Larry King’s death makes me think of my father

My father called me, just a minute after 9pm, on February 27, 2006.

He would pass away the following evening.

He told me that Larry King had Jon Stewart on, and asked if I’d like to come over and watch.

I ‘m two blocks away, at Port City Java, drinking coffee and running my mouth about a movie we were getting ready to make, a sub-professional gorilla film effort, with shooting scheduled to begin in a couple of months — and we were talking about the cast and the script and locations and stuff.

I’m planning to see my father anyway, in a few minutes. During that time in my life, almost all of my late evening hours were spent with him, sitting and watching Larry King, generally followed by a college basketball game.

My mother, a newspaper reporter/columnist, worked late — and I would keep my dad company until she got home. I lived, with my wife and children, only 3 blocks away.

I wrapped the coffee shop and went to my father right then. This was 2006 and Jon Stewart’s Daily Show was at the height of its Bush/Cheney comedy output. For me, at that time, this was an opportunity for big entertainment.

My parents were huge Ted Koppel/Nighline fans — so they didn’t care about watching Jon Stewart. But my Dad knew I would be interested, and I was. He also knew that if he called me, I would come right over. And I did.

Like so many millions of people around the world, watching this show is something my father and I enjoyed doing together. I also watched many Larry King Lives with my wife, children, and mother.

Larry King was such a great interviewer.

I heard him say, in the middle of the night, one night, on his radio show, that he never wrote down any questions and generally only had one ready, as an opener, if he needed it.

He trusted his instincts and was authentically curious.

That’s not to say he didn’t prepare.

On the radio, where I first became a fan, he would interview less celebrities than he did on TV.

He often interviewed writers — and he had always read their latest book that day and often many of their books. It was obvious that he spent his days studying the world of that night’s guest.

I had never read Robert B. Parker until, one night, while I was up late stringing a tennis racket (a side job back in the day and the perfect companion activity to Larry King’s radio show), I heard Larry interview the mystery writer. That was a particularly great show. I still remember Parker’s story of how he got started, what else he did, who influenced him, etc. And I started reading one Spencer novel after another.

I distinctly remember a caller asking him what he would ask Jesus Christ, if he could interview him.

Mr. King, who was born and raised Jewish, with a different name, was not religious as an adult. He said he didn’t know what he would ask, but he’s pretty sure his first question would be “Are you the son of God?”

Twice, I called in the radio show and received the greeting: “Salisbury, North Carolina, Hello.”

I remember being a little stunned that I was on the air and hesitating for a split second, hoping to get the question out coherently.

The callers were the show — he was always clear about that — and he had no patience for hesitation.

“What’s your question!” he barked.

The guest was Scott Meredith, the literary agent, who had written a book I enjoyed and admired. I can’t remember what I asked. I do remember being quite pleased with myself for saying something that got a viable response from Mr. Meredith. Of course he had to say something.

The other time I called, also on the radio show, was in order to ask a question of Bud Collins, the tennis announcer.

I asked him why Borg was never able to win the U.S. Open.

Looking back, I would say that was a pretty stupid question. Borg didn’t win The Open because he didn’t win the most points, sets, and matches. Winning a grand slam tennis tournament is a massive achievement that few have done. The reason Borg didn’t win it is because other people did. There is no why.

Which is basically what Collins said. However, he was a brilliant tennis announcer and gifted wordsmith, so he added a little color, describing how New York fans adored Connors and McEnroe, giving them home court advantage.

When I read the obituary this morning and saw the CNN special tonight, I was struck by how many of those shows I vividly remember. I guess that’s because he interviewed the most memorable people in the world on a daily basis.

When you watch a show with newsworthy people saying things they’ve never said before, you’re watching history in the making. So we all remember it.

CNN played a clip, since he left that network, saying he still had a show but missed being on live TV. He said live TV offered him a thrill that’s not available with his online, podcasty, post-CNN show.

He was a great play-by-play news guy (ie. Bronco chase), and great talk show host.

But his most endearing quality will be the way he never included any of his own judgments or assessments in his questions.

In fact, I remember listening to a fascinating show (also radio), wherein he interviewed Mortimer Adler. I had recently spent a weekend getting trained, by Adler and some other professors, on how to lead Socratic seminars for middle school students. At the time, I was a middle school teacher.

Larry King and Mortimer Adler were like two peas in a pod. Both of them were experts in the rare art of asking questions they did not already know the answer to.

Larry King interviewed celebrities and scholars and artists and politicians and scoundrels exactly the same way — letting them talk and respecting his audience enough to let them form their own opinions.

It’s hard to imagine, now, a talk show host without opinions.

He was big on learning.

The guy who did not get the higher education loved to learn and talk about learning and engage others in it.

Comparing this kind of talk show with what’s available on cable now, well… it sort of shines a light on the kind of media craziness we’re experiencing today.

I’m not saying there aren’t a lot of great journalist out there now. There certainly are many, many fine ones. I’m actually rather hopeful that journalism will eventually sort out the mess that’s occurred while trying to adjust to digital communication.

That is me having opinion. Making a prediction about something that’s impossible to know and something I don’t know much about. Par for today’s course.

The landscape has changed such that today’s cable news and radio talk is not even recognizable when held up against the kind of shows Larry King created.

It would be great to have prime time venues today for that kind of humility and authenticity.

RIP, Larry. I listened some and watched almost every night, for many years, and really enjoyed it.

As you were eager for us to do, we learned.

Your death triggered a memory I have of being with my father.

My father knew I liked Jon Stewart. I knew he liked college basketball. The thing itself — the watching of the TV — is not important. The things that connect people, whether it’s a TV, a turkey sandwich, or a set of tennis, don’t matter.

What matters is the life we get to have when we’re connected.

What if social media were used to educate people properly?

I was just telling my wife that I talked with a woman who voted for Trump and is now regretting it. 

But she did not like Kamala Harris.

She didn’t know her name or what her position had been or what position she was going to be in. She just had reservations about Biden because of “that woman who’s with him.”

My wife responded: “People should have to have a certain amount of education to vote.”

And that’s what gave this idea:

What if social media were used to educate people properly?

It could be an incredibly powerful tool for education. It already is.

You can see it happening. People are learning about the electoral college, with all the nuances and formalities. 

I knew that sometime between Election Day and Inauguration Day Congress did something — something they were bound to do, such that it’s barely even mentioned — but I didn’t know that the Vice-President presides while Congress certifies votes and that objections are possible but very rare. 

Now every knows these things. 

I know that the Supreme Court doesn’t have to have 9 justices, and in the past, it has not had 9.

I know lots of stuff about executive orders and confirmations and filibusters and budget reconciliation…

So, you can see — just like everybody else — I’m learning some civics.

Of course I do also know that I know very little and am full of shit, but I digress.

In early November, 2000, I gave a big screen presentation to a 5th grade class, using a computer to show different possible electoral outcomes. The purpose was to use this new equipment the school just got, and I picked out that topic because it included an interactive map. Back then, displaying a computer image on a large screen was a complete novelty and fairly high tech.

The class was a dud. Right when I was getting fired up and ready to go, showing how Bush could win the popular vote and Gore could win the election, and vice versa, the classroom teacher stopped me.

“Mr. Post,” she said. “Is there anything else you could show the kids. They aren’t interested in this.”

A week later, everybody would be very interested, for the first time in decades, in the electoral college. 

And the rest is history.

Now we find ourselves immersed in a great new super media, wherein people are learning new things every day.

But, alas, the guys in charge are computer guys, involved in an intense battle for clicks. They are not social workers or historians. They are not concerned with civics. They are in the click business. Period. Clicks and dollars. Dollars and clicks. It’s a brutal competition, and the folks at Facebook and Twitter and TikTok are the best in the world at it.

The algorithms are not producing more misinformation than anything in the realm of valid education.

But what if…

Imagine if they were like some musicians and wanted to change the world. Or if the industries (including TV) were regulated enough to weed out the bad information. That would diminish its size, since weeds are now a large part of the garden. But imagine if you could trust news sources.

They could still have opinions. They would simply preface the opinion by saying it was an opinion. 

But imagine being able to trust the media. What would that be like?

It’s quite possible. These are powerful tools and could make the world a well-informed place.

But the kids who built these tools are no longer kids, and they were doing something that’s never been done, with consequences the were not predictable.

Now we’ve all learned — and some of the negative consequences have become clear. 

Let’s hope the Biden administration, along with Congress, works with these companies to pass regulations that provide educational value to all of us and save democracy for the world.

Close call. Big price.

His numbers in that leaked phone conversation are phooey. But the enthusiasm for overturning an election was there. Just imagine if Trump had had that same enthusiasm for dealing with COVID.

If he had gotten obsessed with PPE production and distribution, mask-wearing, social distancing, financial relief, and vaccine distribution, he would have saved lives and won the election.

During the debates, he barely mentioned Operation Warp Speed. He dismissed it, in a split second. It just wasn’t exciting enough. But it was a valid accomplishment he could have spent some time bragging about.

He spent more time on one call with the Georgia Secretary of State, trying to steal rights from Americans, than he spent on speaking constructively about COVID in a year.

This is just to say that if he had been slightly normal — just a little — we would be stuck with him for four more years.

Alas, he was no where in the same universe as slightly normal, ever, either in public or on leaked phone calls. And now he seems to be galaxies away from normal.

Meanwhile, most congress folks in his political party (if you could call it that), are just la dee da, please let me now take my oath of office.

Billionaires don’t need health insurance

photo of landfill

Billionaires don’t need health insurance. They never think about it.

That’s one reason Trump doesn’t care about taking health insurance away from 20 million people — and eliminating pre-existing conditions, which will result in denying health care to millions more.

He’s never had health insurance and doesn’t need it. He can’t relate to it. He can barely talk about it.

That’s not to say ALL billionaires don’t care about people. I’m sure many of them do.

As much as they promise it, the Republicans have not had a health care plan since Nixon.

To Trump, taking health care away from people is a way to piss off Democrats, especially Obama. It has nothing to do with health care. That’s not even a concern.

He doesn’t know anything about city bus routes or public schools or hunger either, having never been in a bus or a public school or been lacking for food. If Obama had started a public transportation system called Obamaride, or a hunger program called Obamanourish, Trump would also be fighting in the Supreme Court to end those programs.

He seems to be in it only for the fight — and that’s why millions of people will die from not having access to medical care.

Could Thom Tillis restore his credibility?

Senator Thom Tillis in 2016, 8 months before the election

“The campaign is already underway. It is essential to the institution of the Senate and to the very health of our republic to not launch our nation into a partisan, divisive confirmation battle during the very same time the American people are casting their ballots to elect our next president….There should be no confirmation. The most pragmatic conclusion to draw is to hold the Supreme Court vacancy until the American people’s voices have been heard.”

Tillis in 2020, after voting has begun

“We were put in this position of power and importance to make decisions for the people who so proudly elected us, the most important of which has long been considered to be the selection of United States Supreme Court Justices. We have this obligation, without delay!”

Words have power. Thom Tillis’s do not. They lack power. They are just noise or letters on a screen. 

This is not because he blatantly lied. Whether we admit it or not, we all lie. We don’t always know it, because also lie to ourselves. But there’s research that holds that human beings lie a lot.

Till blatantly lied — and now he makes no effort to restore the trust.

So his words have no power. Nobody listens. 

When this happens, leadership is impossible. It is possible to be the boss, get your way, give orders, manage people, and make a buck. It’s possible to hold an office and have a great title.

But real leadership is not possible — because leaders need to be heard. They speak such that other listen and gain inspiration.

He can’t do that. It’s just blah blah blah.

How could he restore his integrity and be a leader?

It would go something like this.

First, he could be a big enough man to acknowledge that he broke his word to the people of North Carolina. We all break our word sometimes, but it takes a big person to acknowledge it.

Secondly, he could acknowledge the impact of breaking his word. It’s upsetting to many of his constituents, including me. He might not care about how Democrats feel. That might be part of his political strategy — to piss off the other side. But in human terms, that’s still a lot of upset to have caused and not be responsible for.

It also impacts and diminishes his credibility, a lot. Others now have no reason to believe him about anything he says he will do.

It probably diminishes how he views himself. Notice he did not verbally announce his position on replacing RBG. He spoke forcefully on the Senate floor in 2016. He hid behind a weak little tweet in 2020. He also sounded weak and high pitched in the 2nd debate last night.

He might be saying stuff to himself that is more humiliating than the things others are saying. He is a human being and fully aware that he’s lying. Some people are not bothered by that. Some people are. He seems to me like he’s the kind of person that may be bothered, and diminished, for himself, about lying — even though he’s very good at covering it up.

Who knows what other ways this dishonesty impacts his life and the lives of those around him? Can you imagine what this is like for people in his family? If he’s willing to tell a whopper so casually on his job, it’s likely he also does this at home.

So that’s some of the impact — but there’s another thing he would need to do in order to reclaim the listening of his constituents. He would need to take some action to make it right. In this case, that would be a simple matter of saying that he will keep his word and wait until after the election to vote on a new justice.

Obviously, that’s not likely to happen. He would need to be a big person to do that. He would get slaughtered by a Trump tweet and be forever shunned from the cult. But, there would be some benefit. When he spoke, people would be hearing a man of integrity, and they would listen.

The big, quiet lie is now ear-splitting

What’s so cool about this time we’re in — with so much hardship and loss and chaos and conflict — is that many people are seeing possibilities they never saw before. 

The protests are markers in our history, communicating that massive numbers of people have tolerated waiting, staying quiet, and inaction long enough.

The majority generation is now eager to do something about some basic unfairnesses. 

Suppression begets resignation — until it doesn’t anymore.

Trump, McConnell, Barr, Graham — these are also markers in time — markers of a desperate cling to minority rule. 

The pandemic and election brought the fuzzy impact of minority rule into clear focus. 

RBG’s departure, and the strong-arm replacement with a human rights denier, is making this conflict even louder.

A lie has been exposed — and it’s a lie that’s so big, and so loud, that it can’t be explained away as anything else.

The prospect of destroying the planet, denying health care, denying democracy, revoking human rights — paid for by big business against the will of the majority — is getting very loud.

People are voting and big change is coming.

The big shift may take a few cycles, but you can feel it getting off to a pretty strong start now.

If it were fiction

You know — if you look at this a certain way… strictly from a literary perspective, he’s not a bad fiction writer. It’s in keeping with a new kind of American texting/tweeting idiom wherein people disregard basic rules of grammar and punctuation, but actually express themselves in a whole new way, with a creative kind of punctuation and capitalization scheme. 

There’s this captivating, half-literate, trendy style, and a compelling, evil narrative (sort of a Hannibal Lecter/Joker mixture), that keeps people hooked, waiting for the next micro-episode. 

If it were art (which it’s not), some of it would be slander, but not all of it. He would need to leave out the parts where he attacks non-famous people. I may be wrong, but I assume he could still make up stuff about the main characters — Obama, Clinton, and Biden — and be fine. He could continue to attack John McCain, I would think, and stay on the right side of the law.

Excuse me, I was coughing. Let me continue.

There would be the question about whether artists have a responsibility to uphold moral principles, or should they focus purely on entertainment and let the reader decide. But that’s another question, and an interesting question — but not really applicable here. Because this is not fiction.

However, my point is that if he (just don’t want to say his name)… if he were not the president and a criminal and a cruel person — if he were a just a Twitter fiction writer pumping out a never-ending novel, you could make the case that he’s making up some pretty wild shit.

That said, who knows who writes these tweets. One day, perhaps we will know. It could be him, lying on his bed, reacting to Fox — but I doubt it. I’m not a conspiracy theory guy and I do not know. But if I were to guess, I would guess it’s a highly sophisticated propaganda machine that designs it, plans it, schedules it, writes it, and tweets it. There could be a producer, director, and writing team.

It’s not about a statue, and it’s not about history

After hours of emotional Zooming with local citizens, The Salisbury City Council passed two resolutions last night, moving the city closer (30 days, max) to moving Fame.

That’s progress.

Like all people in Salisbury and Rowan County, the statue is a familiar landmark and a work of art.

But not all people see it as something to be proud of. There’s a lot of shame and hate and discrimination and oppression associated with that statue. It’s symbol of racism, and it’s highly offensive to black people — and many non-black people.

People say it’s history. It’s not history. It’s a statue. The fact that it was placed there is history. And removing it will also be history.

Not moving it, in my view, is not an option. These confederate statues were racist in their inception, and we are seeing them come down all over our country and in Europe. Part of the reason Salisbury is considered historic is because it was slow recovering from the Great Depression. When stuff gets really old, then it’s historic. Let’s not do that again. At this point, we’re behind many of our neighboring towns already, and we’re in a recession. So in addition to the human cost (reminding people constantly of human suffering), the local economy can’t afford for Salisbury to resist the future. 

So this is a progressive move that has been bumpy and will remain bumpy — but, as my brother, David (a member of the City Council), said, “it’s the right thing to do.”

The council took public comments on Zoom — for hours. It reminded me of school integration, in the 60’s. I was in junior high school then. That didn’t happen overnight. That was also a hot stew of emotion. Protests happened. Private schools emerged. Part of our society looked for ways to re-segregate — and it did.

Those of us who lived through integration grew and learned and formed many loving relationships out of that experience.

It also reminded me of those city/county school merger forums.

But I gotta say, this seemed more raw than either of those times, even on Zoom.

This may not go smoothly either — but sometimes the government needs to take a stand for justice, for living into the possibilities created in our founding documents — and this is obviously one of times.

Listening to the hours and hours of public comment, I was left with a few observations:

The remarks were well written, and well stated, on both sides. Because I strongly support moving the statue, I with my arrogance assumed that those against moving it were a bunch of dumbasses, and that they would sound like fools, using bad grammar, sounding stupid, using ridiculous arguments. That wasn’t the case. Most of the people opposing the moving of the statue did not sound like flaming racists (although a few did). They basically repeated the same thing: that they always remember seeing the statue and it’s history. But they said it fairly well. Even though I disagree with them, I was surprised at how well they spoke.

It’s personal. The people speaking to keep the statue spoke from personal experience, often sharing how they remembered seeing it as a child. It was as if the statue were a personal possession that somebody was taking away from them.

No empathy. This was the most striking, and disgusting, part of the entire public comment time. Almost all the speakers spoke about why they were right. They gave their position and argued for it. Nobody in the moveit group expressed any empathy for those in the keepitthere group. Nobody said, “I know you’ll miss this familiar landmark and understand it will be a loss of something you love.” Nothing like that was said at all.

Conversely, All those in the keepitthere group sounded woefully unaware of what it represents. They don’t get it. Some are bigots — but most of them sounded like innocent white people, unaware of their privilege and clinging to what’s familiar. They didn’t seem to have a single ounce of understanding for why a confederate statue would be a symbol of slavery and racism, and thereby a pervasive offense to black people. That little detail — the reason for this whole conversation — didn’t seem to register at all.

Personal attacks on Al Heggins, Mayor Pro Tem (and former mayor). Al Heggins has been talking about this for a few years, but those who oppose moving the statue seemed to blame her, personally and completely. They turned her into an evil monster to attack ad infinitum. This was unfair, inaccurate, dehumanizing, and horrible. She’s one person who happened to speak out against something that hurts many people — but there are millions of people who agree with her and support this move, nationwide. Just turn on the TV news. She’s simply the one who is willing to speak up and articulate, for many, a single injustice in one small town. She did nothing wrong. She did something right. But even if she were wrong, she’s a human being and deserves respect. She didn’t get much.

People talked about the statue as if they were talking about a statue. This was a conversation, in a small southern town, about race and racism — and really had very little to do with a statue. Yet, most people talked about a statue. Conversations are more effective when people speak AND listen. There was not a lot of listening here — so in my view, it checked off the appropriate boxes and got the job done, but was not an effective conversation.

People talked about history as if they were talking about history. Again — this was not about history. In fact, those who claimed they cared about history the most seemed to offer a fairly botched interpretation of the Civil War (according to my limited knowledge). This was about the present. Things are changing fast. Some people resist that change. Some people don’t care. Some embrace it. As Obama said, when he won the Iowa caucus in 2008, “This has been a long time coming.” But it’s all about now, not then.

In order to do damage to white privilege, we must acknowledge that it exists. That’s the starting point, and denial does not work. That’s a challenge for all of us white people, and we can’t do it on our own. It’s a journey and an exploration, and we need our black friends to give us some coaching. 

It’s all about the upset

Volumes have been written, and will be written — and it can be complicated and extraordinary and crazy and blah blah blah.

But I think it’s pretty simple.

This is what’s running the show:

How do you get us to be upset?

Us — those of us (most of us) who are liberal/progressive/democrats/respectful of science — call us whatever you want.

It’s all about the upset.

Drink bleach.

The pandemic is Obama’s fault.

Join Russia’s team.

Put kids in cages.

Eliminate justice and respect for laws.

Collect money from workers and give it to multi-millionaires and billionaires.

Reject democracy.

Everything’s great! And even better if more people die.

Monarchs are awesome.

Do not allow voting by mail — during a horrific pandemic.

Deny health care and human rights and justice.

It’s all about getting us to be pissed off.

That’s the whole game.

If it were a reality TV show, the shock value would make us watch. It would increase retweets and ratings and revenue.

That’s all it is.

45th Salisbury High Class Reunion (class of ’74)

I did not go to my 5th high school reunion.

I did go to the 10th, 20th, 30th, 40th — and last night, the 45th reunion for the Salisbury High School class of ’74.

It was amazing. These stats are not accurate, but I think I heard there were 140 grads in attendance — and I think that’s about half the class.

I also heard that, statistically, the 45th is the last chance to have a big gathering, and that they diminish significantly thereafter.

There was a short memorial — both at the reunion itself and in the digital communications leading up to it. Compared to previous reunions, a shocking number of classmates have passed away.

If you’re from a big city, this kind of event would be a weird thing.

If you’re from a small town where you went to school with the same people for 3, 6, or 12 years, you may be able to relate to the exquisite specialness of an event like this.

There are a few people in my class who had a parent who went to school with and attended similar class reunions with my mother. And there are those, who, like me, got stuck in Salisbury. Some of those have children who graduated in the same ceremonies from the same school with my children.

Yet, I’m guessing most people traveled a ways, from other counties and even from faraway states like Tennessee and California and Colorado.

It was a bit like a family reunion.

The music was loud and there was probably more dancing than talking. Many things were said to me that I simply could not hear. I’m a little hoarse today from trying to hold conversations over the music.

No problem. The talking wasn’t all that important. After all, we do have Facebook. The days of exchanging biography and resume are past.

This was about smiling, hugging, shaking hands, being alive, and being together.

The bulk of reunion conversation is always in the world of reminiscing (so much fun!).

But in addition to the reminiscences — here are a few observations about reunion conversation topics I remember:

• 10th reunion: Marriage? Education? Military? Got a good job? Children?
• 20th: How many children? Career? Money? House?
• 30th: Still married? Remarried? Parents okay? Kids okay? Bush or Kerry?
• 40th: Had a colonoscopy? Parents alive?
• 45th: Retired? So sorry about your loss.

My experience (mine only, I know) was distinct from any other things that happen in my life. It’s an eruption of emotion and cognitive overload that begins in a moment and ends just as abruptly, a few hours later.

Resumes be damned at the 45th. Cliques and accomplishments and failures be damned. I did not hear the word Trump a single time.

In the background, there’s a sense of loss. All of us have dealt with the heartbreak and loss of loved ones — some more painful than others. But, by now, no one has been spared an abundance of devestating loss — most of it unknown to the rest of us. We don’t know all the details, but we know things happened, and we sort of love each other. And we’re wondering (at least I am) if and when we’ll see each other again.

That heartbreak, held up against the excitement of being together, gives the occasion a special, delicate joy for the opportunity to be in the world with those we love and participate in life itself.