Category Archives: Current Affairs

On Judging The Dead

Maybe it’s the Catholic in me. Maybe it’s being raised in a world perpetually on the brink of nuclear warfare, as most of my generation were, or being raised by people who were raised by people who grew up during the Depression, when everything you have can be gone in an instant.

Maybe it’s the small-d depression, taking all the ugliness of the world and swallowing it whole and letting it sit in my stomach like a marble.

Maybe it’s all of those things together, but when I die I fully expect to be judged by the worst things I’ve done, not the best.

This isn’t a contest. You don’t tally everything up and decide that the book I edited for the WWII veteran and the bread I baked for the refugees next door make up for the friend I hurt by calling them out in public, or the times I yelled at my kid, or the way I detonated a relationship on purpose. I can give all the change in my pockets to the homeless. It doesn’t somehow cancel out the things I said to my parents when we were fighting.

I have fucked up aspects of my life flatter than hammered shit and I don’t expect forgiveness for any of it. I don’t expect the good things to balance the bad things out. I’m not okay with anything I did to anyone — forgiving yourself gets used too often as a way to avoid just not sucking, far as I’m concerned — but I am completely, entirely, 100 percent okay with being judged by it.

We do this thing where we don’t want people to be complicated. We all do it, personally, in our own lives, making our great-uncle out to be some kind of saint when we have no idea how he treats his wife behind closed doors, making it impossible to mourn honestly the entirety of someone’s life once they’re gone. What if your asshole relative was a war hero and there are statues in his honor? Where do you put your grief then, when people are throwing him a parade?

Those complications are confounded a thousand times when it’s a national leader we’re mourning. Those people should be judged by the trail of the dead they left in their wake. Obama should be judged by the children of Yemen and Pakistan. It’s not rude or anything to say that the smoking road to Baghdad is George H.W. Bush’s legacy, as are the dead of AIDS who couldn’t wait for the GOP to pivot to basic humanity and curing diseases.

Bringing those things up inevitably brings the defense of “oh yeah, would you like to be judged by the worst things you did?” So let’s answer that: yeah. I’d be okay with that. It seems fair to say she rescued two cats but Christ, she was a dick to people a lot of the time. Any idiot can have a high point.

How low was your low, though? That’s the question should be asked, you show up at the gates of Heaven or Hell.

A.

Today on Tommy T’s Obsession with the Freeperati – “How now, down DOW?” edition

Quickie today (yeah – I know I said that LAST week) as Freepers declare “I’ll tumble for ya”.

Dow tumbles 650 points to new low on day, bringing 2-day losses to more than 1,400 points
CNBC ^ | 10/11/2018 | Fred Imbert

Posted on 10/11/2018, 1:57:57 PM by BradtotheBone

Stocks fell in volatile trading Thursday, a day after the major indexes suffered steep losses sparked by higher rates and a sell-off in tech shares.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average traded 650 points lower, bringing its two-day losses to more than 1,400 points. The S&P 500 dropped 2.1 percent and was on pace for a six-day losing streak. The broad index also broke below its 200-day moving average for the first time since May. The Nasdaq Composite pulled back 1.5 percent and entered correction territory.

The major indexes fell after some of the major tech names failed to recover from steep losses in the previous session. Netflix fell more than 1.5 percent after briefly trading higher. Apple also declined 0.8 percent, erasing earlier gains.

Tech shares fell more than 4.5 percent on Wednesday, marking their worst day since 2011. The sell-off led to the Dow sinking more than 800 points and the S&P 500 dropping more than 3 percent. It was also the 28th time since 2011 the S&P 500 posted a more than 2 percent decline, according to data from Birinyi Associates.

“It’s a momentum correction, not a portfolio correction,” said Joe Terranova, chief market strategist at Virtus Investment Partners. “While we have a bias to believe 2008 could happen again, I don’t think this is the case.”

“Less is more in this environment,” Terranova added. “I think you need to be an observer of the guidance you get in earnings.”

Stocks tried to rebound earlier in the day after the release of weaker-than-expected inflation data. The U.S. government said the consumer price index rose 0.1 percent in September, well below the expected gain of 0.2 percent.

**********************

Not Good!!!
1 posted on 10/11/2018, 1:57:57 PM by BradtotheBone
Thanks for that cutting-edge analysis.
So – who’s to blame??
To: BradtotheBone

Soros.

2 posted on 10/11/2018, 1:59:04 PM by cowboyusa (America Cowboy UP!)

I don’t know why I bother.
To: BradtotheBone

The Dow is getting crushed.

3 posted on 10/11/2018, 1:59:23 PM by tatown

SO much winning!!

To: BradtotheBone

Billionaire RATs trying to crash it before the mid-terms.

Yep – because nothing says “billionaire” like losing 1400 points on your investments.

IF only evidence of it could be found.

4 posted on 10/11/2018, 2:00:25 PM by lgjhn23 (It’s easy to be liberal when you’re dumber than a box of rocks.)

AliensItWas
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Keep Going

The war’s not over. It’s barely begun:

“Now wouldn’t it be splendid for us to be free & equal citizens, with the power of the ballot to back our hearts, heads & hands,” Anthony wrote, envisioning a time when women could also fight for “the poor, the insane, the criminal,” armed not just with moral suasion but “with power too.”

“I can hardly wait,” she continued. “The good fates though are working together to bring us into this freedom.”

The older I get, the shorter a hundred years sounds. Susan B. Anthony was jailed and threatened. Alice Paul went on a hunger strike behind bars, and today white women vote for men who hate women, because then, they think, those men won’t hate them. She made prison guards force-feed her. Emily Davison threw herself beneath the King’s horse. Businessmen beat Clara Lemlich in the streets. Dred Scott sued for his freedom and was told, you are not a person, you have no standing, you do not stand here.

Friday night, driving home, as police warned on the radio about riots and robberies that never happened, I saw a young man teaching a child to ride a bike in the parking lot beside a shabby convenience store. That store gets held up, once a month or so. The young man pushed the child and shouted with joy when, wobbling, he righted himself and rode, rode, rode.

I have great good fortune, just at the moment. Work I love, friends I love, abundance in many things. Two soft cats, a warm snug house, new shoes for the winter. Soup and bread and books and a circle of arms around me: husband, daughter. I completed a fundraising project that may prove significant for decades. This year, after a long hiatus, I started writing for publication again.

I have great good fortune, just at the moment and I am incandescently angry, all the time. It feels like whiplash, the contrast between these moments of victory and warmth, and the reality that faces many, a reality I’ve been taking in since starting work as a journalist 20 years ago, when our guiding principle was the instruction never to close our eyes to suffering and injustice.

Oh, but you get bummed out? TOUGH SHIT. Land hard, roll left, and get back up.

I go into Kick’s room at night, after a late work event or watching The Handmaid’s Tale or reading another news story about a little kid in a cage, a little kid in the morgue. I go into Kick’s room and lay down next to her sleeping small body. I do not touch her. I listen to her move around in her warm, safe bed. I sweep her hair off the back of her neck and I listen to her breathe.

Mothers rocked their children, lay down beside them, watched their chests move in and out. Just like this, in times like these, knowing everything they have can be taken away from them. How do you hold onto anything, knowing everything that happens? How do you remember the war when the war isn’t over? How do you survive the next one, when the war isn’t over?

We’re fast coming on to the dark, when we’ll be draping our homes in strings of stars and inviting strangers to come inside by the fire. How do we do that, when there aren’t enough fires, or enough rooms, or enough stars?

On Friday it felt like the world holding its breath: Here in Chicago, to see if a white cop who murdered a black teenager would be convicted, and he was. In DC, to see if the words of women would be enough to keep a rapist from a throne, and they weren’t. This time of year always feels like something to push through, and every time we lose a few people. I have great good fortune just at the moment and I am watching it from the outside, with unearned dread.

Like maybe it won’t be enough this time. Light the candles anyway. An immigrant family comes over for Halloween and their children laugh with mine, a cousin’s wedding brings together family too infrequently all in the same place, and last night I discovered that my daughter loves it when I talk in a silly voice like a robot, read her stories clipped and stilted to make her laugh. Our finest hours are always at someone else’s expense and it’s not a bummer to say that, it’s not a slur. Accounting isn’t blaming. Recognition isn’t erasure.

Susan, writing to her friends up there, didn’t dream of the ability to lay down her burdens and rest. She didn’t dream of a time without conflict, a far-off day of comity and comfort. She dreamed of a time when she and her sisters could do the work they wanted to do, without the fetters of prejudice. They wanted to fight, and were told they couldn’t, and every single day they screamed in frustration that they deserved to be able to. It was the worst feeling in the world.

I say this all the time, and most of the time I believe it, guys: The work’s never done. Earlier this year I rejoined a cause I’d left out of exhaustion and frustration and put my hands to it in a way I’d never done before, no holding back, no hesitation over looking ridiculous. And I felt so much better than I had in the two years since I’d left it, so much better working my fingers into callouses and driving hours by myself at night to get things done. Even the horrible hard parts felt better than the rest and relaxation.

That’s what we’re longing for right now, not a break from the world, but to find a handhold in it, a wheel to which we can lay our shoulders. These four weeks, these few days, under shrinking daylight, are us all holding our breath. Not waiting, not still, but burning through to something that feels like the humming of a rail miles before the train arrives, a current beneath the sandy floor, coming, coming, coming.

It’s always dark. There’s never enough room. Shove over a little, this time, will you? See if we can’t make some more.

A.

Not Everything Sucks: Cate Blanchett Edition

I’ve been madly in love with her since Veronica Guerin (if you’re thinking a lot about press freedom these days, go watch that NOW), but between this and Ocean’s 8 it’s become very special recently: 

Like you, I have heard the gut-wrenching accounts. Stories of grave torture, of women brutally violated, people who have had their loved ones killed before their eyes. Children who have seen their grandparents locked in houses that were set alight.

I am a mother, and I saw my children in the eyes of every single refugee child I met. I saw myself in every parent. How can any mother endure seeing her child thrown into a fire?

Their experiences will never leave me.

People will occasionally ask on Twitter for a list of celebrities who aren’t garbage and she’s always on mine.

A.

Self taught, self made, bet, self styled

This, pretty much:

I always feel like at least part of it’s projection, like if you did it all yourself then nobody can take it from you. If you did all this yourself, and you weren’t beholden to any system you didn’t control, then not only do you get to give yourself credit but you get out of fear-jail free. It’s all you, and you know what you can handle, right?

And you want your work to be enough. If you’ve been busting your ass, since high school or before, you want that to have been enough to make you because it was so fucking hard. Even people who have it relatively easy — born white and middle class in America — can still work their comfortable honky asses off and get to middle age thinking goddamn, I hustled this shit hard. Thinking of the ways you benefitted from things — public libraries, good schools, books in your house, parents with the leisure time to take you to plays and museums — seems to diminish that.

It doesn’t have to, though. If you look at the way you were made, the parts you did yourself and the parts other people helped you do, as a model for what you have to give others instead of a list of what others should be denied, it multiplies your work instead of dividing it: Yes, I started on second base, but I made it home, and you’re gonna make it home, too, no matter where you started from.

A.

Not Everything Sucks: The Thai Cave Rescues

One thing y’all might not know about me is that I’m fascinated with cave rescues. It may have something to do with an overactive imagination or reading Robert Penn Warren’s novel The Cave or repeated viewings of Billy Wilder’s Ace In The Hole. Whatever the reason, I find them fascinating as well as creepy since I’m mildly claustrophobic.

The tale of the twelve trapped Thai boys has been riveting. I’ve been reading as much coverage as I can lay my eyes on. The Guardian has been all over the story with ace Asia reporter Michael Safi on the scene.

The news as of this writing is good: a total of 8 boys have been rescued by the skilled and courageous dive team. And they’re going back in to finish the mission.

I don’t know about you but I really needed this rare good news. This week is gonna be another downer with the Supreme Court pageant tonight and Trumpy’s trip to Europe to browbeat and bully our allies and suck up to our adversary.

Back to Michael Safi in Mae Sai. My favorite detail in this morning’s story was this:

The boys who were rescued on Sunday were strong and safe but needed to undergo detailed medical checks, the interior minister, Anupong Paojinda, had said earlier on Monday.

“This morning they complained that they were hungry and they asked for khao pad krapow [basil chicken with rice].”

Who among us doesn’t like comfort food? Hell, who among us doesn’t like Thai food?

For instant updates, follow Michael Safi on twitter.

Repeat after me: Everything doesn’t suck.

Where They Cross, The Place is Holy

Civility, restaurants, and what we expect in society: 

“You’ve been paying about 50 bucks a night to stay in a D.C. condo that’s connected to an energy lobbying firm, while approving their dirty sands pipeline,” Mink continues, reading from notes. “We deserve to have somebody at the EPA who actually does protect our environment, somebody who believes in climate change and takes it seriously, for the benefit of all of us, including our children.”

Mink concluded: “So, I would urge you to resign before your scandals push you out.”

The video does not show Pruitt getting up and leaving the restaurant, but according to Mink, Pruitt and his two security guards left the restaurant before she returned to her seat.

At a certain level, they expect it to not matter to other people.

Kristjen Nielsen expects it to not matter that she’s advocating putting children in cages.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders expects it to not matter that she stands up at a podium every day and lies to the American people in service to Donald Trump.

Scott Pruitt expects it not to matter that he’s wasting money and rescinding regulations and helping corporations pollute the water and the air.

Mitch McConnell expects it not to matter that he’s abdicated all Congressional oversight and stole a Supreme Court seat.

And your MAGA-troid relatives expect it to not matter to you that the red hat they’re wearing and the Confederate flag they’re defending and the policies they’re voting for expose how much contempt they have for you.

They expect it to not matter enough to upset their dinner plans. Their coffee breaks. Their working weeks and Sunday rests. They expect you to subjugate your humanity to their — not even comfort, to their convenience. They’re shocked when you don’t. When you won’t. When who you are and how you live matters more than the poor sick human instinct to avoid conflict.

They accused everyone who didn’t want any of this of living in a bubble, as if they weren’t in one themselves, these people who expect to break their daily bread undisturbed by disagreement. As if that’s how anything works.

It’s the most fundamental thing about them, the entire MAGA tribe, even more so than the racism: the avoidance of the new, the different, the advancing of time and changing of the world. Someone on Twitter the other day made this joke:

Which is funny, but is also about time stopping.

These are people — within the administration, and supporting it — for whom time has in a real way stopped in the late 1980s. It’s why they’re obsessed with “black on black” crime and imagine cities as hellholes and rant about people needing to pull up their pants. It’s why the culture war is the only war they care about: They don’t want to hear any new music. They don’t want to learn the names of any new actresses. They’re on Facebook bitching about hip-hop music coming from cars at night.

On some level they know the world’s going on without them and instead of engaging with it, instead of learning who that person is who all the kids are talking about, instead of just shutting the everloving fuck UP about what’s new that they hate, they expect us to build a wall around them.

Around “our” country.

Around our nice restaurants and our Sunday shows and our status quo editorials that never use naughty words. They can’t imagine anything big enough, anything that MATTERS enough, to shove them out of their comfort zone, so they get rage-roided when they see that something’s pushed us out.

They expect it not to matter that people are dying, that irreplaceable natural resources are being destroyed, that we fear for our families and our kids, that we can’t live our lives without their interference, and they expect their preferences to be as respected as our lives.

They call it uncivil when they can’t order a cheese plate in peace, when they can’t remain walled up in their own minds at a time when they felt powerful, as if that’s how anything on earth has ever stayed.

A.

Tenure: Thanks for fucking it up for everybody else

I’ve written before here about the fundamental misunderstanding most people have about tenure, including why it matters, how it works and what it’s supposed to provide. The simplest explanation is that tenure guarantees educators and scholars at institutions of higher education the right to fearlessly challenge convention within a field, seek scholarship in areas that might not jibe with social norms and conduct research in ways their expertise dictates is necessary and valuable.

It’s not meant to protect you when you act like a dick.

Unfortunately, the public seems to think that tenure does this, which is why they’re constantly looking for ways to eliminate it. The term “life time employment” is bandied about whenever tenure is discussed, as is the idea of ivory towers, elitism and generally haughty assholes.

And, again, when people like Randa Jarrar and John McAdams are in the news, it’s easy to see why the public thinks this way.

Jarrar, a creative-writing professor at Fresno State, took to Twitter in the wake of Barbara Bush’s death to call her “racist” and accuse her of having raised “a war criminal.” (I’m assuming she meant Millie, but I could be wrong.)

barbara

She then followed up with this gem:

In another tweet, the professor wrote: “I’m happy the witch is dead. can’t wait for the rest of her family to fall to their demise the way 1.5 million iraqis have. byyyeeeeeee.”

Of course, everything is subtle and nuanced on Twitter, so she completely solved the problem of a grieving nation in less than 280 characters…

Or, a large group of angry Twitter users started spreading this dung pile like Nutella all over the place, allowing CAPS LOCK NATION to come flailing at this educator.

And of course, because Twitter is a place of reason, logic and decency, Jarrar said she understood their point, she did not wish to continue the argument and she quietly let the issue die…

OR, she decided to fuck with each and every one of them over and over again, including posting what was supposedly her private phone number, but actually turned out to be a suicide prevention hotline in Arizona. This led to CAPS LOCK NATION flooding the center with threatening calls and preventing actual work from getting done, so that was helpful…

Still, of all the stupid shit that came out of this, the one that really had me considering a CAPS LOCK NATION MEMBERSHIP CARD was her mention that she had tenure and then this:

“I will never be fired.”

Fresno State says it’s “looking into the matter” which means that six people are now in a room going, “So… that happened…” Still, it’s better than what Marquette University is dealing with this week, thanks to an angry tenured professor on the other end of the political spectrum.

John McAdams is the poli sci prof and “everybody’s asshole grandpa in every bad comedy film” who used his blog as a cudgel against colleagues and foes alike. The university had a stack of paper on this guy dating back to the Clinton administration, all of which basically demonstrating he’s the exact reason people think tenure is a “Designated Asshole Pass.”

The U apparently found the straw that broke the camel’s back in McAdams’ post about a grad student teaching a class, in which a conservative student voiced an opinion the instructor found to be homophobic. McAdams posted about her by name and apparently encouraged people to “let your voice be heard,” which is a great code phrase for “break out the caps lock and call her a whore.” He apparently also was hostile to her, to the point where she dropped out of her program and finished elsewhere.

MU suspended McAdams and he’s now at the state’s Supreme Court, suing to get his job back. His argument is that tenure protects him and that his “free speech” on the blog should not allow for retaliation. (Point of order: Marquette is a private school, so this gets even weirder, as the court is clearly figuring out…)

So, to recap, two people who have diametrically opposing belief systems and who teach in two fields that just scream to John Q. Public “If my kid majors in this, he’s never getting a fucking job,” are espousing their rights to be assholes. They also are arguing their dickish behavior is protected by tenure so, “neener, neener, neeeeennnerrr…”

And academics wonder why people hate us…

Tenure is supposed to be a shield against the encroachment of external forces as we use our expertise to find out greater truths and research complex problems that may go against the societal grain. Running your mouth on social media and then hiding behind your “big friend” isn’t what anyone had in mind for this thing. Even more, all it does is really fuck over the rest of us who are actually doing those things and understand there is a concept called objective reality, something you bypassed long ago.

We’re like the people who are in a fraternity who have good GPAs, do good philanthropy work and then have to explain, “No, we’re not those idiots from Syracuse.” No matter what we say, people are still giving us the stink eye.

So, on behalf of the actual working scholars, academics and people who teach without managing to say shit like “y’know what’s wrong with the Coloreds these days,” I’d like to thank professors Jarrar and McAdams and others who think tenure is a lifetime “get out of fuckups free card,” thank you for fucking this up for the rest of us.

 

Today on Tommy T’s Obsession with the Freeperati – “If you’ve got it, flout it” edition

Sorry – all out of “Stormy” puns.  (Adrastos already used the best ones).

Soooooo…..

Stormy Daniels, Flouting NDA, Details Trump Affair To ‘60 Minutes’
Yahoo! ^ | 26/3/18 | Rebecca Shapiro

Posted on 3/25/2018, 6:28:18 PM by Eleutheria5

…..

Though the adult film star previously denied the affair, she’s now arguing that she should be released from the agreement and be free to speak publicly of her former relationship with Trump as the president did not sign the document.

Cohen has admitted to paying Daniels $130,000. Trump’s lawyers are threatening to make her pay $1 million every time she violates the nondisclosure agreement. The White House has denied any affair occurred.

“He knows I’m telling the truth,” Daniels said of the president.

The adult film star and her lawyer Michael Avenatti have claimed before she has photographic evidence of her affair with Trump.

Just so you know the latest MSM ploy.
So now The Darnold fucking a porn star while his wife sits home with their young son is a “ploy”. Good to know.
I don’t care if he did.
Yeah – we’ve kinda figured that out already.
I don’t care if he didn’t. But we have to keep abreast of all the latest sleazoid tactics, so we know what not to give a sh!t about.
1 posted on 3/25/2018, 6:28:18 PM by Eleutheria5
Oh – and now you can type “shit” on Free Republic as long as you replace the “i” with an exclamation point.  Also good to know.
To: Eleutheria5

 

This world has become a Jerry Springer show.

3 posted on3/25/2018, 6:30:12 PM by lilypad

Well, when you vote for a reality show schmuck, exactly what did you expect?
To: Eleutheria5 

Do I care if she slept with the President?

So you don’t care if she did?

Except he wasn’t President when it allegedly happened.

So you do care if he did, but you don’t because the election hadn’t happened yet?

If I want to watch porn, I’ll go to Pornhub.

Apparently, you’re not the only one.

.

TrumpStormyPorn

.

Stormy Daniels’ account is yesterday’s news. Yawn.

7 posted on 3/25/2018, 6:34:05 PM by goldstategop (In Memory Of A Dearly Beloved Friend Who Lives In My Heart Forever)

Nope.  I just looked, and it’s still today’s news.  Even on FOX.
To: Eleutheria5

 

This issue is not what did or did not happen
The whore sold her story for $130K and now wants to break the contract
If courts let this happen, NDA’s are useless

11 posted on 3/25/2018, 6:36:33 PM by silverleaf (A man who kneels for the national anthem doesn’t stand for much of anything)

“The NDA took my baby away…..”
To: Eleutheria5 

Her story is preposterous. She had to have sex because she made a bad decision going to his room alone.

She HAD to have sex? Or he HAD to ask her to?

The woman is a PORN star.

32 posted on 3/25/2018, 6:44:56 PM by Williams (Stop tolerating the intolerant.)

How dare you! She’s a porn-again christian.
To: Bogie 

I’m not buying a word she says.

So you don’t believe her?

She’s worried about her daughter?

So you DO believe her?

Maybe she should of(sic) thought of her daughter when she chose her career,

Her career wasn’t fucking The Darnold, as I recall. Nobody from the porn industry came up to her and threatened her family if she ever made another film.

She’s just not credible.

54 posted on 3/25/2018, 6:52:49 PM by surrey

Read more after the “read more”…
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Equivalents

During CPAC a lot of people asked where the Left’s CPAC was, and people offered up options, like maybe Netroots Nation had been at one point something like that, and lots of wingnuts think college campuses are basically CPAC every day.

And people are asking, now, what the equivalent of the NRA is for the Left, like what is the lobby that’s bought most of our congressmen and is presumed so powerful that nobody can cross it. Planned Parenthood? But there are anti-abortion Democrats as well as those who favor SOME abortion restriction, and so far as I know there are no anti-gun Republicans in any way at all so they’re only equivalent if you ignore the role of power.

And I know saying that makes me sound like some kind of insane sophomore Marxist poser but making college kids who don’t want to listen to that Milo creature out to be the equal opposite of a national news network is insane. Michael Moore and Susan Sarandon may say the occasional dumb thing but they’re not on TV coast-to-coast every single night. PETA doesn’t command the phones of every member of the U.S. Senate.

So who’s the opposite of the NRA? Children who don’t want to be shot?

I forget who said this first: Our society is so structured on binaries that we think cats are the opposite of dogs. We put two things next to each other and decide that because they’re both there, they must be in conflict.

“SJWs” on college campuses have killed exactly nobody and lack government sanction even if they had. In living memory the National Guard of the United States of America has marched onto campus and shot protesters dead.

Black Lives Matter is not the opposite of the police. Black people are not the opposite of the police. Gay people are not the opposite of guns.

It’s not just a question of if they’re actually saying things that oppose one another, with equal strength and coherence.

It’s whether what they say, what they do, what they stand for, will have equal consequences. Carry equal weight.

Murder the same number of people.

Until the body count of the Weathermen reaches that of Richard Nixon & Henry Kissinger I don’t want to hear about how the anti-war movement “went too far” and nobody who marched on Washington in 2003 blew off the limbs of any Iraqi schoolchildren. Black Lives Matter want cops to stop shooting black people without consequences.

There is no equivalent conference on the Left hosting the President of the United States while selling “rope. tree. NRA lobbyist” shirts on the side. And while I’m glad of that, for our immortal souls, it’s easy to lament the difference.

But only if you remember that the difference is the power of who shows up.

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.

Parsing the Medill #MeToo Debacle

Yes, even at the Jesus H. Christ School of Journalism Gods, people can be total dipshits:

Ten women released an open letter on Wednesday accusing Northwestern University Professor Alec Klein of persistent sexual harassment and bullying since he has been at the helm of the school’s “crown jewel” investigative journalism program.

Calling it the storied journalism school’s “#MeToo Moment,” the eight former students and two former staffers of the Medill Justice Project wrote that Klein’s “controlling, discriminatory, emotionally and verbally abusive behavior has to end.”

Klein, who has been at Northwestern for a decade and in charge of the Justice Project since 2011, has taken a leave of absence while the university sorts out all the allegations brought forth in the letter. This is likely to take some time, as a) digging into charges that range back five or more years isn’t easy and b) the women who signed the letter set up an email address for others to use if they want to add their stories regarding Klein and his behavior toward them.

Klein’s lawyer, Andrew T. Miltenberg, issued a statement that really does a nice job of making him look guilty as hell:

“While Mr. Klein denies the allegations that are being made, he intends to respect the confidentiality and privacy of Northwestern University and its internal process,” Miltenberg wrote. “It is unfortunate that these allegations are being made in a rush to judgment, denying Mr. Klein of due process. We are confident that upon review, the allegations will be determined to have been unfounded.”

If you are playing “clearly guilty bingo jargon,” you probably got the cover-all here: “denies allegations,” “respect the confidentiality” “respect the… process,” “rush to judgment,” “due process” and unfounded allegations.

Klein, for his part, issued a letter that blamed all of this on a “disgruntled employee” and then pivoted to how great his teaching evaluations have been.

The university conducted an extensive investigation, interviewing current and former employees, former students and others, and reviewing emails, expenses and other records. The complaint was determined to be completely unfounded. I was cleared of any wrongdoing and the claim was dismissed. The university determined the complainant was not credible and documented, through records and her own words, several falsehoods in her charges.

Klein, a journalist, needs to be a little more accurate here. According to media reports, the claim was not “completely unfounded,” but rather it was a situation where the U declined to roll the dice on pursuing it because it didn’t think it had enough to get the goods on him. It’s like that line from “And the Band Played On,” about what do we think, what do we know and what can we prove? In this case, you couldn’t prove the situation was rotten but it did have some serious stank on it. The school paid Olivia Pera off and as part of the payoff, the rule was that she couldn’t reapply for a job, not that she would want to:

 

“I went through absolute hell,” Pera said. “My family saw me go through such personality changes. My son saw me crying every day. That’s not something your kid should see. I have nothing but bad memories of Northwestern.”

The allegations regarding Klein are problematic, and there is nothing I would like more than to jump up and down on this guy. I have frequently come out against professors who treat students like sexual canapes, the arrogance of the elitism that comes with places like the Med-Dildo land that is that journalism school and people who are generally sleazy fucksticks. That said, there are really two sets of allegations here and they need to be separated before hanging this guy from a yardarm.

First set: He’s a sexually sleazy, lecherous fuck:

And let’s be clear: Some of us have also experienced sexual harassment and sexual misconduct.

  • He attempted to kiss a prospective employee, prior to hiring her. On the same occasion, he asked if she smoked marijuana and asked to smoke with her and ordered her several cocktails.

  • He asked a female employee to come to his hotel room “for drinks” on a business trip.

  • He gave unwanted neck massages while a female employee was trying to work.

  • He asked for a hug in return for giving an employee a requested day off.

  • He made other unwarranted physical contact, such as grabbing a student’s hand during conversations

  • He made sexually graphic remarks at work

  • He talked about his sex life and pressed for explicit details about others’

  • He frequently commented on employees’ physical attractiveness, appearances, attire and bodies

  • He told female students they would be good fits for broadcast journalism because they were “good-looking.

  • He asked if an employee was having another baby when she mentioned that her stomach hurt

  • He asked an employee if she was a stripper

  • He sent texts “intended for his wife” to a female

 

I’ll give him a pass on the text issue, as my Twitter followers have often been subjected to the, “So do we still need milk?” Tweets when I fucked up and hit the wrong button. Other than that… What the fuck? Your students are not a smorgasbord of pussy, so knock it off. And as for the asking the woman back to your hotel room thing, could you be any more sleazy while still being cliche? If you’re not with your wife and you suddenly have that pent up dick rage you seem to possess, there is nothing dumber than what you attempted to do. Here’s some advice: Go back to your room, find that little bottle next to the conditioner and go fly a solo mission.

Second set of allegations: He’s a fucking miserable human being:

Let’s start breaking these into “zones of danger.”

  • He repeatedly accused students of insubordination and reprimanded them to the point of tears over minor or perceived offenses, such as pushing back on an editorial misjudgment or offering an alternative method to pursue an investigation, or agreeing with a peer’s suggestion instead of what Alec Klein proposed. Several of us were summoned into his office individually, made to sit on a short cushion in a corner as he hurled accusatory vitriol about our mistakes and then refused to accept any apology. He sometimes retaliated by lowering students’ final term grades even though these disagreements had nothing to do with academics.

  • He retaliated against an employee by giving her a poor performance review after she defended herself against his verbal abuse.

  • He has yelled at employees and students and accused them of “ignoring him” for not immediately answering his phone calls or emails — at times, outside of working hours, or when one employee was on vacation, despite her returning his call within a few minutes.

  • He continued to show retaliatory behavior after discovering that students went to senior staff at Medill to voice their concerns about him.

  • He was openly dismissive in class to a student who struggled with English and made it apparent that he did not like her Middle Eastern accent. According to this student, he “killed” her confidence and made her feel like “nothing,” and he screamed at and hung up on her friend whom she had put on the phone with him for help.

The concept of retaliation, reprimand and dismissiveness are often in the eye of the beholder, especially in student-faculty relationships. Not saying these things didn’t happen, but on occasion students aren’t as amazing as they think they are and any attempt to demonstrate that is likely to lead to “melting snowflakes.” It also pains me to say this, but I have found that students at some of the best (as in most prestigious, highest ranked etc.) institutions are the ones that are the least able to deal with hearing that they don’t quite measure up. If I had a nickel for every time a kid blamed a bad grade on me or cried over not being told he or she was perfect in every way, I wouldn’t need a job any more. This group needs more cooking before it becomes soup.

Chunk two:

  • He has said: “You aren’t as smart as you think you are ”

  • He has said: “You will never be a journalist.”

  • He told one of us, after learning her mother is a professional writer: “Your mother is a writer, I’d expect you to be a better writer.”

  • He told one of us she needed an A- to earn his recommendation. He later promised a male student in the same class a recommendation in exchange for a B+.

  • He scolded employees for “taking too much credit” for their work and in one instance denied any credit until proof was provided.

When I hear back from students years later, I find out that a lot of shit came rolling out of my mouth that I can’t believe actually did. Part of it is working in a newsroom environment. Part of it is finding the need to buzz a kid with a fastball to back him or her off the plate a bit. Part of it was that I fucked up and learned that I needed to smooth off some of the rough edges. Part of it is that I’m just a dick sometimes, despite my best efforts.

I’ve said the first one, I’m sure. The second one was actually said to me when I was in high school, by a female teacher. She told me that not only would I never be a journalist, but that I’d never be ANYTHING and that I needed to go to a trade school if I wanted to be able to support a family. The third one is weird. The fourth one is something that I could easily see happening. I can’t remember what I ate for lunch yesterday as opposed to who I promised what to whom. The last one, again, some kids need to get backed off the plate or forced to prove stuff. Even students I’ve had dead to rights on plagiarism or other such things would deny it and threaten and bluster until I literally had to say, “You bring your proof and I’ll bring mine and we’ll see what the U has to say.” Then, they fucking crumbled. If these items alone were the basis for a complaint, I could see how the admin would wave this off and call it a day.

CHUNK 3:

  • He often required excessive and unnecessary closed-door meetings during which he pressed several of us to divulge deeply personal details about our lives, only to later use this information against us as a tool of manipulation.

  • He questioned whether an employee had actually attended her grandfather’s funeral after she had requested and taken the day off.

  • He has said about and to female students that they are “too emotional” and “immature.”

This is really problematic stuff in that a) it shows a gender bias and b) it infuses him into the private lives of his students and employees. The gender thing is already discussed above. The other one is something that is an issue because we have to draw lines as faculty and prevent ourselves from crossing them. I have always told newsroom students that I don’t care who you’re sleeping with or what you’re drinking or where you threw up last night. That’s none of my business. However, if I can’t get photos for the front page because my design editor was sleeping with the photo editor, but now they broke up and they’re not talking… OK, NOW I have to care.

I think logically that a lot of this stuff in chunks one and two wouldn’t be as horribly problematic if it weren’t for the first set of allegations (stuff on the harassment) and the last chunk of section two (getting involved in their business). Yes, this isn’t nice workplace behavior in those other two subsections, but I found out something once about stuff like this: There’s no law that prevents people from being an asshole at work.

I had a long discussion with HR and with a harassment specialty lawyer when I was getting knocked around by a particularly shitty colleague in ways like those listed in the two  (non-sex stuff) chunks. I was told, “Look, this isn’t good and he shouldn’t be able to do this, but there is no law against him being a dick.” I wasn’t pleased with that answer, but I got it.

However, there ARE laws about getting your business into my private business. There ARE laws about keeping your fucking hands to yourself and not treating everyone like they’re a fuckdoll with a personality, installed at work for your amusement.

And those laws need to be enforced everywhere, including this situation.

The law and justice in the life of a parent in the Larry Nassar case

On occasion, the law doesn’t do what we want it to do. It’s a byproduct of our attempt to remain civilized in the face of uncivilized behavior. It’s a byproduct of being “the more powerful force” or “the better person” when we are forced to confront something truly horrific. Without this level of decorum and rule of law, we would be no better than animals and tyrants, we are told.

And all of those things are right. All of those things are true. We can’t just attack people for what we perceive to be inappropriate or illegal actions that wrong us or others. The law is what protects the weakest and the most disenfranchised among us. Without the law, all of the positive strides made by people of color, women, LGBTQ individuals and immigrants would be cast aside and only the white, rich and powerful would thrive.

I get it. I really, really get it.

And yet, sometimes… sometimes, polite society isn’t going to get us where we want to go. Sometimes, there isn’t enough years on a sentence or enough words to reveal our anger. Sometimes, we just can’t with the whole idea of “being a better person” or “knowing there is a special place in Hell for people like this.”

As pitcher Gene Brabender once noted in “Ball Four” about certain situations, “Where I’m from we talk for a while and then we start hitting.”

To say I condone the actions of Randall Margraves today would be difficult. I’m supposed to be more calm and rational than the monster that is Larry Nassar. I’m supposed to be more dignified than the scourge of anger or the fury of rage. I’m supposed to be better than this.

Unfortunately, I’m not. I totally get it.

My kid was in gymnastics for a short while and every day, I thought about the issues that are often associated with that sport. It carries a huge risk of injury, body dysmorphia, social awkwardness, biological alteration and more. It carries with it a huge commitment, both financial and physical. It draws on some of the worst instincts of parents and competitors (trust me, I sat in that observation deck and had to put on headphones to avoid the horrible things parents said about other kids and their own). I let it ride until she was about 7 when we decided to make her choose gymnastics or karate and we kind of nudged her toward karate.

I never once thought, “Hey, if she gets hurt I wonder if there’s a child-molesting asshole there ready to pop a couple fingers into the inner recesses of her body for his own sick pleasure.”

I never once thought, “I bet if there is a guy like that, he’ll be protected, covered for and overall allowed to do it to the point where CNN needs a goddamned scoreboard to keep track of the accusers.”

I didn’t think these things and that makes me terrified and it makes me understand guys like Randall Margraves. He knew all the “real” risks associated with this sport his kids loved. He understood the issues that come with this and how hard it is for people like his daughters to compete at the highest level. He accepted them and trusted the sport, the team and the support staff.

To be hit with something like a Larry Nassar is to be blindsided in a way that makes you question everything you are as a parent. To have to sit there and listen to lawyers parse the “degree” to which something happened or how the number of potential victims is really “not believable” has got to be more than even the most decent human being can withstand.

In a vacuum or in theory, we should condemn someone like Randall Margraves for his actions because, well, it’s just not what we do.

In practice, I’m surprised nobody tried this sooner.

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.

There are always people like this.

Somehow, she thought this was OK.

Something, somewhere in her life convinced Harley Barber that it was OK to open her mouth and pour forth a river of vile, putrid, ignorant racism.

Somehow, she figured she’d get away with it. Maybe it was her “finsta” profile, a fake Instagram account that she erroneously thought would provide her with the anonymity to act with impunity. Maybe it was alcohol or the invincibility that comes with youth that told her nothing bad would happen because nobody knew her or nobody took this stuff seriously. Maybe it was a life of privilege or a “mob mentality” that gave her a sense of protection from whatever might be out there.

Maybe, she didn’t care who saw it or what they thought.

After all, as she pointed out multiple times, she’s in the South, where denigrating people based on the color of their skin seemed to be as normal as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. After all, she’s from NEW JERSEY, which gave us such greatness as Chris Christie’s bloated bravado and the anger-soaked rhetoric of “The Sopranos.”

After all, she has a fur vest from Nieman Marcus, bitches, so don’t fucking think of “snaking” her again.

Like many people, I watched the first video, and shook my head at the stupidity of her thoughtless words. What the fuck is wrong with her, I asked myself. I wonder how she’s going to try to get out of this.

Like many people, I watched the second video where she… whatever the infinity factor of “doubled down” is on her racist tirade, dropping n-bomb after n-bomb as a dare, shouting that she couldn’t give a fuck less if it was Martin Luther King Day. It was like watching a car wreck unfold in front of me on the highway: First a swerve, then a skid, then suddenly it was flipping over and over and over before catching fire and exploding in the ditch.

As she finished up and the video halted, my throat locked and my mouth filled with ashes. I thought about her parents. I thought of them because of the simple rule my father gave me when he sent me off to college: “Have fun, do whatever you want, but don’t bring shame on the family. It’s my name, too.” I lack the capacity to imagine what my father would have thought if a horrific personal failing on my part had made the family name the number one trending story on the Washington Post’s website for an entire day.

(Her estranged mother stepped forward today and said she completely agreed with the decision Alabama made to rid itself of her daughter. She said the child was not raised to be a racist, although with the few exceptions of those people in scary documentaries on the Klan, I can’t think of anyone who would state their child had been raised for such a purpose.)

What I do know is that various people will take various things from this incident. Perhaps those who view the Greek system as elitist and racist will have another exhibit in their case against it. Perhaps students will see that there is no fool-proof level of privacy in a digital age and once again, we have a fool who proved it. Perhaps social media users will understand that they are always playing with live ammunition and that consequences exist for every action taken in the public arena.

Unfortunately, few people will take away the one thing we all need to understand when it comes to our humanity and our ability to live and breathe as a nation. For every poverty-soaked redneck who sees their losses as the black man’s gains and for every person who professes love for the “history” of the Confederacy and for “fogey” who “just grew up in a different time,” we likely have at least one Harley Barber.

Harley Barber is 19. She is from the “union” side of the fight. She has the money to attend an out of state school and pledge a sorority. On the surface, she would lack any reason to harbor the racist resentments we can so easily ascribe to those fungible elements of time, place and deprivation listed above. And yet there she was, not “making a mistake” of using race as a costume or “failing to fully grasp” what it meant to appropriate another person’s culture, but rather defiantly displaying her racial animus.

The thing people need to understand is that there are Harley Barbers all around us, quietly lurking, politely nodding and peacefully existing. They “pretend to like black people” enough that on the surface, there’s no reason to think otherwise. They are the “least racist people” you would ever know. Until they reveal themselves with an n-bomb, a “Miss Housekeeper” comment or a general flinch of disgust about “those people.”

In each of those people, under that polite surface and those occasional dermis-level glimpses rests the heart and soul of that video: A rich, thick hatred that only lies dormant because to release it would be to their demise.

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.”

A rep makes it hard to Wolff down this book

As much as I want to, I really don’t believe what Michael Wolff has written about President Donald Trump in the book “Fire and Fury.” The excerpt that has made its way around the internet is full of the kinds of things I traditionally believe about our president (or as one person referred to him “Dolt 45,” a term I’m planning to steal.) Examples include:

  • Trump never really thought he would be president and now that he is, he has no idea on how to handle things.
  • He has the temperament of a toddler and he is among other things, “semi-literate” “dumb as shit” and “a fucking moron.”
  • He is remarkably thin-skinned and will take out his rage on people who he knows can’t fight back, like cleaning staff and underlings.

That said, I’m just waiting for someone with half a brain and a conservative bend to pull a copy of this thing and gut the shit out of it. I’m sure the core tenets of the book (Trump? He cray.) are true, much in the same way that Sabrina Erdman’s main assertion in “A Rape on Campus” was true. However, in that same vein, I’m sure the “Jackie” elements of Wolff’s book are lying in wait, ready to undermine the volume’s essential premise.

If you want to know WHY I tend not to believe Wolff’s over-the-top recounting of the Trump Train to Hell, you can look at various media coverage of him over the years. He has used unethical techniques to gather information, glazes over basic facts for more glamorous innuendo and essentially told people, “Hey, reporting is for pussies.” The profile The New Republic (a place once rocked by its own inbred arrogance and fraudulent storytelling) did on Wolff provides a picture of him as more of a carnival barker than a truth-teller:

Much to the annoyance of Wolff’s critics, the scenes in his columns aren’t recreated so much as created–springing from Wolff’s imagination rather than from actual knowledge of events. Even Wolff acknowledges that conventional reporting isn’t his bag.

Others have also noted his ability to create a scene by having a concept of how something “should be” kind of just pass through his mind and emerge as reality. When he spent time writing about media moguls and the upper-crust NYC East Side crowd, those scene setters were both entrancing and yet immaterial. Whether someone cried or someone else demanding a particular type of vodka wasn’t the end of the world. Here, however, it actually matters if the future first lady who had been promised, “Don’t worry. We’re never going to win this thing” was sobbing at the concept of becoming the country’s “leading lady.”

And this is where we have trouble in journalism: You’re only as good as your reputation and once you set it, make it, kill it or whatever, it is what it is. Michael Wolff might come up with a cure for cancer at some point, but I’m not taking that shit until someone with a better overall rep comes by to prove to me this works.

This isn’t just Wolff’s problem. Other people have fucked up their reputations in the minds of readers and thus have them trapped in a conundrum. Case and point hit my email this week when I got this story sent to me about UW-Milwaukee and its record on sexual harassment claims. The story itself doesn’t read all that well, but the core of it rings true: Professors trying to grope, fondle or fuck students is happening and the U is trying to cover it all up over many years. This isn’t a difficult premise to conceptualize.

After reading the story, I was ready to pass it along to a bunch of people I know and support the journalists as I had been asked to. However, just before I got into the mix, I got a quiet email on the side about this. The concern wasn’t necessarily about the students, but the faculty instructor leading the project: Jessica McBride.

I’ve written about her issues here before and my concern about the ethics associated with them, so I’m not going to rehash them here other than to say this issue reemerged in the subsequent years. I know people who worked with her at various stops in her career from college through her stops in Milwaukee and they relayed various anecdotes that gave me pause about the quality of her reporting and her methods in getting stories. The person who emailed me gave me the “Why don’t you give this a couple days to breathe before saying anything” head’s up, which usually means to be careful of lavishing praise or criticism on something until more stuff comes out.

I wanted to pump that story up and push it out to more people because I really BELIEVE the core concept and I think it’s an atrocious abuse of power, both on the part of the professors who do it and the part of universities who hide it. However, given this individual’s connection to it and prior concerns that emerged about her work, I just couldn’t do it. And that really bothered me.

Reputations carry far and wide. Some aren’t fair while others are well earned. I have always worried about about this kind of stuff ever since I was a kid getting ready to go to college. My father’s only admonition to me, as I headed to the land of beer and vomit (AKA UW-Madison) was, “Don’t bring shame on the family. That’s my name, too.”

Fair or unfair, the source colors the lens through which we will see the work.

If Jesus had been born in Wisconsin…

On this hallowed Christmas Eve, everyone in my house is pretty much asleep or trying to pretend to be in hopes of getting out of work in preparation for the Wigilla celebration tonight. As my wife and I kind of muttered our way awake, we ended up on a riff about traditions and food and Wisconsin and suddenly, we were into “What if Jesus were born here?” I did my best to document the answers (and augment with a few additional thoughts), so enjoy regardless of your faith, creed or lack thereof:

If Jesus had been born in Wisconsin:

  • He would have been swaddled in a green and gold blanket, cuddled in a Packer onesie and photographed wearing a cheesehead. Like this poor kid.

 

  • The three kings would have shown up last, having been stuck in construction on I-94 and finding out too late that the Illinois toll booths don’t take gold, frankincense and myrrh.

 

  • The little drummer boy would have been replaced by a kid with an accordion playing this little ditty. (“He’s really big in Sheboygan Falls,” my wife added.)

 

  • His middle name would have been “Bart,” “Brett,” “Aaron” or “Vince.”

 

  • Most of the gifts would have come from the Mars Cheese Castle. Curds. Lots and lots of curds.

 

  • Joseph would have been found two hours later at a local tavern, drinking really shitty beer with about a dozen of his new “best friends.” In other news, Blatz would have immediately made a comeback as “The official beer of the birth of our Lord and Savior.”

 

  • He would have been born in June so Christmas didn’t interfere with hunting season or the NFL playoffs.

 

  • He still would be born in a manger, as we have plenty of farmland, but only because the Motel 6 was overbooked.

 

  • Chicagoans would immediately start explaining how the 1985 Bears Superbowl team is somehow better than this.

 

  • Some drunk uncle would have tried to photograph him clutching a Miller Lite can.

 

  • Joseph’s mother would have immediately asked when they plan to have another one. Mary’s mother would have immediately tried to feed everyone who showed up.

 

  • Had he been born on a Friday, two words: Fish Fry. Also, kids would have started bitching, “Do we have to go to church TWICE this week?”

 

 

  • Only about one-fourth of the businesses that use “Packerland” or “Badgerland” to describe their moving companies or HVAC services would have changed to “Saviorland.”

 

  • Christmas Carols would all be polkas.

 

  • The shepherds would have missed the birth because nobody had plowed Highway 41 yet.

 

  • The manger would have been buried under three feet of snow, taking the family about three days to dig out at which point, some old codger would have shown up and said, “Snow? You call this snow? You should have been here for the blizzard of ’47…”

 

Have a great holiday season.

Doc

Graduation Day

“Scars are souvenirs you never lose. The past is never far.”
– Goo Goo Dolls, “Name”

“My parents’ basement.”

Those three words kept coming up this week as I met with student after student who planned to graduate Saturday.

The phrase has become a metaphor that indicates success or failure, with fear driving 20-somethings desperately away from it.

Am I going to find a job or will I have to live there?

Will this job pay me enough or will I have to stay there?

My dad keeps telling me I can’t move back in there, so I need to figure something out fast.

I visit my parents’ basement once a month, as Dad and I pack up our tubs for the monthly card show. I limbo my way under and over stacks of bobble heads, posters, cards, statues and other sports monstrosities that my mother would love to see us set on fire, as I help him pack our wares. My parents’ basement is full of nothing but good thoughts and wonderful vibes for me now.

Dad will often say, “You got a minute? C’mon down to the basement.” The rough translation of that statement is: “I bought some more shit we can sell at the show, but I had to hide it from your mother.”

However, half a lifetime ago (literally), that fucking basement terrified me.

Finishing school and looking for a job wasn’t easy. It was impossible.

EVERYONE else already had a job or had a line on one while I seeing rejections pile up in my mailbox every day.

EVERYONE else was coasting through some bullshit yoga class to complete their degree requirements while I was working at the student paper, working at the city paper and finishing up ridiculously difficult courses I managed to put off somehow.

EVERYONE else had a career path and a life plan. I had a job back at the garage whenever I wanted it and no real life to speak of.

My path seemed to lead to my parents’ basement.

No matter how old I get or how well I do or where I go in life, I will never forget that fear and how it eats away at everything around it. It’s why my door is always open this time of year and why I mentor students on everything from how to avoid looking like Mike from “Swingers” when they are pursuing a job to how to explain to their parents how the hiring process works.

It’s why I have a stash of napkins in a drawer behind me, so I can snag one and hand it to the sobbing kids who get rejection after rejection, as their friends celebrate what are seemingly perfect jobs that just dropped out of the sky on them.

It’s why I tell them the story of the guy who fell in the hole, even though I probably already told it to them once before and I’ve told it five times already that day.

It’s why I don’t understand the consternation of faculty who mutter about the “kids today” or the politicians who refuse to support either group because “when I was a kid…”

Every year, the gap in age between me and my students increases. The distance between us never does.

I never forget: My parents had a basement too.

“Is the view pretty good from the cheap seats, A.J.?”
“I beg your pardon.”
“Because it occurs to me that in 25 years, I’ve never ONCE seen your name on a ballot. Now why is that? Why are you always one step behind me?”
“Because if I wasn’t you’d be the most popular history professor at the University of Wisconsin.”
-The American President

If you ever felt the need to be murdered by a frenzying septuagenarian, just tell my mother, “You know, those who can’t do, teach.”

She spent 45 years in grades 3 through 8 teaching kids in a factory town. She taught poor kids, broken kids, kids nobody thought of. She taught literal generations of kids, with students becoming parents of her students and then becoming grandparents of students.

The kids who never left Cudahy.

She taught mostly reading and social studies, history and English. Math and science really weren’t her thing. She poured her time and energy into engaging projects, plays, musicals and more, just to give those kids a chance to love learning and take a bow.

The role of administration was never beyond her reach or ability. She had a wide array of talents that went beyond the classroom. She just never wanted to do any of them.

She knew what she was supposed to be doing: Teaching kids.

When I got the chance to teach a class of my own, I found that feeling. I was 22 years old and I was standing at the front of that room and I just felt it.

I was still working as a journalist, so I didn’t have to make a decision to leave the field at that point. I was just trying to pay tuition and rent. One job did one thing, the other did the other.

My first “grown-up job” was at Missouri, where I would work with students in the newsroom and teach in the classroom.

The next gig: advise a student newspaper, teach in the classroom.

Every job, I split the baby. Stay attached to the field in which I taught and yet teach students desperate to enter the field.

And yet I knew and I still know.

I’m a teacher, no matter what else I do.

“Gunny, I fucked up. I got Profile killed.”
“It was his time and when it’s your time I don’t give a damn how fast you run, your time is up.”
“I could have gotten them all killed.”
“But you didn’t, so just don’t make the same mistake twice.”
– Heartbreak Ridge

The kid showed up in the doorway of my office in a rush, his face still red from the cold outside. He had a look of fear and his physical anxiety manifested itself in what could charitably be called a “pee-pee dance.” The student who was in my office shooting the bull with me recognized the worried look and departed with a, “So, I’ll see you Saturday after graduation, right?”

She knew I would and I also knew that I’d be seeing this nervous young man there as well. Even more, I had no idea why he had this look of a kid who got caught stealing a porn mag by his parish priest.

This guy had it made. His grades were good enough to sail through the final week with no worries. He had a job lined up to start after the first of the year doing news and sports on TV in one of the better broadcast markets in the state. He had been ready for this since his sophomore year where I taught him the difference between facts and opinion and why using the word “very” was just as useful as using the word “damned.”

“I really fucked up that last assignment for you and I need to know how not to let that happen again,” he said.

I pulled up the file and, sure enough, a robust grade of 45 percent sat at the bottom. The cause for most of the point loss? He misspelled two proper nouns in his story.

That grade didn’t matter to him in any meaningful way as far as the university, his degree or his GPA was concerned. It was that idea of failing something in a way that could REALLY cost him.

We talked at length about fucking up. I relayed a few of my own, including a doozy where I managed to make two fact errors in the first sentence of an “exclusive” story.

Fucking up happens, I told him. The point is to avoid fucking up when you could have easily avoided fucking up.

Don’t assume you know how to spell the name.

Don’t guess that it’s a street, not an avenue.

Don’t presume you know which of the guys robbed the bank and which one caught the robber.

Make sure the guy is actually dead before you write his obituary.

I could tell he was getting it, but then he asked another important question: Even if I do all that, I’m going to fuck up at some point. What then?

Learn from it.

Every time you fuck up, you pay a price. It might be physical, it might be mental, it might be financial, but it is a price you must pay. You get something in return for your payment, and that’s wisdom.

Thus, in perhaps the least wizening way I could, I explained to him the truth:

“You’re going to step on your dick from time to time. I’d rather you do it here, on an assignment than out there where you might get fired or worse. The reason I put such a high penalty on certain things is because I want those things to hurt so bad that you never do them again. The reason I spread your grades out in this class so widely is that when you do fuck up that badly, the fuck up won’t kill you. That’s how you learn.”

He smiled.

“You going to graduation on Saturday?”

“Yep. See you there.”

“Did Chris Columbus say he wanted to stay home? No! What if the Wright brothers thought only birds should fly?…”
“I’m not any of those guys! I’m a kid from a trailer park!”
“If that’s what you think, then that’s all you’ll ever be.”

The first time I heard someone called a “fig” or a “Figgie,” it was spat in such a way that I honestly thought the “I” was actually an “A” lost in dialect. The term was based on the “FG” notation next to students’ names in their enrollment and it stood for “first-generation.”

At that university, the idea was that you should come from a lineage of people that had all gone to college, particularly that college. If you at least had some semblance of educated parentage, well, OK, but figgies?

Fuck ‘em.

Had it not been for my mother’s passion for teaching and almost vengeful determinism to disprove her father’s statement she’d “never be anything more than a housewife,” I would have been a fig. Dad picked up an associate’s degree at some point, but my grandparents were factory workers, police officers, “steno gals” and homemakers. They came from immigrant homes where learning English was a massive accomplishment and feeding the off-spring was almost always a challenge.

Mom told stories of her grandmother sifting rat droppings out of the government flour she received during the Great Depression. Dad told stories of his grandfather picking mushrooms on the way to church and packing a postage-stamp-sized garden full of sustenance for the family.

My wife’s grandparents dropped out of school to work jobs, one of them doing so about the same age my daughter is now.

To be a fig in those days would have been bragging rights mixed with a pipe dream.

George Carlin once noted that he loved seeing a blade of grass that pushed its way through a crack in the sidewalk. It’s so fucking heroic, he noted. Against all odds, pushing against an immovable force, this little speck of life wove its way out from the ground beneath and refused to quit until it saw the sun on its face.

This is why I always tell the kids I teach that they need to walk at graduation. Sure, you can make the argument that it’s 20 seconds on a stage where someone mangles your name, someone else hands you an empty diploma case and a third someone shakes your hand, but misses the point.

You did it. You beat the odds. You worked for this.

It wasn’t a given or a birthright. It wasn’t an item you threw in your grocery cart: Eggs, milk, diploma.

Every blade of grass that gets through the concrete deserves at least a moment of sunlight.

“He was a small horse, barely 15 hands. He was hurting, too. There was a limp in his walk, a wheezing when he breathed. Smith didn’t pay attention to that. He was looking the horse in the eye.”
– Seabiscuit

Saturday morning, I’ll be sitting in my office overlooking the relatively paltry arena that serves almost all of our indoor sports teams. The parking lot will fill and people will wander toward various entries in the building.

Parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives.

They come from the various outposts of our state, places you don’t think about when you hear the name “Wisconsin.”

Crivitz and Cadott. Oconomowoc and Oconto Falls. Fall River and River Falls. The closest you get to “foreign students” around here are the kids who cross the Illinois or Minnesota border to play sports for the institution.

It’ll be the first time in nearly a decade that I’m not going to be at that ceremony. The doctor says my back is too bad from a recent injury to sit for three hours. So, I’ll watch them go in and wait.

I’ll grade papers, write book chapters and make sure to get up and stretch every half hour. Then, when one of the students who almost cried when I told him I couldn’t sit through the event texts me that things are wrapping up, I’ll don the ridiculous regalia I break out a couple times a year and trek across that parking lot.

I’ll shake hands with parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives. They’ll tell me about the times the graduate came home or called home and wouldn’t stop talking about me or something weird I did and we’ll all laugh.

The parents will worriedly look me in the eye and ask if I think their son or daughter will get a job or they’ll thank me for helping the kid find post-graduation employment.

They’ll marvel at the grandeur of the ceremony or the pomp and circumstance that surrounds them, never mind it’s far less than I’ve seen at most places and the whole place still smells like last night’s basketball game.

And they’ll ask me questions and tell me stories about this freshly minted college graduate we both know.

But before we part company, I’ll look them in the eye and I’ll tell them the truth.

It was an honor to teach their loved one.

We have no good way to talk about this and we never have

We have no good way to talk about this and we never have.

As a good friend and feminist scholar told me when the Weinstein scandal broke, “This isn’t about sex. It’s about power. That’s why we can’t talk about it.”

And yet it is the sex that draws the attention as we discuss the imbalance of power, so the two remain inextricably linked, creating problems as we continue to have these revelations of misconduct come to light.

The latest name added to the list of groping, rubbing, jerking, fondling, grabbing and forcing is Sen. Al Franken. Leeann Tweeden came forth on Thursday with allegations of Franken groping and sexually abusing her during a USO stint. Photographic evidence and Franken’s own apology clearly supported those charges of misconduct, leading to some of the most awkward public arguments on a subject like this since Todd Akin introduced us all to the concept of “legitimate rape.”

To clarify and codify the general issue, we should consider two questions and their unequivocal answers:

Were all of the victims of Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Donald Trump, Roy Moore, Louis C.K., Al Franken and others diminished and violated by people of power?

Yes.

Have we, as a society and in many cases individuals, for too long engaged in victim blaming and illegitimate parsing of disgusting behavior like this?

Yes.

Taking these two answers as clear and definitive, we now lock this discussion into an awkward position for people who will have to answer for these actions and the people who support them.

The questions will come in droves:

“Is what Moore or Franken did rape or sexual assault or sexual misconduct or what?”

“Does the “law and order” morality of Moore make it somehow worse than what Weinstein or Franken did because, hey, they’re liberal hedonists anyway?”

“Is it worse what Spacey did to young boys or what Moore did to young girls?”

“Should Franken be forced out for one incident while Moore’s accusers are multiplying like tribbles?”

What so many people are awkwardly groping for is some sort of “sex crime conversion chart” in which one boob-grab equals two ass-pats or one photo equals three teen accusers and one signed yearbook or something. We have finally started coming to the necessary conclusion that shitty behavior is shitty behavior, but people with myriad agendas want to create a hierarchy out of these behaviors, as if hierarchy itself weren’t the reason these messes exist in the first place.

It doesn’t work that way because it’s not about sex. It’s about power.

The only demarcation reasonable people could draw is the one between adults and children. There’s a reason you can peruse 10,000 nude photos of people age 18 and older without a legal problem, but your ass will be in the joint if you own one such image of someone under that age. Society and law have dictated a bright line for most conduct involving children and to cross that line is to engage in the unforgivable.

To that end, and only that end, could a few of these acts be viewed as somehow worse than some of the others. Regardless, each and every case involved a man with power over someone he perceived as lesser and he used that to his advantage to demean and diminish that person.

Why can’t we see this? For two simple reasons:

  1. We are seeing a wide swath of accusations that range from things that “everybody” could agree are horrible and evil to well… what? If the Al Franken “grope” photo is as bad as Roy Moore trying to bone the “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” demographic, how many men might have to look really hard at themselves? That time they got handsy at the company party? That time they catcalled a co-worker? That time they tried to “impress” the intern? How much of that happened and how does it feel to be lumped in with the Roy Moores, Anthony Weiners, Louis C.K.s and Harvey Weinsteins? The “I would never do something that despicable” becomes, “Actually you already did.”
  2. To see it, we have to talk about it and we have no good way to talk about this and we never have.