Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Next up: Sing a song of barbecue`


Reading for Monday 8 December: Another delicious tidbit from Our Calvin.


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

October with OWrite

Energized from a few weeks of R&R, the O's writers' group returns for Rocktober! Join us Mondays at 9 in the old news conference room. It'll be worth your time. Plus: Free Coffee and Baked Goods.

Oct. 6: Beyond your comfort zone
Want to see your name in O!, Travel or Opinion? Editors of our weekly sections tell you how to pitch and execute great stuff, without annoying your regular boss.

Oct. 13: Beat reporting with the pros
Stay on top of the news, elevate daily stories and do meaningful enterprise, without missing a beat (yours). Hear from Max Bernstein, Jason Quick & David Stabler.

Oct. 20: Defining a 'cover story'
Centerpieces are so 2007. But how do you execute big ideas under the new world order? Susan Gage and Chris Broderick lead a discussion of the cover story.

Oct. 27: Parting shots
The buyout (maybe you've heard) promises to deprive us of talent, experience and insight. A few takers share what


Thursday, July 31, 2008

Writing with authority, some Hallman snippets

Tom Hallman will be joining us Monday to talk a bit about writing with authority. Here are a few recent examples of Tom's ability to, in a sentence or a few paragraphs, sum up why a story is a story.

Gas stations are society's great equalizer, a place where a guy in a Porsche pulls in behind a woman in a Pinto.

While stations used to represent freedom --Friday night cruising, Sunday drives to nowhere --now they represent uncertainty, a tap on the shoulder that says things are out of control. The attendants, especially in a state where you can't fill your own tank, become the face of the problem.


Memorial Day is made up of moments. Some big, some small. When you consider it, that's what the day is really all about.

The big battles, the glorious generals and the very wars themselves are what have captured and held our collective attention, some of the strands woven to become the fabric that binds us as a country.

And yet when we stand quietly on the holiday, observing a moment of silence as we lower our heads, we find ourselves mourning, remembering and paying tribute to the lone warrior, the stranger, the man and woman who stepped forward.

One isn't more powerful or important or better than the other. Just different.

You always have to have one to have the other.


The children who will arrive here within the hour exist in life's shadows.

At school they're teased. Or, even worse, ignored. They're the kids who ride the short bus, the boys and girls who don't fit in, the ones who struggle down hallways in wheelchairs or on crutches.

They're different.

But only on the surface.

And that's what this night is all about.

The volunteers began transforming the lobby at Portland's Shriners Hospital for Children after Friday's last appointment. They had to get the room ready for a prom thrown for children who've been coming to this hospital most of their lives.

For one night --for at least a few hours --these boys and girls could be teenagers. They didn't have to worry about fitting in. Or being understood. Or being accepted. They could reveal what lay hidden in their hearts and souls.


I t's just a dress. Only a few yards of limp fabric on a hanger. Take the finest, most expensive silk ever spun and there's still no life. And certainly no magic.

What a dress always needs is a girl.

A girl in a dress takes a father's breath away. He turns from the television when his daughter walks into the room and is struck by how quickly the years have slipped away, gone in a heartbeat when he wasn't paying attention to all the changes.

A girl in a dress stands before her mother and they realize --despite all those arguments over messy rooms and dirty dishes --that they share a bond that doesn't need to be expressed in words, only in a glance that says "We're alike."

A girl in a dress stands before a mirror and sees her past and her future, the girl she is and the woman she will become.

A dress without a girl is nothing.

That becomes clear Saturday morning when one sees the hundreds of dresses hanging from racks in a large room at the Oregon Convention Center in Northeast Portland. Every imaginable color and size are available.

They have about as much character as towels.


On this Monday morning in March, Hoppe is thinking about money. The $15 million barge project he's overseeing could end up behind schedule.

The barge is supposed to be finished in October. If Hoppe's crew doesn't get the barge in the water --a spectacle that attracts onlookers in the South Waterfront high-rises --when promised, the company faces a $2,000-a-day penalty that's written into the contract.

Hoppe pushes open a wooden door that leads from the hallway to the engineer's office, the last stop before the yard. He flips through blueprints. The 55 pages detail every inch of the 80,000-gallon barge. When done, it will have dedicated tanks to carry jet fuel, unleaded gas and diesel oil from Alaska to ports up and down the West Coast.

"A floating gas station," Hoppe says as he opens a second door and steps into the yard.

To stand in the yard is to visit a time when people built things that could be seen and explained. Look at a barge, you know what it does. How many of us understand how an iPod makes music?


In this mobile world, people move. Neighborhoods turn over, people come and go as they deal with job transfers, divorces and the need for more space or less. Sometimes what propels them is just a kind of restlessness. Something catches their eye over the horizon and they're gone.

And then . . .

There's no way of proving it --it's not like people keep local statistics on such things --but common sense makes it seem unlikely that anyone could stake a claim quite like Cramer's. Except for college and a stint in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he's spent his entire life in one house.

Oh, by the way, the man is nearly 90.


Life's most powerful forces are invisible. How do you begin to explain faith, perseverance and love? The best you can do, at least in this case, is to stand outside a Southwest Portland home in an early morning rain and wait for a 79-year-old woman to start her day.

She limps out --cane in hand, right shoe an inch taller than the left --and is helped into a van that will carry her to a school at the foot of the hill. Although she's in constant pain, she settles into the seat with a smile. Her name is Sister Dolores Doohan. But everyone calls her "Sister D."


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Resuming 14 July

Check out the post below for the story we'll discuss next Monday at 9 a.m. in the old newsroom conference room. See you then .


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Earl Swift, my hero

Probably one of the best newspaper writers in America who you've never heard of. Come ready to chew into this one on Monday. By Earl Swift of the Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk.



The scar made a long straightaway down the left side of his face. It ran shallow across his forehead and sliced through his eyelids and dug deep into his cheek. It crossed his mouth so that when he grinned, as Joe Weatherly was predisposed to do, he left a third of the smile behind.

Big as it was, the wound might have been the second thing most people noticed about Weatherly. The first, most likely, was the way he arrived, because he could drive anything on wheels faster than it made sense to go, and faster than anyone with sense had desire to.

For a time, the skill served him well: The Norfolk boy grew up to be a national motorcycle racing champion, then joined the stock car circuit; before long he owned a piece of three racetracks and was one of NASCAR's first big stars.

Over a dozen years, Joe Weatherly won 25 races, placed in the top five 105 times and won the points championship, now called the Nextel Cup, two years in a row. He was a favorite among fans for his flair as much as his victories: Weatherly was an archetype of the early NASCAR hero, an inveterate practical joker and hell-raiser, a resilient hard partier, a rough-and-tumble Southern rogue.

The scar predated all of that. When he'd made it big, some sportswriters guessed the wound dated to his motorcycle days. Others offered an explanation that persists on the Internet, that during his Army service in World War II, a bullet from a German sniper had torn into his cheek.

Neither story was true. Joe Weatherly got his scar on Norfolk's 26th Street, in a wreck that nearly killed him.

And he didn't get the worst of it.

An October midnight in 1946, Wednesday the 2nd rolling into Thursday: The Norfolk Police Department's graveyard shift had just come on duty when two officers in the traffic bureau, Charles D. Grant and Chase R. Davis, got the word: Accident on 26th at Leo Street. Multiple injuries.

The two rolled to the scene in a stretcher-equipped van assigned to whoever was pulling accident detail. They brought along a pair of cops who'd been angling for a ride home - a lucky break, because they needed the extra hands. The scene that awaited them was a mess.

A 1942 Buick sedan, eastbound on 26th, had hit the curb as it negotiated a tight S-curve. It had slid 188 feet across the road, jumped the far curb and smacked head-on into a tree. The car was totaled. Six people, three couples, lay inside.

Weatherly, the driver, was hung up in the broken windshield, his face cleaved in two, blood spurting from his punctured neck. His girlfriend, 18-year-old Jean Flanagan, lay bunched in the right front footwell, both legs broken. In the back seat, Marion Wells and another girl were shaken but unhurt, and Marion's date, Alvah "Skeet" Cowan, wasn't badly injured.

Not so the last passenger, 24-year-old James Edwin "Eddie" Baines. His head, wedged between front seat and door post, had suffered grievous damage. As Officer Grant would later recall: "We knew he was in bad shape."

But Weatherly commanded immediate attention.

"He was bleeding profusely," Grant said. "He'd have died in a few more minutes."

One of the off-duty cops, Louis D. Looney, clamped his hands over Weatherly's neck, trying to stanch the blood until an ambulance arrived.

These days, 26th Street carries just eastbound traffic until it merges with westbound 27th Street to become Lafayette Boulevard. They fuse at about the spot Weatherly crashed.

But the modern junction is much changed from that of 1946. The curve that 26th negotiates to meet 27th is wide and graceful; that of 61 years ago was a far more sudden jerk to the left, onto northbound Leo, followed by an almost immediate, 90-degree cut back to the right.

To the police, the accident's cause was no mystery: The 2-ton Buick had been moving too fast to negotiate the back-to-back turns. And it was no surprise to find Weatherly draped over the steering wheel.

"It was speed," Grant said, "which is what he was known for. Anybody who knew Joe Weatherly would tell you that he'd run a car as fast as he could. He was one we knew."

In fact, Weatherly was driving illegally that night, his license having already been revoked for an infraction lost to history. Within months he'd be making a name for himself as a motorcycle racer, and within two years he'd be national champion, but as Grant and Davis untangled him from the wreckage, Weatherly was in serious legal trouble.

At the time, it wasn't clear that he'd survive to face it. He'd been cut, Grant recalled, "all the way down his face and into his jugular vein.

"That officer saved his life," he said of Looney. "Thank God we had those other two officers with us."

A cop drove the unconscious Eddie Baines to Norfolk General Hospital. Looney rode with Weatherly to DePaul, a hand still pressed to the driver's neck. Jean Flanagan was conscious when Grant, destined to become Norfolk's police chief, lifted her from the footwell.

"We had to get her out of there and straighten her legs to get her on a stretcher," he said. "She hollered so as to make the hair stand up on your head."

That afternoon's Ledger-Dispatch reported that "four persons were injured, three seriously," with Baines suffering "a forehead laceration and internal injuries." The following morning's Virginian-Pilot added that Baines and Flanagan were in "critical shape" and that an arrest warrant waited for the improving Weatherly. The charges: reckless driving and driving with a revoked permit.

Then, on the afternoon of Oct. 6, Baines, who lived in the Fox Hall neighborhood and had recently mustered out of the Army's 101st Airborne Division, died of his head injuries.

A native of Blackstone, Va., Baines and a few of his nine siblings had moved to Norfolk before the war. He was buried near Rocky Mount, N.C.

Weatherly was charged with homicide.

A few weeks later, on Nov. 30, Weatherly presented Jean Flanagan with a ring. They were married in October 1948.

He spent a good piece of the intervening two years in court. In a lengthy police court session two months after the wreck, the homicide charge was dropped - a fitting development because, Jean Weatherly would say more than 60 years later, speed hadn't killed Baines.

Actually, the evening had been pretty tame: The six had been at Schoe's Curb Service, a drive-in restaurant at 21st and Granby streets that Jean's family owned, before Weatherly set out to take everyone home. Just before the wreck, he stopped the car at 26th and Church streets to say hello to a friend.

"It was only a block away," she said, "so he didn't have time to get much speed up, with the weight of the car."

Her explanation: "We hit the curb and broke the steering rod, and the tree was right there."

Even so, Weatherly was convicted of the lesser charges. He appealed to Norfolk Corporation Court - today's Circuit Court - where on Jan. 10, 1947, he was hit with $400 in fines and two suspended 30-day sentences.

That spring, Baines' sister, Effie E. Daniels, sued Weatherly and his mother, Carrie Kellam, who owned the Buick. The claim against Kellam was dropped, but Weatherly was found liable for $15,000, to be divided equally among Baines' four brothers and five sisters.

Weatherly's fiancee and her mother sued, as well. In June 1947, a jury in the Court of Law and Chancery fixed the damages due to each at $10,000 and $4,000, respectively.

And as a brief filed by State Farm Mutual Insurance Co. in federal court observed: "In each of said actions it is alleged that the Buick automobile in question was operated with gross negligence."

The accident wasn't Weatherly's last brush with the law, by any means. In September 1947, an unspecified misdemeanor saw his suspended sentences revoked, and he went to jail. In 1955, he led police on a wee-hours chase through Norfolk, for which he was slapped with a $100 fine, another suspended sentence and the loss of his license for 60 days.

By then, he was a big-time racer - newspaper stories wondered whether he could legally drive on a track when he was barred from the streets - and the press tended to couch his transgressions as harmless fun, even nicknamed him the "Clown Prince of Auto Racing." Legends bloomed from his practical jokes and hell-for-leather partying, about how he banged up rental cars and supposedly drove one into a motel swimming pool.

It seemed that, the scar aside, that night 61 years ago did not much change Weatherly.

"You saw him from the rear, wherever he went," said his friend Robert Ingram of Norfolk, a prominent car builder of the era. "He'd take it to the edge."

Weatherly won NASCAR's first all-star race in 1961. He dominated the sport in 1962, the first of his years as points champion. He did it again in 1963, when he finished 35 of his 53 races in the top 10. He was leading the points race for a third year when he pulled into Riverside, Calif., for the road race of Jan. 19, 1964.

He was a superstitious man, spooked by the color green or the presence of peanuts at the track, beholden to talismans and ritual. But those quirks, that scar, didn't prompt him to use a shoulder harness. When he crashed on the 110th lap, his unrestrained head smacked into a retaining wall.

He died of facial injuries.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Thank-You for 18 Million Cracks in the Glass Ceiling

During the campaign, it was her opponent who owned the lofty rhetoric. But on the day she finally conceded defeat, it was Hillary Clinton's words that soared.

"As we gather here today," she told her supporters and staff members at the National Building Museum yesterday, "the 50th woman to leave this Earth is orbiting overhead. If we can blast 50 women into space, we will someday launch a woman into the White House."

Two hundred forty miles below the international space station, the midday sunlight pouring into the 100-foot-high atrium illuminated the thousands who had come to bid the Clinton presidential candidacy farewell: most of them women, many of them with young children, some of them in tears.

"Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it's got about 18 million cracks in it," the former candidate continued. "And the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time."

It will be up to the historians to ponder why Clinton waited until the very last day of her campaign to give full voice to the epochal nature of her candidacy. Through the Democratic primary race of 2008, she had played down the significance of being the first woman within reach of the presidency. It's tempting to wonder whether things would have turned out differently if she had embraced the theme earlier -- but there can be little doubt that her last speech of the campaign was also her best.

Yesterday brought the House of Clinton full circle. Fifteen years ago, one of Bill Clinton's first inaugural balls had been held in this same building, modeled on Roman palaces. The Corinthian columns stood as before, but this time a white-haired Bill Clinton merely gave a silent salute to the crowd; he had said quite enough during the campaign.

The storied building was, too, a place to salve wounds. Congress ordered it built in the 1880s as the U.S. Pension Bureau to help the maimed of the Civil War. Yesterday it was used for a form of ritual cleansing, a chance for Clinton and her supporters to leave behind the hard feelings and put their support behind Barack Obama.

It didn't go exactly according to plan. When Clinton got to the exhortation to "do all we can to help elect Barack Obama the next president of the United States," some boos hollered from the balconies mixed with the applause. The isolated booing returned each of the half-dozen times Clinton returned to a variation of the phrase.

"I would die and slit my wrist before I'd vote for Obama," said a Silver Spring woman in the Clinton volunteers section who gave her name only as Edith. She wore a sign pinned to the back of her Hillary T-shirt proposing: "Remember in November: vote present."

There were hints that Clinton herself was appearing with reluctance. She arrived 45 minutes late for the concession speech, after refusing to acknowledge Obama's victory at all after he clinched the nomination on Tuesday night. She wore black. She took the stage to the Goo Goo Dolls tune "Better Days." She uttered 650 words before she finally uttered "Barack Obama."

"Well, this isn't exactly the party I'd planned," she said, "but I sure like the company."

No doubt. It was that rare campaign event attended by both Sidney Blumenthal and Matt Drudge. The floor and balconies were jammed with thousands of supporters, who had lined up in the oppressive heat. Among them: 81-year-old Norma Mobley of Dallas, a McCain supporter who was in town for a funeral but came to see Clinton because "it's a part of history."

History was on Clinton's mind, too. "When I was asked what it means to be a woman running for president, I always gave the same answer: that I was proud to be running as a woman but I was running because I thought I'd be the best president," she said. "But I am a woman, and, like millions of women, I know there are still barriers and biases out there, often unconscious, and I want to build an America that respects and embraces the potential of every last one of us.

"I ran as a daughter who benefited from opportunities my mother never dreamed of," she continued. "I ran as a mother who worries about my daughter's future and a mother who wants to leave all children brighter tomorrows. To build that future I see, we must make sure that women and men alike understand the struggles of their grandmothers and their mothers."

The words flowed with a force of conviction rarely seen on the campaign trail these many months. "From now on, it will be unremarkable for a woman to win primary state victories, unremarkable to have a woman in a close race to be our nominee, unremarkable to think that a woman can be the president of the United States," she told her supporters. "And that is truly remarkable."

Behind the podium, some of the young women who volunteered for the campaign wept and hugged as she spoke to "the young people who put so much into this campaign: It would break my heart if, in falling short of my goal, I in any way discouraged any of you from pursuing yours."

She recalled the struggles for abolition, suffrage and civil rights. "Because of you, children today will grow up taking for granted that an African American or a woman can, yes, become the president of the United States," she said. "And so when that day arrives, and a woman takes the oath of office as our president, we will all stand taller, proud of the values of our nation, proud that every little girl can dream big and that her dreams can come true in America."

Soon the last rally was over, and the crowd filed outside, where the Clinton '08 T-shirts had been marked down to $5 each. Before leaving, Clinton aide Maria Cardona, holding her 3-year-old son's hand and her 15-month-old daughter in a sling, paused to reflect on the candidate's parting words about the children.

"That's why I brought them," she said. "They both can be president." She looked at her daughter, who, like her brother, wore a "Mommy and Me for Hillary" T-shirt. "She can go first," Cardona said.


In Defeat, Clinton Graciously Pretends to Win

"What does Hillary want?"

Hillary Clinton put the question to her supporters here Tuesday night, moments after her opponent, Barack Obama, clinched the Democratic presidential nomination.

What Hillary did not want to do was to concede defeat. "I want the nearly 18 million Americans who voted for me to be respected, to be heard," she told her fans, who answered with cheers of "Denver! Denver!" and "Yes she will!"

The campaign was over, and Obama had locked up the nomination after a flood of more than 40 superdelegates announced their support for him throughout the day. But in the Baruch College gymnasium here (the "Bearcat Den"), Clinton spoke as if she were the victor.

She and her husband and daughter took the stage, smiling, clapping and bopping to the beat. She said nothing about losing the nomination, instead thanking South Dakota for giving her a victory in Tuesday's balloting: "You had the last word in this primary season!" This, she said, confirmed that she had won "more votes than any primary candidate in history."

Clinton congratulated Obama -- not for winning the nomination, but for running an "extraordinary race." She recognized Obama and his supporters "for all they accomplished."

It was an extraordinary performance by a woman who had been counted out of the race even when she still had a legitimate chance. Now she had been mathematically eliminated -- and she spoke as if she had won.

Though some might think her remarks self-delusional, Clinton wasn't kidding herself; earlier in the day, Clinton had told lawmakers privately that the race was over and she would consider being Obama's vice president. Her public defiance reflected a shift in the balance of power that came with Obama's victory. Now that he had won the race, he would need to woo Clinton if he wanted to prevail in November.

"Obama has work to do," the outspoken Clinton adviser Lanny Davis told reporters in the hallway outside the gymnasium here. "Senator Clinton can't do it for him."

Obama's aides had done their best throughout the day to build excitement for his clinching of the nomination. "Obama needs 41 delegates to secure the Democratic nomination," Obama spokesman Dan Pfeiffer announced in an e-mail he sent out at 6:56 a.m.

It was the beginning of a day-long water torture for Clinton, as Obama aimed, by day's end, to reach the 2,118 delegates needed to clinch the nomination.

For Obama, however, it wasn't a pretty way to clinch. He had won only six of the last 14 contests, and Tuesday night he lost South Dakota, too, where he had been heavily favored. Now that the party had partially accepted results from the Florida and Michigan primaries, Clinton could claim with some justification that she had received more votes than Obama.

And so the limping nominee needed to be carried across the finish line by the superdelegates whose support Pfeiffer announced throughout the day: a Michigan congresswoman, a Massachusetts superdelegate, one from Mississippi, two from Michigan, one from the District of Columbia, two from California, one from Florida, three from Delaware. "Twelve delegates from the nomination," Pfeiffer announced. Then 11, then 10.

The rush of the opportunistic superdelegates toward the inevitable nominee only worsened what was certain to be an unhappy day for the Clintons, who had arrived at their Westchester home at about 3 a.m. after an awkward last day of campaigning in South Dakota. Bill Clinton had flown into a rage and called a reporter a "scumbag." At her last event in South Dakota, Hillary had lost her voice in a coughing fit. Somebody had seen fit to play an inappropriate John Fogerty tune before she took the stage: "It ain't me, it ain't me. I ain't no fortunate one."

On Tuesday evening, the crowd began to assemble at Baruch College in Manhattan for Clinton's non-concession speech. The scene was made to look festive: The Clinton campaign ordered 70 boxes of Domino's pizza for the press corps, and set up a cash bar for its fundraisers, or "honored guests." The honored guests were not in a partying mood, however. One older woman pointed at a reporter accusingly and said: "He is the one who destroyed our heroine!"

A crew from "The Daily Show" joined the party, and, hoping to keep Clinton in the race, struck up a cheer of "Four more months!"

Such an outlandish thing seemed almost plausible among the Clinton backers in the hermetically sealed Baruch gym. Below ground level, there was no cellphone or BlackBerry reception, and there was no television playing in the room. That meant that they could not see the network projections showing that, while Clinton had won South Dakota, Obama had won enough delegates to clinch the nomination. Instead, they listened to Tom Petty's "Won't Back Down."

Just before Obama officially clinched, the Clinton campaign issued a press release as if it were still in the middle of a nominating battle. "Wyoming Automatic Delegate Backs Hillary," the e-mail said. It didn't include the name of the brave superdelegate.

Terry McAuliffe, the campaign chairman, took the stage and read the full list of Clinton's victories, from American Samoa to Massachusetts. Introducing Clinton, he asked: "Are you ready for the next president of the United States?"

This brought laughter from the reporters in the back of the room, but Clinton induced the crowd to boo the "pundits and naysayers" who would have run her from the race. "I am so proud we stayed the course together," she told her backers, who interjected cries of "We believe in you!" and "Yes, we will!"

Only obliquely did Clinton refer to the fact that she had, in fact, lost the nomination. "The question is: Where do we go from here?" she said. She would figure that out "in the coming days," she said, but "I will be making no decisions tonight." The crowd in the Bearcat Den erupted in a sustained cheer. She referred her supporters to her Web site, as she had after many a primary night victory.

For a candidate who had just lost the nomination, she seemed very much in charge.

That must be what Hillary wants.


Why Tomatoes Hate America, by Dana Milbank

The tomatoes attacked us brutally and without warning. Yesterday, our leaders struck back against the pernicious produce.

"As we hold this hearing, grocers and restaurants nationwide have been pulling tomatoes from the shelves and menus," announced Rep. John Shimkus, the ranking Republican member of the House Commerce subcommittee assigned to skewer the tomatoes.

One hundred sixty-seven people have been sickened by salmonella-tainted tomatoes -- and that's not the worst of it. "I tried to get a BLT sandwich in the cloakroom yesterday, and no tomato!" Shimkus recounted. "I had a BL sandwich."

Now THIS is war! And the more they talked about it, the more members of the panel realized that the Global War on Tomatoes would have to be broadened. Other freedom-hating foods are trying to kill us, too.

"We can see tomatoes, spinach, grapes, mushrooms, seafood and dozens of other items which have gone on to poison and sicken the American consumer," complained Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.).

"Jars of Peter Pan peanut butter containing salmonella, cans of green beans containing botulism, spinach tainted with E. coli, poisoned pot pies," rejoined Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). "The largest meat recall in the history of our country. . . . Salmonella was found in Puffed Rice and Puffed Wheat cereals. . . . Tainted cantaloupes."

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) was losing her appetite. "The longer you sit on this committee, the more depressed you get, because the issues never get resolved and crop up again and again," she said, betraying no sign that her "crop" pun was intentional.

It was one of the scarier moments in horticulture since the 1978 B movie "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes," in which mutant fruits turned against humanity. And there was no escaping the horror yesterday, even on lunch break in the Rayburn cafeteria downstairs from the hearing room. "Because your health and safety is our first priority, we have followed the FDA warning by removing the tomato varieties of concern," a sign above the salad bar announced.

Without doubt, the man feeling most strained by tomatoes yesterday was David Acheson, the food safety chief at the Food and Drug Administration. And Acheson, whose British accent makes him sound aloof to begin with, made the mistake of quarreling with his questioners.

"Fresh produce, like spinach -- how many outbreaks have we had with that?" demanded the subcommittee's chairman, Bart Stupak (D-Mich.).

"Two," Acheson replied.

"Man," the chairman continued, "the last 10 years, I think there's been like eight."

"No," Acheson informed him. "Two with spinach. There's been eight or nine with other leafy greens."

"There has been at least 20 in 10 years," Stupak insisted.

"Excuse me," Acheson lectured. "I think you're confusing spinach with other leafy greens, like lettuce."

Acheson was in no position to argue with the lawmakers. His department has been plagued by poor oversight, coordination and planning, the Government Accountability Office found. FDA's own Science Board concluded that the agency "does not have the capacity to ensure the safety of food." The Bush administration, stewing over the tomatoes, this week dramatically increased its budget request for food safety.

The timing of the hearing, scheduled before word of the tomato attack went public, was also problematic for Acheson. "This outbreak is particularly frustrating, given the fact that today marks the one-year anniversary of the FDA's Tomato Safety Initiative," Stupak noted.

Acheson was destined to be sliced and diced.

Dingell, the longest-serving member of the House, informed Acheson that his system is "crowned by incompetence, indifference, inadequacy and a gross shortfall in funding and leadership."

"It's almost like a conspiracy against parents," protested Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.). "You know how hard it is to get your kids to eat spinach and tomatoes to begin with."

And Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), while assuring all that "our good, Tennessee-grown tomatoes are safe," lamented the stories "about the FDA and your inability to take action -- my goodness gracious!"

Acheson was caught in this year's equivalent of the shark attacks. The tomato had been a suspicious plant to begin with -- Is it a fruit? Or a vegetable? -- and now he had to justify leaving the nation undefended despite signs that the tomato could turn against us.

"Food can become contaminated at many different steps along the path from farm to fork," he tried to explain. "In recent years, the FDA has done a great deal to prevent both deliberate and unintentional contamination."

But not enough, as the questioning revealed. How much would it cost to implement the FDA's Food Protection Plan? "It gets a little difficult to actually determine." Any idea what it might cost over five years? "I couldn't tell you." Why not? "You're asking me to go outside of my authority within the administration." Absolutely nothing about long-term budgeting? "It is what it is." Would FDA help Congress draft legislation governing food safety? "There's no intent to provide specific legislative language." If the tainted tomatoes are coming from Mexico, shouldn't we know more about the growing process there? "I beg to differ."

"You can see our frustration, Dr. Acheson," DeGette said from the dais, looking as if she'd like to throw a tomato at him.


Friday, June 13, 2008

For Monday 16 June ...

Be sure to click through "read more" for Monday's discussion story, from the 12 June NYT and Peter Applebome. Nice and short but very powerful:

Reflecting, in a Place of Racial Tolerance, the Long Road Traveled, and to Come


The Obama yard sign in front of the house where Don and Julia Miller integrated Stanford Place back in 1962 tells one story.

The cherry bomb and trash dumped on the lawn when they moved in and the chorus of “Old Black Joe” directed at the person who sold them the house tells another.

The letter of apology that came in the mail on Wednesday from the person who lived next door when they moved in — and who moved out not long afterward — tells a third.

Our real stories of race and place are almost always more complicated than we find ways to tell, especially on suburban streets invariably cloaked in dopey clichés of suburban conformity, as if the people there were somehow a different species than their more worthy urban brethren.

So who knows if anything will become of the screenplay written by Jason Lemire, who grew up across the street, mowing the Millers’ lawn and worshiping Mr. Miller as an important artist, and who figured their story could resonate beyond Stanford Place.

But when more than 200 people packed the auditorium at the Montclair Art Museum on Wednesday night to celebrate Mr. Miller’s life and reflect on the first public reading of the screenplay, “Foot Soldier: The Don Miller Story,” it was one of those rare moments when past and present could artfully merge.

Not many suburbs have as interesting a racial history as Montclair, whose population is about one-third black, and which has not always lived up to its current image as a liberal Obamaville. Mr. Miller, who grew up there and died in 1993 at the age of 69, had his first art exhibition at the age of 12 at Montclair’s Y.W.C.A., one of three segregated Y’s in town. Back then and for many years afterward, the movie theater was segregated, too: blacks in the balcony, whites below.

Still, when the Millers, who were living in East Orange at the time, decided to look for a house in Montclair, the civil rights movement was beginning to brew. They looked at one house in a white neighborhood, and before they could buy it, neighbors purchased it so they could not.

When they found the house on Stanford Place, the owner held firm despite angry neighbors who stood out in the snow taunting him in song about the race of the buyers. The Millers’ arrival was rocky until one of the police officers in town, who also was black, read the riot act to the neighbors. Some moved out. Most stayed, and, in the way things evolve, soon realized that their new neighbors were just that, and life quite amicably moved on.

For both Millers, race remained central to their work. She headed the African-American studies program at Seton Hall. He infused the children’s books he illustrated with black faces as well as white, and created the powerful paintings of African masks and children from Congo to Newark to Jamaica, some of which still hang on the walls in their home.

The assignment of Mr. Miller’s life, a 56-foot-long mural of the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that was unveiled in 1986, when his birthday was first celebrated as a national holiday, is on permanent display at the main public library in Washington. And during the two years he worked on it, civil rights luminaries visited the old ballroom he rented, since it was too big for his airy third-floor studio here on Stanford Place. (Rosa Parks let Mr. Miller know he had the wrong route sign on her famous bus; he changed it to what you can see today, Cleveland Ave.)

Looking back, Mrs. Miller, 79, and her son Eric, 51, see enormous progress. How could they not? But they also see the many folds in the post-civil rights fabric, like the way Montclair is now somewhat segregated as much by income as by race.

“There’s been an influx of yuppies who see this as a great liberal town, intellectual, lots of cultural things going on,” she said. “They really don’t want to hear anything negative about it.”

Now, she said, she and her husband, who paid $20,000 for their house in 1962, probably could not afford to buy in Montclair, and the black middle-class community that once existed no longer plays the nurturing and mentoring role it once did.

“There was this viable, vital middle-class black community in Montclair, who, in some ways, looked at the people uptown and thought: ‘We don’t need that. We’ve got our clubs, our churches, our groups, our professionals,’ ” she said. “You don’t see the same thing now. In some ways, I’ll say integration did a lot of harm.”

Does she want to go back? Of course not, but here in the Obama moment, on Don Miller’s night, the people with their eyes open saw a tale still in progress, a world as rich and complex as the African art, and political posters suspended in the warm sun in Don Miller’s loft, his stiff brushes in old tobacco cans as if waiting for him to again come home.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Nikole and bling, etc

Nikole Hannah-Jones led a tremendous discussion about race and journalism in our group. We talked about her Jammin' 95 story and how it made it into the paper. Excellent.

No meeting next week to commemorate Memorial Day.

On tap for 2 June: "Climbing a Ladder Made of Lipstick," by Molly Hennessey-Fiske of the LA Times.


Monday, May 12, 2008

Updating agenda for 19 May

Nikole Hannah-Jones will be joining us for a conversation about her Jammin' 95 story in the HOW WE LIVE section today -- voice, perspective, meaning, etc. If there's time, we'll get around to the Hennessey-Fiske story from the LA Times (see previous post). If not, we'll slip it over to the next week. Nikole's piece below:

Peace out, hip-hop: Nikole Hannah-Jones laments as Jammin' 95.5 abandons the genre The station's changeover in format leaves a cultural void and a loss to Portland's music scene R.I.P. hip-hop: Beyond beats are messages of love, justice

By Nikole Hannah-jones
The Oregonian
Monday,May 12, 2008
Edition: Sunrise, Section: Arts & Entertainment

It's late Monday and downtown Portland is quiet. My girls and I lounge in a dim booth at a nondescript spot called Momo's. It's too small, too smoky and the crowd too eclectic to explain. But on this night, it bangs some of the hottest hip-hop spun in PDX and so draws those of us who moved here from other places and who miss that urban thump.

I sip a Beautiful --cognac and Grand Marnier --but it doesn't lift the somber mood at my table.

We're discussing the demise of Oregon's only hip-hop station --Jammin' 95.5. After months of declining ratings, today Jammin' flips to an all-talk sports station.

My friend Leesha shakes her head. "I can't believe it. I still can't believe it."

It's not that Jammin' was that bomb. Anyone who's heard hip-hop radio on the East Coast, in L.A. or in the Dirty South knows that Jammin' played hip-hop music but wasn't really a hip-hop station. Its morning show didn't jibe with a hip-hop platform. Many of the on-air personalities came off as suburbanites who sought street cred by peppering each sentence with slang. As one young, black Portlander puts it: "They were corny."

Still, it's a blow. While other young people listen to a variety of music --from pop to punk to rock to country to hip-hop --for most young black folks, hip-hop is it. The recent Black Youth Project survey found that nearly 60 percent of black youth listen to hip-hop daily compared to just 23 percent of white youth. For Portland's tiny black community, Jammin' on the airwaves was like spraying what is perhaps the whitest major city in America with a graffiti tag saying "we were here."

The day Rose City Radio laid off the Jammin' staff --general manager Tim McNamara has not returned calls --Portland-born promoter and Jammin' radio personality StarChile sits with me to talk about why Jammin' fell off. He's wearing a khaki military jacket, baggy jeans and a baseball cap cocked to the side. His fingers are wrapped around a hot toddy --he's been sick.

"Honestly, Jammin' was not a hip-hop station because a hip-hop station is going to cater to a demographic that loves hip-hop," Star says. "Portland is one of the whitest places damn-near outside of Ireland. The mentality was that we play hip-hop for white people."

He's not dissing white folks who listen to hip-hop. Somewhere in Beaverton, he says, there's a 16-year-old white girl with nothing but hip-hop on her iPod who loves the music and respects the culture.

But, Star says, Jammin's song list became too mainstream and rarely reflected that crazy spectrum of hip-hop that speaks to the diversity of black life.

Yes, some hip-hop is about the pursuit of booty, bling and busting caps. But beyond the beats are messages of social justice and love. Of fighting the power and seeking enlightenment. Of being pushed to the edge and finding redemption. True hip-hop chronicles the story of black struggle better than CNN or any newspaper.

Star's Sunday-night show on Jammin', "Hood Radio," was so popular because it acknowledged that spectrum. "I could play the most gangsta, 25-people-killed-in-the-first-verse song, to the most backpacking, hippie rap," he says. "From Compton's Most Wanted to the Black Eyed Peas. It was a reflection of my attitude and my love for hip-hop."

But, says Portland rapper Cool Nutz, too few Jammin' DJs had that freedom. Instead they played a song list compiled by a program director who wasn't a hip-hop head. "It became more strict," Cool Nutz says. "They were doing the power programming thing where you had five power songs played all day."

No Talib Kweli or The Roots --though these acts sell out when they come to town. No Little Brother or Erykah Badu. Not even artists considered hip-hop kings unless their songs blazed the Top 40 charts. Just the same get-crunk, stripper-on-a-pole music. Over and over and over.

"It was getting to the point where the streets were turning away from us," Star says with a sigh and sip. "Why can't you play Jay-Z 'Heart of the City' at one in the afternoon? It's . . . Jay-Z!"

Vanessa Burchfield, a Portland State University student with hip-hop written into her DNA, says the station's narrow view of a genre that has defined a generation caused her to tune out.

"I stopped listening to the radio a while ago," she says. "You never heard anything new until it was old. I make mix CDs instead."

Even so, Burchfield is struck by the thought of the city's only hip-hop station going silent. Jammin' might not have been the best hip-hop station, but having it on the air gave the city something it needed.

"Black people don't really have a voice here if they don't play our music," Burchfield says.

* Those of us born right after the civil rights era fell in love with hip-hop as soon as we heard people rapping over the borrowed beat of music our parents played. It hooked us, and today African Americans born in the '70s and '80s are known as the hip-hop generation.

Back then, mainstream media didn't touch hip-hop. Pop stations advertised "only the hits and no rap!" MTV acted as if rap videos didn't exist. But hip-hop was all we listened to. It spoke to us, about us, as no other music had. Just as hip-hop was often maligned and misunderstood, so were we. Just as hip-hop was angry and bold, so were we.

StarChile remembers the day Jammin' came on the air in Portland. The year was 1999.

"It was like crack," Star says.

He's only half playing.

"My phone --I should say my beeper --was blowing up," he smiles at the memory. "Everybody was like, 'Yo, it's a radio station and it plays rap music.' It was like, 'Oh my God, we're saved.' "

Jammin' bumrushed the radio scene. Within a few months, its ratings jumped from 18th to third in the market for total audience and from 16th to first among listeners age 16 to 24. The on-air personalities loved hip-hop, Cool Nutz says, and it showed. Many of them went on to work in larger markets or for record labels. The station suffered, hiring people who had come to hip-hop late, who had no hip-hop memory.

But local artists say Jammin's ratings --which improved a bit recently after the station loosened its playlist --don't mean Portlanders don't dig hip-hop anymore. And they fear what the lack of a station will mean for the city's burgeoning hip-hop scene. Hip-hop stations advertise shows and give a platform for artists promoting new albums.

Finally, acts aren't going straight from Cali to Seattle. Nas is coming this week, and Kanye West in June. But who's going to come to a city with no hip-hop on the dial?

"That station has contributed a lot to the growth of this city, and this is damaging to our music scene," Cool Nutz says. "It's embarrassing and it makes me ashamed of our town because it basically says Portland is so weak that it could not sustain a hip-hop station. It's bigger than me or any of these rappers. It's about our urban culture."

* Back at Momo's, DJ Mello Cee bumps the classic Mary J. Blige and Method Man duet, "You're All I Need."

My friends and I stop talking. Each of us has a memory with that song in the background. That song takes me back more than 10 years to riding around in my friend's 1986 Chevy Caprice on dice rims. Mary and Method made a ghetto love story more real than anything we saw on TV.

We sway, eyes closed, and sing the chorus at the top of our lungs. As the song fades into the next track, Leesha asks, "Do you really think we aren't going to have a hip-hop station?"

Rumors on the Net and among local artists say that CBS station Movin' 107.5 might go hip-hop. Susan Reynolds, the marketing director for CBS Radio-Portland, won't confirm or deny the rumors, offering a coy, "If there's anything to announce, we'll do that when it's official."

So, there's still hope. Let's just pray the next station that takes up hip-hop learns from Jammin' and shows real hip-hop some love.



Shaping a story

Yet another excellent conversation this morning first with Esme about her crime and immigration story, then (with Gosia leading) about Kapuscinski. Truth or not true? No, B. Johnson says: better to weigh it as valuable or not valuable. ...

For next Monday, a story about a Mexican becoming a Mexican-American:


Climbing a ladder made of lipstick
Altagracia Valdez and other Latinas are changing the face of cosmetics giant Mary Kay. They want better looks -- and finances.
By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

January 15, 2008

Altagracia Valdez is dreaming of a perfect pink Cadillac. All she has to do to win it, according to her boss at Mary Kay Inc., is expand her list of conocidos.

Those familiar connections, she says, can adorn Valdez's 60-year-old hands with diamond rings, pump up her bank account with enough money to pay the bills, buy a house and help her finally enjoy some middle-class financial security.

If Valdez can recruit a sales force of 30 and sell at least $18,000 worth of cosmetics in four months, she can win a free lease and insurance for her first Mary Kay car -- not the signature pink Cadillac emblazoned with the Mary Kay logo, but maybe a Saturn Vue or a Pontiac Vibe that she can trade in for a Cadillac if she keeps meeting sales quotas. If she falls short of winning the car, she can still earn a promotion if her sales total $16,000. And she can always try again.

The women Valdez is counting on to broaden her direct-sales force are mostly Spanish-speakers she meets knocking on doors in Azusa, La Puente and West Covina, immigrants with little spending money but a burning desire to improve their looks and finances.

In a land of opportunity, cosmetic direct sales looks like a shortcut to the middle class, a corporate ladder whose first rung doesn't require a high school diploma or even English skills. As Latina saleswomen rise through the ranks, they are changing the face of Mary Kay, long associated with blond Texas founder Mary Kay Ash.

Mary Kay Inc. sees potential in the immigrants' battered apartments and modest tract homes. Both Mary Kay and rivals such as Avon have recently seen sales swell among Latino immigrants in California.

"Sometimes a woman can have an empty stomach, but she has to have lipstick," said Valdez's boss, Sandra Chamorro, a Nicaraguan immigrant and single mother with a house in San Gabriel and a new pale pink Cadillac convertible, the Mary Kay reward for top sellers.

"Maybe," Chamorro added, "you buy a little less milk."

In November, in the dim living room of a West Covina tract house, Valdez was making that case as she gave a facial to Mary Lee Mejia, 19, a striking Salvadoran with blond highlights, blue-gray eyes and porcelain skin.

"There are no limits -- a woman can work for what she wants," Valdez promised in Spanish as Mejia, who works in a recycling center, lifted a pink hand mirror to admire the results.

"And what about us?" asked Mejia's fiancé, a Mexican mechanic who was smoothing on hand lotion as his brother dabbed on face cream. "Can we sell too?"

Sure, Valdez said, reassuring the man that joining her sales team wouldn't interfere with his home life.

Valdez pointed to her daughter Cindy, 20, sitting beside her. Cindy is developmentally disabled, nonverbal and shy. Valdez takes her everywhere, even to her facial appointments and Mary Kay meetings. At first, Cindy hated the Mary Kay social gatherings, but she has grown to love the routine -- and the rewards. In the privacy of their one-bedroom apartment, Cindy models her mother's rhinestone crowns, prizes Valdez earned for her recruiting.

This is a family business, Valdez told Mejia and the men. "Mary Kay said first comes God, then comes family, then business."

Then Valdez made her pitch: Which items did Mejia and the others like best?


They couldn't afford to buy anything. Mejia sank into her fiancé's arms, whispering about lotion. But they were saving for a wedding, and the $22 lotion was too expensive.

Valdez changed tactics -- maybe they could sell for her. To start, she said, they would each need $108 for a sample kit of cosmetics. Once they began selling, they could keep half of the selling price -- $11 for the $22 lotion, for instance, with the remaining $11 divided among Valdez, her boss and Mary Kay Inc. She passed out Mary Kay catalogs. Give them to co-workers during lunch breaks, she said. Show them the new colors. Ask them what they like. Friends become clients you can count on to pay.

Mejiawatched Valdez pull a gold satchel from one of her makeup bags, unzip it and withdraw pink sign-up forms.

They all signed. They would find the money.

Valdez guided Cindy back to her 2000 Ford Focus, which had been acting up. She was disappointed she didn't sell anything. But the new recruits, the consultoras, give her hope.

She was particularly pleased with Mejia, a delicate girl she first spotted through the window of a nearby apartment. La guera, she called her later, "the white girl."

"Can you see that lady selling Mary Kay? She is going to make money because everybody wants to look like her."

Valdez's skin is caramel-colored, lined with age and hard times that Mary Kay creams and lotions can't smooth away. But she has learned to use her grandmotherly looks to entice customers. Immigrant women welcome her into their homes like a relative, often during the day, to buy cosmetics while their husbands are away. They call her Alta, "tall" in Spanish, an ironic nickname for a diminutive woman who stands 5 feet 2, always looking up to somebody, always listening.

"It is a vocation, talking to people," Valdez said as she drove to visit customers on a chilly Sunday night. "Sometimes they just need you there to listen, especially women."

During their free facials, women vent to her about marriages, children, jobs, the stresses of life as some of this country's most underpaid and underappreciated workers. Valdez listens, gently reminding them between peels that they deserve better -- a job, say, where they can work on their own schedule, spend time with their children and end the day looking better than when they started.

She highlights the reasons why she joined Mary Kay two years ago: to support her children, get out of the house, become independent. She doesn't dwell on the darker details -- how desperate she was after she left her husband of 33 years, an illiterate construction worker who threatened to kill their children and once beat her so hard he broke her jaw.

Valdez doesn't tell them that many of the 1,000 other mostly Latina sales consultants in her local network earn significantly less than their boss, who is one of 500 national sales directors. Talented new consultoras earn about $2,000 a month without benefits. By comparison, Chamorro, their boss, earns a six-figure annual income and is eligible for group health insurance.

Valdez has been promoted higher than a regular consultora -- she's a "super estrella," or superstar. But she still needs one more promotion, to director, to make her eligible for health insurance.

Valdez doesn't tell her new recruits how torn she feels trying to move up the corporate ladder, to manage business and family, help her consultoras and please her boss.

Chamorro's top sellers gather by rank for their monthly meetings at a small office in Alhambra. The veterans sit up front, flaunting their $300 purple suits, black pumps and real diamond and gold pins. Then come the new recruits, recent immigrants, hair tied back, clutching pictures of their dream cars as they slip in late and sit on folding chairs at the back. There's Maria Sanchez, Carmen Torrez, Lorena Ramirez, Rosario Molina, Rita Villareal and Reynata Arradondo -- about 40 women, almost all mothers, some grandmothers.

If Valdez reaches her sales goal, she'll be sitting up front with the veterans, too.

At the November meeting, Chamorro assumed her seat at a pink table at the front, flanked by portraits of the late Mary Kay Ash, who once invited her to tea at her famous pink Mary Kay mansion in Dallas.

What was your dream when you came to the U.S.? Chamorro asked her top sellers in Spanish. A ranch house in the hills? A pool? A car? All you need to achieve those dreams, she said, is to sell.

Your children will bug you for rides. Your husband may not respect your work. Don't listen, she said. Stay focused on that dream.

Family is Valdez's weakness.

She has seven children. When her oldest daughter, a public school administrator, needs a baby-sitter, Valdez cancels facials. When her recently separated son has trouble with his kids, Valdez stops by instead of calling potential customers. When Cindy, her baby, gets sick, Valdez stays home.

"When it comes to the family, I just can't say no," she said.

Many of her consultoras and customers have the same problem.

At one stop, a tract house with cars packed onto the narrow driveway, Valdez was greeted by a pregnant woman, an undocumented immigrant. She wanted cream to treat the spots on her face, but her husband insists that she save for the baby. The woman gave Valdez $70 to buy her a crib instead, a favor her trusted superstar consultora agreed to in the hopes of future sales.

Sometimes, Valdez cuts corners to recruit poor consultoras. She helps them cover their start-up costs. She gives some of them free makeup kits until they earn enough to pay her back. She supplies others with a few items to sell. Instead of paying them in cosmetics and pocketing the difference, the way some Mary Kay managers do, Valdez lets the women keep half the selling price.

Her generosity binds consultoras to her and helps her feel better about using them to achieve her goal.

"She's really very good. Have you heard her on the phone?" said new recruit Esperanza Garcia, 21. Valdez was signing her up at Garcia's office, a West Covina payday loan store where neon signs in the window announce: "We Buy & Sell Pesos."

It was Nov. 30, Valdez's last day to meet her $18,000 sales goal, and it was pouring rain.

Customers were canceling facials. Garcia, whose first name means "hope," was the final recruit Valdez needed to meet her goal. The new consultora had $3,000 in sales lined up, but prospective sales didn't count toward Valdez's goal. She was about $2,000 short.

So Valdez slipped on her gold suit and climbed back into the car with Cindy, next to a pile of handouts her boss had made for her sales force.

"This is a decisive month for Altagracia Valdez to arrive at her goal," the handouts said in Spanish, urging consultoras to sell at least $200 worth of makeup.

"Remember, to give is to receive."

In the rain, Valdez approached locked apartment courtyards on Dora Guzman Avenue in La Puente, calling to children in Spanish to let her in. Inside, it smelled of Mexico -- cheap laundry detergent mingling with the sweet scent of simmering corn tortillas.

Valdez made her way through mud puddles, past garden Nativity scenes and apartments with pictures of the Virgin of Guadalupe taped to the windows, to a rickety stone staircase. Cindy climbed ahead. Valdez, loaded down with pink Mary Kay cosmetics bags, sped up behind her on JC Penney pumps.

Just as she reached the top, she slipped and fell.

Almost instantly, Valdez was up again and smiling, reassuring Cindy that she was OK. She knocked on the door of a consultora, a pregnant woman who had promised to recruit customers. The windows were dark. Neighbors didn't know where the woman was.

Valdez tried a few other apartments, plodding with Cindy through the cold and damp. No luck.

Still, she didn't lose hope. To win a car, she said, "we have to put our hearts into this and pay the price."

Later that night, Valdez and one of Chamorro's deputies calculated her final sales tally. Huddled over a pocket calculator on Valdez's kitchen counter, they did the math to see if she had won the car.

In the end, she was $2,200 short.

There was some good news. Valdez was only $200 shy of her promotion. The deputy promised to make up the difference. Valdez will be crowned again with rhinestones, join the weekly managers' meeting in a new black uniform and become eligible for health insurance. Most important, she said, she will double her commission on her consultoras' sales, from 13% to 26%.

As for the Cadillac, she said, she will just have to go back to her conocidos and try again.



Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Adam Hochschild on Kapuscinski's Magic Journalism

In his book on the fall of the Soviet Union, Ryszard Kapuscinski describes a visit he took to Armenia in 1990 to report on the worst of the many conflicts that erupted as the empire crumbled. The USSR was still officially one country, but Armenia and Azerbaijan were unofficially at war over the mountain enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is inhabited largely by Armenians. The Soviets were attempting unsuccessfully to suppress the bitter guerrilla fighting there. Among other things, they were trying to keep inquisitive foreign journalists like Kapuscinski out of the besieged territory, which lies entirely within Azerbaijan, and can be reached from Armenia only by air.The Soviets control the airports at both ends. How can Kapuscinski get there? (...) GET HARD COPIES FROM ANNE SAKER

Magic Journalism By Adam Hochschild
from Finding the Trapdoor: Essays, Portraits, Travels
first appeared in The New York Review of Books, Nov. 3 1994


Ryszard Kapuscinski's Shadow of the Sun

More than anything, one is struck by the light. Twilight everywhere. Brightness everywhere. Everywhere, the sun. Just yesterday, an autumnal London was drenched in rain. The airplane drenched in rain. A cold wind, darkness. But here, from the morning's earliest moments, the airport is ablaze with sunlight, all of us in sunlight.

In times past, when people wandered the world on foot, rode on horseback, or sailed in ships, the journey itself accustomed them to the change. Images of the earth passed ever so slowly before their eyes, the stage revolved in a barely perceptible way. The voyage lasted weeks, months. The traveler had time to grow used to another environment, a different landscape. The climate, too, changed gradually. Before the traveler arrived from a cool Europe to the burning Equator, he already had left behind the pleasant warmth of Las Palmas, the heat of Al-Mahara, and the hell of the Cape Verde Islands.

Today, nothing remains of these gradations. Air travel tears us violently out of snow and cold and hurls us that very same day into the blaze of the tropics. Suddenly, still rubbing our eyes, we find ourselves in a humid inferno. We immediately start to sweat. If we've come from Europe in the wintertime, we discard overcoats, peel off sweaters. It's the first gesture of initiation we, the people of the North, perform upon arrival in Africa.

People of the North. Have we sufficiently considered the fact that northerners constitute a distinct minority on our planet? Canadians and Poles, Lithuanians and Scandinavians, some Americans and Germans, Russians and Scots, Laplanders and Eskimos, Evenkis and Yakuts--the list is not very long. It may amount to no more than 500 million people: less than 10 percent of the earth's population. The overwhelming majority live in hot climates, their days spent in the warmth of the sun. Mankind first came into being in the sun; the oldest traces of his existence have been found in warm climes. What was the weather like in the biblical paradise? It was eternally warm, hot even, so that Adam and Eve could go about naked and not feel chilled even in the shade of a tree.

Something else strikes the new arrival even as he descends the steps of the airplane: the smell of the tropics. Perhaps he's had intimations of it. It is the scent that permeated Mr. Kanzman's little shop, Colonial and Other Goods, on Perec Street in my hometown of Pinsk. Almonds, cloves, dates, and cocoa. Vanilla and laurel leaves, oranges and bananas, cardamom and saffron. And Drohobych. The interiors of Bruno Schulz's cinammon shops? Didn't their "dimly lit, dark, and solemn interiors" smell intensely of paints, lacquer, incense, the aroma of faraway countries and rare substances? Yet the actual smell of the tropics is somewhat different. We instantly recognize its weight, its sticky materiality. The smell makes us at once aware that we are at that point on earth where an exuberant and indefatigable nature labors, incessantly reproducing itself, spreading and blooming, even as it sickens, disintegrates, festers, and decays.

It is the smell of a sweating body and drying fish, of spoiling meat and roasting cassava, of fresh flowers and putrid algae--in short, of everything that is at once pleasant and irritating, that attracts and repels, seduces and disgusts. This odor will reach us from nearby palm groves, will escape from the hot soil, will waft above stagnant city sewers. It will not leave us; it is integral to the tropics.

And finally, the most important discovery--the people. The locals. How they fit this landscape, this light, these smells. How they are as one with them. How man and environment are bound in an indissoluble, complementary, and harmonious whole. I am struck by how firmly each race is grounded in the terrain in which it lives, in its climate. We shape our landscape, and it, in turn, molds our physiognomy. Among these palm trees and vines, in this bush and jungle, the white man is a sort of outlandish and unseemly intruder. Pale, weak, his shirt drenched with sweat, his hair pasted down on his head, he is continually tormented by thirst, and feels impotent, melancholic. He is ever afraid: of mosquitoes, amoebas, scorpions, snakes--everything that moves fills him with fear, terror, panic.

With their strength, grace, and endurance, the indiginous move about naturally, freely, at a tempo determined by climate and tradition, somewhat languid, unhurried, knowing one can never achieve everything in life anyway, and besides, if one did, what would be left over for others?

I've been here for a week. I am trying to get to know Accra. It is like an overgrown small town that has reproduced itself many times over, crawled out of the bush, out of the jungle, and come to a halt at the shores of the Gulf of Guinea. Accra is flat, single-storied, humble, though there are some buildings with two or more floors. No sophisticated architecture, no excess or pomp. Ordinary plaster, pastel-colored walls--pale yellow, pale green. The walls have numerous water stains. Fresh ones. After the rainy season, entire constellations of stains appear, collages, mosaics, fantastical maps, flowery flourishes. The downtown is densely built-up. Traffic, crowds, bustle--life takes place out in the street. The street is a roadway delineated on both sides by an open sewer. There are no sidewalks. Cars mingle with the crowds. Everything moves in concert--pedestrians, automobiles, bicycles, carts, cows, and goats. On the sides, beyond the sewer, along the entire length of the street, domestic scenes unfold. Women are pounding manioc, baking taro bulbs over the coals, cooking dishes of one sort or another, hawking chewing gum, crackers, and aspirin, washing and drying laundry. Right out in the open, as if a decree had been issued commanding everyone to leave his home at 8 a.m. and remain in the street. In reality, there is another reason: apartments are small, cramped, stuffy. There is no ventilation, the atmosphere inside is heavy, the smells stale, there is no air to breathe. Besides, spending the day in the street enables one to participate in social life. The women talk nonstop, yell, gesticulate, laugh. Standing over a pot or a washbasin, they have an excellent vantage point. They can see their neighbors, passersby, the entire street; they can listen in on quarrels and gossip, observe accidents. All day long they are among others, in motion, and in the fresh air.

A red Ford with a speaker mounted on its roof passes through the streets . A hoarse, penetrating voice invites people to attend a meeting. The main attraction will be Kwame Nkrumah-Osagyefo, the prime minister, the leader of Ghana, of Africa, of all downtrodden peoples. There are photographs of Nkrumah
everywhere--in the newspapers (every day), on posters, on flags, on ankle-length percale skirts. The energetic face of a middle-aged man, either smiling or serious, at an angle meant to suggest that he is contemplating the future.

"Nkrumah is a savior!" a young teacher named Joe Yambo tells me with rapture in his voice. Have you heard him speak? He sounds like a prophet!"

Yes, in fact, I had heard him. He arrived at the stadium with an entourage of his ministers--young, animated, they created the impression of people who were having a good time, who were full of joy. The ceremony began with priests pouring bottles of gin over the podium--it was an offering to the gods, a way o making contact with them, a plea for their favor, their goodwill. Among the adults in the audience there were also children, from infants strapped to their mothers' backs, to babies beginning to crawl, to toddlers and school-age children. The older ones take care of the younger ones, and those older ones are taken care of by ones older still. This hierarchy of age is strictly observed, an obedience is absolute. A four-year-old has full authority over a two-year-old, a six-year-old over a four-year-old. Children take care of children, so that the adults can devote themselves to their affairs--for instance, to listening carefully to Nkrumah.

Osagyefo spoke briefly. He said that the most important thing was to gain independence--everything else would follow naturally, all that is good will emerge from the very fact of independence.

A portly fellow, given to decisive gestures, he had shapely, expressive features and large, lively eyes, which moved over the sea of dark heads with an attention so concentrated as to suggest he wanted to count each and every one of them.

After the rally, those on the podium mingled with the audience. It was loud, chaotic, and there was no visible police protection or escort. Joe, who had brought me, elbowed his way toward a young man (whom he identified as a minister) and asked me if I could come see him tomorrow. The other one, not really able to hear over the buzz and commotion what the issue was, replied, at least partially to get rid of us, "Fine! Fine!"

The next day, I found my way to the Ministry of Education and Information, a new building set amid a growth of royal palms. It was Friday. On Saturday, sitting in my small hose, wrote a description of the preceding day:

The way is open: neither policeman, nor secretary, nor doors.

I draw aside a patterned curtain and enter. The minister's office is warm. In semidarkness, he is standing at his desk organizing his papers: crumpling those he will throw into the wastepaper basket, smoothing out others to place in his briefcase. A thin, slight figure, in a sports shirt, short trousers, sandals, with a flowery kente cloth draped over his left shoulder; nervous gestures.

This is Kofi Baako, minister of education and information.

At thirty-two, he is the youngest minister in Ghana, in the entire British Commonwealth, and he has already had his portfolio for three years now. His office is on the third floor of the ministry building. The hierarchy of positions is reflected in the ladder of floors. The higher the personage, the higher the floor. Fittingly, since on top there is a breeze, while toward the bottom the air is heavy as stone, motionless. Petty bureacrats suffocate on the ground floor; above them, the departmental directors enjoy a slight draft; and at the very top, the delicious breeze caresses the ministers.

Anyone who wants to can come and see a minister whenever he wants to. If someone has a problem, he travels to Accra, finds out where, for instance, the minister of agriculture can be found. He goes to his office, parts the curtain, sits down, and sets forth in detail what's bothering him. If he doesn't find the official at the agency, he will find him at home even better, because there he'll get a meal and something to drink. People felt a remoteness from the white administration. But now these are their own people, they don't have to feel inhibited. It's my government, so it must help me. If it's to help me, it has to know the situation. For it to know, I have to come and explain. It's best that I do this on my own, in person and direct.

There is no end of these supplicants.

"Good morning!" said Kofi Baako. "And where are you from?"

"From Warsaw."

"You know, I almost went there. I was traveling all over Europe: France, Belgium, England, Yugoslavia. I was in Czechoslovakia about to go to Poland, when Kwame sent me a telegram calling me back for the party congress, our ruling Convention People's Party."

We were sitting at a table, in his doorless office. Instead of window panes there were shutters with widely spaced slats, through which a gentle breeze passed. The small room was pfled high with papers, files, brochures. A large safe stood m a corner, several portraits of Nkrumah hung on the walls, a speaker wired to a central system stood on a shelf. Tomtoms pounded from ~t, until finally Baako turned it off.

I wanted him to tell me about himself, about his life. Baako enjoys great prestige among the young. They like him for being a good athlete. He plays soccer, cricket, and is Ghana's ping-pony champion.

"Just a minute," he interrupted, "I just have to place a call to Kumasi, because I'm going there tomorrow for a game." ld

He called the post office for them to connect him. They to him to wait.

"I saw two films yesterday," he told me, as he waited holding the receiver to his ear. "I wanted to see what they're showing. They're playing films schoolchildren shouldn't go to. I must issue a decree that forbids young people to see such things. And this morning I spent visiting book stalls throughout the city. The government has established low prices for schoolbooks, but the word is that retailers are marking them up. I went to check for myself. Indeed, they are sellig them for more than they're supposed to. '

He dialed the post office again.

"Listen, what are you so busy with over there? How long am I supposed to wait? Do you know who this is?"

A woman's voice answered, "No." "And who are you?" Baako asked. "I'm the telephone operator."

"And I am the minister of education and information, Kofi Baako."

"Good morning, Kofi! I'll connect you right away."

And he was talking to Kumasi.

I looked at his books, stacked on a small cabinet: Hemingway, Lincoln, Koestler, Orwell, The Popular History of Music, The American Dictionary, as well as various paperbacks and crime novels.

"Reading is my passion. In England I bought myself the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and now I'm reading it little by little. I cannot eat without reading, I have to have a book lying open in front of me."

A moment later:

"I've got another, even greater hobby: photography. I take pictures all the time and everywhere. I have more than ten cameras. When I go to a store and see a new camera, I immediately have to buy it. I bought a film projector for the children, and show them films in the evening."

He has four children, ranging in age from three to nine. All of them attend school, even the youngest. It is not unusual here for a three-year-old to be enrolled in school. The mother will send him off, especially if he's a handful, just to have some peace.

Kofi Baako himself first went to school at three. His father was a teacher and liked being able to keep his eye on his children. When he finished elementary school, he was sent for high school to Cape Coast. He became a teacher, and then a civil servant. At the end of 1947, Nkrumah had returned to Ghana having finished university studies in America and England. Baako listened to his speeches, which spoke of independence. Then Baako wrote an article, "My Hatred of Imperialism." He was fired from his job. He was blacklisted, and no one would employ him. He hung around the city, eventually meeting Nkrumah, who entrusted him with the position of editor in chief of the Cape Coast Daily Mail. Kofi was twenty years old.

He wrote another article entitled "We Call for Freedom," and was jailed. Arrested with him were Nkrumah and several other activists. They spent thirteen months behind bars, before finally being released. Today, this group constitutes Ghana's government.

Now Baako speaks about broad issues. "Only 30 percent of the people in Ghana can read and write. We want to abolish illiteracy within fifteen years. There are difficulties: a shortage of teachers, books, schools. There are two kinds of schools: missionary-run and state-run. But they are all subject to the state and there is a single educational policy. In addition, five thousand students are being educated abroad. What frequently happens is that they return and no longer share a common language with the people. Look at the opposition. Its leaders are Oxford- and Cambridge-educated."

"What does the opposition want?"

"Who knows? We believe that an opposition is necessary. The leader of the opposition in parliament receives a salary fron the government. We allowed all these little opposition parties and groups to unite, so they would be stronger. Our position is that in Ghana, anyone who wants to has the right to form a political party--on the condition that it not be based on criteria of race, religion, or tribe. Each party here can employ all constitutional means to gain political power. But, you understand, despite all this, one doesn't know what the opposition wants. They call a meeting and shout: 'We've come through Oxford, and people like Kofi Baako didn't even finish high school. Today Baako is a minister, and I am nothing. But when I become minister, then Baako will be too stupid for me to make him even a messenger.' But you know, people don't listen to this kind of talk, because there are more Kofi Baakos here than all those in the opposition put together."

I said that I should get going, as it was dinnertime. He asked me what I was doing that evening. I was supposed to go to Togo.

"What for?" He waved his hand. "Come to a party. The radio station is having one tonight."

I didn't have an invitation. He looked around for a piece o paper and wrote: "Admit Ryszard Kapuscinski, a journalist from Poland, to your party. Kofi Baako, Minister of Education and Information."

"There. I'll be there too, we'll take some photographs."

The guard at the gates of the Radio building saluted me smartly and I was promptly seated at a special table. The party was already in full swing when a gray Peugeot drove up to the dance floor out in the garden, and Kofi Baako emerged from inside. He was dressed just as he had been in his office, only he held a red sweat suit under his arm, because he was going to Kumasi tonight and it might get cold. He was well-known here. Baako was the minister of schools, of all the universities, the press, the radio, the publishing houses, the museums--of everything that constitutes culture, art, and propaganda in this country.

We soon found ourselves in a crowd. He sat down to drink a Coca-Cola, then quickly stood up.

"Come, I will show you my cameras."

He pulled a suitcase out of the trunk of his car, set it on the ground, knelt down, and began taking out the cameras, laying them out on the grass. There were fifteen of them.

Just then two boys walked up to us, slightly drunk.

"Kofi," one of them began in a plaintive tone, "we bought a ticket and they're not letting us stay here because we don't have jackets. So what did they sell us a ticket for?"

Baako rose.

"Listen," he answered, "I am too important a man for such matters. There are lots of little guys here, let them take care of it. I have issues of government on my mind."

The twosome sailed off unsteadily, and we went to take pictures. Baako had only to approach, cameras hanging around his neck, for people to start calling to him, asking for a photograph.

"Kofi, take one of us."

"Of us!"

"And us too!"

He circulated, picking tables with the prettiest girls, arranging them, and telling them to smile. He knew them by name: Abena, Ekua, Esi. They greeted him by extending their hands, without getting up, and shrugging their shoulders, which is an expression of seductive flirtatiousness here. Baako walked on; we took many photographs. He looked at his watch.

"I have to go."

He wanted to get to the game on time.

"Come tomorrow, and we'll develop the photographs."

The Peugeot flashed its lights and vanished in the darkness while the party swayed and surged till dawn.

Excerpted from The Shadow of the Sun by Ryszard Kapuscinski. Copyright © 2001 by Ryszard Kapuscinski. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


Monday, May 5, 2008

Dan Barry's magic

Yet another excellent discussion this morning on Dan Barry's 21 April reader in the NYT. This is a writer who doesn't really worry about readers. He worries about making himself understood. And that's very different. For next week: An essay by Adam Hochschild; discussant, Gosia. I have hard copies. ...


Thursday, May 1, 2008

Another beauty by Dan Barry

Lisa Grace recommends for our Cinco de Mayo session:


Reminding: Everyone welcome.


Friday, April 25, 2008

why george clooney is so adorable.

1) He's a fine Lebanese-American who grew up in Ohio. QED.
2) What a great profile subject.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

It's all a matter of perspective

For this week, we'll be reading two profiles of the same subject: That dreamy George Clooney.

Profile No. 1 comes from the New Yorker and is available right here.

Profile No. 2 comes from last month's Esquire.

They're both worth reading. We'll be using them to talk about what individual writers bring to stories, how you develop theme, different ways to approach profiles and why Clooney is so darned adorable.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

More big ideas

Monday, 11 of us discussed Gene Weingarten's "Pearls Before Breakfast," and we got to talking about his abilities as an editor. Lisa Grace and I recalled this elegiac piece, and we'll be talking about it on Monday 21 April. See you then. All are welcome.


The Washington Post

February 05, 1995, Sunday, Final Edition


BYLINE: Laura Blumenfeld,
Washington Post Staff Writer

SECTION: Style; Pg. F01

LENGTH: 4950 words

Teresa McGovern froze in the snow after her heart was all used up. A story about family, alcoholism and a chill wind blowing across the land.

Cold, it was so cold.

"Hey," a man cried, opening the back door of his print shop. "There's a little kid, passed out in the snow."

Another man tramped into the alley, where a small body in a black ski jacket lay under an awning of icicles.

"It's not a kid," he called. It was a woman, curled up, her hands tucked under her chin.

He touched her neck. "And I don't think she's passed out."

He felt her hands. "Call 911."

The fingers were frozen hard. Her skin was colorless. Her socks had iced onto her feet. She lay next to a circle of footprints, a ring 10 feet in diameter, her own sneakered prints tamped down upon each other, as if she had been trying to walk straight but could only make dizzy circles until she dropped.

It was just after noon on Dec. 13, raw and overcast in Madison, Wis. In the minutes it took for the emergency crew to arrive, the printer, a bearded man who protested against the war in the sixties and still publishes lefty pamphlets, knelt and covered the body with his coat.

There's something about this woman, he thought. She had a delicate, poetic face. There was a refinement to her, the dangling earrings, the russet hair smoothed into a barrette.

She had no purse, no ID; she had fallen among garbage cans and dead sunflowers. Still, he was certain: This woman had a home.

It took till almost midnight to find that home. At 11:30 p.m., a police officer and a chaplain walked up the brick path to a large Colonial house in Northwest Washington.

The doorbell startled George McGovern. He was in the living room, leafing through an issue of Harper's. George and his wife, Eleanor, had returned a few hours before from a restaurant where, over the years, they celebrated good news with their five children. Eleanor had just gone up to bed.

Through the glass, by the light of the entrance hall, McGovern could see two men, and before he opened the door, he suspected two things -- they had come about Terry and the news was bad.

Senator, we are so sorry. Your daughter Teresa is dead. Last night she wandered into a dark alley and fell into a snowbank. She was intoxicated. No one found her until noon today; there were no lights back there.

McGovern reeled back, stumbled into his dark study. He couldn't turn on the light, couldn't speak, couldn't cry. For 10 minutes, he wandered in circles around the room, the walls covered with political mementos: a McGovern for President poster, a Time cover from October '72, pictures of the senator with heads of state, a framed cable dated Nov. 8: You and Mrs. McGovern have our very best wishes for a well-deserved rest after what I know must have been a very strenuous and tiring campaign. Richard Nixon.

He had to tell Eleanor. But how? He forced himself to climb the stairs to their bedroom, a hand on the rail, gripped by a thought so cold it numbed him to his fingers:

In all his life, this was the moment of his greatest defeat.

In the photograph, they are holding hands, raised in triumph. George McGovern has just won New York's 1972 presidential primary, and Terry, then 23, stands beside him on the podium, glowing, her fingers steepled through his. Of all the children, Terry delivered the most fevered speeches on her father's behalf. In campaign appearances when the candidate was in another city or state, crowds would sometimes still chant: "We want McGovern!" They meant Teresa.

"She was the life of the party," an old friend says to George, recalling the '72 campaign.

"She was drinking even then," George says. "We didn't know. She would cover it up."

He is standing over his daughter's coffin. A veil and a single white rose cover Teresa's hands, where the frost had eaten her skin. George and Eleanor are greeting mourners at the wake.

"That face is unfamiliar to me," says Eleanor, looking down at Teresa. "Her forehead is so smooth."

Teresa's brow used to burn with emotion, sometimes laugh lines, sometimes anxious furrows. She was 45. She had two shiny-haired little girls. She had a famous father who always saved her the seat next to his. She had worked on Capitol Hill and in day care centers and in a hospice for terminally ill cancer patients. She was intelligent, funny, generous, charismatic, tender. She was a flop-down doorstep drunk.

That these elements can exist within the same person would not surprise anyone who understands the cunning, baffling pathology of alcoholism. George McGovern understood it, but he did not fully accept its finality, not until the night a cop and a clergyman rang his bell.

All his life, George McGovern has been a textbook liberal, either an idealist or a sap, depending on your politics. He believes that human beings are improvable, that good intentions translate into good policy. He believes it is possible to intervene to solve people's problems. He does not believe, did not believe, that at some level life is just a cold, lonely fight.

The events of 1972 shook McGovern badly. His landslide defeat was a personal and political repudiation, an election that seemed at all levels to represent the triumph of cynicism over compassion. The echoes of that defeat were so great they reverberate still; when Rep. Newt Gingrich recently fished for a term to describe the failed liberalism that in his view still poisons the people in the White House, he came up with "McGoverniks."

But in McGovern's historic loss, there was a certain dignity. The election was a genuine clash of ideologies, and it led to Watergate and the ultimate political comeuppance. If history has not vindicated McGovern, it has not savaged him either. After Gingrich's attack, McGovern wrote for The Washington Post an impassioned defense of his policies, a defense of the legacy of "McGoverniks." It was published the weekend after his daughter's burial.

At the wake, Teresa's children, Colleen, 7, and Marian, 9, threaded through the crowd of adults. They edged toward the casket, where a winged teddy bear lay next to the body. Throughout the evening the girls returned, giving Terry timid, darting looks, and rearranging the angel bear. In the end, they decided to cuddle the bear against their mother's neck.

Teresa's nickname was "Terry the Bear." Her father called her that as a child when he'd wake her with a tap on the nose. And later, when the drinking began, George characterized it as a conflict between the Bear and the Demon. He sent her many teddy bears and bear cards to encourage her. He saw things in terms of good and evil.

So did Teresa.

"She was a McGovernik and she was fiercely proud of it," a former campaign worker said in a eulogy the following day.

Hundreds of people turned out for the funeral in Washington. Afterward, McGovern stood in the doorway of the church and shook everyone's hand, offering quiet words, more a comforter than a mourner. He wore a blue suit and no overcoat. Still, he waited in the cold until the last person had gone, oblivious or perhaps indifferent to his own shivering.

"Good Things About Me:

-- I have a very caring heart.

-- When not drinking, I am a creative and loving mother.

-- I am intuitive and perceptive.

-- I believe that the political and social causes I've worked for have been humane.

-- I go out of my way not to step on ants."

Teresa wrote this list while in treatment at a detoxification center in Madison. The page is still there, with her clothes and other belongings.

She was right; she was sensitive. She had a profound sense of what people were thinking all the time. Even at the detox center, while her body jittered from withdrawal, she would limp out of bed to soothe her roommate, or pad down the hall in a robe to bring her orange juice. In group therapy she liked to comfort others, rather than focus on her own troubles.

Her warmth helped heal other alcoholics, even if she couldn't heal herself. One friend from detox, a man named Don, tells of the time he escaped from a treatment facility with a lunatic plan to run away to Bangkok. He called Terry from the platform at the Amtrak station. She had precisely 15 minutes to persuade him to come back to the facility.

Later, they celebrated his sobriety by spray-painting his initials on a rock along with his recovery date, 12/25/89. Christmas. Then Don sprayed TJM. Teresa Jane McGovern. He asked her, "What's the anniversary of your recovery?"

She smiled crookedly and said: "Just put a question mark."

The mystery of alcoholism -- who survives, who succumbs -- eludes even her doctor at detox, a specialist in addictive diseases. After a routine explanation about the biological basis of alcoholism, Brian Lochen shrugs and says, "You sometimes wonder if the pains of the world are just too much for some people."

Terry McGovern felt things. She noticed things. She noticed teeny bits of stuffing coming out of chairs, pulled at it and rolled it between hot, worried fingers as if all of life's anguish were in that fuzzball.

In the McGovern household, where reserved behavior was the norm, Teresa was mischievous, outspoken. The middle of five children, she was the clown, with the blondest hair and the biggest smile. She became a conduit for the family's feelings -- a wire between parents, between siblings -- through which emotions ran. She was the only person in the family who got through to George. George often seemed unreachable, distracted by politics. As a girl growing up in South Dakota, daughter of a rising congressman, she taped little notes to her father's door, petitioning time to talk; as a young woman, following the 1972 debacle, she phoned from college at the University of South Dakota, cheering him up with wisecracks.

I'm so proud of you! George once wrote to her in a card. For climbing on top of the addiction and for expressing honest emotion -- With love, from a pal who doesn't always express enough emotion, Dad.

The battle for Terry began at age 13, when she drank a Colt 45 with a couple of friends. She stood on her head, for a bigger rush. Giggling, she did a cheerleading jump off a ledge but forgot to put her feet together. She landed on her back and chipped her tailbone.

For the rest of her life, the pattern held: a moment of soaring, a backbreaking crash.

When sober, she fell in love, had children, cherished them. She ate organic vegetables, avoided sugar, used baking soda toothpaste, went for brisk walks and took vitamins. When drunk, she woke up with strangers, tripped down stairs, dropped the phone mid-conversation and passed out, and landed in the hospital, her body purpled with bruises, with no sense of who had beaten her. In the last five years, she entered one detox center 76 times.

The past became the present, time froze at age 13. She'd talk about her siblings as if they were children, when they were, in fact, in their forties. Her sister Sue recalls how Terry once showed up at her house drunk, having gone AWOL from a treatment program. The difference was so stark, Terry's brother-in-law didn't recognize the woman with a strange, bright moistness in her eyes, slumped in his doorway. Terry began ranting about ancient grudges. Worried about traumatizing their own sons, Sue and her husband loaded Teresa onto a bus back home.

The family fought with Terry; the family fought over Terry. The children argued that her drinking was worsened by too much attention; the parents argued that it was worsened by too little. They loved her, still, deeply, and that made the arguments burn.

They each remember moments of her drunkenness: Sister Mary drove her against her will to the emergency room. Sister Sue cut up watermelon cubes and hand-fed them to her, when she could not feed herself. Sister Ann baby-sat for Terry at age 42, stroked her hair while she lay sprawled on their parents' couch, unconscious yet whimpering, unaware that Ann, too, was crying.

She drank vodka. Randy, a friend from detox, recalls how Terry paid for vodka when she could, and how, when she couldn't, she guzzled it in the liquor store bathroom, refilling the bottle with water. She drank cooking wine and vanilla extract. She drank in the hospital with IVs in her arm. She drank in the park in the summer, in the public library in the winter.

She rented apartments and couldn't keep up with the rent, lived with friends, lived on the streets.

There were long periods of sobriety, once for seven years when she moved to Madison to live near her sister Sue. There were short periods of sobriety, such as during the summer of 1993.

With Teresa's belongings is a datebook from that year.

"LAST DRINK," Terry printed on Aug. 25. The next day: "FIRST DAY SOBER." Each day after that, in alternating colors -- navy, light blue, pink, yellow -- she drew a fat, proud Magic Marker X through the space. Each space, she inked up with appointments: dietitian, shoes returned, call insurance, buy oatmeal nuts, get glasses, Marian play, sent Jimmy essay. Until Sept. 14, when the X's stop.

"Relapse," she scribbled in light pencil.

And on the 15th: "crying."

Then the spaces go blank.

As the months passed, her stomach swelled, the veins in her esophagus dilated, and she was throwing up blood. By summertime last year, she acknowledged to a sister: "My body no longer wants or recognizes anything as food but alcohol."

A week before her death, the police found Terry asleep in a snowdrift. She arrived in the examination room, soaked and terrified, curled in a ball. An orderly went in to visit her, dropped to the floor, and said: "What are you doing? Why are you doing this?"

Terry hugged her knees, rocking cold under a blanket. She said what she always said: "I don't know. I don't know."

In the spitting, cursing, dark halls of detox, where alarms blare if patients break the laser beams across their doors, where the cinder block walls are covered with squares of foam so patients don't crack their heads, Terry was something of an oddity. She believed she would get well. She was sweet and articulate. She read books and used Estee Lauder blush.

There was another difference with Terry: She was one of the only patients who still had people on the outside who cared. Her father was always sending her roses. When the roses withered, she wound them around her headband, smiling: "They love me, they do."

In October, while Terry was cutting out paper goblins to give to her girls for Halloween, a talkative patient named Jeff asked someone: "Who's that ladylike one?"

"George McGovern's daughter."

This stunned Jeff. For the rest of the day, he was quiet. That night, alone in his room, he lay face down on his pillow and thought about what it meant. He thought about Teresa, the classy lady who wore angora sweaters. He thought about his room, empty except for a metal nightstand and a cot with leather restraints. He thought about George McGovern, who he believes was the last decent man in American politics. He thought about his own sick life, about the country, about the future, about the chemical smell of the cold gray floor, and he pushed his face hard into the pillow so no one would hear him cry.

The second week in November, a letter addressed to Eleanor McGovern arrived in Washington:

"Dear Mother,

". . . I truly cannot believe I've let myself stay sick for so long. . . . I wonder if I can ever really have a full life knowing my children and I have lost precious time and not knowing what time I will be allowed now.

"I'm so sad mom. Please pray for Marian, Colleen and I to be reunited. I want to be a daughter to you and Dad -- not a source of worry, anger and sorrow. I want to be a sister to my brother and sisters. . . . I love you -- Teresa"

There had been letters from Teresa over the years -- sometimes upbeat, sometimes penitent, sometimes filled with promises or plans both realistic and fantastic. But there was something different about this letter. It seemed so hopeless. It seemed like resignation.

The McGoverns wanted to react decisively, to rush to Teresa, but they did not. Since the summer they had distanced themselves from their daughter, in a desperate tactic to force her to confront the depth of her addiction.

It was, altogether, a week of dispiriting news. Tuesday was Election Day. A bad Election Day. To George McGovern, it was as if something cold and pitiless had passed overhead.

I can numb the pain, says a voice.

"It doesn't sound like an evil voice. It sounds like a friend, telling you the truth."

Teresa's younger brother, Steven McGovern, is describing the voice of alcohol, as it whispers to you when you are feeling tense or dissatisfied or empty: Here's your old pal, I can get you through this.

"I have experience with this," he explains.

Like Teresa, Steven has struggled for years with addiction. He has weary wrists and the wise, bombed eyes of a veteran. He talks about it, gentle and slow. He sits in his father's study, where a chair seam leaks bits of white stuffing.

"My sister, I love, is dead from this disease."

The catechism of recovering alcoholics is that they suffer from a disease, not moral frailty. But it is more complicated than that. It is true that alcoholism tends to run in families, and that all kinds of people become alcoholics, including brave people and strong people. And yet it is also true that you recover not through conventional medicine, but through what amounts to a colossal act of will. So if alcoholism is a disease, it is not simply a disease: It is, on some level, a terrible seduction.

"At first," says Steve, "it sounds like the solution to all your vague unnamed fears. Then the fog clears. And the voice is laughing at you."

Gotcha again.

"You're left standing alone, among the destruction. You realize it took 20 years of your life. You're sober, you feel itchy, shaky, your chest squeezes and it's hard to breathe. Your body is crying for it."

The night Steve heard of Terry's death, he lay in bed and smiled, and he talked to his sister:

Well, you're free now!

"I couldn't help feeling happy for her. We were celebrating together. We were laughing and hugging."

Bedtime is the worst time since her mother died. During the day, Colleen says, she can keep really busy. But lying in the bunk bed over her older sister Marian, 7-year-old Colleen, stares at the ceiling and imagines what she'd say if she saw her mother again. She wrote it down in a notebook.



1. Are you happy where you are?

2. What is it like to be dead?

3. I am really missing you.

4. I wish you didn't die.

5. I still love you mommy.

6. Are you in peace?

Colleen already knows the answer to Question 1: "I think she's happier where she is."

Marian: "She doesn't have to worry about drinking anymore."

The sisters are wearing matching flannel nightgowns, sitting on either side of their father on the living room couch at their home in Madison. Raymond Frey, a social worker, met Terry when they worked together at a halfway house for the mentally ill. They never married but they lived as a family for four years, splitting up in 1988 when Terry resumed drinking. Not surprisingly, Frey got custody.

They are grown-up little girls, especially Marian, with the mature face of a child who has been forced to parent. She once crayoned Teresa a six-page pamphlet titled "Think Before You Drink."

Yet both girls are wary about adulthood. Marian told an aunt: "I don't want to get older cause I might be an alcoholic."

The relationship with their mother was complicated, a blend of tenderness, hurt and unfinished love. The day Teresa died, she had moved into an apartment 30 yards from their front door. She used to wander by sometimes and stare into the living room window. Teresa needed to be near Marian and Colleen. And they needed her too, except that they were also worried that neighborhood friends would see their mother weaving through the streets.

As Terry's condition declined, so did the frequency of her visits. Several times when Frey picked up the girls, he smelled liquor on their mother's breath. She offered what she could, dropping in on them at recess, bringing them gum and granola bars. She tried to help Marian with fourth-grade math, but she had lost some capacity for abstract thinking. A teacher lent Teresa a textbook to work on herself.

If nothing else, Terry called them after dinner several times a week. The phone would ring once, and the girls recognized the signal: Call Mom back at the pay phone at detox.

The morning of Dec. 14, Frey sat them down, said he had sad news and let them guess.

Marian winced: "Mom is drinking? Mom's in the hospital? Mom had an accident?" Colleen said nothing; she knew.

Tonight, several weeks after the funeral, life has almost resumed its routine. Frey cooks macaroni and cheese. The girls set the table, flowery plates for them, the ugly brown one with the stripe for Dad. Dinner is the usual bold mix of questions: "Daddy, why do girls have to take a boy's name, is it a law?" and "Do calculators have little pieces of brains inside?"

But when dinner ends, the mood shifts. No phone call from Mom.

A draft pierces the plastic wrap that covers the windows. Frey wears two shirts, a sweater, a windbreaker and a hat. Marian wears her mother's coat, the sleeves dangling. Colleen sucks her thumb, pulls a sheepskin rug over her legs. They snuggle next to their father and listen to a bedtime story:

"President Lincoln had his birthday in February too," reads Frey. "And Caddie wished more than ever that she had been a boy. Perhaps she could have grown up to be a president. . . ."

Colleen interrupts in a querulous voice: "Who wants to be president anyway?"

"A lot of people do," says Frey.

She crunches her eyebrows: "This is what happens to presidents."

She aims a finger at her father and pulls the trigger.

If he had become president, McGovern says, things might have turned out differently.

"It might have saved her life. Terry would have played some role."

She could have been a college dean, he says, or a congresswoman. "She was a born advocate," McGovern says.

Today is one of his first days back at work as president of the Middle East Policy Council. For weeks, he has moved around in a haze, losing things, forgetting appointments, drifting through the house in the middle of the night, looking at her picture, murmuring a few words. So much of his life had been consumed by Terry and her needs. It is taking time to reorient.

He fixes a cup of Folger's Coffee for One, the kind he used to bring Terry at her treatment programs.

He sits in an armchair, his usual straight-backed pose. He speaks openly about regrets, about his guilt over being so preoccupied with his career when Terry was young. He urges current members of Congress to spend more time with their kids. A familiar theme: how he could have made a difference.

When Terry was arrested in 1968 on marijuana possession charges while canvassing for his Senate reelection campaign, he saw in the crisis an opportunity to make a difference not only with Terry but with the rest of America. He told Eleanor: "If the country is so mixed up that even our daughter is playing with drugs, maybe I ought to run."

Today, he says: "My whole life's been gambled on the thesis that through education and information and political action you can change things for the better. I know people are disappointed with the pace, but if it weren't for these struggles, people would still be eating each other. Duels would be fought out on Connecticut Avenue."

McGovern has blown up six photographs of him and Terry, and placed them side by side around the office.

"I'm not sure I ever accepted that I was powerless," he says. All the letters, treatment plans, pep talks, hugs and roses, and in the end, all it amounted to was a final heap of red roses on her coffin.

"It's difficult to concede," McGovern says. But now, half-slid down in his chair, the arms barely hold him up.

This untitled poem by Teresa McGovern was found with her papers. It is written in pen, on loose-leaf, and is undated:

The man sits.

He is contemplating a time when he was stronger.

when youth was longer

and he had the will to fight.

when he had the time to be right

and the power of right.

Through his life

he has dreamt the dream of peace

The hope that war will finally cease

And the prayer of new found goals

to find love in our souls.

Ah, but there's no room for a gentle man

Not in this world, where dreams are banned

No room for honor in this land . . .

He was rebuked

he was told 'go'

He left in anguish saying 'God, forgive you.'

'Forgive you for your untruths.'

And they laughed as they walked into Hell

They laughed and they jeered as they fell

Unaware of their pain

Unaware of the grieving rain

Unaware of their piercing shame.

The man sits.

The empty world is shaking, bleeding

His heart is breaking

His tired mind is aching.

I hear the loyal crying

Oh pity, world, you're dying.

"Oh, Dad, things could be worse. I could have lost my life."

It was the night of Dec. 11, and Terry was talking to her father from the pay phone at detox. While drunk the previous week, she had lost her purse with $ 600, the security deposit for a new apartment.

Eleanor had mailed her another check. In the morning, after her release, Terry would pick it up at her friend Ernie's house.

If she could just stick to logistics. Tomorrow she would have a home, a place where Marian and Colleen could visit, and a crisp, new life. She would be responsible. She would be sober. She would be organized.

List of things to do: 1. pick up check 2. tell bank about check 3. landlord rent. 4. call ernie 5. call kate 6. call police re purse 7. library 8. call art

She told her father about the plan. What she didn't tell him, though, was that the folks at detox were so alarmed by her recent binges, they were about to involuntarily commit her to a 90-day, locked-facility treatment program. Securing this apartment, she believed, was her last hope to avoid the commitment papers.

The next morning, scared and elated, she told her drinking buddy, Randy, as she boarded the bus at detox to town: "I hope I can make it this time."

And she did make it, all that sunny morning and afternoon. She went to Ernie's and, hands cupped around a hot mug of coffee, discussed plans to build the girls a doll house. She brought an air mattress and a blanket to the new place, so she could spend her first night. She got a new driver's license, fretted that she had forgotten to wear lipstick for the photo. She helped a man on crutches hobble across the ice chunks in a parking lot. She met with her landlord, himself a recovering alcoholic; flipped through her family albums with him. When the landlord was about to leave, she rested her hands on his shoulders and said, "You know, you remind me of my father."

It was 5:30 p.m. and already she had crossed off Items 1 through 6 on her list. But in the evening an icy fog crawled over Madison. The temperature dropped to 16 degrees. And Terry began to drink.

No one is sure where she went for the next three hours. But at 8:30 p.m., she walked in through the back door of a stranger's house on Williamson Street, a five-minute walk from her apartment.

"Can we help you?"

The woman who lives there stared at the dazed, wet woman, sliding along the hall into the living room, snow on her fingers, water dripping onto the floor.

"Is there something wrong?"

Teresa couldn't speak. She stood there and smiled glazedly at the woman's two children, who were lying on the couch.

"Get upstairs!" the woman told her kids. She wasn't exactly afraid; after all, this person was well dressed and had a gentle face. Maybe she'd been in a car accident or had gone into insulin shock.

The woman called the police, but Teresa floated out the front door minutes before they arrived. She turned the corner into an alley behind the print shop. She was wearing a gray sweat shirt her father had given her. In her pocket she had five dollar bills and the key to her new home.

She dropped her scarf in a tire tread and lurched 10 more feet. She circled. She staggered. And finally she sank down in seven inches of snow.

The snow cooled her skin, sent shivers through her. After a while, if she felt anything at all, she felt warm. That is how it happens. Her heart sped up, trying to generate heat. That is how it happens too. A final, desperate rush of blood to the skin. The heat melted the snow around her, all the way down to the grass. But soon her heartbeat grew faint, and then it stopped. She was just one body and there was too much snow, only so much warmth fighting so much cold.