Category Archives: Of Interest

Mistaken Identities

This is one of the loveliest meditations on style — and everything else — that I’ve ever read. 

I want to show you this photo of an old man walking out of a building into the street with his hands full. He seems to lean to his right-hand side, which holds the bigger piece of luggage. In his left hand he holds a slightly more compact suitcase whose handle he hooks with his three smallest fingers so his thumb and forefinger can pinch some kind of stick—a broom maybe or baston. I love his bright panama hat with its clean flat brim and dark band. His pants are black, with a straight crease pressed down the front. Even with one foot forward, the hem doesn’t ride too high.

For this man, it is still 1977. Not a week before this picture was taken, officers of the City of San Francisco broke down the doors of Manilatown’s International Hotel in the middle of the night with a battering ram, then woke this old-timer and the 40 other residents on order of eviction, despite a decade of negotiations, resistance, marches, actions, and protests by thousands of folks from all around the Bay. The I Hotel residents were mostly Asians, most of them manongs, a term of respect for Filipino laborers who worked in America’s canneries, fields, and boats . . . They were poor, working-class folks and this was their home since the 1920s, the one place they could afford. Four days after the midnight raid and eviction, the manongs were allowed to go back and retrieve their belongings—like this gentleman in the photo—though their units had been ransacked and vandalized.

Look again at the picture, the high shine of his shoes’ leather. There’s something so familiar about this man. Too easy to say he could be uncle or cousin. One of my dad’s poker buddies in the 70s. When I look carefully at the man’s attire, I think of the wish that attire can make.

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.

An open letter to the Wisconsin JFC in support of counting professors’ hours and trimming waste

Dear Sen. Darling, Rep. Nygren and other members of the Joint Finance Committee,

News reports have indicated that your group has included in its most recent version of the state budget some “controversial language” that would “require the University of Wisconsin System to monitor the teaching workload of every professor and adjunct instructor on campuses.”

As a faculty member of one of these institutions, I can assure you that this is definitely an important measure and a valuable first step in eliminating governmental waste and employee sloth. As many of you know, having received degrees from some of these state institutions, the clear measure of faculty value is solely the amount of time spent in front of students in a classroom. This is the purpose of our educators and we need to hold them accountable.

Given that this laser-focused approach on educational employees is likely to yield impressive results, I would actively encourage you to take a serious look at other areas of governmental employee waste and bring to bear all of your influence on other public “servants” who are failing to pass muster.

For example, it is clear that firefighters throughout the state need to get their priorities straightened out. In analyzing some recent annual reports for municipalities that contain branches of UW System schools, what I found is likely to shock you. Consider this breakdown of the Oshkosh Fire Department’s activities in 2016:

OshkoshFire

 

The entire department, which consists of 108 members of its workforce, only extinguished 109 fires for the WHOLE YEAR! That’s only one per person for all of 2016! Given the job of firefighters is to fight fires (which is clearly spelled out right in the name of the job), this is clearly an unacceptable waste of resources.

A similar examination of Green Bay’s annual report is even more troubling:

GreenBayFire

The department only extinguished 237 fires last year. That’s down from 277 the year before and from 312 in 2012! This decrease in fires fought of nearly 24 percent over the past four years should have clearly been accompanied with a reduction of workforce, pay and hours, one would expect.  This was not the case, as an additional six fire fighters were hired in February of that year.

The police departments in some of these areas are even more problematic. As we all know, the purpose of police officers is to arrest criminals, so it may upset you as much as it upset me to find out how little they are doing in this regard. For example, the Stevens Point Police Department’s annual report states the department made only 862 adult arrests and 202 juvenile arrests during 2016. This is with a total sworn staff of 44 individuals. That gives us a total of 24 PER OFFICER that year, or an average of one arrest every 15 days. I ask you, is this a good use of taxpayer money?

My most upsetting discovery came in examining the Whitewater Police Department’s statistics. As you well know, State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is from this area and has spoken out against the lethargy and waste in our state’s education system. How outraged do you think he would be to find that his home town’s police department arrested only 27 people out of 162 incidents of criminal property damage?

One officer’s record in particular was troubling:

BoomerArrests

Officer “Boomer” provided no more than three arrests in any given month during 2015. Even worse, in two months he enacted NO ARRESTS AT ALL! If all this officer wishes to do all day is lick his crotch and bark at nothing, he can CLEARLY follow Steve Bannon’s example: Quit government life and do it on his own time.

Now, I guess you’re asking the same question I did, which is, “If the fire fighters aren’t fighting fires and police aren’t arresting people, what are they DOING with their time?” The answer is in front of you in black and white. Firefighters have consistently wasted time on false alarms, noxious fumes complaints and other equally pointless tasks. In addition, you’ll note heavy use of these firefighting resources on EMS calls, which is a massive waste of taxpayer money. Unless the patient is literally on fire, what purpose does it serve to send a firefighter out to see them? In addition, if the people are truly ill, that’s what hospitals are for. Call a cab and get your own ass out there.

Police have been equally thoughtless in their allocation of precious resources, wasting time on taking reports or “investigating” crimes. All of this preparation of documents and processing of crime scenes is taking them away from their primary task, namely the incarceration of criminals. Look at this data from Stevens Point!

CallsStevensPoint

As much as they talk a good game about going on “calls,” you will notice that they don’t talk a lot about arrests, which is why we’re paying them the big bucks. Even worse, you will notice that the department received a DECREASE in calls between 2015 and 2016 and yet not a single one of these officers has been fired as a result.

As you page through these reports, you will also see ridiculous claims about receiving additional “training” or “service to the community” like visits to schools and K-9 demonstrations. If kids really want to see how police procedures work, they should bring a stash of weed to school and attempt to sell it to an undercover officer. Otherwise, they shouldn’t be getting in the way of the officers’ sworn duty: to arrest criminals. The same is true for school visits from firefighters: Either shoot off a flare gun in your locker or get used to the idea you won’t be petting a Dalmatian.

I understand you are likely outraged, but you probably are getting ready to tell me, “Doc, we know how upsetting this is, but we don’t control the budgets of local municipalities. What can we do?” That thought has occurred to me too, but that hasn’t stopped you before when it came to education.

You provide somewhere around 16 percent of the annual funding to the UW System, but you somehow manage to write all the rules and do an awful lot of threatening. Something tells me you guys and gals can find a way to apply similar approach to dropping the hammer on these shiftless firefighters and police officers.

Hey, when has logic ever stood in the way of you becoming excised little rage monkeys and screaming up a blue streak about the U? Maybe if you’re lucky, a police department has offered a seminar on the “Problem of Whiteness.” That always seems to get you all in the right frame of mind.

In the meantime, I’ll be back here at the U, counting up my hours of teaching, totally ignoring the hours of class preparation, student-group advising, student registration advising, faculty meetings, staff meetings, writing letters of recommendation for students, helping students get internships, helping students get jobs, helping students get into grad school, answering after-hours emails from students/colleagues, grading papers, reworking tests, calculating grades, keeping up on changes in my field, applying for grants, completing work for grants I received, reviewing scholarship for journals, reviewing textbooks for publishers, rewriting my own textbooks, doing peer evaluations for adjunct instructors, conducting faculty position searches, fundraising for the student media I advise, taking students to conferences and 100 other things I do in a week without giving them a second thought when I complete my tally.

After all, if I’m not standing in front of a group of kids all day, what the hell good am I?

Respectfully yours,

Doc

A Deaf Frog

One of the best jokes about jumping to the wrong conclusion is that of the scientist and the frog. The scientist tells the frog to jump and the frog does so. The scientist then cuts off one of the frog’s legs and repeats the command. The frog continues to jump until the scientist has removed all four legs, at which point, the frog remains still.

The scientist then makes this entry in his notes: “After removing all four legs, frog goes deaf.”

An equally disgusting and yet not nearly as funny series of answers emerged this week in regard to how public figures dealt with problematic situations.

Bill Cosby, who has apparently told more people to “relax” than Frankie Goes to Hollywood, had his fate delayed when a Pennsylvania jury deadlocked 10-2 in his sexual-assault case. Cosby has been accused of scores of women (and that’s literally accurate, sadly) of drugging and raping them over the past several decades. In this singular case, involving an administrator in the Temple University athletic program, Cosby was said to have used Quaaludes to knock her unconscious before having sex with her against her will in 2004. Cosby remains free on bond while the state considers its next move, which will likely be a retrial.

What will Cosby be doing with all this free time, now that a Cosby Show reunion show is likely out of the question? He’s planned a series of town-hall meetings in which he will “educate” young men and married men how to avoid accusations of sexual assault in this litigious society:

 

Ebonee M. Benson, who works with Mr. Wyatt and joined him on the program, said the need for awareness had grown because the statutes of limitations on sexual assault have been extended in several states. In some cases the legislative efforts were aided by women who have accused Mr. Cosby of molesting them.

“People need to be educated on a brush against the shoulder,” she said. “Anything at this point can be considered sexual assault.”

 

Or, y’know, the lecture could just be, “Don’t drug and fuck people against their will. And pull up your damned pants.” However, as Cosby sees it, the problem isn’t the fucking, but rather needing to find ways to make sure it doesn’t come back to haunt you.

Speaking of things that can come back to haunt you, the White House has figured out that people will actually recall the official and unofficial comments people make and hold you to them. Everything from the evening news to late-night comedy shows use the clip montage on an almost daily basis to showcase what an official is saying now compared to the exact opposite thing that person said over the past six months. Trump, Spicer, Conway, Sessions and more all have fallen victim to the “Here’s a statement they made today that is directly contradicted by the nine times they said the exact opposite thing.”

The answer was clear earlier this week: Stop the taping. The White House has set up a series of bizarre rules that limit live presentation of the press briefing, no cameras and limitations on audio. In an even dumber decision, it issued an edict to the media (whose job it is to tell the public stuff) not to tell the public the instructions the news outlets received on how this off-the-camera approach was supposed to work. So, in short, we’re doing something shitty to you and we want to tell you what that shitty thing is, but don’t you dare report that we told you about this shitty thing we’re going to do to you.

Speaking of shitty things that are being done to the public, the Senate has drafted its version of the “Repeal and Replace Obamacare with Something Great” bill. The Republicans have known for quite some time that debating health care is a long, tiring and dicey process. The Affordable Care Act hearings went on for an interminable amount of time, with all sorts of maneuvering in hopes of derailing it. Although the ACA isn’t perfect, thanks in large part to these speed bumps and road blocks put up by opponents of the bill at the time, it is providing insurance to more than 23 million more people than the House version of Trumpcare would.

The senate realizes two things:

  1. Cutting people off of health coverage, including Medicaid and any other Medi-help, is likely to result in people losing their shit.
  2. Since they are essentially doing exactly that, people are likely to lose their shit.

The solution is simple: Don’t show people what you’re working on. Much like a 4-year-old who is covering up his homework so mom can’t see how shitty his penmanship is, Mitch McConnell and his crew of unnamed bill-makers have sat in secret for the past couple weeks, crafting whatever it is they are crafting. The reveal on Thursday showed that it was essentially the same shit as the House bill, only potentially worse. McConnell upped his game by pushing for a vote within a week and refusing to say he’d allow for at least 10 hours of debate and discussion on it.

It makes little sense to attempt to apply common sense to these kinds of solutions, as none really applies. At best, the solutions are Machiavellian maneuvers and at worst they are like people who put pennies in the fuse box to get the power back on.

It also does little good to call people out on this kind of bullshit, given that most of the people who display this level of chutzpah lack the inherent ability to be ashamed of themselves. All they see in front of them is what their myopic vision of self-assuredness allows them to see.

A deaf frog.

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.

Rummage sales are life. The rest is just details.

The reason this post is late is because I spent the last hour and a half looking up everything I could find on Carry-Lite Duck Decoys manufactured in Milwaukee.

Am I a hunter? No.

Do I care about becoming a hunter? No.

What the hell is wrong with me? A lot, it turns out.

I picked up six of these decoys at a rummage sale today, so duck decoys have become my obsession of the moment. A friend in California is a hunter and mentioned how to locate interesting and valuable decoys at one point. A friend here noted that a neighbor of his sold some for a pretty high price once.

A woman about my grandmother’s age had dumped a dusty box full of these things at the end of her driveway just as I drove up. She said she had no idea what they were, but her husband used them a long time ago. A price of six for $20, made of paper mache with a “Patent 1941” stamp on the bottom seemed like too good a bargain to pass up.

I scoured the Internet looking for various types of duck decoys and places to find them. I have yet to find one stamped like mine, so I either have a rare find or a box of shit. Eventually, I found myself going crazy so I stopped to write this post (Side note: I’ve stopped writing this a few times to go back to Google with the hope that maybe THIS set of search terms would yield an answer about who made these and when.).

It was at this point that a realization hit me: Rummage sale season is officially upon us.

This is a sacred time of year in Wisconsin, due in large part (I suspect) to the fact we spend nine months of the year housebound by snow and ice, so anything that gets us outside in sunny weather is worth doing. Neighborhoods get together to host 30, 40 and 50-family sales, in hopes of drawing massive amounts of traffic to their neck of the woods. Subdivisions are packed with trucks, vans and SUVs creeping along the winding roads in search of the next sale on the map someone at the last sale handed out.

Certain cities and towns are “known” for having certain citywide sales during certain weekends. Winneconne was two weeks ago, Omro was last weekend… I still have yet to attend the infamous “Irish Road Rummage” which is a cross between an insane asylum and an endurance test.

Rummaging was pretty much tattooed onto my DNA as a child, long before the “American Pickers” crowd made it trendy. Each summer, Mom would have off from teaching and I’d have off from school, so off we’d go every day we could find a sale. Estate sales, rummage sales, moving sales… It didn’t matter. If we were looking for bargains, at least she wasn’t making me scrape and paint the storms and screens around the house.

I still remember one find she made in the basement of a house that smelled like mold and cat pee: A 1950s-style grocery cart with two detachable wire baskets. The asking price was something like $12, so she had me haul that thing out of the cobwebs and somehow stuff it into the backseat of our 1979 Ford Thunderbird.

When we got it home, my father saw it and bitched up a storm: “The hell do you need that for? What the hell did you pay for that? Where the hell do you think you’re going to put that?”

Mom had an answer: She was going to have me spray paint it a couple bright colors and she was going to use it to shuttle stuff around her classroom. I think I was 16 at the time we bought the cart and I was more than 40 when she finally retired. The grocery cart was an integral part of her classroom for the quarter century in between.

To be fair, Dad wasn’t anti-garage sale. He just had his own way of valuing things that came from the sales. If you want to watch a 73-year-old man outrun Usain Bolt, just put some sports shit at a rummage sale and mark it “FREE!” I can’t tell you how many times we bought something on a Saturday and sold it for a profit on a Sunday at the card show.

My first and favorite big score was when I was 11. I rode my bike to a sale a couple miles from our house. I found a really cool flag I wanted and when I picked it up, I noticed a bunch of paper placemats under it with the box scores from Milwaukee Braves games. I asked the lady how much for each placemat.

“Take them all for $2.” So I did.

I had no idea what they were worth, but it was something I could show my Dad, so I tucked them carefully into a sack and rode home. He’d never seen one, so he went to one of “his guys” who happened to run a sports card place on Lincoln Avenue.

“They’re not worth much,” Leroy told my dad. “Maybe $5-6 bucks each…”

The next show, we put four of them in the auction. I watched as two guys went after these things until they finally sold for $26. The next month, we did it again. Same result.

I was thrilled to be getting $26 a month, but Dad had a better angle. He found the guy who lost the auction and asked if he wanted to buy some. We took him out to the car where we had the rest of them and Dad negotiated a price. I walked away with another $185 and a hyper-inflated lust for rummaging.

Over the years, we’d found a few things like that: Dad would see something of value, he’d ask what it would cost for all of the stuff there and then we’d resell the stuff at a profit. Still, nothing will ever top the Saga of the Beer Cans.

It was the weekend of my wife’s baby shower and we had come up from Indiana to Milwaukee so all of our family could attend. My mother took my wife for a spa day, leaving Dad and I to our own devices.

We decided to “take a walk” which usually led to us walking past rummage sales. At one in particular, we started poking around when a woman asked, “Hey, do you guys wanna buy a beer can collection?”

To this day, neither Dad nor I can figure what it was about us that said, “Hey, ask us about your beer can collection,” but there we were, looking at hundreds of cans stacked up in a row.

As if we knew the difference, the woman tossed in this pot sweetener, “I’ve even got some cone tops in there.”

Neither Dad nor I would have known a cone top from a Conehead, but for some reason, Dad asked, “How much?”

“Fifty bucks.”

“Nah.”

We started walking back home when I noticed we were both really quiet.

“Dad, I know you’re thinking about those cans,” I told him. “I can hear that gerbil on the treadmill in your head.”

“That’s only because I know you’re thinking about them too,” he told me.

We went home, looked up what the hell a “cone top” was and then decided to drive back. Just as we pulled up, a collector was there talking to the lady.

“No, no,” she said to the guy, as she pointed at us. “I promised these guys first.”

So, we essentially bought a beer can collection at that point, having no idea what we were going to do or how to sell it. Still, it seemed like we could make the money back even if we just scrapped the damned things, so we had that going for us. We had the entire SUV filled with several cases resting near Dad’s feet, when the lady said, “Don’t forget the ones on the side of the house.”

When we looked down the side of the house, we saw cardboard beer cases stacked four high as deep as the entire length of the house. It took us three trips to get all that stuff back to my parents’ house and it filled the whole garage stall.

Cutting to the end of the story, it took two trips with two SUVs to get all the stuff down to Indiana and we made more than $1,500 together from it.

Also, it was a miracle my wife didn’t murder me, even after I said, “I hope you get a lot of gift cards so we can take some of these cans home with us right away.”

Sorry, honey, but there are no “sacred cows” when it comes to rummaging.

I was once running late for church when I spotted a guy closing up a rummage sale. He had a lawn mower and a beer sign for sale, so I pulled a bootlegger turn in front of his house. He asked $3 for the beer sign and said the mower didn’t work. “Take the damned thing,” he pleaded. “Just get it out of here before my wife comes home.”

This led to me wrestling a push mower into the back of my SUV and spending an hour-long mass smelling like gasoline.

Mom and I will often be late for something but spot a sale and have to pull over. On Thursday, we were taking some furniture to a friend of hers when we noticed a sale. We almost tossed the stuff out of the truck on the lady’s lawn so we could get back there and look at the sale. I ended up with a liquor cabinet, a bench and a cuckoo clock. I also grabbed this gorgeous antique table that was about the size of dinner plate. It had an oval top with pressed flowers under a broken glass top. The top also flipped up so you could just display the art. I bought it for $12 and was thinking about how I could redo it and display it at our antique booth. As I was loading it into the car, Mom noted, “I want that. Can you refinish it for me?”

Again, no sacred cows. I wouldn’t be surprised if we ended up pulling out of a funeral procession at some point because Dad spotted some bobble heads for sale.

Still, it’s not all about making money when it comes to garage sales. I can’t tell you how many times I ended up with a piece of furniture or something else because Dad found it at a yard sale and proclaimed, “I couldn’t buy the WOOD to make it for that cost!” My Mom loves to pick up cross-stitched pillowcases because nobody does that stuff anymore and she loves the details. Dad finds golf stuff and other stuff he already has three of but just “couldn’t pass it up at that price.” Eventually, when he stockpiles enough of the “had to have it” bargains, we do our own sales.

Each year, we have two sales: One up at my house and one down by my folks. I usually have tons of refinished furniture, sports memorabilia and rebuilt lawnmowers for sale, most of which came to me in damaged format from other rummage sales. It’s a good gig if you get a nice weekend, as people tend to flock to us in droves when it’s sunny out. Rainy weekends kill you and make you wish you’d never thought about doing one of these things.

This weekend is what we call a “half and half” sale: Friday is gorgeous without a cloud in the sky, but Saturday is supposed to bring torrential downpours. This leads to a great amount of self-deceiving justification on the part of people like me. I was headed to work at around 8:30 when I saw a sign for a “60-house rummage” in a subdivision. I was planning to do some writing for a book I’m finishing, submit my annual report information to my department chairperson and write this post.

Yeah, but… See… Rummage!

Obviously, the best stuff is available earliest on the first day and it’s supposed to rain tomorrow, so it’s clear I can’t go out tomorrow and it’s a beautiful day… Besides, I can do that shit later…

Thus, I spent the next four hours wandering through a subdivision, buying tons of stuff I might or might not need. A Blackhawks hoodie for my wife, a dresser to refinish for $10, a set of chairs for my buddy who has a buyer for a table we own if we could find chairs, a 1973 Bucky Badger Boxing decanter (sans booze), a couple tools and, of course, the ducks.

I had to have the furniture people hold the furniture for me after I paid them because I was driving Betsy and there was no way I’d get any of that stuff into her trunk. I was having an existential argument about buying a second dresser when someone else bought it first, so that ended up going that way.

Still, I eventually got the truck, got the furniture, got to work and got everything done, including this post, so no harm, no foul.

Speaking of fowl, time to figure out these ducks…

 

P.S. — Just for darrelplant

If “Blazing Saddles” were a Bizarro-land, post-apocalyptic horror film…

ClarkeTrump
(IMDB’s description of “Blazing Saddles” begins with “A corrupt politician hires a black sheriff…” which is all that film and this situation have in common.)

News broke Wednesday that Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke was taking a position in the Homeland Security Department, leaving me to recall a line George Carlin once uttered about Ross Perot’s challenge for the presidency in 1992:
“Just what a nation of idiots needs: A short, loud idiot.”

Coming up with a descriptor for Clarke is like trying to catch a fart and paint it green. It’s also as pleasurable. Many news organizations relied on the tried-and-true adjectives like “controversial” and “polarizing,” while NY Mag reached for “actual fascist.” A vulgar part of me would have gone with “fucktard” while a more journalistic aspect of me would actually settle on “Trumpian.”

And maybe that’s the best indication that this story is true, in spite of a non-denial denial by the office itself that Clarke hasn’t been given a position at Homeland Security.

This guy is 100 percent Trump with a better haircut a worse choice of clothing.

For people lucky enough to not know who he is, David Clarke has “served” (quotes intentional) Milwaukee County for the past 15 years as its sheriff. He was appointed by Gov. Scott McCallum in 2002 to finish a retiring sheriff’s term and then kept on rolling. Clarke has done and said a ridiculous number of incredibly stupid things. Trying to pick and choose some of them is like trying to put together a Rolling Stones Greatest Hits Album: No matter what you pick, there’s another incredible contender that gets left off. Consider a few of these beauties:

 

It’s not just the bombast, the rapid-fire threats and the general lack of decorum that makes the “Trumpian” moniker fit this man. It’s the way in which he has manipulated reality to improve his personal lot in life. While alleged Billionaire Trump paints himself as a champion of the blue-collar working folk, Clarke masquerades as a Democrat. He registers as a member of the Blue Team primarily because Milwaukee is a deep blue sea among the outlying red rural areas of the state.

Clarke has also followed Trump’s lead on issues of safety and security, painting pictures of illegals running roughshod over the citizens of the country. Meanwhile, neither can see the crises he causes in his own proximate area (Trump’s chaotic White House, Clarke’s dungeon-esque jail).

Like Trump, Clarke is nothing like what he portends to be. Everything about him is a blustering con, including his bedazzled, flair-filled uniform, which Army vet Charles Clymer took to task in a series of hysterical tweets.

Perhaps the hardest thing to discuss regarding Clarke, given that this is the third rail of society, is the issue of race. Clarke himself has played both sides of the race card, in one case swapping racial slurs with Mark Lamont Hill of CNN, going as far as to call him a “jigaboo” on Twitter. The Milwaukee chapter of the NAACP has frequently criticized Clarke, with the group’s president noting, “If there was a white sheriff making those statements, they would have demanded his resignation by now.”

This is true: Clarke is essentially part Bull Connor, part bullshit. He’d be the first one to tell a black kid to pull up his pants and that protestors are a bunch of snowflakes and the conservative white folk just eat that shit up.

Or to pull a line from the great movie, “Lean on Me” : “I know why you like Clark. He’s a guard dog. Does your dirty work. Keeps the black folk in line.”

I have never managed to understand how Clarke kept getting reelected as sheriff in my hometown area. After the first term, it was pretty clear he wasn’t a Democrat. After the second term, it was clear he was a bully. Now, it’s clear the man is fucking crazy, so he naturally had to find someone similarly screwed up to hire him.

And as much as I want him out of here, I can’t imagine we’ll be in any better shape with him sharing asshole tips with The Donald.

Remember the 32

I was working the newsroom this week, when my wife sent me a photo with the caption, “Who are these people?” It turned out to be a “Save the Date” card from two of my former students who found love while finishing off their degrees here.

The editor in chief of the paper poked her head over my shoulder and asked what was up.

“I just got a Save the Date card from Ashley and Isaac,” I explained.

She had a blank stare on her face.

“You were here when Isaac was the managing editor, weren’t you?”

Again, a total blank stare. It was at that point it dawned on me that although the kid I was speaking with was 22 and ready to graduate, even she wasn’t old enough to remember a kid who was practically running the newsroom two years earlier.

I often joke that I have “grad-nesia,” an illness that blurs the lines among generations of students to the point where I swear someone just graduated last year while they’ve actually been out of school for half a decade. The truth, however, is a bit more complicated, in that the institutional memory of college institutions is tiny at best. “Back in the day,” for most of my staff was about 18 months ago. “A long time ago,” was two years.

Something that happened 10 years ago? It has the same social relevance of the Tea Pot Dome Scandal or the Bull Moose Party. Even if that event shook the entire nation to its core.

Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre. Student Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 students and faculty on campus while wounding another 17 over a three-hour time period before ending his own life. Even in that time of nascent social media, the pure insanity of the event exploded through digital channels and traditional media in a way that kept everyone in the country linked into the devastation.

I had a personal interest in that shooting, as I was pretty close with the general manager of the student newspaper out there. I also knew the editorial adviser. Our student media listserv was flying with questions and concerns for those folks. Both of them were named “Kelly” (one guy, one gal) which led to some “which one?” questions as we all tried to reach them. I finally got a hold of female Kelly and she told me she was safe, things were crazy and her staff was working, so she was probably going to be off the grid for quite some time. At that point, I was able to breathe again.

As my staff watched from safety 1,000 miles away, none of us knew what to do. Our EIC suggested we send pizza, so we did. It was a typical college-kid move, but we weren’t the only ones to think, “Hey, maybe they’re hungry.” Professional and collegiate news staffs from all over the country did similar things to the point where the staff of the Collegian had to ask, “Hey, guys, we appreciate this, but could you stop now?”

The student paper did some incredible work over that amount of time, including obituaries for each of the 32 victims of the shootings. I remember watching male Kelly give a speech on this less than a year later at a journalism convention. He explained that most of his staff was comprised of cub reporters and non-journalism folk. The university didn’t have a journalism feeder program, so this was truly an extra-curricular endeavor for most of them. If the newsroom he had was anything like some of the ones I’ve worked with, you had a handful of kids who had a passion for journalism, a group of folks who were told at one point they were good writers so they showed up to write and a bunch of students who came for the access to sporting events and concerts and to write columns about what they thought was important.

None of them was ready for this. Nor should they have been.

The thing that I remember most about Kelly’s speech was that he talked about gathering his staff and explaining how the newspaper was going to handle the situation on obituaries. The first question a kid raised is the most obvious one: “Nobody is going to want to talk to us. How are we supposed to do this?”

Kelly’s answer is one I use to this day: You might be right. People might not want to talk to you, but you don’t have the right to take that choice away from them. You approach them respectfully and you offer them the chance to speak. If they decline, you express gratitude and you leave. But don’t take away their chance because you’re afraid.

In the end, those obituaries were stocked with sources and stories that captured the essence of 32 people who never made it past April 16, 2007 and propelled the paper to a Pacemaker Award and national prominence.

I have to admit that 10 years have put this story to the back of my mind as well. The year after the Virginia Tech shooting, the Northern Illinois Shooting happened and that one struck a little closer to home. I had interviewed there for a job at one point and many years before, my grandfather had been in the police department in DeKalb, the city surrounding the university. After that, we seemed to be stockpiling shootings and disasters to the point that “Virginia Tech” became less of a euphemism than it once had been.

I also have to admit, it’s easy for things on a university campus to wash away quickly. My first year in Indiana, we had a student get shot and killed by a cop. The name of Michael McKinney was everywhere for more than a year. We covered that story from the shooting through the civil suit and there wasn’t a student alive on that campus who didn’t know that story.

Fast forward to the fifth-year anniversary of the shooting and I told my editor we needed to do the anniversary story on the McKinney shooting.

I got the same blank look my EIC gave me just this week: “Who?”

As far as most schools are concerned, the short-attention-span theater is a blessing in disguise. When horrific things happen in some cities and towns, family members still live there and those moments of pain become imbued in the fabric of the society. Events of agony live on from generation to generation. In the case of colleges, four years can wash away pretty much everyone in the student base who knew what happened. The memories fade to rumor and history.

In the case of the Virginia Tech Shooting, the students there are refusing to let the memory of those 32 people go unnoticed this year. Several cadets are asking that the new residence hall be named for Matthew LaPorte, a sophomore ROTC member who gave is own life to save countless others when the shooter broke through LaPorte’s classroom barricade. The staff of the newspaper published a special edition titled “We Remember 32,” which is complete with a set of 32 stories of the 32 people who died that day. An online version is available here as well.

It’s hard to remember and easy to forget.

But some things need, even if painful, need to be commemorated.

Seeds of Hope

The young woman sitting next to me scrunched up her face as she looked at a resume I would have killed for at her age. She had three internships, including one at a major media outlet and a second at a center for investigative journalism. She was the editor of her paper and had earned honors and awards along the way. Still, she had that look.

“I just hope I get a job,” she said. “It’s rough out there…”

I half smiled as I shook my head and told her, “You’re going to be fine. You have a ton of great experience. We just need to rearrange a few things to put the emphasis on the best stuff first…”

I suggested moving a few things around, emphasizing professional experience and pushing her college work down. We talked about her social media presence and if it would be something that would showcase her journalism or if it fit the “I ate a hot dog today. It was good.” motif. I told her I knew her boss and that he didn’t hire crappy people, so that should help her feel better about herself and that she should ask if he would be a reference for her.

In the end, she seemed to feel better and thanked me for my time.

“You’ll be fine,” I told her again, emphasizing each word. “You’ll be just fine.”

I’ve spent the last two weekends working with student journalist at a variety of conventions, which is one of the best things I do in life. Last week, it was Minnesota’s best of the Midwest convention while this week, we convened for a pro/college hybrid for the best journalism the state has to offer.

Being around people “like me” is usually a comfort to most humans, in that we enjoy social gatherings that emphasize shared, learned behavior. Even more, we tend to understand each other better when we have chewed some of the same dirt. As Eddie Murphy once remarked about marriage, “Find the perfect person for you. I’m not saying they’re perfect. Find someone just as fucked up as you are in the same way and settle down.”

Still, this convention was one I had dreaded for a number of reasons. First, I’m running the board of the college group, which means I need to show up, dress sharp and schmooze with people, all things that don’t really thrill me. Second, it’s like Bill Buckner walking back into Shea Stadium for me in many ways.

The people I know there knew the much younger version of me: The one who fucked up a lot. The one who bordered on arrogance and then swung to a complete lack of self-esteem. The one who was probably the annoying kid they wished would learn to calm down a little more and not be so excited over every police scanner call. It’s painful thinking back about that “me” and it’s even more difficult realizing how long ago that was.

The kid I helped work through her resume was someone I probably would have never dealt with back then. She worked at the Badger Herald. I’m from the Daily Cardinal. Capulet and Montague don’t have shit on that turf war. However, as I talked with her a bit, it dawned on me she wasn’t even born when I was a college journalist. The dislike I have for her institution remains, but for some reason, it wasn’t as hard as I would have once thought it to be when I helped her plan out Life 2.0.

Later that day, I walked through the exhibit hall, and I ran across a guy I worked with back when I was a night-desk reporter. Andy now runs that center for investigative journalism at which this kid was interning. When he noticed me, he stopped what he was doing to say hi and prepared to introduce me to the folks gathered around him.

One of the people who turned around was another former newspaper staff who remembered me and gave me a huge hug. It turns out Pat had retired from the paper during one of the rounds of “downsizing” efforts and was now teaching at a small, private college and advising the paper. I told her, “We need to get you onto our board…” before explaining what it is I was doing and what our college group was all about.

She had this look on her face, and I couldn’t really figure it out. It was half amazement and half pride.

“Yeah,” Andy chimed in. “He’s all grown up now…”

I laughed. He just smiled.

He remembered how excited I was the time he offered to buy me a six-pack of beer if I’d take some mundane assignment he’d been given. Andy was happy he could go on his vacation without worry. I was thrilled: You mean I’ll get some extra hours, mileage money, a story in the paper AND BEER? Holy shit!

I didn’t know if Pat remembered the time she and I were working on a Sunday together and two stories had rolled in: Racist literature was found in a news rack at a grocery store and major vandalism had hit the area Walgreens. She was coming in later and I had half of each story and I hoped she’d let me keep one. When she arrived, she told me, “Take them both. I’m working on something else.” It was like a day of free ice cream. I can still remember thinking to myself, “Wow. I’ve got TWO STORIES in the paper today. This is unbelievable.”

Back then, moments like those were the world to me. For them, it was just another day of work.

After I left Andy’s booth, I wandered over to the walls of poster board that contained the award-winning work of journalists throughout the state. Not more than a minute of browsing went by before something grabbed me: A column with a familiar face staring back at me. The hair was more professionally cut, the cheeks a bit fuller but I knew the half-grimace that stared back at me.

One of my former students: First place for local sports column.

I backed up and started from the very first board, carefully examining each byline.

Second Place: Environmental writing

Third Place: Business coverage

First Place: Local education coverage

Third Place: Feature Writing

More and more of the names came back to me. Scared kids, wondering if they’d ever get an internship. Wondering if they’d get a job. Wondering if they’d be any good.

Professional journalists, all. Award-winners to boot.

My eyes settled on the last panel where the college winners were and found one bittersweet moment:

First place, News/news features.

The kid who wrote it was my editor during last year’s run of crushing misery. She stuck with me through thick and thin, knowing her life would be so much easier if she just asked me to quit. Instead, she hunkered down and dealt with the pounding, just like I had. In the end, though, she couldn’t take it anymore.

She dropped out of school, refusing to return for her senior year. She moved on to the tech school last semester, where she hopes to earn a degree that will let her work as a nursing assistant. She never wants to be in journalism again.

She wrote a personal experience feature story on Project Semicolon, a movement that started in 2013 after founder Amy Bleuel lost her father to suicide. Bleuel also struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts, so she looked for a way to communicate that struggle to others in hopes of shedding light on these mental illness issues. The non-profit organization uses the semi-colon as a symbol of how you are the author of your life and authors choose how to end a sentence. The semi-colon says, “I’m pausing here, but I will choose to continue.” Many people who back the movement get a tattoo of a semi-colon as a way of reinforcing this belief.

Katie’s piece wove her own struggles into the broader story of Project Semi-Colon, which was started only about an hour’s drive from here. The narrative thread was her decision to get the tattoo and to share that moment with her mother.

I could feel the tears welling up as I started to read the story, so I just moved on and took a breath.

A great moment. A great kid. The one I couldn’t save.

My career choice often leaves me with mixed emotions. I think back to the most stinging comment people make about educators: “Those who can’t do, teach.” There are days I think maybe they’re right. Could I have stuck with journalism for 22 years and done more and better things than I did? Maybe I’m that tragic tale of wasted youth, the human vessel of lost potential I now try to drag out of other people as some sort of penance for my own transgressions…

Then there are days like yesterday, where I see how the kids who once pondered their own inadequacies are tearing it up at various publications in places they want to be. I see it in every “noun-verb” attribution they use and how I pounded that into them. I see it in their commitment to fairness and accuracy. I see it when they email me to ask, “Hey, I don’t know if you remember me, but I was a student of yours and you really helped me out a ton… I’m looking for an intern and I was hoping you had one of your kids to help me fill the slot…”

Those days, I see myself as a good farmer: I take those little seeds and put them in the best soil I have, tend them the best I can and then watch them grow to fruition. I help make sure the seedlings get what they need to survive. I realize how important this is now more than ever, in a field littered with cutbacks, high stress and public malice toward the profession.

Maybe that’s a good way to look at this.

I sow some of these seeds of hope for journalism.

And sometimes, it’s important to step back and enjoy the garden.

Sometimes, My Kid Just Wrecks Me

Of all the gut-wrenching, out-of-the-blue, kick-in-the-balls moments that happened this year (and I admit there have been a lot of them), it took my kid’s school project to break me into a thousand pieces.

She came home from school with a piece of cardboard, wrapped in festive Christmas wrap, a gift she had been working on for my mother-in-law. In years past, my wife and I have been the gracious recipients of cellophane ornaments, macaroni artwork and various wads of hardened clay that required long and detailed explanations. In each case, the thought was what counted, and the items went into their appropriate spots of deification and occasional dusting.

So, as we were all rushing around the week before Christmas, buying gifts, making travel plans and trying to get the right choir outfit ironed for the right concert, she comes home with this package and asks her grandmother to open it. I thought nothing of it, other than, “Don’t open that! It’s not Christmas yet! I still have three days before I’m late with everything I said I’d do before Christmas!” Thus, I wandered off to some other part of the house to nail down something or other that I had yet to do. When I came back, my mother-in-law had this completely decimated look on her face and the cardboard gift in her hand. She passed it to me and I read it:

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Some of you know that my mother-in-law came to live with us a few years back after a stroke disabled the left side of her body. She had previously lived in the North Woods of Wisconsin, where you were just as likely to see a bear in your yard as you were to see a neighbor. The home was the dream of her mother, who had longed to leave the Racine/Kenosha area and go back to nature.

After several years, the home began to deteriorate, as did the finances of the family. The bills and the mortgage weren’t getting paid. Gutters were rusting, plumbing was failing and other things were collapsing. When we went to get her, the house had no running water, the septic tank hadn’t been pumped in quite some time and the propane tank was empty. We knew she couldn’t survive a winter up there with my father-in-law posting a half-dozen electric heaters around her, praying that a power outage wouldn’t end them both. Even more, lawyers and title agents had been sending pounds of mail my father-in-law continually ignored, most of which explained the home had moved into foreclosure. Over the last year, at Mom’s urging, I worked with them to help facilitate the final stages of this to bring her some closure and remove this albatross from around her neck.

For much of the time they owned it, I never really liked that house. It was isolated and you always seemed to be about 20 miles away from anything you needed. Everywhere you went, the deer seemed bound and determined to fuck up your vehicle. I once smashed up my truck while on a Christmas visit, slamming into a giant buck that was chasing a doe across Highway 141. The people up there were friendly in a way, but they had that underlying edge of “You ain’t from around here, are you?” I would often affect a “Yooper” accent while I was up there, partially to blend and partially for mockery.

The time I spent up there was always awkward for me. I never really seemed to have a place or a thing that I was supposed to be doing. Mom’s OCD meant everything had to be in exactly the right spot and I never could seem to find any of them. As time wore on, there were financial issues that made it weird to be there as well. Would there be enough propane to run a shower and the dishwasher? Why was the house heat set so low… Oh… At one point, a sheriff’s deputy came out to deliver a mortgage delinquency notice. I always felt odd when they brought home pizza or stocked the fridge with Diet Coke for me, as I kept feeling like they couldn’t afford it and that I was somehow draining precious family resources. (Of course, offering to buy or bring my own stuff was verboten, because that’s insulting so, there you go with that…)

When we last visited the house, it was to pull out whatever we could salvage of Mom’s stuff before the home was gone for good. Mom, OCD to the Nth degree, sent us with a laundry list of specific items she desperately needed and exactly where they should be. Of course, it had been months since she had lived there and even longer since the stroke robbed her of the ability to make ABSOLUTELY SURE that stuff was where she put it. My father-in-law was supposedly still living there, but there was little evidence to demonstrate that fact. We guessed he was just sleeping in the backroom at the gas station he was running about a half-hour away in the upper peninsula of Michigan.

The house was frigid and mostly dark, with standing water in the basement. Boxes of paper had turned to a slushy mess and mold crept along every surface downstairs. We quickly moved from delicate examination and list checking to triage-and-trash mode. Whatever we found that we thought was important and worth saving, we put on the U-Haul. Whatever was beyond reclamation, we tossed into a corner of the basement. The environment turned our fingers bluish gray; our breath became steamy puffs and coughs. Several hours later, we had worked our way through each room of the structure, crossing off the list what we found and coming up with plausible explanations for the items we couldn’t locate. We drove home, bone tired and achy. I looked back at the place through the side-view mirror of the moving truck and thought, “This is the last time I’ll ever have to see this shithole.”

My child saw none of this. That wasn’t the house she remembered.

She knew of the bench where she kept her “rock collection,” a series of non-descript stones she had freed from the dirt driveway near the stand-alone garage. She remembered the flowers on the graves of Lucky the Dog and Oreo the Cat, pets who guarded her as a baby, played with her as a toddler and slept on her bed from time to time. She recalled the stories of the black bear that kept breaking the bird feeders to grab the suet cakes and who smashed the fence around the backyard. The giant mother, with her two playful cubs in tow, who ate as she saw fit and largely viewed Lucky’s furious barking with passing amusement.

My kid remembered the flowers and the yard. She remembered the dilapidated tree house she was never allowed into but that served as a constant flight of fancy. Maybe, just maybe, THIS summer Grandpa Moose would fix up the structure so she could play in it. She hated the bees that built nests that kept her away from parts of the yard and she wondered how high the snow would be that winter. She remembered the fun that comes with not knowing the adult things that imbrued it. She remembered all the things I never even thought about.

I tell my writing and reporting students that one of the best ways to find story ideas is to “wonder more.” I note that when you’re a little kid, everything is so wonderful and magical and we ask “why” 274 times an hour because we desperately want to understand everything. As we get older, we look past most of those things that were once so important. Instead, we focus on whatever it is that is causing the biggest pain in the ass at that moment and try to fix it. That house was filled with wonder for my kid, for reasons I’ll never really fully know and yet I can completely understand.

I never knew how broke my mom’s mom was for most of her life. All I knew was that she had a dog that was mine whenever I wanted to come over and play with it. There was a “tree house” that was really nothing more than a carpet-covered board wedged into the fork of a big maple in her backyard, where I sat and read for hours. I ate a ground up mixture of bologna, onion, pickle and mayonnaise each time I went there and it was the greatest thing ever made. Every night I spent there, just before bedtime, we would pull out a giant pail of generic ice cream out of the deep freeze and have a bowl as a treat.

It was only much, much later that terms like “alcoholism” and “bankruptcy” and “cancer” crept into my vocabulary and added those blotches of gray to my rose-colored view of life with Grandma. My kid now knows the kinds of the things about her grandmother that I once found out about mine. The conversations around the house gave her words like “foreclosure” and “disability” and “disrepair.”

I often wanted to go back to that time where I knew none of those things and I could just hang on to those good things.

My kid knows everything. All she wants is a picture of their land.

And that just wrecks me.

“It’s Not About You” AKA- Stop writing shitty columns

Column writing is a lot like comedy: Everyone thinks they can do it and that it’s easy, but only a few people actually have the chops to do it well often.

For every Richard Pryor or Erma Bombeck who breaks ground and creates timeless moments of social awareness, there are thousands of people who think dropping N-bombs or coming up with theories on how socks get lost in the dryer will land them a comedy Grammy or a publishing deal.

And for every Mike Royko or Leonard Pitts who captures the essence of a place or people and shines a bright light on the problems there, there are tons of us (I include myself here) who use too much space to talk only about shit that lacks value to the readership at large.

When I was in college, I figured this out when our paper’s opinion editor asked me to write a weekly column. The first two or three were fine, but then it got into “Here’s what pisses me off this week” and it really went downhill. I stopped writing for a while, that with the promise if something ever really hit home and I thought it mattered, I’d write a column.

When I did, I heard people telling me, “Wow, that was great! You should do this every week!”

No, I shouldn’t. The whole reason it was good was because it had value to me, it had broader applicability to my audience and I wanted to write it. It couldn’t be just about me. It had to include research, depth and value. It had to say, “This is how WE as a collective are seeing X or dealing with Y.

In short, I learned “It’s not about you.”

When I would write without keeping that in mind, I’d devolve into the kind of shit I’ve been seeing this week from a number of professionals.

Start with the column the Minneapolis Star-Tribune had to retract and scrub from its site by columnist “C.J.” that attacked Jana Shortal for her choice of fashion while reporting on the Jacob Wetterling story.

Despite producing a great report on the revelation that a man finally confessed to kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing the boy in 1989, “C.J.” focused on Shortal’s choice of fashion:

cj_column

With the exception of a few screen caps floating around, you’d have better luck finding Jimmy Hoffa than a copy of this column, which the Star-Trib apologized for after removing it. Shortal is trying to stay above the fray on this one, refocusing the point of this on the story itself: A dead kid as opposed to her pants.

Another modern marvel of sensitivity, Dave Hon, gave readers a lot to think about in his look at “Why I’ll never date a feminist.”

Hon outlines his thesis that feminists are basically looking for reasons to hate men and that because “political issues have been creeping into the bedroom” he has trouble with people who “are more loyal to their gender and not their significant other.”

After I saw the mug shot and saw the title, I honestly thought it was an Onion satire at first. When I figured out it wasn’t, and I realized that I was going to have to tell “C.J.” to fuck off for “beauty shaming” Shortal, I had this moment:

 

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If the comments after the column are any indication, we’re about six minutes away from when the “wow what a sexually desirous partner” memes force the Internet to implode. Skipping past that for a moment, reading Hon’s column led to several questions:

 

  • You do understand that by just linking to stuff, you aren’t actually proving anything, right? The link has to have something of value behind it that supports your claim and not just other assholes rambling on without any sort of support for their stupid position? Or that linking to things that simply have a word you want to feature in your point doesn’t make your point true? Based on your use of links to random bits of information that required a stretch of reality to see how they applied to your point, I don’t think you understand how linking works. Looking at your “disagree” videos and your “consent texts” link, I think you don’t understand that links aren’t like a magic spell: Using them on words doesn’t magically make things true.Case in point, check this out: Dave Hon is likely rumored to keep fucking that chicken when the time has come today to do so.
  • You do know what a “time peg” is, right? As in a reason why you are writing whatever the hell you’re writing about at this point in time? For example, a “never forget” 9/11/2001 column makes sense this weekend, as it’s the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on that day. A “Michael Dukakis is Not Getting My Vote for President This Year” column makes no sense because he’s not running for anything other than the bathroom at this point in his life.Why am I reading this diatribe against feminists at this point in life? Did you just get dumped by someone who didn’t like it when you called her “sugar tits?” Did your downstairs neighbors play their Indigo Girls music too loud while you were trying to watch The O’Reilly Factor reruns? Did a woman with an unshaved armpit lean on you during your bus ride to work? What? What is it that evoked the Hon-icane of anger that was this column? You probably want to put that in there…
  • For whom were you writing this? I can’t imagine that you looked at your audience in St. Joseph, Missouri, studied the demographics, determined your niche and then thought about how best to serve those people. The closest thing I can think of is that you and the rest of the cast from the first season of the Big Bang Theory got together over a few beers before one of you uttered, “Women are bitches, man,” thus leading to your magnum opus. I’m sure there are tons of real stories out there that demand attention and could use a strong voice to promote and advocate resolution. Even worse, this showed up in the women’s section titled “Josephine” (shudder), so it’s clear you didn’t really think about what the audience wanted to hear.

 

There are other questions that came up, including “Why couldn’t you wait until John Oliver was back on the air to publish this? People have already compared you to a rat and an ogre, but Oliver is the master at finding just the right comparative for pea-brained dipshits.” However, I keep going back to the third item: What made you think other people wanted to read this shit?

When I teach opinion writing, the first rule is: This isn’t about you. The other five basic rules all stem from that, most of which people pick up on pretty easily. It’s that first rule, though, that people either forget or ignore too often.

Journalists like column writing for two basic reasons:

  • It conveys an aura of importance. You get to be the voice of authority, deeming a topic worthy of attention and then yourself worthy of explaining to the masses how to think about it. Plus, you get to have your mug shot in the paper, which is really cool. (That said, I have a feeling at least one feminist artist is airbrushing Hon’s mug onto a few maxi-pads as we speak…)
  • It takes less work (when you do it the way these people did) to do a column than it does to do an actual story. Reporters have to go out and get facts and interview people and stuff. Columnists get to be glib and snarky and tell people to suck it. Even better, if people lose their shit over your previous column, this can lead to ANOTHER COLUMN talking about how people hated your last column and why THEY can suck it! It’s like the loaves and fishes of column opportunities!

 

I get the allure of columns and since we all get to be experts now in whatever way we want, the desire to play the “dig me!” game will always continue to grow. However, the whole reason “mass” media is going down the crapper is because the people in charge of it fail to address the audience principle: If you don’t give people what they want or need, you will cease to have an audience.

And I’d bet a dollar to a dime that no one gives a shit what a columnist charged with tracking the fucking habits of local news personnel thinks about a reporter’s pants or the sexual desires (full-body shudder) of a sentient jar of mayonnaise.

The more I see Donald Trump, the more I love my car

Once upon a time on this blog, I was accused of creating “haigiography of a gas guzzling testament to why we don’t have widespread public transportation” in my tribute to Betsy, a gold, 1968 Mustang that saved me as much as I saved her. If that reader is still around, I’m sure she would be horrified of my most recent purchase: a 1966 Ford F-250 Camper edition with a 460 engine that gets about 10 miles to the gallon on a good day.

I’m not thrilled at the impact I’m having on the environment, which is why we own a Prius and drive it as much possible. Still, there is a reason I own these cars beyond the cool factor and the sense that this is a better way of dealing with a midlife crisis than fucking some random college chick, getting hair plugs and wearing a beret.

The beauty of these beauties is that I learned a lot about life by spending time working on them. The older cars are simpler and easier to understand than some of the more computerized gizmos and yet a lot harder to fix in some regards.

When I was growing up in Milwaukee, I had a fleeting dalliance with life as a mechanic. I was a snotty kid who went to “the good schools” and was pursuing a college degree, something rare in my family. During one summer, my boss at the gas station put me in the garage to help me pick up a few hours. I immediately went from the smartest guy in the room to the dumbest one. During those days, I managed to lose a lug nut down a drain, set my arm on fire and almost take my head off with a tire machine. Tom, the master mechanic, referred to me as being “as useless as tits on a bull.”

Eventually, I stopped coming home for summers and I gave up that job. The garage eventually closed, I got a bunch of degrees and I became the guy in the Ivory Tower who never had to really “work” at work. When I was thinking of buying Betsy, I had my dad’s car guy look her over to make sure I wasn’t buying a hole in the garage you throw money into. The guy told my dad something I’d always remember: If he want a show car, forget it, but if he can learn to be a bit handy and do things himself, it’s a good car. In short, I had to learn to be handy. Me, an uncoordinated intellectual dork who could get hurt walking out to the mailbox.

It was through this process that I truly fell in love with the art of auto mechanics and realized that it made my life better in so many ways I could never see coming.

I’m not a big believer in the “Hey, I just got into this thing, so EVERYBODY should do it too!” philosophy, but I do believe that this world might be a better place if Donald Trump had taken auto-shop instead of going to Wharton.

Here’s what I learned and why it matters:

  • You need to learn or you are screwed: One of the biggest gripes I’ve had about cars is that too many people who work at garages take advantage of people. My mother always feared this, as she thought a woman walking into a garage was essentially a neon sign that said to the owner, “SUCKER!” It wasn’t just a woman thing, though. My buddy, Matt, told me how useless he feels when he walks into a shop and says, “My car won’t start.” This is a guy who works as an EMT and saves people’s lives on a daily basis, but he feels like tits on a bull when it comes to cars.

    I knew that I had to learn what to do when it came to problems with Betsy or I’d be in that same boat. I had a few fragments of knowledge from what Tom showed me in between screaming about the “Fucking Nazi Go-Kart” or “Nip Mobile” he was forced to repair. Still, I knew basically nothing. I read, I prepared and I asked a lot of questions of people I learned to trust. I also avoided people I figured out were out for themselves. Being able to see these distinctions could be valuable if, say, your potential presidential candidate seems to be on your side but fucks you on the bill.

  • There isn’t “The Answer:” People for some reason have gotten used to punching six terms into Google and finding out “The Answer.” We also have pounded standardized tests into our kids for so long that the outcome is the only thing that seems to matter. The Answer, it seems, is always boiled down into a cheap slogan: “No New Taxes” “Make America Great Again” or whatever. It’s a slick marketing ploy that overrides the more complex reality.

    Working on these older cars has taught me there is no answer. There are actually a lot of answers. Where should you set your transmission bands after a fluid change? Depends on how you want it to shift. How many turns out should your carb screws be? Depends on your idle speed and interest in fuel economy. Every answer has three more questions and that’s actually a good thing to know in life. Otherwise, you find yourself following assholes who provide stupid answers, but espouse them with absolute certainty. This leads me to…

  • Everything is feel: New cars are great in some ways. Something goes to shit, so you plug a code reader into a computer and the car tells you a code. You decipher the code and replace the part of the car that matches up with that code failure. (And if you own a dishonest garage, you charge someone $120 for a “diagnostic evaluation” that anyone who ever plugged in an Atari controller or used Google could do.)

    Older cars are about feel and vibe and sense. When I rebuilt the carburetor for about the squillionth time and got it to run right, I spent about an hour making 1/8th turns of the carb screws to dial it in to perfection. It was “In… Better… In… Even Better… In… SHIT! OK, out, out, out… OK… In… In…” for an hour. Smoothing out an idle takes time and patience. It incorporates weird little things like taking a big whiff off your tailpipe to sense if she’s running rich or lean as well as using a note card to sense patterns in the expulsion of exhaust.

    In fact, smell and feel is almost everything. When I was driving the Mustang a few years back, I sensed a vibration I couldn’t pin down. Eventually I took it out on a country road and got her up past 90 to try a few things. Turns out I could coast at 70 in neutral with no vibration, but not go faster than 35 in drive without feeling it. Turns out, I needed new U-Joints, which only operate when the car is in gear.
    When I couldn’t get her to run well, I smelled for gas and found a carb leak. When I smelled something super sweet inside the car, I realized I had a heater core leak.

    When it comes to feel, I’m amazed not only had how little empathy people at that convention had for others, but also how they couldn’t feel a sense that they were being used. I watched it for moments of time and got the sense that you could score some Wagner music to overlay on that thing and not miss a beat. How is it that people couldn’t realize that if they fucked over all the people who they say they want to “take our country back” from that this wouldn’t just perpetuate a continued anger-based tug of war? Maybe it was because they just liked hearing “The Answer” from someone: Build a wall, fuck NATO, make it rain and be awesome. Thus, leading into…

  • Classic Car 101- There isn’t a right answer, but the car will tell you when shit is wrong: Newer cars have issues with computer codes or buggy transmitters and stuff like that, which will cause a problem for five minutes and then never again, or just randomly explode. It’s like being married to a bipolar passive-aggressive person with random psychotic tendencies.
    Older cars are like coming home to someone who just tells you where the bear shit in the buckwheat every day. I’m happy for X reason. You pissed me off because of Y. I’m going to bed.
    On the truck, I think I have about 12 actual wires, not counting the new stereo I put in there, and that’s it. Still, when shit is wrong, you will know it.
    When I rebuilt the Mustang’s carb, I missed a small fragment of metal that managed to slip into the needle seat. How did I know that? Because when I started the car, the carburetor started pouring gas out of it all over the engine. When I bought a battery for it a few years back, the poles were reversed. How did I know that? Because when I hooked it up, the ground wire turned bright red and started the whole electrical system on fire.

    In short, there wasn’t any nuance. Shit was wrong and you had to be an idiot not to see it.

    I wonder if there’s a parallel to be had here… Oh, also…

  • These cars will fucking humble you: Over the years, I’ve gotten better at cars and I’ve become more adventurous in the things I will try. That said, there are some serious situations in which I’ve been left questioning the size of my own brainpan. Monday, I finished some heavy work on the truck, including swapping out some leaky seals, redoing some gasket work, tuning up the carb and reinstalling the steering system. I felt really great about myself and had that “Yep, I’m a garage GOD” moment rolling through my head.

    I started it up and took it on the road for a drive. The minute I tried to go past 30, the truck stuttered and stalled and gagged. Immediately, I pulled off to the side of the road in a panic. There, it idled perfectly. I tried to drive it again and the same thing happened. I started going through a checklist of thousand-dollar repairs I was probably going to have to make until suddenly something occurred to me.

    When I was pulling the valve covers, I couldn’t get a wrench on a bolt because a spark plug wire was in the way. I unplugged the wire and went about my work. Hmm…
    I opened the hood on the side of the road and sure enough: The wire was hanging there like a Great Dane’s balls. I snapped it back onto the plug and the truck ran like a Swiss Watch.

    Humility comes in all shapes and sizes when a car of that age will tell you, “Nope. Still broken.” It can be big or small but it happens to us all. A master mechanic was telling me a story about having a 1971 Mach 1 Mustang and how he loved it. When I asked what happened to it, he simply said, “Missed third gear at about 80 miles per hour. You ever see a rod virtually explode?” Eeesh.

    I learned a lot about having to beg for help, missing simple fixes and having to buy the same part three or four times because I fucked up my fixes. In the process. Humility, I honestly believe, is a lost art in “Fuck You Nation.” It’s why instead of thinking about how stuff works and why it doesn’t do what people want it to, they just chant “U-S-A! U-S-A!” like that’s going to solve everything.

  • Car 102 – If you can problem-solve and you’ll be fine: I know life is a lot more complicated than the cars of the 1960s, but I honestly think too many people have given up on working through problems. I see this with my kid all the time. If she gets the answer right, she’s fine. When she doesn’t, she throws up her hands and declares it can’t be done. When I ask her to take the laundry upstairs, she loads everything into one basket and then says, “That basket is too heavy.” Or, she takes up everything one piece at a time. She never thinks, “If I put half of it in this basket and half in that one, I can get this done quickly and without blowing out several vertebrae.” (Part of that, I’m sure, is willful ignorance, but still…)

    With the car, each system operates independently of the others and that makes for some pretty good step-by-step solutions. For example, the temperature pull switch in the truck wouldn’t shut off the heat, thus leading to a cabin temp of about 98 degrees in the middle of summer. I tried rebuilding the cable that ran it, only to find the cable kept breaking apart. I then stuck my head under the dash and followed the cable to its source, which was a spot where it left the cabin through the firewall and moved out into the engine bay.

    I found where it came to rest: A valve that was so rusted, I couldn’t pry it loose with a pliers. After about five sessions of WD40 and a lot of friction, I got the valve loose. Eventually, it swung free, so I hooked up the cable, repaired the connection and reinstalled it. Works like a charm.

    When the carb on the Mustang wasn’t reacting right to the tuning I was doing, I hooked up a vacuum gauge to test it. The gauge read zero, as opposed to 15-17, which is what it should have read. I checked every connection on that damned piece of shit and found every connection valid. Finally, I decided to just run a new vacuum line from the manifold, which is where I found that there was a giant leak because a plug had snapped off. I installed a new plug and the gauge jumped to 17. Still, not everything works out that way…

  • Failure happens: Where did people get this idea that everything should work out in the end? Was it too many 1980s movies? Was it that summer trip to Nostalgia-ville? Who said each and every one of us is perfect all the time?

    Apparently somebody, because when I see college kids try to write for me and I mark the shit out of their papers, they’re appalled. One kid told me, “I’ve never received anything less than an A on anything I’ve EVER DONE!”

    Well, even DiMaggio’s streak ended, kid.

    I failed a shit ton on those cars and it really pissed me off every time, but not nearly as much as failure pissed off Tom. I remember him at various times throwing a lit blowtorch across the garage once, kicking over a toolbox and screaming (in earshot of a convent member) that something was “fucking tighter than a nun’s cunt.”

    I tried not to do anything that might cause me to fuck up anywhere near him.
    When I was finally on my own and able to fail at my own speed, I learned a ton from failing. I learned what didn’t work and that helped me avoid those things so much more than random success helped me replicate completion. Failure often taught me painful lessons that required stitches, eye flushes and vomit. Failure wasn’t something I sought, but something I saw as a learning opportunity.

    Here in ‘Mur’ca, that’s heresy. We don’t fail. We’re the best. Everyone gets a trophy. When things like Sam Brownback’s economic revival plan of trickle-down economics failed, it wasn’t his fault or the fault of the plan. It was some “unforeseen force” or Democrats or that little fucking Gremlin with the big Mohawk. When Trump’s businesses go bankrupt, it’s the fault of someone else: A developer, a marketer or whatever. Failure isn’t an option. It’s not even a real thing.

    Without failure, there is no pain. Without pain, there is no growth or learning. I have two hands filled with cars that will testify to that.
    This leads to the biggest thing of all…

  • True joy over accomplishment: If you always win, how can you enjoy it? When the Americans knocked off the Soviets in 1980’s Miracle on Ice, the kids were delirious. They were laughing and crying and hugging. Years later, a Russian player said that they won so often, they had forgotten what the feeling was. They were just supposed to win.

    I don’t always win with the cars, but when I do, it’s the greatest thing in the world.
    Yesterday, it rained for about the ninth time in the past month and each and every time it did, there was water on the floorboards of the truck. I had a leak and I was freaking out that it might be the cowl, which would require welding and such. I ran wire cameras, flashlights and even fishing line through the cowl, looking for a telltale sign of deadly rust. I couldn’t find anything, which freaked me out even more. Where was this goddamned water coming from?

    So, I did what any insane person would do: I pulled out everything between the dash and the fire wall so I could see the seams between the outside and the inside of the truck. Glove box, heater vents, radio, all of it came out. I then poured about ten gallons of water on the truck windshield and stuffed my head under the dash with a flashlight.

    I found it.

    The mountings where the windshield wipers met the firewall were dripping like Chinese Water Torture. Turns out, the two holes that let the wipers drain were plugged. I cleaned them out and added a silicone seal around the edges of the mounts. When it poured later, my wife and child feared a tornado. I was in the garage, jumping around like a teen after his first kiss because the floorboards were dry.

    For all the stuff cars don’t do, the one thing they will do is let you know when you have actually succeeded. When the Mustang didn’t have heat, I played with the cooling system for weeks until I finally figured out what was wrong and fixed it. I drove around with the windows open and the heat on full blast in the middle of the summer, giggling like schoolgirl that I had heat. Truth be told, I was never going to really need it, as I stored the car in the winter, but fuck it.

    I. HAD. HEAT.

    I don’t know how normal this is or how many people feel it on a daily basis, but I do know that yesterday I would much rather have told people about fixing the truck than anything else that happened to me. I would win a major award that day and yet still want to say, “Yeah, that’s great! But check out the truck!”

 

There are dozens of other lessons I found over time: You get dirty as shit and you learn to enjoy it. There are nice people all over the world on chat boards and in auto parts stores who want to see you succeed, regardless of your opinion on immigration, abortion, guns or whatever. Don’t throw money at the thing and think it’s a solution. There are things you can live with and you need to find them.

The cars I love have taught me symbiosis in a strange way: I give them more time on this Earth, they return the favor to me through joy, pain and life lessons. I don’t know if everyone has something like this, but if we did, maybe we could get on board with the idea that we don’t have to be chest-beating assholes who exercise moral superiority over people while simultaneously enacting laws based on fear of those same individuals. Maybe we might learn that “The Answer” isn’t out there and that certainty is an illusion. Nothing is ever perfect. It’s just fixed enough for now.

We might also learn that looking back in time at “great” through our fun-house mirror of desperation will only breed discontent as we move to the future of the possible.

Just like America, these cars showed me that things weren’t “great” back then. The lap-only seatbelts, the rust-bucket floor pans, the rear-wheel drive and the lack of airbags are only a few things that show me what we have now is a hell of a lot better in a lot of ways than what we had then. “Governmental interference” gave us crumple zones, safety markers, three-point seatbelts and other things the car manufactures weren’t too thrilled with, even though they have made our lives exponentially better.

Still, for those few short months each summer, when working on a car is more fun than work, I get a chance to learn and grow and become someone better.

It’s a small price to pay for such a gift.

Survival is beautiful

In my experience, the most difficult thing about surviving a trauma has been the dark, grim sense of how I felt I was supposed to react. When it comes to other successful endeavors in life, people are always looking for positive things they can tell you:

“Hey, congratulations on the big promotion!”

“Way to go! Your home run won the game!”

“Nice job on this paper! 100 percent! A+”

Positivity oozes out of everything we like to tell people for whom we are happy or grateful.

However, in surviving horrible colleagues, baseless inquisitions, heavy bouts of depression and other issues, I have never found people lauding my efforts as if they were joyous or beautiful experiences:

“Great job not punching out that asshole you work with!”

“Nice job of not getting fired after someone filed that grievance against you!”

“Hey! Way to go! You didn’t kill yourself!”

The saddest line I think I ever read in a book captured this perfectly. When the Minnesota Golden Gophers won their first NCAA hockey championship under Herb Brooks, an aide found his team celebrating like crazy in the locker room. A few dozen feet away, Brooks sat drained, silently resting in a hallway. John Powers noted the following about that moment:

“They had succeeded. He had avoided failure.”

I hate that my survival has often been seen as avoiding failure. For me, there is a sense of having been lessened permanently by the act and that survival means continuing as a damaged shell of my former self.

I hate that survival is seen as a dark happenstance that allowed a scarred and damaged person to luckily continue on a now-ruined path. Stories of survival should inspire greatness, not fear and shame. They should show the indelible nature of strength and the beauty of the indefatigable individuals who survived.

Enter “Art is Survival.”

I ran into this website recently after a few friends recommended it. The idea is that two brave storytellers were opening up their wounds to the public and inviting others to do the same in that scary, often rude and somewhat horrifying medium known as The Internet. People can tell their stories in whichever way they want: Text, audio, video and what-have-you, but the stories will be accompanied with inspired art.

The visual representations of survival will look to provide readers with a sense of beauty that can unlock the grace and value of survival. They will also serve as a reminder that survival is just the start of a truly incredible transformation of self. They provide a grace, a dignity and a beauty that is often lost when black text meets white screens. They also show how the horrifying act that forced survival may be ugly, but the survival itself is what matters now.

And it’s truly a beautiful thing.

Don’t Hate The Donald, Hate the Lame

 

So I get that you are VERY against trump… Are you as vehement when on Facebook and see anti trump stuff?.…. Just wondering…

One of the guys I know who has been a lifesaver when it comes to helping me keep Betsy tuned up posted this on my Facebook feed this week. It came after about the third time I posted a “Snopes” link on his, debunking some meme his cousin Cletus or somebody sent him about something. This time, it was the Trump retweet of the “black on black” crime graphic, which had some journalists trying to verify the numbers and others tracking it back to some neo-Nazi website across The Pond.

After he got sick of me posting “Snopes” stuff, it became a game of “Well, that’s just one site’s opinion” crap, which of course led me to find nine other sites from various spots, including the exchange Trump had with conservative hero Bill O’Reilly about the bullshit in that graphic.

Thus, the question above.

The answer I gave was mostly honest: I’m not “anti-Trump.” Granted, I hate that the guy essentially killed the USFL, he’s spouting racist shit (and sexist shit and xenophobic shit and…) and that he’s the kind of guy who acts like he hit a triple but was actually born on third base. (Hell, he was probably born at home plate, but regressed, and yet I digress…) None of those things endear me to him.

However, this isn’t about Trump. Or Cruz. Or Jeb! Or Hillary. Or Bernie. Or whoever that other guy is who keeps showing up at the Democratic debates, like that random guy who shows up in your wedding photos, but no one ever remembered inviting.

This is about all the stupid that circulates out there and how easy it is to feel superior to others without doing any of the work that you used to have to do in order to actually back it up.

One of the hardest things I have to teach student journalists is that they need to verify the hell out of everything they want to publish. The line, “If your mother says she loves you, go check it out” has become our mantra.

In one class, I give students ten sports “facts” that people SWEAR they know to be true (example: When the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team beat the Soviet Union, the U.S. won the gold medal. False: USA had to beat Finland two days later to clinch the gold.). In almost EVERY case, the students who are supposed to look this stuff up will say, “Oh, yeah I know that” and then go find a citation to slap on the paper without reading it. Even more, in most of those cases, the citation is either wrong because it’s a shitty source (e.g. jimmysdickfaceblog.blogspot.com) or the citation is right, but the kid never read it.

I don’t know why this is, but other than worrying about their grades, students seem to lack a sense of paranoia, something that would be great for journalists to have. However, when the good ones do get it, they become almost as outraged as I am about the world at large and its complete disinterest in checking things out.

“Where the hell did they get this shit from?” is a common refrain I get from students in the newsroom who are reading their Facebook feeds. It’s usually some racist meme from Uncle Charlie who is saying something about how all crimes in the state of Alabama have been committed by “Negroes with unlicensed weapons” or something. The kid then does a simple Internet search and can debunk the bullshit in 10 seconds or less and posts about a dozen “this is crap” links out there for Uncle Charlie to read.

Here’s the problem: Even if Uncle Charlie or Cousin Cletus or that Guy You Know From Work does take the damned thing down or stops forwarding the email chain about Trayvon Martin beating the shit out of a bus driver, it’s not enough. For starters, they perpetuated a continuing strand of bullshit that pollutes the important discussions of the day.

Second and more importantly, this is like putting a pot underneath a leaky spot in your ceiling: Sure, you managed the problem, but the root cause isn’t getting fixed.

If we value intelligence and we value knowledge, we tend to want to be able to prove our point through information, logic and reasoning.

If we only value proving our point, even though that point may lack information, logic and rational thought, we end up with people who continue to forward and repost ignorant and inaccurate information, with all the grace of a monkey shit-fight at the zoo.

It seems today that people just want to be right about everything they think or feel and yet lack the desire to work to make sure they ARE right. It’s so much easier for them to blame contradicting information on “the liberal media” or “some hack” out there than it is to take the time and really learn something before speaking about it. I’m not sure how many people are beyond salvation when it comes to this. If you read the comments on any political stories, I think you’d agree with me we’re all on the way to hell in a speedboat.

However, to be fair to the guy who posted this and found himself being “snoped” to death, he took down the meme and left me with this:

 

Cool. I’ll prolly repost incorrect things again in the future. I’ll count on u to keep me informed as that is your profession. Lol, I’ll also count on you to not be judgemental of me.

 

I had to give the guy credit, because if there are people who actually will consider that maybe, just maybe, it’s important to take correction on stuff like this, maybe we won’t end up with President Trump trying to nuke Nova Scotia for because someone fucked up his breakfast cereal.

I’ll take the small victories on stuff like this.

Grammar and spelling can always come later.

The Fog Of History: Reading List

I decided to post this under the FOH rubric because I'm feeling a bit foggy this morning. Actually, most of the articles linked to are about stuff in the past so I think the history thing works. It does for me.

Geaux Tigers: LSU Prof Bob Mann wrote a swell piece about how Hubert Humphrey's time as a grad student in Red Stick imbued him with a passion for civil rights. After all, there weren't a lot of black folks in either his native South Dakota or Minnesota.

Historical News of the Weird; The WaPo had an oddball story about how the kid cast by the Nazi regime as the perfect aryan in a propaganda campaign was, in fact, Jewish. I hope David Dukke hasn't seen this one…

The Slatest Sporting News: UGA history Prof Claudio Saunt wrote a fascinating take on the American Indian mascot furor: This Land Is Their Land.  

Ice Cream and Segregation: I learned something new about the absurdity of Jim Crow from Michael Twitty's non-twitty piece in the Guardian: Black people were denied vanilla ice cream in the Jim Crow south- except on Independence Day. Totally ridiculous and completely fascinating.

The New Louisiana Hayride: This one is kind of a stretch but Edwin Edwards is clearly a historical figure. My buddy Lamar White interviewed the Congressional candidate and 4 term Governor and posted about it at his blog, Cen Lamar. 

Feed Ferguson

While I’ve been following the events of Ferguson as closely as I can from three states away, I haven’t felt like my white ass has had a lot to add on the subject.

Clearly I’m speaking up today, but I’ll still just keep this short and to the point:

As the world watches the events unfolding in Ferguson, many people have thought “how can I help?”. As a public school teacher, my first thought is always about the children involved in any tragic situation like this. When I found out school had been canceled for several days as a result of the civil unrest, I immediately became worried for the students in households with food instability. Many children in the US eat their only meals of the day, breakfast and lunch, at school. With school out, kids are undoubtedly going hungry.

ALL OF THIS MONEY WILL GO TO FEED KIDS IN FERGUSON. A dollar or a hundred dollars, it doesn’t matter. You will be helping to put food in the mouth of a child who needs it. Regardless of your opinion on the civil unrest in Ferguson, there is no need for innocent children to go hungry because of it.

There’s only a day left in the fundly campaign, which started with a goal of $20K and as of this writing is over $125K. These kids aren’t going to be starting class until next Monday at the earliest. Let’s make sure they’re not going hungry in the meantime.

(Additionally, if you’re in the St. Louis area and want to volunteer, contact the Food Bank directly.)

Wisconsin School District Institutes Censorship After Student Newspaper Points Out Rape Jokes Aren’t Funny

Administrators in the Fond du Lac, Wis. school district this week implemented a policy that guarantees them the right to review all content of school media prior to publication. Any article that the administrators deem “poorly written, inadequately researched, false, defamatory or libelous, vulgar or profane, unsuitable for immature audiences, or biased or prejudiced”will be yanked from the publication or otherwise censored.

The root of this heavy-handed approach to student media?An article written by the Cardinal Columns editor in chief, in which she points out that a lot of people in her school have made and heard rape jokes and that the rape victims in her school don’t find them funny. Senior Tanvi Kumar uses a well-executed survey of her peers to show how people have no problem talking about rape like it’s the funniest thing out there. In addition, she interviews several rape victims about their experiences and victimization.

The piece is better than most coverage I’ve seen in college papers and even some pro publications. It’s also interesting that no one is accusing the publication of being libelous or anything else listed above. Instead, couched deeper in this policy is a “we can do what we want if we want to” clause.

The school’s response is one that should make almost everyone cringe.Let’s skip past the whole “First Amendment is still a thing” issue and cut to the specificity of this incident.

The student PUBLICATION is being punished for pointing out that RAPE IS REAL and it SUCKS WHEN IT HAPPENS TO HIGH SCHOOL KIDS.

After I read the article, I had a conversation with another parent in my kid’s class about it and the reaction from the parent was, “Well, when your kid gets to high school, would you want her reading about this?”

My answer was pretty simple: That’s not even close to the point. The kid pointed out something real and scary and my hope as a parent is that the school would DO SOMETHING at the school about the issue of rape. Administrators could open more dialogue, look for ways to reinforce the issue that this isn’t OK and joking about it is not cool. That’s what I’d want to happen. Even more, I would hope that my kid would read about it and we could talk about what to do in situations where she felt pressure and what was not acceptable behavior. Information breeds dialogue, which in turn creates opportunities to prevent scary things like this.

Administrators don’t like dialogue for the most part and use a horrible SCOTUS decision in an ass-backward fashion to suppress student speech.

In 1988the Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier casedetermined that administrators may inhibit the publication of some content if they believe it has the ability to inhibit education within the school. In other words, if you create an article that can grind the school to a halt, administrators have the right to censor it.

Subsequent decisions at lower courts have tried to refine this, and explain that the bar for this is really pretty high. Still, administrators treat this decision like it came from God and endows them with the power of the Avengers: I CAN HAZ MY CENZORS!

The administration’s reaction in this case is probably the worst one possible:

[Superintendent James Sebert] points to aspects of “The Rape Joke” article —which includes some graphic description of the types of rape a student endured, a letter from the editors called “The Punchline,” and a Pledge of Allegiance editorial that instructs students on their rights to not stand during the Pledge as questionable material for a school publication. Sebert said he and Wiltzius met with Matthew Smith, the print journalism teacher at the high school and adviser to the magazine’s staff, to discuss the issues.

“Cardinal Columns is created as part of the print journalism class at Fond du Lac High School,” Sebert wrote. “District resources are utilized and the publication represents the school and the district. The guidelines created will ensure this publication as well as any school-sponsored publications are reviewed by the principal prior to print and publication.This is a reasonable expectation for a school-sponsored publication.

(Emphasis mine)

So, the superintendent didn’t like the really icky description of rape that the students used because, y’know, it might be uncomfortable for people to hear. The lesson here? Remember, kids, when discussing rape, make sure to use language that accentuates the positivity of the issue and that you don’t make people feel uncomfortable about it. It was also horrible that they pointed out that students still have Constitutional rights and that the students came out against rape culture.

No wonder we need to censor them.

The principal, however, said students don’t really need to worry about this because he’s a cool guy:

High School principal Jon Wiltzius says,”If an article would come to me with a topic that does not meet the expectations or guidelines then yes I will have to deny that.”

But Principal Wiltzius says that doesn’t mean the story is dead. Instead he says he will work with the journalism students and their teacher to come up with what he deems is an acceptable way to present a topic.

Says Wiltzius, “As we work through that process now of identifying what’s appropriate, what’s not based on those guidelines I think that’s where the communication has to occur as well.”

I’m sure there are a number of hyperbolic comparatives we could make here about a leader taking away the rights of others, only to tell them not to worry because he will assure them that he’s acting in their best interest. However, to make any of them would distract from the importance of the message here: I’m censoring you and I have the final say about this, but don’t worry about it because I promise you I’ll be nice about it.

This kind of thing can’t be allowed to stand.The students have created a petition, requesting that the superintendent reverse the policy and restore the rights of the school publications.

I ask that you sign it, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to. Unlike the Fond du Lac administrators, I’m not presuming that I know better than you or that I can force you to bend to my will because I want you to.

Wisconsin School District Institutes Censorship After Student Newspaper Points Out Rape Jokes Aren’t Funny

Administrators in the Fond du Lac, Wis. school district this week implemented a policy that guarantees them the right to review all content of school media prior to publication. Any article that the administrators deem “poorly written, inadequately researched, false, defamatory or libelous, vulgar or profane, unsuitable for immature audiences, or biased or prejudiced”will be yanked from the publication or otherwise censored.

The root of this heavy-handed approach to student media? An article written by the Cardinal Columns editor in chief, in which she points out that a lot of people in her school have made and heard rape jokes and that the rape victims in her school don’t find them funny. Senior Tanvi Kumar uses a well-executed survey of her peers to show how people have no problem talking about rape like it’s the funniest thing out there. In addition, she interviews several rape victims about their experiences and victimization.

The piece is better than most coverage I’ve seen in college papers and even some pro publications. It’s also interesting that no one is accusing the publication of being libelous or anything else listed above. Instead, couched deeper in this policy is a “we can do what we want if we want to” clause.

The school’s response is one that should make almost everyone cringe.Let’s skip past the whole “First Amendment is still a thing” issue and cut to the specificity of this incident.

The student PUBLICATION is being punished for pointing out that RAPE IS REAL and it SUCKS WHEN IT HAPPENS TO HIGH SCHOOL KIDS.

After I read the article, I had a conversation with another parent in my kid’s class about it and the reaction from the parent was, “Well, when your kid gets to high school, would you want her reading about this?”

My answer was pretty simple: That’s not even close to the point. The kid pointed out something real and scary and my hope as a parent is that the school would DO SOMETHING at the school about the issue of rape. Administrators could open more dialogue, look for ways to reinforce the issue that this isn’t OK and joking about it is not cool. That’s what I’d want to happen. Even more, I would hope that my kid would read about it and we could talk about what to do in situations where she felt pressure and what was not acceptable behavior. Information breeds dialogue, which in turn creates opportunities to prevent scary things like this.

Administrators don’t like dialogue for the most part and use a horrible SCOTUS decision in an ass-backward fashion to suppress student speech.

In 1988 the Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier casedetermined that administrators may inhibit the publication of some content if they believe it has the ability to inhibit education within the school. In other words, if you create an article that can grind the school to a halt, administrators have the right to censor it.

Subsequent decisions at lower courts have tried to refine this, and explain that the bar for this is really pretty high. Still, administrators treat this decision like it came from God and endows them with the power of the Avengers: I CAN HAZ MY CENZORS!

The administration’s reaction in this case is probably the worst one possible:

[Superintendent James Sebert] points to aspects of “The Rape Joke” article — which includes some graphic description of the types of rape a student endured, a letter from the editors called “The Punchline,” and a Pledge of Allegiance editorial that instructs students on their rights to not stand during the Pledge as questionable material for a school publication. Sebert said he and Wiltzius met with Matthew Smith, the print journalism teacher at the high school and adviser to the magazine’s staff, to discuss the issues.

“Cardinal Columns is created as part of the print journalism class at Fond du Lac High School,” Sebert wrote. “District resources are utilized and the publication represents the school and the district. The guidelines created will ensure this publication as well as any school-sponsored publications are reviewed by the principal prior to print and publication. This is a reasonable expectation for a school-sponsored publication.

(Emphasis mine)

So, the superintendent didn’t like the really icky description of rape that the students used because, y’know, it might be uncomfortable for people to hear. The lesson here? Remember, kids, when discussing rape, make sure to use language that accentuates the positivity of the issue and that you don’t make people feel uncomfortable about it. It was also horrible that they pointed out that students still have Constitutional rights and that the students came out against rape culture.

No wonder we need to censor them.

The principal, however, said students don’t really need to worry about this because he’s a cool guy:

High School principal Jon Wiltzius says,”If an article would come to me with a topic that does not meet the expectations or guidelines then yes I will have to deny that.”

But Principal Wiltzius says that doesn’t mean the story is dead. Instead he says he will work with the journalism students and their teacher to come up with what he deems is an acceptable way to present a topic.

Says Wiltzius, “As we work through that process now of identifying what’s appropriate, what’s not based on those guidelines I think that’s where the communication has to occur as well.”

I’m sure there are a number of hyperbolic comparatives we could make here about a leader taking away the rights of others, only to tell them not to worry because he will assure them that he’s acting in their best interest. However, to make any of them would distract from the importance of the message here: I’m censoring you and I have the final say about this, but don’t worry about it because I promise you I’ll be nice about it.

This kind of thing can’t be allowed to stand. The students have created a petition, requesting that the superintendent reverse the policy and restore the rights of the school publications.

I ask that you sign it, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to. Unlike the Fond du Lac administrators, I’m not presuming that I know better than you or that I can force you to bend to my will because I want you to.

Wisconsin School District Institutes Censorship After Student Newspaper Points Out Rape Jokes Aren’t Funny

Administrators in the Fond du Lac, Wis. school district this week implemented a policy that guarantees them the right to review all content of school media prior to publication. Any article that the administrators deem “poorly written, inadequately researched, false, defamatory or libelous, vulgar or profane, unsuitable for immature audiences, or biased or prejudiced”will be yanked from the publication or otherwise censored.

The root of this heavy-handed approach to student media? An article written by the Cardinal Columns editor in chief, in which she points out that a lot of people in her school have made and heard rape jokes and that the rape victims in her school don’t find them funny. Senior Tanvi Kumar uses a well-executed survey of her peers to show how people have no problem talking about rape like it’s the funniest thing out there. In addition, she interviews several rape victims about their experiences and victimization.

The piece is better than most coverage I’ve seen in college papers and even some pro publications. It’s also interesting that no one is accusing the publication of being libelous or anything else listed above. Instead, couched deeper in this policy is a “we can do what we want if we want to” clause.

The school’s response is one that should make almost everyone cringe.Let’s skip past the whole “First Amendment is still a thing” issue and cut to the specificity of this incident.

The student PUBLICATION is being punished for pointing out that RAPE IS REAL and it SUCKS WHEN IT HAPPENS TO HIGH SCHOOL KIDS.

After I read the article, I had a conversation with another parent in my kid’s class about it and the reaction from the parent was, “Well, when your kid gets to high school, would you want her reading about this?”

My answer was pretty simple: That’s not even close to the point. The kid pointed out something real and scary and my hope as a parent is that the school would DO SOMETHING at the school about the issue of rape. Administrators could open more dialogue, look for ways to reinforce the issue that this isn’t OK and joking about it is not cool. That’s what I’d want to happen. Even more, I would hope that my kid would read about it and we could talk about what to do in situations where she felt pressure and what was not acceptable behavior. Information breeds dialogue, which in turn creates opportunities to prevent scary things like this.

Administrators don’t like dialogue for the most part and use a horrible SCOTUS decision in an ass-backward fashion to suppress student speech.

In 1988 the Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier casedetermined that administrators may inhibit the publication of some content if they believe it has the ability to inhibit education within the school. In other words, if you create an article that can grind the school to a halt, administrators have the right to censor it.

Subsequent decisions at lower courts have tried to refine this, and explain that the bar for this is really pretty high. Still, administrators treat this decision like it came from God and endows them with the power of the Avengers: I CAN HAZ MY CENZORS!

The administration’s reaction in this case is probably the worst one possible:

[Superintendent James Sebert] points to aspects of “The Rape Joke” article — which includes some graphic description of the types of rape a student endured, a letter from the editors called “The Punchline,” and a Pledge of Allegiance editorial that instructs students on their rights to not stand during the Pledge as questionable material for a school publication. Sebert said he and Wiltzius met with Matthew Smith, the print journalism teacher at the high school and adviser to the magazine’s staff, to discuss the issues.

“Cardinal Columns is created as part of the print journalism class at Fond du Lac High School,” Sebert wrote. “District resources are utilized and the publication represents the school and the district. The guidelines created will ensure this publication as well as any school-sponsored publications are reviewed by the principal prior to print and publication. This is a reasonable expectation for a school-sponsored publication.

(Emphasis mine)

So, the superintendent didn’t like the really icky description of rape that the students used because, y’know, it might be uncomfortable for people to hear. The lesson here? Remember, kids, when discussing rape, make sure to use language that accentuates the positivity of the issue and that you don’t make people feel uncomfortable about it. It was also horrible that they pointed out that students still have Constitutional rights and that the students came out against rape culture.

No wonder we need to censor them.

The principal, however, said students don’t really need to worry about this because he’s a cool guy:

High School principal Jon Wiltzius says,”If an article would come to me with a topic that does not meet the expectations or guidelines then yes I will have to deny that.”

But Principal Wiltzius says that doesn’t mean the story is dead. Instead he says he will work with the journalism students and their teacher to come up with what he deems is an acceptable way to present a topic.

Says Wiltzius, “As we work through that process now of identifying what’s appropriate, what’s not based on those guidelines I think that’s where the communication has to occur as well.”

I’m sure there are a number of hyperbolic comparatives we could make here about a leader taking away the rights of others, only to tell them not to worry because he will assure them that he’s acting in their best interest. However, to make any of them would distract from the importance of the message here: I’m censoring you and I have the final say about this, but don’t worry about it because I promise you I’ll be nice about it.

This kind of thing can’t be allowed to stand. The students have created a petition, requesting that the superintendent reverse the policy and restore the rights of the school publications.

I ask that you sign it, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to. Unlike the Fond du Lac administrators, I’m not presuming that I know better than you or that I can force you to bend to my will because I want you to.

Wisconsin School District Institutes Censorship After Student Newspaper Points Out Rape Jokes Aren’t Funny

Administrators in the Fond du Lac, Wis. school district this week implemented a policy that guarantees them the right to review all content of school media prior to publication. Any article that the administrators deem “poorly written, inadequately researched, false, defamatory or libelous, vulgar or profane, unsuitable for immature audiences, or biased or prejudiced”will be yanked from the publication or otherwise censored.

The root of this heavy-handed approach to student media? An article written by the Cardinal Columns editor in chief, in which she points out that a lot of people in her school have made and heard rape jokes and that the rape victims in her school don’t find them funny. Senior Tanvi Kumar uses a well-executed survey of her peers to show how people have no problem talking about rape like it’s the funniest thing out there. In addition, she interviews several rape victims about their experiences and victimization.

The piece is better than most coverage I’ve seen in college papers and even some pro publications. It’s also interesting that no one is accusing the publication of being libelous or anything else listed above. Instead, couched deeper in this policy is a “we can do what we want if we want to” clause.

The school’s response is one that should make almost everyone cringe.Let’s skip past the whole “First Amendment is still a thing” issue and cut to the specificity of this incident.

The student PUBLICATION is being punished for pointing out that RAPE IS REAL and it SUCKS WHEN IT HAPPENS TO HIGH SCHOOL KIDS.

After I read the article, I had a conversation with another parent in my kid’s class about it and the reaction from the parent was, “Well, when your kid gets to high school, would you want her reading about this?”

My answer was pretty simple: That’s not even close to the point. The kid pointed out something real and scary and my hope as a parent is that the school would DO SOMETHING at the school about the issue of rape. Administrators could open more dialogue, look for ways to reinforce the issue that this isn’t OK and joking about it is not cool. That’s what I’d want to happen. Even more, I would hope that my kid would read about it and we could talk about what to do in situations where she felt pressure and what was not acceptable behavior. Information breeds dialogue, which in turn creates opportunities to prevent scary things like this.

Administrators don’t like dialogue for the most part and use a horrible SCOTUS decision in an ass-backward fashion to suppress student speech.

In 1988 the Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier casedetermined that administrators may inhibit the publication of some content if they believe it has the ability to inhibit education within the school. In other words, if you create an article that can grind the school to a halt, administrators have the right to censor it.

Subsequent decisions at lower courts have tried to refine this, and explain that the bar for this is really pretty high. Still, administrators treat this decision like it came from God and endows them with the power of the Avengers: I CAN HAZ MY CENZORS!

The administration’s reaction in this case is probably the worst one possible:

[Superintendent James Sebert] points to aspects of “The Rape Joke” article — which includes some graphic description of the types of rape a student endured, a letter from the editors called “The Punchline,” and a Pledge of Allegiance editorial that instructs students on their rights to not stand during the Pledge as questionable material for a school publication. Sebert said he and Wiltzius met with Matthew Smith, the print journalism teacher at the high school and adviser to the magazine’s staff, to discuss the issues.

“Cardinal Columns is created as part of the print journalism class at Fond du Lac High School,” Sebert wrote. “District resources are utilized and the publication represents the school and the district. The guidelines created will ensure this publication as well as any school-sponsored publications are reviewed by the principal prior to print and publication. This is a reasonable expectation for a school-sponsored publication.

(Emphasis mine)

So, the superintendent didn’t like the really icky description of rape that the students used because, y’know, it might be uncomfortable for people to hear. The lesson here? Remember, kids, when discussing rape, make sure to use language that accentuates the positivity of the issue and that you don’t make people feel uncomfortable about it. It was also horrible that they pointed out that students still have Constitutional rights and that the students came out against rape culture.

No wonder we need to censor them.

The principal, however, said students don’t really need to worry about this because he’s a cool guy:

High School principal Jon Wiltzius says,”If an article would come to me with a topic that does not meet the expectations or guidelines then yes I will have to deny that.”

But Principal Wiltzius says that doesn’t mean the story is dead. Instead he says he will work with the journalism students and their teacher to come up with what he deems is an acceptable way to present a topic.

Says Wiltzius, “As we work through that process now of identifying what’s appropriate, what’s not based on those guidelines I think that’s where the communication has to occur as well.”

I’m sure there are a number of hyperbolic comparatives we could make here about a leader taking away the rights of others, only to tell them not to worry because he will assure them that he’s acting in their best interest. However, to make any of them would distract from the importance of the message here: I’m censoring you and I have the final say about this, but don’t worry about it because I promise you I’ll be nice about it.

This kind of thing can’t be allowed to stand. The students have created a petition, requesting that the superintendent reverse the policy and restore the rights of the school publications.

I ask that you sign it, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to. Unlike the Fond du Lac administrators, I’m not presuming that I know better than you or that I can force you to bend to my will because I want you to.