This one’s for the workin’ man


Any god or demigod worth a damn comes in multiple manifestations. You got your young, sneering Elvis and your sequined jumpsuit and scarf Elvis; you got your baby Jesus and your bearded sandal-wearing Jesus–and even your t-shirt and tuxedo-wearing Jesus. So it is with any figure who exists in a space between man and myth. Jesus, Elvis, Merle. You could certainly come up with more names, but those three for sure.

I’ve been thinking and worrying a lot about the only one of that trinity still living, who has gone into the hospital and cancelled his March tour dates. The 78-year-old Merle Haggard, indefatigable musical genius and ornery old American treasure, ranks up there with the coolest human beings on the planet, but I also have a soft spot and fascination for the just-starting-out Merle. You can get a sense of what I mean in these two vintage shots, part of a series of weird outtakes from his Branded Man album that is reproduced in the excellent booklet accompanying the Bear Family Untamed Hawk box set.

untamedhawkYou might expect the handsome unlined face, intense gaze, and the full head of hair, but might find surprising the urban attire, the windbreaker and the pointy-toed Cuban-heeled boots. At the very onset of his career, Merle seemed to have kicked back hard against any sort of “country” image. “I’ve never been in the hills in my life. I’m a city boy. But I’m a real country singer,” quoth the notes from Untamed Hawk, unsourced alas.

On a recent drive to and from Nashville (a place Haggard notoriously hated fwiw) I became obsessed with “Today I Started Loving You Again,” spare and minimal but absolutely perfect: the simplicity of the loping guitar line; the echo accentuating the purity and ache of Hag’s voice (what a glorious instrument it was back then, before life and the road took away the higher part of his register); those accent harmonies, a genius musical idea that was apparently a gift from Buck Owens. Oh, and nailing those accent harmonies, none other than the former Mrs. Owens, then Mrs. Haggard, who was a bigger star than either of them when it all started, and somehow wound up “washin’ and ironin’ and pickin’ up” on the Haggard tour bus….

(That “washin’ and ironin'” line is from a wonderful Laura Cantrell song about Bonnie called “Queen of the Coast,” which I can’t recommend highly enough.)

Unbelievably, TISLYA was a b-side to “The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde,” which was a #1 hit on the country charts, but not much thought of now. TISLYA is now one of his best-loved songs, and it nags me to think it might have been an afterthought. A b-side? I wonder if Haggard and the guys in the studio know they had something special, or did they just record TISLYA as another song to fill up an album. Haggard brought his band into the Capitol Tower for 21 sessions in 1968. The core band of Roy Nichols, Bonnie Owens, Jerry Ward, Roy Burris, George French, and Norman Hamlett, sometimes joined by Glen Campbell, Billy Mize, and James Burton. It was a period of ridiculous creativity, and it might have been hard for the musicians to separate the great from the ordinary. Making immortal music was just a day’s work.

I had a pain that went all the way around from my belly button all the way around to my back.” Haggard told Rolling Stone in February. “I asked the doctor, ‘What was that pain?’ He said, ‘It was death.'”

It’s the second time this year he’s had to check in to sort out his pneumonia. I can only hope, maybe even pray, Hag kicks death’s ass one more time.

Many a day: Random memories of a brother


[Pinning this one for a while. My brother would have turned 65 yesterday, Jan. 11.]

“As long as you live under this roof you WILL go to Mass every Sunday.” That was the deal. All of us kids complied, reluctantly. The Sunday before Danny died, the weather was fine, so he and I walked the eight blocks to church together. Like we belonged together, like we were brothers. I like to tell myself there was some sort of reconciliation under way.

Daniel Joseph, eldest child of Jerry and Vergie, was born 60 years ago this month. On a sunny summer day 22 years later, his life ended in a accident at his roofing job.

In remembering him, my perspective is specifically that of a younger brother. Parents in the 60s tended to let their boys straighten out disputes among themselves. At least ours did. For me, this meant constant abuse at Danny’s hands. He was shorter, but much stronger, and had a sadistic streak. He loved the “99” — his extended middle knuckle pounding on my breastbone for, yes, 99 reps. The hard punch to the bicep was another favored part of his repertoire, as was the one where he pinned my arms with his knees, and let spit dangle close to my face, and sometimes, accidentally or otherwise, letting it drip onto my nose or into my eye.

Twenty-some years after Danny’s passing, Heather and I named our first son Daniel, and it’s some sort of Gabriel Garcia Marquez trans-generational thing to watch how Daniel the Younger torments his little brother with the ardor of his namesake. The two Dans even look alike, though there’s no blood relation.

My parents adopted Danny in 1956 and my older sister Cheryl in 1958. Not long after Cheryl came home, my mother became pregnant–with me–and then my younger sister Caroline came two years later. Judging from baby books and photo albums, my parents doted on Danny, and I imagine their marriage was even quite happy when he was the only child. But by the time I came on the scene all I remember is constant fighting–between my parents, and between Danny and dad. From the age of 13 or so, Danny managed to avoid most of our family outings, even vacations.


Wrestling was a big deal with kids in Minnesota when we were growing up. We would adopt the personalities of our favorites. Most kids chose the Crusher or Vern Gagne, a few opted for Mad Dog Vachon. Being skinny and weak, I saw myself in Edouard Carpentier, the Flying Frenchman (who was Canadian, of Polish descent, actually). Carpentier wore bell bottoms, no shirt, no shoes. Googling turned up no photographic evidence of him in this getup, but that’s how I remember him. Carpentier specialized in drop kicks and flying head scissors, and I did my best to mimic his acrobatics when up against Danny. Sometimes I would get lucky and hurt him with an elaborate, high-risk aerial maneuver, but he always recovered and hurt me more.


Danny had a minibike, then a car and a motorcycle, and could fix them on his own. Not one for books, he worked as soon and as often as he could. He had money to spend, and girlfriends (I had neither). When I was 15 or 16, I remember riding down to Lake Calhoun on my ten-speed and catching glimpses of him speeding past or parked in his avocado ’69 Malibu, with what seemed like a different blond head every time in the passenger seat.


That time when he lowered his voice and asked me what girls I liked at school? I knew better than to answer. I held out. But he was relentless. Finally, a little smile forming on my mouth, I whispered the name of my secret crush. He roared. The very next day I saw the object of my desire flirting pretty brazenly–with him.


One Sunday in ’68 or ’69, when I was at a Boulevard Theater kids’ matinee, my father took Danny and Danny’s friend Greg ice-fishing. It was March, and the ice was getting thin in places. Dad, walking where an ice house had been taken down, fell through. In his heavy wool coat, he went down like a stone, but somehow surfaced through the same hole. (Indelible image: Dad liked to remember that he never lost his grip on the cigar he had clamped between his teeth.) Danny and Greg pulled him out. As a display of gratitude, dad gave both of the boys a transistor radio from Walgreen’s, along with an unusually (for him) emotional note thanking them for saving his life.

Danny loved westerns, which I tried to watch, but always found boring. He fancied himself part Native American, and once when he shot a blackbird with his pellet gun, made a mess of hacking the red wing off, as some sort of Sioux talisman of his imagining. He was a great fisherman and was always bringing home turtles from the Lagoon off West Lake Street. He was also adept at climbing over the spiked iron fence surrounding Lakewood Cemetery, which he treated as his own personal squirrel and chipmunk trapping ground. And that’s where he is now, of course, buried next to my mother’s grave (and a stone’s throw from Hubert Humphrey’s), almost up against that iron fence on Dupont, across the street from his (and my) old paper route.


We went as a family one evening to a Twins game at the old Met Stadium in Bloomington. Killebew, Oliva, Zoilo, Boswell, Kaat. What a team they had! And yet,I don’t remember the game as much as I do the chain link outfield fence, which seemed cheap and disappointing, and that there were hundreds of bats flying around beneath the bleacher seats.

“It took many a day to build this place,” Danny said to me somberly. I have never forgotten him saying this, and would often borrow the “many a day” for something equally inappropriate.


I was not tough, to say the least, and kids would pick fights with me because it was easy. I was tall and skinny and often covered up and whimpered that I didn’t want to fight, which only made others more eager to call me out.

There was one time in seventh grade when I fought back. A tussle on the stairs coming out of gym, and I must have accidentally bumped into the quarterback of our miserable football team. Another diminutive bully, and another Timmy as it happens. He ordered me to meet him after school on the playground. I surprised him by showing up.

I had been reading the Robert Lipsyte young adult novel, The Contender, about Alfred, a dropout black kid from Harlem who stumbles into boxing and finds he is good at it. His manager Mr. Donatelli’s mantra, “Stick and run,” suddenly came to me I circled the other Timmy. I jabbed and jabbed, retreated, jabbed some more, and he, being much shorter, could never get inside. The fight seemed to go on for a very long time. A big crowd had gathered, and finally the priest came puffing along to break it up.

The fact that I’d bloodied and bruised the other Timmy didn’t stop him from saying he was going to kick my ass the next day. I didn’t challenge that, but the next day came and went. Back home I proudly showed Danny the dried blood on the knuckles of my chopper mitts. He seemed to have known about the fight before I told him anything. All he said was, “You fought with your mittens on?!”


He was not great at school, and when I looked over some of his homework from the courses he took at Normandale Community College, I got the sense that he might have had an undiagnosed learning disability. He took law enforcement classes, and wanted to get a job with a police force, but the economy was bad and he never got his foot in the door. He often mocked me for my higher education aspirations. “You’re book smart, but not street smart” was something he said frequently. But the year before he died, at the age of 21, he was accepted into the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul. “I’m gonna do it like you. I’m not gonna work, gonna  take out loans, join a frat.”

I was kind of flattered to see him come around, but it had little to do with me, and more with his seeing no future working the kinds of jobs he worked. He was a week away from proper college life when he slid off that roof.

I don’t know how he would have done, whether he would have fit in. Would he have been able to do the work, would he have stuck it out and graduated, or gotten frustrated and quit? What would have become of him in those forty years since he fell? Would he have a wife? a family? Would he have lost his hair? It’s just impossible to imagine any future for him in my rational brain.

My irrational brain fills in the gaps. Frequently, in dreams, I have conversations with him. “Man, it’s weird that you were gone so long. What are you going to do now?” He’s usually his 1979 age, but sometimes, as in a Buñuel dream sequence, has evidence of the grave about his body–dirt, pallid skin. Death is acknowledged in our chats, but it’s something that we have put past us.

Waking up, mind clearing, realizing it was all a dream–that’s about as empty as I ever feel.

Last picture of Dan, with his friend Gerard, in front of the ancestral abode.

Crepuscular études

Crepuscular. I love that word and always have to look it up.

A photo posted by Tim Ungs (@timungs) on

I posted this on Instagram yesterday, and it led to comments from friends as far afield as Minnesota, Brazil and Australia. Genevieve in St. Paul declared it “word of the day,” and Dan in Sao Paulo informed me that crepuscular is a common Portuguese word, which I didn’t know, but it makes sense. Saudade has no direct English translation either.

Then Ricky chipped in from Corrimal.

Personally, I’m quite fond of dawn and dusk, they have a bit of a mystic feel. The changing of the light is always interesting.

…I love the outline of the cow…. The filigree quality of the trees against the light is beautifully delicate, and the warm glow on the horizon sets the middle ground of the frame, but it’s the presence of of the animal and its lack of complete definition that brings it all back to earth.

I didn’t know I had done all that, but … yeah. I hadn’t wanted to explain the shot too much, Ricky’s interest in it led me to confess to what I was really after.

I was actually photographing that cow more that the entire scene. She just lost her calf yesterday morning. It’s been my experience that cows don’t quite get it when their calves die, especially when they get taken away (and the Dead Truck came around in record time, a mere 15 minutes after I had called). So typically the mama bellows for the calf for a couple of days. She comes up to me accusingly and bellows with special ferocity, as if to say “where’d you put my calf!??!”

Ricky: With my tendency to anthropomorphise, I couldn’t do what you do, Tim.

Me: Well, you harden over time I guess. Yesterday I took the opportunity to ship off two of my favorite old cows as well (they both had udder problems and couldn’t nurse their calves, and one had chronic hoof issues). They got onto the trailer like humans stepping onto a bus, and when we opened the gate, both trotted gamely into the heart of the cacophonous stockyard labyrinth.

I felt a bit of a pang, but turned and let ’em go.

When I told my daughter we had sold the big red cow with the horns, she was very upset with me.

“I had to sell her,” I told her. “You didn’t HAVE to,” she replied. Correctly.


a stick a stone


The past couple of days I’ve been playing “Águas de Março” over and over again.

Monday was the four-year anniversary of the passing of David Campbell, drummer, bon vivant, lover of life and good friend to so many.

“Listening to Elis & Tom today,” commented Erica, one of Dave’s many musical collaborators, on a Facebook post featuring an old photo of Dave. I liked that idea, and set aside some time to listen. I kept being drawn back to this absolutely amazing video of Elis Regina and Tom Jobim vocalizing and harmonizing in ways that seem impossible for mere mortals. It appears they did this in a single take! Remarkably, Elis keeps that cigarette going the whole time; understandably, Jobim collapses when it’s over.

“Águas de Marςo” was among the more memorable songs on a cd of brasilero music Dave burned for me not long before he died. He was passionate about that music, and let it inhabit his whole being.

I say “Águas de Marςo” was memorable, but I didn’t really give it a proper listen until yesterday. I googled around for translations and found the lyrical poetry jaw-droppingly great. I can’t really think of a poem or song, in any language, that gently cascades (literally, it cascades) from simple concrete images to profound, and profoundly melancholy, musings on life, loving life, decay, renewal.

É pau, é pedra,
é o fim do caminho

A stick, a stone,
The end of the road


And the riverbank talks
of the waters of March,
It’s the promise of life
in your heart, in your heart

A stick, a stone,
The end of the road,
The rest of a stump,
A lonesome road

A sliver of glass,
A life, the sun,
A knife, a death,
The end of the run

For what it’s worth, the simple elegance of the lyrics called to mind two disparate works, both extraordinary in their own way–Margaret Wise Brown’s The Quiet Noisy Book and Ronnie Lane’s Stone. See if you agree. I’m pretty convinced of it.

quiet noisy book (1)

I was kind of taken by surprise to hear (in an out-of-the-blue Facebook message from an old friend), that it had been four years since Dave died.

That friend, Marie, now works as an architect in Paris. Paris! I almost shouted out when I  read that, at the same time fretting about my rather non-glamorous list of duties for the day, having to get outside and feed the chickens and prepare my sad cattle pen for another attempt to keep my cattle from escaping the trailer. (A week ago, two steers had literally leapt out of the pen with the stunning power and form of steeplechase horses).

I ventured that Paris must be an amazing place to live and work, and Marie didn’t disagree, but hastened to add:

But most of the time the weather here is horrible. Damp winters, grey, never cold enough to make it feel like winter

My reply:

have the same complaints about Kentucky winters, which are usually never quite cold enough to deserve the name. gorgeous here now though. Overwhelmed by fecundity.

I think she thought that was sort of funny. and closed our chat by riffing on my choice of words, “I will leisurely peruse your fecundity photos later … at work at the moment.”

And really, at this time of year in central Kentucky, well, that is a pretty good word, Fecundity. I’ve been catching a swarm of bees nearly every day for the past two weeks, can barely keep up with the mowing, and my cattle, well, they have been very frisky in the cold weather. While cutting out those steers last week, I had trouble coaxing the bull out of the pen. He was keenly interested (as were some of the mature calves) in an orange cow that miscarried last spring. He was so interested that he attempted the deed not once but twice right there in broad daylight. I was scandalized, and only just managed to get out of the way, but was glad to see he was capable of that sort of exertion (he is a rather passive bull most times). And had to make the mental note to haul that orange cow off to sell. Still in heat after being with a bull for nearly four months, she wasn’t going to be calving this season (or any)…. It’s the way of the barnyard.

And the way of the world.

I hope my readers don’t find this weird that I return to the topic of Dave once again. I am moving on and living my life, which is full and wonderful. I also hope it’s not weird to say that, like all the people who’ve gone and died on me, he comes back in dreams. Fairly regularly. We have a chat about where he has been and how long he’s been away. Sometimes it makes sense, but not always. There is often some sort of separation, but nothing really traumatic. I’ve never really had my dreams analyzed, but to me it seems like this is what they are for. I wake up, feeling the loss, but also feeling we’ve reconnected somehow.

Less and less do I think with absolute grief about the loss of a friend, or my dad, brother or mother. It’s more like, They’ve gone to a place where I’m going too, in no particular hurry.

A scratch, a lump,
It is nothing at all

É o mistério profundo,
é o queira ou não queira


Good things on the Internet: swingin’ sixties and seventies edition

Here, presented without comment, a selection of images from what in my humble opinion is one of the Best Blogs Ever.

Just. Go. Here.

Liz Eggleston’s impeccably and indefatigably curated collection of sixties and seventies images–the glorious, the tacky and the gloriously tacky–mainly from her own scans of British and French magazines, is an unspeakably great treasure. Her focus is on the British Boutique movement, but she confesses to being inspired by “the weirder, even seedier, aspects of popular culture.” This is the kind of amateur (in the French sense) labor of love that the pre-listicle era Internet promised, but really didn’t deliver….












Dead people who haven’t died yet, or Notes on the shameful sport of golf

Saturday I had whipped myself into a keen sense of anticipation to play in the first-ever competition between the place where I play golf and another place where people play golf.

If I called them “clubs” you would think there was something exclusive about them, but they are open to all. I guess there’s a pretty lax collared shirts/no denim code, rarely enforced. Think country clubs are garbage? So do I.

I’ve played plenty of informal golf games–skins with buddies, local charity scrambles–but I had never been in a proper competition, where mulligans can’t be given or bought, and where your opponents are entitled to stand silent while you have to sweat out the slidy four-footer you ran past the hole.

This was to be modeled on Ryder Cup competition. Fourball the first day, individual matches the next. My teammates decided we would all have to buy two team shirts in different colors: yellow Saturday, green Sunday. For me that was almost a deal-breaker, but we at least were allowed our own choice of headgear.

So  … totally stoked! But on Saturday morning, while warming up, disaster struck. My back went into spasms, and I could barely bend to touch my kneecaps, let alone my toes, or swing a golf club. My partner had to load me into my car.

I drove home and watched football on TV flat on my back. I was hugely resentful of all that mobility as I lay there sucking bourbon from a sippy cup.

Was pretty certain I wouldn’t be able to play on Day Two. But lo, I awakened, and the back wasn’t too bad. Lots of stretching and ibuprofen. While still sore, the mobility had returned. I could play.

My opponent marked his balls with little blue crosses (“I’m playing the Jesus balls”). Oh here we go, I thought, but there was no follow-up proselytizing. In fact, Rick turned out to be an extremely nice guy. Super intense, he really wanted to win, as I did, and our match was entertaining.

I drove to the fringe on the short par four third, then almost chipped in. I was two-up at the turn. Rick got one back with an insane reversal birdie from nowhere on number twelve (topped drive, 210-yard three-wood to three feet!). We then had four straight tense halves, both of us playing better with each shot.

On sixteen, I had two feet straight uphill, and Rick had a four-foot slider. He said “good-good?” with a little sideways grin, and I blurted out “sure.” Which surprised him. AND me. What the hell are you doing? If I made and he missed, that’s the match! Maybe it was a stupid thing to say, or MAYBE I was enjoying the match too much and didn’t want to win or lose on a missed short putt. Perhaps that was karmically good, because on the next hole I lagged a 40-foot downhill putt with 10 feet of break to six inches, and he couldn’t get up and down.

So I won. Hat off. Shake hands. That weird southern backhanded pat on back. Our team won too. Down a point after the fourball, we got six of the eight possible points on Sunday. And there was rejoicing, of a sort. Nobody whooped it up or trash talked. We were the mature guys or at least the older ones, median age forty-eight or so, while our opponents were generally younger, more athletic, long-hitting hotshots, median age 28. (I think some of them might have whooped, given the chance).

A gang of golfers from both teams assembled above the eighteenth green to watch the final matches.

A late September afternoon in central Kentucky, in the sky a scattering of silvery sun-specked clouds, the visuals partially courtesy of the coal-burning EW Brown Generating Station just across the Dix River from the course. The shadows dappled faces wrinkled and/or reddened by a lifetime of drink and/or high blood pressure.  One opponent had a bucket hat covering a large bandage over his ear where he had a tumor removed. Another couldn’t play as he was recovering from a liver transplant. I didn’t know everyone’s story, but knew for certain more than a few of us were getting treatment for cancer.

I think it’d be safe to say the group skewed 90 percent Republican, with maybe a sprinkling of centrist Democrats. If we ever started talking politics, it would get ugly in a hurry, but we never would.

We joked about spraying each other with champagne as the real Ryder Cup team winners are wont to do, but there was nothing like that. I had brought along my bourbon sippy cup for medical reasons, in case the back really flared up, but it never did. Now my warm Old Heaven Hill was as good a celebration drink as I could muster. Others sipped on Michelob Ultras or Ale-8s. Almost everyone was smoking.

The winning team had its picture taken with a tiny cup. I am hoping that photo will still be hanging on the clubhouse wall long after I am gone from this earth.

When I got home my kids hugged me and said “Congratulations, daddy. You’re the champion,” because they felt my extreme disappointment on Saturday–and because Heather probably told them to do so. And because I am still in that sweet spot in parenthood where your children have an unwavering belief that you hung the moon.

I know we are leaving our kids to a world that will only get hungrier,  meaner, more dangerous for them, and their children. And you could make the case that instead of using every ounce of energy to make their world better, spending time on the golf course isn’t exactly helpful. I could not really make a coherent challenge to that.

Louis CK has a quip something along the lines of  “We are all dead people who haven’t died yet.” It’s kind of pathetic, but celebrating this tiny victory in a meaningless game, played by grown (and rapidly aging) men, combined with the autumnal vibe–well, it felt a little Chekhovian, the end of something.

It was also, it must be said, more than a little euphoric.  Yesterday, bathed in that golden dusk light, it really did feel amazing not to have died yet.


“First they came, the invisible whites, and dealt death from afar”

Your tax dollars at work. This drone strike killed 0.4 jihadis!— and only 19.6 innocent people. (AP Photo/Hasbunallah Khan)

“First they came, the invisible whites, and dealt death from afar.”
—Joseph Conrad, An Outcast of the Islands

The murderous rocket attacks by remote-controlled drones being carried out on a nearly daily basis in Pakistan (and Afghanistan and Yemen and Somaila) should be cause for mass revulsion, shame, protests in the streets. But no. Try hard to find a candidate for office from either party criticizing them. Even the scary crazy Tea Party people are down with Obama on this one!

And, in a recent poll, only 3 percent even mention Afghanistan or “the war” (which war?)—at all— as one of America’s most important problems. So drone attacks are not exactly a red-button issue with the American voter. But … just imagine it happening to you, or to your family. Johann Hari puts it into perspective well with this simple little thought exercise:

Imagine if, an hour from now, a robot-plane swooped over your house and blasted it to pieces. The plane has no pilot. It is controlled with a joystick from 7,000 miles away, sent by the Pakistani military to kill you. It blows up all the houses in your street, and so barbecues your family and your neighbours until there is nothing left to bury but a few charred slops. Why? They refuse to comment. They don’t even admit the robot-planes belong to them. But they tell the Pakistani newspapers back home it is because one of you was planning to attack Pakistan. How do they know? Somebody told them. Who? You don’t know, and there are no appeals against the robot.

Now imagine it doesn’t end there: these attacks are happening every week somewhere in your country. They blow up funerals and family dinners and children. The number of robot-planes in the sky is increasing every week. You discover they are named “Predators”, or “Reapers” – after the Grim Reaper. No matter how much you plead, no matter how much you make it clear you are a peaceful civilian getting on with your life, it won’t stop. What do you do?

You, as a typical American, even a highly educated one, say well, that is crazy.  Sure, mistakes happen in war. Heh. The United States armed forces are the best trained and most moral soldiers in the world. You know it is a fact that we are taking Every Precaution to Minimize Collateral Damage.

Are we?

That doesn’t exactly jibe with a number mentioned by Hari here, or more accurately, a ratio. Although old news, it really jumped out at me. Fifty to one.  That is the ratio cited by David Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. David Petraeus from 2006 to 2008, in a New York Times op-ed last year. According to Pakistani sources, wrote Kilcullen, the drone strikes kill “50 civilians for every militant killed, a hit rate of 2 percent–hardly ‘precision.'”

The Pentagon of course doesn’t agree with these numbers, but hmm, who to believe? (And remember Tommy Franks’ “We don’t do body counts”?) Maybe it’s 2 percent or ten or twenty percent “precision,” but any way you look at it, these drone attacks leave  a lot of bodies, and body parts, littering the ground. And you can’t blame Bush for this anymore. The drone attacks are very much the current administration’s baby.

Remember these?

Apparently, the president rarely mentions the drone attacks at all. Except on one occasion, when he cracked a joke about them. The Pakistan Daily reports on the White House Correspondents Dinner in May:

“[The] Jonas Brothers are here, they’re out there somewhere,” President Obama quipped as he looked out at the packed room. Then he furrowed his brow, pretending to send a stern message to the pop band. “Sasha and Malia are huge fans, but boys, don’t get any ideas. Two words for you: predator drones. You’ll never see it coming.”

What a card. Nice one, President Peace Prize! He might have mentioned that statistically, the drones would not only have taken out Kevin, Joe and Nick, but 150 members of their family and entourage, and whoever else might have been in the neighborhood.

Kilcullen’s point, and Hari’s, is still to my mind a little obtuse. Hari again:

I detest jihadism. Their ideology is everything I oppose: their ideal society is my Hell. It is precisely because I want to really undermine them – rather than pose as macho – that I am against this robot-slaughter. It enlarges the threat. It drags us into a terrible feedback loop, where the US launches more drone attacks to deal with jihadism, which makes jihadism worse, which prompts more drone attacks, which makes jihadism worse – and on and on.

I would suggest these attacks are counterproductive only if you take at face value the idea that America’s mission in its wars is to wipe out this jihadism. (I would side with Robert Pape, who has demonstrated pretty well that “The central fact is that overwhelmingly suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland.”)

Chris Floyd, who brought Hari’s piece to my attention, thinks the creation of more terrorists is not an accidental byproduct. Seizing on the offhand remark by a “senior figure” in the CIA that the drone targeting can be pretty arbitrary, he wonders if maybe the randomness of the attacks is a feature, not a bug:

“Sometimes you’re dealing with tribal chiefs. Often they say an enemy of theirs is al-Qa’ida because they want to get rid of somebody, or they made crap up because they wanted to prove they were valuable so they could make money.”

That’s right: Barack Obama is killing hundreds of innocent civilians in Pakistan on the basis of crap made up for money. Made-up crap. For money. That’s why a child who is just as precious as your child is to a parent who is just as real a person as you are was killed this week, by Barack Obama and the Democratic Party and the entire bipartisan foreign policy establishment of the United States of America: crap made up for money.

And of course, it’s not just tribal chiefs making up crap for blood money: the entire aforementioned bipartisan foreign policy establishment is now and has for years been making up crap ‘so they could make money’ — for themselves, for their corporate patrons, for their government agencies, for their defense and ‘security’ stockholdings, for the perpetuation of their bloated, belligerent, pig-ignorant domination of world affairs and American society — by killing innocent people all over the world.

I woke up this morning thinking I would be writing about the horrible fact that Americans in general, and Kentuckians in particular, are appallingly blase about the ongoing destruction and desecration of irreplaceable mountains and streams via the practice of Mountaintop Removal Mining. And how sad (really, that’s the only word) it is that there are no political candidates in this state willing to confront the coal industry over this. The parallels to the drone attacks are obvious and dispiriting. Only three percent of Americans are concerned about a metastasizing war entering its second decade. The most awful aspects of our American lives are a bipartisan effort.


Dave Campbell, my best friend in the world, passed away Wednesday night. He was 50.  I am  still in shock. He had cancer but was responding terrifically to the chemo. I had just spoken to him a couple weeks earlier, and he was in good spirits and full of plans.

Here is a very perceptive remembrance from the Lucid Culture blog that focuses on his musical brilliance.

I knew Dave from the age of 13, when we compared results on our first test in Fred Gatto’s freshman biology class at St. Thomas Academy. We both lived in Minneapolis and commuted to a high school that was 15 miles away.  A boys’ Catholic military school.   It was a supremely strange experience, but we never thought so at the time. Our years there went from  Nixon through Ford to Carter. It was a hard time for the authorities to keep order. There was a significantly large subgroup of the school that actively and openly mocked the JROTC and the military structure. Dave and I were in that group. He was a good student, but his subversive streak was already apparent. By himself, Dave turned more than a few teachers’ heads gray.

That obit mentions how Dave “reveled in small, clever displays of defiance against authority.” Perfectly said.  There are so many of these from which to choose, but my most cherished was his graduation gesture. Remember, it’s a military school. All the cadets were expected to march smartly up to the stage to receive their diplomas with a crisp salute. Dave ambled up with his characteristic splay-footed, forward-leaning shuffle, and flipped the most nonchalant salute imaginable from shoulder height. There was an audible gasp, and I looked around to see parents and teachers mouthing  silent imprecations à la the wedding scene from the Graduate (2:28-2:34). I could not stop grinning.

He went to the University of Chicago, I to Notre Dame, 90 miles away.  The first time I visited him in Hyde Park he had discovered an entirely new personality that merged Kerouac-era beatnik with an 80-year-old bluesman up from the Mississippi Delta. That was when strange phrases such as “a buck three-eighty” (an indeterminate sum of money) and “going to get my butter whipped” (haircut) entered his vocabulary. Did he pick them up from old guys on the South Side, or did he invent them? I don’t think I’ll ever know.

We would bump into each other a few times after college, but he came back into my life in a major way in 1988. In the wake of an unpleasant after-hours bar dust up in Chicago, he left his paralegal job in Chicago and  drove a Dodge Colt, with expired plates and done up in patchy gray primer, to Brooklyn.  I had an apartment there and he stayed on the couch for a fairly long time. Under pressure from my roommates, he answered an ad for a share, and moved into 234 5th Avenue with a crowd of French and Japanese musicians the very same day. That night, Christmas Eve, he sat in on drums at a basement jam session and I beheld the return of that look of infinite joy that lit up his face every time he stepped behind the kit!

Dave eventually became a senior resident of the shared apartment. He gave himself a pretty sweet deal on his share of the rent, which apparently caused no small stir of resentment on the part of one Becky Wreck, another drummer and his roommate.

One weekday early in spring, Dave invited me over to watch an afternoon Twins game on this new thing (for us) called Cable Television. We were nursing our Bud torpedoes and enjoying the game (Frankie Viola on the mound). Becky (who was paying the cable bill as well as a lot more rent than Dave) stormed in, yanked the cable connection out of the wall, and started in on Dave.

I lamely pipped up something to the effect of “er, but I was watching that….”

She whirled and shouted “I DON’T KNOW YOU!” Dave, til that moment speechless, sighed and made a little windshield wiper motion with his index fingers, and muttered:

“Tim … Becky.

Becky … Tim …”


Dave and me, Brooklyn rooftop 1990

Dave and I were bike messengers together for a while.  And then we made the major career move up to office temps for Laury Girls. Our typing tests were comical. But for whatever reason, Laury kept sending us out. Eventually we got “real” jobs. We both worked in midtown for the better part of a decade, and often had long lunches together in Central Park, where we toted our greasy bags containing double wurst combos from Rolf, the Hallo Berlin cart man (who sadly also passed away recently).  Rolf, who could be a major grouch,  was thrilled to see Dave, and there was always a surreally entertaining exchange between the two of them.

Dave was best man when Heather and I got married in 1990, and when we moved to a farm in Kentucky in 2003,  he came down to visit every year, sometimes twice. He loved it here, and was the source of much amusement for our kids. We played golf. Many of Dave’s urban friends may be unaware of the importance of golf to the man. If you thought he could go on about Elvin Jones, wait til he started in on Jack Nicklaus.

His passion for the game was great, but he was never very good. For someone capable of such finesse with drum sticks and brushes, he had the most brutal chipping touch of anyone I have ever seen. He gripped way too tightly, and often sent the ball clear over the green, when he wasn’t chunking it two feet.   Hitting the driver was another story. He LOVED swinging a golf club hard, and it was the rare tee shot that didn’t require a few steps backwards to right himself from the violence of his swing. Whether the ball traveled far or not, you could always say to Dave, “You didn’t get cheated on that one.” He did not hold anything back.

And that is the one small consolation I can find in my current broken-hearted state.

Dave never held anything back. He never got cheated. Ever. He packed more into his fifty years than most of us could in a hundred.

In five days I already  have such a backlog of things I mentally file under “Wait’ll I tell Dave about this.”  I want to tell him about what Heather’s up to (he was so proud of Heather and promised her books would never go out of print while he was in charge of inventory), or what Theo or Daniel or Lila said; when my calves are born. I want to continue arguing Tiger vs. Jack, to have endless arguments about his weirdly arbitrary passions; I want to send him twenty emails a day when the World Cup is on.

I don’t have any way to sum this all up. It is still pretty much unbearable for me. I miss him a lot already.

Please go to my tumblr for more pix of Dave which I am uploading in fits and starts….

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