Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Vox Populi: The Grocery Store

They let us go early today. And so, I went to the grocery store. Everybody in the People's Republic of Hillcrest must have had the same idea as the joint was backed.

I came up behind a woman in the frozen bread section.

" I see you bake bread the same way I do," I said.

" Oh yeah," she replied. " Who has time to bake?'

I reached over her head to get my selection of biscuits.

"Do you see the individual cinnamon rolls?" she asked. " I don't see them. They used to be around here somewhere."

" I don't see 'em.'

" Well hell. There's only one thing to do then."

" What's that?"

" Switch to pop-up," she said swinging her cart around.

" That's what all us real cooks would do."

"Damn straight! Happy New Year!"

And Happy New Year to you as well.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

AT&T Agonistes

TMFW is out today returning Christmas to Whoville and so doesn't have time to post his Sunday freeling this week, and was nice enough to ask me to pinch hit.

Which I almost wasn't able to do. What follows is the unexpurgated transcript of my day thus far. Sorry it's tardy.

Scene 1 (via AT&T text message)

TMFW: (Insert protracted rant about Wally, redacted for brevity's sake.)

Me: Internet’s down at the house, and I can’t seem to pick up photos on my phone.

TMFW: Your voice has been stilled.

Me: I am sure this will cause great wailing and gnashing of teeth.

TMFW: I sent a picture to your e-mail.

Me: (Patiently) I saw. Hence my text re not being able to look at it on my phone.

TMFW: That is strange.

(Break during which I reboot my computer, my router, and my DSL modem several times, then drive to town to buy the papers so I will have something to read when put on hold after calling the AT&T tech support line).

TMFW: Call tech support. That should be quick and helpful.

Me: My Urdu skills are not strong.

TMFW: Perhaps you should resort to prayer.

Me: Equally effective.

TMFW: Hence my suggestion.

(Break during which I reboot all computer-related devices in my home once again.)

TMFW: 75 yesterday. 35 today.

Me: 65 here.

TMFW: At least the sun is shining.

Me: No, it isn’t, you asshole.

Scene 2 (via AT&T land line)

Me: (Dials (877) 737-2478)

AT&T: Hello! And welcome to the new AT&T! You have reached the AT&T Residential Repair Line! This call may be monitored or recorded for quality control purposes! Para espaƱol mache siete. AT&T’s new voice-activated help line allows you to speak most of your responses! Are you calling about a residential phone line?


If you are calling about AT&T high speed internet DSL accens, the answer is “no.”

Me: No.

AT&T: Okay! I’m going to ask you a few questions to find out what your problem is. If you are calling about your AT&T high-speed Internet access, speak, or say, “AT&T high-speed Internet access.” If you …

Me: AT&T high speed Internet access.

AT&T: I’m sorry, I didn’t get that. Could you repeat it please?

Me: AT&T high-speed Internet access.

AT&T: I’m sorry, I still didn’t get that.

Me: AT&T high-speed Internet access.

AT&T: I’m sorry, I still didn’t get that.

Me: AT&T high-speed Internet access!

AT&T: I’m sorry, I still didn’t get that.

Me: AT&T high-speed Internet access!!!!!

AT&T: I’m sorry, I still didn’t get that.


AT&T: I’m sorry, I still didn’t get that.


AT&T: Okay! I got “my God-damned Internet is out.” Is that right?

Me: Yes.

AT&T: Please speak, or say, the phone number associated with the AT&T high-speed Internet account you’re calling about.

Me: 919-967-1405.

AT&T: Okay. I heard 919-967-1404. Is that right?

Me: No.

AT&T: Please speak, or say, the phone number associated with the AT&T high-speed Internet account you’re calling about.

Me: 919-967-1405.

AT&T: Okay. I heard 919-967-1404. Is that right?

Me: NO!

AT&T: Please speak, or say, the phone number associated with the AT&T high-speed Internet account you’re calling about.

Me: 919-967-1405. Can I speak to a real person please?

AT&T: No you may not speak to a real person. Please speak, or say the number associated with the AT&T high-speed Internet account you’re calling about.

Me: 919-967-1405, for the love of God.

AT&T: Okay. I got 919-967-1405. Is that right?

Me: YES!!!!

AT&T: Okay. I’m going to ask a few questions about your problem. But first, you should know that most common Internet problems can be fixed by unplugging your complimentary AT&T DSL modem from its power source. We recommend that you take this step now, and will pause a moment to allow you to do so.


Have you disconnected your modem from the power source?

Me: No.

AT&T: AT&T highly recommends you do so. Please do so now. (Pause). Have you taken this important step?

Me: Okay, yes.

AT&T: And did this simple step, so often overlooked by AT&T customers, fix your problem, so that you now realize you didn’t have to bother us on a weekend?

Me: No. I had tried that five times before I called the help line.

AT&T: There’s no need to get snippy, sir.

Me: Well, I did.

AT&T: Okay! Please speak, or say, a few sentences to briefly describe the nature of the problem that prompted you to bother us on a Sunday.

Me: I have no DSL signal.

AT&T: Okay. I heard “wish to purchase new equipment.” Please wait while I connect you to the proper person.

Me: NO!

(Lengthy pause, followed by a rude electronic noise, after which line appears to go dead)

AT&T: If you’d like to place a call, please hang up and dial again. (Beep!) If you’d like to make a call, please hang up and dial again. (Beep!) If you’d like to…

Scene 3 (via AT&T text message)

TMFW: The sun is shining here (Attaches picture to text message so as to underscore gloating, smug nature of text message).

Me: I would have preferred the traditional Peshto speaker to the automatic voice-activated system that just hung up on me.

TMFW: No wonder you are unusually dyspeptic this morning.

Scene 4 (via AT&T land line)

(Repeat Scene 2, through “I have no DSL signal, followed by—)

AT&T: Okay! This is your automated AT&T voice-activated problem-solver again. Which allows you, the AT&T customer, the convenience of speaking, or saying, your responses! Please speak or say the type of complimentary modem AT&T provided you free of charge when you signed up with AT&T’s high speed DSL Internet access..

Me: Motorola.

AT&T: I didn’t get that. The most popular modem types are 2-Wire, Belkin, and Cicso. Which of these do you have?

Me: Motorola!

AT&T: Could you repeat that?


AT&T (automatic systems stress detectors kicking in) Please wait while we connect you to our AT&T residential customer technical support and service desk!

(Lengthy pause).

Hello! All of our customer support representatives are busy assisting other customers! We will be with you in a few minutes!

(Pause during which I hear part of “An American in Paris” 536 times and do the entire New York Times Sunday crossword).

AT&T: Hawo! May I ask who I am speaking to, pwease?

Me: Don McCormick. Is this a live person?

AT&T: Hawo, Don! I am a wive person, yes! My name is Shiewathamansdkzm! It is my pwivewege to be assisting you today! Could you pwease confiwm the phone number you’re calling fwom, Don?

Me: 919-967-1405.

AT&T: Wets stawt by finding out what you’we pwobwem is! What is it you’we cawing about, Don?

Me: I have no DSL signal.

AT&T: Okay! Hewe at AT&T we find that most pwobwems are caused by a few simple customer ewwows we’we sure you haven’t twied to solve youwsewf, Don. Can you check to make sure the modem is pwugged in, Don?

Me: Yes, of course.

AT&T: The fiwst thing I want you to twy is unplugging it for a few seconds, Don. Do you know how to do that, Don?

Me: Yes, of course. I did so four or five times before I called you, and have done it twice since.

AT&T: You pwobabwy didn’t do it cowectwy. Pwease disconnect the modem fwom its powew souwce, Don, and wait five seconds befowe pwugging it in again.

Me: Done.

AT&T: And you have DSL signaw again, don’t you, Don?

Me: No, of course not.

AT&T: What additional phones or fax machines have you added to youw househowd since the last time youw AT&T high-speed Internet access worked. Don?

Me: None.

AT&T: (Lengthy question in Tagalog, of which the only word I recognize is “Don.”)

Me: Excuse me?

AT&T: I’m sowwy, Don. It wooks wike we need to have a twained AT&T customew sewvice technician come make sure thewe’s no pwobwem with youw lines. Then, Don, we can wesume figuwing out how this is aww youw fauwt. It looks like the earliest one of our trained AT&T customew suppowt technicians can pay you a sewvice call is between eight a.m and eweven a.m. on Decembew 28. Is that a convenient time for you, Don?

Me: Today is December 28.

AT&T: Is that a convenient time, then, Don?

Me: It’s already 11:30.

AT&T: So is that a convenient time, then, Don?

Me: But the time has already come and gone.

AT&T: So is that a convenient time for you, Don?

Me: No, I’m sorry. It’s not. I can’t be here then. Is there another time?

AT&T: Hewe at AT&T we’we sorry our eawliest avaiwabwe appointment was not convenient for you, Don. We were hoping to wesowve this pwobwm quickwy. Our next available appointment is March 22, 2009 between eight a.m. and six p.m., Don. Is that a mowe convenient time for you, Don?

Me: Did you say March 22?

AT&T: Yes, Don.

Me: You don’t have anything open between now and Spring?

AT&T: We have some appointments in the aftewnoon of Decembew 28, Don, but you have aweady decwined Decembew 28 as inconvenient for you, regardless of how convenient it would be for AT&T.

Me: No, I didn’t. Just the ones in the morning that have already come and gone.

AT&T: So you want to change youw mind and accept the previously offewed appointment, then, Don?

Me: Yes. As long as it’s in the afternoon

AT&T: Okay! A twained AT&T customew sewvice technician will be thewe beween one and nine p.m. on Sunday, December 28, Don. Pwease be pwesent untiw the AT&T customer sewvice technician shows up to assist AT&T in diagnosing how this pwobwem is aww youw fault, Don. Youw AT&T appointment identification number is 1FD999876-6839405-aaCF0d/367830FDEE9812319767-33341299W. Please be suwe to wefew to this numbew if you have any questions, Don, and tell them you were hewped by Shiewathamansdkzm. Have a nice day!

Me: Wait. What number do I call if I have questions?

AT&T: The same sewvice number you called to stawt this caw, Don. 888-321-2375.

Me: That’s not the number I called.

AT&T: Yes it is. Have a gweat day, Don.

Scene 5 (via AT&T cell phone)

Most Beautiful Woman in the World: Hello?

Me: Good morning, sweetheart.

MBITW: Oh, hello.

Me: I know we’re planning to finish work on your attic today, but my Internet is down, and I need to wait for a technician to turn up. The next appointment is in March.

MBITW: Well, that’s okay. It’s surprising they were able to get to it so quickly.

Me: Agreed. So I’ll call you as soon as they’re gone.

Scene 6 (via AT&T text message)

TMFW: How’s it coming there, Marconi?

Me: The sun has finally come out. AT&T claims to be sending someone over.

TMFW: The prayers of a good man availeth much.

Scene 7 (via AT&T land line)

Me: Hello.

AT&T: (Heavily accented North Carolinian speech). Hey. This is Jerry with AT&T. I’m on my way, but it’s going to take me a while to get there. My last call was over to Apex. Maybe an hour from there. I don’t know why they book ‘em like that. What kind of modem you got?

Me: Motorola.

AT&T: Little silver job?

Me: Yep.

AT&T: What do the lights say?

Me: “Power” and “Ethernet” both green, everything else dark.

AT&T: Aw, hell. You’re modem’s fried. I’ll bring you a new one. See ya in a few.

Scene 7 (face to face)

AT&T: Hey.

Me: Hey.

AT&T: Where’s your modem?

Me: Right here.

AT&T: You know your password?

Me: No, of course not.

AT&T: (Lengthy discourse of technical language no more comprehensible than Tagalog but more sociably delivered.)

(Pause of about three minutes).

AT&T: Okay, man. You’re good to go.

And thus did the time of trials pass.

I’m now worried that I’m going to get one of those customer satisfaction survey forms in which they ask me to rate my AT&T experience. Face to face, perfect. Over the phone, which, if you think about it, ought to be AT&T’s forte, zero out of ten.

Happy new year.

Further the deponent sayeth not.

How To Write Good

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's inimitable Wally Hall, in yet another sports column about, well, nothing really, takes us on a trip down Memory Lane as he recounts his various experiences going to bowl games over the years. Along the way he uncorks this eye-rubber about his trip to the 1981 Gator Bowl:

" We were deciding whether to go (on a complementary cruise) when they delayed the trip by two hours, so we took off to see the oldest continuous city in the United States, St. Augustine, which is a neat little place."

See the words inside the parenthesis? That was put there by me. That's called editing and does not exist in any of Wally's stuff. Of course if I were his editor this is how the story would look:

" We had the opportunity to go on a cruise but opted instead to go visit St. Augustine. The oldest city in the United States turned out to be a neat little place."

Then again, if I were Wally's editor I would harbor thoughts of suicide.

Back to the tangle of words called today's column. Our hero and his compadres did eventually take that boat ride and just reading between the lines here consumed many adult beverages while on board in order to liven up the limo ride home:

" Five times the driver asked us where we were staying, and five times he was given the name of a different hotel (it was the first time in a limo too), only to tell him when we arrived that, no that wasn't it.

Finally after two hours of our singing, he parked and got out of the car and told us we were on our own.

Someone-Clay, I think-showed him the key that had Sheraton on it, and he did drop us back at our hotel."

Where to start? Let's start with the obvious. If I were the editor, my question would be " the point of this goddamned waste of gigabytes would be what exactly?" And you will note that I use quotation marks. Wally had two opportunities in the cited example of his deathless prose to do likewise. And what about the erratic use of punctuation?

"Someone-Clay, I think-" I mean, really.

My friend J is a former English teacher turned Prosecutor. She yells at Georgia football players( she is from Georgia which carries its own special subset of difficulties which is neither here nor there) when they dangle participles during interviews on TV. J has a formidable persona and she carries a badge. If Walter Hussman would give her a week with Wally she would have him halfway straightened out. Which would be an immense improvement. A week of getting his knuckles rapped and his copy red pencilled by her would get Wally up to at least 7th grade competency.

Or we can turn him over to my nephew Henry who is actually in the 7th grade. He has no interest in sports. But in the unlikely event Henry ever decided to write a column about how he showed his ass while on a business trip it would at least be readable.

The new year dawns. Wally's columns are cries for help.

I can dream can't I?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

They Wouldn't Print It If It Wasn't True

The headline in today's sports page for the story about the execrable 0-15 Detroit Lions read: "Odds Favor Lions Losing."

Strangely enough, it was followed by a story about how humans are carbon based and oxygen dependant.

This puckish observation will be my only stab at blogging this weekend which I know represents a blow to western literature.

I need a break. Will be back soon. Perhaps I can talk Polycarp into filling the void tomorrow.

Peace Out.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Shameless Plug Just In Time For Christmas

KUAR's Tales from the South will air its Holiday Show Christmas night at 7 pm CST. I will be reading a Christmas story along with two other local writer types. You can tune in at 89.1 on the FM dial here in Little Rock or you can hear the broadcast over the Internet at that time by going to and clicking on "Listen Live."

If you have something better to do that night, and I can't imagine that you won't, you can go to and access the archives to listen at a later date. As PM writes during book signings, I hope you find something you like.

Happy Holidays, everybody!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

My Sunday Feeling

Christmas has come early to Detroit and boy, are my conservative friends, what few I have, flummoxed. It shocked them enough when they found out the new Head Teller at the banking system was a guy named Uncle Sam. Now this.

As Paul Simon once said, these are the days of miracle and wonder. A black man with a Muslim name is about to take the oath of office. And George Delano Bush is propping up Detroit. It's enough to make a person believe in Christmas.

Whoa. Did I just write that? I need to get a grip.

I just got back from West Little Rock where I foolishly went to finish up my shopping. As I sat there in the parking lot that was West Markham Street I made a mental note of all the things I hate about the Christmas season. Here are just a few.

Christmas Carols-As Christopher Hitchens has pointed out in Slate Magazine, being out in public this time of year is like unto living in a totalitarian state. Nowhere are you safe from Christmas music. Not only is most of it insipid ("Jingle Bells" largely consists of the same 3 notes), most of it is preposterous as a matter of history. It is highly unlikely that snow was falling, snow on snow, in Bethlehem of Judea on the night of Christ's birth, if indeed he was born there in the winter. It is a damn certainty that were no little girls with European names like Jeanette or Isabella running around with torches during the Nativity. And do you really think any young mother, no matter how tolerant and kind, would let some idiot with a snare drum anywhere near a baby?

The Mall- My nephew Henry has, unfortunately in my view given my sorry history with the subject, discovered girls. I was told he wanted cologne. This forced me to go to the mall. Naturally, since I do not read the Christmas ads, the sheer weight and volume of which surely require massive clear cutting to produce all of the paper, I did not know that last Saturday was " picture with Santa" day. Naturally, there was a line approximately 30 yards deep of anxious parents with understandably fidgety children waiting in line to pay exorbitant prices for a bad photograph of their kid with some fat guy in a costume.

After fighting my way through that, I made my purchase only to find out that my sister-in-law had already gotten it for him. This necessitated another frigging trip to the mall to make the return. On my way to the department store I was approached by a young girl peddling some seasonal junk in one of the many kiosks that have sprung up there since October.

" Excuse me Sir? May I ask you a question?"

"Absolutely not."

" You sure?"

" More certain than anything in my life. Good day."

So, Henry you are getting your cologne. It was because of you I had to go to the mall twice. I hate to spoil the surprise but that's what you get for reading this. Merry Christmas.

The Salvation Army- My blood pressure rises when I hear the distant bell as I get out of my car. Look, the milk of human kindness flows in my veins. I donate lots of money to charity. I donate to the Salvation Army for Chrissakes. But I resent being shook down each and every time I seek access to or egress from the grocery store.

Branson-The only reason this town is not the wide place in the road it would otherwise be is because numerous naive and gullible white people are mysteriously drawn to its bad shows, lame music and stultifying light displays every Christmas. Jim Bakker is back in business selling ersatz religion and real estate just outside of town. I think that's perfect.

Andy Williams and Bobby Vinton- See above.

I could go on and on. Office Christmas parties. Business failures. People going into ruinous debt to buy presents. Asshole neighbors with light displays that would cause the Mayor of Branson to blush. TV spots by car dealers that invoke the name of Jesus. Idiotic Presidential Proclamations.

Fruit Cake.

But let me be the first to congratulate the "Big Three" automakers on their early Christmas present from our outgoing President who is channeling his inner Keynes as he stumbles off into the judgment of history.

I never thought I would see such a thing. It's a wonderful life. Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Vox Populi: The Bartender

I popped into a favorite establishment to have a drink the other night. I like to hang out over there. The food is good and the proprietor is nice. And nobody knows me over there. It's great.

There is usually a band playing over there on Fridays and Saturdays. It is supposed to be background music. These guys evidently were a little too loud because they had been asked to tone it down to no avail.

At the break, one of the guys in the band came up to the bar to get a drink.

" You guys need to turn it down," the bartender said.

" Look, why don't you worry about tending bar? I'll worry about the music."

" I see," said the barkeep as he reached beneath him. " Why don't I just go ahead and hit you in the fuckin' mouth with this bottle of vodka?"

The musician looked over at me. I nibbled on my olive and shrugged.

They turned it down.

The bartender looked over at me and smiled.


"Don't mind if I do, son."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hotty Totty

Ole Miss's Andy Kennedy was arrested, along with the Director of Basketball Operations, for allegedly getting into an altercation with a cab driver in Cincinnati last night where the Rebels are scheduled to lose to Louisville tonight. Kennedy is alleged to have used "ethnic slurs" during the altercation.

Recent history shows that basketball coaches tend to get into trouble when they have too much time on their hands. Kennedy should know this better than anybody. He became the head coach at Cincinnati when Bob Huggins was fired after getting drunk and wrecking a car on a recruiting trip. Larry Eustachy got cashiered at Iowa State after unseemly photographs of him drinking with college girls popped up on the Internet.

Both Huggy and Eustachy went the AA route and are back in the game at other places. If there is anything to these allegations you can expect Kennedy to follow suit and cop to "having a problem" which will require him to go away for awhile. But then again, I would drink heavily if I were the basketball coach at Ole Miss.

The Jackson Clarion-Ledger, known locally as the "Clarion-Liar" is all over it. Hit the link.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas Carols As Background Music For Totalitarianism: Christopher Hitchens Declares War On Christmas

"God, I hate Christmas music."

The words just flew out of my mouth as Jenny and I were sliding into our booth at a popular eatery down by the river.

I don't even remember what Muzak infected jingle was befouling my airspace.

"Well, for somebody that hates Christmas music you sure have done a ton of it in your day," she replied.

Now there's a woman for you. If a woman knows you as well as Jenny knows me, they delight in taking a perfectly good inflammatory remark, generally leavened by such cuss words as are appropriate to the occasion, and turning it around it in a misguided attempt to provide some perspective. Or, as I suspect in the case of my dear Jenny, they do it in an attempt to provoke further discomfort.

I refused to take the bait.

" We are heartily sorry for these our misdoings," I muttered, remembering the words of the old Methodist communion liturgy.

As many of you know, I really have very little use for Christmas. And usually, long about this time, I have written my usual anti-Christmas screed. I may not have to do it as my man Christopher Hitchens went thermonuclear on the subject yesterday in Slate magazine. Hitchens, who for his bomb throwing prose style is surprisingly soft spoken and unfailingly polite in person, likens the ubiquity of holiday music to be akin to the pervasive iconography of a totalitarian state where escape from the Dear Leader is impossible.

I think that's a little over the top. I believe that a considerable number of misguided souls actually like Christmas music, even when you consider that " The Little Drummer Boy' and the even more odious "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas" are part of the canon. Muzak does not make money by being stupid. So it plays music that the general public wants to hear, soreheads like me and Hitch notwithstanding. Bidness is bidness. Simple as that.

I still have an "I hate Christmas" post coming. But if I don't get around to it this season Hitchens' rant will do nicely.

Until then, have a holly jolly Christmas. Please do.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Popular Science

While cooling my jets waiting on the doctor to deign to call me back this afternoon, I thumbed idly through a copy of Popular Science magazine. Seeing as how I had not looked at a PS in years and years, I had forgotten that it is a treasure trove of hooey that is every bit the equal of Psychology Today or any golf magazine.

I learned that a man invented a flashlight that can illuminate an object 4 miles away. There were plans on how you could build your own instant charge electric screwdriver. Until today I didn't know germs could clean your teeth. But my personal favorite was the program someone designed that can allow you to play computer games on the viewfinder of your high-dollar Canon digital camera.

What struck me was how nobody actually needs this stuff. And I am certain that a portion of the PS readership, probably the same portion that thinks this stuff is interesting and useful, are the bane of the Patent Office which they most assuredly pester nonstop with applications for patents for pneumatic cheese graters, bulletproof paint and practical applications for the unified field theory.

I picture these guys sitting around in the garage, chain smoking and staring into space until it hits them.

"That's it!"

And some Elvis Costello look alike will set about drawing up plans for a perpetual energy device.

These guys would be better off blogging. It is every bit as useless but the rejection factor isn't there.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

My Sunday Feeling

I write this day in defense of the "gret stet" of Louisiana in light of the recent revelations that Rod Blegojevich, the future ex-Governor of Illinois, was purblindly stupid enough to attempt to parlay the vacant Senate seat of President-Elect Obama into campaign contributions and/or jobs for he and his wife.

Now, Louisiana is widely regarded as being rife with corruption. Indeed, a member of the New Orleans City Council is busting rocks after getting caught taking bribes after running a campaign based on "honesty and integrity." Louisiana has had 2 Governors serve time. Edwin Edwards is currently a guest of the Federal Bureau of Penitentiaries after being convicted, along with his son, of influence peddling involving licenses for casinos and a hospital. The freshly defeated Congressman from New Orleans, William Jefferson, is facing federal charges in Washington. As part of the investigation of him, the FBI found $400,000 in a freezer at his home. You can look at the colorful history of Louisiana with the Longs, Huey and Uncle Earl, Ray Nagin, and the pious Christian Senator who is alleged to have rented him some female companionship from time to time and come to the not unreasonable conclusion that it is a basket case.

But really, Louisiana is not appreciably more corrupt than either Mississippi or Alabama. It's just that neither Mississippi nor Alabama are as flamboyant about it. And none of those states can hold a candle to Illinois and Chicago when it comes to out and out bare-knuckled brazen corruption in the political system.

4 Illinois Governors have done time. A whole raft of State Court judges got sent up the river 4 or 5 years ago. Every now and again an alderman will find himself in the cross hairs of the Feds. My personal favorite, at least up until now, was Otto Kerner, who was indicted for bribery when, while Governor, he took some stock from a horse track owner in exchange for adding an extra lane to a highway to accommodate her race track.

The scheme came to light when the race track owner deducted the bribe as a business expense on her taxes as a cost of doing business in Illinois. Naturally, by the time he got indicted Kerner was sitting as a Circuit Judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. This caused no small amount of trouble for the United States Supreme Court which had to find a District Judge to sit by designation for his trial as well as a whole appellate tribunal to hear the inevitable appeal of his conviction. For the year or so that he was being prosecuted, Kerner took a leave of absence from the bench. This was no biggee for him, seeing as how he had life tenure as a Federal Judge, which assured him a steady paycheck.

However, the attempt by Governor Blagojevich to shake down various applicants for Obama's Senate seat has rightly been described by the Chicago Tribune as a "new low" for a state that thought it had seen it all. I can understand Blago wanting his palm greased. He's a Chicago politician. And let's forget for the moment that he foolishly aired out his plans to nominate someone for the vacant post only if his extortionate demands were met on numerous phones tapped by the FBI which was already taking a look at him. What I really, really don't understand is how he possibly thought he could get away with this scheme. I mean, I presume he hit on every person that contacted him.

He didn't think that the unsuccessful supplicant for the seat-said seat having been vacated by the first black President-Elect in the nation's history- wouldn't be pissed off and wouldn't snitch him off? I mean, granted he doesn't look like the brightest guy in the world. But c'mon. Chicago lawyer and writer Scott Turow said something along the lines of "If I wrote this story, no one would buy it. It's unbelievable."

What Rod Blagojevich did was unbelievable. And that's why when if comes to corruption, Louisiana is relatively pristine and virginal by comparison. It may be crooked. But it is believable.

I only regret that Nelson Algren, Mike Royko and Studs Turkel are not alive to see this, the motherlode.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Vox Populi: My Brother- Dave Of The Ozarks

Dave: Just because they are in hospice doesn't mean they are gonna die soon. They can last forever.

Me: Yeah, I know.

Dave: Judy's Dad lasted longer than we thought he would and Helen is still hangin' even though she has Alzheimer's and can't get up out of a chair. No. I have a lot of experience with hospice up here.

Me: Well, this doesn't strike me as a particularly good sign.

Dave: No. But you never know. Helen is still hangin' in there.

Me: Yeah.

Dave: You know what hospice does up here in Greene County, Missouri?

Me: Ummmmm, no. What is hospice doing up there?

Dave: They send a harpist over to these folks house.

Me: A harpist.

Dave: Yessir.

Me: To do what?

Dave: You know, to play the harp.

Me: How dreadful. What? Y'all couldn't find an accordion player instead?

Dave: These old folks love it.

Me: I have never met a harp player who wasn't completely insane.

Dave: Really.

Me: Really. They are either really intense guys or Isadora Duncan types with long hair and silk scarves. I actually know 3 card carrying straight organists. I know no sane harpists.

Dave: Maybe so. But old folks like 'em.

Me: If I ever need hospice care?

Dave: No harps?

Me: No.

Dave: Not even if she's really hot?

Me: Never met one of those either.

Dave: I'm making a note.

Me: Thank you. I don't ask for much.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

My Sunday Feeling

Like everybody else, I am literally stunned by all of bailouts going on right now in America. No, I'm not talking about the billions the government is lending to the banking and automotive industry. I'm talking about all the money being thrown at college football coaches nowadays FOR NOT COACHING. The SEC alone this year is littered with the corpses of coaches who were fired and/or chose to quit rather than make changes to their staff. Phil Fulmer was fired at Tennessee, Sylvester Croom resigned at snake bit Mississippi State and Tommy Tuberville quit at Auburn.

The Tuberville situation is something of a stumper. Sure they went 5-7 this year and got walloped by blood enemy Alabama. But Tuberville had won 6 straight prior to this year's debacle. And even though the Birmingham News reported that Tuberville's wife wanted him out of the business and the Athletic Director swears he asked him to reconsider, it sounds like there was a gun at his head.

Which is unfair. They went undefeated 3 or 4 years ago. This year was the first losing record since his first season at the Loveliest Village On The Plains or whatever the hell they call it. Besides, like I said earlier, they have won 6 straight over the hated Crimson Tide, which is really all those folks care about anyway. And not that anyone cares, he graduated his players and you never really heard about them getting into any trouble. Unlike, say, a Penn State or a Virginia Tech. Or Florida State in its heyday.

Expectations of SEC fans everywhere but Vanderbilt are completely insane. Mississippi State is not likely to find a better fit for a perennially lousy program. They certainly will not hire a better man. Tennessee quickly inserted Lane Kiffen into the Chair of Football up there. Kiffen just got fired by Oakland's Lunatic-in-Residence Al Davis after a year and a half. And Auburn? I don't know what Auburn is going to do.

Which leads me to the following question: Why on earth does Charlie Weis still have a job? The Irish have done nothing but stink on ice since two winning seasons with players recruited by Tyrone Willingham who the Irish shamefully let go in the middle of his contract. Notre Dame did manage to eke out a winning record. But they also somehow lost to a 2-8 Syracuse team and got drilled by 30 against USC.

Weis, who by all accounts, has managed to piss off almost everybody involved with Notre Dame athletics, arrived at South Bend from the New England Patriots modestly promising that the Irish would have "a decided schematic advantage" by the fact of his mere presence. Somebody must not have told that to opposing Defensive Coordinators. Notre Dame was 99th in rushing yards per game in Division I and 69th in passing efficiency. Some decided advantage.

Indeed, Slate magazine re-ran a piece they did last year by Jonathan Chait in which he described Weis as the worst football coach in the universe. As you can see, from Chait's article, last year was even worse. And it's not like Notre Dame plays anybody. This year they only played 4 teams with winning records.

Two years ago, the Notre Dame brass hit the panic button when rumors abounded about Weis's impending return to the NFL. They signed him to a 10 YEAR CONTRACT EXTENSION. But that can't be the only reason they are keeping him around. Notre Dame's boosters have more money than God. Buying Weis out wouldn't break those guys. And they are easily as crazy as anybody in the SEC. They jettisoned a truly decent guy in Willingham. Why are they putting up with an asshole like Weis who has put the program in the dumper?

Not that I much care. I have no use for Notre Dame. I figure that they deserve all of this misery and then some. And I weep not for Tuberville who will be paid 5.1 million to work on his short game.

But I don't understand how Charlie Weis has a job and Tommy Tuberville does not.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

My Sunday Feeling-The Thanksgiving Edition

I got the call a week or so ago that Aunt Ginger was in the hospital in Searcy. She had just undergone emergency bypass surgery. A tiny woman, Ginger had been in poor health for some time due to obstructive pulmonary disease. We didn't know she had heart problems. That was the reason for the quick trip to Searcy from Heber, a trip that got her admitted immediately.

On Sunday, she seemed to be doing better. But by late Monday night the word from the hospital was that she had taken a turn for the worse. I got up there Tuesday morning. I looked through the glass in the little family room there at the hospital where he had spent the last two nights. Uncle Ralph was sitting in a recliner staring into space. I went on in.

" Boy I sure am glad to see you," he said as he stood up to give me a hug. " I was afraid I was gonna have to do this by myself."

"Uh-oh.." I thought. " Do what?"

"What's going on?" I asked.

" I talked to the doctors this morning," he said. " They say her lungs are filling up with fluid. They can drain her off but it won't do no good. They will just keep filling up. And now her kidneys aren't working. They say that they can keep her alive for who knows how long but that she isn't ever going to be OK."

" What do you want to do?" It was mainly a rhetorical question.

" Ginger and I talked about this last week. She told me if she wasn't ever going to get better that she didn't want to be hooked up to a machine. The doctors told me it ain't no use....."

I just let him talk. My Uncle Ralph is not a complicated man. But this was the biggest decision he was ever going to make in his life and so he needed to work it all out in his head. The poor man, being exhausted as he was, must have repeated the substance of his conversation with Ginger at least 3 times over the next 45 minutes. Each time the story began with " Ginger and I talked about this last week...."and each time I acted as if I were hearing it for the first time.

Finally he said, " Let's go tell the nurses." We went back through the electronic double doors to the ICU. As we approached Ginger's room I could see her. Her eyes were fixed at a point in the heavens. She was struggling mightily to breathe, her small chest heaving up and down. Dear God in heaven. It was time.

" I want this to end," Ralph told the nurse. " Ginger wouldn't want this."

" I understand," she said as she squeezed Ralph's arm. "We have to get permission from the doctors to start the process and we can't turn the machine completely off without the doctor being in the room and ordering us to do it."

So back we went to the family room to wait for the call. Ralph collapsed into the recliner. He put his head in his hands.

" You're doing the right thing," I said. " Even if she miraculously survived, she would be in a nursing home somewhere on dialysis. Her lungs have to be damaged even worse now and God knows if her heart would ever get better. You would have to think she would be bedfast even if she survived."

" No. She wouldn't want that," he said as he shook his head back and forth in his hands." No. I promised her I wouldn't let that happen."

About that time, the phone rang. It was the nurse. It was time.

Ralph stood up. He smoothed his hair back and put a plug of tobacco in his jaw. I opened the door.

"Ready?" I asked. He nodded.

We stopped outside the double doors. We looked at each other.

" You got any advice?" he asked.

I said the only thing I could think of.

" Deep breath through your nose." I said. " Hold it. Exhale.'

He did it twice. I put my hand on his shoulder as I hit the button. And we went through the big doors together.


I stayed in the doorway as Ralph said goodbye to Aunt Ginger. The nurses began shutting down the machine. I felt a hand on my shoulder. It belonged to the man who introduced himself as the chaplain of the hospital. I introduced myself as the nephew.

" Bless her heart," he whispered. "Bless her heart."

" I know. This is pitiful," I whispered back.

" Do they have any children that I need to call?"

" No children. They married each other 'late in life' as they say."

" How did they meet?"

" I'm sorry?"

" How did they meet? I'm always interested in people's stories."

" You really want to know?"

" Sure. If you don't mind my asking...."

" Not at all. Get this. They first met when Ralph went out there to do a bushhog job on Ginger's property."

The chaplain's face lit up in delight.

" I'll be. What a wonderful story," he said.

" Yeah," I said. " She invited him back to the house that night for a chili supper. The rest, as they say, is history."

" I'll be," he said, still unable to suppress the grin on his face despite the sadness of the scene before us.

We stood there in silence for a minute with his hands in his pocket. After awhile he leaned over to me.

" I guess he did a good job," he said.

" I guess so," I replied.


And so Thanksgiving 2008 was a sad one. We mourned the loss of a life and it grieved us to see Uncle Ralph in such pain. But I am thankful for Ginger and a life well lived despite her constellation of medical problems. I am thankful to have been a small part of the love story that began after an invitation to come for supper to the guy that cut her yard.

We all hope for a peaceful death. We want to slip away in our sleep surrounded by our friends and our loved ones. Unfortunately, our technology can keep us from a dignified end unless there are people surrounding us in those dreadful moments when we are but an adjunct to a computer to give us back our humanity. Like I said, Ralph is not a complicated man. I am thankful to have been an unlikely witness to his determination to carry out his wife's wishes not to be kept alive by artificial means even as it broke his heart in the process.

And so I will always remember Thanksgiving 2008. I will always remember and be thankful. Because two days before Thanksgiving, in a hospital room in Searcy, I caught a glimpse of the sacred.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Shameless Plug II

I was asked to contribute to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's " Best Books of 2008." It will run in tomorrow's Editorial Section. Enjoy!
And buy somebody a book for Christmas, why don't ya?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Vox Populi: The Criminal Defense Lawyer

This was forwarded to me from one of my little lawyer friends in Mississippi.

"For those of you that don't do any criminal work, this is what you miss. I was pleading my guy to his fourth felony (narcotic sales, a sex offense and a violent act). I worked out a great deal, no time. He then asked "Is this going to make it harder for me to become a federal marshal? It's my dream."

"I told him this fourth conviction wouldn't help."

This is why I don't do criminal work.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Shameless Plug

Once again, it was my privilege to read a story for KUAR's "Tales From The South." You can hear the Thanksgiving program live Thanksgiving night at 7pm CST on the air at FM 89 here in town or simulcasted on the website. You can also pull it off the archives.

Go to

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

My Sunday Feeling

Okay. Going to DC on corporate jets to ask Congress for billions of dollars to bail out the American automotive industry was a really bad idea. Granted, the fact that each of the amusingly named "Big Three" maintain a fleet of corporate jets for the use of its executives is not exactly the biggest problem facing the industry and certainly is not the cause of its present difficulties. Still, it looked like hell and makes you wonder what planet these guys as well as the execs over at AIG are living on.

Given the monumental hubris on display last week by guys who came to Congress with their hats in their hands, it is tempting to say " to hell with them" and urge Washington to turn a deaf ear to Detroit. Indeed, some commentators have opined that the best thing that could happen would be to go ahead and let them fail if for no other reason than it's all they deserve.

Oh, if only it were that simple.

I ran into a woman in the grocery store today that I went to college with. Her mind was much on the economy. She works for a local technology company that does billing and such for many large corporations such as-guess who?- Ford.

" If Ford fails, I lose my job. Period. I have 2 kids in college and my mother is starting to need more attention. Don't people understand that if Ford goes broke it will affect more people than just factory workers?"

And there's the rub. It is easy to think that if the Detroit automakers go down it will primarily affect the arrogant executives and the greedhead union bosses. But this is not true. It will affect suppliers, the gas companies, tire manufacturers, banks and people like my friend thousands of miles from Michigan.

As Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times has said repeatedly, the world is flat. Everything is connected up. If the current banking-foreclosure crisis hasn't proven that in spades then, well, you just haven't been paying attention. The ripple effect of a couple hundred thousand people hitting the unemployment line at the same time in an economy that has already been poleaxed would be nothing short of catastrophic without regard to the ripple effect on all of the jobs throughout the country that depend on the American automotive industry to some extent or another.

Either the spendthrifts that ran Detroit into the ground will get religion and come up with a plan of reorganization that the Congress can live with or it will have one imposed upon it by its creditors in Bankruptcy Court. And the guess here is that neither the execs or the unions particularly relish the prospect of a Bankruptcy Judge calling the shots.

But the industry cannot be allowed to fail. Because everything is connected. Ask my friend from college.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Another Patrik Update

I went by Children's Hospital today. They have started chemo on Patrik. Bill said the staff over there is way aggressive with his treatments. Patrik had a tough day today but they are pleased with his progress. As Bill told me, "His numbers are dropping faster than the Dow. Which is good."

I was allowed to look in on Patrik and Joy. I called out to him. Patrik whimpered back a hello. He was flat out motionless which is not what you usually see out of a 4th grader. It was hard to see. But he will be better. It's just a tough thing.

Bill said that the response to the call for blood was nothing short of phenomenal. Folks from virtually every denomination and synagogue answered the call. Many folks had no idea what their blood type was. Most did not match but donated anyway as long as they were there. Accordingly, Little Rock has enough blood available to withstand a nuclear attack.

It is indeed a win-win situation. The family is profoundly moved and humbled by this.

Hopefully, they will get to go home Wednesday. Until then they are in good hands.

Patrik Update

This is the latest on the little boy with leukemia who needed donations of the rare blood type last week. Due to the outpouring of help from the community they are in a position to begin his chemotherapy. As it stands right now, Patrik is fine and is spending his time in the ICU playing video games. They have gotten his white count down to around zero and so will begin the chemo treatments today or tomorrow as I understand it.

Patrik will not be able to attend school for a year. So, his school is setting about getting the technology together so he can "distance learn" from the hospital and/or the home.

That is all I know. Check back here from time to time for updates.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

My Sunday Feeling

President-elect Obama has said that his election is proof that anything is possible in America. This is only true in the mathematical sense that everything in life is at least a 50-50 proposition. Either something will happen or it will not.
As adults we tend to bet the under on life. This is not mere cynicism. It is prudent. The economy is in the dumper. The poor will be always with us. There are wars and rumors of war. The Cubs and the Saints will always suck. And the Phillies rewarded their long suffering fans by jacking up ticket prices.
We shrug our shoulders and move on. Somewhere between the house payment and skin cancer most of us have long since lost our capacity to be amazed or to give ourselves over to unbridled hope. It's not the smart play.
The boy in the picture is named Spencer. He is one of our Miracle League kids. Yesterday we had our annual fundraiser. About 9 or 10 Major League players including Cy Young award winner Cliff Lee and All Star pitcher A.J. Burnett showed up to spend the day with local kids. In the afternoon, they played a "game" with the Miracle Leaguers.
Spencer has had a tough year. He spent most of the Spring in Children's Hospital. He spent 3 days there last week when his pneumonia came back. His Dad told me that Spencer bargained with the doctors to let him come out yesterday. And so he did with lines running into his body from his fanny pack. Indeed, he wasn't able to finish his initial attempt at batting because his pack, with all his IV lines started slipping.
No problem. At Miracle League we refer to this as an equipment change.
I don't know if A.J. Burnett knew about Spencer's week. All I know is that when the kid came back up to the plate, Burnett asked for the ball. And the picture above shows Spencer's reaction to the sight of A.J. Burnett coming to pitch to him. And he got the full treatment too. Burnett gave him the back-to-the-plate-right-knee-to-the-chest-hide-the-ball-windup before gently tossing him the ball underhanded. And Spencer stood there thus transfixed for at least the first 3 pitches after which he was gently reminded to try to hit the damn thing.
Yeah, we as adults lose the capacity to be amazed. We also forget that there are good people in sports. We seem to get a steady diet of criminals like Pac-Man Jones or knuckleheads like Manny Ramirez. Now the guys that showed up yesterday would probably scoff at the notion that they were heroes. They all seemed pretty normal to the extent that one can be "normal" when you have as much money as they do at that age. But Cliff Lee seems to get it. When asked by the local paper why he was out there yesterday he simply said that he owed his living to the fact that people like baseball and that he wanted to give something back.
There you go. Screw Manny Ramirez.
Mr. Obama won an election using hope as his platform. But that's politics. Hell, you can't be Spencer or any of those other Miracle League kids without hope.
Look at that face attached as it is to his frail little body. Ask yourself: who had the better day?
You or my boy Spencer?
Get back with me on that.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Not From The Onion

The headline of the day appeared on Comcast's home page:

"Austrian Incest Dad Charged With Murder."

There's all kinds of stuff here that you just don't want to put on your resume.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I Gotta Nikon Camera. I Love To Take Photographs.

Here is 15 year old Jackson Edwards pulling for the old man as Uncle Sam on Election Night. He was seen earlier in the week wearing Ray-Bans and rocking out to his IPod.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Well, maybe the falcon does hear the falconer after all

The Moving Finger is off attending to his charitable works today and so was nice enough to let me post in his stead. Today's topic is (surprise!) politics. Here goes:

Tuesday's election was not just historic, it was different. It might even have redefined the way we go about American politics. For the first time since the Kennedies, the a major party didn't vote as a coalition of factions, but as a unified party. I never thought I'd see it from either side, certainly not from the Left.

Here's the deal: since the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers in 1963 and 1968, American liberalism has been defined more by what it is against than what it is for. We've become a loosely affiliated group of often like-minded people who oppose racism, sexism, handguns, pollution, global warming, limitations on abortion, war, and pretty much everything the second Bush administration ever did. Opposition has been what we're all about, and it's been getting more complicated every election: Johnson ran against poverty and ran attack ads against Goldwater. It worked. McGovern ran against war and racial discrimination, and while I can't remember any attack ads, that may just been because he had no money. Anyway, it didn't work. Carter was against discrimination and pollution and right to work laws and sexism and Republican corruption, and it worked, but once he got into office, each of his constituent interest groups tried to jostle and elbow its way to the head of the line, which pushed his administration farther to the left than the electorate could tolerate, so he cratered after one term. Clinton put Carter's coalition back together and motivated minority voters, but he's not really a good example, because he never could have won if crackpot billionaire third party candidate Ross Perot hadn't siphoned off 19% of the center-right vote from Bush pere. Without Perot, Pere would have won in a walk. Really more of a stroll. Or an amble. Nevertheless, Clinton sneaked into power, and once in, he (personally, as opposed to those around him) seemed to understand that the party needed to stay towards the center to retain the White House. He hadn't really won, after all, and he was smart enough to know it. Here's where the perils of coalition politics took a bite out of his behind. There was never a chance that an outsider like him was going to have much impact on Congress, especially having won only 43% of the vote. Not that he really tried, at least not until it was too late. His people just didn't understand that they were more lucky than good and had no mandate to boss Congress around. Once again, each constituency group made loud demands, and with a Democratic Congress and a Democrat in the White House, they all expected action. Once again, it led to electoral failure, this time in the form of the 1994 mid-term elections.

When the Republicans gained control of Congress in 1994, a mere two years after Clinton's election (if we'd all remembered that he didn't really win we wouldn't have been so surprised) it wasn't as much his fault as everyone said. Dems had been too vocally partisan about fringe issues in Clinton's first two years. After twelve years of Reagan and Bush pere, by God, House Democrats were ready for a turn, and they demanded quick action on dozens of pet projects and harebrained schemes. Newt Gingrich, on the other hand, got Republicans nationwide to buy into the (mostly never implemented or even seriously attempted) Contract With America so that all of them were running the same campaign. It resonated everywhere in several senses of the word. Democrats dissolved into their various bickering splinter groups and failed everywhere. Newt may have been forming a coalition, or co-opting the Reagan one under his own banner, but it didn't look like it at the time.

During the post-Kennedy years, the Republicans had started their own coalitions, theirs just didn't have as many moving parts. At least not to start. Republicans up through Nixon had run as fiscal conservatives who saw foreign relations as a route to trade, peace and prosperity. In the post-Nixon period, Reagan figured out that there were a lot of "values" voters who didn't think their voices were being heard throughout the south and Midwest. He welcomed them into his tent. He managed to say things that traditional conservatives wanted to hear about balanced budgets, strong defense, and smaller government, and also managed to convince conservative Christians that he shared their views on abortion, gun rights, gay rights, prayer in school and that kind of thing--issues that had never been aired on the national stage before. It's odd that he convinced them, since he never went to church, but such was his appeal (George Will loved him) that nobody ever questioned him on any of this. His voters thought of themselves not so much as a coalition as two groups with a common purpose who were working together.

In reality, though, his voters were a coalition of a complicated suite of Christian conservatives on the one hand and a simple group of fiscal/foreign policy conservatives on the other, two sets that had noting in common but who were sustained in harmony by the charisma of Reagan himself. In the absence of Reagan, the Christian Right was unenthusiastic about Bush pere (unfortunate for history, since he knew how to start a war, which fils did not). It abandoned Pere to defeat at the hands of Clinton/Perot and only found its footing in the nineties when it was united not by previously-acknowledged common purpose but by its newly-discovered hatred of Bill Clinton. When the same coalition was reassembled in 2000 by Bush and Rove, the bickering and infighting amongst different Republican factions reached a volume not heard since the Democrats of the Carter administration.

Whether Reagan believed all of what he said is open to debate, but what he promised bore no resemblance to what happened, except for the tax cuts and increases in military spending. On his watch the government grew, the deficit ballooned, our international standing sagged (Jessie Helms made a mockery of the U.N., and Reagan did nothing), and discretionary spending soared. On the values issues his judges (O'Connor, Kennedy) upheld Roe v. Wade, and he allowed limitations on gun ownership (the Brady Bill). Rove and maybe Bush appear to have learned from Reagan that promising conservatives what they want is important, but actually giving them what they want is less so. Who else are they going to vote for?

So the overarching themes of the last forty years of presidential politics are that (1) governors usually win and Senators usually lose (just think back) and (2) that you can't get elected president except at the head of a coalition, but once elected, that coalition will make it more difficult for you both to govern and to retain power. Your constituents will want to pull your party towards its extremes, and disappointed factions will splinter and complain and develop a sense of frustrated entitlement.

All of this factionalization leads to lots of anger, too. Single issue voters on both sides are so sure of their positions that they have no ability to find middle ground. Anti-abortion Republicans feel justified in protests and demonstrations that seem utterly unreasonable to any outside observer. Pro-environment liberals set fire to Colorado condominium developments and Hummer dealerships. They call themselves "pro-life" and "pro-environment," but they're not. They're not "pro" anything. They're against abortion and against gas-guzzling SUVs. The fact that abortion and gas-guzzling are wrong is what's important, otherwise they'd be working in orphanages and giving flowers to Prius drivers. Being for something doesn't make you angry, certainly not angry enough to commit murder or arson.

There's a lot of anger and impatience associated with the things liberals have been against over the last forty years, and a lot of it is understandable. African-Americans were angry at discrimination and the awful way they've been treated throughout our history. Women were angry at being paid less than men. Environmentalists were impatient with a government that relied on crackpots to turn a blind eye to global warming. Civil libertarians watched with horror and anger as phones were tapped and non-combatents were detained in military prisons. All of that liberal impatience and anger is hard enough to suppress when a Regan or a Bush is in the White House, but it comes bubbling to the surface scalding hot once Clinton or Carter gets elected. "Our guy is in the Oval Office. He promised us he'd do something about this. He couldn't have gotten elected without us. This issue is extremely important to me. Why isn't he doing anything?"

Over time the coalitions on both sides have become increasingly unstable and uneasy, because every member wants to be first. The same coalition that adhered like rubber cement to the charismatic Reagan abandoned the less charismatic Bush pere and blew up like a hand grenade under the awkward Bush fils.

Until now. Everything just changed.

Last Tuesday the board got swept clean. It's all the sudden different. A young man with a soaring message of hope and coalition did not, as all of his predecessors had for forty years, appeal to our fears and feeling that we've been victimized. He did not collect a bunch of pre-existing factions and make promises to them. He didn't even specifically appeal to organized labor or civil rights groups. He appealed to all of us. He identified the major challenges facing our nation: the war in Iraq, the economy, global warning, health care, and energy independence, and told us his plans for dealing with them. He then built a political organization like only a Chicago pol knows how: from the ground up. Volunteers showed up from everywhere, and he used them--he didn't need Clinton's donor list or the Teamsters' volunteer list. He utilized the Internet to raise untold amounts of money--more than they could spend--from millions of small donors rather than a few big ones. When Bill Clinton was in the White House, if Hollywood came calling with requests to extend copyrights beyond the dreams of avarice (and certainly beyond the authorization of the Constitution) Bill had to listen. Not Barrack. When a coalition of big box church preachers wanted to talk to Bush fils or pere about the Biblical implications of tax policy, Bush (either) had to listen. Obama won't. He doesn't owe anybody anything. Several actors in the most recent presidential drama stepped on to the presidential stage tried to reinvent themselves to appeal more to their party's base. Not Obama. He knew who he was and he stuck to it. Finally, a real deal. And finally, no coalition. No special interest except a national interest.

His overarching message is one of cooperation, transformation, collaboration, and hope. It is an inspiring message. The Democratic Party, and I hope the American liberal movement, has suddenly, in the course of just two years, defined itself in terms of what it is for, rather than what it is against. The energy and patriotic pride we're feeling can transform politics into a more productive, more civil, happier future. Without coalition politics and all the jostling and trying to elbow our ways to the front of the line it entails, we can develop priorities as a nation. Without the angry baggage that comes with issue politics, we can address our most pressing needs, rather than the ones with the most vocal protesters.

I think our homework is to get along, to remember that the country is governed from the center, not the left, and to concentrate on what we're for, not what we're against. And that would be wonderful.

I know the election was historic, and wonderfully so. But it was unusual, too, and its unusualness may turn out to be more important than its historicity.

Sorry for going on.

For pieces containing more such foolishness, visit The link to the right containing a similar link doesn't work for some reason.