Friday, February 28, 2014

the last book I ever read (Promises to Keep by Joe Biden, excerpt nine)

from Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics by Joe Biden:

“What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked as we headed toward the Capitol corridors.

“Well, I will not vote to overturn the Court’s decision. I will not vote to curtail a woman’s right to choose abortion. But I will also not vote to use federal funds to fund abortion.”

“That’s a tough position, kid,” he said on the escalator.

“Yeah, everybody will be upset with me,” I told him, “except me. But I’m intellectually and morally comfortable with my position.”

Even before I finished talking, he got a big grin on his face. “Can I give you a piece of advice?” he said. “Pick a side. You’ll be much better off politically. Just pick a side.”

Ribicoff was right, of course. It was good advice in 1973, and it’s good advice today. The old bad joke—Why aren’t there many politicians in the middle of the road? Because that’s where the roadkill is—is still operable. I’ve stuck to my middle-of-the-road position on abortion for more than thirty years. I still vote against partial birth abortion and federal funding, and I’d like to find ways to make it easier for scared young mothers to choose not to have an abortion, but I will also vote against a constitutional amendment that strips a woman of her right to make her own choice. That position has earned me the distrust of some women’s groups and the outright enmity of the Right to Life groups.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

the last book I ever read (Promises to Keep by Joe Biden, excerpt eight)

from Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics by Joe Biden:

My election to the Senate meant I was no longer on the county council, which meant we could move into the house in North Star. Jimmy and I rented the trucks, and we did the move ourselves. Moving Mom and Dad’s stuff back to Woods Road took some time, but moving Neilia and me to North Star was easy. The only real furniture we had was our four-poster bed, a dining room set, and a big wing chair that we set up in the living room in front of the fireplace. It did look a bit ridiculous. The living room was a big room, eighteen feet by thirty, with high ceilings, shiny wood floors (we didn’t have rugs yet), a stone fireplace, and a wing chair. But we didn’t have much time to do anything about that yet. We hadn’t even had time to shop for Christmas or to put up a tree. I was back and forth to Washington, and for the three weeks after my birthday, Neilia came with me whenever she could. If I got free from staff interviews, we’d run out to look at houses. We planned to live in Washington. We weren’t going to give up North Star, though it would be tough for us to keep two separate houses on a senator’s salary of $42,500, but we needed a home in Washington and schools for the boys. Neilia’s dad volunteered to give us the down payment for a second house, and when we found a small colonial near Chevy Chase Circle, right down the street from a Presbyterian church where the boys could go to kindergarten, he was more than happy to help. Our offer was accepted on a Friday, December 15, and we planned a closing for the middle of the next week. That weekend Neilia and I were back in North Star, and it felt like we had finally arrived at the future we had so long envisioned. The Washington house was going to be nice, but North Star already felt like home—Thanksgivings and Christmases, Easters and birthdays and anniversaries, would all be celebrated at North Star. We planned on spending most weekends at North Star. When Beau and Hunt and Naomi thought of home, they’d think of North Star. And that Sunday night, with the children asleep over our heads, Neilia and I sat on our lone wing chair, in front of the warm glow of a fire, in our stone fireplace, in a moment of near perfect repose. The moment exceeded all my romantic youthful imaginings. I was a United States senator-elect at age thirty. Our family was together under one splendid roof. The doors were just beginning to swing open on the rest of our lives. Neilia and I had done this amazing thing together, and there was so much more we would do. Neither of us was sure exactly what the rest of our lives would bring, but we couldn’t wait to see.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

the last book I ever read (Promises to Keep by Joe Biden, excerpt seven)

from Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics by Joe Biden:

Our first real money break was at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in Washington. In 1972 the committee was staffed by Nordy Hoffman, who had been one of Knute Rockne’s all-American down-linemen at Notre Dame. Nordy was a big, tough, and stubborn slab of a guy. Nothing scared him. And he didn’t think much of my chances. Years later Nordy would say the committee had handpicked me in Delaware; they’d done polling in the state, and my name kept coming up. But the truth was that when Jim and I first went to see him, he didn’t want to give us a dime. I was a bad investment. He didn’t want to waste time on races he couldn’t win. He started in on me right away. “Look, Joe, I’m sure you’re a nice kid, but I go to a dentist up in Wilmington and I’ve been talking to him and he doesn’t think you can win. You’re twenty-nine years old, and you don’t have a chance. Nobody in Delaware thinks you can win. I don’t think you can win. My dentist sure as hell doesn’t think you can win.” He kept going on about his dentist. I think Jimmy could see my jaw clench and my chin start to jut out. I stood up and started for the door. “Look, I don’t have to take this malarkey,” I told him. “I don’t need you or this committee. And another thing . . . I’m gonna win.”

Jimmy trailed out behind me, trying to get me to calm down, to go back and try again. Nordy followed us, too. He stopped us in the hallway and said he thought maybe the committee could do something after all. Nordy said he still didn’t think I could win, but I guess he liked the way I stood up to him.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

the last book I ever read (Promises to Keep by Joe Biden, excerpt six)

from Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics by Joe Biden:

When I started the University of Delaware in the fall of 1961 and had to declare a major, I chose the subjects that interested me: political science and history. But my plan was to go to law school. I got the idea in the library at Archmere in the spring of 1960 when John F. Kennedy, junior senator from Massachusetts, was heading toward the Democratic presidential nomination. If he made it, he’d be the first Catholic nominated since Al Smith, and while plenty of people said Americans would never elect a Catholic, Kennedy was undeterred. “I refuse to believe that I was denied the right to be president the day I was baptized,” he told a crowd just before he won a decisive victory in the West Virginia primary. My Irish mom was thrilled.

It’s not like the Kennedys had a lot in common with the Bidens. Kennedy’s father was one of the richest and best-known men in the country. I’d seen the pictures. I knew Hyannisport didn’t look much like Mayfield. Senator Kennedy appealed to me in spite of his money. My family never associated with the notion that good works assure a good life. We were always skeptical of the old Calvinistic saw that the righteous are rewarded with earthly spoils.

Kennedy’s grace and confidence, his beautiful wife, and his perfect children were not what captivated me, either. That seemed normal. It wasn’t his youth or the vigor he projected. It wasn’t even the novelty of his ideas. In fact, the thing that struck me about his inaugural address in January 1961 was not the newness of the ideas but how much those ideas rhymed with the lessons I’d learned at Saint Paul’s and Holy Rosary and Saint Helena’s and Archmere—and especially in my own home. We have to do good works on earth, Kennedy reminded us, because it is our duty: “With a good conscience our only sure reward,” he said in closing that day, “with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must be truly be our own.”

Monday, February 24, 2014

the last book I ever read (Promises to Keep by Joe Biden, excerpt five)

from Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics by Joe Biden:

I once even tried the old Demosthenes trick. Demosthenes, the greatest of all Greek orators, I’d read, had been a stutterer, but he taught himself to speak by putting pebbles in his mouth and practicing elocution. The legend, as I remember it, was that he put these pebbles in his mouth, ran along the beach, and tried to make himself heard above the “roar of the sea.” We didn’t have any beaches or oceans nearby, but I was desperate, so I gave it a try. One of our neighbors in Mayfield was putting a little garden in their backyard, with little paths made of pebbles. So I grabbed about ten of these pebbles and went to the side of our little house, stuck them in my mouth, and tried to throw my voice off our brick wall. For the record, it doesn’t work. I nearly swallowed half the pebbles. So it was back to my room, back to the mirror.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

the last book I ever read (Promises to Keep by Joe Biden, excerpt four)

from Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics by Joe Biden:

We entered Archmere under the front portico and walked straight into the square central foyer, all marble, ringed with marble columns, under a retractable stained-glass ceiling. From the main entrance I could see through to the back patio, then the arch of elms that ran to the Delaware River. Off the foyer were classrooms, a dining room we used for meals and Mass, the office of the headmaster, and the library. I think I gasped the first time I walked into the library. Like the other rooms, it was paneled with rich, dark wood, but it was lined floor to ceiling with books. I thought I’d died and gone to Yale.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

the last book I ever read (Promises to Keep by Joe Biden, excerpt three)

from Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics by Joe Biden:

I entered third grade at Holy Rosary, a Catholic school half a mile down the Philadelphia Pike where the Sisters of Saint Joseph eased me into my new world. They were the link between Scranton and Claymont. Wherever there were nuns, there was home. I’m as much a cultural Catholic as I am a theological Catholic. My idea of self, of family, of community, of the wider world comes straight from my religion. It’s not so much the Bible, the beatitudes, the Ten Commandments, the sacraments, or the prayers I learned. It’s the culture. The nuns are one of the reasons I’m still a practicing Catholic. Last summer in Dubuque, Iowa, a local political ally, Teri Goodman, took me to the Saint Francis Convent—a beautiful old building that looked like it belonged on an Ivy League campus. On the way over we’d stopped by the Hy-Vee to buy some ice cream for the sisters, because Jean Finnegan Biden’s son does not visit nuns empty-handed. It reminded me of grade school, of the last day before the holidays when all my classmates would be presenting their little Christmas offerings to the nun. The desk would be a mound of little specialty soaps. (What else do you get a nun?) The sisters smelled like lavender the rest of the year. I don’t remember a nun not smelling like lavender.

Friday, February 21, 2014

the last book I ever read (Promises to Keep by Joe Biden, excerpt two)

from Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics by Joe Biden:

Actually, it didn’t seem bad to me. It was a miniature version of a center hall colonial, and we had bedrooms upstairs. I had the bedroom in back, which meant from my window I could gaze upon the object of my deepest desire, my Oz: Archmere. Right in the middle of this working-class steel town, not a mile from the mills and directly across from the entrance of Brookview Apartments, was the first mansion I had ever really seen. I could look at it for hours. John Jacob Raskob had built the house for his family before the steel mills, chemical plants, and oil refineries came to Claymont. Raskob was Pierre du Pont’s personal secretary, but he had a genius for making money out of money. He convinced the du Ponts to take a big stake in General Motors and became its chairman of finance. Raskob was also a Catholic hero. He used part of his fortune to fund a charitable foundation, and he’d run the campaign of the first Catholic presidential nominee, the Democrat Al Smith. In 1928 the Democrats had political strategy sessions in his library at Archmere. Raskob went on to build the Empire State Building.

The mansion he built in Claymont, the Patio at Archmere, was a magnificent Italianate marble pile on a property that sloped down to the Delaware River. Archmere—arch by the sea—was named for the arch of elms that ran on that slope to the river. But after the working man’s families, not to mention the noise and pollution from the mills, began to crowd the Patio, Raskob cut his losses and sold the mansion to an order of Catholic priests. The Norbertines turned it into a private boys’ school. Archmere Academy was just twenty years old when I moved in across the street.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

the last book I ever read (Promises to Keep by Joe Biden, excerpt one)

from Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics by Joe Biden:

I’ve learned plenty about myself over the years, but I believe I’ve learned even more important lessons about the American people—about their point of particular pride. Just after I won my first election to the Senate in 1972, I used to say I had great faith in the American people—and I really meant it. I wasn’t just saying it in speeches; it was pillow talk with my wife. I was so proud of the race we ran in 1972; it was honest, straightforward, and clean. I really believed I had lived up to my grandpop’s admonitions. The Biden for Senate campaign meant to preserve the integrity of politics, and I felt that we’d been vindicated for that effort. I’d talk about it with my wife, Neilia, in our big new house: “I do, Neilia. I really do. I have great faith in the American people.” Neilia was always more clear-eyed than I am. “Joey,” she said, “I wonder how you would have felt if you lost?”

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

the last book I ever read (Richard Ford's The Sportswriter, excerpt twelve)

from The Sportswriter by Richard Ford:

Some days I drive over in my Datsun and roam around the Grapefruit League parks, where not a lot is going on now. The Tigers have clinched at least a magic number, and seem to me unstoppable. Around the player complex there is a strange, anxious merriment. A few prospects are beginning in the fall instructional leagues, Latin boys plus a few older players on their way down the ladder, some of whom I even know from years ago. Hanging around on their own, they’re hoping to motivate some kid to hit or shake a bad attitude and to impress someone as being a good coach or a scout, maybe with a farm club out in Iowa, and in that way live a life of their choosing. It is a poignant life here, and play is haphazard at best, listless in its pleasures, and everyone waits for victory. A good human-interest article could be worked up from this small world. An old catcher actually came up to me and confessed he had diabetes and was going blind, and thought it might make a good story for younger readers. But I’ll never write it, just as I never properly wrote about Herb Wallagher and had to accept defeat there. Some life is only life, and unconjugatable, just as to some questions there are no answers. Just nothing to say. I have passed the catcher’s story and my thoughts on to Catherine Flaherty, in the event her current plans do not work out.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

the last book I ever read (Richard Ford's The Sportswriter, excerpt eleven)

from The Sportswriter by Richard Ford:

Coming to Florida has had a good effect on me, and I have stayed on these few months—it is now September—though I don’t think I will stay forever. Coming to the bottom of the country provokes a nice sensation, a tropical certainty that something will happen to you here. The whole place seems alive with modest hopes. People in Florida, I’ve discovered, are here to get away from things, to seek no end of life, and there is a crispness and a rightness to most everyone I meet that I find likable. No one is trying to rook anybody else, as my mother used to say, and contrary to all reports. Many people are here from Michigan, the blue plates on their cars and pickups much in evidence. It is not like New Jersey, but it is not bad.

Monday, February 17, 2014

the last book I ever read (Richard Ford's The Sportswriter, excerpt ten)

from The Sportswriter by Richard Ford:

“Get in this car.” I pull back the door. (She has decided not to love me because I might change her, but she couldn’t be more wrong. It is I who’ll happily bend.) “You just think you want some little life like Lynette’s to complain about, but I’m going to give you the best of all worlds. You don’t know how happy you’re going to be.” I give her a big signpost grin and step forward to put my arms around her, but she busts me full in the mouth with a mean little itchy fist that catches me midstride and sends me to the turf. I manage to grab onto the car door to ease my fall, but the punch is a looping girl’s left hook straight from the shoulder, and I actually walked directly into it, eyes wide open.

“I’ll ‘bout knock you silly,” she says furiously, both fists balled like little grapeshoots, thumbs inward. “Last guy took holt of me went to eye surgery.”

Sunday, February 16, 2014

the last book I ever read (Richard Ford's The Sportswriter, excerpt nine)

from The Sportswriter by Richard Ford:

“It’ll be all right,” I say, soft and sober-voiced now, meant to start me back on the road to intimacy. “There’s just too many new people in Cade’s life. I wouldn’t be any good at it either.” I smile and nod in one fell motion.

Vicki raises an eyebrow—I am a strange man with inexpert opinions concerning her family life, something she needs like a new navel. She turns a dinner spoon over and over in her fingers like a rosary. The boat collar of her pink jersey had slid a fraction off-center exposing a patch of starkly white brassiere strap. It is inspiring, and I wish this were the important business we were up to instead of old dismal-serious—though I have only myself to blame. Sic transit gloria mundi. When is that ever not true?

“Your father’s a great guy,” I say, my voice becoming softer with each word. I should be silent, portray a different fellow entirely, affect some hidden antagonism of my own to balance hers. Only I’m simply not able to. “He reminds me of a great athlete. I’m sure he’ll never have a nervous breakdown.”

Saturday, February 15, 2014

the last book I ever read (Richard Ford's The Sportswriter, excerpt eight)

from The Sportswriter by Richard Ford:

Vicki’s directions, it turns out, are perfect. Straight through the seaside townlet of Barnegat Pines, cross a drawbridge spanning a tarnished arm of a metallic-looking bay, loop through some beachy rental bungalows and turn right onto a man-made peninsula and a pleasant, meandering curbless street of new pastel split-levels with green lawns, underground utilities and attached garages. Sherri-Lynn Woods, the area is named, and there are streets like it along other parallel peninsulas nearby, though there are no woods in sight. Most of the houses have boat docks out back with a boat of some kind tied up—a boxy cabin-fisherman or a sleek-hulled outboard. All in all it is a vaguely nautical-feeling community, though all the houses down the street look Californiaish and casual.

The Arcenaults’ house at 1411 Arctic Spruce is vaguely similar to the others, though hanging on its front at the place where the two levels join behind beige siding there is a near life-size figure of Jesus-crucified that makes it immediately distinctive. Jesus in his suburban agony. Bloody eyes. Flimsy body. Feet already beginning to sag and give up the ghost. A look of redoubtable woe and calm. He is painted a lighter shade of beige than the siding and looks distinctly Mediterranean.

The Arcenaults—the swaying plaque out front says—and I wheel in just ahead of unkind weather and come to rest beside Vicki’s Dart.

Friday, February 14, 2014

the last book I ever read (Richard Ford's The Sportswriter, excerpt seven)

from The Sportswriter by Richard Ford:

What I did hate, though, and what finally sent me at a run out of town after dark at the end of term, without saying goodbye or even turning in my grades, was that with the exception of Selma, the place was all anti-mystery types right to the core—men and women both—all expert in the arts of explaining, explicating and dissecting, and by these means promoting permanence. For me that made for the worst kind of despairs, and finally I couldn’t stand their grinning, hopeful teacher faces. Teachers, let me tell you, are born deceivers of the lowest sort, since what they want from life is impossible—time-free, existential youth forever. It commits them to terrible deceptions and departures from the truth. And literature, being lasting, is their ticket.

Everything about the place was meant to be lasting—life no less than the bricks in the library and books of literature, especially when seen through the keyhole of their incumbent themes: eternal returns, the domination of man by the machine, the continuing sage of choosing middling life over zesty death, on and on to a wormy stupor. Real mystery—the very reason to read (and certainly write) any book—was to them a thing to dismantle, distill and mine out into rubble they could tyrannize into sorry but more permanent explanations; monuments to themselves, in other words. In my view all teachers should be required to stop teaching at age thirty-two and not allowed to resume until they’re sixty-five, so that they can live their lives, not teach them away—live lives full of ambiguity and transience and regret and wonder, be asked to explain nothing in public until very near the end when they can’t do anything else.

Explaining is where we all get into trouble.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

the last book I ever read (Richard Ford's The Sportswriter, excerpt six)

from The Sportswriter by Richard Ford:

They may already know too much about their mother and father—nothing being more factual than divorce, where so much has to be explained and worked through intelligently (though they have tried to stay equable). I’ve noticed this is often the time when children begin calling their parents by their first names, becoming little ironists after their parents’ faults. What could be lonelier for a parent than to be criticized by his child on a first-name basis? What if they were mean children, or by knowing too much, became mean? The plain facts of my alone life could make them tear me apart like maenads.

I am of a generation that did not know their parents as just plain folks—as Tom and Agnes. Eddie and Wanda. Ted and Dorie—as democratically undifferentiable from their children as ballots in a box. I never once thought to call my parents by their first names, never thought of their lives—remote as they were—as being like mine, their fears the equal of my fears, their smallest desires mirrors of everyone else’s. They were my parents—higher in terms absolute and unknowable. I didn’t know how they financed their cars. When they made love or how they liked it. Who they had their insurance with. What their doctor told them privately (though they must’ve both heard bad news eventually). They simply loved me, and I them. The rest, they didn’t feel the need to blab about. That there should always be something important I wouldn’t know, but could wonder at, wander near, yet never be certain about was, as far as I’m concerned, their greatest gift and lesson. “You don’t need to know that” was something I was told all the time. I have no idea what they had in mind by not telling me. Probably nothing. Possibly they thought I would come to truths (and facts) on my own; or maybe—and this is my real guess—they thought I’d never know and be happier for it, and that not knowing would itself be pretty significant and satisfying.

And how they right were! And how hopeful to think my own surviving children could enjoy some confident mysteries in life, and not fall prey to idiotic factualism or the indignity of endless explanation. I would protect them from it if I could. Divorce and dreary parenting have, of course, made that next to impossible, though day to day I give it my most honest effort.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

the last book I ever read (Richard Ford's The Sportswriter, excerpt five)

from The Sportswriter by Richard Ford:

“Do you want to hear the dream I have over and over?” Herb rolls the paper between his fingers, then pushes himself out toward the end of the dock. I sit on the pipe bannister, looking at his back. Herb’s bony shoulders are like wings, his neck thin and rucked, his head yellowish and balding. I do not know if he knows where I am or not, or even where he is.

“I’d be glad to hear a dream,” I say.

Herb stares off toward the lake as if it contained all his hopes gone cold. “I have a dream about these three old women in a stalled car on a dark road. Two of them are taking their grandmother, who’s old, really old, back to a nursing home. Just someplace. Say New York state, or Pennsylvania. I come along in my Jeep—I had a Jeep once—and I stop and ask if I can help them. And they say yes. No one’s come by in a long time. And I can tell they’re worried about me. One woman has her money out to pay me before I ever start. And they’ve got this flat tire. I shine my Jeep lights on their car and I can see this worried old grandmother, her face low in the front seat. A chicken-wattle neck. The two other women stand with me while I change the tire. And as I’m doing it I think about killing all three of them. Just strangling them with my hands, then driving off because no one would ever know who did it, since I wasn’t a killer or even known to be there. But I look around then, and I see these deer staring at me out of the trees. These yellow eyes. And that’s it. I wake up.” Herb twists his wheelchair and faces me. “How’s that for a dream? Whaddaya think, Frank? You’ve got a halo again, by the way. It just came back. You look idiotic.” Herb suddenly breaks out in laughter, his whole body rumbling and his mouth wide as a canyon. Herb, I see, is as crazy as a Betsey bug, and I want nothing in the world more than to get as far away from him as I can. Interview or no interview. Inspiration or no inspiration. Interviewing a crazy man is a waste of anybody’s time who’s not crazy himself. And I’m glad, in fact, that Herb is in his chair at the moment since it’s possible he would strangle me if he could.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

the last book I ever read (Richard Ford's The Sportswriter, excerpt four)

from The Sportswriter by Richard Ford:

In the La MediterranĂ©e Room I order two poached, dry toast and juice, and ask the waiter to hurry, while I check on the early leaders in the AL East—who’s been sent down, who’s up for a cup of coffee. The Free Press sports section has always been my favorite. Photographs galore. A crisp wide-eyed layout with big, readable coldtype print and a hometown writing style anyone could feel at home with. There is a place for literature, but a bigger one for sentences that are meant to read, not mused over: “Former Brother Rice standout, Phil Staransky, who picked up a couple timely hits in Wednesday’s twi-nighter, on the way to going three-for-four, already has plenty of experts around Michigan and Trumbull betting he’ll see more time at third before the club starts its first swing west. Pitching Coach Eddie Gonzalez says there’s no doubt the Hamtramck native ‘figures in the big club’s plans, especially,’ Gonzalez notes, ‘since the young man left off trying to pull everything and began swinging with his head.’” When I was in college I had a pledge bring it right to my bed every morning, and was even a mail subscriber when we first moved to Haddam. From time to time I think of quitting the magazine and coming back out to do a column. Though I’m sure it’s too late for that now. (The local sports boys never take kindly to the national magazine writers because we make more money. And in fact, I’ve been given haywire information from a few old beat writers, which, if I’d used it, would’ve made me look stupid in print.)

Monday, February 10, 2014

the last book I ever read (Richard Ford's The Sportswriter, excerpt three)

from The Sportswriter by Richard Ford:

I do not think, in any event, it’s a good idea to want to know what people are thinking (that would disqualify you as a writer right there, since what else is literature but somebody telling us what somebody else is thinking). For my money there are at least a hundred good reasons not to want to know such things. People never tell the truth anyway. And most people’s minds, like mine, never contain much worth reporting, in which case they just make something up that’s patently ridiculous instead of saying the truth—namely, I was thinking nothing. The other side, of course, is that you will run the risk of being told the very truth of what someone is thinking, which can turn out to be something you don’t want to hear, or that makes you mad, and ought to be kept private anyway. I remember when I was a boy in Mississippi, maybe fifteen years old—just before I left for Lonesome Pines—a friend of mine got killed in a hunting accident. The very night after, Charlieboy Neblett and I (he was one of my few friends in Biloxi) sat out in Charlieboy’s car drinking beer and complaining about our having thought, then forgiving each other for thinking, that we were glad Teddy Twiford got killed. If Teddy’s mother had come by just then and asked us what we were thinking, she would’ve been flabbergasted to find out what lousy friends of Teddy’s we were. Though in fact we weren’t lousy friends at all. Things just come into your mind on their own and aren’t your fault. So I learned this all those years ago—that you didn’t need to be held responsible for what you think, and that by and large you don’t have any business knowing what other people think. Full disclosure never does anybody any favors, and in any event there are few enough people in the world who are sufficiently within themselves to make such disclosure pretty unreliable right from the start. All added to the fact that this constitutes intrusion where you least need to be intruded upon, and where telling can actually do harm to everyone involved.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

the last book I ever read (Richard Ford's The Sportswriter, excerpt two)

from The Sportswriter by Richard Ford:

Athletes, by and large, are people who are happy to let their actions speak for them, happy to be what they do. As a result, when you talk to an athlete, as I do all the time in locker rooms, in hotel coffee shops and hallways, standing beside expensive automobiles—even if he’s paying no attention to you at all, which is very often the case—he’s never likely to feel the least bit divided, or alienated, or one ounce of existential dread. He may be thinking about a case of beer, or a barbecue, or some man-made lake in Oklahoma he wishes he was waterskiing on, or some girl or a new Chevy shortbed, or a discotheque he owns a tax shelter, or just simply himself. But you can bet he isn’t worried one bit about you and what you’re thinking. His is a rare selfishness that means he isn’t looking around the sides of his emotions to wonder about alternatives for what he’s saying or thinking about. In fact, athletes at the height of their powers make literalness into a mystery all its own simply by becoming absorbed in what they’re doing.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

the last book I ever read (Richard Ford's The Sportswriter, excerpt one)

from The Sportswriter by Richard Ford:

Why did I quit writing? Forgetting for the moment that I quit writing to become a sportswriter, which is more like being a businessman, or an old-fashioned traveling salesman with a line of novelty household items, than being a genuine writer, since in so many ways words are just our currency, our medium of exchange with our readers, and there is very little that is ever genuinely creative to it at all—even if you’re not much more than a fly-swat reporter, as I’m not. Real writing, after all, is something much more complicated and enigmatic than anything usually having to do with sports, though that’s not to say a word against sportswriting, which I’d rather do than anything.

Was it just that things did not come easily enough? Or that I couldn’t translate my personal recognitions into the ambiguous stuff of complex literature? Or that I had nothing to write about, no more discoveries up my sleeve or the pizzazz to write the more extensive work?

And my answer is: there are those reasons and at least twenty better ones. (Some people only have one book in them. There are worse things.)

Friday, February 7, 2014

the last book I ever read (Sheri Fink's Five Days at Memorial, excerpt eighteen)

from Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink:

After the grand jury refused to indict Pou, she made good on her promise to fight to protect medical workers who serve in disasters, capitalizing on the statewide support she enjoyed. In 2008, I watched her as we both sat in a gallery at the Baton Rouge Capitol at a hearing. Ever the committed doctor, she worked on patient charts balanced on her knees as she awaited a chance to rise in support of one of three disaster immunity bills she helped write. “Unless you were there it would be difficult for you to forge a bill,” she said after the hearing. “The fact I experienced it first-hand puts me in a good position,” she added. “I mean you have to understand the circumstances that are created by any disaster when the medical supplies and the medical community is overwhelmed; these are horrific, extraordinary circumstances.” Pou said that providers who use “alternate standards of care [need] a comfort level that we are not going to be second guessed and prosecuted for decisions we make during times of crisis.” The legislators did not ask Pou whether the decisions she was referring to should extend beyond triage to include intentionally hastening patient deaths.

The answer to that question is no, according to reports released by the Institute of Medicine, a highly regarded, independent advisory organization that is part of the National Academy of Sciences. A year after Pou’s campaign, and again three years later after consulting with emergency responders across the country, a group of disaster experts convened by the Institute came down unequivocally on the question of euthanasia in guidance to policymakers and the public on medical care during disasters: “Neither the law nor ethics,” they wrote, “support the intentional hastening of death, even in a crisis.”

A bioethicist uninvolved with the group shared a similar view. “Rather than thinking about exceptional moral rules for exceptional moral situations,” Harvard’s Dr. Lachlan Forrow, who is also a palliative care specialist, wrote, “we should almost always see exceptional moral situations as opportunities for us to show exceptionally deep commitment to our deepest moral values.”

Thursday, February 6, 2014

the last book I ever read (Sheri Fink's Five Days at Memorial, excerpt seventeen)

from Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink:

What sank the case in the one juror’s mind was that nobody stood before the jury and testified to seeing Anna Pou actually inject a patient. The fundamental evidence needed to pin the deaths on the woman whose name was on the indictment papers was, in this juror’s opinion, lacking.

The juror was a devotee of forensic pathologist Michael Baden’s documentary television series Autopsy. What particularly struck her was the fact that so many patients who had been alive in the morning were dead in the afternoon. And Emmett Everett, he would stay with her. She would recall, years later, the vision of him eating his breakfast that Thursday morning and asking the staff when they were going to rock and roll. She believed the experts’ reports that concluded that the deaths at Memorial were homicides.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

the last book I ever read (Sheri Fink's Five Days at Memorial, excerpt sixteen)

from Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink:

Embellishing the profound hardships she experienced might have been inconsequential except for the fact that as Pou lectured to medical groups around the country, she used these stories—juxtaposed with the fact of her arrest—to convince her audiences of the need to crusade for immunity laws that would prevent people from suing and prosecuting medical professionals in future emergencies. In her talks, Pou sometimes flashed her mug shot on the screen, but she did not say that she was arrested for having allegedly murdered patients, not for having made the challenging and controversial triage decisions she discussed. In fact, she left out mention of injecting patients entirely. In lectures to hospital executives in Sacramento, disaster preparedness planners in Chicago, doctors in Texas, and attorneys in New Orleans, she did not discuss or explain the decision she and her colleagues made to medicate at least nineteen patients on Thursday, September 1, all of whom died as helicopters and boats emptied Memorial.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

the last book I ever read (Sheri Fink's Five Days at Memorial, excerpt fifteen)

from Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink:

Pou continued to practice and went on to become a popular national lecturer on “ethical considerations” in disaster medicine. In her talks, she rewrote history. “FEMA called us and said we’re taking the airboats at noon,” she said as the keynote speaker at a conference registering nearly a thousand California hospital executives and health professionals, who gave her a long ovation. “So whatever you can get out of the hospital get out because they can no longer stay.” In all the months Virginia Rider and Butch Schafer had investigated events at Memorial, and in all the years of stories journalists had written about the disaster, nobody had made that claim.

Standing on stage, her voice booming through the large hall, Pou said that in addition to no running water there was “no clean water” at Memorial—though investigators found a large amount of bottled water left over after the evacuation—and she asked audience members to put themselves in the position of deciding who should get the last bottle of drinking water—an employee or a patient, “Who gets it? Who gets the one bottle of water?”—a decision that was never necessary at Memorial.

Monday, February 3, 2014

the last book I ever read (Sheri Fink's Five Days at Memorial, excerpt fourteen)

from Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink:

Decades after World War II, arguments for legalizing voluntary euthanasia again gained traction in several European countries. In 1973, a Dutch court ruled that euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide (whereby a doctor provides medicine that a person can take to commit suicide) were not punishable under certain circumstances, and imposed only a symbolic, suspended sentence. These acts were decriminalized in the 1980s and formally legalized by a vote of the Dutch parliament in 2001. Similar laws passed in Belgium in 2002 and Luxembourg in 2009. In Belgium, one pharmacy chain made home euthanasia kits available for about €45, complete with the sedative drug used at Memorial, midazolam; along with the anesthetic drug sodium thiopental (Pentothal), which Dr. Ewing Cook used at Memorial to euthanize pets; and a paralyzing agent that stops breathing. The kits were intended for use by doctors in patients’ homes. Doctors could prescribe them for specific patients who had signed a request for euthanasia at least a month in advance, after having discussed it with two independent doctors. The Dutch and Belgian laws did not require a terminal medical condition for a euthanasia request to be granted.

In each country, legality rested on different guidelines, which at first appeared to offer important safeguards. For example, in the Netherlands, euthanasia was supposed to be limited to people who made repeated requests to die and were experiencing, as certified by two doctors, unbearable suffering without the possibility of improvement. However, a study of the program showed these rules were not always followed, and a small proportion of people were killed each year without having made an explicit request. There were few prosecutions in these cases. Were the Dutch merely more honest about their practices? Or did the legalization of one form of euthanasia bleed, inexorably, into the other, darker kind?

Sunday, February 2, 2014

the last book I ever read (Sheri Fink's Five Days at Memorial, excerpt thirteen)

from Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink:

In the days leading up to the anniversary, lawyers filed petitions in the names of the Memorial and LifeCare dead. Medical malpractice claims and personal-injury actions typically had to be made within a year of an incident. Just weeks after the disaster, eager attorneys had begun soliciting potential clients. Advertisements ran in newspapers, on television, and on billboards as far away as Houston and Atlanta. One lawyer had even ridden around New Orleans on her scooter planting campaign-style lawn signs on street medians and near hospitals. “I know black people—I was raised by black women,” the attorney, Tammie Holley, a white woman, wrote in an e-mail to colleagues. The families, she wrote, “would drive by the hospital to see ‘where mama died’ in search of answers.” She also obtained a mailing list of displaced voters from the NAACP. “The rest is history.” She wrote that a fellow attorney came into her office and said, “I can smell the money.”

Saturday, February 1, 2014

six-time Super Bowl defensive lineman Mike Lodish, interview fourteen in Deadspin's Would You Do It Again? series

"People that I've talked to about me being on the list to sue the NFL say things to me like, 'You knew what you were getting into.' Let me explain something to you: The hell we did. The hell we did."

please pardon me for posting something/anything? (hello Todd Rundgren) during a Carolina basketball game, even with a thirteen-point lead (there. I've jinxed us. it's ten now). some things (actually almost everything) are out of my control. but I spoke to Mike Lodish, a defensive lineman out of UCLA who played in more Super Bowls than any other player in NFL history, and one of the more than 4500 former players who are suing the League over concussions and other head injuries.

my thanks, as always, to Deadspin for the opportunity, and to all the former players who have shared their thoughts and time.

the last book I ever read (Sheri Fink's Five Days at Memorial, excerpt twelve)

from Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink:

Can we do this? After the disaster, the question had shifted for Thiele from a moral to a legal one, the price of conviction in the currency of consequences. His attorney warded off the attorney general’s advances while Thiele—his home destroyed, and out of a job because of the hospital’s closure—sought the means to pay him.