Category Archives: Big Damn Heroes

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.

The Olds Are Alright, Too

I’m ’bout done hearing how exhausted we all are because if this guy can keep fighting so can everybody else: 

On platforms that didn’t exist during his first 80 years, Smith preaches about preserving democracy and the welfare state, creating a just society and living a life of compassion, all from an enthusiastically leftist perspective. And he rails against Donald Trump, Brexit, inequality, corporate greed and whatever else he finds loathsome, his pointed words delivered with an engaging, guy-on-the-next-barstool folksiness.

In his tenth decade, Smith is trying to change the world, with the urgency of someone who understands the time constraints.

“As we get into our late years, surely we should all be endeavouring to give something back to the country, to make it a better place when we leave,” he says. “Life is not permanent, although a lot of people look at me and say, you’re coming damn close to it.”

[snip]

“People always express surprise about these things,” he says. “But, really, I joined the Royal Air Force in 1941 and I went in as a wireless operator. I had to learn about transmitters and receivers and generators and all sorts of things that I’d never heard of in my whole life but we learnt them; including Morse Code which was our only means of transferring information. So we weren’t dumb buggers.”

Anybody want to tell this guy they’re tired?

A.

When people are devastated, we shouldn’t care if Ted Cruz was an asshole

As the stories of neighbors helping neighbors begin to recede like Harvey’s floodwaters, the rush of stories on which politician is being an asshole is heading full steam toward us. Most of the stories are about the downside of humanity, in which people find ways to remind us that basic, common human decency isn’t common or basic for some people.

While some reporters are trying to help people figure out where damage is or where their loved ones are, you have this asshole tweeting a fake shark photo and this ABC reporter ratting out “looters” to the cops and bragging about it on social media.

While some companies are pitching in with water and supplies, you have insurance agencies trying to figure out what “isn’t covered” and people perpetuating scams on hurricane victims and those hoping to help them.

And while you have some politicians who are trying to figure out how to get these people help, you have people like these assholes, who voted against packages that helped victims of Superstorm Sandy, already trying to “reframe” their votes as to not look hypocritical.

Looking for the basic humanity and honest decency in most politicians is like digging through a pile of dog shit to find a diamond earring you think the dog swallowed: That’s a lot of shit to go through for something that might not be there and even if it is, it’s probably tainted in some way. In that regard, calling out Ted Cruz and his Texas brethren of Sandy “no votes” is a pointless task.

Even more, I wouldn’t care if Texas had elected three demons and the anti-Christ to congress at this point: People are suffering and we should help them. It’s the right thing to do. Why don’t more people who decide where money goes think like this? Is it that they are so myopic about politics that they can only see things in a “win/lose” context that strengthens or weakens an affiliation to a nebulous ideology?

When I pulled over to the side of the road to help a guy with a flat tire, I didn’t ask, “Now wait a minute… Did you vote for Scott Walker? If so, I’m punching a hole in another tire and setting your trunk on fire.” No. He needed help. That’s what he got from me, as best as I could.

I know some of the kids in my classes voted for people who fucked me out of raises and benefits and undercut my mother’s union. Would the world be better off if I refused to help those kids improve their writing or said they couldn’t come to office hours for career guidance? No. The kid needs help, the kid gets help. It’s how things work.

One of the many things I like about this blog is that we don’t agree about everything or all the time. We can be different, but we recognize basic humanity. When A put out the Batsignal for Houston, we chipped in what we could.

Even more, I have no idea who will get that money, nor do I care. Will it help a racist old lady who refers to our 44th president as “that colored boy?” Will it provide an “unearned benefit” to a guy who flew a Stars and Bars flag over his house and kept all his money in Jack Daniel’s Elvis decanters? Will it “give away” something to people who showed up at rallies for Cruz or Trump and chanted, “Build that Wall!” and “Lock her UP!”

I have no goddamned idea and neither do you. All we know is that somebody is getting a warm meal, a change of underwear, a dry blanket, a safe bed and a dozen other things they wouldn’t have otherwise. That’s important.

When people are hurting, they last thing they need is a lecture about how they should have thought about that shit when they voted for Ted Cruz. They don’t need to hear shit about how, “If you Texans are so tough, what do you need our help for?” They don’t need snide shit about attaching a lawnmower engine to their belt buckle and just boating out of there on that. They need to hear, “Hi, we’re here to help.”

And maybe after all this, the people who got that help will be better able to help the next group of people who desperately need it.

“I had to eat.”

Three elderly men sat at an 8-foot plastic table outside the ballroom of the Red Carpet bowling center in Milwaukee. Among them, they possessed five NFL championships, three NBA titles, one World Series ring and the most famous home run ever hit in the annals of baseball.

It was the summer of 1987, still the height of the nation’s sports card craze. The card show was packed with people just inside the door behind this makeshift shrine to sports immortality. As was the case during that era, older athletes who lived near these shows would gladly pocket a few hundred bucks from the promoters to show up, sign autographs and tell stories.

The bald, gregarious man on the left was once the most feared man to ever remove his teeth and don a helmet. Ray Nitschke anchored the Lombardi defenses of the 1960s, prowling about his linebacker position like an animal waiting for the opportunity to ravenously pounce upon a fearful prey.

The dour-faced man on the right kept to himself, writing his name upon photos of himself in penmanship that bordered on artistic calligraphy. His claim to fame as a Milwaukee Brave was that he broke his ankle early in the 1954 season, forcing the team to call up a minor-league prospect by the name of Hank Aaron. Three years earlier, on Oct. 3 in the Polo Grounds, Bobby Thomson hit “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World” to earn the New York Giants the pennant. At the time he signed a personalized picture for me, I knew none of that and only years later, after I had sanctified that homer, did I realize I had met Thomson. It was a sad disappointment in retrospect, in which the man had already undermined the legend.

The round-faced fellow in the middle was Gene Conley, a pitcher for the 1957 World Series championship team, who died this week at the age of 86.

Nitschke took off his Super Bowl ring and let me try it on. The golden circle heavily dangled from my 12-year-old finger, looking something like an expensive game of ring toss. Thomson wouldn’t say a word to anyone and refused to interact with the other men. My father tried to engage him and was cut down with a glare for his trouble.

Yet it was Conley, a man I never knew about before that day, who made the biggest impression on me.

As “Big Gene” signed a photo for me and a card for Dad, my father informed me that this gentle giant had not only won a World Series title, but also had three NBA championships to boot. It was around this time that Bo Jackson was playing for the Royals and considering a “hobby” as a running back for the Los Angeles Raiders.

“I don’t know why they’re giving Bo Jackson such a hard time for playing two sports,” Dad began. “This man played for the Braves AND the Celtics!”

Conley stopped in mid-signature. A blip in his penmanship remains a reminder in Sharpie of the moment I’ll never forget.

“Hey, wait a minute!” Conley said in a contradictory tone, punctuated with a laugh. “Don’t be comparing me to Bo Jackson! I had to EAT!”

The 6-foot-8 Conley earned $10,000 as a rookie in 1954, with $20,000 being the most he’d ever earn in as a pitcher. Like most players of his era, the off season meant it was time to find a Joe Job to hold the fort until the next season came in.

Yogi Berra sold hardware and worked as a restaurant greeter.

Phil Rizzuto sold suits at a store in Newark, New Jersey.

Jim Bunning and Rogers Hornsby were just two of hundreds who sold insurance.

Willie Mays and Willie McCovey sold vehicles of all kinds.

Jackie Robinson had a traveling vaudeville routine.

Conley’s height and basketball experience at Washington State College made him appealing to Red Auerbach and the Boston Celtics.

He earned about $4,500 a season playing basketball, a much better deal than having to hawk clothes or cars.

Baseball players weren’t alone in this need for off-season employment. The minimum wage for an NFL player in 1977 was $14,500, or about $60,000 in today’s dollars. As Herm Edwards said in the documentary “Broke,” players he coached in the 1990s and 2000s would ask him what he and his teammates did in the off season as a player.

“Guys WORKED!” he shouted.

Conley lived long enough to see men in his profession have enough money to never need an off-season insurance gig or even a deal selling autographs at a card show. Less than a week before Conley passed, Steph Curry signed a five-year, $201-million contract, the richest ever for an athlete. Seventeen years earlier, Alex Rodriguez became the first “quarter-billion-dollar man,” signing a 10-year, $252-million deal with the Texas Rangers.

Even in his comedic rebuke of my father, I never sensed that Conley begrudged the players of today for their fortunate timing of birth. I also never got the sense that he wished he could have spent his off seasons lounging around at one of his half-dozen McMansions. In 1960, the Phillies offered Conley $20,000 to NOT play for the Celtics. Conley refused and was shipped to the Red Sox in midseason.

He liked both games and enjoyed playing them. He also knew his deteriorating rotator cuff made it more likely that he could stick with basketball longer than baseball.

Plus, a man has to eat…

A Golden Anniversary Explained

Fifty years ago tomorrow, two scared 20-somethings gathered with family and friends in a cathedral-esque church on the south side of Milwaukee to pledge their lives to one another. Her father thought the man wasn’t good enough for his daughter. His father thought the woman was far too strident and interested in a career to be a good wife.

Nobody, least of all these two kids, knew if they’d make it, if they’d be OK.

Still, there they were in front of a three story slab of pink and white marble with a giant crucifix, saying they would live together in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, until death shall they part. When they emerged onto a set of concrete stairs that led to East Plankinton Avenue and slipped into a borrowed 1965 Plymouth Roadrunner, they were on the way to the rest of their lives.

Husband and wife.

Mr. and Mrs.

A married couple.

The fact that my mom and dad remain married and relatively happy often amazes me, given that almost everyone I knew as a kid had divorced or miserable parental units. When they fought or yelled, I never once thought, “Wow, this is the end.” Things would calm down, peace with honor would emerge and life would move on.

When I considered marriage, I asked them how they made it work. “What keeps you together, even when things are bad or when you are really pissed?” I would ask. Neither of them could really put a finger on it, so I kind of “observed a lot by watching,” to quote the late Yogi Berra.

Here’s what I figure makes them tick:

See the problem, fix the problem: My parents had a very “work the problem” approach to life when it came to the day-in, day-out stuff that confronts married people. When they realized they were often broke early in their marriage, the looked at where the money went. Granted, there wasn’t a lot to go around, but they were able to find a couple things that ate into their budget. On Sundays, they’d get the newspaper, look through the circulars and go to the store to buy “a bargain.” Turned out, they tended to not need the stuff they bought and it cut into other things they did need, so they stopped going to the store. The same thing was true for groceries, linens and other things. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it just because you think you should.

 

Commit to it: Promises and commitments ran deep in our household. Dad loves to tell the story about how he and Mom would make envelopes for all the monthly expenses and put their pay into those envelopes. Whatever was left over was for fun, and usually that wasn’t much. Still, they found a process that worked for keeping the lights on and the rent paid, so they committed to it.

They also stuck to the commitments regardless of if they were positive or negative. When they said, “We’re doing X,” I knew we were doing it. That’s how I ended up getting to see my first Brewers game, even though it was on a Friday night, in the heat of a pennant race and on bat day. It was the worst game to attend for traffic, crowds and generally everything else my dad hated. Still, he committed to it. Same was true with punishments. When I got caught for speeding, he and Mom agreed I lost car privileges for a month. That meant he had to drive me to and from after-school commitments and I had to take the bus to school, which cut into other plans. It sucked as much for them as it did for me (or at least sort of), but they stuck with it because they said so.

 

Have a united front: Agreement wasn’t always the first word that came to mind when it came to my parents. They argue about half of everything, from what we should do for dinner to who was the lady who ran the corner store on Packard Avenue in the 1950s. However, when they had to make a decision about something important, they never threw one another under the bus. This made life difficult for me as a child, since you couldn’t play Mom off of Dad. Whenever I screwed up badly enough that life and limb became a potential punishment, they would send me to my room and talk things over. When they figured out what they were going to do to me, they both came and told me. Together. At the same time. No bullshit.

 

No grudges: Even with the arguments, I never saw them hold a grudge. Whatever arguments happened before bed were settled before the kiss goodnight. In the morning, life moved on. I imagine that over 50 years of marriage, there could be plenty of the “Y’know in 1978, that thing you did REALLY pissed me off” conversations that could emerge on any given day. They never did. It was, “OK, what’s next?”

 

Laugh: Humor, even some truly crude stuff, always flowed through the house. If Dad wasn’t telling a bad joke, he was telling a weird story. Mom always found humor in the dumb things her students did that day and loved to share with the family. I spent my allowance on joke books, trying to find the one joke that neither of them had heard before but would still make them laugh.

In some of our darkest hours, humor became the thing that kept us going. I remember when Dad’s mom died, something that hit us out of the blue. We never saw it coming. It was the first time I ever saw my father really cry. I wondered if he would ever snap back from this or if his whole sense of being would merely crumble away. The funeral home was a hatchet-job of a place that charged him in advance for everything, going so far as to interrupt the visitation to tell my dad his credit card wasn’t going through. They charged him time and a half for everything done on Saturday as well. We drove in silence from the funeral home to the cemetery, passing by the very spot along the road where my grandmother would be interred. Dad looked over past me, out my window and took a deep breath. I was waiting for him to come up with some deep, dark sense of mortality and love. Instead, he muttered, “They better’ve dug that fucking hole already if they’re charging me time and a half for it.”

After that, I knew he’d be OK.

Saturday marks 50 years of marriage for two of the most incredible people I know. They always knew to talk and to listen to one another, even if they didn’t fully understand or agree. However, when it came to a vow renewal, they both saw this as something to behold.

Thus, they will once again be in that church, standing in front of that giant slab of marble, pledging their love to one another. They will be surrounded by the family and friends who remain, telling each other and anyone who will listen that they will stay together, through good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, until death do they part.

One thing that is different now, however, is they already know they’re going to be just fine.