Category Archives: Big Damn Heroes

People Have Always Fought Back

In the worst times, people fought back: 

 The Bund created youth groups, newspapers, illegal schools, and a courier service that transmitted news across occupied Poland; the latter’s operatives exchanged information at soup kitchens that the Bund set up as cover. Money came from New York-based organizations like the Jewish Labor Committee (founded by Vladeck), smuggled by Jewish girls pale enough to pass as Polish gentiles. Later, that money paid for hiding places and guns. After October 1940, when Nazis began herding Warsaw’s Jews into the Ghetto, the Bund organized the teeming tenements into committees dedicated to cultural, as well as physical, survival.

[…]

The Bund’s long relationship with Polish socialists allowed them to breach the ghetto walls, sneak in Polish resistance soldiers, and provide the world with some of the first accounts of the Nazi genocide, through the testimonies of Zalman Freidrych and Jan Karski. Through these networks, news filtered out, and weapons flowed in. In April 1943, three months after the first brief battle of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, one final arms shipment smuggled by Bundists got through the Ghetto walls.

How many Nazi troops died in that doomed revolt is still disputed. Three hundred, according to Bundist Marek Edelman, who assumed command of the ZOB, after its first leader committed suicide to avoid surrender. Sixteen, claimed the SS commander Jürgen Stroop, who had every reason to suppress the true figures. What is known is that it took the most feared military force in Europe three weeks to subdue 750 starving, inadequately-armed captives. Even then, the ghetto fell not to fighting, but to fires, set by German flamethrowers and incendiary bombs. Some 13,000 Jews died in the rebellion. In London, Artur Ziegelboim, the Bund’s representative in the Polish parliament in exile, took poison in a futile attempt to rouse the world from its indifference. The words of his suicide note read: “I love you all. Long live the Bund.”

Emphasis mine. Read the whole thing.

A.

Not Everything Sucks: Free Food Edition

Whenever Black Lives Matter does anything in downtown Chicago, where, you know, people pay attention to stuff, the local newspaper’s highly paid scolds bitch that the young activists never “protest in their own communities” and ask where their attention is to the problems people in Chicago’s predominantly African-American neighborhoods.

Right here, you smug jackwagons: 

The location of the food box was picked when members of Black Lives Matter Chicago, who at the time were volunteering at the Bronzeville Community Garden, learned people in the community were going hungry, Ethan said. So they decided to commit to stocking the box with food. He said already there’s been a great deal of positive community feedback.

A.

We’ve been showing up. Every damn day.

This kind of thing spread across the Twitters during the hours when it looked certain, instead of just likely, that the GOP was going to put a rapist on the Supreme Court:

And, I’m sorry, but no, they would not have shut down the country.

They would have shut down one hallway of one Senate office building, and occupied one suburban office park, and the national media led by Fox News and talk radio would MAKE IT SOUND LIKE they had shut down the country.

That’s what happened in 2000 and the way I know it would go else-ways for Dems is that I was at the Iraq War protests. Ignoring the media disparity to slag on the only viable opposition party as being insufficiently brave is not great, here.

I’m sick and fucking tired of this meme among Democrats that Democrats aren’t doing anything to stop this. Cory Booker tried to get himself and his colleagues frickin’ expelled, to stop this. Kamala Harris walked out of the hearing, to stop this. Maizie Hirono literally called bullshit, to stop this. Diane Feinstein, who is 400 years old, pinned Lisa Murkowski to the wall and yelled in her face, to stop this. None of it MATTERS without power.

Until November, giving speeches is all they CAN do. They do not command the U.S. military and they hold neither legislative house (yet). If every single Democrat walked out of Congress right now and sat down on the courthouse steps and vowed to stay there til the end of time, Republicans would … still have the votes to do everything they’re doing, plus all the TV cameras for them to call Democrats babies.

Dem legislators and activists held a whole ass protest on the steps of the courthouse Friday, anyway, not that anyone covered it with a fraction of the urgency they lend to a Republican county commissioner bitching about his taxes.

As for rank-and-file Dems, the outside-the-Capitol leadership? Well shit, every goddamn weekend and just about every weekday there’s a rally, a protest, a march. Against separating families, against mass incarceration, for racial justice, against voter suppression. There was a whole-ass Women’s March, fucking twice. Right now in Chicago there’s a hotel workers’ strike going on. There is no shortage of fights.

Women, especially black women, have been out here fighting the fights and running the races, registering people to vote, while Dem-bros lament the lack of, I dunno, physical barricades. And if there were physical barricades, you bet your ass women would be on them first.

Women are on them now, walking literal gauntlets to get reproductive healthcare, so let’s not forget whose bodies we’re advocating we throw on the wheels. A bloody revolution sounds like a fuckload of awesome fun if you’re not the one who’s gonna bleed.

There are a lot of people who aren’t fighting at all, much less fighting on our side. They’re the ones who need to be mobilized, not the people already at the front, raising their voices as loud as they can, despite the Fox News-following national press cutting their mics.

A.

My Boyfriend John Kerry Has a Book Out and is Thus Everywhere

Globe. Twitter.  Colbert, where he was just idiotically charming and inspiring as usual:

He’s 18 feet tall and I love him so much. I love how boringly passionate he is about the actual, you know, COUNTRY, and his job, and all the ordinary stuff you’re supposed to care about when you work for us.

I’m so glad he talked about trying to bring McCain onto the ticket in 2004, because I feel like that was a real chance to stop what’s happened since, and not enough people recognized it at the time. Fuck, I will never be over the 2004 election. We fought so goddamn hard and goddamn did we lose.

And let me just say, this is not the place for shit-talking Kerry nor, quite frankly, any other potential 2020 candidate as UGH GOD NO (even if said candidate is Bernie or Hillz). For starters, literally nothing a Democrat is doing right now in order to stand up to the president is bad, and after that, the earth is caving in NOW. The people throwing dynamite into the chasm hope we’re all out here on Left Twitter screaming at each other about 2020, so we won’t notice there are kids still in cages.

Hillary shouldn’t go knit and Bernie shouldn’t shut up and Kerry and Biden and every other Democrat shouldn’t go away. I’m sick of the chorus of nay-sayers for EVERYBODY.

Look. We’re gonna get who we get in 2020. We’re all gonna fight like hell for who we want and then we’re gonna get who we get and in case you think I’m just mouthing at you here are my votes in the presidential primaries in order as I remember them: Bill Clinton, John McCain (trying to stop Bush), Howard Dean, Chris Dodd, Bernie Sanders. I have never gotten what I wanted at the top of the ticket, never even once, and I know a hell of a lot of other people in the same exact boat.

Denis Leary had a joke about how dumb it was to ban gay people from serving in the military, went something like, “You want to fuck other guys? Here’s another guy and a gun, go!” That’s kind of how I feel about potential presidential candidates. I LOVE BERNIE! Here’s Bernie and a bunch of voter registration forms, go! I love Cory Booker! Here’s Cory Booker and a phone bank, go! I love Kamala Harris! Here’s Kamala Harris and some yard signs, go!

Nobody’s too old or too young or too conservative or too liberal or too socialist or too ANYTHING right now.

We need more loud and proud voices from the left AND center-left of American politics right now. We need more of literally any point of view that isn’t the Trump/Ryan/McConnell complex. I don’t want to see anybody shouted down right now. I want us all out there at the top of our lungs saying my candidate thinks what’s happening is crap and so do I and so do all my friends and we’re gonna vote.

It’s too early to tell people to shut up. We’ve barely started talking.

A.

ps. For more on the not-at-all-controversial topic of “whatever, I will vote for a pile of dogshit with a D after its name for every office in the land from now until the end of time,” see this piece from before the 2016 election. Been banging this drum for a while.

pps. Seriously, lay off Kerry, he very nearly unseated an incumbent Republican president during wartime, and until recently he was trying to keep us out of nuclear war even though nobody was paying him to do that, you ungrateful childish fucks.

Family Smackdown Day

We all have relatives whose politics we dislike. These family ties have become increasingly strained with the advent of the crude dictator wannabe, Trumpberius aka the Kaiser of Chaos. There seems to be something in the air today that led two men I’d never heard of go after two relatives that we know and loathe.

First, Stephen Miller’s uncle Dr. David Glosser wrote a scathing article about his nephew for Politico. It may be the best thing I’ve ever read in that deservedly ridiculed online publication. After detailing their family history, Uncle David let his hypocritical nephew have it:

I have watched with dismay and increasing horror as my nephew, who is an educated man and well aware of his heritage, has become the architect of immigration policies that repudiate the very foundation of our family’s life in this country.

I shudder at the thought of what would have become of the Glossers had the same policies Stephen so coolly espouses— the travel ban, the radical decrease in refugees, the separation of children from their parents, and even talk of limiting citizenship for legal immigrants— been in effect when Wolf-Leib made his desperate bid for freedom. The Glossers came to the U.S. just a few years before the fear and prejudice of the “America First” nativists of the day closed U.S. borders to Jewish refugees. Had Wolf-Leib waited, his family would likely have been murdered by the Nazis along with all but seven of the 2,000 Jews who remained in Antopol. I would encourage Stephen to ask himself if the chanting, torch-bearing Nazis of Charlottesville, whose support his boss seems to court so cavalierly, do not envision a similar fate for him.

Dr. Glosser has a future as a polemicist. It took a lot of guts to go after his sister’s son like this. It seems as if he’d finally had enough of his nephew’s wicked wicked ways. Thanks, Doc.

Then there’s Bobby Goodlatte who is the son of retiring Virginia Congressman Bob Goodlatte who we last met when he ran the Strzok hearing with all the style and finesse of a Kangaroo Court judge. The Good Goodlatte took to twitter to announce his support for the Democratic woman who is running for dear old dad’s seat:

Then he confessed his shame over his father’s handling of the Strzok hearing:

I’m blown away by the intestinal fortitude shown by the Good Goodlatte *and* Dr. Glosser. I hope we see more of it amid the infamy of the Trump administration and the 115th Congress. It’s time for people to speak out and save the Republic from the likes of Stephen Miller.

The holidays should be very interesting for the Miller-Glosser and Goodlatte families.  Just thinking about it tops this great scene in Barry Levinson’s ode to “chain immigration” Avalon:

Sunday Catblogging: And Thank You!

You all were amazing with the fundraiser this week, have some Slade toesies.

Every year we try to raise what we need to pay our hosting fees, whatever wear and tear there is on our laptops, sometimes a project or two, and every year I think well, this is it, they’re all gonna tell me to fuck off and they don’t care anymore and it’s time to shut this pop stand down and go do whatever it is people do when they’re not glued to the news.

And every year, every ask, every project, you all come right through. For FOURTEEN YEARS goddamn I am old and we are old and it remains one of the best things in my life, the idea that we do something here that you value.

Thank you. Thank you to every single one of you.

Now, next crisis.

A.

Not Everything Sucks: Iraqi Edition

People will always try to save each other. Always: 

‘My 15-year-old son, one of the best students in our province, decided to take up arms and go to battle without informing me or his father. It was a big shock for me. I thought that my son would go to battle and die. For around 20 days I searched for him.’

Fatima al-Bahandly was able to convince tens of other young men to disarm, along with her own son. She is the director of Al Firdaws Society, an NGO founded in 2003 in Basra, Iraq. She works to demobilise and reintegrate young people and children who have been recruited by militias. She has overseen a number of projects in a range of areas, including issues of literacy, conflict resolution, women’s political participation, and violence against women.

A.

Not Everything Sucks

Those of you moaning that nothing will ever change? Read this before you tape your pieholes shut: 

Love is a lawyer tirelessly devoted to an immigrant sector most in need of legal aid: the rural one. In 2014, she launched the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, which serves immigrant families where there is traditionally no legal aid. Love and her team of three other lawyers go out to the people—via a roaming RV office, community center, and church pop-ups, and by organizing community leaders.

The whole thing is amazing. We are saving one another every single day, and always will.

Donate here.

A.

WHAT ARE THE DEMOCRATS DOING?!!?

I’ve been seeing variations on this theme all week, like the party that isn’t in power right now should somehow magically gain power and stop family separation.

Well, they’re sitting in. They’re marching. They’re giving speeches. They’re fighting with the only fight they have. If you want them to be able to mount real opposition, we need more of them. 

Could one of them filibuster? Sure. Stand on the floor all night telling refugee stories. Could one of them start a hunger strike, mount civil disobedience over and above what’s going on already, could they find a creative way to shut shit down? Sure.

And then, as ever in the past two years, it’ll be over, the TV hairdos will either ignore it or call it a stunt and have 12 Republicans on a panel to talk about how protest is stupid, and nothing will change because THERE AREN’T ENOUGH DEMOCRATS IN OFFICE.

I know you’re sick of hearing me say nothing matters except November, but nothing matters. Except November.

Democrats can’t mount any meaningful opposition because there are six assholes who always give us a hard time. They’re from conservative states, they’re always endangered, etc, etc, they’re weak and scared and it’s infuriating.

What gives those six or so assholes who always give us a hard time their power is that they are necessary to overcome Republican regressiveness and opposition. Put 60 Dems in the Senate and 350 in the House and that handful of dickheads from red states don’t matter anymore.

They can’t hold their critical votes over people’s heads if their votes aren’t critical anymore. And if we have enough Democrats that their voices don’t matter, then we have enough to stop things like this. Things like Trump and his enablers. Things like Pence.

November, bitches. Write and call and yell and make it unpleasant for Republicans to exist in public while this is going on, and then, in November, fucking kick their fucking asses as hard as you possibly can.

In the meantime, if you want to do something, this is a great organization that needs help.

A.

How to Rise

Screw Rudy and George and the pile of burning metal they rode into myth on:

The problem with this movie isn’t so much that Rudy was shitty and then wasn’t. It’s that anyone on earth can show up in a crisis and we think that proves anything at all.

Think about it. Think about an actual crisis. Yes, shit is on fire, but you have something discrete to do. Your job is to stand in front of the cameras and calm everybody down. Approve things someone else has thought of. Say yes and no. You can be calm in that, when everybody’s watching.

But the next day? And the next? And the next? The days after, or before, all eyes are on you? When there’s no galvanizing event, when there’s no movie playing in your head complete with inspiring soundtrack? Can you show up then?

Can you do it when nobody’s watching? When nobody’s taking pictures? Can you do it when you know nobody’s ever gonna throw you a parade?

It’s not even about “in adversity,” because adversity, too, is grounding and centering and motivating. When they’re throwing rotten fruit at you you can laugh and duck and give them the finger. Can you work for others when your work is ignored? When the response to your almost killing yourself is, at most, a shrug?

That’s the test. The hard, grinding, everyday bullshit of working for the common good, that’s the prize.

W. stood on the debris pile and yelled into a microphone and the whole country listened. Rudy held everyone in his hands and said the death toll may be more than we can bear. It’s hard to remember those moments honestly now because shortly thereafter everybody lost their whole entire minds, but in those moments they were needed, these two clown princes of public life, and they did a job.

They did a job and did it well. But it wasn’t THE job, and the problem with a redemption story is that it ends, redeemed. We get so angry and disappointed with our leaders and our lives because nothing is like that, nothing at all.

What is the story if it’s just getting up every single day and making the coffee? Where’s the soundtrack for that? For the long walk home after you cross the finish line, for the stretch and the laundry and the dinner the next night? What if you were judged by the public not on how high you rise in the moment but on where you settle down, at the close of the day, when you’re bone tired and all you want to do is sleep?

What if we judged based on what you did then? What would that look like? Just you, alone in the dark, working on something that nobody cares about, sanding it down and making it fine and true. No one will ever see it. No one will properly appreciate it. No one will even know.

Do you do the job then?

That’s your fucking Capra film.

A.

Not Everything Sucks, Farming Edition

At my ‘hood’s Farmer’s Market recently Kick and I spent half an hour talking bees with this organization, which manages hives all over the West Side of Chicago and makes delicious honey. I thought of that when I read this story: 

Brown formed a partnership with Boe Luther and Wallace Kirby, two gardeners from Ward 7 who started Hustlaz 2 Harvesters to offer people released from incarceration ways out of poverty into urban agriculture careers and other social enterprises. Brown, a certified master composter for the city, helped Luther and Kirby transform an empty lot into the Dix Street community garden as part of an urban agricultural initiative called Soilful City.

Only 1 in 10 Americans eats the daily recommendation of fruits and vegetables, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and people living in poverty have especially low rates of consumption of fresh produce. Access to healthy produce is difficult in low-income communities like Clay Terrace, because major chain supermarkets are reluctant to locate their stores there. Ward 7 has only one large grocery store, and that means the people who live there have a harder time obtaining more fruits and vegetables to help reduce cardiovascular risk.

Yet Brown, Luther, and Kirby believe the community can grow its way out of food scarcity through the Dix Street garden and similar projects. They say crops that were staples of their African ancestors’ diets hold an essential key to restoring the community’s health.

“It’s not just about vegetables—we’re building a new way to rebuild neighborhoods,” Brown says.

People are trying to save each other every damn day. Don’t forget that.

A.

Your Occasional Reminder That It’s Possible to Be Good and Brave

One hundred and seven years old, and god damn, what a badass: 

An inspector from the Dutch education ministry arrived at Johan van Hulst’s teacher training institute in Amsterdam on the morning of June 19, 1943. He noticed youngsters and, with SS soldiers standing nearby, asked, “Are those Jewish children?”

“You don’t really expect me to answer that, do you?” Dr. van Hulst replied.

The garden of Dr. van Hulst’s Reformed Teachers’ Training College bordered the garden of a Jewish nursery. Under Dr. van Hulst’s supervision, hundreds of Jewish infants and children had been passed across the hedge and hidden in his school. As Dr. van Hulst recalled, the inspector shook his hand and said, quietly, “In God’s name, be careful.”

Keep stories like this in mind when you hear about how it’s just too hard these days to stand up to Donald Fucking Trump.

A.

Rise Up

We forget, all the time, what we’re capable of.

How often, how many times a day, do we tell ourselves won’t, can’t, doesn’t? How many times do we say inevitable, impossible, never?

And then a girl stands in front of the whole world and she shakes their windows and she rattles their walls.

Do you know what it takes to hold a stage, to hold a crowd in your hands, for even one minute? To have them breathing with you, every indrawn breath yours to control? There are veterans of Broadway who can’t do that, not on nights when they’re visited by God himself.

I get the cynicism. I get the fear. I get the worry that somebody else will succeed where we’ve failed and I get the shame that drives us to push that away and I don’t care about any of it anymore, I reject it wholeheartedly, I shaven’t it, you can see what I see. Something happened there and when the world brings you a moment like that you thank God you were alive to witness it and you put your feet flat on the ground and you stand up.

We have been telling these children stories, telling ourselves stories, all our lives about those who rise above, about becoming heroes, about fighting back, and we’re still so astonished, almost offended, when someone listens. You told me I could be anything, so I became, and you don’t believe? How dare we?

We have eight months, and then the rest of our lives. Listen to that silence, and I don’t want to know you if you don’t hear the roar.

A.

Good night, Jack Hamilton

(Posting a bit early because of a sad bit of news. Hope it’s acceptable. – Doc.)

Of all the baubles and trinkets I’ve collected over the years that adorn my office, one of my favorite ones is a baseball signed by Jack Hamilton, who died earlier today.

Hamilton

The reason I got it was that I taught one of his grandchildren during one of my many stops in journalism education. I still remember her approaching me during our introductory reporting course to ask for special dispensation when it came to her profile.

“I know you said that we can’t do this on family members, but…” she began.

I had heard all sorts of excuses over the years: “I don’t have time to find anyone else,” or “My mom is my hero” or “I don’t know who else I’d do.”

I kind of did that “Justify your existence” thing and said, “Who and why?”

The answer was “My grandfather and he used to pitch in the major leagues.”

I decided it would be OK. After all, I let some kid do a piece on her grandmother because she was Jerry “Beaver Cleaver” Mathers’ mom, so why not a pitcher? Besides, I liked baseball. It was only after she turned in the piece that I realized who this man was.

Jack Hamilton had a relatively pedestrian career record of 32-40 during the heart of the 1960s. He bottomed out with Cleveland and the White Sox in 1969, going 0-5 before retiring. At 6-foot and 200 pounds, he wasn’t a giant, but a solid man who could mix his pitches well. His best season ended up being his most memorable one for all the wrong reasons.

In 1967, he started 2-0 for the New York Mets, who sent him to the Angels for Nick Willhite, who would retire from the game following a 0-1 campaign for New York that season. He was 8-2 and on the way to his only double-digit winning season on Aug. 18 when he threw the pitch that would define his career.

“It was a fastball that just got away.” I remember reading that line in my student’s profile. It stuck with me all these years and it hung with me today. I never heard the man’s voice, but I can hear it over and over in my head.

The one that “got away” smashed into the head of Boston’s Tony Conigliaro, a promising slugger who had already hit 100 home runs faster than any man in the game. The pitch fractured Tony C’s cheekbone, dislocated his jaw and damaged his retina. He sat out all of 1968 and would never really become the player everyone thought he would be.

Hamilton finished the season with an 11-6 record, but he too would never be the same.

“I had trouble pitching inside,” he told his grand-daughter. I didn’t blame him.

I remember reading that profile my student wrote, almost in awe and yet almost in shame. I felt like I was leering in on this man’s most difficult moment. I was thinking, Good God, man… you let this student ask her grandfather about all this? The hell is wrong with you? Still, I had to grade the thing so I kept on reading and I was glad I did.

He left baseball and settled in Branson, Missouri, where opened up several restaurants and raised a family. People liked him for who he was then, not because he was “a former baseball player.” He was just a great guy.

A year or two later, the student was working in the newsroom near Thanksgiving when we started chatting about something or other and she mentioned she was going home for the break.

“Are you seeing your grandpa?” I asked. “If so, tell him I loved reading about him.”

She said she was and that he’d be glad to hear that someone liked reading his story. I laughed a bit and tossed in a line: “Tell him I’d love to have his autograph.”

When she returned from Thanksgiving, she handed me a baseball. She had explained our exchange to her grandfather and my ask, he got this great big smile on his face and asked, “Really?” He then went out and actually bought a baseball so he could sign it for me. (I would have taken a turkey-stained napkin, for Pete’s sake.) His hand writing was a tad jittery, but right across the sweet spot, he inked his autograph for me.

I bought a plastic container to display it and subsequently found a 1968 copy of his baseball card. It was amazing but I could really see the family resemblance between that man on the card and his grand daughter in my class. I found it to be a nice reminder of a wonderful moment.

He also served as a reminder to me about how life can mix things up on you from time to time, but in the end, if you know who you are and you value the right things, everything will turn out OK. When I finished reading the profile on him, I felt I knew him and how he had become comfortable in his own skin.

He was just the kind of person you’d want as a grandpa.

So, good night, Mr. Hamilton. I hope you are at peace knowing you really were an incredible man.

Thome, my homie

Jim Thome made the Hall of Fame this week in the same way he began his career: As an afterthought.

Baseball pundits flocked to Larry “Chipper” Jones, writing stories about him “headlining” this class of inductees. Or, as one writer noted about him, he “feels” like a Hall of Famer. Vladimir Guerrero had more votes, so he deserved more attention. Edgar Martinez didn’t get ENOUGH votes, so people were talking about him as well. Oh, and let’s not forget talking about the steroid guys who we are somehow either too soft or too hard on.

Thome? Mmph. OK.

For all the bitching people do about how we don’t have any heroes left or how we are constantly a people distracted by scandal, it seems that we don’t pay enough attention to those things we pine for. Things like work-ethic, playing by the rules and remaining inside yourself are all deified but never recognized when they present themselves, which is one of many reasons why Jim Thome never really got his due until now.

Thome grew up in Peoria, Illinois where is father worked for the Caterpillar and his brother worked construction. Before Thome, Peoria’s most famous citizen was Richard Pryor, who used the city’s crime and brothel culture to evolve his comedy. Thome grew up a few blocks from that part of town, so while he may have grown up to be country strong, he wasn’t a country boy.

The Indians drafted Thome in the 13th round in 1989 and signed him for a bonus similar to what I paid for my first shitty car. Only one other player from that round even made the majors (Mike Oquist, a righthanded pitcher with a 25-31 career record). In his first minor league season, he didn’t hit a single home run.

It was Charlie Manuel, who would later be his hitting coach with the Indians and his manager with the Phillies, who found the power in the lefty’s swing. Manuel used Robert Redford’s habit from “The Natural” of pointing the bat at the pitcher before each delivery to help Thome calm down and focus. He added hip movement to the arm strength the young man possessed. The actual country bumpkin from Northfork, West Virginia and the perceived country bumpkin from Peoria bonded over the art of the swing.

Still, Thome wasn’t a lock for anything. He was up and down in his first few years. When he finally stuck with the Indians in 1994, he didn’t even make the Opening Day line up, sitting out in favor of the immortal Mark Lewis. The next year, Thome would hit 25 home runs as the Tribe captured its first AL pennant since the Eisenhower administration. He batted sixth in a line up just flat-out crushed teams. In a 144-game strike-shortened season, the Indians won 100 games but lost the World Series to the Atlanta Braves.

The problem for Thome was that he was always overshadowed by something. In that 1995 season, his teammate Albert Belle hit 50 homers to lead the league. The next season, Thome hit 38 dingers, only to be outdone by what seemed to be half the league. He barely cracked the top 20 in the MLB and guys like Brady Anderson, Jay Buhner and Vinny Castilla all out homered him.

The numbers for Thome never seemed to be big enough. In 1998, he crushed 30 homers, but that was the year in which Mark McGwire hit 70 and Sammy Sosa hit 66. Only once in his career did he lead the league in home runs: 2003 when he hit 47 for Philadelphia and tied with Alex Rodriguez at the top of the MLB. And the mentioning of those three guys brings to light some of the “why” when it comes to Thome’s relative obscurity in those years: Steroids.

MVPs, home run kings and even pedestrian players trying to make an extra buck found the Fountain of Youth at the end of a needle during Thome’s prime. McGwire, Sosa, Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Ken Caminiti, Mo Vaughn and more… Powerhouse sluggers who rewrote the record books, gave pitchers nightmares and profited greatly back then will now have about the same chance of making the Hall of Fame as Thome did of making it out of Peoria. Thome’s name never once came up in the list of users of “the cream” or “the clear” or whatever shark piss people shot up their nose to get six more inches on a home run in those days.

Thome’s homers had the lack of majesty that McGwire’s had. His swing lacked the poetry that Ken Griffey Jr.’s had. And yet to watch him at the plate was something to behold.  I remember him pole-axing a grand slam that looked like it should have shattered the foul pole off some Red Sox pitcher in a playoff game. When he dropped the head of that bat on a too-slow fastball or a non-curving curve, it was like watching Paul Bunyan take out a giant redwood with a single swing of an axe.

Thome wasn’t perfect and his career didn’t end in the best of ways. I remember him leaving Cleveland to take more money in Philly, which broke my heart. I remember him coming back to Cleveland for a “farewell and thank you” tip of the cap to the fans. I forgot he played for the Dodgers for about 12 minutes or that he finished his career in Baltimore Orioles orange.

The biggest thing I remember was that this guy was always exactly who he was. He never took the easy way, didn’t make the game about him and he just kept doing his job.

Just like a blue-collar kid from Peoria would do.

A nation of shitholes

GreatGrandpa

This is my great-grandfather. A farmer by birth, a carpenter by trade, a factory worker by necessity.

He came to this country in his early 20s, leaving behind his family and everything he ever knew to start a better life in America. Shortly after he left Bohemia, it no longer existed, as it was swallowed up through the consolidation of what became Czechoslovakia. He lived to be 100 and died when I was 12. His wife, my great-grandmother, lived to be 96 and they were married for more than 70 years. They had four children who lived and never moved from the house he built for them shortly before my grandfather was born.

WeddingGreatGrandparents

These are my mother’s grandparents, immigrants from Poland. I never knew them, other than through the tales my grandfather and mother would tell me. They would tell stories about family members back in the old country and have half the family rolling on the floor with side-splitting laughter. The other half? They didn’t speak Polish.

Factory workers, farmers, carpenters, barbers, artists and homemakers. These are my roots. Poland, Bohemia, maybe pre-1900s Germany. These are my lands.

These people were not the countries’ “best people” sent as emissaries, but rather as hard-working, hardscrabble people who wanted to make better lives for themselves. This country gave them hope. It gave them help. It gave them a new home.

Today? It never would have given them a chance.

A lot has been made of our president’s question about why we’re getting people from all these “shithole countries.” His indignation, venom and disgust flow freely in that two-word phrase and it represents how many people feel about these “Johnny Come Lately” immigrants who are just stealing from the “real Americans.” A lot of people believe this because they can’t see back far enough (or they just don’t want to) to understand that every, single person out there came from somewhere else (except for the Native Americans, who we shuffled around like the queen in a game of three-card monte). And every, single person who came here from elsewhere came from a shithole somewhere.

And the people who were here already had no problem letting them know that.

You had the “thieving wops and dagos.”

You had the “drunk, lazy Micks.”

You had the “stupid Poles.”

You name a group, you can guarantee the group that got here six minutes earlier already had a disparaging name for it and a “there goes the country” attitude about it.

People in this country essentially live this paradox:

I know where I came from and I know that it took a lot for us to get here and become who we are. My father, who in his later years has become more introspective, has noted to me a few times recent, “We were poor. I never thought about it at the time, but we were really poor.” My mother’s grandparents survived through the Depression because my great-grandmother rented rooms in her upstairs to workers from the slaughter house and the foundry. Her husband was a barber, and there wasn’t a lot of hair being cut at 25 cents a head back then.

They came at a time when I’m sure many in this country wanted to turn on the “No Vacancy” sign or at least they didn’t want “those people” here. To say now to the next group, “Sorry. We’re not taking any of you shithole immigrants” is unconscionable.

Those of us who came here from shithole countries need to stand up to this shit-talk from this asshole and speak to him in his native tongue.

“Pardon me, Mr. President, but fuck you.”

“our job is to save what we love,” or EVERYBODY TALK TO ME ABOUT STAR WARS AGAIN

I have many thoughts which are not organized into any sort of coherent thing. Deal with it.

Continue reading

Fuck Yeah, Virginia

It’s been quite some time since we’ve had a fuck yeah headline here at First Draft. The last one was way back in June 29, 2015. I think you know why: there hasn’t been much to celebrate since the emergence of the Insult Comedian as a serious candidate then tragicomic president*.

This morning there’s much to celebrate, especially in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Longtime and/or careful readers know that, along with Louisiana and California, Virginia is one of my home states. Dr. A grew up in Staunton and has family and close friends in Richmond and elsewhere in the Old Dominion. That is why Virginia is my fuck yeah focus even though the news from elsewhere was equally good.

As you can see, the Virginia state flag is particularly vivid. I like this description from 50states.com:

A deep blue field contains the seal of Virginia with the Latin motto ” Sic Semper Tyrannis” – “Thus Always to Tyrants”. Adopted in 1776. The two figures are acting out the meaning of the motto. Both are dressed as warriors. The woman, Virtue, represents Virginia. The man holding a scourge and chain shows that he is a tyrant. His fallen crown is nearby.

The flag is not only vivid, it’s appropriate. Donald Trump is a scourge and wannabe tyrant. The vote in Virginia was a referendum on Trumpism, which was roundly repudiated in the three statewide offices as well as in the House of Delegates. I thought Northam would win but the landslide was unexpected. This is how I summed it on twitter:

It could have said: Son of Virginia beats Carpetbagger from Jersey.

Speaking of twitter, Trump delayed his sales pitch speech to the Korean National Assembly to tweet out this lame excuse:

In fact, phony populist Ed Gillespie embraced Trumpy’s racism and xenophobia. It may have worked in isolated hollers but it killed him in the cities and suburbs. Dr/Lt. Gov Northam was a center-left candidate from the Eastern Shore of Virginia very much in the tradition of past winning Goober candidates Chuck Robb, Doug Wilder, Mark Warner, Tim  Kaine, and Terry McAuliffe. Those Democratic governors helped turn the Commonwealth blue. It’s a pity that they have a stupid one-term rule when they’ve had so many fine Governors. It’s helped in Senate races: 3 of those guys became solons.

There were many things to cheer about last night in the Old Dominion:

  • The hard work of  progressive former Congressman Tom Perriello who lost to Northam in the primary. He not only endorsed Northam but helped him win. Well done, sir.
  • The victory of former journalist Danica Roem in her race. She’s the first openly transgendered person to win a state legislative race. She defeated the author of a bigoted bathroom bill by focusing on important local issues. Well done, madam.
  • The victory of another former journalist Chris Hurst who ran on a forthright gun control platform. You may recall that Hurst’s reporter  girlfriend, Alison Parker, was murdered on live teevee. Well done, sir.

I wish I could say that I thought yesterday’s successes would carry over into the Doug Jones-Roy Moore Senate race in Alabama but I’m dubious. It’s a rabidly red state but Democrats *should* take a flyer on the race. It’s a contest between a civil rights champion and a man who would love to see The Handmaid’s Tale become reality.

Yesterday’s victories, however, will carry over to races small and large in swing states. Republicans in suburban Congressional districts should be shitting their pants. Those with any sense will start putting some distance between themselves and the Insult Comedian. Trump is POISON and Trumpism is a LOSER.

Now that we’ve danced in the end zone, it’s time to go back to work and elect Democrats up and down the ballot. It’s not over until the Fat President whines.

The last word goes to Ray Charles singing the Virginia state song emeritus:

That’s right: state song emeritus since 1997. The Commonwealth has “popular” and “traditional” state songs as well. Who knew? Ya learn something new every day.

Nazi Nazi Nazi, Out Out Out!

Well, I was pretty prepared to be angry and disappointed but wouldja look at that tonight? 

Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam will be Virginia’s next governor, fending off a challenge from Republican Ed Gillespie that embraced the tactics of President Donald Trump in the final weeks of the campaign.

The crowd at the Democratic Party watch party at George Mason University’s student center roared as CNN announced he had won the race based on unofficial results of Tuesday’s voting. The call happened so early in the night that many supporters were still making their way through security at the time.

Virginia had the only competitive statewide race in the country, and drew national interest as both parties looked to the commonwealth as a potential early referendum on Trump’s presidency and for momentum going into the 2018 congressional midterm elections.

Don’t stop. Every statehouse. Every single one. Trump can’t do shit if we hand him his ass in every city and every neighborhood and every goddamn rural township from sea to shining sea. The federal government has a lot of power and should with utmost power be opposed but we don’t have to wait three more years to do that, we can do it tomorrow.

Make ’em fight for every seat. Make ’em fight for every inch. Make them pay for everything they take and then when you get the chance, you take it back.

We should never have let this party back up after Watergate. We should never have let this party back up after Iran-Contra, after Clinton’s impeachment, after W. We shouldn’t let this party back up after Trump. Let the word ring forth: You wanna put an R after your name now, you answer for Trump. You answer for all his works.

Answer for the Muslim ban and the gay-bashing, answer for the health care debacle and the budget impasses, answer for the endless wars and the “very fine people” and “our heritage” and “our monuments.” Answer for it, you wanna stand election in this country. Stand up for your beliefs, your sacred sincerely held goddamn beliefs in the superiority of your white skin and the way you think everyone who isn’t you is gaming the system somehow. Answer for it, cowards, or stand aside.

And by the way, screw everyone on social media bitching people out for celebrating because “all” we did was take back a few statehouse seats, a couple governorships. Celebrate this to the rooftops, sing it to the heavens, because you opposed the great on behalf of the powerless and every inch you win in that fight, you deserve to dance on. I’ll never tell you the work is done but you can dance tonight.

A.

My Hill

The plane touched down at O’Hare early Sunday morning, jolting me awake. I looked around to see other passengers in varying states of awareness.

I flipped my phone off airplane mode and noticed I had no messages.

I checked my email quickly. Same thing.

Everything was quiet.

What a difference two years makes.

The last time I touched down on the first leg of a trip back from a college media convention in this metropolis, my life had gone from bad to worse. I had just traded some labor for airfare and a room so I could head to Austin, Texas in hopes of finding salvation for the newspaper I advised. We had been told a week earlier that we were too far in debt for our student government to tolerate, never mind they had no say over our finances or budget. As a result of the SGA’s prodding, an administrator told us that if we didn’t have $5,000 paid off of that debt in less than four months, we might be forced to close.

I found myself at this convention, begging funds from former students and offering services to fellow advisers for donations to the cause.

In one such circumstance, I had been given a tin can with a slot on the top with a simple message: Go beg for life.

So I did. And at that point, I thought it could never get worse.

When I flipped that phone on two years ago, alone and cold on a red-eye flight into the Windy City, the text messages came pouring in like a dam had broken free.

“Check your email.”

“Check in when you get this.”

“OH MY GOD! DID YOU SEE YOUR EMAIL?”

“Can they DO THIS?”

“Where ARE you? Call when you get this…”

On and on it went. I had no idea what was going on, but I checked my email. There it was in black and white: The student government was putting forth a resolution asking me to resign and if I failed to do so, a request that the chancellor fire me.

I called a couple of the kids and talked them off of their various ledges.

It’ll be fine, I told them. Everything is just fine.

Did I believe that? Not for a fucking second, but what could I do? I’m on a plane in Chicago on a Sunday, taxiing to the gate for a two-hour layover before heading to Milwaukee. It really did seem like the beginning of the end for me.

I detailed most of the tumult that followed in this post, aptly titled, “Heroes Often Fail.”

What followed that post was a set of truly dark days, the kind that lead you to question what exactly it is that you’re doing here or why you’re bothering at all.

The one thing that kept me going was what A and I used to say to each other quite often when sussing out some level of student-media bullshit:

“Is this the hill you are willing to die on?”

The odd thing was that we often used that phrase as a deterrent to action. It was a way of saying, “Look, we got bigger fish to fry here, so don’t go all great guns after this stupid thing.”

The answer was always, “No, it’s not. Now, where are we on this other thing…”

As I watched my own staff have to write what should have been my career’s obituary, I could hear her asking me that question. Not “Is this the hill you WANT to die on?” but rather “Is this the hill you’re WILLING to die on?” The distinction being simple but profound: I wanted to live but I would give everything I had if it meant we could win this one and keep this paper alive.

So I stuck with it. I hung in there. I pushed back.

We got through a meeting with what seemed like every administrator in the entire university and we gained ground.

A day later, I got a call from my contact in the area of fundraising. I figured she wanted to see what our next move would be to raise money to help defray the debt. It turned out, an anonymous donor had turned up with a matching-funds challenge grant.

If we were successful in pulling in the entire match, the debt would be gone and we’d have cash to spare.

It was the first miracle in a string of miracle, each one slightly more outlandish than the previous one. We chipped away at the debt a buck at a time, with me pulling in every favor I ever earned, calling in every marker I ever collected and begging every alumnus I ever met.

We rebuilt the staff, refocused our efforts and restructured our funding, in large part thanks to a chancellor who understood that you don’t kill off something valuable just because some little dipshits have a need to feel important.

Two years later, I could afford to take eight kids with me for the trip of a lifetime: A media convention where they earned national awards and learned from incredible pros and advisers. A trip they will never forget as long as they live.

The reason?

One alumnus made a donation to our cause, but asked that if we had money left over after the debt was repaid that we use “his” portion of it to give the students an educational opportunity that linked travel and passion. If the looks on their faces throughout the convention were any indication, we did exactly that.

We have money in the bank and fund-raised cash to boot, all as we expand the paper and improve education. The kids this year, even the most senior among them, only vaguely recall what happened back then. It’s like a bad memory mixed with a foggy dream.

Still, those who went through it remember. I posted a photo of myself to Facebook from the convention and one of those kids who went through hell with me responded:

“No tin can for donations this time?”

No, but I still have that can. It sits on a shelf in my office and I look at it every day.

It’s a reminder of what can happen when you finally find your hill.