This halo, it chafes.

Yay, Mitch Albom is reporting from Haiti.

Will there be stupid one-sentence paragraphs?

Do you even need to ask?

Who will be in the photos?

Could it be Mitch Himself?

Again: Grow up.

Actually, in mellow moments, a state of mind I strive to reach more frequently, I wonder if Mitch is the world’s happiest man these days. I wonder if, as so often happens in life and three-act screenplays, whether the brass ring he was chasing hasn’t revealed itself to be cheap paint covering zinc and not that shiny at all. I had a drink not long ago with someone who admired Albom’s early work in Detroit, and says he really was a different guy, once upon a time. He had wit and style and — this is key — enough of a bad-ass inside him to occasionally be naughty. Then he saw the opportunity to cash in by warming hearts. There’s always a buck to be made in the heart-warming trade. Ask the people who make greeting cards and much of the advertising inflicted upon us during events like the Olympics. In Mitch’s case he made many, many bucks, and now look what’s become of him.

If I went to Haiti, I’d hire the roughest, toughest fixer I could find and ask to be taken on the Full Carnage Tour. I’d want to see voodoo ceremonies and makeshift hospitals and squatters living in rubble piles. Mitch has to go to the Caring and Sharing Mission, where he will write about the Noble Poor, Who Are Down But Not Out, Because They Have Love. Just a scan of the subheads makes your teeth hurt:

“Seeing the miraculous,” “Feeling joy and pain,” Doing what we must” — has a story ever announced itself to be more joyless? Could there be a single thing in there you feel you haven’t read before? Haiti is poor. Haiti is tragic. Haiti is our responsibility. Haiti is yet another opportunity for Mitch to warm your heart and tell you again what you already knew — it’s bad, but others are on the case, fighting the good fight, and yes, you can write them a check — while simultaneously throwing in little details of what a good guy he is:

It does not take long to settle in here. I put down my bag, blow up an air mattress and place it on the floor of the pastor’s quarters. That’s it.

Millionaire Mitch sleeps on the floor. That’s how poor Haiti is.

I wonder if, late at night in his counting-house, surrounded by his treasure chests full of gold or bales of cash or in his cashmere underwear personally woven by his investment advisor, if he ever looks out the window at the moonlight on the snow and thinks, This job used to be more fun. When your whole life is one long Good Deed, when you walk into every public event with that half-smile of smug self-effacement (yes, it exists), when you sit behind a microphone and say things like, “No, no the real heroes are the people who do this work every single day. I’m just the guy who tells the rest of you about them” — is there ever a small voice inside that says, You are so, so full of shit. Go ahead, tell them that, Mr. Modesty.

No, I didn’t think so, either.

Here’s my heart of hearts speaking: When I learned Warren Zevon was a friend of this man, my opinion of Warren fell by 37 percent. That’s saying something.

Oh, well. There are still honest writers in the world. Roger Ebert responds to the Esquire piece. Says he’s not really dying all that fast, and that his cholesterol is excellent. Which is sort of funny, when you think of it. Ebert gets the Tom Sawyer experience of attending his own funeral and hearing what all his friends have to say about him. What a lucky guy.

The man who made his bones wearing a stupid bow tie, name-dropping philosophers and making a who-farted expression on a thousand Sunday-morning news-chat shows says loathing for Sarah Palin is born of “snobbery.” Now that’s bein’ ballsy, George Will!

Back to the mangle for me, folks.

Posted at 10:14 am in Current events, Media |

58 responses to “This halo, it chafes.”

  1. coozledad said on February 18, 2010 at 10:38 am

    George Will is a fucking poseur. I’ll believe his little Emily Dickinson redux ass is full blown secesh when he drops Lally Weymouth and starts a chinchilla ranch.
    Speaking of obtuse cousinfucking morons, another SC geek is working toward nullification. Close their damned borders and let them do it!

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  2. Jeff Borden said on February 18, 2010 at 10:44 am

    As someone who graduated in the lower one-fourth of his high school graduating class, graduated from a land grant public university in Ohio, lives in a house on a lot so small that when the neighbors chop onions I get tears in my eyes, drives an 11-year-old car and has been underemployed for almost six years, I believe I pass the test for unsnobbishness. And I find this woman poison. She grates, but that does not mean she has grit, whatever the hell that is, unless the definition of grit means a shallow, dogmatic, messianic con woman with a taste for the spotlight and contempt for accomplishment. So, George? Go away.

    I also despise Mitch Albom, but I will give him credit for going to Haiti. Back in the early 1990s, when the Midwest was being flooded during the worst natural disaster to hit the region in recorded history, Bob Green could not rouse himself to travel the 150 miles west to the scene of so much suffering and destruction. Nope. Bob was out on the state fair circuit, hanging with Jan and Dean and writing about the simple pleasures of corn dogs and surf music. Meanwhile, an elegant, Ivy League educated black woman was enroute to winning the Pulitzer Prize for the New York Times by slogging through the mud, clambering over sandbags and hitching rides up and down the Mississippi on tug boats, barges and other vessels.

    Both Albom and Greene are horrible writers, but Greene wins the race to the bottom for his sheer laziness. The man who once styled himself as “Johnny Deadline” could not be bothered.

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  3. del said on February 18, 2010 at 10:48 am

    I think your friend’s right about Albom. Once upon a time one could appreciate his writing. Now his heartstrings are for sale, it seems.

    But today’s “story” in the Detroit News really takes the cake. Any journalists want to explain how a newspaper can print an advertisement for a business as a NEWS story with the byline “Special to the Detroit News?”

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  4. Deborah said on February 18, 2010 at 10:49 am

    I love it when you bash Mitch. As Alice Roosevelt Longworth said, “If you can’t say anything good about someone, sit right here by me.”

    I read the Ebert link, good stuff especially this line: “Resentment is allowing someone to live rent-free in a room in your head,”

    I can’t stomach George Will, so I’ll skip that link.

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  5. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on February 18, 2010 at 11:06 am

    Y’know, Ebert almost defends Mitch, just a bit:

    “I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.”

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  6. Bob (not Greene) said on February 18, 2010 at 11:07 am

    I tried to read that Albom column and I quit actually reading after the first paragraph and then just scanned the rest for the inevitable one-sentence paragraphs of profound insight. It just makes my skin crawl. Where the hell were you, Mitch, before the earthquake.

    Haitians then were still poor.

    And still had nothing but love.

    And slept on the floor. That’s it.

    As for George Will: Fuck you George Will.

    The loathing of Sarah Palin has less to do with snobbery than it has to do with a hate for glorifying ignorance, engaging in perpetual hackery and promoting religious zealotry as a means of governing a nation.

    George Will, man of the people, guess what? I loathe Sarah Palin because she is, in fact, loathsome.

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  7. Dorothy said on February 18, 2010 at 11:13 am

    I feel the need to share this information my daughter sent via email yesterday about two really great nights at the Pilot this week. I apologize for the length but she’s the editor, not me, and I think all of it needed to be here for clarity:

    On Monday: I was wire-editing and compiling a story about Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh’s retirement and how he’s the third high-profile Democratic senator to retire/resign, citing partisanship. (Our story was what this means for mid-term elections in light of Scott Brown’s election in Massachusetts, that kind of thing.) This was our A1 lede. I was looking at the story from the NY Times’ chief political correspondent and it mentioned a string of Democratic retirements from “Colorado, Delaware, Illinois and North Dakota.” All of them were right (Del. and Ill. were appointees to replace Joe Biden and Barack Obama but both said they wouldn’t run) EXCEPT for Colorado. I double-checked with some Googling and sure enough, no retirements from Colorado. I think the reporter meant Connecticut (because Chris Dodd is like a six-time major player senator who announced his retirement last month), but it was a simple mistake.

    So I called the NY Times wire desk to let them know I thought they were wrong (so they could possibly issue a new version of the story on the wires), and I talked to an editor there who said he’d call me back. Twenty minutes later, he calls, and he says “I called the national desk downstairs, and they’re trying to get in touch with the reporter. So for now, we’re sticking with Colorado. But can I just say that I’m 99% certain you’re right, I’m almost certain he DID mean Connecticut. Thanks so much for calling.”) So I got off the phone, made our story say Connecticut, and that was that. The NYTimes never issued a new version of the story OR corrected their story online. But I’m very confident I was correct. It was just a nice little “hurrah” moment because this is a story by their no. 1 congressional reporter, who’s famous in his own right *because* he’s their national political writer, and I was the one who found a mistake in his story. (He also probably makes 5x what I do, but let’s not dwell on that.)

    Last night: I was on the copy desk and surfing the wires after 10 p.m., after Tim (the regular wire editor) had gone home. I found a Washington Post story detailing all the budget cuts the Virginia governor is planning. I knew we (the Pilot) didn’t have this story yet – the governor has been extremely quiet about how he’s going to make up this $2.2 billion shortfall. There were tons of devastating cuts mentioned ($730m to school funding, $300m to health programs). So I let the news editor (the person in charge) know, and sure enough, it became our new A1 lede. Cue all the scrambling to redo A1 an hour before deadline. The news editor AND Brian (my boss) thanked me big-time for catching the story on the wires. So that was a cool thing, too.

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  8. Bob (not Greene) said on February 18, 2010 at 11:16 am

    Jeff (tmmo),

    I could be completely wrong (I often am) but when I read Mitch Albom, it sounds like a complete act. He might be making someone happy, and maybe that’s a virtue, but it comes off insincere. Anyway, it does to me.

    I write a lot of stuff, and I know some of it probably doesn’t make some people very happy. I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong and I’m not making myself unhappy, though, because I believe I’m telling the truth.

    Only Mitch can say if what he writes makes him happy. But being in the business myself, I can only say it sounds forced and gratuitous and treacly.

    Oh, and Nance, I’m with you on Lamott. Hives. That’s about right.

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  9. nancy said on February 18, 2010 at 11:25 am

    Yeah, Jeff, let’s not get wobbly on the guy. I figured if he were half as aw-shucks as he’d like us to believe, he’d fight to NOT be in the pictures. He wouldn’t mention sleeping on an air mattress. I believe the personal pronoun can be a powerful storytelling aid, but it’s funny how all the personal detail he shares makes him look humble. He’s like Lileks, only recounting the personal anecdotes of parenthood that feature himself as the reincarnation of Ozzie Nelson. Anne Lamott gives me hives, but at least she admits there were days when she wanted to throw her newborn out the window.

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  10. Jen said on February 18, 2010 at 11:32 am

    Gah, I had to skim the Mitch Albom piece because I’m going to lunch soon and I didn’t want to hurl before I ate. I HATE that kind of flowery, treacly crap. I’ve read other columnists who do the same kind of thing, and it all grates on me like crazy. It’s like reading bad prose by a high school kid. And all the description! It’s good to set the scene, but he gets ridiculous about it.

    I probably sound like a horrible cynic, but I am also really suspicious of people who go to places like Haiti, or do other good works, and then write columns about what THEY did. Reporting from somewhere is good. Writing stories and columns about the people you meet there is good. Writing about how you were there, and you met kids, and you slept on the floor, and you walked around with the kids, just makes me think you went on this story to serve yourself. Columns like that make me squirm.

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  11. Linda said on February 18, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    My momma loves Mitch to death. I don’t write professionally, but sometimes I write for professional journals and the union newsletter. When she reads something *really* syrupy of his, she’s say, “Oh, this sounds like something YOU would write.” I don’t know why she does this, except that she loves him and me both.

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  12. Dee said on February 18, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    Before you criticize, maybe you should learn not to start off articles with questions and be completely cliche.

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  13. Kim said on February 18, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    You know what pisses me off about Mitch and all others in that genre? I’ll tell you: I hate how they just! now! discovered! how nobody has nothin’ in Haiti. It’s the narrative journalist equivalent of the TV reporter standing in front of a snowdrift with a ruler.

    There is a smugness to it that just torques me to no end. (Bob not Greene, if you’d care to weigh in on what happens when I get torqued, please, don’t hold back!) If you want to read about Haiti, read Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains. You’ll get the added benefit of reading about a physician who’s not in it for the glory but the people and has spent his adult life telling the truth about why the haves should give a shit about the have-nots.

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  14. MichaelG said on February 18, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    “smug self-effacement” Great phrase. It sure do exist.

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  15. coozledad said on February 18, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    I’m beginning to think Dwight is Mitch Albom. Hey Dwight, could you let me hold a couple of twenties?

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  16. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on February 18, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    The difference between Albom and what Ebert’s getting at is that if you are trying to make people happy so you can be happy, it doesn’t work. But it’s easy to slip back over that line even as you’re convinced you’re doing something entirely for others. That’s where having people around you who can laugh at you when you say or do something stupid or wilfully misguided comes in. Bill Clinton didn’t have anyone nearby who could say “Bubba, you’re gonna make a fool of yourself with that coffee gal if you’re not careful,” and Mitch doesn’t have anyone who actually has the nerve to say to his face, as a friend “Dude, you can spell the word smarm, right?” And then smile.

    You can just tell.

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  17. Bob (not Greene) said on February 18, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    Jeff (tmmo), you are right on with that.

    Oh, and WTF!

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  18. Sue said on February 18, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    Here’s an idea:
    The Esquire article, only written by Mitch.
    Then, Ebert’s response.
    Not that Ebert would let Mitch anywhere near him, but the two imaginary pieces of writing would be just awesome, if I can use an overused word.

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  19. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on February 18, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    Thread-jack on a snowy day — the people who do this site are mostly waaay off to one side o’ me (that’d be to the right, far right), but this was too funny not to share among a bunch of design geeks, as I know we have around here:

    The photo of the Phelps clan and their signs really makes it.

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  20. moe99 said on February 18, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    Kim, I am with you all the way on Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains. Read it on my vacation this past week and it was so anti-Mitch in its clear eyed writing. Of course I am sure that the author knew that if he got all Mitch in the book, Paul Farmer would have dismissed him utterly with a well placed “Comma.”

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  21. Jean S said on February 18, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    Lamott is proof positive that the lack of a good, ruthless editor allows sloppy writing to flourish.

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  22. Sue said on February 18, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    Just read the Stack manifesto/suicide note. Holy cow. His claims of continuous poverty are kind of damaged by the fact that he was wealthy enough to own the plane he used to kill himself (and hopefully no one else), and he sounds like the kind of guy you would quickly learn to avoid.
    Still, a lot of the stuff in the note can be found almost word-for-word on any political blog, even the moderate ones. It should be interesting to see the responses from across the political spectrum.

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  23. Jolene said on February 18, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    Another endorsement here for Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World. A great read, informative re Haiti and all sorts of global health issues.

    Will likely motivate you to contribute again to Partners in Health, the organization founded by Paul Farmer. Contributions made before March 1 are deductible from 2009 taxes.

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  24. BillB said on February 18, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    Nancy…Please tell me you’re wrong about Warren Z………where did you see that bit?……B

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  25. Peter said on February 18, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    Jeff – TMMO – FINALLY, something the Phelps and I agree on!

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  26. nancy said on February 18, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    It’s in the bio his ex-wife wrote. And it was in the air for a while before he died — WZ and MA co-wrote “Hit Somebody,” which was on one of the later albums.

    The one revelation from the bio is what a starfucker WZ was — he really was drawn to people who were more famous than he was.

    As for MA, my feelings about him tipped into loathing after WZ died, and he wrote a column so ghastly it left me goggle-eyed, although it’s since been repeated. It’s all about how much the deceased loved and appreciated Mitch. Appalling.

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  27. Jolene said on February 18, 2010 at 3:34 pm

    Also on the theme of learning about places where we are lucky not to have been born, there is tonight’s HBO documentary Reporter, reviewed by the inimitable* Hank Stuever in today’s WaPo.

    *Fond as I am of Hank’s writing, “scintillating” is misused here. The unusual use of the word as a verb calls attention to itself, which is not necessarily bad, but it actually has a meaning (to throw off sparks (v. int.) or to cause to throw off sparks (v. tr.)) that differs from what Hank is trying to convey. Just a minor rant re the increasing number of copyediting problems I see in the Post, one of the many ways in which cutbacks at newspapers are causing the world to go to hell. Earlier today, the Post web site had a subhead on an article about the stimulus that said, “Administration acknowledges initial program of spending, tax breaks has not eased joblessness.” Seems to me that’s exactly the opposite of what the administration has been arguing, i.e., that the stimulus has eased, but definitely not ended joblessness.

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  28. moe99 said on February 18, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    Why is CNN trying to say that the plane crasher was not a terrorist? What he did was a terrorist act just as much as what the bombers did to the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma. He may not have been a member of any group that espoused the destruction of the US govt. but his letter is an encitement to do just that. I wonder if he will be canonized in the coming days by certain right wing groups…..

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  29. Kirk said on February 18, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    It’s always a shame when someone changes from a writer/reporter/journalist into a self-absorbed dipshit “celebrity,” and Albom qualifies. But a long, long time ago(probably the ’80s), he covered the Iditarod and it was great stuff. More’s the pity.

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  30. Kirk said on February 18, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    Dorothy at 7: She sounds like someone we’d like on our desk.

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  31. alice said on February 18, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    If you’re traveling south this year, remember to pack doubloons.

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  32. Jolene said on February 18, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    In contrast to Albom’s propensity to make himself the subject (and to compensate for my whacks ar the Post), I liked this WaPo article by Manuel Roig-Franzia (AKA the other guy in the Henry Allen newsroom fistfight). Lots of detail re how people who had to scrape to get through the day before the earthquake are applying the same skills to living now presented in a voice that is neither pitying nor condescending by a reporter who is close to, but not in, the story.

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  33. Sue said on February 18, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    Moe, they’re saying it’s not a terrorist act because the White House and the mayor have been very careful to state it, over and over. Not sure why the mayor is saying that, but I’m assuming the White House is doing it preemptively to shut Dick Cheney up.

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  34. LAMary said on February 18, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    That Mitch column was awful.

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  35. moe99 said on February 18, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    Sue, I am sure that the Obama administration does not want it called a terrorist act because of their fear that the Repubs will be screaming, “It happened on his watch!” This fear that drive this administration is crazy making.

    Just call it for what it is–a terrorist act–then look at the anti government rhetoric that this nutcase and the tea baggers are spouting, make the connections and a conclusion strong enough to drive a stake through the heart of the movement. But no……

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  36. mark said on February 18, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    That’s a lot of wishful thinking on your part, moe. As you say, he was a nutcase, and apparently in your camp in his thinking about our health care system, the performance of Bush 43, the claimed stupidity of the American public and the virtues of capitalism.

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  37. moe99 said on February 18, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    Funny mark, I don’t recall my “camp” exhorting its members to violence against the government. That tends to come from the tea bagging side far as I know.

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  38. mark said on February 18, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    No, moe, that doesn’t come from either camp. A few nuts here and there, perhaps, but otherwise more wishful thinking. I only skimmed the rantings you linked to, but i didn’t see much exhortation to violence or claimed membership in anything.

    Foolish to label him a terrorist unless you want to deprive the term of any meaning.

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  39. nancy said on February 18, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    I’d be very happy if we could wait until we have more facts before assigning Mr. Stack to one camp or another. He sounds like he is first, angry; second, crazy; and third, one of those guys who would call my radio show and declare every politician of every part “just a whore, and I wouldn’t vote for any of ’em.”

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  40. Rana said on February 18, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    Alice – I read that earlier, after a week of preparing a lecture on the Populists, and it made me laugh. People have been drawing parallels between now and the 1890s, and here we have some guys wanting to unearth bimetallism! What’s next – a bustle revival?

    (Oh, wait. That’s already happened, in the form of steampunk.)

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  41. Dexter said on February 18, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    This sort of ties into what Nance said about Chicago being a thriving city, compared to Detroit, I supposed.
    The Detroit Tigers made an offer to old outfielder Johnny Damon, who the Yankees discarded, and it was being bandied about that Damon was on the verge of signing a free agent contract. It didn’t happen, and Damon went to Chicago to try and get a contract, because “his wife didn’t like Detroit.”

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  42. moe99 said on February 18, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    It doesn’t really matter if Mr. Stack is id’d as a left leaning or right leaning crazy. Flying your airplane into an occupied government building is an act of terrorism. Particularly for the inhabitants of the building but it has ripple effects for all government workers.

    This balloon juice post and commentary sets it out far better than I can.

    ps: as does Dave Niewert, who has been covering this sort of thing in the media for a long long time:

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  43. jcburns said on February 18, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    So let me get this straight, Nance. You want us to “wait” until we have “more facts” before we pass judgement on the late Mr. Stack. How is that even possible!? I have tweets and comments to get out! Now!! What are these “more facts” of which you speak? Next thing you know you’ll want us to mull them over…ponder, even. To quote that Channel 15 Fort Wayne anchor: “Once again Nancy, you’ve made us think. [damn you.]

    [edit: I notice that Joseph Andrew Stack has been deemed an official nut-case American assassin or terrorist—his name has been upgraded everywhere I’m reading to All Three Names in every reference. Joseph. Andrew. Stack. And when you’re All Three Names every time you’re mentioned, you know he’s an OANCOT.]

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  44. coozledad said on February 18, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    Regardless of which camp he’s in (anarchic bugfuck engineers unite!), to admit he’s a terrorist would also blow the doors off the whole racial profiling thing.
    His letter clearly states his intention was to upset the board and fuck with the game.Insane, but the objectives are the same as the 9/11 dick swingers and McVeigh.
    If being insane disqualifies you for terrorism, that’s going to be a real turd in the punchbowl for Al Quaeda. They’re going to have to draw up some new SOPs.

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  45. alex said on February 18, 2010 at 6:19 pm

    mark, I’m sure he was one of yours. Only an unexamined life is one not worth living.

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  46. Harrison said on February 18, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    I’ll give Albom credit for this one thing: He, at the least, writes complete sentences.

    Bob Kravitz, sports columnist for the Indy Star, often uses sentence fragments. I let it drive me crazy because I like to see prose that isn’t dialogue written in complete sentences. It shows some sense of literacy.

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  47. James Moehrke said on February 18, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    And here I always thought that “terrorism” was meant to induce terror. What, am I supposed to be afraid to be in a building with Federal offices in it because some angry person might do me harm there? No, thank you, I think this was just an angry, frustrated person, someone who chose a very public way to express his feeling about perceived wrongs done him.

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  48. coozledad said on February 18, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    My wife was wondering if Stack had already filed his taxes. Guess he wasn’t expecting much of a refund.

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  49. Kirk said on February 18, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    Hooray for complete sentences. I’d never want to outlaw incomplete sentences; they do have their place and can be effective. Way too many writers, though, seem to think that writing in fragments is somehow “cool,” and overdo it. I fear that too many of them might not be able to recognize the difference between sentences and fragments.

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  50. Suem said on February 18, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    I lived on the Dominican Republic/Haitian border from 1982 until 1986. I was a peace corp volunteer. That was 25 years ago. If Mitch Albom’s writing opens one person’s eyes to the reality of a third world country; it’s worth the it.

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  51. brian stouder said on February 18, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    And here I always thought that “ter­ror­ism” was meant to induce ter­ror. What, am I sup­posed to be afraid to be in a build­ing with Fed­eral offices in it because some angry per­son might do me harm there?

    Well, James, let’s grant that this guy was a nut. Nonetheless, gasing up an aircraft and then taking off on a week-day morning and intentionally crashing into an office building is terrorism, pure and simple.

    Otherwise, on Septmeber 11, 2001, when terrorists flew planes into the two tallest office buildings in America -by your rule, James, that wasn’t terrorism either; because – what? am I supposed to be afraid when I go into a skyscraper, since some angry people might do me harm there?

    Dorothy – I loved the excerpt you shared, of your daughter’s growing journalistic capabilities and accomplishments. Her continued success must be a source of great pride and comfort for you. (clearly, having a great mom is a big leg-up in this world!)

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  52. brian stouder said on February 19, 2010 at 12:20 am

    Here’s a non-sequitur. The University of Saint Francis is just down the block from where we live, and occasionally they have one of their professors deliver a free public lecture. I figure – if the university is offering free samples of higher education, I’ll just partake.

    This evening, Dr David Fleischacker (who reminds me of the fellow who starred in the tv show Northern Exposure) presented a very engaging talk with a fairly heavily laden subject: Creation and Revelation and whether there is anything real or true or knowable about God. He began with an overview of several thinkers and philosophers, and their view of reality – including Friedrich Nietzsche, Renee Descartes, John Henry Cardinal Newman, (especially) Bernard Lonergan, and others.

    If they gave a quiz right after that, I’d have gotten maybe a 75 or so; lots of ethereal concepts were hilighted and compared and contrasted to others…

    and then the lecture shifted from Revelation to Creation, and was all the more interesting. The word “Certitude” (indeed – ontological certitude!) came up quite often, although it seemed to me that one of God’s main rules of the universe is – you gotta have faith. (forgive the mostly unintentional Albomism)

    Afterall (it seems to me), at the smallest and most elemental base of creation that humanity can detect – quantum physics and sub-atomic particles – we find…randomness! And the joke is, one canNOT (with certitude) even define what “randomness” is, since if you can precisely define it, then (by definition) it’s NOT random! It seems to me that God always does that; you wanna believe? Great! You wanna argue? We left room.

    We digress though; Dr Fleischacker’s talk didn’t make that point, but instead that using various models of rational thought and reason, the certain truth of the existence of God will assert itself to the seeking human heart.

    All in all, an interesting night out, despite the absence of the promised “light refreshments”. Good lectures are refreshing enough, in any case

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  53. Dexter said on February 19, 2010 at 1:33 am

    Stack’s life-components read like Mark David Chapman’s : resentful, desperate to a degree, mad in every way, and in the end, writing notes to the public expressing exactly why what he was going to do was going to go down.
    Chapman felt he was in a play that had to end as he planned it, the die was cast, it was on.
    Stack was so horribly upset at losing his pension money he was driven by his overboard emotions and hatred to plan and act accordingly. Military defense jets were scrambled after the crash into the IRS office…did they have intel regarding a full-blown attack on Austin?
    Stack was a terrorist.
    But not to worry, citizens of Austin, you’re in good hands.
    “The main thing I want to put out there is that this is an isolated incident here; there is no cause for alarm,” said the Austin police chief, Art Acevedo, in a televised news conference at midday. Asked how he could be sure, Mr. Acevedo said, “You have to take my word at it, don’t you?”

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  54. moe99 said on February 19, 2010 at 9:31 am

    I can tell you, James, as a former federal worker and a current state employee that I and my co workers find this sort of behavior by Stack and McVeigh and others (there was an aborted attempt to bomb the Austin IRS building a number of years ago) to be quite terrifying to us. When they built the new federal building in Seattle, they added all sorts of extra anti bomb features as precautions. Using your line of thinking, that was a waste of money.

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  55. coozledad said on February 19, 2010 at 10:13 am

    moe: You would have thought the right would have gone with “b-but he’s a kooky communist” but in their hesitation to alienate bitter engineers and batshit folks in general, they have to establish a penumbra of ‘not terror’ for their natural constituencies, including the legion of suckers who get taken by the “learn how to avoid paying taxes to the gubbmint for $2500.00” scam.
    Now they’ve hung their male model and master of ancient mind emptying techniques Scotty Brown out to describe the act as a natural outgrowth of frustration with Washington. I guess we can stop hearing about Bill Ayers now.

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  56. Jeff Borden said on February 19, 2010 at 10:42 am

    The radio advertisements played in Chicago for Texas tourism say the state is “like a whole ‘nother country.” Apparently, this is truer than true. Check out this story — and remember that the Texas State School Board wields enormous influence over what textbooks are purchased:

    Nearly a third of Texans believe humans and dinosaurs roamed the earth at the same time, and more than half disagree with the theory that humans developed from earlier species of animals, according to the University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

    The differences in beliefs about evolution and the length of time that living things have existed on earth are reflected in the political and religious preference of our respondents, who were asked four questions about biological history and God:

    • 38 percent said human beings developed over millions of years with God guiding the process and another 12 percent said that development happened without God having any part of the process. Another 38 percent agreed with the statement “God created human beings pretty much in their present form about 10,000 years ago.”

    • Asked about the origin and development of life on earth without injecting humans into the discussion, and 53 percent said it evolved over time, “with a guiding hand from God.” They were joined by 15 percent who agreed on the evolution part, but “with no guidance from God.” About a fifth — 22 percent — said life has existed in its present form since the beginning of time.

    • Most of the Texans in the survey — 51 percent — disagree with the statement, “human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.” Thirty-five percent agreed with that statement, and 15 percent said they don’t know.

    • Did humans live at the same time as the dinosaurs? Three in ten Texas voters agree with that statement; 41 percent disagree, and 30 percent don’t know.

    The questions were devised by David Prindle, a University of Texas government professor who authored a book called Stephen Jay Gould and the Politics of Evolution, about the late evolutionary biologist. “The end in mind … is to establish the relationships, not just to get raw public opinion,” he says. “We can do some fancy statistical stuff. … Is it religion driving politics or is politics driving religion? My hypothesis is that religious views drive politics.”

    The most common religious denominations in the survey were Catholic and Baptist, with 20 percent each, followed by nondenominational Christians, at 10 percent, and Methodists, at 6 percent. Eight percent chose “spiritual but not religious,” and 7 percent chose “other.” Only 6 percent identified themselves as atheist or agnostic. An overwhelming majority said their religious beliefs were extremely important (52 percent) or somewhat important (30 percent). Only 35 percent go to church once a week or more; 52 percent said they go once or twice a year (29 percent) or never (23 percent).

    Church attendance isn’t much different among Republicans and Democrats in the poll, though Republicans who do go to church say they go more often. More than half of the Democrats — 51 percent — go to church “never” or “once or twice a year.” That’s true of 45 percent of the Republicans in the poll. Forty-two percent of Republicans say they attend church at least once a week, compared to 35 percent of Democrats.

    Democrats (28 percent) are less likely than Republicans (47 percent) to think that humans have always existed in their present form and more likely (21 percent to 7 percent) to think humans have developed over millions of years without God’s guidance. About the same percentages of Democrats and Republicans (40 and 36 percent, respectively) believe that evolution took place over time with God’s guidance. Democrat Bill White’s voters were the most likely to believe in evolution without a divine hand (33 percent); on the Republican side, by comparison, only 6 percent of Rick Perry’s supporters were in that category.

    Has life on earth always existed in its present form? Republicans are more likely to agree (29 percent) than Democrats (16 percent). They’re less likely to believe that life evolved over time with no guidance from God (8 percent to 24 percent). Democrats are slightly less inclined to believe in evolution with a “guiding hand from God” (50 percent to 55 percent).

    Republicans are less likely to believe that humans developed from earlier species of animals; 26 percent agree, while 60 percent disagree. Among Democrats in the survey, 46 percent agree that humans evolved from earlier species; 42 percent disagree. Perry’s voters were most hostile to this premise — 67 percent disagree.

    About the same numbers of Democrats and Republicans — 43 percent — disagree with the idea that dinosaurs and humans lived on the planet at the same time. Republicans were slightly more likely to agree with the idea (31 percent to 27 percent). Perry had more voters in each group on the GOP side, but Kay Bailey Hutchison had the largest share of voters who believe in that coexistence.

    Prindle says the results recall a line from comedian Lewis Black. “He did a standup routine a few years back in which he said that a significant proportion of the American people think that the ‘The Flintstones’ is a documentary,” Prindle says. “Turns out he was right. Thirty percent of Texans agree that humans and dinosaurs lived on the earth at the same time.”

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  57. Jolene said on February 19, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    Jeff, did you see this NYT article re the role of the Texas State Board of Education in the development of textbooks? Really scary.

    I wonder whether people in other countries struggle w/ these issues over science, history, religion, and what should be in the schoolbooks? I haven’t read about such struggles, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

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  58. brian stouder said on February 21, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    Jolene, I think the Japanese have had a struggle with their 1930’s (and forward) history.

    One supposes that theocracies (such as Iran) would also have issues over history and religion. The again – in a country like Pakistan the question might be who funds madrassas – government? Islamic organizations? Is this a distinction without a difference?

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