Camping in Fallujah.

It wasn’t until I saw the flag box in the grocery store vestibule that I remembered how patriotic this part of the state is. A retired mailbox, it was repainted white and emblazoned (in red and blue, natch): DEPOSIT WORN-OUT FLAGS HERE FOR PROPER DISPOSAL. I own a flag, but it’s only been flown on patriotic occasions, so I figure it’ll last a lifetime. I can’t imagine going through so many that I’d need to use a special flag-disposal box, but like I said, Mio, Mich. is a patriotic place.

We were in Mio to launch the boat for a little downstream floating, part of CampFest 2008, the first of three planned summer trips. Somehow, two people who rarely passed a year without a camping trip managed to give it up entirely when the kid came along. (Wonder why? Wonder no longer than it takes you to imagine changing diapers in a tent. Keeping toddlers happy in a tent. And so on.) So this was Kate’s first, but not her last. At least, I hope so. We had torrential downpours both nights, our campsite was invaded by tent caterpillars, the mosquitos were vicious, and there was a war going on across the river, and she still had fun. Fingers crossed.

Yes, a war. We camped in Grayling, home of Camp Grayling, and as usual, maneuvers were under way. The town was clogged with camouflage, and at night, the sound of machine-gun and artillery fire rang through the woods. It’s actually not objectionable at all — it wasn’t terribly loud, they’re good neighbors, and the plug is pulled at 10 p.m., which, at this time of year and at that latitude, isn’t even full dark.

Most people around here know the charming story of the Kirtland’s Warbler, an endangered little songbird once thought extinct, until a few were found nesting near the National Guard’s firing ranges. KWs nest in jack pine forest, but only in trees about head-high; they need a recently burned landscape to survive. In the years of vigorous fire suppression, they lost habitat, and only found it in the places where artillery shells had started small fires, stimulating regrowth. And so the wee birdie found refuge with the big soldiers, and if we could add some kittens and rainbows to this story, we would.

Actually, we can. This was Saturday:

Yep, that’s a threatening sky. I’m just glad the hailstorm came when we were in the car.

More video later. I have a busy morning, and then a busy week. I think I mentioned this once before, but lo it has come to pass: I’m on a team participating in the Detroit-Windsor International Film Festival Challenge, which takes place this coming weekend. Everybody meets at a central location, and each team is given a genre, a location, a line of dialogue and a prop, and we’re given 48 hours to make a four- to seven-minute film incorporating all four. The location has already been leaked — the Ambassador Bridge. There are six possible genres, which means I (the writer) have to have at least six vague ideas for short stories in each one. That’s not too daunting, is it?

Also, a final note: I freely admit to being the most out-of-touch writer in the world, but even I was amazed at the Princess Diana-ization of Tim Russert’s death. My last media intake was Friday night, after midnight, when MSNBC was still live “Remembering Tim Russert.” When I resurfaced Monday, glancing at the headlines in USA Today at the Grayling McDonald’s (did I mention I forgot the coffee in the camp kitchen), there were stories about sudden cardiac arrest and “what it means for your health.” It must suck to be famous. Is there really a demand for this? Judging from some of the vox populi out there, a lot of people felt personally connected to the guy. I don’t get it, but I’m sorry for the loss.

Back in a bit.

Posted at 9:42 am in Housekeeping, Media, Same ol' same ol' |

30 responses to “Camping in Fallujah.”

  1. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on June 17, 2008 at 9:46 am

    Mr. Moroun, i’m ready for my close up!

    38 chars

  2. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on June 17, 2008 at 10:00 am

    Oh, and i just found this, a faith we all can believe in at NN.C —

    And wait until you read who the prophet of this belief system is — Pullquote:

    In Saudi Arabia I once met two young members of the National Guard, Saleh and Abdullah. As we drank coffee in a cafe, I asked if they knew anything about Jews and Christians. They didn’t, but Abdullah seemed curious. He said he’d like to read a book about other faiths, but none was available in the kingdom.

    Saleh objected. “Well, what if you read a story and it made sense to you so you believe it,” he said. “It can reduce your faith.”

    They both agreed: Better not to read.

    I want Nikolas and Samuel to read.

    [and all the congregation said — Amen!]

    867 chars

  3. coozledad said on June 17, 2008 at 10:27 am

    I could see this kind of response to the death of someone like Walter Cronkite. But I doubt his passing will provoke anything near the fever pitch of this public mourning. After all, Walter is not one of the club anymore. They passed over the loss of Robert Trout with scarcely a mention.
    Now there was a journalist.

    320 chars

  4. Kirk said on June 17, 2008 at 10:34 am

    We had quite a discussion Friday about whether to put Russert’s obit on the front page. We wound up mentioning it in the promos above the nameplate, referring to the obit on the front of the features section, as I had favored. I’m conservative about front-page obits, and I agree: He was very good, but he wasn’t Walter. Still, I talked to several civilians over the weekend who volunteered admiring comments about him.

    419 chars

  5. Jason T. said on June 17, 2008 at 10:59 am

    Well, there were two things going on with the Russert coverage.

    1.) The old maxim that being a journalist guarantees you an obituary from the wires, and

    2.) No one finds Washington beltway insiders quite as fascinating as other Washington beltway insiders.

    Combine that with the existence of 24-hour news networks, and it was easy to predict all Tim Russert, all the time.

    I genuinely liked Russert, and I feel terrible for his family — apparently they just put “Big Russ” in assisted living, and they are worried about his state of mind.

    But at some point on Friday, perhaps when NPR dragged out their “sad funeral music” to report on Russert’s death, it became officially Too Much.

    He was a reporter and a celebrity. He was not a head of state. I have to think Russert would have said “stop it, already.”

    There are other important things that MSNBC should have been covering on Friday afternoon besides Russert’s death … like the people treading water in the streets of downtown Des Moines, for instance.

    1032 chars

  6. brian stouder said on June 17, 2008 at 11:00 am

    It was the suddeness; the surprise. He literally keeled over in his prime, at his job, doing his thing….almost like a race car driver or an Olympic downhill skier – a person at the top of his profession suddenly gone.

    That said, msnbc became unwatchable fairly quickly, with the somber piano music at each commercial break, and the electronic tombstone (regulation picture, in fade against a balck background, with “1950-2008” underneath); they’re STILL doing that fairly regularly, and the memorial service later this week promises to be wall-to-wall on that network.

    If Walter had keeled over in his halcyon days – say, 1973 – it would have been MORE rattling, because he was a very big fish in a small, exclusive pond….but CBS could never have devoted the volumes of airtime in 1973, that NBC (on one of its many cable outlets) could devote in 2008.

    And Russert was a distinctive, large fish in a large and growing lake…so that one (of many) of his own network’s cable outlets could go ‘all Russert, all the time’, in the wake of his sudden departure

    edit: and not to be morbid, but his manner of death – lights out, goodnight, that’s all folks, don’t forget to tip the wait staff – THAT’s the way to go! I would like to live past 58, but aside from that, I hope my exit is no more protracted than his was

    1326 chars

  7. John said on June 17, 2008 at 11:34 am


    I would have figure you for an “in the arms of a loving woman” kind of a guy. Or at least, “shot jumping out a second floor bedroom window while fleeing a jealous husband”.

    183 chars

  8. JGW said on June 17, 2008 at 11:35 am

    Russert was genuine and likeable. He will be missed, but the “dianazation” will be brief. I never understood her appeal, didn’t care for Dodi or her woes with CHarles and post-Charles. But that death made almost all TV unwatchable. I kept a running tally and it was 7 months until NBC news didn’t mention her in some way, shape, or form.
    For me the only plus was some guy I can’t stand was doing a huge PR event, an NFL season “kickoff” beach party, at a resort nearby. Live broadcasts all day, huge PR hit, and then she dies and the network pulled the plug on the event.

    573 chars

  9. moe99 said on June 17, 2008 at 11:38 am

    Maybe if you were a devotee of his show, and there apparently were many, his death meant something. But for me who only saw him on occasion, he seemed rather a blowhard, a guy who seemed like the quintessential frat boy. A glad hander, one who only studied the night before the test, someone who went for the easy gotcha. I never saw why he rose to his position when he was alive and the response to his death confirmed to me, yet again, the vacuousness and the onanism of the mainstream media.

    497 chars

  10. Andrea said on June 17, 2008 at 11:46 am

    The fact that the weekend version of the Today Show devoted all 3 hours (2 on Sat and 1 on Sun) to Tim Russert was too, too much when, like Jason T. said, they could have been covering other news.

    196 chars

  11. brian stouder said on June 17, 2008 at 11:46 am

    I would have figure you for an “in the arms of a loving woman” kind of a guy. Or at least, “shot jumping out a second floor bedroom window while fleeing a jealous husband”.

    I went through that phase years ago (in a sideways sorta way); back when I had a full head of hair, but an empty head!

    Anyway, Pam says I have an internet wife (and then I accuse her of being a very poor mormon)

    405 chars

  12. nancy said on June 17, 2008 at 11:57 am

    I would have forgiven MSNBC/NBC a day of mourning. But the cable networks haven’t figured out when too much becomes too much, and they simply can’t quit.

    That said, I’m stunned at how many people I’ve heard or read talking about it. Letters to the editor of the newspapers, etc. I had no idea that many people watched MTP. (I never do.) And as for the “shock” — red-faced Irish guys with a few extra pounds around the middle have been known to drop dead suddenly. Diana’s death was more shocking, if only because she was so well-guarded. This was surprising, perhaps, but not shocking.

    On edit: Jack Shafer captures my feelings exactly.

    706 chars

  13. john c said on June 17, 2008 at 12:10 pm

    TV covered the Russert death way too much. But the 24-hour-a-day news media covers almost everything too much.

    And I’m not sure it was just Meet The Press, Nancy. His book was a big hit too. I almost never watch the show, and didn’t read the book. But I happened to be on the phone with a friend when the news came over his car radio. He – my friend – was genuinely sad because he’d read the book and really identified with it.

    I’m with everyone here. I liked the guy, but …

    482 chars

  14. nancy said on June 17, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    I had forgotten about the book.

    I never, ever read books like that. (No, one exception: Calvin Trillin’s.) It sounded like a somewhat more upmarket version of “Tuesdays With Morrie,” which will be on the bookshelves in hell, I expect. Maybe the Big Russ thing will be in Purgatory, I dunno.

    294 chars

  15. Jolene said on June 17, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    About four million people watched MTP every Sunday, and he had been doing MTP for 17 years. With the rise of cable news and the effort to deploy “assets” across networks and to build audience by having people appear in multiple places (e.g., on Today, on The Evening News), millions more would have seen him in most weeks. Add to that his appearances as moderator of presidential debates and on election nights, and you get a lot of people who’d invited his televised self into their living rooms. According to Lisa deMoraes, the WaPo TV columnist, demand for the televised encomiums (encomia?) has, indeed, been high. Ratings for many of the shows about him over the weekend were way up compared to their usual averages.

    As Brian said, part of the fascination is the suddenness of his death, and, I would add, his relative youth, but I do think he was a distinctive figure. If you had watched him more, moe, you would know that he was deeply knowledgeable about politics, not a student who studied the night before. As anyone who paid more than five minutes attention this past weekend knows, he’s been working at the nexus of politics and the media since the mid-1970s, first as an aide to Sen. Moynihan and then as an aide to Gov. Cuomo, two of the more impressive political figures of the recent past.

    For me, though, as important as his knowledge of politics and policy both past and present was the sensibility he brought–a n appreciation that politics is both the mechanism through which we make serious decisions about our society and a game of personalities, symbols, and strategies.

    He was also, according to the people who worked for and with him, a great guy and a great boss. Of course, we all love our friends, but when people on multiple networks are talking about him w/ tears in their eyes and telling stories about how he helped them with family crises, sick children, and career decisions, you have to (or, at least, I have to) give some credence to the idea that he was one of the few people who simply stand out from the rest of us–who have more energy, more smarts, more insight, and more heart.

    However corny it may be, I am going to miss him.

    2303 chars

  16. Catherine said on June 17, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    Camping with toddlers is not as bad as it sounds, if you don’t worry too much about keeping them clean & what they’re putting in their mouths. And what camping trip is complete without a hailstorm?

    We are headed to camp in Big Sur in a few weeks. I’ll report back on what variation of insect attack/weather-related disaster/artillery barrage we encounter.

    364 chars

  17. beb said on June 17, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    It sometimes seems that when a well know actor dies all of a sudden his (or her) movies are being featured on TV. As if other things were dumped to put on these movies and cash in on the sudden interest in that actor. I wonder if some of the 100 hours of all Russert programing on MSNBC and elswhere wasn’t driven by the same thinking. Replay hours of Russert talking to cash in on the momentary interest in his death.

    Or perhaps I’m being too cynical.

    But no. That’s not cynical. Cynical is wondering what the White House decided to drop into the Friday even news dump knoowing that Russerts death would guarantee that no one would look into the info dump.

    Something else Nancy will need to get up to speed on is the Associated Press’ war on bloggers making “fair use” use of AP news items.

    800 chars

  18. brian stouder said on June 17, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    I bet someday, tv personages will be literally (and unapologetically) animated; that way, the same icon that we came to trust on election nights (or when news is breaking) when we were young, will still be there when we are old….the way newspapers once built up their own distinct bastions in our lives.

    Or maybe not!

    322 chars

  19. Jolene said on June 17, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    Funny Father’s Day ad, from Andrew Sullivan’s blog.

    140 chars

  20. Sue said on June 17, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    Some of the medical blogs are having fun speculating about contributing factors in Russert’s death. No false sentimentality there.

    131 chars

  21. Danny said on June 17, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    Crap…I didn’t even know that he was sick…

    45 chars

  22. Jolene said on June 17, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    At the risk of further offending those whose tolerance for all things Russert-related has already been surpassed, I want to pass along links to a couple of the best pieces I’ve seen about him–pieces that do a much better job of explaining what was important about him and his death than I did in my earlier post.

    Tom Shales describes the difficulty of accepting the idea of Russert’s death, saying that it seems impossible Tim is gone because he was having too much fun to die.

    Eugene Robinson talks about what made Russert important and distinctive in journalism.

    No false sentimentality in either piece. Guaranteed.

    876 chars

  23. joodyb said on June 17, 2008 at 5:31 pm

    in newspapers, it’s about how many other more notable deaths there are in the cycle. too weird to speculate, but lots of deaths would have topped his, when you think about it.

    that said, a collective gasp went up in this newsroom friday afternoon. people did connect with him. i sat wondering what i’d been doing at 9a sunday, and it was looking like me and doris kearns goodwin, lighting a candle. i actually got up for the damn show. and it was because of him.

    465 chars

  24. joodyb said on June 17, 2008 at 5:32 pm

    Jolene, that ad is a riot. thanks.

    34 chars

  25. Scout said on June 17, 2008 at 6:50 pm

    Personally, I think Barry Crimmins has it about right regarding the Russertathon.

    150 chars

  26. Jolene said on June 17, 2008 at 9:35 pm

    I dunno, Scout. The Jack Shafer piece that Nancy linked to seems to me to capture the essential problems with the Russert coverage. The Crimmins piece goes several steps too far, moving beyond criticism into meanness. Among its other problems, it contains no humor, an unfortunate outcome for the work of a satirist.

    319 chars

  27. Gasman said on June 18, 2008 at 12:01 am

    I too, was perplexed by the hyperbolic nature of the Russert obits. He seemed to be a decent enough guy, but my reaction was one of disappointment for what might have been. I had a similar reaction when Peter Jennings died. Here we had two very intelligent men, who for whatever their personal reasons, chose to be willfully silent while crimes were committed by Cheney/Bush et al. I don’t believe that either man was gullible enough to believe the procession of lies, but they certainly should have been outraged enough by the dishonesty, incompetence, arrogance, and the willful ignorance displayed by W. & Co. to exercise some healthy skepticism and inquisitiveness.

    I think one possible explanation for the Russert-For-Sainthood talk has little to do with Russert himself. It seems to be a rather feeble attempt by some in the media to rewrite history – or at least to influence our perception of it. I’ve heard incessantly of how Russert “asked the tough questions.” Really? I don’t recall him being that tough at all on the laughably inept Bushie rhetoric until about 2006, about the same time that other mainstream media types began to explore the use of their spines – albeit tentatively and infrequently.

    He did expose Scooter Libby, but only after being subpoenaed in court. He knew damn well that Cheney was targeting Valerie Plame simply because she had the audacity to be married to a man of character, a man who would not buttress the lies of the sniveling occupant of the White House. Damn the press if their code of ethics means protecting a source as malevolent and vile as Dick Cheney. What possible social good was advanced by keeping secret Cheney’s involvement? It’s as if Woodward and Bernstein protected Nixon, Haldeman, and Erlichman while Tricky Dick & Co. smeared John Dean.

    As I said above, I am left saddened by what Russert – and his contemporaries in the media – did not do. Had Russert, Browkaw, Gibson, Jennings, Rather, et al., behaved more like Murrow and gone after the bastards, this war very well might have been averted. At the risk of speaking ill of the dead, during this country’s greatest hour of need, when we needed a man of courage and integrity to speak truth to power, Tim Russert did not do his duty.

    2281 chars

  28. brian stouder said on June 18, 2008 at 12:33 am

    Jolene – thanks for the links to the Shales and the Robinson pieces; I thought they got it right, too

    101 chars

  29. Jolene said on June 18, 2008 at 1:14 am

    Glad you liked them, Brian. They’re two of my favorite WaPo columnists. Whenever they have a piece in the paper, I always start there first.

    142 chars

  30. Dorothy said on June 18, 2008 at 10:44 am

    I agree with Brian, Jolene. I also liked William Kristol’s article (NYTimes) about Tim the other day. I tried to link to it here in comments yesterday, but it wouldn’t work. Not sure why. But I think TR was an all around good guy and the naysayers just haven’t read enough about him to understand.

    The coverage does seem to be a little overboard, but isn’t most everything nowadays?

    390 chars