Category: Media

That Time Mobile, AL Made The Front Page of the New York Times

Posted by – November 13, 2013

And how The Times missed the story

It’s not exactly surprising that the New York Times missed the story: their writers too often cling to conventional wisdom like a drunk grabbing a lamppost, not for illumination as much as desperately-needed support.  Don’t get me wrong, the Times sometimes has great coverage and is valuable as one of the few newspapers doing fact-checked, traditional journalism, and one of the last old-guard newspapers still standing, but their coverage of the American South is consistently abysmal. It’s nearly as clueless as their coverage of disability issues.  When it comes to the South, the NYT writers are like most New Yorkers, they hear “Alabama” and can picture only the cornfield backdrop on that show Hee-haw!  The problem is, despite the reality being more crawdad than cornfield, more riveria than rural, you can get through this front page report on Alabama’s First Congressional district primary run-off with the image of the rural cornfields unperturbed.

The front page story, well, it was actually a prominent front page blurb in Wednesday, November 6th—print, web, and app—New York editions then continued inside (or on page A17) with the headline: Byrne Wins Republican Runoff in Alabama House Race, was seen nearly 100% through the DC pundits’ lens:

… But the race to replace Mr. Bonner became a national proxy fight between the ideological wings of the Republican Party after Mr. Byrne and Mr. Young emerged atop a nine-candidate field in a September primary.

Dean Young, the Tea Party challenger, did see the race as an epic struggle: his defiant election night “concession speech” ominously referred to his loss as “the first warning shot that goes out across the nation,” and the beginning of his national movement. Byrne, to his credit, tried to explain to the media.that the race was actually about representing Mobile Bay area interests in the House.  This is why he won. (I’d say Jo Bonner won too, abruptly retiring a few weeks before the tsunami of filth from the shameful government shutdown hit)

City of Mobile’s stunning waterfront, backed by blood oranges and cinnamon-sunset. Tip of the hat to Ronald Cook for sharing this beautiful cityscape, originally captured by photographer Tim Ard.

The New York Times missed the story because they missed Mobile.  After the dateline, MOBILE, Ala—pronounced MoBEAL, my hometown—they don’t mention the city again and don’t interview anyone in the city, though Mobilians are the bulk of the voters in the First district, and thus decide the election.  At minimum, The Times has deprived readers of the context that explains why Bryne won: Mobile.

Bradley Byrne didn’t win because voters sided with the “Republican establishment” vs. the Tea Party, as The Times suggested.  Byrne won because he’s more like his predecessors, Jo Bonner and Sonny Callahan, who were laser-focused on getting federal earmarks, grants, and infrastructure projects for the city and the area economy, and made “bringing home the bacon,” not ideological warfare, job 1.  Dean Young might have won in a purely rural district with his pledges to “be just like Ted Cruz,” but far-right crusaders will never get much traction in districts like the First, where an urban population center supplies much of the vote… in this case, Mobile is also a port city trying to compete with similarly-sized ports (like Charleston) and needs the pipe of infrastructure funding open and flowing in order to have a chance.

You see, the true story of Mobile and the Mobile Bay area is infinitely more layered, diverse, and beautiful than the stereotypes or The Times’ one line descriptor “the deeply conservative district.”  The city of Mobile is over 300 years old: it’s called “the city under six flags” because of its rich history

Seal of the city of Mobile

of being under France, Spain, Britain, Republic of West Florida (nominally), United States, and the Confederacy. These flags are on the city seal, including the bonnie blue flag of the Republic of West Florida, a 90 day secession in 1810…  though Mobile remained de facto under Spanish colonial rule, this Republic also included Pensacola and Baton Rouge.  The secession was crushed and all the territory therein forcibly incorporated into the U.S. by Andrew Jackson’s troops during the Madison administration.

Mobilians’ historical and socio-economic background, the collective subconscious, draws more on the statist-war economy under the Confederacy and the mercantilism of the French, Spanish, and British periods—I’ll write a post on Mobile and mercantilism—than the free market American image.  European colonies like Mobile and New Orleans didn’t really ever have the “wild west capitalism” or “free enterprise system” that politicians often say that they want to get back to, it never happened.  Whether you are Republican or Democrat in Mobile—and the word “Democrat” means something different in the Alabama context where the history includes George Wallace-style Democrats—you’re not automatically against state intervention, especially when it means some “bacon” for the local economy.

With the Democratic win in the recent Virginia gubernatorial election November 5th, some have said that Virginia’s election must’ve been rigged or unfair somehow because Cuccinelli won more counties, and the electoral-result map shows Virginia as a sea of red with a few islands of blue.  Dave Weigel blogged about this, renewing discussion of islands of blue where the urban population centers—and decisive voting blocs—are, and electoral maps.  Since, the blogosphere has lit up with discussions of the best electoral maps and cartograms.  Political science professor John Sides posted an excellent compilation of some of the best cartograms that have been created in recent days on his blog The Monkey Cage: the map that most accurately reflects Mobile and American voters as a whole is this one by Chris Howard, which corrects for population using relative darkness/lightness of the blue and red and purple.  In it, Mobile county is purple.

It’s unfortunate that The Times substituted the canned, pre-determined “Republican establishment vs. the Tea Party” narrative for the truth that it’s a purple district where the more moderate, bacon-bringing candidate has a natural advantage, and all politics are local.  They mangle the story, not from falsehoods, but from missing the point.  I understand the limited space in newspapers, but a few lines of context would have made all the difference.

Mobile city was part of New France… in the discussion of the 11 nations or political cultures that rub up against each other in North America being frequently blogged about too recently, Mobile should be categorized with “New France.”  The real Mobile is lost in the shuffle, kind of how the redistricting loses the city…

Alabama’s First Congressional district, the two coastal counties and four inland, rural counties

As you see in the map of the First Congressional district, they’ve included the hinterland counties to create a balance of rural and urban voters. Balanced districts like these are rare. And maybe they shouldn’t exist: so many rural areas are included here, the Mobilians are nearly canceled out.  Back when the Democrats held Montgomery—in the late ’90s and mid ’00s—there was discussion of drawing a new Mobile-only Congressional district.  This could have meant real representation for Mobile and Mobilians’ urban interests, a constituency that is 51% black and heavily Catholic, a very different person sent to Congress, and some misconceptions about coastal Alabama shattered in Washington.  We should remember this when discussing redistricting.

The one time my hometown makes The New York Times, and not for hurricane destruction, they gotta mangle it.  Dang it….


What Right-wing Radio Reveals About the Shutdown Fiasco and the Republican Party

Posted by – October 27, 2013

Learning about views you disagree with

iTunes gives you the ability to tune in to pretty much any radio station across the country, so during the government shutdown I listened in to the right-wing echo chamber that is talk radio, trying to understand what’s going on, what’s driving the Tea Partier rage. Very few activists listen and try to grok the “other side of the aisle,” as we increasingly customize our information diet. The future of the Information Age in general and the news/current events commentary media world in particular tends to limit information instead of broadening it, as we ghettoize ourselves in front of voices we agree with, whether that’s TV and radio—plenty of folks in my hometown of Mobile, AL find themselves going from Fox News on public or office TVs to right-wing talk radio in the car to Fox News at home—or the web, which can give you only the sites that echo your worldview, which could mean you only visit certain sites or have content delivered from your self-curated, self-segregated RSS reader. It’s never been easier to retreat into intellectual ghettos, even limiting our news to only the stories that our party or faction or regional subfaction cares about. This is bad in so many ways. It shelters us from potentially important news. Worse, it disconnects us from the grievances and concerns of half or over-half of our countrymen; I would go so far as to call that dangerous.

So…it’s unusual but I listened and tried to understand what’s driving the right-wing activists push for the federal government shutdown.  I vehemently oppose so much of what these guys spout, the overheated rhetoric and the false premises, but I want to be fair here.  I honestly think much of the rage expressed by the Tea Partiers is either directly springing from legitimate grievances or legitimate anger that’s been misdirected (e.g. people who’re saying essentially “in the 80s-90s neoliberals/neocons offshored the jobs previously available to rural whites like me, everyone I know is marginalized in a post-industrial hellscape and without economic hope, but all the problems are *because Obama*“).

So it was October 14th, the Monday before the nation was due to default on the 17th, and what were the activist talk radio guys saying?  Tuning to WABC Radio NY/NJ, Sean Hannity was expressing disappointment that the Republican leadership is going “to cave” to the Obama and open the government.  None of the talk radio guys were enthusiastic supporters of the Republican leadership (Boehner, McConnell, et al) and the members of Congress that seemed radical in the ’90s “Republican Revolution” are increasingly marginalized as too soft, as “the establishment” that needs to be pushed or overthrown entirely by Republican Revolution II, though the different radio hosts each have very different approaches to the developing political ecosystem.  After Hannity on WABC is The Mark Levin Show, and Levin is very different; he’s one of the most extreme anti-federalists out there, believing that anything not among the enumerated powers in the United States Constitution is out of bounds for the U.S. government.  Given this “strict constructionist” view of the Constitution, the states should control nearly all domestic policy, regulations and services and most of the things that the federal government does at present are unconstitutional and illegitimate.  Mark Levin is a really angry guy, and though his ideology would logically put most Republicans and Republican federal policies beyond the pale as well, his wrath is mostly reserved for the Democrats, and there’s definitely a lot of running-up the partisan scoreboard on his show.  The messages given by each of these hosts is surprisingly different.

"Rage radio," political cartoon, painted by Nick Dupree, October 24th, 2013

“Rage radio,” political cartoon, painted by Nick Dupree, October 24th, 2013

There’s scant unanimity among the right-leaning hosts in general, but they were unanimous that hitting the debt ceiling that following Thursday isn’t so bad.  Sean Hannity said that there are more days before default than advertised by the “scare tactics” allegedly put forward by the administration.  Tuning to NewsRadio KLBJ Austin, Glenn Beck was saying that the worst thing that could happen if we hit the debt ceiling is a cut in runaway entitlement spending, an unambiguous positive in his mind, underpinned by the unspoken assumption we’d keep paying foreign creditors while stiffing pensioners.  Really disturbing to hear such unanimity on being outside of financial reality, up is down and defaulting on your debts somehow “fiscally conservative.”  But note the huge gap between what Hannity was saying “few extra days” before default and what Beck and Levin are saying, “default is good.”

Levin and Beck also are really different from Hannity on the future of the Republican Party too.  While Hannity is exasperated with the GOP leadership and wants to push them, I get the sense the furthest he’d go is elect Ted Cruz-types everywhere, whereas Glenn Beck wants to replace the GOP.  Beck said that the GOP is “over,” to be taken over or displaced because of its corruption and willingness “to cave” on Obamacare and the deficit, replaced like the Whig Party was replaced by the Republican Party in the 1850s.  Beck tends to take you down this rabbit hole of elaborate historical exegesis, an alternate history of the 20th century that casts Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson as villainous “progressives” that ruined the United States.  Both parties are too “progressive,” the Republicans are “progressive lite,” he says, and because of this, he predicts we’re on the verge of our political system being wiped out and America being “reborn” in some sort of financial and/or ACTUAL armageddon, which maybe will include a cleaning out of the immoral; a great purging via apocalyptic violence is certainly hinted at occasionally.  Beck and Levin both emphasize the illegitimacy of our national system and the need for state, local and hyper-local leadership and organizing—and stockpiling food and ammo in your fortified bunker—but Beck actually flames the Republican leadership.  If John Boehner is mentioned at all on The Glenn Beck Program, it’s to call him “awful” or “orange and crusty.”

What I’ve Learned

So, what are the pertinent lessons to take away?

1) I wasn’t entirely correct when, in a previous blog post, I described the House GOP members behind the government shutdown as “regressed from comparably responsible businessman-types to incoherent lunatics so rage-inebriated that they’re about one notch above tantrum-ing toddlers scribbling ‘WHO IS JOHN GALT’ in their own feces on the walls of the Capitol rotunda.”   The current crop of Congress-critters don’t command much respect to be sure, the toddler-esque aspect and the “rage inebriation” certainly is present, but I’ve learned they’re not unhinged ideologues, they’re businessman-types pretending to be unhinged ideologues in order to CYA and look out for #1.  They definitely are convinced they’ll lose their jobs and possibly get pulled down into the political “dustbin of history” with a GOP collapse if they vote for a hike in the debt ceiling.  All these guys, even House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, want immunity from primary challenges, so can’t leave themselves open to accusations they capitulated on the debt ceiling and long-term “deficit catastrophe.” This explains why Cantor supports the shutdown even though it has meant furloughing a broad swath of the working age population of his northern Virginia district. House Republicans are trying to stay relevant to the increasingly radical fundraisers and activists that could oust them.  The government shutdown was ultimately a craven attempt to reassure the activist base that elects and reelects Republican candidates “we’re true believers too.”  The House majority wants to cater to the activist base as the activist base increasingly slides into radical, unhinged Ayn Rand-land.  The credit rating of the United States is getting downgraded because certain Congressmen wanted political cover.

2) the Republican party is rapidly changing.  We’ve not seen a party so in flux in my lifetime.


Guys I didn’t think could be more conservative are being branded as RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) and overthrown in primaries across the U.S..  Such flux could bring about unexpected changes, but it’s doubtful that “the establishment” or more moderate elements of the GOP (like consultant Mike Murphy) is going to win out, for the same reason that John Kerry’s talk about “a cadre of hard core moderates” to fight Assad and steal the jihadists’ thunder in Syria is so ridiculous.  Radicals always are more motivated and the deck is stacked in their favor.  In terms of the establishment GOP pushing back at the Tea Party types, what little there is isn’t covered beyond what Tea Partiers would call “the liberal media.”  In talk radio land, the activist base has monopolized all the megaphones and created a hermetically-sealed echo chamber devoid of non-Tea Party Republicans.  If the only Republicans devoted to fighting back against the Tea Partiers are like Murphy, who doesn’t really engage the underpinning economic pain behind the arguments or offer much substance aside from “shooing away tomorrow’s voters to pander to yesterday’s,” the far-right has already won.

“Teapublican Party” logo

Conclusion: in the most probable scenario, the GOP is all-but-completely transformed into the “Teapublican Party” prior to the key midterm primary elections in 6-9 months and the general elections to seat the 114th Congress in 12 months.  But after the far-right is running the show unopposed, we don’t yet know which direction the party will go or which faction will dominate.

3) Rage radio is symptomatic of real anger, real grievances that spring from a legitimate place, and so I do try to be fair.  Glenn Beck is saying stuff like “don’t let them tell you America is over,” that we will be reborn, that you can still find a place to thrive.  He’s wrong in so many ways but at least he’s responding to the post-industrial agony out there.  When I tuned in last Friday night, Beck was talking about getting suicide emails, men who have lost a job, a home, a wife, a life.  Hannity is helping people find jobs on the air, in a climate where a good job is something you only get if you win a reality show.

Our political and intellectual leaders shouldn’t be dismissive of the despair and desperation driving Tea Partier rage.  Ignoring the economic marginalization of “flyover country” is going to come back to bite us big time. Already our clueless liberal class—I say this as an activist who’s part of said liberal class—is wondering aloud why the heartland is sending radicals to Congress.  Radicalism is always a byproduct of poverty, whether financial, social, or spiritual poverty, and I’d say the U.S. has all three, in spades.  Why they’re going for far-right radicalism instead of far-left radicalism isn’t clear to me, but it’s possible they end up with some far-left ideas because they hurtle so far right on the weird mobius strip that is the political spectrum that they’ve come ’round the other side.where right blurs into left.  I certainly understand why hatred of the federal government is a prominent part of the movement, as federal economic policies have put sustainable livelihoods—and a chance for a positive male role, to be a provider instead of a “loser on food stamps”—out of reach for millions of Americans.    I don’t fully grasp how that anger ends up channeled into a movement to gut food stamps and other economic assistance, but I think that this has a lot to do with how deep-seated the ethos of bootstraps-individualism and self-reliance is in our psychosocial fabric, especially in the red states, and intensely acculturated in men and the male gender roles Americans yearn to retrieve.  There’s a dilemma on how we bring a program of economic inclusion to great swaths of the country that despise the government; it might require a Republican president.  I worry that another decade without a program of economic inclusion to ratchet down the desperation could lead to a future where our pondering on the left could be “how come this Mussolini with a Texas drawl just disbanded Congress?”

To summarize:

• listening to “the opposition” will give you insights you won’t get elsewhere

• Republican Revolution II is transforming the GOP and the country. The Republican party is in revolutionary flux and we don’t yet know what it will become.  Stay tuned!

• we ignore the desperation and despair in the rust belt and heartland, and resulting crisis in healthy male gender roles, at our own peril.



Masculinity, Southern Gentlemen, and the Strange Story of Alabama’s First U.S. Senator, William Rufus DeVane King

Posted by – May 7, 2013

OR John Kerry Should’ve Grown A Beard: The North-South Manliness Inversion

A Post That Cites Its Sources…with Footnotes!

As I mentioned in the preceding post, the Nick’s Crusade blog is a history blog too. I think delving into history can be very valuable, not just because the strange doglegs and twists in the American story—history NEVER progresses in a straight line—are infinitely interesting, but because we become better thinkers and citizens the more we understand our prologue, the previous generations, the prior struggles, and what we’ve gained and lost since.

One thing we’ve lost—though we have gained from its absence in many ways—is the whole concept of the elite 19th century Southern Gentleman, the image of Southern aristocrats with smooth, un-calloused hands and clean-shaven plump faces, and the brutal slave-driving that made such lifestyles possible.  A lot of insight into that old image can be gleaned from the strange story of William Rufus deVane King of Alabama (my home state).

Art by Nick Dupree: Unlucky 13th Vice president, William Rufus deVane King, served only 45 days before dying of tuberculosis.  Only a few of the 45 days, his last days, were on American soil, as he returned from Cuba via Mobile, then died on his plantation near Selma. He is the only vice president from Alabama ever elected.

Art by Nick Dupree: Unlucky 13th Vice president, William Rufus deVane King, served only 45 days before dying of tuberculosis. Only a few of the 45 days, his last days, were on American soil, as he returned from Cuba via Mobile, then died on his plantation near Selma. He is the only vice president from Alabama ever elected.

William R. D. King—more typically referred to as just “William R. King”—was the first U.S. Senator from Alabama (alongside John Williams Walker, who was also sent to Washington—the state legislature electing two U.S. Senators per constitutional requirements—after Alabama was admitted to the Union in December 1819).  King also played a major role getting Alabama statehood done, and helped write the constitution of Alabama.  He named the city of Selma “Selma” meaning “high seat” or “throne” in the 18th century Ossianic poem The Songs of Selma, was president pro tem of the United States Senate, got into a Hamilton-Burr-style duel with Henry Clay,¹ and served as U.S. Minister to France and had other diplomatic posts in Naples and St. Petersburg.  As president pro tem of the Senate, he was behind the writing and passage of the Compromise of 1850 and more.  What’s odd is, he did all this while being…while being known by the public as super effeminate and flamboyant, and was re-elected again and again by the hardcore states’ righters in Montgomery (prior to the ratification of the 17th amendment in 1913, state legislatures elected U.S. Senators to represent their state).

I won’t say William R. D. King was gay, though it is very striking that, in a culture that almost never mentioned such things, contemporaries like Andrew Jackson publicly called him by derogatory names like “Miss Nancy,” and

Buchanan, 15th President of the United States (1857-1861) was also Minister to the UK (Court of St. James).

Buchanan, 15th President of the United States (1857-1861) was also Minister to the UK (Court of St. James).

powerful Tennessee Dem Aaron Brown (later appointed postmaster general under Buchanan) referred to him as “she” and “Aunt Fancy” and [Buchanan’s] “better half.”²  The Senators King and Buchanan were reported walking arm in arm around Washington, though that was common for men even in James Garfield‘s time 30 years later.  The rumors of King wearing 18th century powdered wigs and stockings long after they’d been abandoned in the 19th century are false,³ but there was definitely a lot of scandalous gossip in D.C. about his clothes and mannerisms.  And it’s well established that King did have a very intimate relationship with future-president James Buchanan, and something must have been unusual enough to’ve drawn derision. Nelson from the Simpsons, famously pointing out someone deserving derision Buchanan was sometimes ridiculed as “Mr. Fancy Pants” or “Granny Buck.”

Still, the serious historian demands a high standard of proof: the text document equivalent of “pics or it didn’t happen.” Though there is more material suggesting King was seen as gay than almost anyone else in the 19th century, it’d be unwise to say King was a homosexual with certainty.  I agree with the James Buchanan entry in glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture that:

In his The Invention of Heterosexuality Jonathan Ned Katz cautions against the application of contemporary terms regarding sexuality to other times and societies in which “[w]ays of ordering the sexes, genders, and sexualities have varied radically.” He further points out that in the “pre-Freudian world [of early-nineteenth-century America], love did not imply eros”–although neither, of course, was an erotic component excluded.⁴

As King’s effeminate manner is evident beyond a shadow of a doubt, I’ll ask a broader—and, I think, more interesting—question, on gender presentation widely-speaking: how is it that such an effeminate public figure got elected by the legislators in rough-and-tumble frontier Alabama?
The answer is, there was nothing odd about William R. D. King amidst the Southern slaver planter aristocracy of his generation. It only seems strange to us, seeing through the lens of the latter half of the 20th century and its mega-strict gender roles.  In the antebellum South, the elite planter could be flamboyant, his body unmarked by any of the wear and tear associated with daily labor, his beardless, cherubic visage and opulent clothing a sign of plantation riches, heralding social status as much as signaling the success—and therefore rightness—of the Old South.  That kind of presentation harkens back to the aristocratic plantation lifestyles of the 17th and 18th century colonies, when it was, if anything, MORE pronounced. The kind of luxurious appearance and elite manner King exemplified was not uncommon among antebellum aristocrats in cotton country, in fact, flaunting your aristocratic bona fides was cool.

The anti-slavery left, the free soil partisans of the north who were organizing into what would soon be called the Republican Party, had picked up on this. By the time Millard Fillmore—a northerner with pro-slavery sympathies—moved into the White House following President Taylor dying of dysentery in 1850, they had a name for his sort: doughfaces, an obvious allusion to the idle, beardless planter aristocracy.
The best explanation of masculinities of the 19th century and the politics of facial hair I’ve found, is in Adam Goodheart’s amazing book 1861:

It was no accident that Northerners who sympathized with slaveholders were called “doughfaces”: in the American context, beards connoted a certain frank and uncompromising authenticity. Nor was it a coincidence that “Honest Abe” began cultivating his famous beard as he prepared to take over the presidency from “Granny Buck.”⁵

Northern free-soilers began presenting themselves as everything opposed to those they framed as the effete, decadent planter class, or as they referred to them, “the slave party.” They cultivated an image marketed as everything opposite the idle, soft-handed, soft-faced rich Southern aristocrats, they were the candidates of rough-hewn common working men with beards! They [the first decades of Republican Party free soil candidates] were one of the Real ‘Merickens who crawled out of mama and into a log cabin, grew up ridin’ a blue ox and drinking hard cider, and as a man split rails with an axe in one hand while reading law with the other. In the case of Abraham Lincoln, this backstory was kind of true, and his 1860 presidential campaign leveraged that to. the. MAX. The Republican National Convention in Chicago that (unexpectedly) nominated Lincoln for president in 1860 was held in a massive, makeshift wooden “wigwam”—Chicago’s fire marshall didn’t get any sleep that week—and the crowd badgered Honest Abe to tell the convention his “clearing the land with an axe” story…again. The Fall campaign was almost singularly about the image of Lincoln “the rail-splitter,” and was used non-stop; I’m sure some folks didn’t even know his name, just knew “rail-splitter.” To focus on the frontiersmen ethos and related manliness, and all the subtle messages within that, while not mentioning free soil doctrine, abolition, or any of the issues currently boiling over was a brilliant stroke of campaigning genius, and stands out in political history.

Adam Goodheart’s 1861: The Civil War Awakening is the best, most quick-to-understand work of social history I’ve read to date, delving into what Americans lives were really like on the eve of the Civil War. It goes into the BIZARRE social arrangements of 1861 Washington, DC, where free blacks owned slaves, and in Goodheart’s descriptions, those slaves were better off than much of DC’s free black population, who were largely stuck below-subsistence-level in squalid shantytowns, and with no “owner” to vouch for them, they were “undocumented” in a way—my term—and had no real rights to move around in public spaces and were subjected to frequent stops and harassment by police. 1861 has a whole chapter on young James Garfield’s doings at the time, and the way passions were channeled into male friendships in his social circle since expressing emotions was quite circumscribed where women were concerned. I’d like to explore that more in another post.

What I discovered by looking back at William R. King vs. early Republican campaigns—and it’s exciting when you figure something out for the first time—is that the North and South have not only undergone a political transformation, there’s been a cultural inversion alongside it. First, the obvious political inversion. Look at the electoral map following Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 presidential run. The liberal “free soil” north is ruby red, Republican. The South, pro-slavery, is the Democratic Party “solid south,” and with the exception of the fracturing of the Democrats behind several Southern candidates in 1860, then a period of Republican military rule and Republican-elections, “Reconstruction,” the solid Democratic south stays together a remarkably long time, from Andrew Jackson to like… John Kennedy’s run in 1960… Kennedy loses significant votes to Nixon in the Deep South, then in 1972 ALL Southern states peel off—a huge change from the results of the ’68 presidential election just four years before, when the solid south voted for the Dem, Humphrey, and the former-Dem-then-Dem-again, George Wallace—and REALLY break in Nixon’s favor, what with his infamous “southern strategy” and a Dem challenger perceived as wimpy. ’72 clinched the end of realignment, sealed the deal. Ever since, the South has been Republican red, with Dixiecrats like Strom Thurmond and ex-Wallace supporters defecting to the GOP in droves and Lincoln’s states up north increasingly leaning Democratic; it’s a total inversion!

What I’ve realized is, it’s also a North-South inversion of the culture of masculinity. In short, northerners are framed as effete, wimpy, decadent, out-of-touch elites today, similar to the way northerners caricatured southerners in the first decades of Whig and Republican campaigns (1840-1870ish). Now, it’s southerners that seem to treasure uber-rigid common man masculinity, and William Rufus deVane King couldn’t get elected dog catcher in today’s Alabama; despite his great wealth, I doubt he could find a place in Alabama public life due to his…different gender presentation. Southerners of today expect a working man to run for office, someone manly and “like us,” the opposite of William R. King. Thomas Frank explored today’s Republican “backlash” against “elites” in his book What’s The Matter With Kansas. This “backlash” is far more determinative than people realize, and deserves much more examination.

John Kerry got the brunt of this backlash in the 2004 campaign, with Karl Rove using the words “effete, elite Massachusetts liberal!” every day. Kerry got Buchanan’ed! Today’s Republicans are as aware of Americans’ deep-seated resentment of “the idle rich” as their northern founders were!
John Kennedy did a modern version of the “Hard Cider Campaign” in 1960; you could call it the “high-ball glass and scotch campaign.” It worked. The “effete, elite Massachusetts liberal!” line was certainly attempted against Kennedy, but for the most part it failed to stick, and he won a majority of working class voters and held the bulk of the South. Kerry failed…failed BADLY to counter the “effete, wimpy, decadent, out-of-touch” frame employed against him. Maybe John Kerry should’ve tried some form of the Kennedy strategy. Maybe he should have gone full Abe, grown a beard and had the press film him chopping firewood.

What he tried instead, photos and videos of him “huntin” backfired terribly, making him look even more phony and out of touch.

Cartoon by Nick: 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, huntin...he says "I too enjoy leisure time practicing as a huntist!"

Cartoon by Nick: 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, huntin…he says “I too enjoy leisure time practicing as a huntist!”

Unfortunately, image matters and always has mattered in American politics. Today, it matters disproportionately, and 21st century Democratic candidates like John Kerry have been awful at it. He was completely unable to fight back against the opponent’s framing him as an elite, decadent aristocrat, just as King and Buchanan and other antebellum southern gentlemen were caricatured.

Southern politics and southern masculinity has shifted dramatically, and I wonder if we haven’t lost something important. I wonder if becoming much more rigid in gender expectations isn’t narrowing what’s possible in political life, excluding not just potential 21st century William Rufus Kings, but ANYONE who doesn’t look like a square, iron-jawed working man. We’ve narrowed potential in public life, and I think that’s always bad.



1. Clay “believed the Globe to be an infamous paper, and its chief editor an infamous man.” King responded that Blair’s character would “compare gloriously” to that of Clay. The Kentucky senator jumped to his feet and shouted, “That is false, it is a slanderous base and cowardly declaration and the senator knows it to be so.” King answered ominously, “Mr. President, I have no reply to make—none whatever. But Mr. Clay deserves a response.” King then wrote out a challenge to a duel and had another senator deliver it to Clay, who belatedly realized what trouble his hasty words had unleashed. As Clay and King selected seconds and prepared for the imminent encounter, the Senate sergeant at arms arrested both men and turned them over to a civil authority. Clay posted a five-thousand-dollar bond as assurance that he would keep the peace, “and particularly towards William R. King.” Each wanted the matter behind him, but King insisted on “an unequivocal apology.” On March 14, 1841, Clay apologized…
Senate Historical Office. “William Rufus King, 13th Vice President (1853).” (accessed May 6, 2013).
2. p. 189: Hernandez, David. Broken Face in the Mirror: Crooks and Fallen Stars That Look Very Much Like Us. Dorrance Publishing, 2010. (accessed May 6, 2013).
3. “Vice President King is sometimes confused with [signer of the Constitution in 1787 and Federalist presidential candidate] Senator Rufus King of New York. This confusion with the first King explains the rumors that persist to this day of the latter King’s wearing of ribbons, scarves and powdered wigs long after they were in fashion. Vice President King always wore the contemporary styles of the early-to-mid-1800s and he never wore a wig.” pp 13-14: Stern, Milton. Harriet Lane, America’s First Lady. 2005. (accessed May 7, 2013).
4. Rapp, Linda. glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture. Chicago, IL: glbtq, Inc., 2004.,2.html (accessed May 6, 2013).
5. p. 113: Goodheart, Adam. 1861: The Civil War Awakening. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 2011.

Tom Wolfe Talks Memoir: “the worst form of fiction”

Posted by – February 10, 2013

I’m writing a memoir now, well, memoir/serious nonfiction/exposé, finally the Nick’s Crusade book, so I was interested in Tom Wolfe’s (brief) comments on Memoir. He quotes Orwell “memoir is the worst form of fiction” because you focus on the sensational, not the mundane and humiliating that makes up 75% of life (then he goes into one of his humiliations, which makes no sense to me, but whatevs).

Don’t worry dear reader, my book will be chock-full of fails and humiliations. I don’t leave out 3/4 of life; without the humiliation, it’s not very interesting.


Heroes Without Glory: Some Good Men of the Old West—Nick explores a dusty, old-fashioned book of social history

Posted by – April 9, 2012

This is the first in a series of book and article reviews I’ll write, taking you through the stacks and exploring old and not so old books about humanity’s story (history). In this case, I’m exploring a fairly rare social history from 1965, probably not something you’d find on the shelves of your local public library or Barnes & Noble. If you like this review, leave a comment below 🙂

Heroes Without Glory: Some Good Men of the Old WestHeroes Without Glory: Some Good Men of the Old West by Jack Schaefer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s seldom that a historical writer captures both the close up, the individual stories, attitudes and essence of the people who contributed to an era, and the wide-view, what the society was like, simultaneously. But by telling the stories of how a diverse cross-section of men contributed to Western settlement, Jack Schaefer did just that with Heroes Without Glory: Some Good Men of the Old West. Schaefer offers detailed portraits of the good men that made building communities in the unforgiving wilds of the territories possible; as Louis L’Amour once wrote—and I’m paraphrasing from memory—”this was a big country and needed big men and women to fill it, big of spirit, big of heart” and it’s these “big” goodmen that Schaefer focuses on. The goodmen, instead of oft-discussed badmen, desperadoes like Billy the Kid, Black Bart, Jesse James and the Younger Gang, Butch Cassidy and “The Wild Bunch” gang and the whole rogues gallery of Western history, who were evidently the subject of frenzied interest at the time of this book’s first publication (1965). In the preface, Schaefer places himself squarely against what he dubs “the cult of the badman,” denouncing the “cultists” for capitalizing on the morbid interest in the “badmen,” who he says impeded growth out West, tearing down and attacking civilization.

This is a book about the goodmen who built the West, a book of lengthy, in-depth biographies of the unheralded pioneer mailmen, explorers, doctors, cowboys, etc. who made the territories livable. Schaefer is clearly drawn to men of extreme patience and fortitude, men of action, not of words. Thus he spends time profiling men like the nearly non-verbal John “Snowshoe” Thompson, a self-described “slow, simple Norski” who used Norwegian snowshoes and techniques to deliver the first mail and supplies (including life-saving medicines) from Nevada to California over the treacherous pass in the Sierra Nevadas. And man of few words and many cows, John Chisum, one of the first cattle barons. He begins the book with eccentric trapper James Capen Adams (“Grizzly” Adams) who spent almost all his life wordlessly among his favorite grizzly bears, in nature. This book made me think about how the Old West ethos, with its focus on action uber alles and the man of action eking out a living from undeveloped wilds as opposed to the buffoonish and idle man of words back east, changed what’s considered manly from the close of the Victorian era up into the present-day. Perhaps without intending to, Schaefer gives us insight into what would become the mold for “manliness” throughout the 20th century.

Why I gave this book Four stars: I’m a big believer that social history is where it’s at, that to really understand the people of a certain time and place, you need to read the words of the people who were there and learn from those everyday folks the rhythms of that past culture, how the society functioned, etc. This book does that. How new settlements functioned, how U.S. territories in the 19th century worked, really fascinates me. As always, the little details hook me; the fact that the biggest bear “Grizzly” Adams ever caught became the model for Charles Nahl‘s design of California’s bear flag (though keep in mind that there were literally over a dozen bear flag designs adopted to varying degrees until a standardized design was finally adopted in 1953), that bovine thievery was a problem, cows trying to break into horse stables and steal the horse’s hay a constant issue out west, that John Chisum maintained his wealth as a Texas cattle baron through the trials and tribulations of the Civil War because he had the foresight to realize that Confederate currency may not hold up, so whenever he got his hands on rebel money, he exchanged it for more cows as soon as possible. I love that stuff.

My favorite part of the book is its biography of Dr. Charles Fox Gardiner. Originally from New York, where King of England, Charles I, had granted the Gardiner family a private island off Suffolk County—Gardiner’s Island—in 1639. In the mid-1800s, Charles Fox Gardiner trained as a doctor in New York City, on Roosevelt Island—then known as Blackwell’s Island—at one of the predecessors of Goldwater hospital. Then he took his skills west to aid the frontier mining communities in Colorado Territory. That this book contained an account of pioneer medicine is why I picked it up. It doesn’t disappoint on that score.

Gardiner built a shanty for his office with a blue and gold sign outside. No one trusted the new guy initially, but slowly his reputation grew by word of mouth and he had a steady and growing practice on his hands. “Patient after patient was unable to pay, then out of nowhere one would pay $100. Unusual but fascinating,” Gardiner said. I found the insights into pioneer doctors fascinating, and I hope to find the book Gardiner himself wrote about his experiences, Doctor at Ridgeline, in an accessible format soon.

The downsides of Heroes Without Glory: Some Good Men of the Old West. come with the author’s old-fashioned views and ancient prejudices that really filter the content, and in some cases really stink it up, especially regarding the native tribes of the West. The only Native American “goodman” profiled is Chief Washakie, leader of the Eastern Shoshones. Washakie was indeed a great leader of the Shoshones, and a pivotal figure in not only American Indian history, but also of the Old West in whole. Indeed, we may not even know the name Shoshone today if not for Washakie; the loose band of Shoshone tribes may have been wiped out by enemy tribes, and probably wouldn’t have even become a federally-recognized tribe without his forceful leadership. Most important was his political skills; Washakie secured a large reservation, Wind River Indian Reservation, in what is now Wyoming, for his fairly small band of Eastern Shoshones because he was such a forceful and well-known leader and peacemaker for his people. Schaefer artfully highlights Washakie’s remarkable achievements, but disturbingly, Schaefer seems to herald Washakie more for his exceeding patience with the constant oppression, control and expropriation of lands previously reserved for the Shoshone. Every decade, Uncle Sam would bite off another giant piece of the land he’d promised to them, and one year they forced them to half the Wind River Reservation with the Arapaho, their ancient rivals. Washakie didn’t—probably couldn’t—fight back, and shared all he could with the Arapahoes.

The Indian leaders that met such humiliations with arrows and repeating rifles aren’t mentioned here. It’s also sucky that this book doesn’t profile a single woman; that amounts to cleaving the history of the West in half! Going in with a wide open mind, one can still appreciate this stuff. But no mind is open enough to like the biography Schaefer includes on Valentine T. McGilicuddy. I thought the chapter on McGilicuddy would focus on his years as a trailblazing frontier Army surgeon and surveyor, but is mostly an account of McGilicuddy’s long tenure as Indian Agent on Pine Ridge Reservation in the Dakotas; it’s one of the more offensive views of Indians you’ll find, paternalistic, infantilizing, ugh. You can skip this chapter if you’d like. But it’s also historical evidence of how loathsome the reservation system has been.

It can be invaluable to read older perspectives. I give this four stars because it’s a rare social history, with great detail of how it really was in biographies of (in order of appearance) Grizzly Adams, George A. Ruxton, John “Snowshoe” Thompson, John Phillips, Washakie, John S. Chisum, Thomas J. Smith, Valentine T. McGillycuddy, Charles Fox Gardiner, and Elfego Baca. Definitely worthwhile for Wild West aficionados and history buffs.

View all my reviews

Mitt Romney: Can You Help Us, Mr. Fix It? (Part 2)

Posted by – February 10, 2012

Continuing my comments on Mitt Romney’s “very ample safety net” statement on CNN; see the first half of my post: Mitt Romney: Can You Help Us, Mr. Fix It? (Part 1)

So, as I said in Part 1, it’s very important to assess presidential candidates in a just and fair manner, and too often the news media is blaring the one sentence “not concerned about the very poor” sans context. But, to be honest, Romney’s answer is even worse when examined in its full context and nuance. Gail Collins over at the NYT wrote an excellent line-by-line breakdown of Mitt’s full statement. I won’t reprint her words here but I highly recommend you take a look.

Romney’s statement (read it here in full) singles out the 95% of Americans in the middle as his main concern. He’s not concerned about the top 1% and that leaves the bottom 4% he isn’t concerned about. Basic arithmetic shows the bottom 4% are those earning under $5,000 annually, a group politicians barely notice exist, much less spend time helping. This category would probably encompass mostly the elderly and disabled, and the homeless, including a lot of homeless veterans.

The most intelligent and spot-on post I’ve seen on this so far in the sprawling blogosphere is from the Columbia Journalism Review’s Campaign Desk: Three Thoughts on Mitt Romney’s ‘Very Poor’ Day : CJR
What makes it great is it actually does what journalism should, dig beneath the noise and the claims and try and unearth the facts. It points out that when Romney says the bottom 4% have a “very ample safety net” and it’s the middle class that needs help, it reveals a deep misunderstanding about the safety net in his brain. The article points out that social programs, for example Medicaid, spend more on long-term care for the elderly and disabled than on any other line item, and plenty of those folks qualify under medical assistance and Medicaid keeps them perched barely on the edge of a middle class quality of life. The article also cites data showing that many beneficiaries of Medicaid are actually middle-class families—certainly families in that broad “90-95 percent of Americans” that Romney says he wants to help—who “would otherwise be stuck with the full tab for care for their elderly and disabled relatives.” Medicaid is life support for the middle class as much as it’s a “safety net” for “the very poor.” More people should be cognizant of this data. Paul Ryan is: he hates that Medicaid is benefiting the middle class.

When pressed by CNN’s Soledad O’Brien after his initial “very poor” remark, Romney went on to say “We will hear from the Democrat Party about the plight of the poor.”
Essentially, he’s saying that’s their job, not Republicans’ role.

This references a political balance that may have existed 30 years ago, when Tip O’Neill and outspoken liberals controlled the House of Representatives and made sure the concerns of the poor were heard sometimes, but most certainly doesn’t exist now. No Democratic party leader that would remotely try to balance the scales toward the poor has existed since the era Tip O’Neill clinked high ball glasses in the Oval Office with Ronnie after 6 o’clock, and spent all his working hours before 6pm standing up to President Reagan, fighting for his blue-collar, poor base. He was by the unions, for the unions, and that doesn’t exist anymore. That is over; Tip O’Neill died in 1994 and no one remotely like him has succeeded him. Nancy Pelosi, the longest-serving Democratic Speaker of the House since O’Neill (she served four years) spends more time cozying up to corporate interests than unions. Instead of O’Neill, a hardscrabble Catholic boy from a poor Irish district, fighting the good fight for every day blue-collar people, we have Pelosi, an aloof elite holding a net worth of approximately $58 million in real estate, stock, and businesses she and her husband own, and is now facing an insider trading scandal. Sadly, Chris Hedges is right about the death of the liberal class.

When was the last time you heard Pelosi or Obama, or even the Clintons talk about the very poor? About the impoverished elderly? About people with disabilities? About the marginalized and excluded bottom 4% of Americans who have no apparent “trampoline out of poverty”? If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard “from the Democrat party [sic] about the plight of the poor” over the past 20 years, I doubt I’d have enough nickels to make a phone call. Democrats frequently speechify about “working families,” when the problem is American families aren’t working, they can’t find enough work to make ends meet; too much of our economic base has been off-shored, and there hasn’t been enough innovation to replace what’s been lost. Obama and Pelosi talk about the middle class, campaigning for that big demographic same as Mitt Romney is, minus mentioning the “very poor” at all.

So given the Democrats abdicating their past role as fighters for the poor, we have to ask the Republicans as well, Romney included, for assistance for those trapped at the bottom, for help fixing the safety net and the upward ladder.

Unfortunately, the video footage is coming out, showing that “the people who need the help most are not the poor” is a recurring theme in Romney’s stump speeches. This is really troubling stuff, particularly after all the data has again and again shown the U.S. to lead the developed world in poverty [Source]. Also, as Romney says “if [the safety net] has holes in it, I will repair them,” he’s simultaneously pushing forth a tax plan that would blow a hole in social programs’ funding like we’ve never seen: Romney Tax Plan Would Require Slashing Social Safety Net … Says Romney Economic Adviser. It is disturbing that Romney says we have a “very ample safety net” while the next minute pushing a tax plan that—based on the analysis of his own economic adviser—would require slashing the very social programs he’s saying he’ll “repair.” Yet another contradiction from Willard “Mitt” Romney, the human mystery wrapped in an enigma. I want to reform the system to revolutionize how it sees us and respects our individual freedom, we need a very big change, I like the possibilities in some of Senator Wyden’s ideas for replacing Medicaid—which he calls a “caste system”—with something better and more equitable; what we don’t need is to destroy the program, death from a thousand cuts.

Still, I hope for some kind of educational moment can come out of this. That’s why I’ve written Romney HQ a letter. I have nothing against Governor Romney as a person, I’m sure he’s a great, affable guy, and I’d love to meet him to work on bringing individualized funding, choice and competition to Medicaid/Medicare instead of “one size fits all.” We don’t really know what kind of Republican Willard is deep down or how he’ll really govern—is he a lefty Rockefeller Republican like his dad, a moderate pragmatist like George H. W. Bush, a hard-right Reagan-and-Ayn-Rand type?—we don’t know. So why not assume he can be very reform-minded like his dad; why can’t Mitt be the one to lead the way in revolutionizing Medicaid and Medicare to be completely different? Choice, competition, individualized budgeting, cash and counseling—let’s go!

After all, Romney supporters like to refer to Mitt Romney as “Mr. Fix-it.” I’ve seen dudes holding “Romney: Mr. Fix-it” signs prior to the debates on cable news. I found this image on

Mr. Fix- It, America needs a proven leader with a strong conservative message.
Fan art by MittFan12 (Steve Thomas)
In a bizarre interlude, me finding this “Romney Mr. Fix it” image led to me stumbling into the chat room by accident. Most of the supporters in the chat were polite and cordial in answering my questions, and I left there with more respect for Team Romney than I came in with…

Mitt Romney, please fix the safety net.

Mitt Romney: Can You Help Us, Mr. Fix It? (Part 1)

Posted by – February 10, 2012

Editorial cartoon: Richie Rich, the Monopoly Man, the Simpsons' Mr. Burns and Scrooge McDuck tell Mitt Romney he's embarrassing the rich 'you're making us look bad'


So, there’s been a dust up over Mitt Romney’s “I’m not concerned about the very poor” comments on CNN.  A lot of the blogosphere is mindlessly blasting this quote sans context, and the TV news even worse, so Team Romney isn’t wrong to protest how this has been “taken out of context.”  Cable news has been bad.  So bad: stopping short of breaking it down into a few syllables and grunts between prescription drug advertisements.

But, to be honest, Romney’s answer is even worse when examined in its full context and nuance.

Here’s Mitt Romney’s “I’m not concerned about the very poor, I’m not concerned about the very rich, I’m campaigning for Americans in the middle” the relevant part of his interview with Soledad O’Brien, with all the context and nuance he gave CNN:

ROMNEY: You know, just let people get to know you better. The nice thing about what happened here in Florida is I got a chance to go across the state, meet with people. They heard what I am concerned about. They understand how I will be able to make things better.

I think people want someone who not just throws an incendiary bomb from time to time but someone who actually knows how it takes to improve their life, get home values rising again, to get jobs again in this country, and to make sure when soldiers come home they have a job waiting for them. And make sure people who are retired don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen at the end of the week.

This is a time people are worried. They’re frightened. They want someone who they have confidence in. And I believe I will be able to instill that confidence in the American people. And, by the way, I’m in this race because I care about Americans. I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it.

I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of the America, the 90, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling and I’ll continue to take that message across the nation.

O’BRIEN: All right. So I know I said last question, but I’ve got to ask you. You just said I’m not concerned about the very poor because they have a safety net. And I think there are lots of very poor Americans who are struggling who would say that sounds odd. Can you explain that?

ROMNEY: Well, you had to finish the sentence, Soledad. I said I’m not concerned about the very poor that have the safety net, but if it has holes in it, I will repair them.

On CNN February 1st, Mitt Romney included a tangent about

O’BRIEN: Got it. OK.

ROMNEY: The – the challenge right now – we will hear from the Democrat Party the plight of the poor, and – and there’s no question, it’s not good being poor and we have a safety net to help those that are very poor.

But my campaign is focused on middle income Americans. My campaign – you

can choose where to focus. You can focus on the rich. That’s not my focus. You can focus on the very poor. That’s not my focus.

My focus is on middle income Americans, retirees living on social security, people who cannot find work, folks who have kids that are getting ready to go to college. That – these are the people who’ve been most badly hurt during the Obama years.

We have a very ample safety net, and we can talk about whether it needs to be strengthened or whether there are holes in it. But we have food stamps, we have

Medicaid, we have housing vouchers, we have programs to help the poor. But the middle income Americans, they’re the folks that are really struggling right now, and they need someone that can help get this economy going for them.

O’BRIEN: All right. Mitt Romney, congratulations to you on your big victory last night. Thanks for talking with us. appreciate it.

CNN, Transcript of Soledad O’Brien interview with Mitt Romney, Feb. 1, 2012

For me, the “not concerned about the very poor” comment is one of the least disturbing parts of his answer here.

First, it’s what he said immediately following that: “We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it.” That anyone who has been a leader in government can still essentially wonder aloud IF the safety net needs repair astonishes me. After all the tragic deaths (like the 12-year-old boy who died for lack of a dentist to simply pull a tooth) and horrible suffering that’s been well-documented and displayed, how can anyone not know our safety net needs a major shoring up if not—my position—a total rethinking and restructuring?

To quote from a 2007 blog post I wrote:

For those with severe disabilities dependent on Medicaid, the Republican cuts from 1995-2007 have had horrible consequences. I’ve had to fight like hell to survive. In 1996 in Alabama, Medicaid started gutting EPSDT (the federally-mandated program providing nursing care for those in need) and sending out termination notices to families in the mail. Then in 1999-2001 we had more aggressive cuts. They changed the rules so it’s only a temporary program to train caregivers to stay with their child 24/7, and they keep repeating that it is not the government’s role to “babysit” your child at all (even if your child is on life support and routinely coding). And now it is 2007 and Alabama barely funds it at all. We’ve almost been rolled back into the 1970s level.
I’ve had friends die. I’m sick of tolerating this evil like it is a valid policy position. It is in no way valid nor deserving of our deference and patience. It is nothing but immoral…

I have seen too much suffering and death because of inadequate supports and invisible safety nets and I am frakking traumatized that people are still pushing this destructive right-wing mythology that if we chip away at government funding even further, that this will magically increase services. It has been tried for years and has failed every time.

Excerpted from my post Vigorously Insisting On A More Perfect Union: Fighting Cuts, Demanding Universal Health Care | Nick’s Crusade
This “Demanding Universal Health Care” post was published by the Greenhaven Press imprint of Gale Publishing in the 2008 edition of Opposing Viewpoints: Health Care, if anyone is interested.

I think Romney needs to hear these stories, hear the details of how our lives are effected by the swiss cheese safety net.

Some of my other blog posts may prove instructive:
Feds Fiddling While State Medicaid Programs BURN | Nick’s Crusade (a critique of how ObamaCare will impact Medicaid, amid a report of budget cuts in the South leaving people with disabilities in their own waste)
Government-Sponsored Ablism and Segregation Tears Families Apart | Nick’s Crusade (an essay against state-sponsored institutionalization, segregation, and oppression)
Medicaid: Why It’s Broken and How To Fix It | Nick’s Crusade (highlights the broken parts of Medicaid, including funding disparities, poverty mandates and the ultra-expensive and antiquated practice of unnecessarily institutionalizing people, and lays out some solutions)

I plan to drop Willard “Mitt” Romney a note, you could do the same. Let him know what problems in “safety net” programs need his help, concisely and politely. Appeal to his “Mr. Fix-it” rhetoric. I don’t know if anyone will be able to connect and begin a constructive dialogue with Team Romney, but if even one person did, it would have a wonderful impact.

Mitt Romney for President
P.O. Box 149756
Boston, MA 02114-9756

More thoughts on Mitt Romney’s “very ample safety net” comments in Mitt Romney: Can You Help Us, Mr. Fix It? (Part 2)

Senator Schumer, Hands Off Our Meds Please

Posted by – February 8, 2012

People in chronic pain need help, more options, more understanding.

[the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report Relieving Pain in America:
A Blueprint for Transforming Prevention, Care, Education, and Research
] Issued at the request of Congress as part of President Obama’s health reform legislation, the report calls for a “cultural transformation” — an attitude shift on the level of that seen over the last 50 years toward smoking — to spur more coordinated action to help treat Americans’ pain. Pain patients have long been viewed with skepticism and suspicion, rather than understanding, presenting a barrier to care. Rising rates of prescription drug misuse, addiction and overdose have further led to the establishment of legal and regulatory barriers, such as prescription databases, that can prevent even legitimate pain patients from getting much-needed drugs.

Source: IOM Report: Chronic, Undertreated Pain Affects 116 Million Americans |

It seems Congress is not on the side of transforming the way we help people in pain, they’re on the side of the “skepticism and suspicion” and “legal and regulatory barriers,” not to mention the fear mongering over pain medications.

Last month, my Senator, Chuck Schumer made local TV news headlines ranting, not just about abuse of prescription drugs, but “Rails Against FDA Testing Of Super-Potent Painkillers” as NY1’s headline blared atop their story at He doesn’t even want these new medications—extra-strong meds that pharmaceutical companies have created to help people in real pain—to be tested and approved for legal prescription and sale by the FDA for fear of abuse. He’s even saying that FDA approval of new pain meds will “add fuel to the fire” of crime and lead to increased robberies, playing up the recent armed raids for oxy and vicodin at two Long Island pharmacies. Absolutely the height of alarmist rhetoric here.

Since I moved to New York City in 2008, I’ve noticed that Senator Schumer tends to make local news across the state with big, scary headlines (in Mobile, AL where I’m from, the U.S. Senators show up as footnotes on the local news, if at all). Team Schumer probably realizes—rightly—that getting his name in the TV headlines that soccer moms and such (i.e. the community-minded folks who tend to vote most, “the likely voter”) might catch as they go through their morning routine or night-time winding down is crucial for his reelection. Schumer

Chuck Schumer, senior U.S. Senator from New York

has evidently always been a “tough on crime”-type of politician, a key supporter of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (VCCLEA) that instituted a federal “three strikes and you’re out” life-imprisonment policy, and since the attacks on 9/11, he’s become a big “tough on terrorism”-type of politician. For example, last May, Senator Schumer similarly made the local news across New York State with his plan for a security crackdown on trains, especially pertinent to New York because New Yorkers are some of the train-ridingest people on the continent. See: Schumer calls for ‘do not ride’ list for Amtrak – NEWS10 ABC: Albany, New York News. These are the kind of headlines Schumer gets. People concerned about unnecessary, Fourth Amendment-crushing, possibly gropey, searches every time you board a train, including me, complained online.

His camera-hogging ways, I get it. Salon called him a “incorrigible publicity hound,” and that’s ok. Be what you are, man. Embrace it. But this time “going too far” is especially “too far” because it could accidentally hurt people with chronic pain who are already hurting.

Here are the local headlines I’m concerned with:
Schumer warns FDA on danger of newest painkillers | Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, NY’s newspaper of record)
Schumer Rails Against FDA Testing Of Super-Potent Painkillers – (NY1 is a 24/7 cable news channel for New York metro area news)
Sen Schumer: ‘Super Painkillers Could Lead To Violent Robberies’ « CBS New York possibly the fear mongeriest headline of the year, though it does present an alternative viewpoint in the video report if not the text summary.
Senator Charles Schumer warns FDA on danger of new painkillers | (WABC-TV, the ABC affiliate for NYC.) Watch the video report embedded below, doesn’t provide an alternative viewpoint!

Only one of these scary headlines includes a balancing, alternate viewpoint within. That’s their most egregious journalistic failure: they only give audiences the scare monger’s viewpoint, they only offer shock words.

First, they are leaving out important context like these are MEDICINES for people in real pain. The context and tone treats painkillers as no different than street drugs, omitting the therapeutic intent and quality of life benefits (very real.) Note the language used by the ABC-7 reporter Lucy Yang, the term the streets repeated twice. “At least one [pharmaceutical company] is past the lab stage and now trying to get this super-drug on the streets by next year.” “Of course, before any such narcotic could hit the streets it would have to be approved by the FDA.” Stopping just short of calling pharmaceutical manufacturers street pushers, there.

More language to red-flag from the channel 7 report, including one of the opening lines, “officials report more deaths [from prescription drugs] than heroin, crack, and cocaine”—which officials, Ms. Yang? Please source such a shocking claim. “Despite that, we’re told attempts are underway to introduce a super-drug” “you don’t have to look far to see the violent and punishing reality of addiction to painkillers” “potent and enslaving” “pure painkiller”

Second, why do all these reports reference the robberies on Long Island?  I disagree that the all-too-common oxy and vicodin hold-ups (which are AWFUL, I don’t want to minimize that) would be effected either way whether the FDA approves new narcotics or not. They are linking two completely unrelated stories, echoing Senator Schumer, for shock effect. Journalists should be questioning the Congress critters, holding their feet to the fire, not mindlessly parroting their press releases. Tying past narcotics violence to the unrelated matter of future possible FDA approval of new narcotics seems like pure fear mongering to me.

Third, a look at Schumer’s own language: “the very same people who try to get our kids to use things like oxycodone and vicodin will start peddling this drug, which when abused is poison.” “It would instantly become the most sought-after drug by addicts and criminals.” From the CBSTV-2 story, Schumer said: “Crooks like Oxycontin and Vicodin, yet you leave the doctor’s office, the dentist’s office, the oral surgeon’s office after you have a root canal, they routinely give you 20 to 30 of these pills. That can’t happen with these new powerful drugs.” He’s simultaneously condemning new drugs and old drugs, and nearly finger-wagging at the whole concept of treating post-surgical pain with narcotics. Wow.

The drug in question, according to the CBS channel 2 video report, is Zohydro. Zohydro is hydrocodone like Vicodin, Lortab and Lorset is, but it’s the first long-acting timed-release capsule hydrocodone created. I have chronic pain; I can’t take any of the time release stuff. However, I know numerous people who could benefit from Zohydro and other new medications. This could be a miracle drug for people who’re allergic to—or for whatever reason can’t use—the only other time release painkiller out there, Oxycontin. I’m sure that, for many, this could be a life-changing medicine; long-acting squelching pain, giving people with chronic pain their quality of life back, liberating them to get out of bed. You don’t see that side of the argument on TV, but the benefits of effective pain management are huge, and important.

People can build up a tolerance to pain meds like bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics, and like humans need new antibiotics, humans need new painkillers. We need new pain meds developed and approved for prescription use. People in chronic pain need more options.
Zohydro is also a good step because it isn’t packed with liver-killing acetaminophen that is so commonly combined with opiates. I reported before on the FDA’s bizarre regulation making opioid-acetaminophen combination meds easier to get than purer alternatives because they figure if people know it can destroy their liver they won’t abuse it. This insanity has led to too many deaths, tragedies, and liver transplants, so the FDA itself has been reconsidering recently.

I’m saying consider another perspective (which the media won’t give you). Medication mostly does have a big positive impact. Don’t block or take away pain meds that are giving people quality of life.

Consider this nursing home and hospice facility perspective:

Timely access to controlled medications also continues to be a challenge in the long-term care setting due to drug shortages and what some consider excessively strict federal regulations.

“The Drug Enforcement Agency’s interpretation of the Controlled Substances Act is one barrier that’s impeding timely access to appropriate controlled medications for nursing facility residents and those enrolled in hospice programs,” notes Jennifer Hardesty, PharmD, FASCP, clinical services manager for Remedi SeniorCare.

There is no question that pain’s effects on quality of life are far-reaching. Not only does pain diminish pleasure and interfere with social relationships and one’s ability to stay active, it is also linked to other debilitating conditions, such as depression and anxiety.

Full article: No pain = all gain – McKnight’s Long Term Care News (disclaimer: only includes nursing home perspective)

In the New York metro area, there’s been an oxy crime wave; it has led to a law enforcement crackdown. Doctors are more reticent to prescribe. Visible DEA enforcement actions have created a very real chilling effect that is making it harder for those already having a hard time with chronic pain.

I have nothing against Senator Schumer as a person, I’m sure he’s a great, affable guy, and I’d love to meet him to work on bringing individualized funding, choice and competition to Medicaid/Medicare instead of “one size fits all.” I’m just saying let’s not accidentally snag people in real pain in the “war on drugs” dragnet, let’s be level-headed, let’s not fear monger.

Prior to his 2003 commencement address at the Rochester Institute of Technology, the RIT website lauded Senator Schumer: In the past 25 years, Schumer has become known as a leader on national issues and a tireless fighter for New York. The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle called him “an accomplished, far-sighted legislator,” while The New York Times wrote that he “is a more serious lawmaker with more rooted values, sounder policy positions and a deeper commitment to the common good.”

All I’m asking, Senator, is please live up to your reputation as a committed fighter for the “common good,” include ailing constituents with chronic pain in that common good, and please be “far-sighted” about how federal drug policy can impact the quality of life of the elderly, the terminally and chronically ill, and disabled populations who live with the most severe pain.

Thanks for reading.



Rain Man (1988) and Hollywood’s treatment of disability

Posted by – February 5, 2011

Hollywood Images of Disability (CHF EDIT) from salome chasnoff on Vimeo.

Everyone interested in disability rights should watch this 18min short “Hollywood Images of Disability,” about Hollywood’s terrible treatment of disability, which is normally depicted as something so deformed, so unspeakably terrifying that disabled characters have to be cured (Heidi, Monkey Shines, Avatar, and zillions of movies) put away forever (Rain Man) or euthanized (Of Mice and Men, Million Dollar Baby and countless other examples). Note: this short comments on clips from many different movies with R and PG-13 ratings, many of which contain sensationalist depictions of people with disabilities, exaggerated vulnerability of disabled women–Uma Thurmond playing a naked blind woman being vulnerable and threatened, extreme violence and murders of people with disabilities, male and female, and will be disturbing for anyone with a conscience.

I saw Rain Man (1988) on the big screen when it came out (I was 6 years old and I didn’t understand much beyond the beautiful imagery). When I saw it again as a young teenager it impacted me a lot. I really remember it vividly.

Rain Man is the autistic brother that was just discovered by cool dude Charlie (Tom Cruise, who back in the 80s, we all worshiped as the coolest guy ever and wanted to emulate, along with Michael J. Fox & Matthew Broderick–in 1990 I once made mom’s hairdresser make my hair like Michael J. Fox’s). Charlie removes Rain Man/Raymond from the nursing home and they go on an amazing adventure that as a teen I could only dream of. Ray is loosed from his cage! While most men in the audience are undoubtedly identifying with Charlie, the cool as ice, young business shark of the ’80s (see Gordon Gekko) and his struggles and interests, I’m identifying with Ray, and strongly. For the first time, Ray can move around and develop out in the real world: he’s experiencing life with all its thrills, very real dangers, wonderful strangeness, opportunities, fulfillment and sexual excitement. He gets to fail at driving the old Buick convertible, win fat stacks of cash at a beautiful Las Vegas casino. He’s able to really live, warts and all, unlike the nursing home where there is nothing but soulless routine and the dictatorial control of the facility’s staff who don’t really know or care for Ray.

The scene that caught my attention the most was when Ray ends up alone in the casino elevator with a beautiful woman, Charlie’s girlfriend Susanna (Valeria Golino) who brakes the elevator and slow dances with him and kisses him. It is brief but an electrifyingly sexy moment. I’ll go into a great amount of detail so ya’ll can understand how a young disabled man saw these images. They used every camera and make-up trick to make the actress look like the perfect hot date of the 80s style. In this elevator Ray is confronted with a very powerful woman, empowered, living life; she dances with and kisses Ray maybe out of curiosity, maybe because it feels enormously powerful to initiate a man into the world of women. She is open to being inclusive. Possible T-Shirt: NOT A SLUT. INCLUSIVE. When you’re a young disabled man, you see her in the elevator and look at her like a vision of feminine power and inclusivity, a chance at entering the adult world. Not long into the scene, she restarts the elevator, looking a little sad and disappointed that Ray didn’t really kiss her back and touch her, and the moment was over. I was transfixed (nearly every male probably was–it immerses the audience in the ultimate fantasy of a woman actually wanting them).

This was the first time in my life that I had seen a woman interested in giving that kind of attention and affection to a disabled man. It was like a fairy tale come true, Ray doesn’t have to be locked up in the gilded cage at the nursing home, he had a real CHANCE at life, opportunities to see and do amazing things and feel and love. To me, the opportunities to succeed were as important and thrilling, if not moreso, than actually success. At the time, 1994, I was entering puberty and very focused on all these issues, while living in an environment with the myriad barriers so common to the disability experience, plus being guarding by nurses 24/7 had already cut me off from girls, from kids my age entirely in middle school. This movie made me think I could one day escape the cage and talk to women in elevators.

But the movie closed with Tom Cruise putting Ray back in the cage, portrayed as the right thing, the courageous and hard thing to put him back in the nursing home, the more “appropriate” setting. How well Ray did in the real world evidently didn’t matter; he had 1 autistic meltdown (ONE) and accidentally broke the precious coffee maker, and that was the end of that. Charlie is depicted as a hero for doing this and ending Ray’s opportunities for a life, forever. It’s all about Charlie’s journey, the familiar Quest o’ Redemption trope that is as old as literature itself, and in the United States typically involve a journey by car across the American continent. Ultimately, as the short film “Hollywood Images of Disability” illustrates quite well, disabled characters in Rain Man and other Hollywood movies aren’t people as much as Oscar bait for a “difficult” portrayal (for the Raymond role, Dustin Hoffman won the Oscar for Best Actor; “The diseased/addicted/mentally impaired always get the Oscar.” — Hollywood Rule Book, Vanity Fair) and disabled characters are mainly used as plot devices to facilitate the hero’s development. In Rain Man, Ray, his struggles, his interests, aren’t considered at all; the point of the story is that Charlie starts off as a soulless corporate raider, grows to love Raymond, and at the end has evolved into a sensitive, mature adult able to make the “right” “mature” choices in life and love, and, grotesquely, the “mature” choice is to have the lawyer transfer custody of Raymond permanently to the nursing home. I thought it was particularly cruel to show Ray the world only to yank it away. To be expected, in a society where we aren’t wanted and barely accommodated enough to survive, but still a harsh introduction to reality for young teenaged Nick.

Read about the all-too-common “Bury Your Disabled” trope in popular culture, and try to raise awareness that it, along with other disability tropes that are harmful (and/or just ABSURD), are actually really wrong and awful, and should go away….


Review of animated movie “Delgo” (2008)

Posted by – January 9, 2011

Rated PG
89 minutes long

I understand why this movie tanked at the box office and recouped the independent production only 700k of 40 million invested, it needed a major script overhaul to edit out about 40 minutes of what feels like filler, tighten the story, cut the ultra-forced comedy, and lighten the heavy handed *Jews vs. Palestinians intractable racial struggle over arable land* plotline.
“Trying WAY too hard” is the main problem with Delgo. I believe that in order to recoup the colossal, hemorrhaging costs from this on again, off again, shelved and unshelved 9 year production, the usual suspects (out of touch marketing gurus who always design movies for the lobotomized demographic) overstuffed the script with as many hackneyed Disney formulas as possible. The result (which probably has the guys who came up with the original concepts for Delgo crying in their beer every night) is humor so forced that you want to cringe and shield your face in parts. Delgo’s screechy, unbearable sidekick (Chris Kattan) is this movie’s worst mistake; the fact that not only does he screech *every* forced line at the highest pitches Kattan’s “Mango” character (from SNL) could hit, but enduring him is utterly superfluous to the story, has (I’m certain) made innumerable viewers stop a half-hour in. Mango just can’t be shoehorned into a Disney-style comic relief sidekick–let this serve as a cautionary tale to Hollywood! It feels like the producers compromised their vision, in exchange for adding comic relief “buddies,” they kept their overstated sermon on ethnic strife; including BOTH made the movie much too long.
Eric Idle is great as the villianess’ inept lizard henchman. If this thing had more Idle and NO Mango MAYBE it could have been in reach of 4 stars.

I thought the animation was excellent, very creative, with brilliant use of shadows and highlights. Just because it doesn’t aim to copy Disney and Pixar’s emotive, heavily expressive style DOESN’T mean it sucks; just because the production dysfunctions delayed this 2001 animation’s release until the end of 2008 (so it was animation from CGI technology of another era) doesn’t mean it’s bad.
Delgo has amazing epic battle sequences (though big parts of them seem nearly identical to the arena battle scene with winged Geonosian warriors vs. force-wielding Jedi in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones; one even looks like Yoda).

I gave it 3 stars. One for the great casting apart from Kattan, one for the artwork, and one for the awesome, imaginative original elements you’ve never seen before: a steampunk flying buggy, a dramatic swordfight between two winged generals in mid air! Had Delgo been released in late summer instead of lost amid the shuffle of holiday blockbusters, and had its half hearted, under-resourced promotional campaign depicted it as the swashbuckling romantic epic it aims to be vs. the bad Direct-to-Video cheapquel the posters made it look like, I think Delgo could have easily turned a profit. I’ve seen much worse clear $100 million.