The cruelest month.

I read somewhere that domestic violence is abnormally high in Livingston, Montana. (And I fully realize this may be pure b.s., and something my brain thinks it read, but really just made up.) The reason? The wind. The wind comes pouring off the Yellowstone plateau pretty much all year, and grates on your nerves. Makes people hair-trigger, and they take it out on the people they share quarters with.

Monday was a windy day. I guess it was the remnants of the nor’easter that poleaxed the, um, nor’east. But it just blew and blew and blew. I had a meeting with an editor, and it sounded like the wind wanted to kill us — it was shaking the windows in fury.

I was driving home when I heard first word of events in Virginia. At that point the death toll was 22. But because no day can be so bad that there isn’t room for it to get a little worse, sometime this afternoon came the grim punctuation: A five-year-old girl in the suburbs here was killed on the playground of her elementary school, after being hit by a falling flagpole.

I don’t know what’s happening to me, but it seems like the bad news of any given day can always be made worse by the coverage of the bad news. I turned on CNN in search of a succinct here’s-what-we-know summation, and found Paula Zahn wondering “what sort of counseling students will need” to process their feelings. On the blogs, the usual yapping about guns — hey, let’s arm everyone! Then this will never happen again! (Advice: Move to Detroit, where that’s pretty much the case, and see how well it works. A woman shot at the tires of a truck she thought was tailgating her, and recently said she thought it was entirely justified.)

I’m confining my reading on this story to one or two excellent newspapers. I solemnly promise to avert my eyes from any chin-scratching columnists seeking to explain it all to me, to keep the TV turned off, to change to the hip-hop station if I hear Daniel Schorr rumbling to life on the subject on NPR. On this story as on no other, all I want are facts. I’ll handle my own analysis.

You want to know who finally said something last night that made me feel human again? Jon Stewart, genius. He launched his show by saying something about the day’s awful events, not frowning, just speaking honestly. And then he said something like, “But I’m not going to dwell on this tonight. I’m going to do what I always do. I’m going to repress it, try to forget about it, not think of it at all. And then, in 40 years, someone’s going to spill some juice, and I will explode.” How deft. Acknowledgment, rueful joke, sidestep, and not a patronizing note in the whole thing.

Maybe it’s just the wind getting on my nerves. If you need to vent, go ahead. But if Paula Zahn shows up, she is so banned.

Interesting how much TV reporters chap my ass at times like this. They come on for their live shots with their sad, furrowed brows and I want to throw a brick through the screen. Do they take an extra course in j-school on oleaginousness that we print types didn’t get? Even Brian Williams, a pleasant enough fellow, made me fume, throwing in all those random “tragics” and “shockings.” Like I can’t figure that stuff out.

And yet, study after study shows people feel a bond with their local TV newsies, that they believe them when they say “only on channel 5,” and “as we told you exclusively at 6.” When I was in newspapers, one year the editor rolled out a collection of graphic bugs that had to go in stories where they applied — “only in,” “follow-up,” “breaking,” etc. Nothing else changed, but research had shown readers — our readers, the ingrates — consistently believed TV gave them more exclusives, follow-ups and breaking news. As this was demonstrably false, the editor concluded it must be simply because they were always saying so. And so we had to say so, too.

Oh, don’t mind me. I’m in a terrible mood. It’s the wind.

Also, it’s the taxes. Do I owe? Why, yes. Do I owe a lot? Why, yes, if you consider a sum that would buy a halfway decent European vacation “a lot.” I’ll write a check today, and send it off by mail. Screw e-filing; let some clerk open the envelope and scan it in. Let them deposit my paper check and watch it plod through the banking system before it bears its fruit for continued warmaking on terror. And no, this isn’t making me consider becoming a Republican. The price we pay for a civilized society, etc. I console myself with the fact I made more money than I expected last year. Cold comfort, but.

So, bloggage:

Debuting on my blogroll with a bullet, I give you…Doghouse Riley on Tim Russert, etc. Yes, it’s Imus-related, but it’s also a more bracing dose of public comment than any honored by the Pulitzer board yesterday.

I was working the other night when the news of the New Jersey governor’s car crash first appeared on the NYT website. The story said he was injured, was being treated at a hospital, “expected to survive,” etc. Then it laid out the laundry list: broken femur, six broken ribs on both sides of his chest, broken sternum (!!!), etc. Well, this was obviously no run-of-the-mill accident. Or maybe it was, sans seat belts:

Do you know how we can tell the difference between people who were wearing their seatbelts and those who weren’t, at the scene of an automobile accident? The ones who were wearing their seatbelts are standing around saying “This really sucks,” and the ones who weren’t are kinda just lying there.

Jim Macdonald lays out the grim facts too many people still don’t want to face, preferring to be “thrown clear” instead.

Off to the post office. You know what I’ll be mailing.

Posted at 9:09 am in Current events, Media |

26 responses to “The cruelest month.”

  1. brian stouder said on April 17, 2007 at 10:00 am

    Well, blaming all this horror on the wind appeals to me; it is a lot more sensible (for example) than dark references to foreign students, and less grasping than blaming it on incompetent administrators.

    And it’s fitting because stories like these knock the wind out of me, anymore; as a parent, seeing the pictures yesterday of somebody’s daughter being carried out of a building, or somebody’s son carried across a field – like feed-bags – was just too much.

    And now, we await the copycats

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  2. Bob said on April 17, 2007 at 10:06 am

    Talk about wind!

    You should have been at the West Central Neighborhood meeting last night!

    Remember the riverbank collapse along Thieme Drive some years ago that prompted a great deal of concern that something had to be done to stabilize the bank, and soon?

    Well, that dragged along for a couple of years and then morphed into discussion of flood-mitigation measures which stirred one or two individuals to take up a crusade to save their view of the muddy trench that passes for a river, and the trash vegetation that obstructs the view of it for several months each year.

    The wind of the wailing almost blew away my composure, but I managed to make only one comment and stay civil throughout the whole fiasco.

    Before it’s all over, I expect to see a couple of folks using the wild grape vines to bind themselves to the ailanthus and mulberry trees in an effort to keep the chainsaws away.

    Meanwhile, the riverbank continues to erode and sag, and every period of high water takes a little more of it. And the costs keep going up. I have to keep reminding myself to try to be stoic about it. After all, I chose to live in Fort Wayne.

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  3. 4dbirds said on April 17, 2007 at 10:07 am

    I too am mailing a check to the IRS by snail mail for exactly the same reason, let them work for it. Virginia Tech is very familiar school to me. My kids considered it and several of their friends go there. I will never understand these things.

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  4. Dave said on April 17, 2007 at 11:05 am

    I’ve said it many times, I’m sure I’ve said it at some point on NNC, but the only reason, I am well convinced, that my entire family is alive today and four out of five of us walked away from being turned over onto our roof after being struck by logs that came off a log truck in Valdosta, GA, is seat belts. I have no patience with those who argue against them.

    My wife, unfortunately, got a broken left leg (femur, she sympathizes with the governor for that) out of it.

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  5. LA mary said on April 17, 2007 at 11:26 am

    We had that wind here in LA last week, and my kids, home on spring break, kept calling me at work to report on how much our eucalyptus tree was swaying, looking like it was about to fall. It didn’t, although our power went out for about 30 hours. Nothing like getting ready for work by flashlight. I have a new appreciation of my refrigerator now. Bought it last summer, and it’s made a big difference in my electric bill, and now I know that the stuff in the freezer stayed frozen for 30 hours. I didn’t lose any food during the blackout.

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  6. Paula Zahn said on April 17, 2007 at 11:39 am

    I don’t know what’s happening to me, but it seems like the bad news of any given day can always be made worse by the coverage of the bad news.

    You just don’t appreciate good coverage! And perky! Very perky!

    (Okay…it’s really Marcia.)

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  7. Marcia said on April 17, 2007 at 11:42 am

    I’m in a deep funk. Not only does the world suck, but I was writing a brief sentence about the shootings for my blog, and I image-googled Virginia Tech, and the first two images that popped right up were pornographic, and it hit me, again, that my kids have to come across this shit all the time.

    What kind of world are we leaving the chiiilllllldren?

    Okay, I’m not really that dramatic. Really, though, I’m depressed.

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  8. nancy said on April 17, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    It’s not even the perkiness that bugs me. It’s the constant, non-stop need to yammer that these wall-to-wall-coverage news events inspire. I always want to say, “You have the pictures. Let THEM talk.” But no, we have to have criminologists and grief counselors and expert this and eyewitness that to spew bullshit into the ether. It drives me nuts, especially in the very earliest hours, when we don’t know much. Why can’t CNN say, “We don’t know much”? Why find some criminologist to speculate on what might have happened? Why not pull people off the street in Atlanta to speculate? It’s worth about as much.

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  9. ashley said on April 17, 2007 at 12:14 pm

    Marcia, come on down! Over half of the people I know that currently live in New Orleans are on anti-depressants. I’m a wellbutrin man myself, and da wife is happy with lexapro.

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  10. Marcia said on April 17, 2007 at 12:30 pm

    Ashley, I’m a Zoloft girl, myself. And I haven’t been in what I call the pit for a long time, but man. This world’ll do it to ya.

    I hear you, Nancy.

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  11. Sue said on April 17, 2007 at 12:35 pm

    Grew up with winds blowing off Lake Superior.
    Now it’s been 20 years of living in “climate-controlled” San Diego. Here we have the Santa Ana winds. Raymond Chandler said it best:

    There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.

    — “Red Wind”

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  12. Connie said on April 17, 2007 at 12:44 pm

    I’m with you about the depression Marcia. At least the sun is shining today. Several of us at work yesterday were ready to drive to whatever college our children attend and drag them home for safety. But you know you can’t protect them forever, just hope you’ve done a good job of teaching them how to keep themselves safe. Mine being in college in Indianapolis where the murder rate is soaring through the roof already makes me nervous.

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  13. Ricardo said on April 17, 2007 at 1:07 pm

    My daughter lived in an off campus apartment at UC Santa Barbara when the angry young man aimed his car at a streetful of students and hit the gas. Four dead. See, Isla Vista is one big street party every Friday night. My daughter lived in the apartment next to the death scene the year before. She had been on the scene just an hour before the incident, a couple of blocks from her new apartment.

    I had some anxious time before I was able to talk to her and find out if she was all right. The news told the address and that set me off.

    1. We probably all knew of someone at college that was capable of losing control and doing some kind of scary thing. In my college days “Bob” used to follow girls home and sit in his hot rod Mustang out side their homes for hours and hours.
    2. Europeans point to the American ‘cowboy mentality’. They will not be able to use their stereotyping this time, the shooter is a South Korea national.
    3. The blood wasn’t yet dry and the Bush spokesperson was alread sending comforting messages. To the NRA.

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  14. john c. said on April 17, 2007 at 1:16 pm

    I’m with you on the TV guys, especially Paula, Nancy. I just can’t watch it. I was as guilty as the next reporter when I was young. But I like to think I got better with time. And I’ve covered my share of tragedies (I spent the days leading up to my wedding interviewing family members of school children killed when their bus was hit by a train – a train going 70 miles per hour.) The rule I tried to follow was this: the more tragic the event, the more basic the language.

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  15. nancy said on April 17, 2007 at 1:21 pm

    Excellent rule. Sometimes the facts simply speak for themselves, and any attempt to underline them just comes off as crass and tasteless.

    It’s a cliché that TV reporters are always sticking their mics in victims’ faces and asking how they feel. This happens far less often than you’d think, but honestly, I prefer it to them telling me how I feel.

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  16. ashley said on April 17, 2007 at 2:20 pm

    Ricardo: my frat house at FSU was actually Ted Bundy’s old apartment building. Go figure. Yes, I found out ex post facto.

    Connie: “Indianapolis where the murder rate is soaring through the roof”. Excuse me. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA. Sorry.

    Unfortunately, my buddy Ray has kind of summed up my feelings on Blacksburg.

    And does anybody else have the lyrics to Dirty Laundry running through their head?

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  17. Dorothy said on April 17, 2007 at 2:40 pm

    Raising a hand here for Effexor. Although mine was prescribed for hot flashes, it’s usually used for depression. Perhaps it’s helpigng me in that department, but I’m not sure. Life’s been moving at a wild speed around me lately and I think I need all the drugs I can get.

    I was diagnosed with Graves’ Disease last week, and am going with the RAI treatment to knock out part or maybe all of my thyroid. My husband’s had one job interview and is flying to Ohio for another on Sunday. We’re probably going to be relocating to either Mt. Vernon, OH or Lynchburg, VA. It causes me too much sleeplessness thinking about these impending changes.

    As far as the Virginia Tech situation, I have to honestly say I’m not sure how the t.v. anchors/reporters are supposed to look, if they aren’t allowed to have sad, furrowed brows. I don’t mean to be argumentative, but how else are they going to look on camera? They look serious most of the time anyway, and this was an awful, awful thing to happen. Brian Williams on NBC mentioned he’s the dad of a college student and could identify with what parents were going through. I felt the same way – I could not really get thru the day yesterday until I spoke to my son on OSU’s campus, even though he was hundreds of miles away.

    I know it’s troubling the way the t.v. media respond to this kind of thing. But it’s here and it’s not going away, and I think it does not do much good to criticize them. I think energies would be better directed towards gun control, and that’s what I’m going to do. I’m writing my congressman and Senator.

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  18. Ray said on April 17, 2007 at 3:33 pm

    I’m currently self-medicating with a mix of antihistamines, ice cream, and the occasional putting of my fist through some inanimate object that looks like it will make a satisfying crunching sound.

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  19. Peris said on April 17, 2007 at 3:39 pm

    Commercial TV news is for children, complete with pretty pictures, catchy titles and theme music. What would Walter Do? is what you should ask (or Chet and David). What we have here is not going away, as long as we keep watching it. Fortunately, we now have channels of immediacy other than TV ones.

    Oh, and Sauza is my little helper–a real windbreaker on a gusty day!

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  20. Connie said on April 17, 2007 at 5:32 pm

    Yes, Ashley, of course you win. But all is relative, and for Indy it has still been a bad year so far.

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  21. Jennifer said on April 17, 2007 at 8:01 pm

    For some unknown reason, I watched Paula last night. Boy did she frost my ass. I had to switch the channel after she “suggested” what some of the witnesses might be trying to say. I yelled something about leading the witness and changed the channel.

    Also, I don’t know who it was, but the journalist who had the balls to suggest the police chief was not showing enough emotion should have felt the brunt of all the emotion he was trying to keep in check.

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  22. basset said on April 17, 2007 at 9:15 pm

    Well, if there was ever a time to show emotion, this would be it. Someone, I assume the university president, stood up there at the memorial assembly today and just read a prepared statement… surely he had expensive advisers telling him to do that, but if you ask me he lost credibility by being a PR robot instead of a human.

    (Couldn’t tell who he was because we were watching al-Jazeera English on a little TV from across the room, their graphics are hard to read anyway and I couldn’t make ’em out at all this time – but he was onstage in a suit and speaking before the President, he must have been someone important.)

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  23. Barb said on April 17, 2007 at 10:45 pm

    Seat belts rule! Just yesterday, dressed in jammys and slippers and in full view of the morning commuters, my husband was able to say “this sucks” while looking at the remains of his precious SUV. His trip out for a morning coffee was interrupted by a car which crossed the center line and came at him head on. The other guy also walked away unharmed thanks to his seat belt and airbag.

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  24. czucky Dimes said on April 18, 2007 at 11:03 am

    Who the hell is Doghouse Riley and does anyone take this person seriously? A total lightweight, not worthy of attention.

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  25. Marcia said on April 18, 2007 at 4:06 pm

    Wow, Dorothy, I meant to say I’m sorry about all of your stress. I was too self-absorbed yesterday to actually read what you wrote.

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  26. Charlotte A. Weybright said on April 19, 2007 at 12:17 am

    My, my, my Bob, aren’t you the clever one. Your discussion of the West Central meeting is priceless. Sure is strange that with all of your panic about Thieme Drive collapsing, it still hasn’t done so for the past several years. And, by the way, that issue is entirely separate from the flood protection issue. Congress just simply hasn’t provided funding yet for the river bank project at the junction of Washington and Thieme. Your statement makes it sound like the flood protection issue ties right in to the erosion issue. The two are actually quite a distance apart from each other spatially.

    I also think there were probably more than “one or two” people interested in the historic nature of Thieme Drive.

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Apparently, you don’t see much beauty in anything. Part of what I would like to see is the river bank cleaned up of all the Trees of Heaven and underbrush. I don’t think anyone wants to see that staying around. Oh, and don’t you worry about me tying myself to the weed trees.

    It sounds like you are just one unhappy person.

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