he felt himself unqualified to do so. In point of fact, during his tenure Congress never had to vote on the issue he voted for a number of anti-gay marriage measures, including the Defense of Marriage Act..

But you have heard little of that these past couple of days. The Howard Coble who voted to screw the middle class and working class, who pushed the interests of big business over small business, who signed on to some of the government’s worst post-9/11 excesses, who consistently pushed tax and economic policies detrimental to the interests of the overwhelming majority of the 6th District’s residents, and who kept his mouth shut while supporting some of the most wild-eyed initiatives of the Gingrich crew and the Tea Party, didn’t make an appearance. The most the News & Record could bestir itself to say was that Coble was “a reliable conservative” who “voted for tax cuts and championed restrictive intellectual property bills beloved by large corporations.” That was it.

The contrast between Coble and the current crop of Republican presidential candidates is striking. They’re all talk, and they’re going nowhere. Coble talked rationally, even in nonpartisan fashion at times, but his votes did and are continuing to do enormous damage to his district and the people of North Carolina on behalf of a few wealthy backers, damage that will long outlive his 30-year tenure in Congress.

In short, I don’t know about drinking our whiskey and screwing our women, but he took our money and voted against us over and over and over again. And that, in the post-Citizens United era, is what being an honest politician has come to mean, and how low the bar has sunk.

Monday, November 2, 2015 7:51 pm

#GamerGate, persecution and privilege

Not long ago I had my first run-in with Gamergate. It started, innocuously enough for me, with the news that the March 2016 South by Southwest music/film/interactivity festival (SXSW) had scheduled a session on online harassment and one on video gaming. Then the festival organizers announced that both panels had been canceled because of what they deemed credible threats of on-site violence. Then sponsors got involved. At this writing, I’m not sure how that will shake out, but how it does is irrelevant to the point I’m going to try to make.

I suppose I should stop here and explain what Gamergate is, but I warn you that if you ask six different people what Gamergate is (or “is about”), you’re likely to get six or seven different answers. In general, the answers break down into two camps: People who say they are concerned about the harassment of women in video game design specifically (and women online and in tech work generally), and  people who say they are concerned about integrity in video-game journalism. As I write this, the Wikipedia entry on the subject is a reasonably good summary, although more heavily tilted toward the harassment angle than the people who say they are concerned about integrity in video-game journalism probably care for. I’ll let you take a minute to go read that entry rather than rehashing it here.

You done? Good. Moving on.

SXSW’s planned session on online harassment was to have featured panelists who had previously been targets of online harassment, including Randi Lee Harper, Caroline Sinders and Katherine Cross. The separate video gaming panel was to have featured people who have been associated with the Gamergate movement,  including Perry Jones, Mercedes Carrera, Nick Robalik, and Lynn Walsh.

I know none of these people. More broadly, the last time I cared much about a video game probably was Missile Command in the early ’80s. Maybe I should care; gaming is a bigger financial deal than the movies or the music bidness now. But, then, I don’t see many movies or buy many CDs these days, either.

And as far as ethics in video-game journalism goes …. Well, I am a huge fan of ethical journalism, full stop. But I was a music journalist from my late teens until my mid-20s, when I just stopped. And the reason I stopped was that I had concluded that it was silly to apply the rubric of journalism to something that was, at bottom, a matter of taste. Sure, there’s hard news to be had in the music business, as there is in any other activity in which money changes hands, and that’s true of gaming as well. But the ethos of the time was to treat criticism as journalism, and I basically decided that that was intellectual wankery and I wasn’t going to do it anymore. For good or ill (and disagree if you like, but we’re not having that particular argument here), I take the same view of video-game criticism and much of the other writing around video games.

So, given that background, I didn’t really care about Gamergate, in and of itself. Not my circus, not my monkeys. But, being a son, husband, brother, father, uncle, cousin, friend, and co-worker to a whole passel of really bright, opinionated women, most of whom eat more shit in a week than I have had to eat my entire career, I care about harassment of women a lot, and I don’t have a lot of patience for people who engage in it or defend it. And having been a writer for a living for, oh, four decades give or take, and having had my own life threatened a time or two, I care a lot about the use of violence, or the threat of it, to shut down discourse.

And so I retweeted someone else’s opinion that canceling the sessions had been a mistake. I did that because I thought SXSW was wrong to give in to threats. And I added an opinion of my own: that maybe SXSW, an organization devoted to discourse, wasn’t exactly thinking clearly when it invited people from a movement with a history of harassment to have a panel.

That brought a response from one Gamergater. I don’t recall exactly what she said, and I can’t go back and look it up because I blocked her and have forgotten her handle, but it annoyed me enough to respond fairly harshly before blocking her.

And I did make one simple but consequential mistake. Because I didn’t care enough about the individual to look up the profile of that person for gender clues before responding, or responding to a third party about her, I referred to her in at least one tweet as having been male.

Wellnow. That brought the Gamergaters, or people whose Twitter profiles suggested that they were Gamergaters, out of the woodwork, and never was the phrase “flying monkeys” more apt, right down to the feces flinging. A lot of the respondents disagreed with my original point, which, well, it’s a free country. But a lot more were outraged that I had referred to a female respondent as male, and you’d have sworn from the substance of their remarks that they actually gave a damn about online harassment of women, intentional misgendering and other elevated subjects. Their tone, however, was a little more revealing: Collectively, they seemed to imply that the crime I had committed had been far worse than, oh, say, willfully and intentionally harassing a woman online, complete with threats of rape and other vileness. In other words, they were using the language of online equality to communicate a message utterly at odds with that equality. Their response to being accused of threatening and harassing was to harass. Either the irony of their behavior was lost on them or, more likely, they were being disingenuous assholes.

I have no patience for disingenuous assholes, particularly pseudonymous online ones. So I blocked them. And kept blocking. And kept blocking. I’m not sure how many there were or how long it took — several dozen and a couple of days, I’m guessing — but it finally died down.

And I was gonna leave it at that. But here’s the thing.

They might not be my monkeys, but online harassment of women simply for being women with opinions that other people don’t like is at least partially my circus, just as it is partially the circus of everyone who values online communication. Moreover, I won the cosmic lottery of having been born white, male, middle-class, American, and privileged, which gives me a free pass on a lot of the stuff that people who look different from me have to put up with from people who look like me. It’s a useless superpower in a lot of ways, and yet I feel obliged to use it for good.

Perhaps that’s why several of them referred to me disparagingly as a “social justice warrior” or “socjus.” Hey, better to be a warrior for social justice than for being a harassing dick.

Your mileage on Gamergaters may vary. But here’s mine, and I’m driving it hard: While there are, I’m sure, individual exceptions, the ones I’ve dealt with tend to equate losing their privilege, or even having the subject raised, with being persecuted. There’s a lot of that going around these days. I understand why you, if you’re a Gamergater, might feel that way. But the fact that you feel that way doesn’t make it true. It doesn’t justify harassing other people who disagree. It doesn’t mean SXSW owes you a forum. And it sure as hell doesn’t mean you’re entitled to be taken seriously.

Yes, I realize that some of the GGers who flocked around me were women with their own stories. Some of them have claimed to have been harassed themselves, and I have no doubt that that’s true in some cases. But the way to fight online dickery is not by being a dick to people who have nothing to deserve dickery. And while no dickery is justifiable, some is more understandable: Lashing out against people who either have engaged directly in unprovoked harassment or have defended it and cheered it on? I won’t defend that, but, lord, I understand it.

So if you’re serious about ethics in gaming journalism, then, go with God and be serious about ethics in gaming journalism. Feel free to point out conflicts of interests or other ethical lapses where you can document them, and share that information with every audience you can find that cares. But let that documentation speak for itself — which, if it’s any good, it will. And if you want to disagree with women about their opinions, knock yourself out. Prove why they’re wrong, if you can.

And where you can’t, see if you can at least not throw rape threats around every third tweet. If that’s too much for you to manage, don’t be surprised at the response you get.

Happy birthday …

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 6:48 am

… to a great American and the guy who is effectively this blog’s co-host, Fred Gregory!

Monday, October 12, 2015 8:17 pm

Odds and ends for Oct. 12

Stop the presses: Countries that spend money to reduce poverty actually reduce poverty. Go figure. (The Great Society, by the way, cut the U.S. poverty rate in half until retrenchment began in the ’70s under Nixon.)

So we deport migrants back to their Central American “homes,” where they are murdered shortly after. Great policy we’ve got there.

Angus Deaton, today’s winner of the Nobel Prize in economics (and congratulations to him!), warns that inequality is a big threat to our long-term economic well-being. Also? He says it’s a threat to democracy, as well.

The constitutional illiterates who want a 6-foot-tall 10 Commandments monument at the Oklahoma capitol apparently are more keen on wanting it than paying for it.

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson once said of then-Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw that he couldn’t spell “cat” if you spotted him the C and the A. Which still makes Bradshaw, now a Fox Sports commentator, smarter than Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

Speaking of the Dallas Cowboys, they certainly are hateworthy, but their fans are making a fair case for liquidation.

Louisiana Gov. (and GOP presidential candidate) Bobby Jindal thinks we should impose a no-fly zone on ISIS in Syria. Which would be peachy if, you know, ISIS had any aircraft.

Speaking of Louisiana, the only thing worse than the fact that U.S. Sen. David “Diapers” Vitter is running for governor is the fact that the Times-Picayune newspaper in New Orleans endorsed him.

Some good news for a change: California has become the second state, after Oregon, to automatically register people to vote when they are issued a driver’s license. This should happen nationwide so that legislators never have the chance to get up to the kind of vote-suppression fkery they’re up to here in N.C.

The American South lost the Civil War, but in so many ways, the former Confederacy has been winning the ensuing peace. Now it’s winning the battle to keep wages low … worldwide.

Speaking of the American South, since the flooding began in South Carolina, we’ve heard that some dams burst or had to be opened before they burst, and we’ve learned that the state’s dams are in pretty crummy shape. Well, no surprise, the same is true here in North Carolina.

The first rule of legislating ought to be “First, do no harm.” And would that the N.C. General Assembly had stuck to that with respect to the solar-energy industry. But it didn’t. And that will have real costs.

In North Carolina, the labor commissioner is best known as the name and face on elevator inspection placards. But the position must do other things, too, like seek restitution for unpaid workers — which incumbent Cherie Berry has pretty much failed to do.

The fascists at ALEC are now trying to water down American history as it is taught in North Carolina. My friend Mark Barrett (Governor’s School ’77, Davidson ’82) shines some light on the subject.

Thursday, October 8, 2015 12:00 pm

Want to know how you can help survivors of the S.C. flooding?

The South Carolina Emergency Management Division has got you covered. So dig deep and give generously.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015 6:42 am

Happy birthday …

Filed under: Salute! — Lex @ 6:42 am
Tags: ,

… to two great Americans: my best friend, Tony Patterson, and Greensboro sociomusicoliterary czar Ogi Overman!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015 5:45 pm

Odds and Ends for Oct. 6

First things first: Here in Greensboro, the polls are open until 7:30 p.m. If you haven’t already voted, vote! It annoys the bastards.™

So did the Lions lose to the Seahawks last night because the officials knew the rule but made the wrong call? Or did they lose because the officials didn’t know the rule?

No one ever has paid me to be a campaign manager, but I cannot see any upside for Hillary Clinton to pulling out of New Hampshire. Bernie Sanders may lead her there now, but it’s months until the primary. The state awards delegates proportionately, so a loss could be almost as good as a win. The Clintons have a lot of history there; indeed, Hillary won there in 2008 after being left for dead. And is anyone seriously arguing that a campaign that took in $32 million in the third quarter can’t campaign there and on more promising turf? I think this is just a case of Politico doing what it does best, which is to let any old fool say any damnfool thing that comes to mind and treating it like a story.

So 87% of frequent flyers are annoyed by the TSA. The good news is, those 87% are at least 153% annoyed.

I don’t know why the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, got bombed by U.S. planes. All I know is that it did and that the organization is pulling out of the area, taking northern Afghanistan’s last trauma-care hospital with it. This needs investigating. If it was an accident, the U.S. government needs to be issuing abject apologies and paying reparations. If it was intentional, some people need to be charged with war crimes. Either way, some heads need to roll — and I mean commanders and civilian bureaucrats, not pilots.

An EU court has ruled that EU-based companies that store their data in U.S. servers are illegally exposing their customers’ data to snooping by the U.S. government. So not only is that snooping unconstitutional, it’s also bad for business. Maybe that will get the Republicans’ attention.

So once upon a time, South Carolina’s five Republican representatives and two Republican senators voted against federal disaster relief for the Northeast after Superstorm Sandy. Now, with all the flooding in South Carolina, they’re all, including presidential contender Lindsey Graham, seeking federal disaster relief for South Carolina. This is hypocrisy, but it’s more than that: It’s a bone-crushing level of stupid. Because when they were extending the middle finger to New Jersey and New York, did these intellectual ceiling tiles not think that tropical weather — or ice storms, for that matter — could make a huge mess of South Carolina?

Charlie Pierce has more:

Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in the path of the destruction, certainly. (To paraphrase Will McEvoy, nobody’s thoughts and prayers are with the flood.) But my memories go back to 2013, when a survey warned us that the country is chockfull of aging, obsolete dams, many of them of the earthen variety, like the ones that gave way in South Carolina today. That same survey found South Carolina’s performance on dam safety as leaky and unsafe as the dams themselves. I mean, 4.3 fulltime employees to monitor and inspect 550 dams, 162 of which were classified as “high-hazard.”

Talking fence post Ben Carson thinks the Oregon community-college shooting was as bad as it was because not enough people attacked the attacker and assures us he would have behaved differently. By his logic, not enough cavalrymen shot at Injuns at Little Big Horn and we must not have shot back at Pearl Harbor. His candidacy poses an interesting question: How dumb can a presidential candidate be before Republican voters notice?

Florida Senate candidate Augustus Sol Invictus once sacrificed a goat and drank its blood, which I not only am OK with, I also find it one helluva lot less bizarre than believing in supply-side economics.

A TV reporter asked a Dothan (Ala.) city commissioner a question and got hit twice in the face for his trouble. Commissioner Amos Newsome faces assault charges and is lucky not to have a high-def video camera stuck where the sun doesn’t shine.




Saturday, September 12, 2015 7:49 am

Giving the government a do-it-yourself proctological exam

Hi, kids. Ever want to live the glamorous life of an investigative reporter but also wanted to, you know, eat? Well, know, and I are placing a powerful investigative tool in your hands, absolutely free. It’s the Freedom of Information Act! This graphic will tell you most of what you need to know to place a Freedom of Information Act request, what to do if your request is denied, and generally how to go about using this wonderful and powerful tool.

A couple of caveats, based on my experience:

The FOIA is not a panacea for several reasons. First, it applies only to the federal executive branch, not to Congress or the federal courts, nor to any level of state or local government. (Here in North Carolina, the law that applies to state/local governments starts at N.C. General Statute 132.1 and goes forward from there; that’s a subject for another post.)

Second, some agencies handle FOIA requests a lot more quickly and sincerely than others, which leads me to caveat 2A: sometimes you can get what you need a lot more quickly and easily by checking the agency’s website, or even chatting up a friendly clerk or secretary, than by going through the FOIA hoops, if you happen to be physically close to the federal agency you need info from. (For local folks, some regional U.S. government agencies are around here, notably the V.A. in Winston-Salem and the Department of Labor in Greensboro.)

Third, there ARE exceptions to the act; it’s not a blank check.

Fourth, your own FOIA request becomes a public document that someone else can request a copy of, so if you don’t want anyone to know you’re looking into something, you’ll want to think twice about going the FOIA route.

And then there’s the fact that if you can’t get into the agency’s face live and in concert, filing a FOIA request can be like flying a paper airplane into the Grand Canyon. True story: In 1991, I filed a FOIA request with the Health Care Finance Administration seeking information regarding federal payments to a local medical practice, Southeastern Eye Center. I nursed that request, calling and writing every few months, from then until I got out of the newspaper bidness in 2009. Southeastern Eye Center is now in receivership. My FOIA request technically remains open, to the best of my knowledge.

But don’t let that scare you. I once got a useful response from the Federal Aviation Administration within 48 hours. (Faxes were involved.)

So, hey, if you want to know what a federal executive-branch agency has been doing, knock yourself out. Why should starving reporters have all the fun? Besides, the National Security Agency, at the least, probably already knows everything you’ve been doing, so turnabout is fair play, right?


Friday, September 11, 2015 8:48 am

For thou art with us

As always on this date, I find nothing to say that Sarah Bunting hasn’t already said better.

Thursday, September 10, 2015 5:08 pm

Don’t do it

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. Long story short, no reason is good enough, and I say that as someone who has looked into this particular abyss off and on for a long, long time. If you’re looking, too, drop what you’re doing and call 800-273-TALK.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015 8:26 pm

The ‘boro

Filed under: Cool! — Lex @ 8:26 pm
Tags: , ,

Greensboro, as my friend and former colleague Jerry Wolford sees us. Thanks, Jelly!


Sunday, August 30, 2015 6:35 am

New Orleans 10 years after Hurricane Katrina

When you need an elegy, always hire an Irish poet.

Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce:

All archaeology is about layers, one city laid atop the others, as though civilization were coming from deep in the earth and piling itself up toward the sky. In the late nineteenth century, when the German adventurer and archaeologist—and part-time fantast—Heinrich Schliemann went looking for the city of Troy, he found eleven of them, one atop another. At one level, Schliemann found a cache of gold and jewelry that he pronounced to be the treasure of Priam, the king of Troy at the time of the events of the Iliad. He was wrong. The gold had been found at what later was determined to be only Troy II. It is popularly believed now that Troy VII was the site of the war about which Homer wrote. There are bronze arrowheads there, and skeletons bearing the marks of hor-rendous injuries, and there is evidence of a great fire. What Schliemann wrote when he first made his discoveries there has held remarkably true for all the layers of Troy that have been unearthed since then:

“I have proved that in a remote antiquity there was in the Plain of Troy a large city, destroyed of old by a fearful catastrophe, which had on the hill of Hissarlik only its Acropolis, with its temples and a few other large edifices, whilst its lower city extended in an easterly, southerly, and westerly direction, on the site of the later Ilium; and that, consequently, this city answers perfectly to the Homeric description of the sacred site of Ilios.”

There is an archaeology to human lives, too, and it is very much the same. Human lives have layers, one atop the other, as though the individual were rising from the dust of creation toward the stars. Some of the layers show nothing much at all. Some of them, like the dark layers at Troy that indicate a vast fire, show that something very important happened to the lives in question. Hurricane Katrina, and all of the myriad events surrounding it, both good and bad, is that vast, sweeping layer within the lives of the people of New Orleans. Almost fifteen hundred people died. There was $100 billion in damage. The levees failed. The city flooded. The city, state, and federal governments failed even worse than the levees did. It was estimated in 2006 that four hundred thousand people were displaced from the city; an estimated one hundred thousand of them never returned. Parts of the city recovered. Parts of the city were rebuilt. Parts of the city gleam now brighter than they ever did. There will be parades on the anniversary of the storm because there are things in the city to celebrate, but it is the tradition in this city that the music doesn’t lively up and the parade really doesn’t start until the departed has been laid to rest, until what is lost is counted, and until the memories are stored away. Only then does the music swing the way the music is supposed to sound. Only then do they begin to parade.

There will be some joy in the tenth-anniversary celebration because of this, but the storm is there in everyone, a dark layer in the archaeology of their lives. For some people, it is buried deeply enough to be forgotten. For others, the people who live in the places that do not gleam and that are not new, it is closer to the surface. A lot of the recovery is due to what author Naomi Klein refers to as “disaster capitalism.” The city has been reconfigured according to radically different political imperatives—in its schools and its housing and the general relationship of the people to their city and state governments. Many of them felt their lives taken over by anonymous forces as implacable as the storm was. There will be some sadness in the tenth anniversary because of this, fresh memories of old wounds, a sense of looming and ongoing loss. The storm is the dark layer in all the lives. And because it is, the storm is what unites them still, like that burned layer of Troy.

It is what connects the memory of [New Orleans police officer] Daryle Holloway to that of [Dr.] Bennett deBoisblanc, both of whom worked to save lives at Charity Hospital, which is now closed, never to reopen. It connects them all, this dark layer in the deep strata of their lives. It connects Charity Hospital to the Lower Ninth Ward in the life of Irma Mosley, who was born at Charity fifty-four years ago and who now works at a community center in the Lower Ninth. It is on St. Claude Avenue, not far from where Daryle Holloway, whose mother worked at Charity, was shot and killed.


Saturday, August 29, 2015 4:41 pm

Odds and ends for Aug. 29

It was easier to give in than to keep running.

This is the kind of climate-change contradiction that likely can be explained only by following the money.

Sarah Palin interviews Donald Trump: the dumber leading the dumberer.

A West Point professor, Willliam Bradford, has gone WAY off the constitutional reservation on the War on Some Terror.

So fracking, among its many other charms, can produce radioactive material. Woo-hoo!

Remind me again why anyone would or should listen to Dick Cheney.

On this, the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Heckuva Job Brownie is quite literally the last person we need to hear from.


Friday, August 28, 2015 11:32 pm

Odds and ends for Aug. 28

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange may be a kiddy diddler or he may be totally innocent, but one way or the other, it’s long past time we found out which.

Even if this climate change legislation passes in California, I fear the extraction industries have too much sway in Congress to save us from climate-change-based extinction.

Sigh. The government gets another chance to justify its blatantly unconstitutional NSA info-gathering.

So guess what Subway knew years in advance about spokesperv Jared Fogle. Go on. You’ll never guess.

John Oliver now has been cited, approvingly, in a federal court decision. Go, John.

The anti-choice movement doesn’t give a damn about sexism, racism or ableism. They just want you to think they do. For that matter, if they gave a damn about preventing abortions, they’d be supporting cheaper, better birth control and better sex education, but they don’t care about that, either. What they care about is, to borrow a phrase from Charlie Pierce, ladyparts and the ladies who use them without permission.

We’re still holding dozens of people in Guantanamo whom we plan neither to charge nor to release. Sorry, Obama (and whoever succeeds you), but you don’t get to play that game. Charge ’em or let ’em go. Put up or shut up.

Was the “Nazi gold train” in Poland near the end of World War II real? And has it been found? Stay tuned.

Amid the Ashley Madison scandal, right-wing Christianity has been the dog that didn’t bark.

Turns out loser La. Gov. Bobby Jindal asked President Obama not to talk about climate change when he visited New Orleans yesterday for the Katrinaversary (h/t: @adrastosno). And the president reminded us again how empty is the bag of fks he has to give. Also: bonus stuff Jindal either doesn’t understand or is being paid to ignore.

If Peggy Noonan would just stop drinking, she’d sober up and realize that, no, Donald Trump is not going to carry the Hispanic vote. But that’s an “if” too far.

My friend Mark Barrett addresses the Koch Brothers’  move into N.C. health care, which can only be bad.

Finally, just because, my friend Beau Dure on the lyrical mess that is R.E.M.’s “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?”

Oh, and wait: A Friday Random 10!

R.E.M. – Driver 8 (You can’t make this up)
Delta Moon – Money Changes Everything
LMNT – Juliet
Velvet Underground – Waiting for the Man
Legendary Pink Dots – Black Highway
Jackson Browne – Pretender
Carbon Leaf – What About Everything
Morissey – Suedehead
Neil Young – Rockin’ in the Free World
Counting Crows – Rain King

lagniappe: Romeo Void – Never Say Never


Thursday, August 27, 2015 9:44 pm

Odds and ends for Aug. 27

I don’t have anything to add to the coverage and discussion of the fatal shootings on live TV of reporter Alison Parker and videographer Adam Ward yesterday in Virginia. The now-dead shooter clearly had problems but, given the state of our laws, probably not the type that would have prevented him from getting a gun. The media too quickly made the discussion about itself, when they weren’t outright endangering people’s lives, and I have no interest in adding to that pile of crap. And I’m beyond tired of people who say nothing can be done, as if we don’t actively choose, every single day, to do nothing. Something can be done — maybe not to have prevented this particular shooting, but to prevent many more like it. The whole racism angle was silly (and, no, I’m not linking to Breitbart, FFS). And I’m just profoundly sad for the victims and their families, friends, co-workers, and industry — the TV news bidness is even smaller than the newspaper bidness, so everybody knows everybody else, or at least knows of everybody else. The two dead victims went out to do a job and were ambushed, and I’ve got nothing.

Moving on …

North Dakota is weaponizing its police drones with so-called “less lethal” weapons such as tear gas, Tasers, and beanbag cannons. Internet, you may hereby consider the fatal wounding of an absolutely innocent civilian reasonably foreseen.

Yes, it’s true that roughly 3% of all peer-reviewed research on climate change differs from the predominant theory. It’s also true that several common errors often appear in that contrarian research.

At least one county court clerk in Kentucky plans to fight same-sex marriage — which, by the way, has been the law of the land for a couple of months without the world’s coming to an end — even unto death. Upon reflection, I’m fine if the door hits ya where the good Lord split ya. In fact, I hope it hurts a little.

If you want to try to indict Hillary Clinton for transmitting classified information via unsecured email during her tenure as Secretary of State, you can try — it wasn’t illegal at the time, but what the hey — but you’re going to have to indict a lot of other people as well. One of them might well have been Colin Powell, but we don’t know because his emails were illegally (although probably not criminally) deleted.

Two Seattle cops tried to get a metro bus driver fired, alleging that he had cursed them. Just one problem: the bus driver was wearing a body cam. Now the cops are the ones who have been fired. But one must ask: How often do cops lie just because they think they can? And if they do it over such chickenshit stuff as this, how likely are they to do it when they could be going to prison?

Just how badly doctored were the so-called “expose” videos on Planned Parenthood? Very badly.

Hurricane Erika could make landfall somewhere on the southeastern U.S. coast — possibly in North Carolina — in the next four or five days. Y’all stay safe.

North Carolina’s unemployment still sucks. Couldn’t be because the legislature keeps taking money from the middle class and the poor and giving it to the rich, could it? Nahhhh.

Blogging is dead? Someone forgot to tell the home of some of the original blogging. (h/t Jeff Sykes)

Stevie Ray Vaughan died 25 years ago today. Still miss ‘im.

And, finally, another reason to keep ISIS out of Greece: a newly-discovered palace near Sparta that dates to the 17th century B.C.E.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015 6:28 pm

Odds and ends for Aug. 26

When Hillary Clinton corralled journalists, journalists and pundits complained, and rightfully so. I trust they’ll do the same now that Donald Trump had reporter Jorge Ramos, whose audience is huge, physically removed from an event. Right?

Speaking of Trump, the N.C. GOP wants to ban him (and anyone else) from the state’s 2016 presidential primary unless they pledge to support whoever the party’s nominee turns out to be and promise not to run a third-party candidacy. This Republican wouldn’t vote for Trump at gunpoint but thinks that if you support him and he has filed, you deserve to get the chance to vote for him.

So, while it may have been incredibly stupid for Hillary Clinton to handle State Department info on a personal email account, it was against neither law nor policy at the time it happened. The same is true when her predecessor, Colin Powell, did the same thing, FWIW.

California schools are requiring kids to get vaccinated, so, naturally, parents are lining up to home-school their kids rather than vaccinate them. We need a vaccination against stupidity, is what we need.

Our legislature, which can’t be bothered to do its own damn job, has decided that it needs to kick the unemployed, even though North Carolina’s unemployed already get the nation’s lowest benefits. They should be reminded that this state is chock-full of pine trees and chickens, the raw material for tar and feathers.

Campaigns of and SuperPACs supporting four GOP governors running for president have received $2.5 million from “companies with state contracts or subsidies,” per the Wall Street Journal. But, go ahead, Justice Anthony Kennedy, tell me again how money in politics creates neither the reality nor the appearance of corruption.

So Raleigh anti-abortion activists are now harassing clinic escorts and trying to get them fired. Becauses that’s what Jesus would do.

And in a setback for veganism, the FDA rules that if you’re going to call something “mayonnaise,” it has to have eggs in it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015 7:20 pm

Odds and ends for Aug. 25

Who’s telling Jeb Bush to stop blaming Obama for the Iraq debacle? Bernie Sanders? Hillary Clinton? A fellow denizen of the GOP Klown Kar? Nope. It’s Jesse Helms’s favorite secretary of state, Madeline Albright.

Not only are hundreds of protesters last summer in Ferguson, Mo., only now being charged, they’re being charged not by the DA but by the same legal entity that defends the St. Louis County Police Department in civil actions. So, we not only have an instance of governmental dickishness going on, that dickishness appears to constitute a huge conflict of interest for the “prosecutor.” Good to know.

82-year-old Syrian scholar Khaled al-Assad, despite having been kidnapped by ISIS, refused to tell the group where some valuable antiquities were hidden. So they beheaded him. Compare him to then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who whistled while Iraq’s invaluable antiquities were looted during and after the U.S. invasion of that country, declaring, “Freedom is untidy.”

The 116 remaining detainees at Guantanamo Bay are supposed to be “the worst of the worst,” but only three of them were captured by U.S. forces. For the rest, we have to take the word of Afghan and Pakistani government officials, spies, and warlords, none of whom are capable of screwups or would ever have a motive for falsely turning someone in, of course.

The Ashley Madison hack has me of two minds. I’m thrilled that Josh Duggar has been outed not only as a kiddy diddler but also as a cheat. OTOH, that information was stolen, plain and simple. So where do I come down? I think the info shouldn’t have been stolen and made public. I’m still having a big ol’ mug of schadenfreude over Josh, though.

So, yet again, North Carolina’s General Assembly, WHICH HAD ONE JOB, not that I am bitter or anything, has failed to pass a budget. For those of you keeping score, the budget was due June 30. So here’s my suggestion: Henceforth, all compensation due legislators will be held in escrow until a budget is passed, and no legislator will be compensated beyond June 30 unless a budget has been passed by June 30.

Speaking of the General Assembly, there is something basically wrong with the legislative process when 88 percent of Americans want criminal background checks for every gun purchase but our leaders say no.

Live and learn: Bumcombe County, whose seat is the liberal hotbed of Asheville, never has had an African American county commissioner. For those of you with any skin in Bumcombe County politics, this candidate bears watching.

Apparently there are some students paying more than $50,000 a year to attend Duke University who think their whims should be catered to. Well, kids, college is a place for learning, and one of the first things you need to learn is how to grapple with ideas with which you disagree.



Tuesday, August 18, 2015 8:00 pm

Newspaper editor and publisher Jeff Ackerman, pansy

Newspaper editor and publisher Jeff Ackerman caught some crap for using the word “pansy”; accordingly, he is tired of pansies.

A “JEFF ACKERMAN MUST GO” bumper sticker is a personal reminder of the ongoing assault on free speech under the guise of political correctness.

As you may have discovered, I am not Politically Correct. …

I have developed a recent distaste for pansies, however. I don’t like whiners or snivelers or “poor me” complainers.

A pansy is someone who is probably offended by the term pansy. In fact, someone like that would probably run out and print a “JEFF ACKERMAN MUST GO” bumper sticker just because I used the word in a column … the pansy that he is.

The guy who printed and distributed the “JEFF ACKERMAN MUST GO” bumper sticker at my last place was kind of a pansy and did that because he didn’t like what I had to say and wanted to shut me up. That seemed better than … say … writing a letter to the editor, or maybe reading something besides my column.

In other words, he wanted to censor me.

If you haven’t noticed, there is a lot of censoring going on in the name of hurt feelings. …

It’s gotten so bad that the University of California at Berkeley now has six possible answers under the enrollment application that asks for gender.

It used to simply be “Male” or “Female.” Now the options include:

  • Male
  • Female
  • Trans Male
  • Trans Female
  • Gender Queer
  • Different Identity

I’m not sure I want to know the options under “Different Identity,” but my guess is our colleges will need to start building a lot more bathrooms.

Might be good to pause here, in case anyone is offended by what I just detailed.

Un-wad those tighty whiteys and let’s continue, shall we? …

A Harvard law professor detailed an example where she was unable to teach about rape laws because it caused some students stress. In fact, one student had a problem with the term “violate” (as in, “that violates the law”) because it was also stressful.

It’s why I’ll just stick with pansies. The only one who could possibly be offended by that is a pansy and … as I said … I really don’t care what a pansy thinks.

Jeff Ackerman’s paper wants you to be a paying subscriber to comment on their site. Screw that. So I sent Jeff Ackerman a letter. It said:

Hi, Jeff:

I don’t know if you are, in fact, a pansy. I suspect so, for reasons I’ll explain in a minute. But I’m pretty sure you’re a jackass.

As any newspaper publisher worth a damn ought to know, freedom of speech means only that the government can’t censor you. It doesn’t protect you, legally or practically, from any other consequences of your speech, including but not limited to:

  • opposing speech
  • name calling
  • calls for you to be fired
  • your actual firing (except in the case of an employment contract that gives you a shooting license, speech-wise).
  • canceling subscriptions to your paper.
  • boycotts of any companies/products/services/advertisers with which you are affiliated

None of these things constitutes violation of your freedom of speech. In fact, they’re currency in the same marketplace of ideas in which you’ve offered your thoughts for sale.

As for political correctness, take it from this Southern Republican: 99% of what people like you call “political correctness” is just good manners. Manners, as my mother and grandmother from Charleston taught me, are the art and skill of making other people feel comfortable. That’s all.

So the fact that you defend your bad manners as “being politically incorrect,” rather than rudeness that you somehow think is justified, makes you a jackass, not the victim you claim to be.

Now, in the grand scheme of things, being a jackass is not always a bad thing — or, at least, not the worst option available. I myself have been a jackass many times in my life, but since escaping college nearly 35 years ago, I’ve tried to limit my jackassitude to situations in which there are more important things than manners and civility. And I’ve known in advance that my jackassitude would not be well-received at times and I’ve taken the response like an adult. Calling out war criminals would be a good example. Making fun of other people’s gender identities — and, more broadly, their desire to be treated equally and decently —  not so much.

Yet instead of taking the blowback like an adult, here you are whining and sniveling about the treatment of your ideas in the marketplace of ideas — the very behavior you decry. That makes you a pansy by your own lights. By my lights, the lights of a guy who spent 25 years in your line of work, it also makes you too goddamned dumb to be a newspaper publisher.

Grow up and stop sniveling, son.



Friday, August 14, 2015 6:10 pm

Odds and ends for Aug. 14

U.S. Rep. Walter “Freedom Fries” Jones, a Republican who represents North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District, voted for war against Iraq. However, unlike so many backers of that misbegotten expedition, he deeply and publicly repented of that decision. And he’s still repenting:

“I did not do what I should have done to read and find out whether Bush was telling us the truth about Saddam being responsible for 9/11 and having weapons of mass destruction. Because I did not do my job then, I helped kill 4,000 Americans, and I will go to my grave regretting that.”

Chelsea Manning committed a crime knowing prison would be the likely outcome. Still, the military’s threat to place her in indefinite solitary confinement strikes me as piling on.

Could we be seeing a “Central American spring”? I’ll believe it when/if it comes to pass, but I’m hopeful.

Connecticut has banned the death penalty, but I’m thinking that in this particular case the state Supreme Court may have overreached in doing so.


Thursday, August 13, 2015 8:40 pm

Odds and ends for Aug. 13

Ben Carson doesn’t think cops killing unarmed African Americans is a problem and that anyone who says otherwise is just “creating strife.” Good to know.

The story was that white Arlington, Texas, police officer Brad Miller shot and killed Christian Taylor, an African American teen, after a “struggle.” But the story was wrong, and Miller has been fired and could face criminal charges. The questions: Why, with so much information in hand, did the police department wait so long to do the right thing, and what does that say about police culture generally?

What’s beyond dispute: A driver drove into a crowd of #BlackLivesMatter protesters on I-70 in St. Louis. It’s on video (scroll down). The question: Did a police officer tacitly, or explicitly, give the OK?

California has banned the use of secret grand juries in the investigation of police uses of lethal force. I understand the desire to want to make such investigations more open, but I also wonder whether this mechanism complies with the Fifth Amendment, which requires suspects in cases of “capital, or otherwise infamous crimes[s]” to be charged “on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury.”

When #BlackLivesMatter protesters interrupted an appearance by Bernie Sanders this past weekend, white Sanders backers asked why these protesters didn’t protest at the campaign events of candidates who oppose #BLM. So they did.

The N.C. charter-school movement, recently unleashed by an almost incomprehensibly bad N.C. Supreme Court decision, is, predictably, becoming the locus of a stream of conservative out-of-state cash. If you honestly think charters will offer “improved school choice” and not just gut the public schools, you’re dreaming. If you know better, you need to go find an existing tin-pot dictatorship in which to play. We don’t need you here trying to turn us into a new one.



Wednesday, August 12, 2015 8:56 pm

Odds and ends for Aug. 12

Now where were we …?

There might be no more dangerous example of how corporate money corrupts politics than the case of the fossil-fuel industry giving money to candidates who are global-warming skeptics and/or opposed to increasing our renewable-energy supply.

Relatedly, today’s quote, from David Simon, creator of “The Wire” and “Treme”:

You know, I wasn’t offended that the Supreme Court decided that a corporation is a person. We crossed that river a long time ago. What freaked me out was money being equated to speech. That f—-d me up. Speech is speech. Nothing will make people say more stupid shit than money. When money is actually transformed into actual words, the words are, by in large, quite stupid, self-serving and disastrous. So money is speech — that to me was an obscenity.

If you doubt there’s a war against women, well, here it is.

Wisconsin Gov. and presidential candidate Scott Walker not only hates women, he also hates free speech.

I said after last week’s Republican presidential debate that Ohio Gov. John Kasich was the only one out of the 17 who sounded both sane and competent to govern. I spoke too soon.

The Civil War was about slavery. But don’t take it from me. Take it from the head of West Point’s history department.

Aldona Wos finally has resigned as N.C. Secretary of Health and Human Services. It’s about damn time.

The N.C. Senate wants to take us into thermonuclear Koch budgeting mode, thus locking us into perpetual budget crises. Oh, goody. Also, they want to do it without any public hearings. Say it with me, kids: TABOR is the reason we can’t have nice things. Like, you know, roads and schools.

Relatedly, N.C. General Assemblyyou had one job: Pass a budget by July 1. But that was beyond you then, and apparently it’s still beyond you. Morons.

I don’t have a happy kicker with which to wrap up today, so y’all are dismissed. Go have a drink.


Tuesday, August 4, 2015 7:45 am

Happy birthday to a great American …

Filed under: Salute! — Lex @ 7:45 am

… my brother Hugh!

Sunday, July 26, 2015 11:24 am

Happy birthday …

Filed under: Salute! — Lex @ 11:24 am

… to three great Americans:

  • My friend and former co-worker Brian Tomlin.
  • My friend and former co-worker Stan Swofford.
  • And, last but not least, my brother Frank!

Friday, July 17, 2015 5:57 pm

Odds and ends for July 17

What the hell happened to Sandra Bland? Bland, who was African American, started driving from outside Chicago toward her new job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M; she got pulled over in a routine traffic stop; she was charged with assaulting a law enforcement officer; and then was found dead in her cell, supposedly a suicide. The sheriff whose department arrested her was fired from a previous law enforcement job for racism. At least the FBI is now investigating, so maybe we’ll get some answers.

The Planned Parenthood “sting” video was faked (the “undetermined” label is charitable; read the whole item), but that hasn’t stopped opportunistic foes of legal abortion from using it as an excuse for “investigations” of Planned Parenthood anyway. One such opportunistic ass is my personal congresscritter, Mark Walker, who campaigned in part on a platform of not being a right-wing Christianist wackaloon. So much for that.

Jeb Bush, the presidential candidate who thinks America’s workers, who already work more hours than pretty much any other in the industrialized world, should work longer hours. Economists respond: Shame on you.

Microsoft has decided that if you’re a home Windows user, it’s going to upgrade you to Windows 10 whether you want that upgrade or not. Professional/enterprise users at least will get the option. You’ll have to pry Win 7 Pro from my cold, dead hands, though. I completely misread the article. Don’t drink and blog, kids.

In the aftermath of the shootings of four Marines Thursday in Chattanooga, conservatives are resurrecting the canard that then-President Bill Clinton banned firearms on military bases. Sorry, guys; you’re thinking of George H.W. Bush.

Re the faked Planned Parenthood video, a question: Granting for the sake of discussion that it’s perfectly OK to be both anti-abortion and Christian, why would people who consider themselves Christian want to use a faked video — literally, a chunk of false witness — to try to make Planned Parenthood look bad? One would think that the very fact that PP provides abortions would, from these folks’ standpoint, make it look bad enough without having to lie on top of that.

And, finally, a Friday Random 10!

What Goes On – Velvet Underground
Cadillac Walk – Willy DeVille
Burning – Fugazi
Bad Karma – Warren Zevon
You – R.E.M.
Tomorrow Is Such a Long Time – Rod Stewart
Changing of the Guards – Bob Dylan
Splendid Isolation – Warren Zevon
As Long As It Matters – Gin Blossoms
Lonely Planet Boy – New York Dolls

lagniappe: Evelyn – Black Telephone

Wednesday, July 15, 2015 8:27 pm

Odds and ends for July 17

Greetings. Been busy.

Eight years ago, ExxonMobil pledged to shareholders that it wouldn’t spend company money to block efforts to fight climate change. Since then, it has spent at least $2.3 million trying to block efforts to fight climate change. If I were a shareholder, I’d be filing a civil suit against the officers and board for fraud and breach of fiduciary duty, but I’m obnoxious like that.

After a two-year legal battle, police video was finally released that showed that the L.A.P.D. shot and killed an unarmed suspect who posed no threat. Even if you want to argue that the officers were merely doing what they were trained to do, you have to admit that when training leads to this result, it’s wrong and needs changing.

In another installment of our ongoing series, Police Behaving Badly, the police department in Bal Harbour, Fla., and the sheriff’s department in Glades County, Fla., combined to launder $55.6 million for drug cartels over three years, leaving no arrests but hundreds of thousands in cash missing.

And in yet another installment, two Georgia cops kill an unarmed woman and get away it it.

I’ve seen several good pieces criticizing Republicans for their opposition to the Iran deal. This is just one of them.

Some antiabortion yahoos released video claiming that it proves Planned Parenthood profits from the sale of fetal organs. In point of fact, PP and its patients donate the organs for research, and PP may be reimbursed for such expenses as shipping costs related to the donation. The New York Times kinda sorta debunked the story. The mythbusting site did a much better job even though it characterized the story as “uncertain” rather than true or false — noting where the Times did not, for example, that the instigator of this stunt is tight with conservative fake journalist James O’Keefe.

Unsurprisingly, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump can be an idiot even when he doesn’t open his mouth. An image of himself that he tweeted contained pictures of re-enactors dressed as Nazi-era German soldiers, not U.S. GIs. Naturally, the campaign threw an unnamed “young intern” under the bus. (And don’t even get me started on who would want to dress up as a Nazi-era German soldier as a game.)

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who’s about to enter the presidential race, says it’s OK that the banksters who blew up the economy haven’t been punished in this life because they probably will be in the next. If he’s that good at seeing the future, why’s he running a race he’s going to lose? Also: Bite me.

Filmmaker Laura Poitras has the quaint notion that if she’s not a terrorist, maybe the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security shouldn’t be hassling her all the damn time, so she’s suing them for records of the six years of stops she has endured on more than 50 occasions in airports.

Are ya thirsty yet?

Here in N.C., a trial has started in the lawsuit challenging the state’s vote-suppression efforts. Good.

I’m starting to think that the only question remaining about State Board of Elections member Paul Foley here in N.C. is whether he’ll resign before or after he gets indicted. Gov. Pat McCrory wants him to resign (but can’t make him); Foley refuses.

A two-year State Board of Elections investigation into political contributions to state officials from the sweepstakes industry won’t lead to a criminal probe. But, as Michael Kinsley famously said, it’s what’s legal that’s the problem.

Former UNC star Ty Lawson, now with the Denver Nuggets, just got his fourth DUI, and his second this year. His off-court behavior led to his early exit from UNC, and if he doesn’t get help, he’ll be out of the NBA, too.

As gigabit Internet service becomes a reality in some North Carolina metros (But not mine. Grrrr.) (Edit: See comments.), Time Warner Cable announces “TWC Maxx,” which is a blinding … 300 megabits. And people think newspapers don’t get it?

And, finally, hello, Pluto! And tell me that light-colored area doesn’t look like Pluto the Disney dog’s head, complete with the darker area indicating his right ear.


Monday, July 13, 2015 7:47 pm

Consultant-speak; or, Weapons-grade bullshit

Friends of mine shared this communication from a consultant their company had retained to company leadership: CORRECTION: The communication was going in the other direction, from company leadership to the consultant.*

“[Company name] is reorganizing into a cross-functional, matrix organization. We are breaking down the silos and encouraging staff to step outside their traditional roles and comfort zones to contribute groundbreaking ideas in all areas: content, development, digital media, technology, and community engagement. Some are adapting better than others, but the cultural shift is undeniable.”

Which consultant? Which company?

Does it matter?

*Which raises an interesting question: Is leadership being sincere here, or is leadership simply throwing a bunch of jargon at the consultant for whatever reason?

Friday, July 10, 2015 10:28 pm

On the evil of niceness

It has been suggested to me on more than one occasion that my ideas might get a better reception if I would say them a little more … nicely.

I get it. I am a Southerner, after all, and I was not born in a barn. I was raised and remain a Christian ( albeit, as shall become obvious in a moment, a deeply flawed one).

But I am, shall we say, disinclined to respond with niceness to those whose governmental policies carry a nontrivial body count, particularly when those bodies are defenseless.

I am, shall we say, disinclined to respond with niceness to bullies. Bullies deserve nothing more or less than a kick in the teeth.

I am, shall we say, disinclined to respond with niceness to sociopaths. Sane societies lock their sociopaths up where they can never harm anyone else again. Our society, by conscious choice, is not sane, and whatever else that is, it certainly isn’t nice.

And I am, we definitely shall say, disinclined to respond with niceness toward people who meet all three criteria.

There are a couple of reasons for my disinclination.

One is that, being from the South, I know firsthand how the premium we place on getting along and being civil is still, even today, used way too often to paper over legitimate grievances. The Duke University historian William Chafe literally wrote the book on that topic with respectd to my adopted hometown, “Civilities and Civil Rights.”

My 80-year-old mother grew up in Charleston. Girls of her generation were brought up to “be sweet.” Being sweet meant  not only being civil, courteous, and polite, but also, “Don’t rock the boat.” That was the case even if that boat needed torpedoing.

Long story short, my mother decided a good while back that being sweet was overrated, and my sibs and I are all better off for that decision.

Another reason for my disinclination is that in my experience in covering and living with the consequences of politics, I have found that pleas for civility are too often the last refuge of a scoundrel who, as they used to say in pro wrestling, desperately needs to be hit with the chair.

Which brings me to Pat Buchanan’s latest screed for one of the right wing’s more virulent fever swamps, World Net Daily, known among the sane as Wing Nut Daily for demonstrable reasons. For a former speechwriter, Pat has not the first goddamned idea what a topic sentence is, so he’s kind of hard to excerpt. So I’ll paraphrase, and feel free to click the link, read behind me, and tell me if I got this badly wrong:

He is predicting, and calling for, civil disobedience against the Supreme Court’s striking down of bans on same-sex marriage. And he is saying that such a movement would be morally equivalent to, among others:

  • Harriett Tubman’s work as part of the Underground Railroad.
  • Northern abolitionists’ support of John Brown.
  • The original 13 colonies’ rebellion against the English crown — to which, he goes out of his way to claim, the Confederate rebellion was morally identical.
  • The civil rights movement, particularly Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. Yeah. He went there.

He concludes:

But are people who celebrate the Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village as the Mount Sinai moment of their movement really standing on solid ground to demand that we all respect the Obergefell decision as holy writ?

And if cities, states or Congress enact laws that make it a crime not to rent to homosexuals, or to refuse services at celebrations of their unions, would not dissenting Christians stand on the same moral ground as Dr. King if they disobeyed those laws?

Already, some businesses have refused to comply with the Obamacare mandate to provide contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs to their employees. Priests and pastors are going to refuse to perform same-sex marriages. Churches and chapels will refuse to host them. Christian colleges and universities will deny married-couple facilities to homosexuals.

Laws will be passed to outlaw such practices as discrimination, and those laws, which the Christians believe violate eternal law and natural law, will, as Dr. King instructed, be disobeyed.

And the removal of tax exemptions will then be on the table.

If a family disagreed as broadly as we Americans do on issues so fundamental as right and wrong, good and evil, the family would fall apart, the couple would divorce, and the children would go their separate ways.

Something like that is happening in the country.

A secession of the heart has already taken place in America, and a secession, not of states, but of people from one another, caused by divisions on social, moral, cultural and political views and values, is taking place.

America is disuniting, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote 25 years ago.

And for those who, when young, rejected the views, values and laws of Eisenhower’s America, what makes them think that dissenting Americans in this post-Christian and anti-Christian era will accept their laws, beliefs, values?

Why should they?

I’ll give Buchanan the benefit of this doubt: As the late Molly Ivins said of his speech at the 1992 GOP National Convention, this piece probably sounded better in the original German. Leaving aside for a moment his claim that some things will happen that are by no means certain — ministers and chapels being “forced” to perform same-sex marriages being the big kahuna among a bunch that contains few small ones — what kind of moral illiterate equates the denial of rights with the expansion of rights? The phrase “Arbeit Macht Frei” comes to mind.

Scot Eric Kaufman poses that question and related ones in this essay at Salon, which I linked to earlier today on Facebook. My doing so brought a rebuke from a friend of mine, who wrote that Kaufman “sounds like one bigot bashing another.” Apparently he took that position because Kaufman dared to allude to the fact that we do not have conclusive proof that the man many of us (myself included) worship as the Son of God actually lived on Earth.

The implication of his remark, upon which I challenged him and to which he has not responded as I write, is that because Kaufman said something that hurt his feelings with respect to his Christian faith, nothing that Kaufman said about Buchanan is valid. Because Kaufman wasn’t nice enough.

That notion merits three words of basic Anglo-Saxon: Bull. Fcking. Shit.

Part of the reason that evil runs as unchecked in this country as it does is that too many people, including my friend, are too nice to call out evil for what it is. Too many are far too nice to do anything but accept any vice whatever as long as it is clothed in Christianity. And too many are willing to be so nice that they will accept the dangerous notion that false equivalence, particularly false moral equivalence, is still equivalence.

Pat Buchanan worked eagerly for, and to this day defends, Richard Nixon, the most soul-sickened individual to inhabit the White House in the 20th century. Buchanan’s entire career is a testament to bigotry, anti-Semitism — a word that, unlike many people all along the political spectrum, I do NOT use lightly — and opposition unto death to all of the highest and best aspirations this country ever has had for itself. As I observed earlier today, Buchanan seems hell-bent on becoming the first person to ruin his party’s presidential nominee’s chances singlehandedly in two different millennia. If there is anyone in America outside of a few neo-Nazi groups who deserves to wear the brown shirt, it’s Buchanan. And Buchanan has been richly rewarded for this evil. He writes columns. He publishes books. He appears on TV. He commands princely speaking fees.

For all I know, Kaufman is just as evil. But the odds are against it. Moreover, he has nowhere near Buchanan’s reach and platform, even if Buchanan’s reach isn’t (thank God) what it once was.

But some smart people who ought to know better, including my friend, apparently think that what Kaufman did is exactly as bad as what Buchanan did, because Kaufman dared to raise the same question that millions of honest, educated Christians already struggle with every day. Their position seems to be that not only was what Kaufman wrote “bigoted,” it also was just as bigoted, and just as morally flawed, as what Buchanan wrote and what Buchanan has been pretty much every day of his long and benighted adult life.

If you think this way, you are intellectually silly and morally obtuse. It is literally laughable to think that raising a question about the physical existence of Jesus Christ equates in any moral way with Buchanan’s likening of legalizing gay marriage to slavery and Jim Crow. And if you think this way, you don’t deserve “nice.” You deserve mocking. You deserve ridicule. And here in this little corner of the Interwebz and whatever other digital real estate I control, you’ll get it.

Because I’m a nice guy, but even nice guys can only tolerate so much bullshit before they turn mean.

Saturday, June 27, 2015 2:02 pm

Depending how your dream goes


(I don’t know who this artist is; if someone knows, please advise and I’ll be happy to give credit. Cartoon by Bob Englehart, Hartford Courant, but was Photoshopped; the original included only the first three panels.)

“This has been the best week for all Americans of good will since Richard Milhous Nixon fled the presidency.”

This post started out to be a lot of gloating about how badly so many different people of ill will have taken it in the teeth this week. I was going to write a lot about how the moral arc of karma is long but this week it bent toward a righteous, multifaceted ass-kicking. I was going to write about laughing as the people on the wrong end of these decisions cried their bitter, bitter tears of frustration and rage, and how I intended to fill goblets and flagons with those tears and how the whole damn house was going to enjoy several rounds on them and so on. And I particularly intended to review Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissents in two Supreme Court cases so that you could enjoy the spectacle of a right-wing hack’s head exploding.

But overnight, those feelings receded. They didn’t go away. They’re still there, and for all I know could come flowing back in all their fury given the right prompt. But they’re no longer top of mind.

Instead, what I’m feeling most right now is something that feels quite foreign to me: satisfaction. Why? Because without doubt this has been the best week for all Americans of good will since Richard Milhous Nixon fled the presidency more than 40 years ago. Not only is the Confederate battle flag likely coming down at the South Carolina Statehouse (at this writing no vote has been scheduled), but a number of large companies have pledged to stop selling Confederate-themed stuff. And at the Supreme Court, not only was the Affordable Care Act upheld (again), the court also ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in this country.

That last one, though not unexpected, was particularly delicious because the bad guys were hoisted on their own petard. The anti-SSM crowd had argued that marriage was so important an institution to our society that it had to be protected. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority in a neat bit of judiciary jiujitsu, responded, in effect, “Yes, it IS important — so important that it is a basic right that belongs to ALL.” And then he dropped the mic.

Let’s look at who lost here:

So who won? Everybody, really, including the people who lost, because as a result of these changes, all of us, including them, are going to live in a better America. America is a little less bigoted, significantly more financially secure and a helluva lot more equal today than it was last weekend.

Now, this wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t point out a few caveats. For one thing, nice as it is to get the Dixie Swastika off the Statehouse grounds and to start a real conversation about the noxious culture surrounding it, we still have to start a real conversation about the larger culture of racism, of which the flag is only a symbol.

We would be morally obtuse if we didn’t grasp that the whole reason we’re even having a conversation about the Dixie Swastika is that a young man in the pernicious grasp of its culture walked into an old and beloved Charleston church and shot nine innocent people to death in cold blood. And we would be even more morally obtuse if we didn’t start that real conversation about the culture of racism. Oh, we’ve nibbled at it here and there — a number of politicians, including my own Sen. Thom Tillis, have been caught taking money from a white-supremacist group, the Conservative Citizens Council — but I’m afraid it’ll take even more bloodshed before we get serious about this.

We also need to talk about how easy it remains for crazy people to buy guns. I know that it looks like Gun America (including but not limited to the NRA) has shut down this conversation, and that more people will die needlessly as a result, but we need to keep having it anyway.

As for the Affordable Care Act and health insurance, we remain basically the only Western industrialized democracy where a health problem can bankrupt you. That still needs to change, for all the good, and it is a lot of good, that Obamacare has done in recent years (at lower cost than expected and with greater beneficial effects on the deficit than has been expected).

And while same-sex marriage remains the law of the land, there are still some holdouts, including some county clerks or deed recorders who are saying they simply won’t marry anyone rather than marrying same-sex couples. (Remember when public pools were closed outright during the desegregation era rather than be opened to African Americans? Good times.) They’ll have to be sued individually. But they will be. And they, too, will lose. And there no doubt will continue to be lawsuits because in areas other than marriage, some people will continue to insist, in the face of law, logic, and morality, that LGBTQ folks don’t have the same rights as the rest of us.

All these challenges, and some nontrivial losses, still lie ahead of us. More blood and treasure will be spilled. Reactionaries gonna react. It’s what they do. It’s how they roll. And they tend to get worse, to escalate, every time they do; as Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Blog reminds us, “they vote, they dominate many American states, and they own guns.” And they’re getting at least some positive reinforcement from high places; as my friend Mark Costley observed on Facebook of the Supreme Court’s dissenters:

… they are — I believe consciously — furthering a right wing theme calculated to weaken the confidence of the citizenry in our government. The right wing of the Republican Party (commonly understood to be the right 11/12 of the party) has embraced an anti-intellectual populism in which the courage to be wrong and stick with your position is one’s greatest trait. This anti-intellectualism makes it impossible to engage in any effective discussion of policy making, national priorities, or governmental accountability.

Few politicians in U.S. history have gone broke inciting lack of confidence in the competence and good will of government, and there are a lot of scared, uninformed, armed people only too willing to believe the worst. So this, too, will be an issue even as we now have 35 years of experience in seeing what horrors so-called limited government inflicts upon our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

But I actually have some hope. As I observed above, this is going to be a better country for the losers as well as the winners in this week’s events, and it isn’t foolish to hope that because the country will be better, at least some of those who may see themselves on the losing end eventually will come to see that it all was for the best.

And I hope everybody else sees that, too, for this week has been as transformative in America as any in decades. And even as we begin to think about what lies ahead, it would be churlish of us not to celebrate it. It is uncharacteristic of me to say so, but I suggest we celebrate — not with the bitter, bitter tears of our opponents, but with champagne.

Thursday, June 4, 2015 7:44 pm

Odds and ends for June 4

Ex-FIFA VP Jack Warner says there’s a connection between FIFA and the outcome of the 2010 elections in Trinidad and Tobago. He didn’t say what that connection was, but he says there is one. Meanwhile, the rest of us have legitimate reason to worry that FIFA, having ruined soccer, might be diversifying.

Sen. Bernie Sanders might be a socialist, but there’s one economic issue that 80% of Republicans agree with him on.

I would have thought that the Duggars would’ve lawyered up after son Josh Duggar publicly admitted to having molested some of his sisters, one as young as 5. But if they’ve got a lawyer, either he’s crazy or they’re not listening to him, because last night’s interview didn’t win them any friends.

Republican-turned-Democrat Lincoln Chafee, the governor of Rhode Island, announces he’s running for president. But of all the issues he could make a campaign centerpiece — jobs, inequality, global climate change, and on and on — what does he choose? The metric system.

On the GOP side, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry also is announcing. But, as with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, it’s even money whether he begins 2017 in the White House, in Paint Creek, or in prison.

Gov. Pat McCrory has pardoned two men who had been in prison for 30 years for a rape and murder that DNA evidence now shows they could not have committed. But the two men were ruled innocent in a court hearing nine months ago. What took the governor so long?

Speaking of our benighted gov, he now says he plans to sign HB 465, a bill passed by the legislature that would extend the waiting period for an abortion from 24 to 72 hours. Not only does this decision suck on the merits, it also violates a very broad pledge McCrory made when running for governor in 2012. Asked by WRAL-TV what additional restrictions on abortion he would approve if elected, he answered flatly, “None.” Since then, he has broken that promise not only in this instance but also in 2013.

Finally, in honor of my fellow Davidson alum Steph Curry on the occasion of his first NBA Final (see what I did there?), this piece from Grantland on the beauty of Curry’s shots:

During the regular season, Curry broke his own NBA record by draining 286 3s. Over half of those came off the dribble, and nobody in NBA history has ever been able to generate — and convert — his own looks like this. It’s not just that Curry is a great shooter, it’s that Curry is the most creative great shooter ever.


Wednesday, June 3, 2015 8:30 pm

Odds and ends for June 3

Thirty years ago today, what is still the weirdest true-crime story you’ll ever read concluded horrifically. My friend and former colleague Margaret Moffett checks in with some of the survivors. (EDITED to add: My friend Chris Knight, who grew up near some of the characters in this drama, adds his perspective.)

Perv, meet thief: Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, the insufferable pecksniff whose most recent pronouncement was that he wishes he’d “felt like a girl” in high school so that he could have gotten to watch girls shower naked, makes it clear he’ll do anything to get close to Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s donors. Scott, of course, led the company that committed history’s largest Medicaid fraud.

No links with this one, just a thought: What if the Obama Justice Department had put as much effort into investigating banksters as it has into investigating FIFA?

Relatedly, no, South Africa, I’m sure your 2008 payment of $10 million had nothing to do with your getting the 2010 World Cup and was in no way a bribe. Perish the thought.

Every so-called “gay-conversion” operation in this country needs to be sued. Saying you can “convert” someone who’s gay is like saying drinking motor oil can cure cancer.

This week’s revamp of U.S. national security laws was a sorely needed first step — and never would have happened without Edward Snowden. So why is Snowden still a wanted criminal?

The first step in fixing a problem is admitting you have a problem. The U.S. government doesn’t want to admit that we have a problem with killer cops.

After seeing her in “Easy A,” I would watch Emma Stone in just about anything. But even I thought casting her as part-Asian in “Aloha” was boneheaded. Better late than never, director Cameron Crowe agrees.

N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory is staking his re-election effort in 2016 on $2.8 billion in transportation and infrastructure bonds. The only reason I’m not saying that the legislature is throwing McCrory under the bus by refusing to put them on the November ballot is that legislative Republicans don’t believe in mass transit.

And our lite gov, Dan Forest, is a moron. (Previously. Also previously.)

Speaking of morons, the legislature has overridden McCrory’s veto of HB 465, the “ag-gag” law. A court will toss it out eventually, but a lot of animals, and quite possibly some people as well, are likely to suffer before that  happens. So much for McCrory’s attempt to position himself politically as a moderate keeping the Visigoth right at bay. I would say that the legislature threw McCrory under the bus on this one, but that would imply that legislative Republicans favor mass transit.

And the Lege has given committee approval to a bill that will gut background checks on private in-state pistol sales by 2021, a bill so bad that many of the state’s sheriffs opposed it.

And lastly, my local paper and former employer, Greensboro’s News & Record, has laid off a bunch more people, including some true stalwarts, one of whom was just months from retiring. At this point, I think it’s fair to conclude that BH Media is no longer even trying to cut its way to profitability. It is now simply milking what it can for as long as it can, at which point it will shut down the papers one by one and sell off the real estate, some of it quite valuable, that those papers sit on. And it’s past time we in Greensboro start thinking about who or what will be able to provide the journalistic firepower to truly hold the powerful accountable in this community.





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