Monthly Archives: November 2008

A Shared Experience

For me the Friday after Thanksgiving will always be about a shared cultural experience that might be the last of its kind. In 1984, CBS aired a college football game, featuring the defending national champion Miami Hurricanes against the upstart Boston College Eagles. In a back-and-forth affair that had each team scoring more than 40 points each, BC trailed 45-41 after Melvin Bratton scored his fourth touchdown of the day for Miami. It left QB Doug Flutie just 28 seconds to take the Eagles 80 yards for the winning score.

After two short passes and one incomplete, Flutie had pushed BC just over midfield with 6 seconds left to play. (At this point, my father declared the game over and headed to the kitchen for a beer. When I pointed out in my youthful ignorance that there were still six seconds left, he propped me in front of the TV and said, “OK, you watch and maybe you’ll learn something about reality.” Dad, to this day, disputes this…) Flutie called Flood Tip, which basically meant “OK, everybody go long.” He avoided the rush, rolled out to his right and launched a gift to the heavens. The ball travelled 60 yards in the air and found its way through the arms of three defenders to rest safely in the hands of Gerard Phelan, Flutie’s road trip roommate. BC 47, Miami 45.

In that instant, Doug Flutie became folk hero to me. My closet is crammed with Flutie jerseys from his various pro stops, and my book shelves are lined with his football cards and Flutie Flakes cereal boxes. Autographs, magazine covers and more are littered throughout my house. When he played in Buffalo, I loved Buffalo. When he moved to San Diego, I loved the Chargers. I followed him when he played in Canada, not an easy feat given what U.S. papers tend to think of Canadian football.

What I found in the following years is that I wasn’t the only one who found religion that day. Whenever I bought a Flutie item, the seller always had a story about what he or she was doing on that day in 1984. Whenever a group of us would watch football on Black Friday, talk always came back to Flutie and his Hail Mary. No montage of last-minute plays was complete without the 5-foot-9 sprite launching his spiraling act of desperation, complete with the overdubbed radio call from the Boston College announcers who were screaming, “He did it! He did it! Flutie did it.” (That still gives me chills; it’s about two minutes into this clip.)

In the years that followed, other games were more important in the national title race.Hail Marys were asked and answered.More dramatic endings took place, to be sure. However, none of them has the same staying power or reach as Flutie’s wing and a prayer. I think the reason for that is because those of us who saw it shared in it. 1984 was one of those last years in which cable TV wasn’t ever-present. We had three channels and only one of them was showing football. ESPN hadn’t taken over the planet and given us 239 games to watch, showering us with football to the point where we’re getting radiation burns from the TV. Remote controls weren’t ubiquitous, so we tended focus on something for more than six seconds. VCRs were not every-home appliances and thinking to record the game probably didn’t occur to most of us. Many folks had the day off and decided to treat themselves to a day on the couch and it was BC/Miami or a rerun of something.

These days, we don’t experience things like that anymore. We TiVo the game, or catch the highlights later on cable. We watch it unfold online through a Web site that tracks the game play by play, much like the old tickertape parlors of the 1920s. (For some reason, the line “Flutie completes pass to WR Phelan: 48 yards, time: 0:00, touchdown” doesn’t cut it…) We get text alerts that give us results, but often extract them from the context or meaning of the event.

We don’t just do that with sports, but with a lot of other events (9/11 being one of the larger exceptions). The terrorist attack in India doesn’t have us camped around our TV sets the way the Munich Olympic attacks did. We watched the election unfold, but we didn’t all get the same broadcast or the news. It was more about the punditry after a while than who won. We don’t even watch TV shows together, as the water cooler chatter over “Can you believe who shot J.R.?” has been replaced with “Don’t talk about ‘Lost.’ I don’t watch that until Friday.” We get things virally now, moving from person to person over time. It’s no longer the type of culture where we all have a singular point of time as a shared referent.

As much as I enjoy the YouTube, FaceBook, TiVo conveniences of life, I wonder if technology has cheated my kid out of having those “I know exactly where I was when…” moments. (Ask someone in their 70s where they were when they heard World War II ended; they’ll nail it without thinking twice.) I wonder if we’ll share again like this in a moment that serves as a cultural touchstone. I wonder if we’ll ever all experience something at the same time the same way.

On this day after Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for having seen that last-gasp moment some 24 years ago and hopeful we’ll have one more just like it sometime soon. If a culture is strengthened through the sharing events, I think we need more chances like the one Doug Flutie gave us.

Quitting Time Booster Shot

There is nothing on earth worse than a sick toddler. Bar none. The Midget has a fever and The Missus has stomach troubles. Seeing the two of them curled up on the couch watching “Maggie, Beast and Hamilton” (as The Midget calls it) is one of the most pathetic sights ever. Other than being grateful for the day off, I’m grateful for having dodged whatever ails them at this point…

Here’s the post-Turkey bloat boost:

– When I was a kid, I had to go with Mom to the Black Friday sales. As an adult, I swore, I’d never go again and I’ve lived up to that promise. A lot has changed since those “6 a.m.” door busters, including this kind of stupid crap. It’s not an isolated deal, either, with a 34-year-old worker getting killed during the blitzkrieg. What the hell is wrong with people? I want decent deals and I have limited funds, but who’s thinking, “Jimmy’s getting a flat screen if I have to go all Jules Winfield in Wal-Mart!”

– Man, was there some serious hostility about Christmas on the log earlier. I remember last year there being a serious storm near my in-law’s place about the placement of nativity at the doorway of city hall. I also read about the fight by a American Freethought groupto place a Winter Solstice sign near the holiday tree at the Wisconsin State Capitol. I get it: It can be damned annoying having someone cramming a belief system down your throat as a manner of course. That said, the Christmas season is the six weeks out of the year when the cashier at my local hardware store doesn’t look at melike he’s a river Gomer and I’m Ned Beatty. If he’s saying “Merry Christmas,” I’ll buy it. It’s his attempt to reach out, whether or not he thinks I’m going to have a tree or go to Midnight Mass. (In a similar vein, I somehow doubt the zit-faced twerp who just threw my six cans of Beef-a-roni on top of my bread and eggs at the grocery store is really engaged in deep thinking and philosophy when he tells me, “Have a nice day.” If I have a shit day, I think he’ll live.) You want to hate the season, totally fine by me. I’m not looking forward to lighting The Missus is going to make me put up or the midnight run we’ll have to do see all of the relatives across the state. Nor am I looking forward to the douchemooks who try to guilt me that I’m not “keeping Christ in Christmas.” Still, let’s find peace with honor on the whole greetings issue.

Maria de Jesus, you are officially on the clock…

– From the “Clay Aiken All-Stars” file: Midget’s Uncle B and I were watching some truly horrific football yesterday when we caught the half-time show of the Lions/Titans game. Jesse McCartney was the star of the show. B turns to me and says, “Who the hell is that? Frankie Muniz?” I had to look the guy up and even that didn’t help. At least I’d heard of the Jonas Brothers, who played during game two. In reading up on McCartney and all his appearances as “himself” on bad TV shows, I think we’ve found the male equivalent of Paris Hilton. Or maybe the next K-Fed.

– Speaking of music, it only took 17 years and enough money to finance about six months of support for the Iraq War, but the new Guns N Roses album finally came out this week. It’s not bad although it’s likely to be viewed as the “Waterworld” of our time: no way it lived up to expectations and easy to lampoon. Unlike the Costner flick, though, this one’s good if you give it a chance.

– Speaking only tangentially about music, singer/songwriter/whore Ashley Dupree is back in the news. The hooker who helped bring down (pardon the pun) Gov. Eliot Spitzer was telling her story to Diane Sawyer on 20/20.Apparently she has a new album of random screeches and howls to promote… Look, I come from an area wherea guy who survived a plane crash by face planting into a cheesehead and parlayed that into Packer tickets, so I get the whole 15 minutes of fame thing. That said, when you’re engaged in an illegal activity, partake in actions that force a sitting governor to resign in shame and basically have no talent whatsoever, is that really the platform from which to launch a pop career?

– OK, so maybe there is a chance after all, if she’s willing to work on her chops on the porn circuit…

Have a great rest of the weekend. Thanks for letting me share your air.


I Apologize For What I’m About To Do

But I can’t not share with you the commercial that plays during EVERY football game here, at least nine times a quarter:

Why are all local car commercials universally of the suck? This is a particularly egregious example but there’s a remarkable uniformity to the shittiness of production values, ineptitude of spokespeople and general assiness of appearance in these things that crosses locations, brands, etc. Do they all get together in one place each year and say, “Let’s make something so horrendously annoying that while it accomplishes the aim of having people talk about it, it will also inspire them to give our dealerships the finger every time they drive by?” What? Help me out here.


Extreme makeover, FEMA edition

During his campaign, President-Elect Obama repeatedly promised to overhaul FEMA and now those promises have apparently become a plan, as reported by  Washington Post’s Al Kamen. 

Back in February, Obamaspoke to the residents of New Orleans:

If catastrophe comes, the American people must be able to call on a competent government. When I am President, the days of dysfunction and cronyism in Washington will be over. The director of FEMA will report to me. He or she will have the highest qualifications in emergency management. And I won’t just tell you that I’ll insulate that office from politics – I’ll guarantee it, by giving my FEMA director a fixed term like the director of the Federal Reserve. I don’t want FEMA to be thinking for one minute about the politics of a crisis. I want FEMA to do its job, which is protecting the American people – not protecting a President’s politics

Per the Wapo article, the most likely plan is ” to break off the agency from the Department of Homeland Security, a move that would in itself help restore the pride FEMA folks felt when it was an independent agency.”

As for FEMA director, the likely pick is former FEMA head James Lee Witt, though he may only be brought in for a short time to help “whip it into shape,” much like he did post-Andrew back in 1993.

After Witt runs the first lap, it’s hypothesized he will hand off the post to his deputy administrator, Mark Merrit, who worked with Witt in his private, and highly lucrative, disaster recovery consultancy. This is where things might get a bit dicey.

Witt is likely to be grilled about his work on Katrina relief. Witt and Merritt began their work in the days after the hurricane, when Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco hired their disaster recovery firm in an open-ended, no-bid contract.

An NBC News investigation of Louisiana state records found that James Lee Witt Associates was paid more than $40 million for its recovery work. Merritt, who had been the firm’s top manager in Louisiana, tallied $506,000 in billable hours over the 10-month span from September 2005 through June 2006, NBC News found in its July 2007 report.

Witt Associates allegedly billed the state double what it actually paid its subcontractors, the report said. For instance, the firm subcontracted an Indiana company to manage recovery grants. That company’s workers were paid $19 to $20 an hour, but they billed Witt Associates $37.50 an hour, and Witt Associates billed the state $75 an hour, according to the NBC News report.

On the other hand, Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal is reported to have been most pleased the with firm’s work there and has said he intended to keep them on.

As for other matters, such as the levee situation and what bodes for the Bush-created Office of Gulf Coast Rebuilding, no detailed planshave been announced. I’m sure our NOLA correspondents can bring us those details as they take shape.

Weekend Question Thread

Pet peeves?

For me: Little ANGRY yappy dogs like the one the crackhead neighbors have. Bitching about one’s spouse in public. And indecisive driving. Pick a lane and stick with it, for God’s sakes.




A raging fire and explosions struck one of the hotels, the landmark
Taj Mahal, shortly after midnight. Screams could be heard and enormous
clouds of black smoke rose from the at the century-old edifice on
Mumbai’s waterfront. Firefighters were spraying water at the blaze, and
plucking people from windows and balconies with extension ladders.

The attackers specifically targeted Britons and Americans, witnesses said. Officials said at least 200 people were wounded.

The motive for the onslaught was not immediately clear, but Mumbai has frequently been targeted in terrorist attacks blamed onIslamic extremists, including a series of bombings in July 2007 that killed 187 people.

home secretary Bipin Shrimali said four suspects had been killed in two
incidents when they tried to flee in cars, and Roy said two more gunmen
were killed at theTaj Mahal. State Home Minister R.R. Patil said nine more were captured. They declined to provide any further details.

And look, this isn’t the time for snark, but shit like this makes me crazy:

An Indian media report said a previously unknown group calling itself the DeccanMujahideen had claimed responsibility for the attacks in e-mails to several media outlets. There was no way to verify the claim.

If there’s no way to verify that statement why is it here? And if it’s such a charged environment that you want to put out whatever information you get and verify later, why bother to use such a transparent ass-covering maneuver? It’s cheap. Make an editorial decision and stick to it, for fuck’s sakes, especially in a scenario where accurate info is important.

Maitri has more.



So, what are you cooking tomorrow?


Thanksgiving Day Turkey


That would beGlenn Beck. And he doesn’t even merit a “jive.”

Anyway, have a happy holiday. I’m heading towards New Iberia with some chicken and sausage gumbo that turned out ok–a bit on the mild side, but some in the family prefer it that way. I’ll also be bringing a bottle of Montoya wine.


The False Choice


This piece could have been titled Just Kill Me Now.

I would pay for subscription services, which would give me good,
trustworthy news that I trust has been fact-checked and all that. So I
do think subscription services will work, but that’s for upper-middle
class and above. I think we’re going to see a return to the sponsorship
model that we saw in the ’50s and ’60s on TV. Of course, that may be
just because I’ve been watching “Mad Men” too much…

I do think we will see the public service model and philanthropy model
like ProPublica. So I think we’re going to see some hybrid on that.
Beyond that I don’t know. Frankly, I thought I was going to be more
involved let’s say a year or two ago in this kind of stuff. But that’s
when I started talking to these guys … and I realized how far out of my
depth I was.

The discussion of the philanthropic model interests me, because it recognizes journalism as a service and specifically as a public service, rather than newspapers specifically and journalism as a profit-making enterprise. Once you separate the work from the delivery mechanism you start to drop a whole lot of the bullshit inherent in discussing this stuff, like “people won’t pay for content” and “there’s no money online.” But the headline and many of the questions are still the same tiresome “print vs. online” debate that assumes one has to make a choice. I’m having this argument in meatspace right now: Why not both? Why not both, done well? Why is this always framed as you’re either on one side or on the other?

And I have to think the answer to that is so long as journalists are focused on bitching about the Internet, they won’t talk about where the money that is there, that is being made with the means of the traditional media, is really going.

Nasty old Internet.


I Think I Might Love Aaron Brown A Little Bit

Don’t hurt me:

Dream bigger.

That’s really what I think, and I suppose what worries me as well.
The problem is not that students don’t dream – they do. The problem is
that students too often fail to dream big. If you are going to dream,
why waste it on something small?

I’m not sure students are to blame for this. I suspect this is
something we, their parents and teachers have done to them. Our intent
was to protect them from hurt. We forgot there are things far worse
than disappointment.

So my advice to students (and that includes my 20-year-old daughter)
is this: Find the biggest, coolest most audacious dream you can and own
it. Make that crazy dream yours and go get it.

Your parents will worry, your teachers will patiently explain how
hard it is, and you can just smile knowingly. You will understand that
the dream, your dream, is not the place where you end up, but the road
you will spend your life traveling. You’ll understand that while
everyone falls down, dreamers always get up and that disappointment, as
uncomfortable as it is sometimes, is not nearly as uncomfortable as
never having reached.

Of course, he’s borrowing fromTeddy Roosevelt, but really. If I had to give a graduation speech (can you imagine?) this is pretty much what I’d say.

We spend so much time figuring out what we can have and wanting that, instead of figuring out what we want and how to get it, and it may be reasonable in some circumstances. I am never going to be an astronaut or a figure skater, I and my claustrophobia and my weak ankles have accepted this. I also know that when I was little had I been willing to spend hour upon hour upon hour either studying science or practicing skating, I might be an astronaut or a figure skater today.

Dreaming’s the wrong word, implying as it does airy-fairy staring into space waiting for your cosmic prince to come without DOING anything yourself, maybe wanting’s better. Want something.


Let’s Not Talk At All


What Nate and Rick are onto explains why a lot of us are going to have to strap on our dance shoes and tip-toe through the holiday season. Because anyone who has a “mixed” family (Democrats and Republican base voters) knows, conservatives in families usually have license to rant and carry on and even pick on liberals, but it’s considered impolite if not scandalous for liberals to push back.


Of course, a lot of the double standard depends on other patriarchal double standards—family conservatives tend to be older and more male than family liberals, and thus they are permitted to have the floor and even harangue other family members without being resisted.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve said, “Let’s not talk about politics” and had it met with evenmore offensive bullshit than whatever offensive bullshit provoked my demur in the first place. Far as I’m concerned, you get warned off the subject twice, and if you persist, you deserve the mental and verbal ass-kicking you receive. You’re a grownup, talking to another grownup, you want to be rude ain’t my place to stop you but you’d better bring your A-game.

And most of them don’t:

They can’t get around the fact that you’re right, but they can’t change their mind, either, so they’re stuck. It’s really evocative of being provoked to argue religion with a believer who wants to know why you’re an atheist. I far prefer to drag that battle into a forum that’s public, instead of in a personal, face-to-face conversation where your advantages make you feel like a show-off asshole.

Which position, while admirable and nicer than mine, assumes that being a show-off asshole is something you’re not assumed to be anyway by whatever rude mouthbreather you’re arguing with, by virtue of all that book-learning and reading and shit that you do. As usual, my position is that if you’re gonna get tarred you might as well slap some feathers on top because there’s no reason not to. I don’t know if it’s getting older or what but I’m finally starting to lose my patience with being talked to like I’m five, and my new’s years resolution is to stop feeling like I should apologize for living to assholes who cannot take a hint.

This is not a particularly new or newsworthy problem; the mystery to me is why on earth anybody still thinks it’s a good idea to taunt the liberal (or conservative, let’s be honest) at the party. At some point we have lost the concept of fucking polite behavior. We need to dig up Edith Wharton and have her zombie-fied so she can explain to us how this shit works in a society where we cut our food up before we eat it. She’d glove-slap half the people on this planet, I swear to God.

Sometimes I think we stray into these controversial topics is that we have a hard time communicating, people in general, and you might not know this from watching me here but I’m actually not in my element in a large loud party of people I only kinda know, so I resort to asking a billion questions so I don’t have to talk. I think in many cases all the years I spent reporting are a great help here, because that’s basically talking to strangers about the things they care about, so you learn very quickly how to make somebody feel comfortable and important and how to learn all about them, but that’s not something that comes naturally to everybody, andgod damn sometimes it is a lot of work. Which is how I spent Christmas afternoon last year watching Super Bad with Mr. A’s teenage cousins upstairs.


Column: Everybody Wants A Bailout

Where do you stop? You don’t. You start fixing the real problems:

Of course, $25 billion to the car companies isn’t going to change
the fact that the roads they drive on are crumbling, that the people
who drive them are barely making the payments and that the people who
make them aren’t paid a fraction of what their CEOs presently pleading
poverty can boast.

President-elect Barack Obama called on Saturday for the type of
massive public works program that would in the long term solve the
kinds of problems that lead to economic collapse. “We’ll put people
back to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, modernizing
schools that are failing our children, and building wind farms and
solar panels; fuel-efficient cars and the alternative energy
technologies that can free us from our dependence on foreign oil and
keep our economy competitive in the years ahead.”

In the meantime, if we’re going to be bailing out those in trouble,
I really could use a nice new American-made hybrid car. One with those
heated mirrors that defrost automatically, really plushy seats and snow
tires. From the size of the squirrels in my neighborhood, it’s gonna be
a long, cold winter.


Echidne, Natch, Says It Better

I should just outsource:

Following the discussion about who deserves a
bailout is fascinating, because Detroit and its car-makers don’t
deserve one, never mind that the industry is one of the largest
employer in the country, but banks, those halls of marble and pillars,
do deserve one, because they have us all by the short and curly. They
are too big to fail! Or rather, their failures will hurt all the little
gals and guys much more than it will hurt the rich, and that is how the
rich got saved, once again.

I am not belittling the need to do
something about the economic recession, because the financial
industries do have us by the short and curly. I just want to point out
that when we ended welfare for all times we added lots of stuff about
the poor having to work to get welfare payments and lots of time limits
on how long any one family could stay on welfare. And all this for an
expense that was around one dollar out of each one hundred dollars the
federal government spent then! Now we are willing to hand over
brazillion dollars and asknothing
back in terms of good behavior. Indeed, we are not even demanding that
those in charge would be demoted, because we want stability in the
banks! Nobody worried about the stability of families on welfare in the
great and roaring nineties.


Study: Katrina Kids are sickest children in the U.S.

FromFacing South:

Hurricane Katrina’s youngest survivors are now the sickest children in the United States, according to areport released Monday by the New York-basedChildren’s Health Fund and Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

Facing South has the specifics.

And here is a quote from the above link to really think about:

“The recovery from Katrina was actually handled far worse even than
the initial response,” study author Irwin Redlener, a professor at
Columbia’s School of Public Healthtold the New York Daily News. “It’s just disappeared from public view with an assumption that whatever was done is over.”

And people were horrified and outraged by the initial response…

Racism Is Dead


The 19 days since Barack Obama was elected as our first
African- American president have generated a wave of
conflicting emotions across the country. Many people are
still pinching themselves at the gleeful wonder of it all.
Others are flying their flags upside-down in distress. And
some just can’t get past the race issue.

A distressing number of that last group have called or
written here to unburden themselves, some of them stunning
in their narrow-minded fury.

It would serve no purpose to repeat any of the truly
offensive diatribes – it’s embarrassing enough just
listening to them – but I’ll let one of the gentler
comments I heard represent them all: “I didn’t
order the Call & Post! Print a black paper for some
other people to read . . . not me!”

Don’t make me look at reality. Cousin of the critter that hated the AP for taking photos in Iraq and sending them back.


I Would Like Barack Obama To Not Suck

Progressives vs. liberals vs. true liberals vs. anti-Obama liberals vs. dreamers vs. pragmatists vs. OMFG WE’RE ALL GONNA DIEEEEEE.

I cannot take the meta anymore. ViaShakesville, which:

Regular readers may recall that although I
supported Clinton’s candidacy, I frequently said that I’d be more than
happy to vote for either of them. I wasn’t just saying that to be nice,
nor was it a “any Democrat will do” kind of thing. It’s because I (no
political expert to be sure) could see quite clearly thatthey’re not that different.
I don’t mean that there weren’t policy differences between them
(although, really, there weren’t many). What I mean is that despite the
ridiculously childish acrimony between their campaigns, they themselves
are obviously of similar character and temperament. In fact, I suspect
(although I have no proof of this) they get alonggreat. I think she’s had his back since she endorsed him, and I believe she’ll be a loyal and effective member of his team.

How did all our clever liberal writers miss this?

Speaking only for me, and trust me, I’m sure I’m not included in “all our clever liberal writers,” but … my aspirations for an Obama presidency — for that matter, a Clinton one — were pretty basic. Try not to screw us too often or hard. End the war. Fix health care. I realize these are criminally low expectations to apply to our leadership but I personally don’t think the choices were ever put to me as “new man made of moonbeams” versus “THE NEVERENDING SUCK.” And while I’m sure there were clever liberal writers overwhelmed by the majesty of Obama or whatever, and I’m sure there were plenty of Obama supporters who were, there were plenty of others who said pretty much what I felt, which was that Obama’s campaign was a sight to behold and that once in office he’d need constant shoving in the right directions.

I live in the state Obama worked in and he didn’t transform it into a place where cotton candy grew on all the trees and unicorns nibbled from it at lunch. He did things that impressed me, and things that pissed me off, like any Democrat. Maybe this confusion at how I’m supposed to be enraged at how taken in I was is a consequence of my having spent the primary wars pissed off that all our clever liberal writers couldn’t have given a damn about my candidate, the only one, by the by, with the balls to stand up for the rule of law in this country, not that anyone gave a shit anymore once he shook Joe Lieberman’s dick off for him.

And by the by, being annoyed at Obama isn’t a sign that progressives are over, or that he doesn’t care, or that we were OMG DECEIVED and should go home and beat our breasts in apology for having gotten jacked up about the guy. It’s a sign that he isn’t doing everything we want. And we should ask for what we want.There’s a whole form right here. Go fill it out instead of lifing the rest of the blogosphere about how YOU ALL GOT SUCKERED HA HA HA.