Month: June 2012


Garry Wills, who is a smart man, is really mad at Roberto Unger and others who are tempted to stray from the two-party system.

All these brave “independents” say that there is not a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties, and claim they can start history over, with candidates suddenly become as good as they are themselves. What they do is give us the worst of evils.

Long sad sigh.

First, no one ever said there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the candidates. Some of the points Wills makes are valid, and a reign of Romney, especially one combined with Republican control of Congress, would be a dark age indeed.

But for the overwhelming majority of Americans, and millions living in countries unfortunate enough to be “strategically important” to Washington,  so was the Bush era. And so are the Obama years. Yep, Romney would be worse, but as David Swanson’s tweet below says, our choices are calamity and catastrophe. Definitely there is a difference, but forgive us for not getting excited about it.

The Obama years have taught me (and I am slow to learn, though not as slow as some) that what binds the parties is more important than what separates them, and that the areas of agreement, the issues that aren’t even on the table, are a bigger problem that the things the parties fight about. As Conor Friedersdorf wrote recently, “the political press mostly covers whatever arguments Republicans and Democrats are having, a tendency that effectively outsources judgment about what’s important to partisans.” Or, to be a little less polite, party hacks.

I have been trying to summarize these commonalities with a catchy little acronym.  I’ve been stuck on WASP for some time (War, Austerity, Surveillance and Prisons) but it left a lot of things out. This week, I had a breakthrough. Tossing on a hot sleepless summer night, this came  to me:  our politics, it’s like those old Bud commericials, you know: WASSUP!

So. WASSUP? No matter who wins the 2012 presidential election we will get:

WARS, lot of them, declared  and un-, fought with armies, swarthy special forces spooks, and robots. Wars fought in particularly dirty ways, like bombing wedding parties, and targeting first responders who come to the aid of first strike victims. And those are only the ones we know about.

AUSTERITY, in just slightly differing flavors.

SURVEILLANCE: Your right to privacy went out the window in September 2001. That’s the story and both parties are sticking to it.

SECRECY, for the gubmint, not for us. See above. I mean, who saw this coming? You couldn’t have been more skeptical about Obama than me, and yet I’m shocked on a daily basis that the man who ran as the transparency candidate has been an absolute nightmare on that front.  And don’t get me started on whistleblower persecutions, especially as that would mess up the WASSUP.

UNDEREMPLOYMENT, and (bonus letter) UNAFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE (and education).

PRISONS, and prisoners, inside the United States, at Guantanamo, and God knows where else. An area where the USA can proudly and  truthfully claim We’re Number One. Not just in the number of people incarcerated, but in the staggering variety of cruel and unusual punishments  a true growth industry can create when motivated: from Supermax to the pure evil of the death penalty system, to mandatory long sentences for the pettiest of crimes.

More on this latter, but all I have to say is (wait for it) WASSUP with that? WASSUP?! WAZZZZZAAAAPPPPPP!!?????

And to get back to the Gary Wills thing. It’s a little disappointing. I expect, and usually get, sophisticated analysis from him. That NYROB piece is a bit lazy, based on straw men and oversimplifications, and as a bonus perpetuates the canard that Nader cost Gore the election in 2000.* How tedious have arguments been over that very point for the past dozen years?

The 2012 election will make that argument seem as brilliant as the repartee in Gertrude Stein’s salon. Yeah, Obama’s been appalling, but Romney would be worse. Can’t WAIT to rehash that simple proposition in all its permutations for the next six months.

And I don’t disagree. But … calamity/catastrophe. Not exactly stoked about the choice.


* Here is a more than decent summary of the state of the truthiness in that Gore Nader thing.

“I’ve lived at the very end of what must have been a wonderful country”

I followed a link on tumblr first thing this morning and came to such a trove of Merle Haggard lore my first thought was, “Holy shit! The great man has died.” But no, it’s just a very good, passionate fan site.

It linked to an Esquire Q&A from 2007 I had never seen. It’s great. Here is an extremely large chunk of it.

I’ve lived at the very end of what must have been a wonderful country.

They’ve left the redwoods up alongside the highway so we’ll think they’re all there. But go up in an airplane and you’ll see that they’ve clear-cut everything behind.

The kids just don’t know how big the tear on the rip-off was. If they had any idea, I believe they could do something about it. But it may be too late. We’ll see. They’re smarter. They can talk to one another. I don’t look for a politician to bullshit his way in this time.

When I was nine years old, right after my dad died, my mother got me some violin lessons with this big heavyset lady. It took nine lessons before this lady said to my mother, “You’re wasting your money. He’s got too good an ear. He’s not going to fool with learning to read when he can play something that he hears on the radio.” When I heard her say that, I knew I had something.

We weren’t thieves by nature. Pranksters. Practical jokers. We were without a car one time, Dean Holloway and I. We just went out and started borrowing cars. Sometimes we’d bring ’em back. Put gas in ’em. Clean ’em up. Leave a little note: THANKS FOR THE CAR. Like the Phantom.

I’m in a very small percentage of people ever in the joint who beat it. It’s like 2 percent of 2 percent. If you’ve ever been to the joint, you’re going back.

[snip] …

Freedom is what prohibition ain’t.

I probably had as bad a sex urge as anybody when I was younger. I remember an old guitar player, Eldon Shamblin, told me, “When you get pussy off your mind, you can go ahead and learn something.” Isn’t that great?

Willie Nelson’s the one who told me the reason it costs so much to get divorced is because it’s worth it.

I remember going to a dance when I was a kid — my older brother took me in. Roy Nichols was playing. My brother said, “Hey, there’s a little guy in there playing guitar. He don’t have to pick cotton or go to school.” Roy Nichols became my idol on the guitar. Many years later, he went on to play for me for half price. But he and I could never look directly at each other. I never knew why. At first, I thought it was because I admired him too much. But it was Roy, too. Anyway, late in his life, Roy had a stroke. Paralyzed him on one side. Right down the middle. Half of his nose he could blow, the other half was dead. After his stroke, I went over to Roy’s house. He looked me right in the eye and said, “Look here: I love you.” I got chills. He said, “That old shit went down the hole with this stroke.”

They got laws for the white man and laws for the black man — we all know that.

There’s more. Here is the link to the original. And again, here is the link to 190 Proof.

Memories of the Big O

This comes in a week where I am dealing with a heartbreaking cancer death in my wife’s family, a subject I’m probably not ready to write about just yet.

But Orlando Woolridge, dead at 52, is a different story. A sort of public figure to whom I have sort of personal connection. His obit mentions his arrest, not too long ago, of stealing piping for scrap. So a doubly tragic story: tragic for dying young, tragic for the obviously troubled life after basketball stardom.

In 1977, I showed up for my freshman year at Notre Dame. It might have been my first day on campus, or maybe my second, but I was in a hurry to find a pickup basketball game. I went up the the vaunted and venerable “Rock”, pulled up my knee socks with the three horizontal stripes at the top, and laced up the All-Stars.

Dunks, rainbow long-range jumpers, alley-oops, shots blocked straight down. Some serious ballin’ going on. After my team of challengers got crushed in short order by the team holding the court, I approached one of the winners at the drinking fountain. “Hey, you’re pretty good. Are you thinking about going out for the varsity.” “Going Out For The Varsity.” My ears redden as I type those words, and they are verbatim. He smiled and shook his head at my cluelessness. “I hope so. I was recruited.”

That was Tracy Jackson, who along with Orlando Woolridge and Kelly Tripucka, were the core of Digger Phelps’ killer recruiting class.

To another guy, the best player on the court, the one dunking on everyone’s heads, I said something similarly oblivious, and asked him his name. “Orlando.” “Rolando?” “No, Orlando.” “Rolando!” After four attempts I got it. Orlando. Woolridge. He was cool about it.

Flash forward three years, to Notre Dame’s storied Bookstore Basketball tournament. 384 teams. Single elimination, games to 21, played rain or shine — or snow. I am on a team with four other scrappy little white guys. For our fourth round game we draw True Blood Express I, comprised of Woolridge and three varsity football players. And another excellent player.

Partly because we were hitting shots, partly because TB Express couldn’t be bothered to look like they were trying too hard, we managed to get the score to 16-15. A big crowd had formed around our game, and eventually our opponents applied a little more pressure to the accelerator, and it was 21-15 before we knew it.

That game was covered in the school paper, which included my name and Woolridge’s in the same paragraph! No question, I was thrilled, and I got minor league-VIP treatment around campus the following day. But there were aspects of that game I really wish I didn’t remember. The crowd’s support for the underdogs was understandable, but there came a point when the cheering for five white guys against five black guys morphed into something ugly and racial. Even locked into the game with my laser-like focus, I heard a lot of things I wish I hadn’t, from people I thought I knew.

I don’t have any overarching commentary about it, other than to say it must have been rough being black at ND in the late 70s/early 80s, even if you were a superstar athlete. I’m betting the racial picture in South Bend has improved since then. Just over-sharing some of the darker memories of those days.

Ask me about the time counter-protesters pelted a girl (wearing her father’s letter sweater) with eggs, as she read Nicaraguan poetry at at anti-war rally on the North Quad.

Below Mike Brey shares his memories of Woolridge.

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