Archive for the ‘Farewells’ Category


The death of Alison Des Forges on flight 3407 last week is a terrible loss to all of us, the whole wide world. She was 66 and working til the day she died. It feels close to me since I only discovered her last year, but I read her daily for months and just knowing she is in the world has made it a little better since then. Now she’s dead and I need to say something but don’t have the words to do it justice. This is a blog and links are sufficient so I’ll go that route, but just have to say god bless her work and goddamn the world that created a need for it.

Huffington/Common Dreams: A Heroine for Human Rights.

Human Rights Watch: “…the epitome of the human rights activist”

Democracy Now! Interview with HRW Executive Director and video clips.

Slate: What Are They So Scared of? I’m Just a Little Old Lady.”

She was banned from her beloved Rwanda last year for insisting the Kagame government account for war crimes, scorned the forgiveness & reconciliation policy as empty therapeutics,  was the first to call the massacres a genocide and wrote the definitive text, testified 11 times before the International Criminal Tribunal, and when the MacArthur Foundation recognized her with a “genius grant” she tried to give the money back. I’m struck that each one of these sentences could flesh out a book, but she also bargained for her own life with drunken militias at roadblocks, buried scores of nameless dead while saving countless others, and saw the genocide looming well before anyone else and pleaded with Washington to take action. About that she gives an unforgettable account of a visit at the State Department with Pru Bushnell, who would herself become utterly thwarted by the Clinton administration:

It was the very first meeting — perhaps it was the meeting after that. But I do remember a meeting where we were all sitting together there, four or five of us. She had a staff person with her. It happened that we were all women, and perhaps because we were all women, we weren’t afraid to cry. So we talked about the situation. I remember we then all cried, all of us. Then Pru took out her box of Kleenex and passed it around. We all blew our noses and she said, “OK, now what are we going to do next?” (via)

We all know how that turned out. But it took Alison Des Forges to make what’s rightly considered Biblical sense of it.  Human Rights Watch has an active tribute page with hundreds of very moving comments in honor of her legacy, though my own favorite comes from the New Yorker: Apparently, anything Des Forges did that was connected with Rwanda, she did with all her might. And she managed to do it without the self-righteous territoriality that is the occupational vice of human-rights experts. Her attachment to the country and its people seemed neither saintly nor professional, but entirely human.</em>

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superbushI spent Monday watching the 2003 documentary Control Room, then read a mess of online farewells to George Bush. This one comes closest to what’s inside my own heart: May the Road Rise to Meet You in the Face, You Treasonous Son of a Bitch.

Contrary to the arguments made by your defenders, I didn’t root for you to fail. I never did. I greeted your installment by the Supreme Court with exhaustion and resignation, and your first few months in office with general skepticism, but I never thought, “Boy, I hope he just falls on his face and kills a lot of people and wrecks our economy and blows holes in the sand for five years.” I thought, “Maybe it’ll be okay. Maybe it won’t be so bad.”

And when 9/11 happened I said to myself and those around me, Democrats all, “Well, let’s see what he does now.” My life has not been devoid of stories about unlikely heroes arising from feckless halfwit princelings, so I was prepared for that to happen. Hopeful, even. Who doesn’t want everything to be okay? Who doesn’t recognize that you being a terrible failure would hurt us far more than it would hurt you?

I wish you had done the job. I wish you had found and tried and executed Osama bin Laden, and rebuilt Afghanistan the way we should have decades ago. I wish you had given us real security, not this dance of removing our shoes and putting lotion in a baggie. I wish you had told us to conserve and sacrifice, not spend and eat. I wish you had listened to those in the armed forces and those in Congress and those on the street when they said, don’t invade Iraq. I wish you had listened to Iraqis, afterwards, when they said, help us stop the looting and violence.

I wish you had listened to the Gulf Coast’s people when they called out for help. I wish you had listened to the sick and their doctors when they asked you to grant research to cure their disesases. I wish you had listened to women when we said, we value our autonomy.

I wish you had listened to us all when we said we are more than this, we are better than this, ask us and there’s nothing we won’t give you. I wish you had had faith in us equal to that which we placed in you. And I wish you had been worthy of what we wanted from you, and from ourselves.

I wish you had done and been all of this, but you didn’t and you weren’t, and so what we’re left with are the memories of the dead, the horrors of the living, with boarded-up houses and empty streets, a place so broken we barely recognize it anymore. It’s hard to imagine punishment fitting for that. It’s hard, having wished all this for you, to wish anything more, but I do:

May you live a life of quiet contemplation of every single one of your failures. May you live a life hemmed in by those you hurt, in a cell physical or otherwise, papered with the faces of your dead. May you be  sheltered from the rain of rotten tomatoes and sour heads of cabbage by a small, broken umbrella. May you be gnawed upon by the hunger you fostered in the poor, chilled by the cold from which you refused to shield the homeless, beset by the illnesses you refused to help cure, subjected to the indignities you inflicted upon others.

May your life be long, and healthy, and full of everything you gave to America and the world. May you come to know exactly who you are. May you come to recognize the face in the mirror each morning.

May it give to you a fraction of the nightmares you deserve.

No love at all,


More at the link and worth twice the time to read it once.

Eight years of international decline and what’s been lost may never be recovered. 

On my bookshelf, a small sample of elucidating prose that need never have been written:

The Dark Side

The Forever War

The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

In the Shadow of No Towers

Conservatives Without Conscience

The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil

The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule

The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics and Religion

Bush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President


Two Images that sum up this administration:



And while he was doing this:


Our elected president flew a team of doctors into New Orleans and took complete control of the mission —  exhausted, pissed, and declining media coverage for fear it would be “politicized.”


I won’t belabor what’s shaping up as the worst legacy ever, a slimeball trail future administrations will be cleaning up for life, no, enough buzz-killing. In the space of one day the tears this country flows will be of far sweeter quality, and for once I cannot wait for the speechifying to begin. Meanwhile read this smackdown of the uncomprehending winger outcry concerning our inaugural poet, Countdown to PORN and go forward laughing, citizen.

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Grazing the Internets this weekend is to follow intimate, overheard snippets in the shaping of a legacy. So I compile what the people are saying in a downright tsunami of link love, the hours well spent.

Studs Terkel 1912-2008

“The thing that horrifies me is the forgetfulness.”

A cigar and martini man, white-haired and elegantly rumpled in his trademark red-checkered shirts, an old rebel who never mellowed, never retired, never forgot, and “never met a picket line or petition I didn’t like.”

He won a Pulitzer Prize for listening to other people’s thoughts, fears and dreams

which he called guerrilla journalism

but writer Garry Wills described as “underdog-ism”

used his words, whether on radio or on the page, to celebrate the People with a capital “P” and to protest their oppression by the stupid and powerful

whose searching interviews with ordinary Americans helped establish oral history as a serious genre

married for 60 years to a beautiful woman named Ida

a social worker

“Ida was a far better person than I, that’s the reality of it,” Terkel wrote of Ida, who died in 1999.

Studs relied on Ida for, well, almost everything

“It was those loners — argumentative ones, deceptively quiet ones, the talkers and the walkers — who, always engaged in something outside themselves, unintentionally became my mentors,” Terkel wrote in “Touch and Go.”

When Ida grew older she refused to use a cane, “because I fall so gracefully”

he was envious that her FBI file was thicker than his own.

He chronicled the lives of almost everyone who mattered–the hundreds include Martin Luther King, Bob Dylan, Woody Allen, Toni Morrison. Just as important, he chronicled the lives of those who officially didn’t matter, and in doing so made us understand they did.

He searched for the decency in everyone

illuminated America from the ground up, seeking out stories from bartenders, housewives, businessmen, artists, doctors, social workers, coal miners, farmworkers, bookmakers and convicts

coaxed extraordinary tales out of nobodies

shined a light on the kinds of people that most people look right through

the ghost-town storekeeper in Kentucky who says: “The last flicker of my life will be against something I don’t think has to be”

completely free of sociological claptrap, armchair revisionism and academic moralizing

His method was to travel the country, sometimes for years, interviewing hundreds of people about some enormous epoch or theme. Terkel essentially asked everyone a simple question: What was it like?

The result — a series of oral histories — was the poetry of ordinary people, shot through with desperation, hatred, love, dreams realized and lost

Shame about losing a job and going “on relief.” Shame about not being able to provide for one’s family. Shame about the breakdown of families and, almost, the fabric of an entire society.

police officers and convicts, nurses and loggers, former slaves and former Ku Klux Klansman — a typical crowd for Mr. Terkel

“To count is very important.”

“Who built the pyramids?” he once asked in his inimitable sweet growl. “It wasn’t the goddamn pharaohs who build the pyramids. It was the anonymous slaves.”

Terkel’s politics were liberal, vintage FDR. He would never forget the many New Deal programs from the Great Depression and worried that the country suffered from “a national Alzheimer’s disease” that made government the perceived enemy.

“How did the eight-hour day come into being? It began in Chicago and four guys got hanged for it—the Haymarket affair in 1886. What were they fighting for? The eight-hour day.”

He wrote about “the good fight” of World War II because he wanted to remind new generations of Americans that this country had once united to battle fascism.

It would be wrong to say Terkel was colorblind…he was deeply curious, deeply intrigued with all colors of the rainbow…not afraid of other cultures…the only white writer to be inducted into the International Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent at Chicago State University… The approval vote was unanimous.

Studs developed self-deprecatory clowning to a high art–getting into pitched battles with recording equipment, for instance — as a tactic for putting anxious interview subjects at ease. Authors on his show were almost invariably impressed by how he would enter the studio with their books scored with his scrawled notations as if he were preparing a term paper.

“It isn’t an inquisition; it’s an exploration, usually an exploration into the past,” he once said, explaining his approach. “So I think the gentlest question is the best one, and the gentlest is, ‘And what happened then?’”

As you listen, you know in your bones that each person has never told their story as cogently or as fully before and will never do so again, for that was Terkel’s art.

“He liked to tell the story of an interview with a woman in a public housing unit in Chicago. At the end of the interview, the woman said, ‘My goodness, I didn’t know I felt that way.’ That was his genius.”

He didn’t just carp at the failures of society, he was a drum major for life—a celebrant of the joy of living.

Politics was never a game for Studs. It was the work of a lifetime. He wrote brilliant books about the lives of working people not merely because their stories were fascinating but because he wanted to get a conversation started about class in America.

My friends and I would sit around the radio like it was a little fire we warmed ourselves by. He read everything. He led such an examined life. He remembered everything.

Our Boswell, our Whitman, our Sandburg

“She was really something,” Studs recalled, “with that gardenia in her hair.” Holiday once sang Willow Weep for Me for Terkel and nine other people. “We weren’t weeping for her, we were weeping for ourselves,” he later said, “That’s an artist.”

There was the time he was robbed in his house. The thief said “GIVE ME ALL YOUR MONEY” so Studs gave him all his money from his pocket. The thief turned to go and Studs said “Wait a minute! Now I’m broke! Give me twenty bucks!” The thief smiled and peeled off a twenty, then left. Classic.

People call Terkel’s business “oral history”, but it is more like the weaving of a fabulous verbal tapestry, the threads of which are human preoccupations. It is the rich art of taking the vernacular, and making it eternal. Such a process does not merely record the details that keep people’s minds busy, it gives them value. Terkel harvested not only the most complete American history of this century, but the most compassionate.

“My epitaph? My epitaph will be, ‘Curiosity did not kill this cat,'” he said. He then said that he wanted his and Ida’s ashes to be scattered in Bughouse Square, that patch of green park that so informed his first years in his adopted city.

Bughouse Square, the park across the street from the Newberry Library that was home to all manner of soap box orators.

“Scatter us there,” he said, a gleeful grin on his face. “It’s against the law. Let ’em sue us.”

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I measure every grief I meet

(click to enlarge)


Last week I caught myself blathering on to my best friend about the differences among veterinary insulins. Truly blathering. Somehow, realizing how I sounded and how little she must care about the details of dealing with my cat’s disease, I cut myself off before she hung up on me.

I don’t want to be that person. I don’t want to be the freaky cat lady who only talks about her kitties and their ailments. A funny story now and then, OK. A lecture on 100% beef vs beef/pork PZI, not OK.

Save me from myself.

The mark of a gifted writer is the ability to make any subject fascinating, so forget feline diabetes; the blogosphere just lost a truly great presence.

I’ll get by. If only I would have told her what a hero she was, since Angelbait’s diabetes has opened up a new social circle wherein I don’t fit, and whenever it seems there’s no way I can relate to mental midgets I think of her blog as evidence that there is room for grown-ups in these quarters. Snark, acumen, irony, disdain, dangerous empathy and brainy, self-deprecating introspection does place certain social demands on groups that prefer fraternal baby talk, but I know excellence is permissible because Nancy is that, and she is loved.

A shimmering blog has closed while the writer mourns the loss of her pet and her fans mourn the loss of her voice, wandering through her archives in awe.

Yes, it would be a mistake to assume the subject matter bears no relevance to people not living with feline diabetes. That’s not quite what Nancy was on about. See here to know that. Here, too. And above all, here.

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Seven words you can never say on television. I was 19 years old when the Supreme Court affirmed the FCC’s authority to censor George Carlin on the public airwaves and being in radio school then, the case was used to hammer home all the phony, hypocritical “ethics” I’d be expected to uphold during my illustrious broadcast career. His suit woke me up to the inviolability of self-expression, the attendant danger in civility and the lengths authoritarians will take to make their own senseless fear yours and mine. George Carlin was the first living figure to show me he gets it, that the forces telling us there is a correct way to perceive and speak are trying to shape reality, and of course the correct way just happens to be theirs. I read in a comment thread today that whenever people invoke the overused cliche about truth to power what they mean is George Carlin. For that he will be missed. From his bit on soft words:

I don’t like words that hide the truth. I don’t like words that conceal reality. I don’t like euphemisms, or euphemistic language. And American English is loaded with euphemisms. Cause Americans have a lot of trouble dealing with reality. Americans have trouble facing the truth, so they invent the kind of a soft language to protect themselves from it, and it gets worse with every generation.

For some reason, it just keeps getting worse. I’ll give you an example of that. There’s a condition in combat. Most people know about it. It’s when a fighting person’s nervous system has been stressed to its absolute peak and maximum. Can’t take anymore input. The nervous system has either (click) snapped or is about to snap.

In the first world war, that condition was called shell shock. Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables, shell shock. Almost sounds like the guns themselves. That was seventy years ago. Then a whole generation went by and the second world war came along and very same combat condition was called battle fatigue. Four syllables now. Takes a little longer to say. Doesn’t seem to hurt as much. Fatigue is a nicer word than shock. Shell shock!

Battle fatigue. Then we had the war in Korea, 1950. Madison avenue was riding high by that time, and the very same combat condition was called operational exhaustion. Hey, we’re up to eight syllables now! And the humanity has been squeezed completely out of the phrase. It’s totally sterile now. Operational exhaustion. Sounds like something that might happen to your car. Then of course, came the war in Viet Nam, which has only been over for about sixteen or seventeen years, and thanks to the lies and deceits surrounding that war, I guess it’s no surprise that the very same condition was called post-traumatic stress disorder. Still eight syllables, but we’ve added a hyphen! And the pain is completely buried under jargon. Post-traumatic stress disorder. I’ll bet you if we’d of still been calling it shell shock, some of those Viet Nam veterans might have gotten the attention they needed at the time. I’ll betcha. I’ll betcha.

He continues here, and will forever on youtube:

I miss him already. George Carlin: American Radical, RIP and thanks for the memories ~

Religion is bullshit.

You have no rights.

This country is finished.

White people.

We like war.

Fuck hope. The public sucks.

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I’ve been reading thoughtful blogging in the wake of Tim Russert’s death, and lean toward the ambivalent writing, as I’ve been growing more exasperated with him as the election cycle progresses, but yes I cried Friday the way you do when anyone who’s loved or not loved dies unexpectedly, and he was both.

I understand the “what do we do now?” lament in losing our trusted election night guide, and have been enjoying the lead up to November, anticipating the wee hours he explains it all for me, contagious and disheveled big wonky teddy bear doing access politics at 3:00 AM, extracting clarity from chaos like no one else can. This is disorienting. Because he was a fixture his sudden death is a breach in continuity, like waking up one day to find all the McDonald’s restaurants are gone.

Of course no one *likes* McDonald’s, the most popular restaurant in the American universe. Just like Meet the Press is Sunday morning yelling time for the average political junkie, “FOR CHRISTSAKES TIMMY WHAT A TOOL YOU ARE, CAN’T YOU SEE HE’S LYING TO YOUR FACE! “ And now you’ve put me on the spot, reckoning with these conflicting emotions.

I spent the weekend reading archives and transcripts and seeing Tom Brokaw break down on Father’s Day was hard to take. We are now, rightly inundated in eulogy, the legacy will take shape in the time that takes. I’m still all over the map, but this sounds promising:

Based on what we saw first-hand, we would guess that Brother Russert really was the nicest guy in the world.

Sometimes, though, “nicest guys in the world” are the last to challenge conventional wisdom—even when it desperately needs to be challenged, examined, hollered about. In Tim’s case, we think he showed poor judgment in various instances over the years, as we’re all inclined to do. Chris Matthews touched on one possible error in judgment in his comments from Paris on Friday’s Countdown (text below). For once, we think Chris’ lack of impulse control served the public understanding—although he’s getting beaten up for his comment at various spots on the web.

Over the weekend, other members of the mainstream press corps did the thing that comes natural inside their group; they went on the air and told Group Tales, tales which reflected quite wondrously on Tim’s journalistic work—and, of course, by extension, most importantly, on them. Telling the truth is pretty much the last thing that enters these people’s heads. And so, they handed out novelized tales about Tim’s always brilliant work—failing to make the slightest attempt to be balanced, objective or truthful.

For the record, we’re talking about the way they described Tim’s work—not the way they described his decency as a person, a person they loved.

This isn’t really the week for such topics, though Tim’s death—more precisely, the torrent of industry propaganda it unleashed—demands that such topics be discussed. We’ll plan to look at some of those issues next week. In the meantime, we’ll suggest that you ponder a real possibility: The possibility that a guy who showed a fair amount of bad judgment—as we all do—may also have been the nicest guy in the world, just as you’ve seen him described.

Cognitive dissonance is the reason that’s so hard. People will tell themselves anything to avoid the discomfort of holding thoughts and feelings that cancel each other out. If his death can make us grapple with the gray area, that itself is quite a gift. Godspeed Mr. Russert, may angels sing thee to thy rest.

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Suicide not painless

The “right to suicide” is yet another core antipsychiatry/glibertarian stance that sends me to vomit. The Last Psychiatrist has a tough-minded post up — “But I want to kill myself!” followed by an absolutely appalling comment thread. I’m with the psychiatrist, which, according to the lefty handbook makes me the oppressor. Mkay? Good.



Thanks for reading, and I’m glad you agree.

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