Author Archives: Allison Hantschel

Good Night, and Joy Be To You All

There’s no good way to do this, is there? Okay, fine. Land hard, roll left.

This is my last post at First Draft. I’m hanging up the hockey skates and parking the crack van, leaving Adrastos and the boys the keys. I know it seems like 2020 broke everybody, but this isn’t that. Look, it’s been 16 years. SIXTEEN YEARS.

This blog is in high school. It’s got its drivers license, can make itself a peanut butter sandwich and knows how to do its own laundry. It’s time.

In 2004 I had a nice, normal, adult life doing what I was always meant to do, the only thing I’ve ever been good at, which was being a reporter. You have to understand this was the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do in my life. My first newsroom was like being switched on, like the first fireworks on the Fourth of July, like oh, here’s what I’m for. I chased that high for a decade afterwards, met some truly outstanding people and some real bastards, learned a lot from having my head bashed in a few dozen times, and told some stories I’m still proud of.

But around 2004-ish, it wasn’t working anymore. If you don’t know how scary it is when the thing you are, when the only thing you know how to do with any kind of skill, stops working, God I hope you never find out. I got up every morning and I dragged myself to the job and I wrote for my life and it all felt terrible, stilted and dumb and bad. I could not convince myself it was worth the powder but I also had no idea what else to do.

Enter the internet. The first internet, the one run from the Salon comments section and Television Without Pity, with writing that conveyed the urgency of things, that seemed adequate to a moment in which absolutely everybody had just lost their whole entire minds. Things were SO STUPID and nobody was really saying anything about how stupid it all was.

The switch flipped again. I wanted to write like the people I started reading, I wanted to stay up all night talking with these smart weirdos about things that mattered, which is what got me into journalism in the first place. I wanted to shout at the top of my lungs SHIT IS FUCKED UP AND BULLSHIT and this was the only place I could do that.

I wanted to write a book. I wanted to write posts. I wanted to write, again, and it was like lightning in my veins. Again.

What I didn’t expect, actually, was that anyone would read it.

Or care.

Or, like, donate money or book flights or buy books or do anything I asked them to do.

All we do here, all any writer ever does, is say what we have to say with the voice we possess. That’s why I get so angry at people with megaphones who spend their time hating and dividing, that’s why I get so angry at the people who pay those people. Your one job is to put something out in the world and this is what you do with it?

We fought Bush, and lost, and we fought for and with Obama, too, and won some, and lost, and we argued and made up (some of the time) and good Lord did we do some good. You guys cleaned pelicans when there was an oil spill and gutted a house after a hurricane and you funded a food pantry’s gift giveaway four years running, during the worst of the worst, and when all of this shit started you helped out each other. You were, and are, fantastic.

I had a kid, I worked two jobs, I got a new job, Trump got elected. I lost friends, I lost lots of illusions I didn’t know I still had. And somewhere along the line this became harder than it should be, and I’m not doing what I need to do for you here if all I’m doing is dragging myself to it. I feel like I talk and say the same things over and over. But:

In the past 16 years, through three presidents, and a house and a kid and eight ferrets and two cats and a couple more career changes, this place and the community we built has been my constant. I don’t quite know what I’ll do without you.

I have made lifelong friends here, people I talk to every day. I have always believed that people are basically good and want to be brave and true, but I had no idea. God, you’re all amazing.

I don’t want to end this by dumping on anyone, by the way. That this part of the story doesn’t end with me taking some fancy editorial page gig is okay. A lot of people I started out with have left. Some got famous and sucked into various modes of living in the political world and I have opinions about that and likely always will; no one but me is responsible for where I ended up. I don’t always want to hustle hard and that bites me in the ass. Look, at my age you’d better know what you are.

Things may change. Sometimes the work you do sleeps until it’s called and you don’t get to decide when that is.

Never throw your notes out, is what I usually say when asked advice about journalism. Never forget a source or lose track of a story, because one day when you least expect it there will be a knock on your door and everything you thought you’d given up on will be there to claim you. Understand the aftershocks, understand there’s no such thing as getting over. You just get on, and if you’re lucky you learn to live peaceably with all the yous you ever were, and forgive and love them, hard and mercilessly.

That’s the substance of a novel I started working on last year. This year I might finish it, I think; I’m working on it every day now, three sentences at a time, and it won’t leave me alone, the same way the last book I wrote wouldn’t leave me alone, which means it’s time to write it.

This isn’t Goodbye Cruel World. I’m not leaving the internet, and I’ll still be freelancing for various places. I’m on Twitter. I haven’t changed my e-mail address for 20 years. I’ll be around if you need me.

But it’s time to chase that high again, and this place made it possible for me to recognize that.

I owe you all everything, and I’ll love you all always.

A.

Fixing Schools

I got mad sometime in 2004 or so, when the war in Afghanistan became less about KILLING OSAMA BIN LADEN and more about “let’s paint some schools there to show ‘them’ Americans, despite dropping bombs on them for decades, are nice people they should love and emulate right down to endless re-runs of ‘Friends.'”

I got mad because on a near-daily basis I spent time in schools that had literal holes in the roof and doors that wouldn’t stay shut unless they were padlocked, where in one classroom kids wore parkas and another the windows were open in January because the heating was just … like that.

Why can’t we paint THOSE schools, I would ask, and silly girl. Honestly.

We can wrap our heads around charity far, far away, much more easily than we can here at home. This gets to some of why:

This story, which I read years ago and never forgot, gets to the rest: 

Winfrey, who devoted five years to creating the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls outside Johannesburg, also said of the assistance she has given at home, “I became so frustrated with visiting inner-city schools that I just stopped going. The sense that you need to learn just isn’t there.”

In America, she says, “If you ask the kids what they want or need, they will say an iPod or some sneakers. In South Africa, they don’t ask for money or toys. They ask for uniforms so they can go to school.”

We have this idea that there’s a way people should behave, properly grateful for the things they should get, and when we’re confronted with the fact that people are PEOPLE, and messy, and don’t act like we think they should, we throw up our hands and throw in the towel.

Forgetting that, of course, we owe one another not just our resources and our care but also our absolute understanding that once something leaves our hands it’s not up to us anymore what people do with it.

If we see the same panhandler on the corner every weekend looking drunker and twitchier no matter how much money we give him, we start to think he’s just spending our money on a high. But if we give to the faraway, if we do the mission trip and come home and only see the newsletter the mission sends which is designed to make us feel good and keep giving, well, then we know our time was well-spent.

These are both assumptions, and they’re dangerous and damaging, as is the constant drumbeat that “government” wastes our money on “welfare” and “those people,” superimposed over images of a Black person somewhere, sometime, breaking something. In other words, the entire Fox oeuvre. The church missions are to the Developing World, not down the block. We are conditioned, by now, to make those assumptions, to see in care for others the faces not of our friends and neighbors but of an “other.”

And while I’d like to believe the pandemic would change that, any relief money received is likely to be accompanied by a flood of those same FOX NEWS WATCHDOG INVESTIGATES stories about “people” spending it on jewelry or something, sourced to an anecdote from an anonymous Costco employee in, say, Ohio.

The needs are real, just as real as any “for pennies a day you could save a child” commercial: 

The pandemic is giving us an opportunity to make a pivot that we should have made long ago. We have been on a treadmill of short-term fixes, pretending that if we just get the right test, the right incentives, put the right pressure on teachers and students, they will achieve what is good for them, like it or not. But we are realizing what we should have known all along: that you can’t widget your way to powerful learning, that relationships are critical for learning, that students’ interests need to be stimulated and their selves need to be recognized.

If we’d had a real functioning government we’d have spent this year doing unsexy things like upgrading the HVAC systems in every school in the land and doubling the pay of every custodian. Making sure the windows all open, and are screened.

But it’s hard to make that glossy enough to goose donors for cash. We can’t have a conference about it and design software and metrics. And the kids it’ll benefit likely won’t even notice except that they’ll, you know, still be alive and healthy, so you can see why it’s far more attractive to parachute a pallet of cash into someplace far away and never ask where it really ends up.

A.

The Weary World

Two people I know, both health care workers, got the vaccine this week. They’re both fine, no side effects, and others are in line for it.

I’ve been keeping a list, since this started, in my head, of people the world simply cannot exist without, and I am trying to keep everyone on it alive until this is over.

You’re on that list, so if you need something, you ask. Don’t even think about it. Someone can help.

Yesterday Kick and I packed up the car with presents and went around dropping them on friends’ porches to say Merry Christmas, through masks, to wave to people and jump up and down with excitement at the mere sight of one another. We have more to deliver today and more tomorrow. I’m grateful for every single mile we’re traveling because it means somebody at the end is still okay.

We’ve lost so much, this year. So many. And it’s going to be months before the cases drop to zero. Maybe years.

I’ve said all I can say about this: That it didn’t have to happen this way, that we could have controlled and managed and worked harder, that we could have paid everyone to stay home so they weren’t choosing between their present and their future, that we should have and could have done more if we weren’t paralyzed with meanness and selfishness and fear. That we don’t have to sacrifice concretes — the children, alive, here today right now — for abstracts — the idea of some future child burdened by debts that only seem to exist when it’s politically convenient.

We have a winter to get through, and God help us the only way we’re gonna get through is the same way we always have. With one another, hand in hand, second by second.

So string the lights, and build an outdoor fire. Sing carols from the sidewalk instead of the porch, see your loved ones however you ever safely can. I don’t want to hear anyone saying we don’t deserve a moment of grace if we can possibly claw one out of the stones this year. If we have enough, we will find a way to share it, and be as extravagant in that joy as if this was a time of peace and plenty.

Merry Christmas to all of you. I want you here next year, too, okay? So let us know what we can do.

A.

The Stories We Choose to Tell

I’ve written before about the individual shaming, around COVID particularly but in general, but as we go headlong into what is about to be a cold and lonely winter I’d like to encourage us all to stop elevating the stories of assholes:

This whole thing was the internet piñata for the day, and I understand why people are angry with this family, with everyone they hear about going on a vacation or everyone they see hanging out at a restaurant. I haven’t seen my friends in months and I worry about ten people I know who are struggling every single day, and hearing about some giant house party or live indoor concert makes me crazy too.

It’s useless, is the problem.

I think a lot of people who are flouting rules are dickheads, and public shaming only hardens their resolve to continue to act like their heads are made of dicks. This is already a demographic — mostly white, well-to-do, temperamentally inclined to yell at the Starbucks girl — that enjoys feeling persecuted by being taught any new thing. Protesting their weddings and bar mitzvahs just confirms for them that they are correct.

I also, though, think a lot of people who have followed the rules, who have done what they were supposed to do, for a long-ass time, who homeschooled their kids and shut down their lives and ordered takeout and Zoomed with Grandma are UTTERLY LOSING IT IN THE FACE OF GOVERNMENT INACTION AND INEPTITUDE and are just like look, if nobody behaves then it doesn’t matter if I do. Which is exactly the conclusion you come to when you have the leadership we have.

The entire point of our leadership should be to tell us what we’re all goddamn doing here. What are we a part of, what do we all believe? Jesus, even the GOPers whose messages were small and mean had a message that wasn’t just SCREW YOU THIS IS WHO YOU SHOULD BE MAD AT. It was like massive bullshit all the time but at least it was a message.

Without that, without a voice of calm and decency telling us that what we are doing takes courage and kindness, that it is worth it, that we will get through, that everything will be okay, that we have faced hard times before and will manage them again, you wonder if your sacrifices are worth it. If all you hear is the rule-breaking and the belligerence and the hate of our fellow jackasses, if all you see is the angry mob and not the nurses and doctors fighting this every single day and sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing but every single day getting up and trying again, if you fill your head with poison and hopelessness and anger …

Well, we’ve seen pretty well these last four years what that leads to. Think about all the people you know who are constantly mainlining stories of liberal depravity, of Democrats secretly molesting and killing children, of secret microchips and controlling the population. Think about what it does to every cell in your body to spend all your time in a frustrated rage.

Then think about the people who put signs in their windows at the start of this, that are still there months later: WE’VE GOT THIS. WE’RE IN THIS TOGETHER. HAVE HOPE. The scavenger hunts and the handmade masks, the donations, the phone calls, the “what do you need” and the “I have one of those, you can have it for free” that have sustained and uplifted us all.

At the dark and dead end of the year, on the days when it seems like the whole world just might stop turning and we will live forever in the night, I want us to turn our attention to the stories of people whose lives have honored the dead and not those who’ve disgraced them.

I want us to spend a fraction of the time we spend freaking out on social media about somebody not behaving properly elevating the stories of those who have. I want applause — and MONEY — for teachers doing the most, for delivery drivers working triple-shifts, for the researchers who found the vaccine, for the coffee shops keeping them all going. I want our attention on THEM, and not on some puds who needed to have a wedding.

That wedding is over. We have a winter to get through. We need to hold on.

A.

Have We Considered Banning Bullshit?

This kind of “differing corporate culture” nonsense always makes my eyeballs itch: 

Rick Santelli, the veteran CNBC correspondent, recently got into an on-air spat with one of his longtime colleagues. Whether he will be given leeway to spar in similar fashion with new co-workers elsewhere in the company is something executives at NBCUniversal ought to work quickly to decide.

During an early-December panel on the business-news network’s “Squawk Box,” Santelli began to yell at Andrew Ross Sorkin, who pressed him on comments he had made about coronavirus restrictions at restaurants. Sorkin pushed his colleague to exercise greater caution about suggesting viewers should be able to crowd into restaurants the way they do into retail outlets.

“Who is this? Who is this?” asked Santelli, even though Sorkin has been a co-host of the program for almost a decade. As Sorkin prodded Santelli to reconsider what he said, the correspondent went into an on-air huff. “I disagree. I disagree! I disagree!” said Santelli, his voice rising with the issuance of each short sentence. “You can have your thoughts and I can have mine. I disagree.”

The piece goes on to describe the “culture clash” between people who are loud but mostly harmless and occasionally say a true thing, and people like Santelli and Bartiromo who are saying things that are not true and are actively hurting people. It is not a “culture clash” when one part of a news division says hey, maybe it will hurt our credibility to have science-deniers on TV all day every day jerking Trump off. That’s not, like, a problem with the decorations at the office party.

What if, instead of having a policy encoded in the HR manual, you just … didn’t hire dishonest political actors and/or, when the mostly normal people you hired turned Tea Party-feral on live television, you disciplined or fired them?

CRAZY TALK. I’m aware. Okay, let’s not make it about people and their sincerely held beliefs that COVID cannot travel inside a restaurant. How about just having a policy of individuals, whatever their private Facebook posts may say, not spouting dishonest shit on the air? Could we get behind that? How about our news policy should be that if you are demonstrably full of crap, if you are saying things that are not true, that can be debunked by a half-competent barn cat on shrooms, we don’t, you know, do that no more?

I KNOW, okay, there would be nothing to broadcast, this is why 24-hour cable news channels should be nuked from orbit or at least banned from the waiting rooms of dentist’s offices and airports. But this is the kind of that that, once it’s implemented at this high a level, filters down to your local fishwrap and becomes a cudgel to beat on anyone who speaks up about anything, regardless of substance.

Because that’s the thing. These aren’t regulated militias of relatively equal strength meeting for choreographed skirmishes on neutral ground. What someone is saying matters just as much as how loud and often they’re saying it. Are they being loud and obnoxious and combative in service, to, you know, the actual truth and the keeping of people alive? Or are they shouting things like BUY BEAR STEARNS when the company is about to go tits-up in a fashion that makes the Titanic look well-maintained?

Keeping that dude and his ten-a-penny imitators in the cocaine-piles to which they’ve become accustomed is not a problem with a “clash” of attitudes, it’s a problem with tolerating punditry being wrong all the time with zero consequences for said pundits, within the “corporate culture” or without.

Instead of making this about tactics and decibel levels and whether someone “glared” at the camera perhaps these fine news organizations should be examining if any of the information they’re giving to their audiences is remotely true or not. That would be a good place to start.

A.

ps. It is not okay for an entire network to be full of shit, broadcasting said shit 24 hours a day on the public airwaves, and for us all to shrug like “oh, that’s just Fox, you can’t expect a leper colony to not have any lepers.” It is not okay to just write off an entire propaganda network and let it exist so long as it doesn’t spread. Look around. It has spread some.

This Didn’t Have to Happen

I talked to Lyz Lenz this week about what really happened to newspapers: 

Lyz: For so long, I made “subscribe to your local newspaper” a part of my efforts. And it’s why I took the job that I was fired from. But every once in a while, I hear from people who say, “I would love to subscribe to my local newspaper, but it’s run by literal, like, white supremacist apologists.” And you know what, good point!

Allison: I used to subscribe to both the Tribune and the Sun-Times when I was reporting, because I basically felt like I had to. And nine times out of 10, neither one of those papers would be at my doorstep before 9:00am, and we’re a commuter town. And this is not sustainable.

So you know, don’t call me up and tell me I don’t value journalism. In my nonexistent spare time, I raise money for journalism. But these newspapers literally didn’t do their jobs. If I go to a bagel shop and it poisons me, I will not go there again. And that bagel shop can put up all the signs that it wants about how you owe me your business because I’m local, but you gave me salmonella.

I thought it might be helpful, since a couple of folks skidded into the DMs to slap their resumes on my table, to point out that over at this here blog we’ve been on this beat a while: 

I laughed along with the rest of them, but: I know good people at Tribune Publishing. Friends, and ex-friends, people I know to be decent whatever assholes they happen to presently work near. I know lots and lots of good journos, and they deserve better than to watch the place they put their hands and their minds and their blood and their days turn into a national fucking joke.

I mean: 

For rich companies’ rich employees like Chuck Todd to rage on Twitter about the devaluing of the press, well, Chuckles and all his friends could pool their pocket change and buy six small city or suburban papers, staff them, and get them on people’s goddamn porches every day. THAT would be valuing the press.

OH HAI THERE 2014:

I’m about done reading endless editorials about how this time, today, this go-round the newspaper is ALL ABOUT the Internet. It’s not like last time, with the paywall. Or the time before that, with the hyperlocal. Or the time before that, with the glitter logo and the shaky iPhone video of that one house fire/car wreck/pet show. This time, the newspaper is taking the Internet seriously and is really, truly gonna do something new.

The blathering is exhausting. These CEOs and MEs who loudly declare that they are “digital first” are the industry equivalent of that one friend you have who will not shut up about how someday he’s gonna go to Japan or join a gym or write that novel.

He never does dick, of course. Every time you’re over at his house he’s high and watching Honey Boo Boo, but damn if he doesn’t want to tell you his very detailed intentions at every fucking dinner party.

HI 2009: 

As the panelists talked about innovation, about making your own site what you want local news to be, someone behind me kept shouting out, “Who pays you while you do it? Who pays the rent?” and it’s not that some of the blithe “You just have to work for the love of the story and wait tables if you have to in the meantime until somebody hires you” didn’t come off as romanticizing the poverty-stricken artist’s life as one somehow more noble than any other. But what I think the panelists were trying to say was something we say around here all the time: If you want things to stop sucking you have to go make them not suck. You can’t wait until somebody just hands you a giant platter of not-suck and tells you it’s all yours.

Like, look. This stuff is hard. I’m not claiming to have all the answers. I am claiming to know some bullshit when I see it, and I have to believe that has some value in the world or I’ve spent the past 20 years doing nothing and teaching a shitload of other people to do nothing too.

THERE’S SO MUCH BULLSHIT. For the past four years we’ve been having some kind of extra-dumb crisis about teaching people to recognize FAKE NEWS and fourteen university panels despair of the Kids Today as if all of the fact-free-itude promoted and bankrolled by GOP-adjacent assets just sort of happened. Like a weather system swept in. (Like the Kids Today are the ones voting for fascism, anyway.) Nobody talks about the money behind these efforts, and the philathropically miniscule amounts behind actual journalism in places that need it.

A couple of people commenting on the interview were also like SO WHAT DO WE DO and, well, we let a lot of terrible corporations die, and then the people who care about this stuff have to rebuild it, from scratch, probably while doing other stuff. That sucks, too:

All of this is so hard but, as those of you who’ve been reading here a while know, the only thing harder than doing the hard thing is spending the rest of your life explaining why you didn’t.

A.

THANK YOU!

Got this in the mail the other day:

(Yes, it’s a screenshot of the message on my phone, I switched computers recently and can’t figure out how to edit files yet, gimme a break, there’s a pandemic on.)

You guys are the best blog EVER.

A.

I Am Running Out Of Patience With People Who Think God Needs Our Defense

This ulcer’s coming along nicely, thanks much:

The Assembly GOP plan would also enact several restrictions on state and local governments when it comes to limiting crowds. It would:

Restrict the power of local health officers from ordering the closure of a business unless it applies to all types of businesses. Similarly, a local health officer would be barred from restricting capacity at businesses unless those restrictions apply to all businesses.

Prohibit state and local health departments from prohibiting gatherings in churches.

Okay. Let’s ignore the obvious, which is that this entire bill is BUGBONKERS INSANE, punishing schools for offering online education and forcing people who can work remote to not to, just because. Let’s take some of this nonsense on its face, and while we’re at it, work into this the also bonkers ruling by Neil Gorsuch, who knows exactly what he’s doing here:

At the same time, the Governor has chosen to impose no capacity restrictions on certain businesses he considers “essential.” And it turns out the businesses the Governor considers essential include hardware stores, acupuncturists, and liquor stores. Bicycle repair shops, certain signage companies, accountants, lawyers, and insurance agents are
all essential too. So, at least according to the Governor, it may be unsafe to go to church, but it is always fine to pick up another bottle of wine, shop for a new bike, or spend the afternoon exploring your distal points and meridians. Who knew public health would so perfectly align with secular convenience?

Forget Gorsuch’s snippy little asides and his idea that somehow one becomes governor of NEW YORK by shutting down churches and synagogues. Let’s keep it simple. Framing opposition to temporary, targeted public health measures as an assault on religious freedom is bananas.

Before the pandemic I attended church. The building had a fire code posted on the wall. There was an occupancy limit then and there is one now. It was a different occupancy limit than the one in a bar, or a theater. No one, not a single person, implied that it was government overreach to expect the roof to be maintained, or the electrical wiring to not catch fire. All of those codes are dependent on the particulars of what occurs inside the spaces as designed. All of them take into account not just the physical size of the space but how it is used.

So now, in a global pandemic that is killing thousands of people every single day, to be told that services cannot be limited because to do so is an infringement on the freedom of religion is an affront to the intelligence with which God endowed His creations.

To, in fact, rile up religious congregations in opposition to public health measures in the name of belief, to characterize care for one’s fellow citizens’ LIVES as some kind of liberal communist plot, to silence the voices of the doctors and scientists God gave us who are BEGGING for a reprieve from large indoor gatherings, who are not asking us not to pray but to temporarily change just one small aspect of our behavior for one finite period of time, is the kind of naked avarice and political cynicism that once had a nice Jewish carpenter flipping tables.

So why is this happening? Why are we being told that God doesn’t want us to listen to doctors? Who has an interest in making this point and why are they making it?

All of this is predicated on the same persecution complex, the same paranoia, that has suffused American Christianity for the past 40 years and has filtered down from the obvious mouth-foaming snake-handling backwoods tentpole preachers to the nice ladies at your aunt’s book club.

They are all convinced Christ is under attack and must be defended.

Why? Well, God has been “banned” from “the schools,” you see.

People aren’t “allowed” to say Merry Christmas “anymore.”

(That one’s from a site called Texas Values, by the way.)

People can be married who couldn’t 20 years ago, not in certain congregations of course, but under American civil law.

Now, George says, “society has brought social and legislative approval to all types of sexual relationships that used to be considered ‘sinful.’ Since the biblical vision of what it means to be human tells us that not every friendship or love can be expressed in sexual relations, the church’s teaching on these issues is now evidence of intolerance for what the civil law upholds and even imposes. What was once a request to live and let live has now become a demand for approval. The ‘ruling class,’ those who shape public opinion in politics, in education, in communications, in entertainment, is using the civil law to impose its own form of morality on everyone.”

There are rude words that your maiden aunts now have to see on Facebook, also. I don’t know anymore. It’s become a morass, a generally accepted narrative that the most victimized people on earth are the ones with “Blessed” stickers on their cars. And the best way to defend against that kind of assault is to throw a massive public hissyfit.

Somehow any evidence of a secular society, or the simple fact that not everyone is bound to respect what you respect, has become fuel for the least justified persecution complex in history. Yes, including the Cubs. And it enrages me more than almost anything else, because: How dare you make God so small, as to be bothered in the slightest by things like this.

As a practicing Catholic (I’m not very good at it, clearly) I’ve found my religion hemmed in on very few sides despite the secular circles I run in. I wear a saint’s medal around my neck and have done for 20 years and literally no one has ever said boo about it. I’ve worn it in mosques and synagogues and at liberal political gatherings where absolutely the most vocal atheists on the planet were in attendance (and drank me under the table).

This year I bought a large, overly expensive Christmas tree and lit it up in my front window. My daughter is learning the Nativity story in our home and there is a Bible, albeit more of a family heirloom than a working copy, in public view. We own, at last count, six books about the Christian holidays, including one with the full-on Beatitudes.

I discuss God with as many people as can possibly handle it. That someone may not like my tone doesn’t mean I don’t believe, and I find it offensive in the extreme to have my faith questioned because I don’t share the misconception that God and His Son and their representatives here on earth need us, of all creatures. That Jesus and His Dad can probably handle Themselves is not a point They need me to make.

Time was, my mainstream American brothers and sisters and nonbinary buds in Christ, we made vigorous mockery of the kinds of idiots who’d let their own kids die rather than entrust them to doctors, in the name of the Lord. Now we’re throwing in with them, in the name of political power and sticking it to the libs. Now we’re no better than the man on a rooftop who, watching the floodwaters rise, let a boat and a helicopter pass him by because God would save him. Great job, everybody. Well done.

I miss church, too. Advent is my JAM, my spiritual booty call, the time when I LOVE being in church. But Illinois is not, thank God, governed by the kind of people running Wisconsin, so unlimited indoor services are out of the question. Anyway, my parish priest is in quarantine.

Visiting the sick and dying, the elderly and alone, placed him at risk so he’s locked down while his test results are processed and for 14 days thereafter. He’s not screaming about government tyranny. He’s not in front of the church nailing himself to the door because no law of men applies to him.

He’s staying in the rectory and sending out emails asking people to please stop bringing him food because he has plenty, and in fact if anyone needs some they should come by when this is all over.

That’s who this kind of thing puts at risk. That’s who will truly suffer because some right-wing politicians want to make people think they’re being martyred. That’s who will sicken, through no fault of their own, because it was in the interests of a few people to feel important by acting like they’re persecuted.

That’s who will die alone in an ICU while their families say goodbye on an iPad.

Look at that and imagine it’s your mother, your son, your spouse, on the other end, miles away, because you didn’t think God could handle waiting six months for you to get a vaccine and sit in a pew again.

I am so tired of explaining this to people who should know better. Who pride themselves on their belief in an awesome God, in a God who is everywhere, always with us, and can do anything including make it not rain on circus day. Who seem to think God wouldn’t cut them a break if they thought they could save their neighbors.

Who seek out — and you have to seek it out, you have to sign up on Facebook to get memes from these pages and make the kinds of friends who’ll send them to you in e-mail forwards — stories that activate this disgust response in order to have something to get riled up about. When, in truth, they can practice their faith all they want without HAVING to deal with anything more than the occasional bit of evidence that there are other people out there who aren’t them.

No one is coming for your Nativity scene, DUGAN.

While we’re on the subject of faith, the only people who’ve ever questioned my Christian bona fides have been my devout fellow believers. It’s not the atheists lifing me all day long about how I’m doing it wrong, but there sure are a lot of Catholics up in this piece implying I am no real member of their Body. Mostly because I don’t believe in limiting medical procedures of the type that helped me have my daughter, or in putting lawmakers in charge of women’s health.

Maybe it would help convince them if I simply told them I was worried about government overreach.

A.

Quibi Never Should Have Been Born

Look at these fucking idiots:

The Quibi experience has been decidedly less than fresh thanks to numerous hurdles built into the service: first and foremost, the mobile-only limitation, which precluded viewing on a bigger screen and also the ability to text, scroll, or multi-task while watching the content pitched to our fractured attention spans. Quibi’s mobile-only imposition especially hampered the service as many Americans quarantined at home with the option of larger screens and ever-growing streaming services – Netflix and Hulu, obviously, as well as Disney+, Apple TV+ and the new HBO Max – to fill them.

Quibi’s business model assumed an endless appetite for entertainment until we die, but its mandates, short-form, mobile-only, paid subscription, subsumed the all-important choice from consumers used to frenetic, constantly refreshing and expanding amusement on demand and on phones with YouTube and TikTok, for free. “We’re in a world where the viewer expects to have control over the what, the when, the where, the how they’re going to watch content, and Quibi has taken a lot of that away from them,” said Goodman.

I said most of this on Twitter last night, but: Jesus tits, it’s a TEXTBOOK example of doing everything but saving journalism to save journalism. Quibi had all kinds of legit news content with actual journalists, some of whom seemed to better understand what they were about than others, and it never seemed like anything more than a 2010s update of a 1990s “what if the news had an MTV soundtrack, that’ll pull in the youngs” strategy. What a waste. What a goddamn load.

ONE POINT SEVEN BILLION DOLLARS. I just cannot.

This is the kind of shit that makes me ragey when it comes to all our thousands of “future of journalism” panels and blue-ribbon commissions and studies and digital paradigms. You could have used all this money to buy out and run independently 1,000 community papers.

If you had put HALF, even, of this cash into independent student media you’d have raised a GENERATION of journalists. You would change the fucking WORLD. But no, blow it on some consultant’s wet dream that you named like a drink with squid ink in it.

Do you know how many stories it would cost, MAYBE, 10K to break? Do you know how many communities need papers that could be run soup to nuts for $500K a year TOPS? And look at these fucking clowns. Suck my dick.

I get that the long game isn’t FUN. I get that lots of this stuff isn’t as sexy as celebrity anchors delivering “quick bites.” I get that “let’s do the same boring shit the news has always done only this time let’s act like it matters because the past four years have proven pretty definitively that it does” won’t get you into a lot of VC pitch meetings.

But one of the reasons nonprofit journalism fundraising sucks so fucking much is that all the goddamn money gets hoovered up by idiot ideas like these and if you ask for any to, like, cover the news, they look at you like you’re an alien.

Hello, I would like ONE POINT SEVEN FIVE BILLION DOLLARS to pay reporters you’ve never heard of to cover stories you’ll never know about. All that will happen if you give me that money is that you won’t wind up embarrassed by shutting down your shitsack project after 10 minutes. My e-mail’s right up there. You can reach out anytime.

Like it’ll just make people’s lives better and maybe save democracy, so I can see how it won’t tug your tool just right. What if I come up with a logo that’s also on fire and a name like a brand of kitchen implement? Quibi. If you have to spend most of your time explaining what your name means, you probably don’t have a good name, TRONC.

I would ALMOST be ok with this kind of waste (bitches gotta eat) if it didn’t exist alongside endless thinkpieces about how no one values journalism. There is a DIRECT correlation between these high-visibility failures and the reluctance of anyone to invest in real efforts.

People see shit like this implode and think well, obviously nothing can work ever, because they don’t read below the toplines and all they see is a well-funded effort with a bunch of high-profile backers fall on its fucking keys.

So how can you dumb bunnies in the sticks make anything work if these brain geniuses can’t? Well, for starters, and to return to the start of this rant, we generally name our papers things like “news of your town” and not “random group of letters that who knows what it could be.”

Anyway, it’s Giving Tuesday, support actual nonprofit shops that give their money to the journalists and the journalism, not to somebody’s brother-in-law to come up with fucking Quibi. UGH. You have, at a minimum, a paper in your town that’s likely starved for subscriptions but if it’s some cookie-cutter rag owned by a hedge fund, you can always use your spare twenties to light campfires.

At least then you’d be warm and have something to roast marshmallows over.

A.

Not Everything Sucks & Sunday Catblogging: CATS ARE BACK

Yeah yeah yeah, vaccines, world peace, whatever. WE’RE GETTING A FIRST CAT, AMERICA.

First it was announced that Champ and Major, the German shepherds belonging to the president-elect and future first lady Jill Biden, would roam the White House. And now, after an absence of more than a decade, a cat is set to also join the ranks of presidential pets, Jane Pauley of “CBS Sunday Morning” reported on Twitter on Friday.

In an interview with Fox 5 in Washington, D.C., Dr. Biden hinted that if her husband won the presidency, she would not mind getting a cat.

“I’d love to get a cat,” she said. “I love having animals around the house.”

The cat’s breed and name were not immediately available. Representatives for Mr. Biden did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

Literally one conversation in the car with Kick about who was voting for who and why involved which presidents had what pets, so you have no idea the stir this news created in my household. Even Thing One and Thing Two here approve:

A.

Update: YOU DID IT!! First Draft Food Pantry Fund

Update: YOU DID IT YOU MAGNIFICENT BASTARDS!

Yesterday I had the rockin’ job of calling up the directors of the St. Hyacinth Food Pantry (who happen to be my aunt and uncle) and telling them I was sending them a check for $1,500 so that every single family that gets a Christmas food basket from them this year will also get a gift card to buy presents for their kids.

In a normal year the pantry would run a MASSIVE toy drive and distribute everything from stuffed animals to bikes, but it involves multiple volunteers, hours of going in and out of places to collect donations and drop them off, and families lined up to choose things at a time when the virus is out of control in their neighborhood. Everyone’s been really understanding about it, but it’s hard on the little kids to have nothing to put under the tree.

You’ve made it so that they can. You’ve given hundreds of families a terrific holiday season. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Continue reading

Not Everything Sucks: Goddess Edition

Sophia Loren exists, and bone structure is a real thing: 

There is nothing that you can say. If you decide that you have to be an actress, because it’s something that you love, then you have to do what your mind teaches you, to put yourself in a situation where you only think about your life as an actress. Then you’ll see if you do or don’t get married. Life is not just one thing; it’s so many things, and sometimes so many things all together.

There’s a photograph of her in the linked story above in a gold ball gown that makes 86 years old absolute goals.

A.

Cancel the Uncancelation

Fuck these people, don’t book them at your speaking agency: 

Normally, when one administration passes the torch to another, there’s a stampede toward policy think tanks, law schools, various institutes and ideas festivals. But in this case? They should be shut out of the post-administration economy. Don’t offer them speaking gigs. No keynote addresses. No corporate conferences sponsored by national brands. No media “commentator” positions. Not for any of them.

It’s time to stop the redemption train once and for all and leave it to rust on the tracks. Anyone who touches Brad Parscale’s book proposal with so much as the tip of their umbrella should be launched into the sun.

Ugh.

A.

Grown-Ups Are On It

God, it’s amazing how small a move this actually is, and how great it is at the same time: 

Today, I met with the co-chairs of the transition COVID-19 Advisory Board, Dr. Vivek Murthy, Dr. David Kessler, and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith.

They briefed me on the accelerating public health crisis. The facts they presented were alarming. Our country is experiencing surges in reported infections, hospitalizations, and fatalities all over the country, with virtually nowhere getting spared. Our doctors, nurses, and other health care workers are under enormous — and growing — strain.  This week’s news on progress toward a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine is positive, but it will be many months before there is widespread vaccination in this country.

This crisis demands a robust and immediate federal response, which has been woefully lacking.

Here in Illinois we’re on the brink of another total shutdown, and all our extracurricular activities got axed this weekend, closing the park district fieldhouses and all the programs that were keeping us sane. I am pricing out ice rinks for our backyard, but somehow I’m still less panicked than I was back in March, because: in 8 weeks this will be run by adults and not a bunch of idiot reptiles.

Adults we may give a hard time to, adults we yell at lot, adults who might not do everything right the first time around but goddamn, adults we can trust to return a phone call and give a shit when somebody — millions of somebodies — is sick and dying.

I mean, read that over, above, and keep telling me both parties are the same. One has … scientists, that they’re listening to, and a plan to get things under control that will actually be carried out without constant drama. Another has Marjorie Taylor-Greene out here screaming about the tyranny of closing down Crossfit, what the actual fuck, government shutdowns are not causing these problems, A QUARTER OF A MILLION DEAD PEOPLE AND TEN MILLION CASES of a preventable disease are causing these problems.

And if I read one more op-ed citing “personal responsibility” and “local control” for a disease that cannot be prevented by either one, that crosses state lines and doesn’t care who your fucking mayor is, I’m going to lose my mind in several languages. There are things that are so big we can’t do them alone, people. That’s what a system of government is for.

We’ve spent the past four years in an experiment that says we don’t need a federal government. We’ve spent the past four years without one, actually, without any national leadership on anything at all. It’s not just that that leadership has been dumb and bad; that we’ve seen before. It’s that we’ve taken the GOP at its word, that government is useless, and we’ve erased it entirely.

It’s very clear now that there are times we DO need to be one country. When we do need to give California and North Dakota the same thing, which is a rule to wear masks and money to keep people home and out of the shopping mall hacking germs all over each other. When we ARE all affected equally by the actions of others, and there is no reason to pretend help has to stop at the state border when the problems don’t.

No one state can do this without closing its state borders. We almost did that last spring, and had we kept it up I doubt Illinois would be as big a trash fire as it is, thanks a lot Indiana and Wisconsin, but this is the point. We CAN’T close ourselves off from one another or the world. We have to be responsible for Indiana and Wisconsin even as they’re led by absolute nuclear-grade jackwagons. Our fate is your fate. There’s no other way to do this. We don’t have any other choice.

And in eight weeks we’ll have leadership that understands that, that fills jobs that need filling, that can distribute any vaccine in a coordinated, reasonable, scientific manner. And yes, the screaming Trumper morons we’ll always have with us, but remember the way you feel whenever a new announcement comes out of the Biden team. Read that statement up there. Think of what it will be like when the loudest voices in the room aren’t the morons anymore.

Hold fast, help one another when you can, and whatever you do, hold on. We’re almost there.

A.

We Needed Those Dance Parties

For DAME magazine, I wrote about how eager we all were to shit on our own victory, and why it’s crap: 

Heaven forbid we offend the children of people who cage other people’s children for the act of requesting asylum at our borders. After shouting “fuck your feelings” for four years, hanging Obama in effigy and fantasizing about “locking up” a former senator and Secretary of State, it’s a little rich to hear calls for comity.

As the day went on, it began to feel as though we were allergic to the joy we were feeling. How dare we dance for the end of Trump when so many Republicans remain in office, after all? Doesn’t dancing mean we think the work is over?

And can we even dance without mourning? A quarter of a million Americans dead of a preventable disease Trump did not prevent, untold damage done to the climate, to international alliances, to civil liberties, to the economy?

We’ve got work to do. Starting yesterday. Starting four years ago. But goddamn people, we deserved some champagne.

A.

Everybody Gets to Have Today

Because nothing else was going on yesterday, and it was incredibly gorgeous out, Kick and I walked over to the park, where I sat six feet away from a bazillion other adults all glued to their phones, and talked with friends while our kids ran screaming around the playground like spirits unleashed from imprisonment in amber.

And goddamn, so many of them were still worried. Still depressed. Still feeling that Tuesday night crush when we all realized it wasn’t gonna be a blowout like we’d hoped.

They were all, as I’d been right up until Wisconsin was called, finding reasons to be disappointed in what was happening.

But without the Senate …

So many people voted for him …

In two years …

No.

No way.

Not today.

WE HAVE THROWN A RACIST SEXIST FASCIST RAPIST INCUMBENT PRESIDENT OUT OF OFFICE IN THE MIDDLE OF A NATIONAL CRISIS AND WE GET TO HAVE TODAY.

I don’t want to hear the internecine bitchfest today. Shut up equally, Abigail Spanberger and everybody yelling at her. Stop. I don’t want to hear about next week, next month, January, 2024, none of it. I don’t want to hear about the failures and the things that didn’t happen couldn’t happen shouldn’t have happened.

Stop for a second and look at what just happened.

We’ve had so few victories in the past four years. So few things to feel good about, especially in the past year. And every single day they take something else away.

It’s going to be a long dark coldass winter and we’re going to be ALONE in it. For a quarter of a million people there will always be a hole in the world.

So don’t. Don’t take this away from YOURSELVES.

Don’t fall into the trap they set for you, making you hate and fear every good thing, because it will be pulled out from under you. It might be. But while you have it in your hands, look at it. Look at it while you still can.

Trump and Pence, out.

Pompeo, out.

Chad Wolf, out.

Stephen Miller, unemployed.

Kayleigh Whateverthehellhername is, unemployed.

Executive orders, done. Muslim ban, done. Sticking our dick in the CDC’s face for the sake of doing it, done. Rage-tweeting at Iceland on Christmas morning or some shit, done. Cruelty for cruelty’s sake, done. Gag rules, done. Supreme Court nominees who are RAPISTS FUCKING DONE FOREVER.

And the first woman vice president. The first black woman vice president. The first Asian-American woman vice president. In 234 years.

One of the worst things an abuser can do — and Trump is an abuser, survivors of domestic violence have told us this for years — is take away the belief in joy. In hope, in the future. Make you take it away from yourself, make you shy from it, make you dread it, make you actively work to prevent it because it feels so WRONG.

It doesn’t feel wrong. It feels different. It feels new. Lean into it. We don’t get many of these days. We don’t get hundreds of thousands of opportunities to be happy. Don’t take this one away in advance.

Make them rip it from your cold dead hands. Make them come, and take it.

A.

You Get One Win and You Expect to Always Win, You Weak-Ass Punk Bitch Bastards

I spent the weeks before the election reading about the Warsaw Ghetto and in retrospect it was the best thing I could have done. Starving, desperate, dying, armed with homemade bombs and sharpened knives, people who had seen their entire families die or disappear held off the might of Nazi Germany for more than 30 days. They were overrun, of course, captured and deported or killed.

By all means, lie down and despair, today.

Throughout our history people have lined up to fight and die for a country that has never recognized their full humanity.

They lived their entire lives in secret because of who they were, or who they loved, and fought every single day to change that which until recently looked unchangeable.

People voted in this election who were born on plantations, who were born before women could vote.

But by all means, tell us all there’s nothing more to be done. Tell that guy. Tell it to his face.

I’m asking you this morning, everybody talking about what a shitass racist country this is, what a miserable place, and how the system is irretrievably broken and nothing will ever change, do you regret a single thing you fought for? Do you regret a single dollar?

I’d rather lose every election from now until the end of time than have been on the other side of this for even a second.

You keep shoveling dirt over yourselves. You keep telling us there’s no chance. We’ll be out here in the rain, not moving for a second:

I think a lot of people my age, including, let’s be honest, me, thought Obama won and that somehow changed things. I was in Grant Park the night they declared for the first black president in this nation’s history and it was what people tell me heroin’s like, I’ve been high as a kite on that victory ever since and I want to feel like that all the time, I GET IT, GUYS. Jam that shit in our veins.

But that’s not our history. Our history is sixty tents full of dysentery death and desertion and the reason we even have unlikely victories over insurmountable odds is that the victories are unlikely. The odds are insurmountable.

This country’s oldest songs were written in bondage. We sing them loud and expect to be heard the first time, and when we’re not we think, what, that the problem is with the songs? Do you listen to yourselves?

By all means, lie down and despair today. By all means pretend that we’re somehow in this for peace, that there’s any way out of this but dead, that we have the right to see the end of anything, that we get to know the answers for anything other than what we did in the here and now. The people who changed us knew that. Harriet, leading her people to freedom. Harvey, demanding dignity in a world determined to give him none. John, on the bridge, facing down the fire hoses and the dogs. Ruth, resplendent in argument, and Ingrid astride her white horse.

None of them saw the end of their work. None of us should expect to, either. Every victory notwithstanding. Every loss, too.

A.

How Dare We Expect This To be Easy

I thought this, too. I really did, and I’m ashamed of myself tonight.

Not because I thought we were better than we were; I always think that and I’m always GOING to think that because you never know when that little bit of belief is going to be enough to make somebody not suck, like I will WILL you to not suck and you will LISTEN. I’m ashamed of myself because I really thought it would be easy to fight fascism.

Like sure, the ideology of white supremacy and resentment that burned down half the world and required the death of millions to defeat will be routed in seconds.

Generations of ingrained hatred toward any challenge to the status quo no matter how mild will just … fall away, in the face of the mildest of resistance.

Four hundred years of subjugating black people and resisting any attempt at their empowerment, just dissolving in daylight.

How dare we? Honestly, how dare we? Like this stuff doesn’t take hold because it’s not attractive, it’s not powerful, it doesn’t WORK for a certain subset of people during a certain amount of time. Fascism in Europe wasn’t some kind of accident, it didn’t arise overnight, and it required the sacrifice of generations to stamp it out. And we thought we’d solve it in a day? In a year? Like who were we kidding?

We thought it should be SIMPLE, to take on the most dangerous authoritarian impulses our dumb chimpanzee brains could throw at us, and just waltz across the finish line? Like we’re in this for peace? Like we wouldn’t have to fucking scrap for it?

Sharpen your teeth, assholes. They were never gonna give an inch we didn’t pry from their cold dead hands.

A.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Today

This week I ordered a bunch of these collapsible water containers. Like, just in case. In case what, Mr. A asked me, and I had no answer. Like, in case of a global pandemic causing widespread disruption that might eventually affect the water supply? It seemed like a better idea than bottles and bottles, and my back’s too weak to carry crates of them. So, basically humongous baggies, to be safe.

There are cans of beans and tomatoes and a freezer full of food. I bought a duck from the local meat guy. I’ve never cooked a duck ever even once but there it is, in case of a … duck emergency? This morning’s Google search was “can you bake the Halloween pumpkin I hate wasting food my grandmother’s ghost will come back and berate me if I just smash it in the street.” I’ve made so much fucking soup.

Kick and I are reading the Little House books and they’re making me want to seal up the cracks in the walls, bank straw against the foundation. Pile every quilt on every bed, even the one in the empty guest room. We have a quarter cord of firewood for our small firepit; is that enough? Do we need more?

And then what? We wait? That’s not how you stay safe. It’s not how you stay alive. The point of a storeroom is to have enough to share. There’s no such thing as safe. There never is.

The day after election day four years ago I wrote this: 

I’m sure there are going to be plenty of stories about how arrogant angry liberals like me need to take a lesson from this and JUST ONE MORE TIME be nicer to the angry racists who hate us. I’m sure there are going to be lots and lots and lots of thinkpieces about how if I would just not be so … me, and mine would not be so mine, and we would all shut up about being ourselves and needing things like fundamental rights, and listen silently while we are insulted, then we would finally be gifted with what has never been freely bestowed in all of human history.

And I stand by every word, and these, too: 

This administration knew its people and their uses. They elected this president. They chanted “lugenpresse” and “fake news” at reporters. They put them in cages, too, and spit at them and yelled and threatened. They beat protesters and chanted “lock her up.” They longed to inflict human misery, gleefully, on anyone they were told had taken from them, on anyone they were told would take from them. And this administration saw that and said that it was good. It said yes. It said more.

So much has happened in the last week, the last month that’s horrible, in the last two months, the last six, that maybe we forgot about the first three and three quarter years, about everything before “fuck it, let everybody die” became law of the land. So let me recap for you, the poison poured into this country’s veins: The kids in the cages, the Muslim ban, the corruption, the collusion, the pettiness, the greed, and every single day just making a shitstorm out of nothing because they didn’t care to know better or ask anyone how to do stuff. Two years ago the dubious Supreme Court nominee was a rapey alcoholic, like COME ON.

Can we even bank the fires after they’ve been out this long? What we need is so miniscule; not even advantages, just relief. We are so hungry for decency we will lick it off of knives.

And it wasn’t until very, very recently that we began to have hope again. Is it any wonder we flinch from it like a bright light after our eyes have adjusted to the darkness? How much of our fear is reasonable, protecting ourselves, and how much is simple cowardice? How much of the storeroom will feed others, and can we unclench our fists long enough to hold out our hands?

I wish I had exhortations, directions, recipes even. I understand in a way I never have the power of the only prayer that exists: Please. Please. Please. I don’t have any answers, for any of you, today. Fight them til we can’t, I said four years ago, and today’s another day to fight with. If you can’t, it’s okay. I’ve got enough flour to bake bread for us both.

A.

You Want In the REAL LIVE VAN on Tuesday?

Then send an e-mail to me at athenae25 at yahoo.com and I will send you an invite to First Draft’s first LIVE election night party.

ZOOM THE RESULTS, BITCHES. I can’t do this alone and you shouldn’t have to.

You’ll get an invite the morning of Tuesday.

A.