Monthly Archives: August 2012

$20 from a safety net

Her name was Rachael and she would have been 14 this year.

I usually think about her as school gears up each fall, as
kids shop for school supplies and new gym shoes.

I think about her parents, both of whom are now well on
their way to middle age. When Rachael was born, they were two scared
20-something kids with a daughter in danger. He was an agricultural laborer,
and she was a stay-at-home mom.

I thought about all of this today in the wake of Mitt
Romney’s speech at the RNC last night. He spoke out against the failure of
Obama to do much of anything good. Jobs lost, costs hiked, people screwed.

(Side Note: I have to give the RNC a lot of credit for one
thing: Clint Eastwood. Instead of the media going after Paul Ryan’s horseshit
or Mitt’s bullshit, everyone is enamored by rambling oratory that was likely
taken from the “Book of Speeches, Salutes and Wedding Toasts delivered by
Drunken Brothers-in-Law and Other Morons Who Grabbed the Mic.” Nice inadvertent
idiotic brilliance.)

When Mitt was yammering, I was flipping back and forth
between two channels filled with lies: The RNC on one station and the Green Bay
Packer announcers who were trying to convince me that the Packers wouldn’t miss
a beat if Aaron Rodgers went down and Graham Harrell had to take over on the
other. I was also uploading news articles I needed my students to read this
term for my feature-writing class, which is where I came across a piece on
Rachael.

And then it all came back.

When I worked as an editor in Missouri, one of the things we
didn’t lack for was reporters. The students would fill the newsroom each year
and look for stories that hadn’t been done before. The joke around town was
that if you hadn’t been interviewed at least three times each year by someone
on our staff, chances are you were dead.

Most of the stories were what you would expect out of a
newspaper brimming with cub reporters: fires and floods, meetings and speeches,
pomp and circumstance.

I was helping to oversee coverage of outlying areas, which
usually led to some meeting stories and an occasional county fair story. If it
was happening out in Boonville (an actual city, not a slight) or beyond,
chances are no one really cared.

One day, a kid came to me with a scrap of paper he’d pulled
from a weekly paper that covered an outlying farm community. It was a tiny ad,
alerting the community at large that someone was hosting a chili supper with
proceeds to benefit a girl named Rachael.

“Can I go?” he asked, understanding that space and mileage
money were tightly rationed.

“Sure,” I told him, figuring not much would come of this.
“Let me know what happens when you get back.”

The next time I saw him, he was chattering away like an
agitated monkey. He told me the story of Rachael, a baby with Down Syndrome and
a hole in her heart. The family had no insurance, the dad was the sole source
of income and they had already been drained by all the complications associated
with Rachael’s birth.

Her grandfather had gotten some people together to make and
serve chili to help defray the cost of the upcoming open-heart surgery.

The family wasn’t thrilled about this nosy kid who was
writing down everything thing they had to say. They were guarded and concerned.

But, the next time they had a supper, back the kid went for
another update about the fundraising and the girl.

The more he went, the more he wrote. The more he wrote, the
more people heard. The more they heard, the more they gave.

Eventually, the family adopted this goofy college student
who had taken up their cause in print and started opening up about all of this.
They told him they never regretted the decision to have a child they knew would
have these problems. They felt both saddened and overwhelmed with gratitude
when people started to donate to their cause.

“We’re afraid to ask how much it’s going to be,” the mom
said at one point. She had been trying to find a job to help out, but between
caring for Rachael and the general state of the economy, she couldn’t manage
it.

Her husband did everything he could to be the breadwinner.
He worked upwards of 80 hours a week during planting season in an attempt to
help the family cobble a life together.

He might have been better off if he hadn’t.

In one of the last interviews leading up to the surgery, the
mom revealed her husband made too much money in the previous fiscal year to
qualify for Medicaid and WIC benefits that would have taken care of much, if
not all of the bills.

“How much is too much?” the kid asked.

“We missed the cut off by about $20.”

Rachael kept getting worse and then a bit better and then a
bit worse.

Something had to be done.

The surgery happened in November of that year. She was less
than two months old when her family gathered in a private waiting room. Her
grandfather was in a hospital bed on one floor, recovering from his heart
attack while she was being tended to on another floor.

My kid was there as well, at the behest of the family,
watching all of this come together.

Were the chili suppers enough to pay for the bills? No one
knew.

Would she make it out alive? It was a 50/50 bet.

He was rolling through these thoughts as a nurse came in and
told the family that things weren’t great.

“Please, God, let us keep her,” Rachael’s grandmother said
in a quivering voice. “… We need her more than she needs us.”

She survived the surgery and continued to struggle forward.
Each day, one small step in a positive direction. The family spent weeks holed
up in the waiting room, each day, praying for a small miracle.

“She still has a chance,” her mom told the reporter. “But
everything has to go perfect.”

Everything didn’t.

Years after that story ran, two things remain fresh in my
mind.

First, that story wrecked my reporter kid in a way that I
never would have imagined. He was about 20 years old at the time he wrote that
story and he was never the same after it.

He had grown up in an America that preached the idea of hard
work, sacrifice and prayer. If you wanted something badly enough and you worked
hard enough, then you would always triumph, the story went.

He gave everything he had to telling that story.

The community gave everything they had to raise the funds.

The family sacrificed and prayed.

The girl died.

This wasn’t the script he was used to.

The parents were close to his age. He sympathized and became
part of a story that consumed him. He couldn’t let it go.

Years later, I got in touch with him and found out it still
haunted him in some ways. He was a serviceable reporter doing a good job and
managing post-collegiate life.

“It’s funny,” he once wrote to me. “After all I’ve done in
the years that have passed, I still remember that story. It’s always with me.”

The second and more depressing thing was the quotes from the
family. They prayed and hoped and loved and more, but so many of the quotes
came back to the issue of money.

They were trying to earn money.

They were trying to raise money.

They didn’t want to know how much this would cost.

They feared the costs associated with the life of their
child.

At a time in which they clung to hope, the niggling fear of
funding scratched loudly at the corners of their mind.

I can’t say for sure that they didn’t get the best possible
care for their child. I have no idea if there was a “broke people” wing for
folks without bulletproof insurance or if they had insurance it would have been
better or faster or stronger care. I have no idea if that $20 kept their kid
from landing in a safety net of government assistance and medical assurance
instead of crashing into an early grave.

I can say, however, that isn’t a concern anyone should face
while their infant’s life hangs in the balance.

Healthcare is a rather abstract concept to people who have
it or don’t need it. If you are healthy or insured, chances are when Romney
says, “We must rein in the skyrocketing cost of healthcare by repealing and
replacing Obamacare,” it doesn’t mean much. It’s just a word like socialism,
communism or whatever ism is on the outs at the time the writer is using it.

Obamacare. Like he’s the guy giving me my prostate check
each year.

Obamacare. A Franken-word that smacks of too much government
and not enough freedom.

Obamacare. A term inviting the icy scorn of those who
believe they just hit a triple, when in actuality, they were born standing on
third base.

And that’s exactly who Mitt Romney is and why it’s hard for
me to take him seriously when it comes to problems that impact people who earn
in a year what he took home in a day.

When he talks about working hard as a businessman, I’m sure
it was never in a Missouri farm field, planting seeds for 10, 12 or 15 hours a
day.

Sweating for life. Praying for hope. Losing both.

Thursday, Mitt Romney told us, “If I am elected President of
these United States, I will work with all my energy and soul to restore that
America, to lift our eyes to a better future. That future is our destiny. That
future is out there. It is waiting for us. Our children deserve it…”

Today, Rachael rests in a small grave in a small town in
Missouri with a marker noting she lived for 63 days.

Each one of those days, her parents had to worry about how
much money it would take to keep her alive.

That can’t be our future.

It can’t be our destiny.

No one deserves that.

Friday Ferretblogging

My camera-computer connection’s on the fritz for some reason, so via commenter Kaleberg I give you this story about how ferrets, like dogs, understand pointing and eye contact:

First, the three groups of animals were compared for their tolerance for eye-contact. The domestic species – ferrets and dogs – tolerated prolonged eye-contact from their owners, but not from strangers, while the wild mustelids did not show this distinction. Ferrets and dogs were also both more likely to accept food from their owners than from strangers, while the wild mustelids made their approach decisions randomly, equally preferring their owners and a stranger (In fact, there was a slight but statistically insignificant preference for the stranger!) In both experiments, domestic ferrets’ performance was significantly different from the wild mustelids, but not statistically distinguishable from the responses of the domestic dogs. Rather than sorting along genetic lines, performance in these tasks could be explained by domestication.

Even though Bucky, when I point at the litter box, pretends to have no idea what I’m doing.

Thank you all for your kind words about Tilly this week. I miss my sweet little feather-cat terribly.

The others seem to know something’s different; Riot has been insistent on playing with me, chasing me around the dining room table, and Claire’s trying to take over lap/snuggle duties and doing a good job.

Bucky’s just being twice as much a monster as he usually is. When the camera starts working again I’ve got to show you guys some video of him trying to open the kitchen door. It’s like a perfect illustration of the nature of unshakeable faith.

A.

Quick NOLA Update

I’m in Dr. A’s office at LSU Med School. We can’t use social media here but I snuck in the back door to First Draft. My fingers are crossed that this will post. First Draft is also verboten. Imagine that. Must be the foul mouthed ferrets or something.

The first night was scary but now we’re just bored and sweaty: Adrastos World HQ still doesn’t have power. Oh well, at least I missed Mittfest but I also missed the Crack Van.

I’m going to try and post this to facebook and the tweeter tube so if any of my NOLA friends has power and wouldn’t mind some self-invited guests, shoot me a text. I’ll get it once my phone is charged again. In the words of former Louisiana Governor John McKeithen: “Please hep me.”

Friday Ferretblogging

My camera-computer connection’s on the fritz for some reason, so via commenter Kaleberg I give you this story about howferrets, like dogs, understand pointing and eye contact:

First, the three groups of animals were compared for their tolerance for eye-contact. The domestic species – ferrets and dogs – tolerated prolonged eye-contact from their owners, but not from strangers, while the wild mustelids did not show this distinction. Ferrets and dogs were also both more likely to accept food from their owners than from strangers, while the wild mustelids made their approach decisions randomly, equally preferring their owners and a stranger (In fact, there was a slight but statistically insignificant preference for the stranger!) In both experiments, domestic ferrets’ performance was significantly different from the wild mustelids, but not statistically distinguishable from the responses of the domestic dogs. Rather than sorting along genetic lines, performance in these tasks could be explained by domestication.

Even though Bucky, when I point at the litter box, pretends to have no idea what I’m doing.

Thank you all for your kind words about Tilly this week. I miss my sweet little feather-cat terribly.

The others seem to know something’s different; Riot has been insistent on playing with me, chasing me around the dining room table, and Claire’s trying to take over lap/snuggle duties and doing a good job.

Bucky’s just being twice as much a monster as he usually is. When the camera starts working again I’ve got to show you guys some video of him trying to open the kitchen door. It’s like a perfect illustration of the nature of unshakeable faith.

A.

Looking Back at the RNC: On Kerry, Stockdale, and Mitt

I think my favorite part was when Clint Eastwoodaccused 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 tostep back:

Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale died in 2005. He served on theTiconderoga 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 thatroaring. 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.

A.

Final RNC Crack Van Thank God

Hams. Rules. Whatnot. 

Van closed! Here’s the video of Clint Eastwood’s AWESOMELY CRAZY but also sort of rambly and sweet speech about how we’re all Americans and “possibly we need somebody else,” which is not a ringing endorsement of Romney, and thus, I can watch Heartbreak Ridge with a clear conscience: 

A.

RNC Crack Van #2

Cspan has this shit live, and streaming, without Tweety yowling or Steve Schmidt trying to pretend he’s not going to hell. I highly recommend the experience.



After last night, I think I’m just going to start guzzling anti-freeze.


You know the rules. Share the hams and the scotch, don’t get violent, and this time, somebody grab that mangy pony BEFORE the sunroof* opens. Cleaning all the guts and fur off the undercarriage was NOT FUN. Why do you think I’ve had that intern ad up for so long?


*not actually a sunroof, just a hole Jude punched this one time during the State of the Union.



Van closed! Be here tomorrow night for the all-time rockingest van ever, with your host, Mitt Romney!


A.

The Fact-Checkers Will Get To That

Oh, just REALLY, CNN:

Blitzer: So there he is, the republican vice presidential nominee and his beautiful family there. His mom is up there. This is exactly what this crowd of republicans here certainly republicans all across the country were hoping for. He delivered a powerful speech. Erin, a powerful speech.Although I marked at least seven or eight points I’m sure the fact checkers will have some opportunities to dispute if they want to go forward, I’m sure they will. As far as mitt romney’s campaign is concerned, paul ryan on this night delivered.

The fact-checkers will get to it. Because the journalists aren’t fact-checkers. They don’t keep anybody honest. They just spew out whatever people tell them, and leave the actual work to the fact-checkers. Who, as everyone by now knows, don’t dictate the Romney campaign.

And why should they? They’re just “fact-checkers,” which sounds like the guy who bags your groceries. They’re just the people to whom we have outsourced the job of keeping our democracy honest. I swear, we’re about 40 years late on that cable news ethics panel and it is starting to get on my goddamn nerves.

Keep making the case for the value of journalism, people, while your elder stateman, Wolf Fucking Blitzer, is all, “I’m sure at some point someone will point out the vast swaths of that speech that wereutter bullshit, but for God’s sake let’s not do that on our air while people are looking.”

Sometimes I wish there was actually some kind of Respectable Reporters’ Club, so that they could kick people out for stuff like this. At the very least, the next journalism school to book him for a speech should have to seat six or seven “fact-checkers” next to him to make sure we all know what’s really going on.

A.

RNC Crack Van #2

Cspan has this shit live, and streaming, without Tweety yowling or Steve Schmidt trying to pretend he’s not going to hell. I highly recommend the experience.



After last night, I think I’m just going to start guzzling anti-freeze.


You know the rules. Share the hams and the scotch, don’t get violent, and this time, somebody grab that mangy pony BEFORE the sunroof* opens. Cleaning all the guts and fur off the undercarriage was NOT FUN. Why do you think I’ve had that intern ad up for so long?


*not actually a sunroof, just a hole Jude punched this one time during the State of the Union.



Van closed! Be here tomorrow night for the all-time rockingest van ever, with your host, Mitt Romney!


A.

In NOLA

Adrastos is without power, but checked in via text to say the area is expecting three FEET of water. Oscar is cool, but Della’s starting to get a little wigged out.

Updates and flood photos are being posted here.

Stay safe, everybody, and check in if you can. Please e-mail or tweet me if you need the blog to do something.

A.

In NOLA

Adrastos is without power, but checked in via text to say the area is expecting three FEET of water. Oscar is cool, but Della’s starting to get a little wigged out.

Updates and flood photos are being postedhere.

Stay safe, everybody, and check in if you can. Please e-mail or tweet me if you need the blog to do something.

A.

So Many Potential Sword Jokes

For some reason no one up until now has considered that Lancelot might be bi?

The first book in the series, June 2011’s Lancelot And The Wolf, was rereleased for the Amazon Kindle, where it raced up the charts. However, a torrent of one-star reviews on Amazon.com first tipped off Mirador publishers that the issue may be more than a coincidence. The investigation that ensued revealed that all the reviews were posted in the same short time period and had similar anti-gay connotations, describing the series as “Twisted” “Perverted” and “Disgusting.” Not long afterwards similar hate emails began pouring into the publisher’s offices and to Luddington directly.

I think 90 percent of our sex problem is the need to put everybody in a box, and say you are straight, and you are gay, and we are friends, and we are In Love, and the most important thing is where you put your bits so that we know how to categorize you. I can’t tell you how many people argue that bisexuality doesn’t exist, like it’s just laziness or refusal to pick a side or something. What if there aren’t sides? What if it’s just love, either way?

I’ve actually read the original here, and I’m sorry, you tell me who Lancelot loved more. You tell me who Arthur loved more. The point is that they loved each other. Otherwise it’s just two guys waving their dicks around over a chick, and not a tragedy. Things like that are just a mess, and everybody involved would be far better off with a threesome than this CHOOSE ME OR HIM bullshit, and also who the hell on earth has a vested interest in keeping Lancelot straight anyway? Like what is the inherent win there for anybody except maybe Guinevere?

A.

Making You Inferior With Your Explicit Consent

This, precisely:

An attendee at the Republican National Convention in Tampa on Tuesday allegedly threw nuts at a black camerawoman working for CNN and said “This is how we feed animals” before being removed from the convention, a network official confirmed to TPM.

It’s not just about the racism, though I don’t think they’d have used the word “animal” to refer to a white crew. It’s about a media culture that for 30 years now has heard from the right wing in in this country that it should be ashamed of itself and has loudly and resoundingly agreed.

It’s what you get when you take somebody who says the New York Times building should be blown up, and put her on the cover of a magazine because she’s influential and controversial and maybe hey, she’s just kidding around!

It’s what you get when you hire people as your commentators and consultants who think urinating on corpses is hilarious, and call Supreme Court justices “goat-fucking child molester”s.

It’s what you get when you pay sex tourists with drug problems insane amounts of money to spend hours on the radio calling the president of the United States everything right up to the very edge of nigger, and then quote him as if he’s a person whose opinion matters.

It’s what you get when you invite people on the air who hate you. Who hate what you do. Who hate what you stand for. Who hate everything you are. Who say, out loud, that the world would be better off without you. Who think you’re a detriment to society. Who “joke” about killing you.

It’s what you get when you ignore the insults, laugh off the threats, listen thoughtfully to the invective. It’s what you get when you not only allow yourself to be treated with disrespect, but you agree with those who don’t respect you, and use the precious time and ink and space you have to give their already magnified opinions an even bigger view.

It’s what you get when day after day after day after day you just sit there and take it. You’ve been ignoring the bully for three decades now. Has he gone away yet? Has he stopped?

None of this is about individual reporters, really. It’s about their bosses, who on the basis of wanting to pal around with fancy senators and fellow rich assholes, tell their own employees they don’t matter. And the employees, so demoralized and beaten down by years and years and years of cutbacks and closure threats and endless speeches about how lucky they are to work for the love of their noble craft, either can’t respond, or if they do, their bosses are quick to slap them down for fear of accusations of political bias.

What’s the end result? This. Exactly this.And what’s CNN’s response this morning? Are they outraged? Defending their crew member? Sticking up for their own? Making it clear to the general public that this kind of treatment is beyond the pale?

CNN also acknowledged the incident, saying, “CNN can confirm there was an incident directed at an employee inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum earlier this afternoon. CNN worked with convention officials to address this matter and will have no further comment.”

That’ll show ’em.

I’m not excusing the Republican delegates and attendees who acted like childish, racist creeps. This is who they are, it’s who they’ve always been, but reporters and editors and executives and owners and CEOs don’t have to take it without calling it what it is.

For years Republicans have been telling the American press it doesn’t deserve respect. Maybe it’s finally time to stop listening.

A.

RNC Crack Van #1

Rules of the van: Share HAMS. If the van doesn’t load for you at first, don’t panic. Give it a while for the javascript to percolate. No violence. No violent jokes, no wishing violence upon people, no violence of any kind. Make room for n00bs and use the sound effects thoughtfully. 

Update: Van closed. Thanks to you all for being there. What a boring crapfest. Ann Romney tried to convince us Mitt was hot, Christie yelled at us about believing in an America of white immigrants from ye olden days, and Nikki Haley talked about how Boeing had to screw unions over, for freedom and government contracts, to be free of government.

And now we wait

Dr. A and I have gotten all the provisions and shit we need to sit around and wait for Tropical Whatever Issac. We’ve battened down the proverbial hatches and are ready to wait. I’m considering inviting Cantore over but he’s probably too busy for idle chatter.

There’s been a bit less freaking out in New Orleans this time around. Mayor Landrieu has been prattling on about getting in “battle rhythm” whatever the hell that means. For someone who has never been in the military or worked for a huge corporation, Mitch is into jargon. Whatever, dude. At least he hasn’t freaked out and shit himself like Nagin did in 2008 when we waged the phony war against Hurricane Gustav.

The national media has made more of the Katrinaversary that we have locally. So it goes. It’s all the fuckers know about us, after all. Btw, I plan to post my annual moment of silence kinda post on 8/29 so be prepared. It may be my last one of the week because we expect to lose power and <shuddering> interweb service. So it goes. I’m feeling vaguely Vonnegutted today…<groan>

Okey dokey, time to sign off. Best wishes to Grandmere Mimi and Michael F who are also in Isaac’s erratic path. Good luck to everyone else as well. Here’s hoping that it will be a boring few days instead of harrowing. Here’s how *we* prepared for the storm:

295204_10151132262781797_1815289839_n

I don’t like this Ike

Hey kids, remember when there were moderate Republicans? The approach of Tropical Whatever Issac led me to, uh, track down an image of an I Like Ike button. I found something infinitely more amusing:

Ike