The late great Jim Zabel
(Pictured - Jim Zabel sitting where I normally sat.)
I was one of Jim Zabel’s directors in radio for a period of about eight years, and got to know him pretty well. This was from 1998 to 2005. He and I were players on the afternoon news program Drive-Time Des Moines with Sue Danielson and Jerry Reno, a show that I miss working on and listening to in a most terrible way. We would talk off the air, the two of us, the four of us, mostly the three of them. I was the guy on the other side of the glass. His and mine was very much a "commercial break" relationship. But we never once talked about sports, even though the topic was a pointed interest of mine and the center of his professional life. As a matter of fact, he and I only really talked about one topic ever, and that topic was Frank Sinatra.
Jim loved Sinatra, as I do, and when you knew to look for it, you could see that his own on-air and public persona was cut in large part from the Sinatra cloth. Like FS, Jim relished being with a group of his pals, having a good drink, basically living large. The best word for it is fun-loving. That's what he was. It was easy to see that Jim liked being famous, being recognized by the public. And it was fun to watch him when he was recognized.
I knew the Sinatra music and film catalogue well and had seen the Chairman in concert twice, both times when he was deep into the twilight of his career, but Jim’s experience with Sinatra, conversely, was long and rich. I was envious. He had seen him the first time in concert sometime during the early ‘40s, when Jim was brand new to Des Moines and Sinatra was still getting billed under the name of his boss, bandleader Tommy Dorsey. Jim was there at the beginning with Frank, in the audience alongside the bobbysoxers. Neither man had yet made his name.
Jim saw Sinatra several times in concert throughout his life, even meeting his idol once backstage in Las Vegas. He rubbed elbows with Frank the way he rubbed them with multiple celebrities. He collected all the record albums—and then bought the same ones again on compact disc. He was personally acquainted with the comic Tom Dreesen, who was Sinatra’s opening act for 14 years. Dreesen was a big sports fan as well as a Midwesterner (Chicago-born and raised), and I want to say that Dreesen even emceed a roast in Jim’s honor at one time. Well, this was just the stuff of legend.
During the winter, when he would enjoy the sun of Arizona, Jim would mail me newspaper clippings of theatrical shows he had attended. I still have his correspondence. One is a recap of a performance by a young Sinatra clone. Another letter contained a brochure for a Rat Pack tribute show he dreamed of seeing. He wrote "You'll swear that all 3 of them are back with us, live- and you are back in the Copa Room of the Sands, so make plans now to fly to London!" All he forgot was the "I love it, I love it, I love it."
Jim loved show business. And he knew he was part of it in a way that I'm not sure the people do today that do what he did. He would stay up watching the late movie and share the details with us the next day. Working the afternoon show allowed for him a lot of late movies, even after he had reached an age when most of his peers were surely beating him to sleep by several hours. He would often remark that a person should never awake before 10 am unless being paid to do it!
Whenever I saw arrive in the newsroom or in the studio, he would be humming something. A jazz standard more than likely. Sometimes I would challenge myself privately to recognize the tune. One day in the studio, he sang every note of an old chestnut called “Oh! Look at Me Now,” which had been Sinatra’s first big hit with Dorsey. The microphones were not “hot.” A commercial was playing through the studio speakers. He had an audience of just three—Sue, Jerry, and me. It was well-established that Jim’s all-time favorite song was “Makin’ Whoopee.” It became a theme song for him. It's been reported that, on a given night, he might lead an entire tavern in a rendition of “Makin’ Whoopee.” But when I think of Jim, I think of “Oh! Look at Me Now,” an unapologetic declaration in music that’s entirely consistent with Jim’s life and work.
We had a very singular relationship, but on occasion, he would stop and ask a question about my family or my life. I think he would start to get curious about this guy in his 20’s who (I dare say) was such a marvelous audience for stories about one of his great passions and about his brushes with greatness.
Jim Zabel will be remembered as the voice of the Iowa Hawkeyes and as possibly the broadcasting touchstone of our time for this community and this state, but I’m going to make a point to think of him first as a connoisseur of music. There's a splendid name for what he was-- a "jazzbo." He was the Sinatra of Iowa to me-- brash and excitable, steering the party, never disguising a single emotion, commanding the microphone with authority.
The scold of "black America"
You don’t have to possess black skin to find yourself wincing as you hear Barack and Michelle Obama, at separate locations on the same day, scold young African-Americans for what they perceive as their lack of, or misguided, ambition. In a speech to graduates of Bowie State University last weekend, the First Lady declared that “too many of your young people can’t be bothered” with getting an education. That “instead of walking miles every day to school," (Huh?) "they’re sitting on couches for hours playing video games, watching TV. Instead of dreaming to be a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, they’re fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper.”
In the same paragraph of her prepared text, Michelle proclaimed that “separate but equal” education has been dead for more than 50 years, but here she’s presumably referring only to the law. In reality, America’s public schools are as racially- and economically-segregated today as they’ve been in a generation. She may not be aware of this fact as her children are enrolled in a private school in Maryland that carries an annual tuition tag of $30,000 per child. When Obama tells predominately-poor African-American parents that the solution to their inadequate local school is to become active in the school and “fix it,” she’s presuming that nobody is expecting her to pull her kids out of the Sidwell Friends Academy and take her own advice. Sadly, she’s probably right.
Having this President as our first African-American President has driven home the long-standing point that the story of race in this country is really just another story about economic inequality. Achieving equality in the legal code was one struggle. It was overcome with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Equality in practice, particularly economic equality, has proven to be much more allusive. It was one thing to give an African-American man or woman a vote, it’s something else entirely to be willing to share with him or her the avenues of wealth-building and the spoils of our "winner-take-almost-all" economy.
Michelle Obama’s tired speech is one of a sort that we’ve heard before from Bill Cosby and others. When it's delivered by an African-American, it's usually be one that has piles of money. As Ta-Nehisi Coates points out
at The Atlantic
, a double-standard still exists for accepting the aspirations of black kids and white kids:
“At the most basic level, there's nothing any more wrong with aspiring to be a rapper than there is with aspiring to be a painter, or an actor, or a sculptor. Hip-hop has produced some of the most penetrating art of our time, and inspired much more. My path to this space began with me aspiring to be rapper. Hip-hop taught me to love literature. I am not alone. Perhaps you should not aspire to be a rapper because it generally does not provide a stable income. By that standard you should not aspire to be a writer, either.
“At a higher level, there is the time-honored pattern of looking at the rather normal behaviors of black children and pathologizing them. My son wants to play for Bayern Munich. Failing that, he has assured me he will be Kendrick Lamar. When I was kid I wanted to be Tony Dorsett -- or Rakim, whichever came first. Perhaps there is some corner of the world where white kids desire to be Timothy Geithner instead of Tom Brady. But I doubt it. What is specific to black kids is that their dreams often don't extend past entertainment and athletics. That is a direct result of the kind of limited cultural exposure you find in impoverished, segregated neighborhoods. Those neighborhoods are the direst result of American policy.”
Under the Obama administration, this “tough love” for his own people has been as tough
as it’s been under any recent president. The unemployment rate, while at roughly 6% currently for whites, has reached 14% for blacks and its highest level since 1984. Obama continues to promote a national drug policy that has proven devastating for African-American families and communities. He has done so despite admitting that he, himself, used marijuana and even cocaine as a young man. Goose, meet gander. I don't think you've met.
In his own commencement speech over the weekend at Martin Luther King Jr.'s alma mater, Morehouse College, the President said that “there’s no longer room for any excuses” for young African-Americans. Coates sees this targeted critique as another area of double-standard:
“This clearly is a message that only a particular president can offer. Perhaps not the ‘president of black America,’ but certainly a president who sees holding African Americans to a standard of individual responsibility as part of his job. This is not a role Barack Obama undertakes with other communities.
"Taking the full measure of the Obama presidency thus far, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this White House has one way of addressing the social ills that afflict black people-- and particularly black youth-- and another way of addressing everyone else. I would have a hard time imagining the president telling the women of Barnard
(College) that ‘there's no longer room for any excuses’-- as though they were in the business of making them. Barack Obama is, indeed, the president of ‘all America,’ but he also is singularly the scold of ‘black America.’”
The question that begs to be asked are these: When is President Obama going to finally take responsibility for his individual actions? When will we stop hearing excuses for his lack of progressivism-- and progress-- in the White House, excuses such as an uncooperative opposition party, the inheritance of a floundering economy and a violent, sinister (and phantom) “global war”?
Capitalist societies are not inherently segregated by race. They’re segregated between economic winners and economic losers. What we have in President Obama is a powerful man, of very humble beginnings, who became one of the economic winners through much hard work and also much luck. As with other economic winners, the lure of sermonizing to the economic losers later proves all too seductive.
The fact of Obama's life as a biracial man provides his message with much weight, particularly to an audience of enthusiastic participants in the establishment educational system that provides admission tickets to the ruling class. What else is the man going to say? Power always seeks to justify itself. If he doesn’t vouch for the system, if he doesn’t try to convince others-- and maybe even himself-- that simple hard work and ambition is enough to overcome even the longest odds, he would have to admit that the system is rigged. And worse than that: as the President, he’d have to do something about it.
"Lady, there is no one that could possibly make that judgement"
Enjoy this 17 minute documentary
on the life and times of Morganna the Kissing Bandit, a woman whose place in the Zeitgeist of sports arguably warrants her induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Morganna was the product of a time when baseball-- and the United States of America-- had a sense of humor, and if she performed her act during the FOX Game of the Week tomorrow afternoon, she would get tasered just as sure as a four base hit means a home run.
Biting the hand that protects you
Are you familiar with this proverb below? It references the silence and inactivity of the “intelligentsia” in Germany during the Nazis’ rise to power. I’m proud to say that it’s attributed to a Lutheran theologian who shares part of my surname, Martin Niemoller. (We share Martin as a middle name also.) Here's one version of it anyway:
First they came for the socialists,
And I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
And I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
And I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me,
And there was no one left to speak for me.
These words spring to my mind on occasion and did again this week when the Washington media class-- even MSNBC, the unofficial public mouthpiece of the Democratic National Committee-- at last rose up in almost-unified, vocal criticism of President Obama and his sick and shameful record on civil liberties. It took a violation of the rights of the pundit class-- that is, the Justice Department’s secret acquisition of Associated Press phone records-- to get the herd’s attention.
When it's been a community of Muslims or a dissident group whose liberties were being trampled, the establishment media simply bowed obsequiously to power. As an example, the New York Times was quick to re-publish the WikiLeaks diplomatic cables that outlined criminal misbehavior and cover-up by government officials, but in its typical manner of parroting the official line, worked actively to smear the character of Julian Assange in publication and adopted the DOJ’s public narrative that Assange’s organization was criminal in its actions. Was the Times really incapable in this instance of understanding that Assange’s battle was their battle too-- that the Obama administration’s unprecedented war on whistleblowers was a simultaneous war on journalists? (It’s a war on you too since the attempted intimidation of reporters and their sources is designed to limit what you know.)
Obama’s biggest political mistake finally was targeting members of a privileged class. Inside the Beltway, the gravity of your sin is measured by who it is you’ve sinned against. Richard Nixon secretly and illegally dropped several million tons of bombs on rice farmers in Viet Nam, but his presidency met its ultimate fate over a half-assed burglary of his political opponent’s campaign office. Some people you can dick with, some you can’t.
Any violation of civil liberties committed against an individual or small group is a violation against the lot of us. The most marginalized groups are the first to get whacked, but your day and mine will arrive.
Canada and the First Nations
A lot of people think of the North American West as being long-ago settled business. For all but the Indian reservations, the land and natural resources belong to the descendant, colonial government of the Europeans, and the indigenous peoples of the Americas have been either beaten or exterminated.
But the battle actually still rages on
In Canada, population growth is higher among aboriginal peoples than non-aboriginal and a recently-published military report suggests a growing disaffection among the youth of those communities over long-held, justifiable, and obvious grievances, and could lead to what the report calls an "insurgency."
In numbers disproportionately similar to African-Americans in the United States, indigenous peoples in Canada are only 4 percent of the country’s population, but make up 23% of its prison population. Conservatives there argue that the “free market” is capable of resolving many of the growing ethnic and economic tensions, but that has never, ever been the case anywhere ever.
Perhaps the best written piece I’ve ever read
about the city of St. Louis, Missouri is published this week on the Al Jazeera English-language website. Says anthropologist Sarah Kendzior:
In St Louis, possibilities are supposed to be in the past. It is the closest thing America has to a fallen imperial capital. This is where dystopian Hollywood fantasies are set and filmed. It is the gateway and the memorial of the American Dream.
Admittedly I tend to glance quickly past stories about hockey, but I'm glad I took the time to read this Deadspin article
about the New York Islanders leaving Long Island. According to the author, the fading Nassau Coliseum looks today "less like the proud home of a storied hockey dynasty than a preachy lesson about tax obligations."
Quote of the day:
From Julian Assange, regarding the American Empire-- from his current sanctuary, the Ecuadorian Embassy in London:
“The Pentagon threatened WikiLeaks and me personally, threatened us before the whole world, demanded that we destroy everything we had published, demanded we cease ‘soliciting’ new information from US government whistle-blowers, demanded, in other words, the total annihilation of a publisher. It stated that if we did not self-destruct in this way that we would be ‘compelled’ to do so.
“They set the rules about what a win was. They lost in every battle they defined. Their loss is total. We’ve won the big stuff. The loss of face is hard to overstate. The Pentagon reissued its threats on September 28 last year. This time we laughed. Threats inflate quickly. Now the Pentagon, the White House and the State Department intend to show the world what vindictive losers they are through the persecution of Bradley Manning, myself, and the organization more generally.”
Yay, Seth Meyers
is the new host of Late Night
I'm so excited. (That's sarcasm)
Does it really matter if my mouthwash is past its expiration date? It's already poison.
I think my bride-to-be and I are going tuxedo shopping this weekend. I’m looking for something in a penguin skin.
The fundamental problem with RAGBRAI, the annual bike ride across Iowa sponsored by a newspaper that's name starts with the letter R, is that a car always has to be involved somehow—getting to the starting point and/or getting home. They should make it so that you just ride to one of the state borders from your house and then back again.
The IRS has publicly apologized for "inappropriate" targeting of Tea Party and other right-wing groups during the 2012 election cycle in investigating if the groups were violating their tax-exempt status. This is clearly evidence of a double-standard-- conservatives get an apology.
Occupy Wall Street groups on the left have been targeted and bullied by the FBI and CIA since the inception of their peaceful movement. There has been no apology from either government bureau forthcoming, and the surveillance and intimidation likely continues in many instances.
FBI official Mary Beth Romig says she does not believe that the New Orleans parade shooting was an act of terrorism. It was instead, she says, “strictly an act of street violence.” So a duffle bag bomb killing three and injuring dozens in Boston is terrorism, but a gun fired into a crowd at a Mothers Day parade in New Orleans injuring 19, three critically, is not. It’s not terrorism, you see, unless it’s committed by a Muslim.
I want to say this about the Joan Harris and Don Draper characters on the sublime TV program Mad Men
. I’ll speak somewhat generally as to not give away too much plot, but be forewarned before reading, I pretty much do give everything away (at least about last week’s episode, not this week’s). Don is undeniably becoming more detestable, but he does not owe Joan an apology for his impetuous decision in the 5/5/13 episode (“For Immediate Release”) regarding the advertising client that they both despise. Joan made an utterly ridiculous and soulless decision last year towards this client with the goal of making herself rich. And just because Joan was willing to eat shit, that doesn’t mean Don has to. It’s not like Don is being hypocritical, either. He was against Joan’s decision, vocally, from the very beginning.
If internet message boards can be trusted, I might be the only person that didn’t have sympathy for Joan last week when she lashed out at Don for his abrupt business decision regarding this client. I understand that Joan, because of her gender, is forced to make choices that Don never has to, but that doesn’t forgive making such bad ones. We’re all capable of compromising our souls, and this was one of the few times when Don, admirably, refused to compromise his.
Joan’s been certainly put upon as an employee of the fictional firm SCDP, but she’s far from being at the bottom rung of the economic ladder, as her encounter with the office secretary Dawn a week or two previous made crystal clear. There are plenty of women in the world that have been willing to stay poor because they stayed true to their moral center—and men too. At what price “getting ahead” is a question of universality.
This highlights one of the dichotomies of modern life when considering oneself both a feminist and a socialist. On one hand, you’ve trained yourself to cheer for women in achieving full equality in their careers and in business. On the other hand, the system to which they’re aspiring is morally indefensible. When you’ve been focusing your attention as much as possible on eschewing the trappings of capitalism, it’s often difficult to muster sympathy for anyone, regardless of gender, that has chosen to buy into it and then gets emotionally scarred for their trouble.
Speaking of professional women we’re supposed to be rooting for: Barbara Walters, a woman impossible to root for, is retiring
The breaking news that Charlie Ramsey (aka “Charlie Rescue”) of Cleveland, Ohio, had been arrested previously on domestic violence charges is not a story of scandal. It reads to me like more of a story of almost-perfectly mirrored redemption.
What’s clear about the case of the three imprisoned and abused girls freed from the basement of a home in Cleveland this week is that, for years, there was little to no active city policing going on in this working-class neighborhood in which the average household income is less than $24,000. 9-1-1 calls don’t get investigated. Missing girls get labeled as simply “runaways.” Meanwhile, missing daughters of the affluent become national celebrities. It’s not even race, it’s economic class. Two Americas. The lives of some people in this country-- and in this world-- simply mean more than others to authorities and to the media.
The federal interstate highway system destroyed our cities. Every city has neighborhoods like this one in Cleveland—filled with hard-working people, but mired in poverty and crime and regarded with utter indifference by those living outside of it. Drive around in any one of these neighborhoods tomorrow and make a mental note of all the concrete monuments to America’s cold efficiency that mark its borders.
I was going to see Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby
this weekend but I think I'll wait instead for Andrew Lloyd Webber's version of A Farewell to Arms.
News stories like this one
fill me with so much positive energy I want to go outside and just run for miles.