Category Archives: Uncategorized

I want to meet Mick Mulvaney…

I want to meet Mick Mulvaney, this man of billions who has the audacity to call people like my mother-in-law thieves.

She sat in a hospital recliner this week with a giant blackening scar running down her leg as a stream of people she barely knew entered and exited at a rapid pace, spewing information into her stroke-impaired mind. She looked like a child who had lost her mother at the grocery store as doctors changed orders and nurses took readings, her eyes darting from one to the other as they spoke over her in multi-syllabic jargon.

She had put off a knee replacement until she cleared 65 so that her Medicare would help cover the bills. Each day, she rose on two dysfunctional joints that had worn ligaments, cartilage and bone. Her entire left side remained frozen in a tense and contracted state, the result of a massive stroke several years back.

The doctor decided to do her “good” leg first, so it could heal and provide the most support. When my wife protested, the doctor noted it was the only way to move forward with this. He also promised she’d be “good as new” after her two-night stay in the hospital and ready to go home.

My wife knew better.

Her mother couldn’t go but short distances without pain or exhaustion and that was when the “good” leg was working. Her bladder failed her often, as she tried desperately to make it to the bathroom before suffering the indignity of asking for a fresh nightgown. She rarely left the house and her movement was mostly confined to a wheelchair.

She needed a lot of rehab and she would need a nursing home to do it, my wife argued. The doctor didn’t think so at the time, but he eventually came around to it. However, the rule of Medicare is a three-midnight stay, or no nursing home.

My mother-in-law spent most of her two days in a drug-induced haze of opiates and numbing agents as we kept trying to figure out with these people how all this would work. By the time they had us convinced if we were there 24/7, we could keep her at home, they changed their mind and set up a nursing home bed.

The cost was more than $350 per day, not counting therapy and meds. Mom subsists on about $800 of social security and a $200 pension, the result of decades in the Catholic school system.

She cashed in her state pension, earned through years of working at northwoods schools near the UP of Michigan, a total of $8,000, but the nursing home needed two weeks up front.

As these numbers and costs and such flew around her head, I saw her bright blue eyes and I almost broke.

If the eyes are truly the windows to the soul, her eyes showed terror; they had the look of a child witnessing an unspeakable act. They told of loss, panic and fear rolled into one.

This is why I want to meet Mick Mulvaney.

I want him to see those eyes and tell her how this budget he proposed can be anything but a decimating blow to people like her who have no hope but the mercy of the government.

I want him to drive out to this rural town of 3,300, many of whom voted for his boss, and call my mother-in-law a thief. This woman, who once was horrified that her father taught her child to grab a grape from the grocery store and try it before buying it, is a thief?

I want him to stand there and explain how she’s not a taxpayer who put up with so much in her life to support a family of five and worked until she was physically unable to any more.

I want him, with that “Leprechaun-meets-Jack-Torrance” look on his face, to say to her, “I’m sorry you’re hurting, but that’s not my problem. This nation has bills to pay.”

If this country is worth anything, it’s because of people like my mother-in-law. She spent her life teaching Sunday school to poor children and working with the autistic kids whom society discarded. She kept food on the table and her family in line for nighttime meals and homework sessions. She pushed herself out of pure American grit: The idea that you don’t take from others, but you work so you can give back.

When people like her break down, it’s not out of greed or laziness or a sense that they are owed something. It’s because something happened beyond their control and they need the rest of us to say, “Relax. We got this.”

Tax cuts don’t do that. Medicine does.

GDP growth charts don’t do that. Safety nets do.

This is something the Mick Mulvaneys of the world will never get: Money isn’t everything. It’s what we do with the money that defines our humanity.

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.

Time for Mom

Last week, I wrote about a 10-year-old girl named Grace who overheard her mother discussing the horrific treatment of the student media outlet the mom advised. Grace decided to make T-shirts, blending her love of journalism and her love of “Star Wars” to raise about $150 for the Student Press Law Center, an organization that was helping to defend her mom. To make that amount, Grace needed to sell 10 shirts.

In less than a week, the shirt order form was closed and Grace had raised more than $1,200 for SPLC.

I have a no idea how many shirts that is, but it’s a hell of a lot more than 10.

I thought about Grace not just because it’s a good idea for journalists to update stories and bring them some sort of closure, but because she did it for her mom.

This weekend is Mother’s Day and I’m planning on running around like a guy with my hair on fire to make sure that I get time in with my mom, my wife’s mom and my wife, all of whom seem to be moving in opposite directions. The running isn’t unusual as we’ve been doing this for more than a decade now, but this year I don’t mind as much.

I know I have a lot more of these events in the past than I do in the future, so I’m trying to find a way to savor every one.

My uncle, not a sentimental guy of any kind, brought that home for me this year when he told us about his plans for the weekend. My aunt’s mother died a month or two back, so he plotted a course to Las Vegas for the both of them.

“Neither of us have a mother to celebrate with, so we figured let’s get out of here,” he told me.

It was perfectly pragmatic and yet amazingly sad.

I know not everyone still has a mom around and kicking. I also know that many people who are “moms” aren’t always the best exemplars of that term. That’s why I my heart goes out to everyone who doesn’t feel the draw of this Hallmark Holiday and why I treasure it so much.

Mom isn’t perfect but she was perfectly geared to whatever I needed at the time. She managed to know when I needed a hug or a swift kick in the ass. She knew when she needed to provide a strong front with my father in regard to a punishment and when she needed to step in front of the speeding train of rage that was my father. She knew when to hold tight and when to let go. It wasn’t always easy and there were often a lot of tears, but she did the right thing as often as possible and more often than I had the right to expect.

We have long had a tradition in which my parents would take all the moms in our family out to a really fancy restaurant. The biggest gathering was the Mother’s Day just before our wedding. It was both of my grandmothers, both of my wife’s grandmothers, my mom, her mom and the husbands who were still alive. We took over a small private room at a wonderful restaurant and enjoyed getting to know each other in advance of our big day.

The next year was smaller, as both my grandmothers had died. My wife’s mother and grandmother had moved up to the woods. Her other one couldn’t make it.

Each year, the number fluctuated, even growing by a mom once we had The Midget with us. My wife laughingly recalls many of those early Mother’s Day meals where she’d eat with one hand as she balanced a sleeping, drooling child on her other shoulder.

This year, it’s just my side of the family, as travel for my mother-in-law has become too difficult. We’ll do a cookout when we get back home later that day and tell stories like we always do. As my wife and I watch our mothers wistfully yearn for the days of having mothers of their own, we both know we will some day feel that ache. We also know a day will soon come when our bundle of joy will have “things to do” and might not be around for those events we so treasure now.

It’s part of the life cycle. We get it.

On days like Sunday, we just put it off a little bit and enjoy the idea that it hasn’t happened yet.

How Can Tribune Media Get Worse?

This. This could be worse: 

Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc (SBGI.O) is nearing a deal to acquire Tribune Media Co (TRCO.N) for close to $4 billion after prevailing in an auction for one of the largest U.S. television station operators, according to people familiar with the matter.

A potential deal for Tribune could come as soon as Monday, just weeks after the U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted to reverse a 2016 decision that limits the number of television stations some broadcasters can buy.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, named by President Donald Trump in January, is planning to take a new look at the current overall limit on companies owning stations serving no more than 39 percent of U.S. television households.

Still, a combined Tribune and Sinclair could surpass this cap and face some regulatory challenges which could result in divestitures, analysts said.

For those of you thinking Sinclair sounds familiar, let’s take a walk down memory lane to the glory days of 2004, when even mentioning that the war in Iraq was killing people was grounds for getting blackballed from public discourse.

Sinclair threw an epic tantrum because, get this, READING THE NAMES OF THE WAR DEAD was viewed as an anti-war act. Sometimes it’s hard to remember how fucking insane everyone was back then: 

The Sinclair Broadcast Group will yank Nightline from its seven ABC stations tonight because of a plan to devote the show to reading the names of the hundreds of American service members killed in Iraq, which Sinclair says is intended to damage support for U.S. actions there.

Ted Koppel, anchor of the ABC News program, is attempting to “disguise political speech as news content,” said Mark Hyman, Sinclair’s vice president for corporate relations. “He’s welcome to participate in political speech, but this purports to be a news program. There is no journalistic value here.”

The decision to drop Nightline was made at Sinclair’s corporate headquarters in Hunt Valley, not by its news editors, Hyman said. A statement posted on the company’s Web site yesterday said: “The action appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq.”

So it’s just super-great that they’ll now own MORE.

A.

Amazing Grace

At this time of year, most of us educators give up all hope on humanity. Between the students who are “just starting” the final projects they had six weeks to finish and the constant stream of “So, I was looking at my grade and…” pandering bullshit, it’s impossible to not want to just run away screaming.

That’s why the email I got yesterday was one of those little flecks of light in the darkest of rooms.

A fellow media adviser is in the shit at her institution. It has a lot to do with overreaching administration, bullying assholes and a general sense that the student publication should be 95 percent fluffy PR and 5 percent Sudoku. Instead, it’s a quality publication that asks questions about shady stuff and speaks truth to power.

Therefore, obviously, the problem is the adviser, who is now under fire.

The adviser’s daughter, Grace, is 10 years old. She overheard her parents talking about all this darkness and it really bothered her. She wants to be a journalist and what she heard “hurt her feelings because writers should always be able to write.”

At the age of 10, I also loved to write, but I had no idea what a journalist was. My writing was mostly confined to banging out short stories on my mom’s old manual typewriter that she’d set up for me in the dining room. The stories were my escape and my adventure and the thought that they might be taken away never occurred to me. I can’t imagine what was going through this kid’s head when she heard terms like “prior review” and “legal issues.”

Grace loves Star Wars and she loves journalism so she sat down at the computer and built a shirt to explain that journalism matters:

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Her goal was to sell 10 shirts with about $150 in profits going directly to the Student Press Law Center, which was working on her mom’s situation. When I found myself getting killed last year, it was Frank LoMonte and his SPLC crew who waved the biggest red flags and really helped bring some clarity to the situation. If nothing else, he did scare the shit out of the student government twerps who wondered why this “organization in Virginia,” as one of them called it, was suddenly setting up camp in their rectal tract.

I bought one and immediately pimped it out to at least a dozen other people. Apparently others did the same because by the time Grace got home from school, she had sold almost 90 shirts. Her mother had to write the thank you to our group because Grace was so overwhelmed, seeing how her little idea had resonated with so many other people.

For every bad story we get, and there are a lot of them out there thanks to our governmental mandate to fuck over anyone with a pulse who doesn’t have a 850 credit score and a Black Card, we get an occasional reminder of what is good out there.

I have friends on Facebook who are terrified by the Trumpcare bill and what it will mean for their kids who have pre-existing conditions, like diabetes, cancer and crohn’s disease. I have family members who are slowly giving way to the constant march of time. I have what I can only imagine will be the worst day of my year coming up in two hours.

A T-shirt won’t solve those problems.

However, just thinking about Grace makes me smile a little bit more and telling her story gives me hope.

Because maybe if we get enough kids like Grace and we show them that society can reward them for doing the right thing, maybe we will have fewer problems later and a brighter day in the future.

(Her link is open through the weekend. If you want a cool shirt to support a great kid, feel free to click here.)

We Need to Remember How Fast Trump Happened

Because it helps us remember how fast we can undo it.

This man, 100 days ago, was our Secretary of State: 

The Paris Agreement wasn’t written overnight; it was the product of decades of negotiations and debates over which countries needed to do what and when. We brought the global community together around a shared understanding that, ultimately, every one of our nations had to act. The final text is not legally binding. It is rooted instead in mutual accountability. The international community committed to work together for maximum impact. Each country would determine how ambitious its climate policies could be, given its unique circumstances, but all would strive to be as forward-leaning as possible. The countries that needed extra support — in the form of technical or financial assistance — to achieve their goals would get it. And critically, all would report regularly on their progress and hold one another accountable.

I would imagine that most countries thought that the United States would be leading the charge when it came to applying pressure and holding others accountable to their pledges — so did I. Nonetheless, the United States was just one of the 196 parties to adopt the agreement. We can’t allow dysfunction in Washington to give other leaders in the world a free pass to back away from the bold sense of cooperation that permeated our long meetings in Paris. Mutual accountability has never been more important.

I spent Election Day 2016 headed to Antarctica, where I talked with researchers who didn’t mince words. A scientist named Gavin Dunbar described what they’re seeing there as an unmistakable “canary in the coal mine.” He warned that “some thresholds, if we cross them, cant be reversed.” The Trump administration may decide to bet against scientists like Dunbar and his colleagues. But rest assured: Most Americans stand with the world in making a different bet — a bet on science, a bet on reality. We understand that we have to move forward, with or without Washington.

God, he would have been an extraordinary president.

A.

You can’t spell “PENIS” without “E-S-P-N”

ESPN experienced the journalistic version of a mob hit on Wednesday, when 100 staffers (or about 10 percent of the “front-facing” staff) found out they no longer had jobs. According to published reports, the staffers got called in early in the morning, were placed around speaker phones and had prepared statements read to them to let them know their services would no longer be needed.

The firings weren’t culling deadwood analysts or former jocks who couldn’t find a coherent sentence with a searchlight and a posse. The firings included people with nearly 20 years of experience, such as college basketball expert Andy Katz, NFL insider Ed Werder and investigative reporter Steve Delsohn.

Network President John Skipper dug deep into his “The Pointy-Haired Boss’ page-a-day buzzword calendar” to explain the firings:

“Our content strategy — primarily illustrated in recent months by melding distinct, personality-driven SportsCenter TV editions and digital-only efforts with our biggest sub-brand — still needs to go further, faster … and as always, must be efficient and nimble. Dynamic change demands an increased focus on versatility and value, and as a result, we have been engaged in the challenging process of determining the talent — anchors, analysts, reporters, writers and those who handle play-by-play — necessary to meet those demands.

Wait… Where have I heard something like this before?

Today we underwent and completed a reduction in personnel in our news division in several of our Tennessee markets, as part of a transformative strategy for the USA TODAY NETWORK–Tennessee.   We recognize that this has been a tough day, and we respect and appreciate the work of all our colleagues, especially those who have been impacted by these actions — through no fault of their own.

We’ve previously spoken about the new ways we will be able to better serve readers, communities and customers as we fully form the statewide network.   Today was the first step as we re-secure and level-set our economic vitality to support our journalism.

Right, but I thought I heard that somewhere else…

Gannett president and CEO Bob Dickey explained in a memo to employees announcing the cuts: “These moves are central to our transformation into a leading, next-generation media company. The positive impact of these efforts will take time, which in the near-term requires us to assertively manage our costs.

Looking ahead, Dickey wrote: “Over the next 18 months, we will continue to build our scale and invest in important digital capabilities and experiences — such as critical e-commerce infrastructure and significant upgrades to our digital content platforms.”

Maybe, but I remember some other bullshit phrasing…

“In essence, we are resetting the legacy side of our business so we can continue to publish a high-quality newspaper delivered to loyal subscribers’ homes seven days a week,” Silvestri wrote in an email to employees on Monday. “At the same time, we also push ahead on adding to our growing digital audiences and developing new revenue segments such as premium magazines, e-commerce, paid RTD events, sponsored content, and archive products and services.”

Reeeeallly close but…

The story, which can be accessed through this link, details the formation of NOLA Media Group, a digitally focused company that will launch this fall and that will develop new and innovative ways to deliver news and information to the company’s online and mobile readers. NOLA Media Group will be led by Ricky Mathews. Also this fall, The Times-Picayune will begin publishing a more robust newspaper on a reduced schedule of Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays only … Many current employees of The Times-Picayune and NOLA.com will have the opportunity to grow with the new organizations, but the need to reallocate resources to accelerate the digital growth of NOLA Media Group will necessitate a reduction in the size of the workforce.

THAT WAS THE ONE!

Trying to make sense of this is like trying to fuck a porcupine: It’s not worth it and even if you pull it off, it still hurts. ESPN decided that it wanted to save money and it’s always easier to cut people than it is to improve anything else. In doing so, it looked like the company just started throwing darts at an employee list and made the cuts accordingly. Anyone with a brain has already made the obvious realization that a) this won’t save ESPN money in any meaningful way and b) won’t improve the product.

If anything, we are supposed to learn from the fuckups of others. When newspapers were fucking over subscribers, cutting content and wasting money on “re-envisioning content-based engagement” with readers, most intelligent observers saw this as nothing more than a profit grab: Save money in the short term, kill the publication in the long term. As that continues to come to fruition, ESPN (which had always been a cut above when it came to seeing where things are going and getting there first) decided to follow the same shitty path as their ink-stained counterparts.

In some cases, we won’t notice the missing people, just like you don’t notice when your team cuts some fourth-round draft pick during training camp. However, overall, as the team begins to atrophy and the overall quality of play sags, you start wondering what happened to all those guys (and in ESPN’s case, gals) who used to be able to help win games.

It is fair to say that it is unclear what will happen next at ESPN, but it is also realistic to say it’s obvious it won’t be positive.

Tiny Paper Wins Sweet Prize, Throws Raging Kegger

There’s nothing about this story I don’t love: 

Art Cullen, the 60-year-old editor of the Storm Lake Times, doesn’t bother with rinky-dink journalism contests. “I don’t need a wooden plaque or a piece of paper,” Cullen told the Erik Wemple Blog on Monday. That’s when he won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing at the twice-weekly Storm Lake Times in Iowa. “They give you 15 grand. That’s worth it,” said Cullen.

So how’s Cullen and Co. spending the money? “We intend to put a jag on, then donate the rest of the money half to IFOIC and other local charities, probably all the other half to Catholic Charities to help resettle refugees in Storm Lake. After the bash, that means IFOIC gets $5 and the refugees get a Big Mac and fries,” writes Cullen in an email.

I have a feeling it’s going to be a bit more than that.

A.

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.

GMIOTM: Armageddon

Great moments in otherwise terrible movies:

A.

UW Budget Cuts: There’s always a reason…

Every two years, Wisconsin Republicans come home and see that the UW burned the roast.

Or left a mess in the kitchen…

Or didn’t buy more beer…

Or forgot to pick up the dry cleaning…

There’s always a reason that when the budget comes along, and the UW System leaders ask for money, Republicans decide instead to smack it around and then cut higher ed in the state.

Four years ago, it was the allegation that the UW had stockpiled more than $1 billion in its coffers without telling anyone.

(Of course, that wasn’t true, but it was more than enough to create fake outrage and cut nearly a quarter of a billion from the System.)

Two years ago, it was the idea of an “autonomy for cuts” trade: We cut you to the tune of 13 percent and we then let you get away from us and live your lives.

(Of course, that was never going to happen. After making the cuts, the Republicans came up with the “what’s the point of giving you freedom if you won’t do what we want you to do with it?” argument that still makes my head spin.)

This time, I honestly thought it was going to be a Canadian hip-hop artist/UW-Madison professor who would be our sacrificial lamb. Damon Sajnani wrote a course called “The Problem of Whiteness” and Republican Dave Murphy lost his mind over it and threatened the U with budget cuts if this shit wasn’t stopped. Never mind Murphy is basically Exhibits A and B for what’s wrong with Whiteness…

In the end, Scott Fitzgerald realized he couldn’t fuck over the system of his alma mater just because of one class, so he needed a better reason.

And of course he found it.

Thanks in large part to some financial shell games at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, in which a former chancellor co-mingled state money and private foundation money to burnish his legacy and make his cock swell, all of the universities in the system are now being investigated.

Never let it be said Fitzgerald missed an opportunity to do his best Scrooge impression:

 

Fitzgerald stopped short of saying the university foundations issue would affect state funding for the UW System in the next budget. “When it comes to the state budget, members and finance committee members in particular, have a straight-forward process. How much is being set aside, how much is available.”

That said, “it’s human nature when you hear about something like this… ” Fitzgerald added.

 

Actually, Scott, it’s not. It’s sub-human nature to find flaws with everything in hopes of being able to make something suffer for your own pleasure. It’s the same approach kids take when they get a magnifying glass and discover they can use it to immolate ants. It’s power and dominion over those who lack the means and the recourse to fight back.

The state contributes 17 percent of the funding the UW System gets each year and yet you get to write all the rules. Every two years, you and your ilk get all fake outraged over some perceived slight, some perceived error in judgment or some stupid issue that allows you to whip people into a frenzy before you slash education.

The reason this works is because A) the universities suck at explaining anything to people who aren’t academics (and I say this as being an academic who watches the overly academic people fall all over themselves fucking this up every single time) and B) it’s so much easier to channel rage and anger than it is to marshal common sense.

I’m quite certain the cuts will come and the U will bleed and more quality faculty will flee this state like rats of the Titanic. We will then see a period of normalization until it comes time again for Ray “Oliver Twist” Cross to approach you with his bowl in hand and meekly request:

“Please, sir… more.”

Everything Doesn’t Suck: Photography as Resistance

A great story: 

For Johnson, the still image and social justice go hand-in-hand: She wants to highlight the joy, power, and humanity of marginalized communities that are often overlooked or outright demonized by popular media. Through her tender images of everyday life, Johnson is systematically shattering preconceived notions about Englewood, and in their wake she offers outsiders — as well as the community itself — “a more accurate and artistically beautiful reflection of themselves” than is ever depicted.

A.

Trump and the unfortunate addiction to spectacle

If you want to look for a “life imitating art” moment for today’s healthcare vote, it has to be this one from the movie “Black Mass.”

James “Whitey” Bulger tells his associate exactly what Trump told Republicans by calling for this vote: “You wanna take your shot? Take your shot. But make it your fuckin’ best because if I get up, I’ll eat you.”

This whole thing is horrifying: The potential repeal of the healthcare law, the CBO’s estimate of 24 million people losing coverage, the way in which our government can’t seem to run for three hours without falling all over itself… Say what you want to about the eight years of W., but compared to this, well… at least his stupid was just stupid. It wasn’t vindictive, blind-sighted and angry.

The one thing that makes it just so fascinating is the same thing that makes people slow down at a massive freeway wreck, despite pissing and moaning about the gaper’s block: It’s the rarity of spectacle.

This is how Donald Trump has made his money and gained his fame: He kept people guessing and he always delivered a cliffhanger.

He sued the NFL. Who does that?

He bragged to Billy Bush about sexual assault. Who does that?

He kept Omarosa on Season 1, week after week. Who does that?

The answer is Trump, because he knows what few people are willing to admit: Humans don’t like the safe play and we want to see if there’s going to be a car wreck.

Name the last time a president went to congress without knowing if he had the votes to get something done, especially something this big and this early in his term.

Name the last time regular citizens (or people like me who are abnormal but still don’t pay attention to politics) were aware that a big vote was coming and waiting to see it like “must-see TV.”

This is Gary Cooper in “High Noon” or John Wayne in “Rio Bravo” or Brett Favre throwing another fucking rocketball into triple coverage.

The spectacle works on TV because it has no real impact. You knew Cooper and The Duke would be fine. As for Favre, well, at least if you weren’t in Vegas, his errors wouldn’t cost you anything.

The same couldn’t be said for Trump to this point, given his actions cost this world the USFL and Billy Bush his job. The Omarosa thing still remains baffling, but minor issue. And perhaps that’s the best way to look at his jackassery to this point: It hurt people but not a lot of people most of us know or give a shit about. Meanwhile, the spectacle jacked a lot of people up through the roof.

But now, he’s playing with live ammo. He’s the paintballer with some serious weekend warrior skills joining the Marines. Lives are actually at risk here and yet he seems to think we’re still playing paintball.

In that case, he’s taking his best shot.

Let’s see if someone gets up and eats him.

Hierarchy of Needs: Asshole Edition

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is something every high school student or college undergrad runs into at some point in a sociology or psychology class. The concept is simple: You have a set of psychological and physiological needs that work in ascending order from most basic to most enlightened.

In short, you need to make sure you are fed, rested and healthy first and then you can worry about safety and security. After that, you start getting into things like friendships, family, belonging, self-esteem and reaching your potential as a human.

Given both the broad applicability of this theory and the longevity of it within the field, it always amazes me that we give people who are jerking themselves off for those self-esteem needs control over people who can’t make it off of first base.

Even more, I’m always disgusted when those people who probably will never reach self-actualization (but feel they have) are using their power to fuck over people who just want food, water and shelter.

Mick Mulvaney, who has a net worth of more than $2.6 million dollars, took time out of his very busy schedule Thursday to lecture reporters about how Community Development Block Grants are shitty things and that programs attached to them often “don’t work.”

One of those programs? Meals on Wheels, which provides food to thousands of elderly, house-bound and impoverished people each year. To wit:

Meals on wheels sounds great. That’s a state decision to fund that particular portion, to take the federal money and give it to the states and say, look, we to want give you money for programs that don’t work. I can’t defend that anymore. We cannot defend that anymore. I can’t defend that anymore. We cannot defend that anymore. We’re $20 trillion in debt.

First, you CAN defend it. You CHOOSE not to do so. There’s a difference there. (e.g. I can’t strangle myself. It’s physically impossible to do so. I could use a box cutter to lop off my wiener. I just choose not to.) Let’s not conflate the two ideas in the way that Mulvaney does so that he’s able to say, “We’d LOVE to do this but it simply can’t be done.”

Second, hasn’t every Republican since the party made a big Right turn made the case that the federal government should give money to the states for things and let the states decide how to run shit? I seem to recall there being people talking about a block-grant-based program that is supposedly great that needs to happen right now…

Third, and perhaps most importantly, can Mulvaney update the press today after he gets visited by Marley’s ghost?

Look, I get it that defending a lot of shit Trump is saying and doing is a lot like justifying the actions of a meth-addled toddler with a machine gun: No matter what you say or do, this isn’t going to work out for you. This is how we got terms like “alternative facts” and an explanation regarding on how wire tapping is actually about cameras in microwaves. If this keeps up, Trump will basically knock Bill Clinton’s explanation of not having “sexual relations with that woman” out of the top ten most incredible verbal gymnastics in politics.

However, we’re talking about fucking food here. Everyone should be able to easily grasp the concept of what it’s like to be hungry and how shitty it is when you can’t get to eat. Hell, the kids in my classes have stomachs that grumble when they don’t eat breakfast and then have to tolerate me for two hours. Now multiply that by 1,000 desperation points, add in other shitty aspects associated with poverty, weave in being too old or sick to find a way to make/grow/get your own food and then have some dick hole who’s about your kid’s age tell you, “Hey, y’know, fuck you and your hunger.”

Trump pulled his voters heavily from senior citizens (53/45 over Hillary Clinton) and from those without higher education (those without a degree went 52/44 for Trump). These are the people who are most likely to need programs like this because they don’t have cushy pensions, stock options or whatever the hell Mulvaney keeps in his Scrooge McDuck vault at home.

And if you look back at Maslow’s pyramid, you find that it’s hard to think or understand things when you don’t have your hunger sated, so these kinds of folks are likely to remain in a spiral of voting for the rich folks who continue to fuck over the poor folks.

Uncle Tack

His given name was Thedrick Emerson Wright, but nobody ever called him that.

To anyone who worked with him, played softball for him or just spent time with him, he was just “Tack.”

Or if you were a kid like me, he was “Uncle Tack.”

It was never clear to me, or my dad who befriended Uncle Tack through his work at Ladish, where that name came from. Ted, Thed, TE or even “Big Man” would have made more sense that “Tack.” What was clear was that he was an integral part of my life growing up and loving man-child who always made us laugh, even as he fell apart.

Depending on who was around or how much beer had begun to flow, the stories about Uncle Tack were as legendary as they were outlandish. His supposed height was somewhere between 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-8, depending on the length of his Afro and who was telling the story.

When you are 5 years old, the truth of the matter tends to matter very little, as he was simply a giant to me.

His weight fluctuated from a lean and powerful 270 to what he often called “a biscuit,” as in “I’m just a biscuit off of 300” or “a biscuit off of 320” in his later years. Dad used to tell me that Uncle Tack was short-waisted, so when they sat down together, my 5-foot-9 father and Uncle Tack looked to be about the same size. Only when he rose did he unfurl the towering figure he truly was.

I remembered how he would wear those 1970s outfits, including short shorts and long athletic tube socks in the summer. His legs reminded me of a frog’s: long and muscular with a sense that he could leap over anything. I also never forgot his hands: he would envelop my tiny paw with his giant ebony mitt, wrapping his narrow fingers all the way around it as he would say, “How you doin’ there, Little Man?”

Growing up where I did and when I did, I had little concept of the issue of race or how divisive of a topic it truly was. We moved into my parents’ new home when I was 4 and Uncle Tack came to visit. I remember yelling, “Uncle Tack! Uncle Tack!” and rushing up to hug him. Neighbors looked over at us quizzically and asked my parents in an almost “hope against hope” tone, “Uh… UNCLE Tack?”

My parents explained that it was a term of respect for family friends to be designated as “aunt” or “uncle” as opposed to “mister” or “missus.” That part never trickled down to me at that age. He was just as much of a family member as anyone else with that familiar moniker. It’s probably why when I was 7 or so, I asked my parents quite loudly at a McDonald’s, “What color will I be when I grow up?”

Uncle Tack, however, dealt with a lot of the racism of the day, even though he never seemed to let it impact him when he was near us.

One time, Mom and Dad went to Las Vegas with Uncle Tack and wandered around the strip in those halcyon days of the early 1970s. Dad and Uncle Tack went to the bar to order a drink. The bartender served Dad, but skipped Uncle Tack. Dad called the guy back and ordered a drink for Mom, giving the guy another shot to do the right thing.

He skipped Uncle Tack again.

“Hey,” Dad barked at the guy. “Aren’t you going to get my buddy’s drink?”

“Oh,” the barkeep replied. “Sorry, sir. I didn’t see him standing there.”

It could have been an honest mistake, although I somehow doubt it was easy to miss a 6-foot-5 black man standing at an empty bar sporting a fire-engine red three-piece suit.

Other stories came home of people at the factory tossing around what we would now call “casual racism,” but back then they called it “teasing” or “pranking.” One such case happened after Uncle Tack shaved his head. Some guy put five Milk Duds in a row on his desk with a sign that read, “Tack’s family.” Instead of filing a complaint or blowing up in a rage, Uncle Tack simply ate the Milk Duds. Why let them go to waste?

He always was that “gentle giant” in the most clichéd terms possible, but there were also legendary stories of him dispensing justice, or at least putting people on notice that he would.

In one such case, he was attending a Kool and the Gang concert at some local venue when a guy behind him kept kneeing him in the back. Uncle Tack asked the guy to stop, and the man kind of mumbled something in return. A few minutes later, the guy was back at it. Uncle Tack became slightly more firm in his request as the guy gave him kind of a look like, “Hey buddy, I paid for this seat.” A third time, the kneeing returned, so Uncle Tack rose from his seat, turned to face the man and in an even voice declared:

“If you knee me in the back one more time, I’m kicking the shit out of your whole row.”

The man quickly stopped.

Even when he was older, he had no compunction about evening the odds when he felt his family or friends were in a rough spot. My freshman year of college, I had a roommate who was making my life hell with drug use and other shitty behavior. Repeated requests to the hall association to try to fix this fell on deaf ears. When Dad shared the news with Uncle Tack, my protector replied, “So when are we driving up to Madison to take care of this kid?” Uncle Tack had to be in his 50s at that point, but he still was ready to go.

Above all else, I remember laughter surrounding Uncle Tack. He would sit in our kitchen and tell stories and Mom and Dad would howl with laughter. He would even tell stories about things they had all experience, but he did so in such a way that made you think, “Man, I wish I had been there…”

There was the time he came over to meet with my folks around dinnertime: He had just polished off two Big Macs, fries and a Coke, but my folks were eating supper, so he sat down and joined them. He ended up eating almost two-thirds of a full pot roast that was supposed to be sandwich meat for the week.

Nobody minded. It was Uncle Tack.

Each spring, he’d come to the house and coax my mother into joining his softball team. He was a hell of a recruiter and a great motivator, but my mother was getting on in years and each season he asked, it took a little more to get her to bundle up for those frigid March games and play for him.

She had to be in her 40s near the end of his coaching career and he had tons of younger players from which to choose. Still, he always told Mom he needed her left-handed bat and her speed to make the team complete.

I remember hunkering down on those freezing cold bleachers at Beulah Britton Park and watching my mom play each season. I still remember the other players on the team: Sharon, the giant guard from the factor who could crush a homer on to the tennis courts. Joyce (also known as Ice), a sharp short-stop with a quick first step, a wicked bat and a glare in her eyes that would just cut you in half. Steady Betty was there in left, catching everything hit to her and hugging Uncle Tack each time she came in from the field. Carol, the pitcher who was the only one about my mom’s age, who we still see from time to time around Cudahy.

The hard part for me is understanding now that Uncle Tack wasn’t the saint I always remembered. Laughter often covered pain. The “dapper” outfits often hid financial problems. Other positives painted a thin coat of cover on top of the negatives.

He was divorced from his wife, which rumor had it, was because he had been fooling around with some of the younger softball players on his team. He had trouble at work, as he often missed a day or two with no real reason for doing so. His kids were at odds with him and somewhat wandered aimlessly, based on the chatter I overheard.

The biggest problem, though, was his inability or unwillingness to take care of his diabetes. When he retired from Ladish, he headed back to Tennessee to be near family. By then, he was a massive man who loved sweets more than anything. A few years after he left, his health really began to fail. Recently, he had both legs amputated at the knee. Always the joker, Uncle Tack explained in a phone call to my father how he looked:

“I’m the same but now you’re as tall as me.”

That was the last thing Dad heard from him and that was several years back.

When I called home last night, Dad was talking about the weekend card show and other such things, when Mom shouted something from the living room to him. He then told me that he’d just heard from a friend of his that Uncle Tack died earlier this week. He was about 68, Dad said, although that was as much of a mystery as everything else surrounding the man.

It’s hard to write this, not just because it’s so hard to capture the essence of who Uncle Tack was and what he meant to me, but also because I’ve learned that writing like this is often seen as an affront to “more important discussions” of race and human interaction. That makes me worry people will overlook the man I know for the broader picture I have no intention of painting.

Uncle Tack wasn’t the “magical Negro” in my life, to borrow a term from Spike Lee. He wasn’t the “black friend” that got rolled out to counter claims of racism. Even though I hadn’t seen him in quite some time and I’m in my 40s, he will always my Uncle Tack.

He hugged me as a kid. He stood up for me as a young man. He danced with my wife at my wedding (albeit under the watchful gaze of his new protective girlfriend). He made me laugh all the time.

He was family and I’ll miss him something awful.

If If If If If

I think we need to move to a new theory of Trump which is that they have no idea what is going on, don’t care, have no strategy, again don’t care, and just want to keep yelling shit to make the frogboys on Twitter jump.

Like we keep assuming there’s another explanation than the one we’ve been given since day one of the campaign. Trump was never in this to win, never expected to win, has no idea how to run a government, has no interest in the enormous amount of work it would take to learn,

a.

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.

Journalism: A shitty job in a nuclear winter

One of my former students became a science reporter a few years out of school and once found himself on a trip to Chernobyl. A group of researchers were collecting stool samples from people who lived adjacent to the old Russian nuclear reactor, trying to see if they were suffering from any radioactive poisoning nearly three decades after the meltdown.

He sent me a post card from the area with a final line I still love:

“Journalism. It’s a shitty job but somebody has to do it.”

I thought about him and that trip today when I was trying to read anything in my social media feed that wasn’t about Trump’s press conference. When all I was left with was if Steve Kerr was going to play Russell Westbrook alongside his four Warriors in the All-Star Game and Draymond Green clarifying his “slave-owner mentality” statements, I gave up.

Trump’s hour-plus screed was a brick of uncut alternative facts, packaged in a wrapper of vulgar abuse and denigration. The word “rambling” might be overused at this point and I don’t think it goes far enough. It was like he took every topic of interest or a point of pride he has, wrote them on bingo balls and then had the machine spit them out to determine the order of his talking points.

The biggest problem came when he started taking questions from the press, one of his favorite targets of abuse. A reporter from Ami Magazine, a conservative orthodox Jewish publication, offered Trump the olive branch he was desperately seeking, a pass on personal anti-Semitism. However, as Jake Turx tried to ask Trump to explain how he planned to fight this problem, Trump just stepped all over himself, assuming Turx was calling him anti-Semitic and then told him to sit down and shut up.

When a reporter refuted Trump’s claim that his 306 (actually 304) electoral votes was the most since Ronald Reagan, he dodged with “I meant Republican victory.” He then was told Bush 41 had way more, which led Trump to blame his staff for the information.

Perhaps the worst moment is the one most people are noting: Trump’s clash with April Ryan, a long-time member of the White House press corps. Ryan, who is African-American, asked about Trump’s plans to improve urban areas that he often referred to as terrible hell holes and wondered if he’d reach out to the CBC and Hispanic caucus in congress. Trump seemed unaware of what CBC stood for, but upon learning it stood for Congressional Black Caucus, asked Ryan if she’d set up the meeting for him.

“Do you want to set up the meeting? Are they friends of yours?” Trump asked her in what could only be described as a confrontational tone.

At this point, I had two thoughts:

  • Based on his “you all know each other, right?” approach, I was amazed Trump didn’t start off with, “Hey, I loved you in ‘Hidden Figures!’ What’s your question?”
  • If you believe that Sean Spicer isn’t getting fired, buy stock in Orbitz. This guy is going to put a dent in our national supply by Saturday.

This press conference, naturally, scared the living shit out of me as a citizen, but my one saving grace is that I can turn off the TV or ignore the news. The journalists who have to work in this environment are like the people at Chernobyl in 1986, going shirtless and using some Windex to clean up the mess.

Journalism has always been a shitty job and it takes a weird breed of person to do it. If you don’t believe me, you should have been in our student newspaper’s newsroom this week. Conversations regarding a dead squirrel, double entendres about a professor “coming” and whether Meatloaf’s “I would do anything for love (but I won’t do that)” was about anal were among the most acceptable for public consumption.

The kids do this for almost no money, which will get them ready for a career in a field where cutting positions and salaries is an annual ritual. They talk to people who don’t want to talk to them about things everyone wants to know but no one who knows is willing to disclose. (A student told me an administrator offered him about a three-minute “No Comment” on a topic we had been covering. My first response, “Did you record it so we can use it as a quote?” The answer, of course, was “yes.”)

Abuse in this field is common. I’ve been called scum, an asshole, a weasel, a vulture and worse. One lady told me my mother didn’t raise me right. I’m sure there are worse ones that I’ve just blacked out of my memory. It got so bad that I used to have a recorder attached to my phone so I could record the abuse. That way, when the person on the other end became sweet as pie to my boss and accused me of random shit, I could just play him the tape.

The thing that amazes me about all of this is that we keep having more and more kids entering this field with the idea that each one of them probably has (at the very least) one Cousin Carl who believes everything not on Breitbart is fake news. Many of the kids I teach come from the Rural Red areas of the state where family members at Thanksgiving ask things like why they aren’t earning an “honest living” like “Gene the Retard” down the way who sells dachshunds out of his trailer.

One kid who recently changed majors to journalism sat with me after I mentioned that a long time ago, when I was changing from pre-law to something or other, Dad told me I needed to find a field where I could get a job.

“As long as you aren’t majoring in English or something else stupid like that, I don’t care,” he said. “You just need to be able to get a job.” (Incidentally, English was going to be my major right up to that moment…)

The kid’s dad had said something similar when he made the change to journalism and he wondered what was out there for him. I explained about the various ways the skills he picked up in journalism would make him a fine hire for a ton of great jobs. He relaxed and then asked, “Can you tell my dad that? He runs his own business and he thinks this is a stupid move.”

Of course it’s a stupid move, if you enjoy low-stress jobs with good benefits and career security. It’s also a stupid move if you enjoy being liked and you don’t want your illusion shattered when it comes to thinking the best of people. It’s a really stupid move for 1,001 other reasons that undercut sanity and longevity. Still, the kid felt like he found the right major, so like a moth to a flame, he decided to stick with it.

I was glad for that and I’m looking for more just like him because we need those guys and gals to fill in the ranks of reporters, editors and other journalists who push back every day against the tide of bullshit. Talking to kids who want to be the next reporter to be told, “Sit down! You’re fake news” really energizes me and makes me want to get them ready to go in the corner and fight for the puck. That’s why this weekend finds me at a journalism convention in Minnesota where kids from a lot of small-college Midwestern schools will show up and learn how to write, report, dig, challenge and fight better.

Best of all? The person running the convention told me the number of attendees this year is higher than it has been for the past several mid-winter conferences.

And, like any other decent journalist, I’ll make sure to check it out before I believe it.

Today on Tommy T’s Obsession with the Freeperati – courting disaster edition

It’s the day of the 9th Circuit Court’s decision on the legality of the ban-which-isn’t-really-a-ban-but-sorta-is!

The Freeperati are ready to go! They can taste victory!

BREAKING: 9th Circuit to Issue Ruling on Trump Temporary Travel Ban at 6:30 ET

BREAKING: 9th Circuit to Issue Ruling on Trump Temporary Travel Ban at 6:30 ET
Gateway Pundit ^ | 2/9/2017 | Jim Hoft

Posted on ‎2‎/‎9‎/‎2017‎ ‎4‎:‎17‎:‎04‎ ‎PM by sheikdetailfeather

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals announced they will issue a ruling on President Trump’s temporary travel ban.

Washington Judge James L. Robart filed a temporary restraining order on President Trump’s refugee ban from seven terror states.

**********

Fox just announced this as well.
1 posted on ‎2‎/‎9‎/‎2017‎ ‎4‎:‎17‎:‎04‎ ‎PM by sheikdetailfeather
I thought you guys were calling Fox “fake news” these days?
To: sheikdetailfeather

In case of a loss on this issue, can Trump make other orders which are similar? Can he ban all immigration in the interestof National Security?

13 posted on 2‎/‎9‎/‎2017‎ ‎4‎:‎23‎:‎50‎ ‎PM by DrDude (To the Victor go the spoils! Kick A$$ Trump.)

Only if he wants the U.S. to declare war against a country. And the way that crazy son of a bitch is going, that just might be on his fuckit list.
To: sheikdetailfeather

I’m going to be positive and say they will support Trump’s Executive Order.My reason….They don’t want to be put down by the Supremes.

16 posted on 2‎/‎9‎/‎2017‎ ‎4‎:‎25‎:‎25‎ ‎PM by Sacajaweau
supremes
.
(tune in next week to see “sheikdetailfeather” and “Sacajaweau” call Elizabeth Warren “Pocohontas” – fun for the whole family!)
To: sheikdetailfeather

Probably 2-1 against. The Obama and Carter judges will go against Trump, the Bush one in his favor.Despite that, I do have a respect for the Carter-appointed judge that heard this case. He has the right temperament for a judge; the Obama one is a huge hack.

17 posted on 2‎/‎9‎/‎2017‎ ‎4‎:‎26‎:‎01‎ ‎PM by Trump20162020
To: sheikdetailfeather

This is about an hour away now.The answer better be: Yep, President Trump has the authority.

Or what? You’ll un-appoint them?

Robart, shut up.

22 posted on 2‎/‎9‎/‎2017‎ ‎4‎:‎28‎:‎30‎ ‎PM by backwoods-engineer (Trump won; I celebrated; I’m good. Let’s get on with the civil war now.)

“Let’s get on with the civil war now”?

How did that civil war thingy work out for you guys the LAST time you tried it?

.

To: sheikdetailfeather

Hmm Red Meat for the protesters

Or a bucket of Ice water down their skivvies?

57 posted on 2‎/‎9‎/‎2017‎ ‎4‎:‎43‎:‎23‎ ‎PM by Gasshog (Clinton denies… Expect to see a lot of this)

I hope you’re wearing thermal undershorts.
.

To: eyeamok

I know! Sickening Huh?! Why even bother to have an election for president or senators – congressman when these asses have more power and control the trashing of the constitution by making up their own laws and enforcing the people to abide by their rules!

homerconstitution

This is so F!

59 posted on ‎2‎/‎9‎/‎2017‎ ‎4‎:‎44‎:‎23‎ ‎PM by RoseofTexas

Fastidious? Fine? Foreordained?
Fabulous?
 .
SNLgayGuy
.
Click on the “read more” with antici……
.

Continue reading

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Dear CMU Republicans, Hitler was never fucking funny.

Oh for fuck’s sake:

A Central Michigan University registered student organization apologized via social media late Wednesday night after an anti-Semitic Valentine’s Day card apparently handed out by a member of the group sparked anger among students and community members.
The Valentine features a photo of Adolph Hitler on the front and the words, “My love 4 u burns like 6,000 Jews,” and is signed “XOXO, Courtney.”

I’m waiting for Sean Duffy to find the “good things” that came out of this whole Holocaust deal, now that it’s clear we can always find a silver lining in whatever stupid shit people on your team do.

A rally against hate came out after this hit the fan at CMU, and it’s good that people get loud enough to let assholes know that this kind of behavior isn’t acceptable. That said, who the fuck thought this was a good idea in the first place? Someone actively went about building this stupid valentine and made sure to place multiple copies into the bags of students who were getting them. And of course, I’m sure, they thought it was hysterical because, hey, nobody THEY know ever got shoved in an oven or gassed in a shower. I mean, can’t we all get past this?

When I was in fifth grade, we had a Holocaust speaker and I will never forget some of the stories he told us about death and hopelessness. I can still see his gnarled, age-spotted hands in my mind’s eye as he pointed to the ceiling during a story of how he watched a man hang himself from the rafters with a belt and did nothing to stop him. It was survival, he explained, and we didn’t have the luxury of worrying about people we knew but for whom we had no direct responsibility.

He came back and spoke to us one more time a few years later. During that time, there were many people who still could speak but chose not to. People who hid their tattoos and spoke about such things only in hushed tones or drunken despair. As the years went by, however, there were fewer and fewer people who could speak from a first-person perspective on what had happened.

When I wrote for the local paper, I met a woman who escaped from Germany before the Holocaust. She married a man later who survived Bergen-Belsen and she told me the horrors he experienced. Until the day he died, he slept motionless, with his arms crossed, because that’s how he was forced to sleep in the camps.

At each institution I taught, whenever a speaker on this topic visited, I actively encouraged my students to attend. I explained that it would be horrifying and painful, but that it was something that they MUST experience in life if they are to understand basic human decency and dignity. To understand how those places existed and took so much from so many for such a stupid fucking reason was to understand the dark side of humankind.

I have to admit, I’m sure I said and did a lot of shit stupid things when I was that age. I’m sure I didn’t sidestep every gay joke or correct every negative stereotype associated with race or gender. I’m positive that I am fortunate as hell that social media didn’t exist back then, or else, God alone knows what might have come rolling out today about me. However, stupid though I was, I knew there were very clearly some things that were way the fuck out of bounds.

Hitler is NOT a meme or the ace in the hole you drop when you want to win an argument. He was the central gear in a movement that showed us how deep the rabbit hole really is and how dark night can be. He is not a colloquialism.

Neither is rape, as in “That math test totally raped me.”

Neither is gay,  as in “He’s so gay over his new truck.”

Neither are a dozen other terms that take life-altering events and turns them into euphemisms for casual conversation.

The thing that makes it easier for us to course-correct some of these fuckups is to have actual, live examples of those things that show up in everyone’s faces and say, “Really? The math test slipped something in your drink, took you to an apartment and told you to relax as it ripped off your clothes and forced itself into you repeatedly as you were too incapacitated to move, scream or fight, leaving you with a lifetime of physical, mental and emotional scars? It did all that?”

Unfortunately, we keep losing those people who can explain what life was like living six inches from death for years at a time because of the whims of a madman. And because time erodes direct contact and immediate understanding, we get the Hitler Valentine and someone who thinks it’s fucking funny.