The estimable Jason Berry aka Ashe Dambala filmed the Rising Tide conference for the second year in a row. He did double duty as one of my panelists this time around. It was the end of a long day and everyone, myself included, was exhausted. The mood in the room was positively funereal. I looked at the audience and saw a section of former and soon-to-be-former Picayune-ites and decided to play it straight for once. I had a few puns and zingers planned but had to file them away for future use. Tone is everything when you're performing in public so I had to shackle Shecky.
My goal as moderator was to get NOLA.com's James O'Byrne on the record with the paper's position. I'd promised him fair treatment and I believe I kept my word. One of the puns I discarded was a play on the similarity of his last name to the leader of one of my all-time favorite bands. I saved it just for y'all: O'Byrning Down The House. It's what Advance publication has done to the Times-Picayune, after all.
At the party the night before the conference I had a long chat with former TP photog John McCusker. His take: the Times Picayune as we knew it, is already dead, the formal interment will be Monday, October 1st but the spirit left the body the day of the great bloodbath in the newsroom earlier this summer.
Back to the panel. I made a new friend, laid off Picayune reporter, Katy Reckdahl, who stole the show with her insightful comments and keen analysis. As I said before, I wasn't really on my game. I even passed up a straight line from my friend Clay who asked the last question of the panel. I usually never pass up straight lines but this time I did. There's nothing funny about the demise of a local institution and 200 people being fired. Sounds Romneyesque, doesn't it?
I mentioned the funereal atmosphere. Since it's New Orleans, you might think that it would be a jazz funeral. Nope. It felt like one of those funerals that has you poleaxed because it was for someone who died way too young. I recall being at the funeral of an elderly in-law who was born cranky and stayed that way until her death in her Nineties. My brother-in-law turned to me and said "that was the period at the end of the sentence." He was talking about his Grandmother but he was absolutely right.
The death of our daily paper merits stronger punctuation than a period but since I don't believe in exclamation points, I am somewhat at a loss. Suffice it to say that the death of the Picayune we used to know feels like a crushing blow because of how important the paper and its staff were to all of us after Katrina and the Federal Flood.The reporters and staff at the Times-Pic were like soldiers who became a family because of shared circumstances and, yes, suffering.They became a part of the community's extended family as well. That's why this hurts us so much.
My primary lament is not for the *form* of the paper but for the way its institutional memory has been erased by rich cocksuckers from New Jersey and their local henchmen. If I thought they could be shamed, I'd give it a shot but shameless is as shameless does. Uh oh, I sound like Forrest Fucking Gump.The suits have erased the institutional memory of their own news organization by discarding talented people like my friend, Stephanie Grace, whose insightful political columns I already miss.
Okay before I get even more maudlin and morose, it's time to pour a shot of Jamesons, toast the end of an era and cue up the media panel:
A group of citizens concerned about fracking spent the summer drumming up support for more local control. This was an effort of grassroots activists who weren’t paid a dime and who gathered signatures on their own time. We went door to door in the time that was left over after work, family and other obligations were taken care of. We ended up with hundreds of signatures.
Earlier this month we took the signatures to the trustees, along with a nonbinding resolution expressing our concerns about fracking and our disapproval of Columbus for usurping the sovereignty of local communities. The key word is “nonbinding.” It was a purely symbolic resolution, and it was presented as such. Nothing in it required any action, conflicted with the state or put the trustees in legal jeopardy with the oil and gas industry. We emphasized that this was about being representatives: literally representing the views of many of their constituents, even if they themselves disagreed with the sentiments.
One of their refrains over the past few months has been that they would love to help, but their hands are tied. This nonbinding resolution gave them the chance to do something with their hands untied, even if it was just a purely symbolic gesture.
What a bunch of chickenasses. I think my favorite part of the recording, besides where the board is all WE WILL ARREST YOU FOR ANNOYING US WITH YOUR BEING RIGHT, is how people keep repeating, "our hands are tied."
Because, um, no they're not. We do ourselves no favors when we pretend that what we're doing is not what we're doing, when we take away our own power under the guise of letting ourselves off the hook. Because it's one thing to make what you consider a legitimate choice, out of expediency or financial concern, and another to kid yourself and everyone around you about what you are and what you want.
Lying about powerlessness is the thing that drives me craziest. Your hands aren't tied. You may not have anything you want to do or anything that's easy to do or anything that won't bring ten tons of hell down on your head, but your hands aren't tied. There's a vast difference between that and this.
Re-posting for the umpteenth time because it was the first thing I read after that day, after that blur of a day and the two-three weeks that followed, that didn't feel like a fucking greeting card, that made any kind of sense to me at all:
As we approach the Brooklyn Bridge, a ferry pulls in to the pier, calling for passengers to Jersey City. That's where Don lives. We both stop, frowning, and for a moment we just stand there together as others pass us with their heads down, concentrating on going. We don't want to leave each other. Without each other, it's just us by ourselves. It seems strange and worrisome, and I sense that he wants me to go with him so we can stick together still, but I also know he knows I have to go north and finish the walk, that it's important for both of us to get to our homes. All of these thoughts come and go and we don't say any of them aloud. We shake hands, wish each other the very best of luck, although it's not a day with much of that. Don heads back towards the pier. I turn back to the hill ahead of me. I don't turn around. It's just me now, going home.
We reach for this easy stuff, all the time. My Facebook feed is being overtaken with images of bald eagles superimposed onto the Twin Towers by people who were thousands of miles away when the planes struck. I got angry at it back then; I am angry at it now. It's so easy, the treacly songs, the easy post-and-repost remembrances. We were Forever Changed by this terrible thing that happened. Every word of that annoys me because no, we weren't, and we aren't we anyway.
(I think I get so angry at the easy remembrances because I envy the sense of safety people now mourn as having been ripped away. I envy their former obliviousness to the randomness of bad fortune.)
Those for whom 9/11 was just a particularly compelling TV show, for whom the community prayer vigils were fan conventions for America, who were happy to wave their flags and paint their chests red, white and blue and beat up on Sikh shopkeepers? They weren't altered by it, not really. Three to six weeks later they stopped going to church again, or quit calling their parents, or started snapping at their kids, because that's how we're built.
We are prone to grand declarations — remember how snark and irony were going to be So Over? — that have no hope of coming true. We make wild promises we have no hope of keeping, and get angry when someone reminds us of the words we spoke so rashly, of the vows we made in moments of clarity. Full of excuses as to why we didn't live up to our best image of ourselves, the one we invent to keep from going mad when something terrible happens. Like a couple of planes slamming into a building. Or a gunshot.
Change doesn't happen with a break, or a leap, or a plane crash. The shock isn't what alters you. It's the grinding down, afterward, the every day scraping forward and forward and forward until the skin's rubbed down to the bone. It isn't fun and it isn't set to music and it certainly can't be reduced to a 15-minute ceremony in front of a statue once a year. It's every day. It sucks.
You tell me, though. What choice do we have?
Giffords was broken on that day, and she’s broken now. I’m broken, too, and so are you. Every day breaks us in a different way. But broken is not the same thing as dead, and if you’re not dead, you’re alive, and if you’re alive, you can do something. That’s not courage; it’s just what you do. You wake up. Something’s sore. Your head hurts. You don’t want to do what you have to do today. You don’t want to talk to humans. There’s so much weight that it feels like you can’t do it anymore. It’s pointless. It’s unmanageable. It’s awful. You can’t do it. You know, deep down in your stomach, that you simply can’t do it anymore. It’s impossible.
You get up anyway.
Ask Osama bin Laden is he is better off now than he was four years ago.
You know it isn’t -- it isn’t fair. It isn’t fair to say that Mitt Romney doesn’t have a position on Afghanistan. He has every position.
He -- he was against -- he was against setting a date for withdrawal. Then he said it was right. And then he left the impression that maybe it was wrong to leave this soon. He said it was tragic to leave Iraq. And then he said it was fine. He said we should have intervened in Libya sooner. Then he ran down a hallway to run away from the reporters who were asking questions. Then he said, the intervention was too aggressive. And then he said the world was a better place because the intervention succeeded. Talk about being for it, before you were against it.
(APPLAUSE) Mr. Romney -- Mr. Romney -- Mr. Romney, here’s a little advice; before you debate Barack Obama on foreign policy, you’d better finish the debate with yourself.
Now -- President Mitt Romney -- President Mitt Romney, three very hypothetical words that mystified and alienated our allies this summer. For Mitt Romney an overseas trip was what you call it when you trip all over yourself overseas.
You know, it wasn’t -- it wasn’t a goodwill mission. It was a blooper reel.
Folks, Sara Palin said she could see Russia from Alaska. Mitt -- Mitt Romney talks like he’s only seen Russia by watching Rocky IV.
At which point the watching party I was at lost its goddamn collective mind.
People are always surprised whenever I tell them my one true political love is John Kerry. I mean, John Kerry? He's boring. He lost. And conventional wisdom is that he lost because he was boring and elite and lacked backbone and what have you, he windsurfed and shit. He's French.
Well, call me a Frog because hot damn, last night he walked out onto the stage and told Mitt Romney his other ride was Mitt's mom and next time if Romney doesn't shape up he might not use the saddle.
And immediately the commentary was WHERE WAS THIS GUY FOUR YEARS AGO, because certainly our noble political punditry couldn't possibly have fallen all over itself to make Kerry unsuitable despite the hockey-playing, liberal-lion-2, war-hero story he had to offer them. Surely they couldn't have missed something.
(And before anybody starts in with me about Edwards, ask yourself if the worst thing he has ever done is still nicer than the nicest thing Dick Cheney has ever done. As long as he wasn't Vice President of Being Responsible With One's Penis, he probably could have muddled through.)
In fact, watching Kerry actually made me remember my biggest disappointment with Obama, his truly dismal record on civil liberties. That was what Kerry ran on in 2004, and the biggest wrong he would have righted if we could have pulled our heads out of our asses and elected him. It was why, all kidding about OMG WHATTA BABE aside, I fell in love with him: He went to war and came home and at the age of 27 walked into the halls of Congress and said stop this, stop this now before it gets any worse.
We all should have listened then, and again in 2004. Maybe we'll listen now.
It can't be over already! We still have half a jug of scotch in the back seat!
I'm going to be at a convention-watch party but I'll be in the van as much as I can because OMG KERRY. DeeLorelei may be checking in from Charlotte. Posts in the van belong to their posters, not to First Draft World HQ Inc. Pet the ferrets.
Update: van closed. Talk in comments amongst yourselves until I get home from this party and can gibber about Kerry some more because HOLY FUCKING SHIT MAN WALKS ON FUCKING MOON. Also there is this Obama dude who is pretty good at speeches.A.
Update: Van closed. Big Dog brought the house down. Sandra Fluke told Rush to stuff it. It was gorgeous. Be back here tomorrow at 7 p.m. CST for all the festivities.
You will be expected to put up with my shameless fangirling of Kerry, Tammy Baldwin, and NANCY SMASH, as well as my repeated instructions to Rahm to eat a bag of dicks. Have fun, behave yourselves, and hold on tight.
Van closed. Continue discussion in comments because HOLY FUCKING SHIT MICHELLE.
I think my favorite part was when Clint Eastwood accused Obama of starting the war in Afghanistan without discussing it with the Russians first.
I know you were against the war in Iraq, and that's okay. But you thought the war in Afghanistan was OK.
You know, I mean -- you thought that was something worth doing. We didn't check with the Russians to see how did it -- they did there for 10 years.
In all seriousness, everybody making Stockdale comparisons all over need to step back:
Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale died in 2005. He served on the Ticonderoga in the Gulf of Tonkin, and was shot down over Viet Nam in 1965. He was the highest-ranking naval officer to be held as a POW, and was Ross Perot's VP candidate in 1992. Interesting guy. Afraid they'd videotape him and show the world a well-treated and valued prisoner, he beat himself with a stool. He cut himself with a razor; he did what had to be done. He limped for the rest of his life.
In the camp, he invented new ways for his men to resist torture, sent coded messages to his wife, invented new ways to break through isolation and communicate with each other. New ways to stay alive. The men cleaning the courtyard, during a period of enforced silence, swept the ground in the syncopated rhythm he'd taught them, silently and defiantly spelling out to him inside the walls: "We love you. We love you. We love you."
That's an actual bad motherfucker, not somebody who's played one in the movies.
Speaking of comparisons that are making me bonkers, just for kicks, let's look at my boyfriend John Kerry's convention speech in 2004 and see if it is ANYTHING AT ALL LIKE THIS CRAPFEST:
Listen to that roaring. They won't let him START. Mitt had to rush to the stage before the applause ended so it wouldn't look pathetic.
(Also, as a writer? There's no goddamn contest. Cadence and artistry.)
He didn't have to wait for the audience to catch on to the applause lines. He didn't have to ask for the laugh. He lifted that crowd UP.
Most of all, listen to the story he's telling, the lessons he learned. I have zero truck with Mitt's "success" in business being the backbone of his story, but it's not fundamentally fueling any kind of understanding of what America is about. It's not teaching Mitt about all the ways government can lift up and support decent business practices. It's just an example of how government sucks and needs to go away.
Kerry's history, even the difficult parts when America failed him and the rest of us, taught him about the greatness of America. Mitt's, by his own words, taught him that Obama sucks.
That's not even rage-inducing. It's just sorrowful. It's a pity.
Neil Armstrong reflected the best of who we were, are and should be. He was a modest hero who didn't trash talk, brag or spike the proverbial moon rock. He died yesterday at the age of 82 but he will always have the right stuff.
Fast-forward to 4:30 to see what people look like when they're doing what they were made to do.
Have you every worked 16 hours in a row? Have you done 16 hour shifts every other day or every 3rd day? Would you like to keep that up for 7 months straight? That is life as some care staff know it at King Veterans Home located about 30 miles Southeast of Stevens Point near Waupaca.
Twenty-five staff spoke-up about conditions at the King Veterans Home at a listening session for the public on July 26th at their union hall. This morning one of the staff members, Sara Goodhue, was put on a “disciplinary track” for speaking to WTDY recently about staffing and care conditions. AFSCME’s Marty Biel told me about the matter by phone this morning: “This was on her private time. … They are sending a message to the workers: we will discipline you for speaking”
“I wonder if they [other workers] are going to be singled out for speaking out on the conditions on their own time?”
These people should be paid like basketball players and treated like rock stars. In a world in which we truly value the service of veterans, in a world in which we truly value hard work, they would be.
Ordinarily the Summer Olympics do nothing for me. The attention on gymnastics has always bordered on creepy for me, and nothing else really grabs me as much as ice hockey and skating do, but I'm gonna be trying to find Nur Suryani's event and watch it, because what a badass.
Also, Mike Ellis is just a penis with a suit on:
The position of Senate Majority Leader now goes to Mark Miller (D-Monona), who promptly named Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) as the new Joint Finance Committee co-chair, a position she will share with Republican Rep. Robin Vos.
"You're the Majority Leader. You can do whatever you want," Ellis told Miller.
Miller countered that it was the job of the Majority Leader to respect the voices of the minority party and the general public, too.
They worried people would forget.
It might seem odd now, even 150 years after the Civil War, that anyone would not remember the terrible fight to preserve the United States. But that fear of losing the collective memory spurred veterans - both Confederate and Union - to construct monuments and memorials.
So 100 years ago, a large arch of gray granite was rapidly built in a few months on property set aside for a memorial at a cost of $25,000 and dedicated at Camp Randall, Wisconsin's largest Civil War training camp. It still stands as a sentinel today though the land where 70,000 soldiers mustered before heading off to the battlefields of Shiloh and Gettysburg has long since been claimed by the University of Wisconsin.
It's recycling time again: my annual posting of Dave Alvin's classic tune. This time as performed by X with John Doe on lead vox:
It’s still Friday.
I still have the floor.
Maybe that’s the only thing I can control right now, which is why this is what I’m doing at 11:24 p.m., when I should be nestled in bed, wrapped around my wife and snuggling in for some much needed rest.
My friend Amy is battling cancer.
It’s a simple noun-verb statement that I can’t get past.
She fights it.
If you want to find the people who run universities, don’t look for the presidents and provosts and chancellors.
Don’t seek out the deans and the chairs and the academic elite.
Get past the people with giant offices who sit behind giant mahogany badges of self-importance and who layer their walls with plaques and certificates and photos of them shaking hands with other important wankers
Look for cubicles. Look for the small, cramped offices off the “main office.” Look for desks piled with papers that pulse and wobble. Look for the places with “Same Shit, Different Day” bumper stickers on the filing cabinets and the odd trinkets glued to the tops of ancient computer monitors.
Look for the administrative assistants or the program assistants or whatever title we’ve decided to bestow upon once we learned that secretary didn’t quite cut the muster.
Look for people like Amy.
Had I never met her, I would never be where I am today.
It sounds cliché. It sounds trite. It sounds hollow.
It’s what we say about people when they retire and when they die.
She has already done the first and I would step in front of a bus to stop her from doing the second.
She was the assistant to the director of the journalism grad school where I went for my Ph.D. She had a kind, round face and a body to match. She had glasses that were thick and large and were at least 10 years out of fashion. She sat in a cramped office behind an overflowing desk near a filing cabinet that had a single calendar page taped to it with one date circled: the day she could retire.
She could have been the stereotype of the school marm in any 1950s sitcom, but she was so much more. She had that uncanny ability to coddle and nurse and yet kick your ass at the same time. She had a biting sense of humor and she knew exactly how to needle everyone from the first-year master’s student on through to the dean.
She was like a maestro, waving the wand perfectly to get the very best out of each member of the orchestra, all the while never once picking up an instrument to join the cacophony that was all around her.
She stayed out of the politics. She stayed above the fray. She had her finger on the pulse, but never attempted to alter it.
For me, she was like a modulating device. She knew when I needed to be brought up out of the depression and the doldrums. She knew when I needed to be taken down a peg.
This was true, even when I didn’t know which of those things I needed myself.
The honest reason I can say she was the sole reason I’m Doc and not “Hey, you, car guy” is a cold, miserable Friday in February about a decade ago.
If you have ever finished a doctoral program, you know what comps are. If you never have, you probably have heard about them. If you have done neither, let me explain.
Our program was simple: You have five members on your doctoral committee. Each of them chooses a “section” of your program to quiz you on. You agree to a readings list. You read those readings for about a month or two. You read them over and over and over until your eyes bleed.
Then for five days, four hours per day, you show up at Amy’s office.
She hands you a single question and a floppy disk (yes, they still had those). You have never seen the question. You don’t know what is on that piece of paper. You have no notes, no materials (save for a dictionary in those pre-spellcheck-is-installed-already days) and no help. You enter a room that has a computer, a desk, a chair and any food/beverage you want to bring with you. From that moment until the moment Amy comes to get you, you write.
You analyze the question. You write.
You think about the readings. You write.
You type and you type and you type, not knowing how much is from your head and how much is regurgitation of someone else’s shit. You then type some more.
Five days. Five questions. Thousands of words. Each more mind-numbing than the last.
The first day, the question threw me. The member “zigged” while I had planned to “zag.” Rough start.
The second day, my committee chair and resident hard-ass had the floor. It felt like this scene from “Back to School.” I got to part 27 at about the 3:59 mark.
I was fucked.
I saved what I had. I took it to Amy. I lost my shit.
“I can’t do this,” I practically pleaded. “This isn’t something for me. I’m not supposed to be an academic. I’m the kid of a factory worker. I’m… fuck.”
She looked at me, broken, tattered and eroding me, and said something extraordinarily calming.
“You have Stephanie’s question on Monday, right? Try that one. If you really fall apart on that one, maybe you’re right. But I don’t think that will happen. If you can’t do it, we’ll talk.”
I had a restless weekend, followed by a series of “I’m buried alive” dreams.
I opened the question.
The final three questions were a blur of ease and jargon. A perfect blend of ease and academic obfuscation.
I passed written comps and the oral defense. I was ABD, or as we say in cribbage, in the shit hole. Almost there, but so far away.
Amy leveraged my last shred of sanity into salvation.
She did it again when my chair submarined my dissertation proposal at my proposal committee.
She did it again when I fucked up, playing two jobs against each other before losing them both.
She did it again and again and again.
It dawned on me that, as I walked across the stage in that “Henry the VII meets Detroit pimp” doctoral regalia, she probably did it for hundreds of other doctoral students, having never actually walked the doctoral path herself. She was like the Louis Gossett Jr. character in “An Officer and a Gentleman.”
She made us officers. She made us what we are.
Thanks to her, universities saw us as “better than her station.” If we were honest, we never did.
I wonder if she saw us that way.
I wonder how many people see her that way.
Tonight, an odd confluence of events brought me to the breaking point.
The Novocain wore off at about the same time that The Midget came home from a pool party. Shortly after arriving home, I heard some rumbling upstairs and the garage door open. She and The Missus left abruptly.
Upon returning, my wife came downstairs with her “Remain calm. The kid feels bad enough already” face on.
“She lost an earring.”
“Which one?” I asked kind of already knowing the answer.
My grandmother died of cancer about six weeks after our wedding. She was at least a couple pack-a-day smoker and had been for most of her life. She suffered like I’ve never seen anyone suffer before and yet she was so goddamned stubborn that she wouldn’t quit on us. She was going to see us married and it didn’t matter how hard it was to survive.
She was also a recovering alcoholic. She had few possessions at the end of her life, as what little she had went to the cancer treatment.
One of the last “pleasures” she allowed herself was on her 75th birthday, when she went out and got her ears pierced. After decades of clip-on earrings (do they even make those any more?), she had two holes punched in her head and adorned her ears with whatever she could afford.
The earrings were single stones, probably some level of cheap cubic zirconium. Mom had saved them from the estate and when The Midget lost an earring while staying over at her house, she put the earrings delicately in my child’s lobes and explained where they came from.
“Don’t let her lose them,” Mom cautioned as I took her home.
And I did. And then I found out about Amy.
Despite my best effort to be a calm and explanatory parent, I failed.
I somehow gave my child the impression that my grandmother, who is now in Heaven, hates her because she lost an earring. I spent 20 minutes holding her as she sobbed herself to sleep, feeling like the worst parent ever, knowing my grandmother was looking down at me and cursing, “Dammit, they’re just earrings!”
The folks at the party said they’ll check the pool filter and the bathroom where the girls changed tomorrow.
We might find it. We might not.
Dammit. They’re just earrings.
Cancer is a scary and evil thing.
I honestly don’t think it means to be, any more than a roach means to be spread infection or mold means to ruin food.
Each is born, somehow, and does what it is predestined to do.
Roaches scurry. Mold grows. Cancer attacks.
Intent? No such thing. It is what it is. It does what it does.
We can destroy roaches. We can inhibit mold. We can fight cancer.
Cancer is to the body what weeds are to the garden. Somewhere along the line, someone determined that certain plants are good and pretty and should be saved while other plants are bad and ugly and must be removed.
The plants don’t know why. They just grow how they grow.
We look at certain cells of the body and say, “Grow! Multiply!”
We look at other cells of the body and say, “Stop! Die!”
The cells don’t know why. They just do what they do.
Somewhere in all of this is a scared person, sitting in a paper robe as a doctor holds up an X-ray to the light and explains in the simplest possible terms that the garden is growing too many weeds and something needs to be done, lest the garden be lost.
So the ingest poison, they endure radiation and they hope against all hope that normalcy will somehow be restored.
And we all hope for them.
Talk to an old boxer who has been to the brink of death. A fighter like Joe Frazier or Meldrick Taylor. A fighter who has been pushed to the point in which the mortal coil has seemed to unravel.
Ask that fighter about the last nerve. The last moment. The last flurry.
Doctors and scientists will explain it in scientific terms, in “fight-or-flight” language.
A fighter will explain it differently.
When faced with that moment in which death has come to collect its due, that very rawest of human nerves will be tapped.
The fighter, pushed beyond what should be tolerated, will be systemically spurred to fight back. To flurry. To punch. To prevent what might be.
It is my hope that somehow tonight, amid her early cancer treatments, that Amy knows how many people are digging down to find that nerve for her.
I hope that my grandmother pokes St. Anthony in the ribs and says, “C’mon. Just put it in the pool filter and get it over with.”
Because sometimes, that’s all you can do.
Not everything sucks. Sometimes it's nice to remember that.
It was a small moment but a telling one, on the Capitol Square, when the one Walker supporter waving a lawn sign (stakes still attached) around got tired from holding the thing over his backwards-capped head and let it slip. It struck the union-t-shirted fellow standing beside him right in the head.
"Whoa, sorry man," said the Walkerite, as everyone around him went tense and silent.
The union fellow smiled. "It's all right," he said, and people took deep breaths again. "I'm fine."
Once NBC and MSNBC called the election for Walker, the crowd of a thousand faded, people walking one by one and two by two off into the night. Now and then someone would turn to a fellow protesting stranger and talk in terms of long-shot hopes: Absentee ballots, and remember the 2000 election, how wrong everybody was then? But there had been no swings all night, no movement in Barrett's favor, and everybody was tired.
None of this is all right, and now they get to do whatever they want, Walker and his supporters. None of this is fine, and now it's open season on everything it makes a teawad feel good to kick: Teachers, cops, firefighters, janitors, professors, prison guards, students, women, kids, the environment, hunters, journalists, liberals, people who look like liberals, people who used to be liberals, people who once said something that could be construed as liberal, people who are insufficiently conservative, and people who just don't like bullies, no matter their political stripes. Now we get to see if giving everybody just one more tax cut is enough to restore harmony, if this time it might work magically.
But before we get to all that, before the second-guessing and the post-campaign back-stabbing, before the stories from disinterested national observers about how this was all a stupid idea anyway and we should have known better, we have to appluad some people. Some people who everybody gave up on, nobody noticed, everybody made fun of, and nobody believed in.
Some people who stood at the Capitol day after day in the snow and the rain, as TV pundits yammered on about how the day of the union was over, and we'd never see a demonstration of union power in our lifetimes again.
Some people who disregarded Very Serious Advice that a recall would be too hard, and gathered a million signatures in the bitter Wisconsin winter, over the Thanksgiving holidays, while talk radio blathered about what traitors they were.
Some people who took a look at a long shot no one else wanted and said what the hell, what's the worst that could happen? Some people who refused to listen to their own party when the party wanted nothing to do with anything that wasn't a sure thing.
Some people who forced this fight to be a fight, this fight which should have been a fight. What Walker did should have been as hard as it was, because otherwise nobody fought back, and if there's one thing you need when you aren't winning, it's the example of people who refuse to agree to be beaten.
Leaving Madison this morning, I stopped at a parking lot to look back at the city, across the lake smooth as glass. It's my favorite sight in the world, that skyline, and this morning joggers and bikers passed on the path, in the sun, and fishermen cast their lines over the sides of their small motorboats. And I thought of a line I saw carved on a statue in Dublin, from a song called The West's Asleep:
Be sure the great God never planned
For slumbering slaves a home so grand.
We don't know where this ends. We don't know how many of them will stay in politics, how long it'll be before Walker's actually indicted, if the Senate flip will hold, if anything else is lurking out there. We don't know how far it reaches, how many people heard it, how many of them were changed.
This hasn't ended, if only because things like this don't end, and we have some people to thank for that.
They were standing by a lamp post, this middle-aged couple. They could have been my parents, in another life. They could have been yours.
Sue and Kim. He retired after 33 years working for the state. She still worked for the state, on a temporary contract that kept getting extended. They'd had pay freezes for half a dozen years, when they didn't have pay cuts. They weren't getting wealthy on their pensions. They weren't sporting $60 haircuts. They lived in a small town. They were trying to hold on to what they had.
Behind them, around Madison's beautiful Capitol, people walked with kids and dogs, and cops watched from their bikes and horses. A man in a Badger costume danced on the steps. A man with an accordion played.
"This is where we were 18 months ago when the protests began," Kim said. "We thought we would finish where we started."
Look, there are a lot of things I could say right now. About how it's not over, about this instance of voter fraud or other, about the indictments sure to come down. About where we go from here, about what we do. The crowd at the Capitol was stunned, Tuesday night. Angry, but mostly just stunned. And then the song began, rising up from around the statue of the Lady, holding out her hand to tomorrow.
Oh, how glad and happy when we meet
I’ll fly away
No more cold iron shackles on my feet
I’ll fly away.
This stuff is hard for a reason. These fights are fights for a reason. Unlikely victories in the face of impossible odds take place because the odds are impossible and the victories unlikely, and we fight what we fight because otherwise we'd spend our entire lives talking about how and why we didn't fight them. I know I say this all the time. I know it gets tiresome. It IS tiresome. Tell me what else to say, here. Give me words.
There's not a lot this life asks of us. Just fight the fights in front of you, that's all, and you pick what those fights are. People who picked these fights, they weren't planning on having it easy. Do you know how long it's been since there's been any demonstration of union strength in this entire goddamn country? Do you know how far back into history people had to reach?
I can tell you this, for certain: We are no less free, because thousands of people in Madison and Milwaukee and upstate and downstate and east and west, city mice and country mice and mice in the burbs, stood up and said no more. I can tell you this for certain: We are no poorer, for the past 18 months. We are no dumber, we are no weaker, we are no more afraid.
We are no less.
After the returns came in, and the crowd quieted, and the TV crews turned their lights off and went home, I looked for Sue and Kim.
I couldn't find them.
But as I searched through the crowd, the songs rose up, over the city in the pale orange light of the setting sun.
Just a few more weary days and then
I'll fly away
To a land where joys will never end
I'll fly away.
I hope they heard it, that song, rising up. I hope everyone heard it. I hope it rang through the halls of power and I hope no one ever forgets.
I've been missing in inaction while dealing with a string of crises but wanted to briefly chime in on the recall. It looks a bit dicey right now but with Athenae joining Scout and Jude on the barricades anything can happen.
For A and all the folks who give us this place. Today, more than ever, we hope.
Quick takes: Shortly after noon tomorrow I'll be heading up to Madison where Jude, Scout and Joanie will join me in presiding over one of the following: The wildest victory party in the history of cheese, a wee-hours recount-worthy scenario whereby nobody really wins, or a series of posts that will be just the word "fuck" and rehashings of things I wrote back in 2004, which is sort of how this feels right now.
Doc will be running a Tuesday night crack van for you all starting probably around poll-closing-time, dependent on his schedule, and reporting in as well. You can also listen for us on WORT, where Roadmaster has promised we will turn up at some point that night. I have no idea what is going to happen. The polls are all fundamentally fucked up, and that's the technical term. My educated opinion at this point is total pessimism, but that is my educated opinion about everything. I am a pessimist on purpose. That way I am sometimes surprised but never disappointed.
In the past several weeks I've had conversations about the election with family and friends, some of whom agree with me. Some of whom don't. And what I keep coming back to is fear, among the Walker supporters, among those who say things like "we can't afford to keep paying for pensions" and "we can't afford anything but the lowest of low taxes for corporations" and "we can't do anything we did 40 years ago because of reasons I don't understand but I know, in my bones, that we can't, we just can't." And I'm being reminded of how radical a message it really is, how radical it always is, to say we can achieve what we want to achieve.
Because it's not just the cavalier "I don't wanna, I got mine, screw you," not from all of them. Not from those who aren't billionaires but from those who've listened to what the billionaires have to say. Who've been fed hate and fear for months now, hate and fear of their neighbors, hate and fear of their own futures, and worst of all, hate and fear of their own history.
Their parents or grandparents lived lives we now think of as anachronistic or idealized: Union jobs at a factory, pensions through retirement, health insurance, Social Security and Medicare that actually took care of them when they were very old. Schoolteacher and police officer being occupations that allowed you to own a home, a car, perhaps even send your children to nice schools if you saved very carefully. Possibly a vacation, nowhere fancy, maybe a road trip memorable for anything but the destination.
When you retired, your pension allowed you to keep spending money at the local grocery and dime stores, to stay in your house and maintain it, to enjoy your neighborhood restaurants and attend your neighborhood church and donate to your local Lions Club or VFW. You could rest easy in extreme old age knowing that even if you didn't leave your children an inheritance, at least you wouldn't bankrupt them with debt and thus hinder their own starts in life.
These aren't fancy things, that we're now told are too much for us to handle, are luxurious and out of hand. These aren't outrageous expectations. This isn't Free Purebred Kitten Day, or foot massages from film stars. These are reasonable rewards for living a reasonable, upright, decent life. Used to be, we could afford as a country large numbers of people living just like this if they so chose. This used to be something we could do with ease. And now we're being told no, we can't have that anymore, and in fact we have to make sure people don't have that anymore, we have to make sure nobody even dreams about that anymore, because it's too expensive and everything's going to hell. And we're so, so angry at anybody who tells us different, so, so afraid.
I say it's fear because: If those things aren't out of reach, if it isn't true that "we" can't afford them anymore, then we have to ask ourselves the question: Why don't we have them? In answering that there is no earthly reason we can't have lives just like our parents and grandparents led, but for the bastards we enable in power, we have to admit that we allowed this to be done to us, that we let hucksters and thieves turn us against each other while they ran away with the piggy bank. In really looking at how much money there is and what it goes for, we have to admit that we just didn't want to question our politicians and fight our bosses and resist our every human urge to not make a fuss in order to get the very least of what is owed to people who teach children and put out fires and arrest that one asshole who keeps ripping up the library's rhododendrons.
That's too much to look full in the face. In answering it we have to own up to just how much of our own power we've been willing to give up. We have to admit that what teachers and public workers and nurses and cops are asking for isn't some outrageous thing, not if for one second we'd stop undervaluing ourselves, and start demanding what we've had to demand so many times before.
We think this is some insurmountable problem, some terrible divide, that we've never seen before. We have always had people saying sit down, shut up, don't rock the boat, while some slick-talking jerk in a shiny suit was pouring fire and brimstone about how the company was gonna mess you for your own damn good. We have always had the jerk, too, and his bosses, and the company will always be with us. This is how this has always worked. What we haven't always had is an entire pseudo-middle-class establishment media, especially on 24-hour cable news, appealing to ignorant-ass 'necks reinforcing the message to lay back and think of Wall Street, or else they'll come for you next, but even that's not a total excuse.
They're always coming for you, is what I want to tell everybody who's angry and everybody who's scared. The jerk, the company, they're always out there, and the only thing you can't afford is to think they're on your side. When they're done with the teachers and the steelworkers and the cops, they'll come for you, too, and no racist sign or hat with teabags glued on gonna save your soul then. The only thing to fear is fear itself, said the last person who understood this well enough to make a case, so up you get.
There's no reason to be scared, when the scariest thing is that it's all up to you, and you decide what "we" can and cannot do. And the things we cannot do just melt away, once we really start taking them apart, and seeing what they're made of. We can do anything if we want it bad enough. We can afford what we want to afford.
We can afford what we can get enough votes to afford.
I'm about 10 pages from the end right now, and practically ate the thing in the past three days.
We here at First Draft believe in recycling so I decided to repeat this Memorial Day post for the third year in a row. Just call it the trifecta:
The veteran I'd like to remember on this solemn holiday is the late Sgt. Eddie Couvillion.
My family tree is far too tangled and gnarly to describe here but suffice it to say that Eddie was my second father. He served in Europe during World War II, not in combat but in the Army Quartermaster Corps. In short, he was a supply Sergeant, one of those guys who won the war by keeping the troops fed, clothed and shod. Eddie was what was called in those days a scrounger; not unlike Milo Minderbinder in Catch-22 or James Garner's character in The Great Escape.
Eddie's favorite military exploit was running a army approved bordello in France after hostilities ended. He always called it a cat house and bragged that it was the best little whorehouse in Europe. One can serve one's country in manifold ways...
Eddie died 5 years ago and I still miss him. He was a remarkable man because he changed so much as he aged. When I met him, he was a hardcore Texas/Louisiana conservative with old South racial views and attitudes. At an age when many people close their minds, Eddie opened his and stopped thinking of black folks as a collective entity that he didn't care for and started thinking of them as individuals. Eddie was a genuine Southern gentleman so he'd never done or said an unkind thing to anyone but confided to me that the only one he'd ever hurt by being prejudiced was himself. I was briefly speechless because we'd had more than a few rows over that very subject. Then he laughed, shook his head and said: "Aren't you going to tell me how proud you are of me? You goddamn liberals are hard to satisfy."
Actually, I'm easily satisfied. In 2004, Eddie had some astonishing news for me: he'd not only turned against the Iraq War but planned to vote for John Kerry because "Bush Junior is a lying weasel and a draft dodger." That time he didn't need to ask me if I was proud of him, it was written all over my face. It was the first and only time he ever voted for a Democrat for President.
I salute you, Sgt. Couvillion. I only wish that I could pour you a glass of bourbon on the rocks and we could raise our glasses in a Memorial Day toast.
Covering a Story That Won't Die is difficult. It's exhausting. Day in, day out, talking to the same people about the same stuff all the time, trying to find something -- anything -- new to say about the same issues, getting calls from the same six pissed off people no matter what you do ... it's worse than just about anything.
Other than having your rights and working dignity stripped away, hearing your reasonable compensation blamed for financial catastrophes not of your making, and being vilified for the unpardonable sins of teaching schoolchildren to read and mopping the floors of public buildings, that is.
The Wisconsin State Journal editorial board has opposed all of the attempts over the last year to recall state senators of both major political parties and the governor.
It's not that we agree with everything these politicians have said and done. Far from it.
It's that all of these leaders were elected to four-year terms and shouldn't be targeted for recall because of public policy decisions. The recall process is designed to quickly purge politicians for illicit behavior, not to punish those who take controversial stands on single issues.
Yes, the recall organizers targeting Republican Gov. Scott Walker have a long list of complaints. But the critics of any governor of any political party always can cite many faults.
First of all, the recalls have hardly been "endless." It's been 18 months. When you're talking about decimating the rights people have enjoyed for generations, maybe 18 months isn't quite the Wars of the Roses. Tone down the drama. Remember the Maine.
Second, "critics of any governor of any political party always can cite many faults." They're all the same! There are governors and critics, and who are we to decide if some criticism has merit and some doesn't? It's not like we have any responsibility to set an agenda or sort out truth from fiction. And it's not like gathering a million signatures was any kind of test at all of the strength of public objection.
Tens of millions of more dollars are being spent during tight times on misleading and divisive political ads. Our leaders are distracted by and obsessed with opinion polls and raising piles of campaign cash, rather than tackling Wisconsin's many pressing challenges.
Well, if it makes you feel any better, most of the money Walker's raising would otherwise be spent employing hucksters in other states to make shitty campaign ads, so at least there's that boost to the economy. This isn't cash the Kochs would otherwise be giving to Wisconsin's farmers and starving kittens and nuns.
You know, I have less of an issue with an actual endorsement of Walker than I do with this puling about how icky the recalls are. At least that's taking a position in the fight, instead of standing off to the corner loudly deploring the tone in the room so that everybody can see what a superior person you are.
People are pissed off. They're "divided." They have come to the realization that lots of their neighbors, co-workers and relatives don't agree with them on stuff. Some of them have come to understand, with a degree of shock that's really uncalled-for in 2012, that a lot of their fellow humans will hurt just about anybody including themselves to feel like they're one-upping somebody else. It sucks, having your eyes opened to just how many people around you are assholes. Guess what?
This is what the world is like, under its skin. This is what we do. The Wisconsin state constitution provides for this process, which is playing itself out as it should be. In fact, we're damn lucky the only major political violence in Wisconsin has been economic. Other places, you'd be thrown in jail or shot or worse. The recalls haven't killed anybody.
They've eaten up money that might otherwise have been used for other mechanisms of democracy, and that's too bad, but you could just as easily say Walker should have ended this months ago by backing down as that his opponents shouldn't be forcing the question in the only way available to them.
One of the arguments we always heard during the healthcare debate was that America is the driving force behind every major medical advance in the universe, since forever. Indeed, Tennessee's own Junior Senator Bob Corker had the nerve to tell Canada's former Public Health Minister that Canada and France were mooching off of American innovation: we're the ones coming up with all the technological breakthroughs, which they benefit from! And dammit, it's unfair! It's our money paying to develop cures for cancer! Parasites!
Oh yes, that was embarassing.
I thought of that when I read about a Cleveland researcher's struggle to get funding to start clinical trials of a promising breast cancer vaccine:
With additional funding, the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute immunologist could begin testing the vaccine in two groups of humans: women with advanced breast cancer and healthy women with a high risk of developing the disease.
The cost to just make the vaccine is an estimated $1.8 million, a small part of the $6 million for all of the costs associated with conducting a clinical trial approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Tuohy said.
As 2010 wound down, however, Tuohy's hope that he would be able to secure sizable grants to cover those costs vanished into thin air.
The National Cancer Institute -- which the year before provided him funding -- and Susan G. Komen for the Cure had rejected his grant proposals, ending any chance that human trials could be launched before the end of 2011.
Why is this happening in America? Because, the article tells us, competition for cancer research funds is "stiff." Only 12% of the grant proposals NCI receives are awarded funds. Komen funds fewer than 80 grants of the 1,400 proposals it receives. And Dr. Tuohy is developing a preventative vaccine, whereas the medical community is focused more on treatment for existing cancer. Apparently prevention goes against the grain in the medical community.
This is the greatest healthcare system in the world? Bah. A paltry $6 million to test a promising breast cancer vaccine? We can't do this because why? With all the money we spend on crap at the Pentagon we can't scrape together $6 million for a preventative breast cancer vaccine? The Army spent $7 million sponsoring NASCAR driver Ryan Newman last year. We can do that but we can't fund clinical trials for a breast cancer vaccine? (On a related note: did you know the Dept. of Defense has a Breast Cancer Research Program? I didn't either. But no, they rejected Dr. Tuohy's application, too.)
So now citizens are pitching in. People, this story just restores my faith in America, it really does. Folks all around the country are holding fundraisers to help Dr. Tuohy, in what has to be the medical research equivalent of a pickle jar by the cash register. They've held garage sales, races, concerts, you name it. They've kicked in big money and little money. A sample:
Earlier this year, Judy Fitzgerald, a retired middle school teacher who lives in Portsmouth, R.I., sent Tuohy a check for $702, money raised from a 1950s-themed dance and items sold at a crafts fair.
These people are my heroes. You'd think our government or fucking GlaxoSmithKline or whatever would be able to cough up $6 millioni dollars for clinical trials -- hell, maybe WellPoint CEO Angela Braly could dip into her $13.2 million annual compensation, after all, isn't a breast cancer vaccine a lot cheaper in the long run for insurance companies than cancer treatment? But whatever. Free hand of the market, yada yada.
So once again the people step in when others have failed. It's not the most seamless or efficient way of doing things but we stumble along and eventually we get there.
The article has lots of links to donation pages if you're interested in getting involved.
That really shouldn't have to be a headline, right, but how many of these do I complain about to you guys, panels of journalists talking about how journalism's glory days have passed by and kids today don't read and everybody's just interested in Kardashians now and everything sucks? I either attend one of those things or read about one happening elsewhere once a week, which is why I drink so much.
Finally, on Friday, I went to one that was inspiring instead of hectoring. It was in conjunction with The Daily Cardinal's 120th anniversary, and was actually two panels, one of Emmy/Peabody winners and another of Pulitzer winners. They had in common that they got their start at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's oldest student newspaper, and they were speaking primarily to an audience of journalists and other journalism students.
In the morning, there was a lot of talk about ethics and transparency in traditional media. Chuck Salituro of ESPN said the network now bans its journalists from writing "as told to" books for sports figures, because of the inherent conflict in being the ghostwriter for someone you're covering (IMAGINE). Both Steven Reiner and Peter Greenberg of CBS talked about video news releases and the perniciousness of their use in smaller markets.
They also spoke about "experts" paying to opine on various news subjects. And all these things were allowed to happen, were allowed to flourish, because the new economics of journalism placed ever more pressure on people to produce material, and the temptation to take the easy path was greater.
(As an aside: Why is it that every Q&A ever includes at least one person who stands up and says, "MY QUESTION IS I HATE YOU?" It's like a law of nature.)
In the afternoon, the print folks took over and a lot of the questions they were asked about the "future of news" resulted in my two favorite answers: It's always been endangered and it's actually less endangered now because new voices have less expensive platforms to work through.
Abigail Goldman, formerly of the LA Times, said that one day we'll look back on this as a golden age of journalism, because students are learning to be entrepreneurial, to scramble, to push themselves through the noise online. "Those who do good work will rise," she said, and, "The medium doesn't matter. The story does."
Neal Ulevich, who photographed the Vietnam War for the AP, said the web has been good for getting news photos attention, and noted that a lot of the imagery coming from war zones now comes from cell phone cameras. "It's not about the technology. It's about the image."
Which is very true. What we have now, in journalism, are tools we didn't have before, and the ability to combine those tools, to specialize in terms of subject matter but broaden our work in terms of the ways we cover things. Immediacy isn't always bad. Twitter isn't ruining everything. Asking people to send in a cell phone video is not going to kill us all. And as long as the story isn't trivial, the coverage won't be.
Over and over again, in Afghanistan and Iraq, in Guantánamo, in secret CIA black sites and at CIA headquarters, in the Pentagon, and in Washington, men and women recognized the torture for what it was and refused to remain silent. They objected, protested, and fought to prevent, and then to end, these illegal and immoral interrogations. While the president and his top advisers approved and encouraged the torture of prisoners, there was dissent in every agency, at every level.
The documents are full of these voices. In fact, it is thanks to these dissenters that much of the documentary record exists. From emails among FBI agents sharing their shock over scenes they had witnessed in interrogation booths in Guantánamo, to letters and memoranda for the record, to major internal investigations, the documents show that those who ordered and carried out the torture did so despite constant warnings and objections that their actions were ineffective, short-sighted, and wrong. It is no wonder that so many of these documents were suppressed.
There's this tendency, especially among our stupider punditry, to act like "everybody" just lost they damn minds in the wake of 9/11 and went all torture-happy because "we" were all so pissed off from having been attacked like nobody had ever attacked us before with the new world we were living in and all that transformative socio-bullshittery and nonsense. Thus, if "we" are all responsible, then none of us is responsible, and nobody needs to be held to account, and nothing needs to be said. Let it all be forgotten so we can go on our merry way.
Obama's record on this stuff, by the way? Appalling. Especially so, and all the more so, for a fucking scholar of the law. Forget punishing the people who did this. It would be nice if he, himself, stopped doing this, first off.
Here's the other half of Citizens United coming home to roost: If money is speech, then money is protected speech on First Amendment grounds.
A student body president in Alpharetta, Ga., said he was removed from his leadership post after school administrators disagreed with an idea he proposed to make the titles of prom king and queen open to gay couples.
Reuben Lack, 18, was removed from his post on Feb. 8, 2012 for “pushing personal projects,” according a suit the teen filed in federal court.
“The student was essentially a poor leader,” Suzann Wilcox Jiles, attorney for the district said in a statement issued to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “He behaved in manner not becoming of student body president including but not limited to rescheduling meetings with little notice, directly going against the instructions of the faculty advisers.”
I am really getting back in touch with my inner 17-year-old girl because adults, seriously, are we doing anything right lately? Turn up the Beastie Boys, fuck authority, all that. Heavens. Rescheduling meetings, this kid was doing. If that got you kicked off a volunteer post for real, there'd be nobody left in America to do anything.
By the way, what the actual fucking fuck is this about:
Lack, whose Facebook says he is straight, alleged the suit that administrators at Alpharetta High School violated his first amendment rights when they shut down a student council meeting discussion on modifying the prom king and queen tradition to make it accessible to gay couples.
Whose FACEBOOK says? Couldn't you call him up and ask him, if it was essential that you know if he was behaving like a decent human being out of some Homosexual Hive Mind solidarity? Or were you afraid that his response would be appropriately something like, "What business is it of yours which BY THE WAY IS MY ENTIRE POINT?"
I know this is how things work. People push forward, people push back. I am getting impatient, though. We have a limited amount of time on this planet, guys, and we are wasting it trying to go backward and be less. We are wasting it arguing with kids who get this so much harder than we do. Being a teenager is like ... you're trying on a bunch of things, finding something that fits. Here comes this kid who says, "If being gay fits you, why the fuck shouldn't you be prom kings together?" And it's the adults who are jumping up and down to protect others from this dangerous concept, lest it implode the whole world, and the kids are in no danger from this at all.
You know what kids are in danger from, besides being shot by paranoid fuckholes who think their Skittles and hoodies are skeery? Besides hunger and poverty and the cost of college and the general fact that the air might not be breathable when they grow up? Besides urban blight and the tap water lighting on fire and drug-dealing gang members and poison in their spinach and how a car could paste them all over the freeway at any moment? You know what kids are in danger from?
They're in danger from fucking adults who are supposed to be their role models telling them that the best they can hope for in life is to avoid upsetting somebody, that the glory raging inside them should be blunted and blurred, that they should only ever ask for what they think they can get, and that they should accept that something called "the real world" is an inevitability instead of something that is the way it is because nobody's been strong enough to change it yet.
Let's reschedule the meeting about gay prom royalty to never, and get on to the real question of leadership here.
You know, what with everything with an R after its name taking every single opportunity on the planet to be just the biggest penile implant that ever was, it's easy to overlook HOW FUCKING AWESOME CHICKS ARE:
A finger bone fragment, DNA samples, a photo showing a wheel protruding from water. Amelia Earhart disappeared 75 years ago, but the clues continue to surface.
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is set to meet with historians and scientists as a new hunt is launched for the wreckage of Earhart's Lockheed Electra plane.
The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery will begin the search in June, according to the Associated Press, off the remote island of South Pacific island of Nikumaroro, in the nation of Kiribati.
Epic First Draft drinking crack-vanning VERY SERIOUS PROFESSIONAL REPORTING is planned.
I know I’m not the first to take on this quixotic task and I’m quite certain I won’t be the last. However, if your time as my senator has taught me anything, it’s that there is nothing wrong with trying something if you truly believe in it.
I spent part of last week perusing your book “While America Sleeps,” and for the first time in a long time, I actually didn’t mind thinking about politics. From the snippets I read online and in Barnes and Noble, the book was well-reasoned, logical and well thought out. It gave me just enough gossip to be light-hearted but focused more on the issues. It also talked about a topic that most people have stopped paying attention to, but probably need to take a second look at.
I then caught your interview with GQ. (Any man willing to do an interview while slurping a brandy old-fashioned is my kind of guy, by the way.) I was really amazed at some of your answers. You still maintain that Republicans and Democrats can be friends. You stand behind your choices, whether they were the bedrock of Democratic politics or veered into more Republican territory. You don’t apologize for voting against the Patriot Act while simultaneously being in favor of dropping a big honkin’ bomb on bin Laden. Your name remains on the McCain-Feingold Act, which was meant to try to do something about people who use big money to create a political imbalance in their favor.
You are smart. You are willing to listen. You are balanced in your approach to action. You actually listen.
In other words, you are everything our current governor is not.
It broke my heart to see the last line of that GQ interview regarding the likelihood that you’ll run for office sometime soon:
I won’t run for office again until I feel like it. And right now I don't feel like it. I've always been grateful for the enormous outpouring of support and affection that I've received here in the state, but I've never kidded myself that anybody is irreplaceable.
You’re right that no one is irreplaceable. You’re right that people love you. You’re right that a job is hard to do when you don’t feel like doing it. However, you have always done what is right, even if it means you have to hurt a little bit to do it. You’ve been true to yourself, but also true to the needs of this state.
You’re a far better man than I am, and I freely admit this. You knew going into the 2010 election that you were going to lose. The mood of the state, and the country, had changed. The Teawads had stormed the castle with the superhero costumes they made in special ed and their cans of spray cheese. A “vote the bastards out” vibe had hit, thanks to a crappy economy and the sense that liberals had just elected Dolemite to the presidency. When you lost (and MAN did you lose), you took it in stride and you kind of just walked away.
I can’t imagine doing that. I probably would have gone the “you’re not going to have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore” route. I probably would have gone on the talk-show circuit and criticized every move Ron Johnson made, from his stupid haircut to his inability to stay on message in a speech of more than three minutes.
I would have been hurt. I would have been pissed. I would have said “fuck y’all” a lot. I have a hard time believing that you don’t have just a little bit of this going on deep within the recesses of your soul. You’re human and this had to hurt. It’s probably why you don’t want to take another pass at politics right now.
You did a good job of not letting the pain show and not letting a flash of anger undermine your decades of service. I couldn’t do that.
In a much smaller and much less significant way, I found myself on the outs like that once. I was running to lead an organization that I believed in quite a bit. As the sitting VP of the group, I had what had traditionally been considered an inside track if I wanted it. I really didn’t want the job, but felt the obligation and thought I could do a good job of it. Instead, problems from administrations long gone came back to haunt the our board that year. Instead of pulling together, a few self-centered political opportunists took the chance to use those things our group had nothing to do with to attack the board and essentially attack me. They propped up a cardboard cutout, screamed about how I was a horribly bad candidate and beat me. About a year later, the cardboard cutout wilted in the rain, the problems persisted and I got a knock on the door, asking if I’d be interested in running for president again.
“Not if you tied my tongue to your muffler and drove me naked over a field of broken glass at 70 mph,” I told a stunned colleague. “I will NEVER take a leadership position in this shithole again.”
This is precisely why I would be a lousy politician and why you are a great one.
The state you love is in trouble. In that giant wash of “sticking it to the man” that took you out of office and gave us Senator Salad Bar, Wisconsin elected a greedy, selfish, idiotic fool. They elected the yin to your yang. The backlash, the party politics and their ability to drink the sand led normally sane Wisconsinites to put Scott Walker in office. This has finally gotten so bad that more than 1 million of these people, many of whom voted for him in the first place, have said, “We can’t tolerate four years of this.”
They got the signatures. They got a recall election going. They need a candidate.
With no disrespect to Kathy Falk or the other folks running, this state can’t get rid of Governor Deadeyes without you.
If I were you, I wouldn’t do it either. I’d be fine with a simpler life of teaching law at Marquette, hanging out with my family and quietly watching politicians run around like terriers with their fur on fire. It’s got to be a great gig to sit back and enjoy that brandy old-fashioned while quietly saying to yourself, “See? Not a lot of fun out there, is it?”
However, you need to keep one thing in mind: This idiot is your governor, too. As a citizen of this state, a taxpaying member of society as his party likes to say, you are represented by this pathetic food tube.
Most of us can only do so much. We signed the petition for change.
You, on the other hand, can be the petition.
Please run. Give us back our state.
So a few hundred people with signs was enough to scare the G8 to Camp David instead of my home base, and reporters are acting like small-town beauty pageant losers all HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN TO POOR WIDDLE US, and I can't tell you the bitching that was going on for the past month or so. About how there were going to be all these awful protesters mucking up the pretty pretty downtown that's there for people from Wisconsin and Michigan to visit, getting their unwashed free speech all over everything and how horrible that they raise their voices.
You know, the usual one percent doctrine.
Seriously, the city could have encouraged its hospitality industry to market to the protesters as well as the dignitaries. Tents, supplies for signs, protest apps . . . a whole market to exploit.
And even more seriously, welcoming protesters as participants to the weekend would have been much smarter than treating them like the enemy and turning the whole thing into an impending crisis. Our cultural, civic and political institutions could have scheduled workshops, debates, art exhibits - the whole works. We could have shown the world how to bridge the gap and connect the 1% to the 99% and showcased democracy at its best.
Security would still have been an issue and incidents no doubt would have occurred - and likely still will when NATO gets here. But that's part of the price we pay for living in a free society.
Seriously. Maybe Occupy would have been a little less hardcore about stuff if the city hadn't shown every indication of meeting them more than halfway, acting like there had never been a demonstration here before and oh god oh god we're all going to die get the riot gear Martha, it's the big one. I've never seen such fucking hick hysteria, and this in a city everybody goes around mouthing all the time is so world-class.
There are a lot of goddamn people who live here, and some of them are going to stand outside a convention center with a sign that says FUCK THESE PEOPLE, and we are all just going to have to get over the unspeakable trauma of seeing that.
A not-insignificant number of people may have been (may still be) total dicks, violent and destructive, but why on earth was the fear of that cause for the full-scale militarization that was going to occur? Do people not act like violent destructive dicks every day around here, too? Whence cometh the idea that these criminals required tank divisions basically, and other criminals don't? Or are we just flat-out saying it now, that the prime minister of East Gofuckistan is deserving of a peace and quiet our citizens can easily do without?
That's unworthy of a place like this, a big glorious noisy busy messy place like this. The other day I went out my front door and there was a whole rotisserie chicken lying in the middle of the road, I mean every time I ride the L there's some guy in a panda costume singing for no reason or something. We live here because of the crazy shit that goes on, not in spite of it, and despite everyone's best attempts to sanitize all public spaces the public, occasionally, has other ideas. Acting threatened by that doesn't intimidate our critics. It just exposes our cowardice.
In other words, sack up, and figure that if the vast majority of the world's people can live with crushing poverty and systemic powerlessness all of their days, you can handle a week or two of people on the street being rude enough to bring it up in conversation.
Anthony Shadid, New York Times foreign correspondent, Pulitzer winner, fellow alum of my beloved Daily Cardinal, and a personal hero of mine, has died in Syria:
The death of Mr. Shadid, an American of Lebanese descent who had a wife and two children, abruptly ended one of the most storied careers in modern American journalism. Fluent in Arabic, with a gifted eye for detail and contextual writing, Mr. Shadid captured dimensions of life in the Middle East that many others failed to see. Those talents won him a Pulitzer Prize for international reporting in 2004 for his coverage of the American invasion of Iraq and the occupation that followed, and a second Pulitzer in 2010, also for his Iraq reporting, both of them for The Washington Post. He also was a finalist in 2007 for his coverage of Lebanon, and has been nominated by The Times for his coverage of the Arab Spring uprisings that have transfixed the Middle East for the past year.
Mr. Shadid began his Middle East reporting career as a correspondent for The A.P. based in Cairo, traveling around the region from 1995 to 1999. He later worked at The Boston Globe before moving to The Post, where he was the Islamic Affairs correspondent and Baghdad bureau chief. He joined The Times at the end of 2009.
He was no stranger to injury, harassment and arrest. In 2002, while working for The Globe, he was shot and wounded in the shoulder as he walked on a street in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. During the tumultuous protests in Cairo last year that led to the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, Mr. Shadid was hounded by Mr. Mubarak’s police, and during a police raid, he had to hide the computers used by Times reporters.
Mr. Shadid, Mr. Hicks and two other Times journalists, Stephen Farrell and Lynsey Addario, were arrested by pro-government militias during the conflict in Libya last year and held for more than a week, during which all were physically abused. Their driver, Mohammad Shaglouf, died.
In the 2004 citation, the Pulitzer Board praised “his extraordinary ability to capture, at personal peril, the voices and emotions of Iraqis as their country was invaded, their leader toppled and their way of life upended.” In the 2010 citation, the board praised “his rich, beautifully written series on Iraq as the United States departs and its people and leaders struggle to deal with the legacy of war and to shape the nation’s future.”
He spoke of the risks he took while reporting in an interview in December with Terry Gross on the NPR program “Fresh Air.” “I did feel that Syria was so important, and that story wouldn’t be told otherwise, that it was worth taking risks for,” he said of an earlier trip to Syria in which he entered the country from Lebanon on a motorcycle across a rugged stretch of land.
In addition to being one of the best reporters and writers working today, Shadid was unfailingly kind to the place he and I both started out. Whenever I'd send a kid his way for some advice or encouragement he always responded, even if at the moment he was God knows where with the world blowing up all around him, and if he had time he'd give it, and if he didn't have time he'd make it.
A friend and I used to send his stories back and forth annotated with notes like CAN YOU BELIEVE HOW GOOD THIS IS, marveling at the depth of detail in his reporting and the unforgiving, unrelenting reality of his writing. He did what I tell students to do all the time, what I tried to do to the best of my own comparatively meagre abilities in my own work: Go there, and tell everyone you can everything you see. It sounds easy, but it's not. It's not easy to make people care about the victims of war, the ordinary people caught up in conflict, but he did it, by showing us our common humanity and never losing sight of that no matter what the political situation was.
We need more like him. My deepest condolences to his family and those he loved.
They'd pick a time to meet. Their rendezvous point: 3,000 feet above a bridge at Lake Martin, 25 miles away. He'd be flying a repaired AT6 trainer. She'd be in a much slower Piper J-3 Cub.
"When I'd get to Lake Martin, I'd see this bright yellow Cub putt-putting along," he said. "I'd be real proud: She was on time and on target."He'd pull down and fly in formation with her. They couldn't communicate by radio; her Cub didn't have one. All they could do was smile, wave and blow kisses.
Seeing each other in flight created a bond. When they flew together, it was as if they were holding hands in midair. At the end of their aerial encounter, he'd peel away, only to circle back. He'd sneak up behind her, pull in front and leave her in a trail of airwash. Her tiny craft shook mightily. She'd come to expect it every weekend."It didn't faze me," she'd say. "I was the better pilot. ... I just didn't fly the fastest aircraft."
What a couple of blistering, water-walking badasses. You know, it's easy to forget amidst all the crazy that goes on that human beings have always been pretty awesome, and that whatever limits others set for us, somebody's gonna go out there and blow those limits away.
Well, it's February in Wisconsin. And that means it's time for the Polar Plunge. That's right. Every year, a bunch of totally insane motherfuckers jump into a hole cut into the ice as a way to raise money for the Special Olympics.
This year, friend of the blog and regular commenter Hobbes is taking the plunge. So throw her some cheddar so she can get wetter.
Also, our good friends the Mad Rollin Dolls also have a team jump. Help them out.
Go give some money, bitches!
It's for a good cause, people. If you've got some spare change to toss this way, please do. I know the economy sucks and the world's caving in around us, but this is one of those little things that we do to make life better for the people served by this organization; also, it increases the total amount of joy in the world, which makes it a better place for all of us. Cough up a buck, you cheap bastards.
Because we could all use some inspiration:
These two high school students, Kate and Janelle, are seniors in the arts program at Peterborough Collegiate and Vocational School (PCVS), located in downtown Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. Earlier in the fall, district school board trustees voted to close the old (founded in 1827!) downtown fixture next year and move its highly-regarded Integrated Arts program to larger more modern Thomas A. Stewart Secondary School. The decision to close down the much-beloved PCVS sparked protest after protest in the community but it didn't seem much of anything was going to reverse the trustees' decision. A few weeks ago, just trying to draw more attention to efforts of their peers and the community at large to keep the school open, Kate and Janelle recorded their video, using the reverb in a PCVS stairwell to make Neko Case's already-atmospheric Star Witness sound even more haunting.
It worked. The video started getting forwarded around, someone tweeted it to Case, she re-tweeted, the video went viral, the story got blogged, re-blogged, and picked up in the media. To paraphrase Margaret Mead, thoughtful, concerned citizens (and teenage girls singing like angels) for the win!
On Monday, more progress: the Ontario Minister of Education appointed a special facilitator to review the policy and process behind the school trustees' decision to close PCVS. Follow the PCVS story here.
Now that people are close to the number of signatures necessary to force a recall, suddenly the certification process for signatures is flawed and must be destroyed. Suddenly the people who pass muster on the signatures are suspect.
Assholes, let that FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND number be a hint. The people coming for you won't stop. I was up in Wisconsin last weekend for hockey and some Christmas shopping, and people were standing on street corners, outside shopping centers, in the blistering cold wind, in conservative-ass Brookfield, not because it was fun or it was cool or they were getting paid or they were hanging out with their friends but because and ONLY because they want you ten-a-penny fascisti fucking amscrayed.
They want you DONE, and every legislative punishment you devised hasn't stopped them, and every vote you've taken against their interests hasn't stopped them, and every nasty radio tirade by your creepy little wormtongues hasn't stopped them. They won't stop. They'll never stop. They showed up a hundred thousand strong in the snow and when you kicked them out of the building they stood on the lawn, knee-deep, freezing, singing the national anthem.
I don't think you know the extent of the avalanche crashing down the mountain, if you think this will stop them. If you think this is just the next hurdle, that if you can somehow get the Government Accountability Board neutered then everybody will have to give up and go home, I don't think you've heard the song they've been singing underneath your window for almost a year. I don't think you've heard it, so listen again:
Listen to that. Five hundred thousand is the beginning. Five hundred thousand is just a start.
Donate to the recall effort here.