24 thoughts on “Weekend Question Thread

  1. I think I’ve told you this before – Robert Kennedy. Not because he was perfect, he wasn’t, but because he went from being fairly conservative (for someone coming from that family, at least) and working with McCarthy to this tremendous liberal champion for people who had no voice. He gave me my love for politics, my belief in government as being capable of being a force for good, to improve and lift all of us.
    I wish his ghost would come down and kick Obama in the ass, and remind him that it isn’t just about the speeches, it’s about making it better for everybody, and fuck a bunch of republicans who are in the minority if they don’t like it.

  2. Too many to count:
    – Roberto Clemente for his amazing play, his selfless acts of charity, his pride of country and self and his integration of baseball as a Latino.
    – Herb Brooks, who feared failure to the point in which it drove him to obsession, a man who went up to the tiger, spit in his eye and then shot him.
    – Jack Kirrane, the captain of the original Miracle Men of the 1960 Squaw Valley games hockey team. He was a 34-year-old father of two who took two months of unpaid leave from his job as a firefighter to lead what everyone presumed was a losing effort. And after he helped knock off the Russians, the Czechs and Communism itself, he came back to Brookline, Mass., put his gold medal in a dresser drawer and climbed back on his fire truck. That’s an American Hero.
    – The Shadow Cabinet of the 1995 Cardinal Shutdown. At any point in that seven months, they would have been given more credit for walking away than for fighting on and yet, they endured. There are days when I look back at what they did and wonder how the hell it ever really happened.
    – Mom and Dad. They were married at 20 and 22 respectively and neither family was thrilled, making it clear that each wasn’t worthy of the other. 42 years later, they’re still married and they’ve been the best parents I could have ever hoped for.

  3. Journalistically? Sy Hersh, Helen Thomas, Trudi Rubin, Jane Mayer and a host of largely unsung me and women who toil in the trenches.
    Politically and still alive? Howard Dean. Always the courage of his convictions. And I’m in love with Bernie Sanders, too, at the moment.

  4. Too many to count for me, too. Lots of them, many of them quite flawed and imperfect.
    I’ve had a lot, as a kid my fav. books were biographies and I’d just immerse myself in everything I could learn about someone till I “knew” them. As a kid the usuals: Helen Keller, Florence Nightingale, Joan of Arc (she was a big one), Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Amelia Earhart, Georgia O’Keeffe, some of the earliest ones I remember.
    I very much admire people who use tremendous talents- gifts that many others could and do use to simply make life easy, to simply make lots of money- for things that are difficult, time consuming , generous and important. I know a lot of researchers, and that’s the kind of thing they do- devoting huge intellectual gifts to small discrete units of a bigger whole – spending years studying one species or even one type of cell in one species – MAKING KNOWLEDGE that can be used by the world. It’s pretty breathtaking to me, and one of the reasons that steam comes out my ears when slimy politicians talk about tax payer dollars being spent on studying moose urine, or frog eggs, or something that they know sounds ridiculous and will rile people up, but is really very much part and parcel of what most working scientists do. I mean, no one gets an NIH grant for CURING CANCER ASAP. It’s more like funding to support spending 12 years studying the pigmentation in one type of scale of one species of fish because that process mimics one phase of melanoma cell growth.
    3 heroes I tend to mention a lot, for the above reason: historian/author Robert Caro, poet Sharon Olds, actor/writer Anna Deveare Smith.
    Caro has spent his entire long career writing about one topic: Power, and he’s written only a handful of books, about only two men. His first book was about Robert Moses, and the others are about LBJ, and that series isn’t finished yet (and my never be) and he didn’t choose those men because he wanted to make them more famous, or because he admired them, he chose them because they were the best examples to illustrate his fascination with power, and he spent (and is still spending) years and years and years of his life doing research on minute aspects – he totally immerses himself in the topic. He moved to the Texas Hill Country to learn about LBJ’s youth, he moved to Viet NAm for a few years to learn about the war (that section still hasn’t been published). In doing so, the story he tells is hugely more than just the story of one person. It’s the story of the whole country in some ways. I learned more about the government of the US from his book Master of the Senate than anything else I’ve ever read. I saw a documentary on Ebbets Field the other night and of course, Robert Caro pops up- because Moses played a huge role in its demise. That kind of immersion and patience and the mastery of knowledge it results in is amazing to me.
    Olds for, in addition to a life writing and in academia, running for years a writing program at Goldwater Hospital on Roosevelt Island for profoundly physically disabled patients. Helping people who can maybe move one joint of a finger, or just blink their eyes to write their own stories and poems. Nobody HAS to do that, spending hours helping someone write one line so they can express themselves creatively.
    Deveare Smith, who takes months and years traveling the country talking to hundreds of people, immersing herself in one topic and learning all she can by talking to and getting to know every available witness, then recreating those witnesses in her own form and becoming them on stage to tell the story. It’s elaborate, it’s time consuming, it’s painstaking, and when you see the results on stage, it’s breathtaking. I lived four blocks away from Crown Heights during the riots there and I learned a lot that summer, but watching her do Fires in the Mirror completely changed my understanding of that event, and made it bigger. I also got to see her do Twilight live. I haven’t yet seen Let Me Down Easy, which is about a thing: grace, rather than an event. I’ve heard mixed reviews but everyone I know who’s seen it is amazed by the scope of it.
    So, if there’s a theme re my heroes, it’s people doing something they don’t have to do, I guess.

  5. at art school, we were to draw our hero. i really thought about it + i had none. so i had to go with anti-hero. i had been reading about how freud, and how he fond a lot of evidence of pedophia and sex abuse or maids and such, but society at large couldn’t accept it, and so freud came up with the bullshit theories to explain away reality. so i did some anti freuds.
    i do admire many people tho.

  6. I have lots, but going to go with a former colleague, John Conroy. He’s basically Chicago’s Jane Meyer; his decades-long coverage of police torture in the city is not only jawdropping, it’s also really compellingly written.
    Haven’t read Caro’s LBJ books (they’re on the list after American Pharoah) but I’ll second Virgotex on The Power Broker, adding one thing: the parts about the reporters who did and didn’t challenge Moses are fascinating studies of media.

  7. I just read Shirin Ebadi’s autobiography, written with the help of Azadeh Moaveni, and her determination to change Iran’s current regime from within, even after nearly everyone in her circles condemned the country to the clerics and left, is both incredibly inspiring and horribly scary…I mean, the woman found her name on a list of people who wanted to kill reformers like herself in the name of Islam, with approval from the regime. She is also raising two daughters in that mess over there…and for that alone, she deserves much more than the Nobel she got in 2003. The toll it’s all taking on her health seems to be tenuously balanced by her need to use her background as a pre-Revolution judge and her continuous knowledge of what the Koran and the hadith say to fight the clerics on their own turf over women’s and children’s rights.
    Every time I think of what a brain drain there is here in New Orleans, of how the political class Joan Didion described in “Political Fictions” is tearing this city and country apart, and of how nice it would be to go to some mythical place where I wouldn’t have to worry about health care, my son’s education, and our personal safety, I think of Ms Ebadi. The road for her these days is quite long and arduous, and seems to have a lot of obstacles and dead ends, but she finds a way to keep going. If I had even a teensy bit of that strength, I feel I could go on forever.

  8. Calvin Johnson of K records. Emma Goldman anarchist. Joe Hill, born Joel Emmanuel Hägglund, and also known as Joseph Hillström, labor organizer legally murdered in Utah.

  9. Well, given I’m still at heart a newsie — Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather, Wade Goodwyn, and Athenae.

  10. Tommy Douglas, who brought single-payer healthcare to Canada.
    Nellie McClung, for spearheading the “Persons Case,” which gave Canadian women the right to vote.
    Maurice Ruddick, who was trapped for days in the second Springhill (Nova Scotia) mine disaster and who kept his coworkers alive by singing the whole time, and then was denied a gift vacation from the governor of a US state because he was black, and who lived most of the rest of his life in obscurity.
    Uri Avnery, the leader of Gush Shalom.
    Linda McQuaig, Canada’s answer to Paul Krugman, who writes about economics and pisses off the right-wing power structure here to the point where Conrad Black said she should be horsewhipped on national television.
    Edwin Black, because of his formidable research skills, which leave me inawe. (I mean, I’m good, but he’s so far beyond me, it’s scary.)

  11. Whoops, my sentence in my comment should have been: “…she found her name on a list of reformers targeted by people who were ready to kill such dissenters in the name of Islam, with approval from the regime.”
    And I like seeing Robert Caro and Edwin Black in these comments.
    The following link to an authors’ conversation has Caro in it talking about “The Power Broker” and about how he was told repeatedly a book on Robert Moses wouldn’t sell:

  12. Easy. George Washington. Not only defeated the world’s mightiest superpower, but went on to invent republican government. A man who loved his country so much he endured ridiculous burdens and hardships. Literally devoted his life to our freedom and security.
    Journalist here = IM Stone. And closing fast, Glennzilla.

  13. Hunter S. Thompson. “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72” is the best campaign book ever written. The man was absolutely fearless, something that today’s journalists are totally unfamiliar with.

  14. My dad, who disagreed with me about almost everything politically, but never tried to force me to change my mind…plus when I was a kid he had really cool stuff (he was a career military officer/carrier based aviator)…also I’ve gotta give Abe Lincoln his due. The more I learn about him, the better he gets–even his significant flaws (by this I mean his, well, racist views) were as much or more a product of his times than a defect of his character. Besides, he appreciated/understood MacBeth.

  15. Frank Murphy (mayor of Detroit, Governor of Michigan, US Attorney General,Supreme Court justice) and Walter Ruether.
    Murphy sent the national guard to protect the Flint sitdown strike in 1937 that led to the unionization of GM. He also dissented in the Koramatsu decision to send Japanese-Americans to internment camp.
    Walter Ruether and the UAW did more to create the middle class in America than pretty much any other leader or organization.
    These are just a couple examples of principled people who made a difference. I’d like to see a few more like this today.

  16. Eleanor Roosevelt. HRH Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. Wilfred Owen (I mean, my god, how do you go back to the trenches after being shellshocked, knowing exactly what war in the trenches was like? That’s heroic.) Edward R. Murrow (“This…is London…”). Abraham Lincoln. Pal Maleter.
    I’m also with Jim Pharo–George Washington. For all the reasons Jim noted, plus this: he could have made this country a monarchy, and chose not to.
    And Thomas Paine–for all those words that mattered when it counted most. I talk about Paine in my classes to remind my students that words do matter, that sometimes all people need to do the right thing is having the right person say the right thing at the right time. (One of the many reasons I think sites like this one are so important.)

  17. My newspaper hero was the NYT’s Francis X. Clines. This was the late 80s/early 90s. He could pack more information into 15 inches than most reporters could in 20 or 30, and he did it with more style and grace than any other NYT writer. Whenever I saw his byline, I knew I was in for a great story.

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