Look upon the face

I stood in the museum and looked long and hard upon the face of Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother.” My photography instructor Ed Wheeler taught me the beauty of black-and-white photos, and Lange’s picture taught me about poverty.

The last few days I’ve read and heard an awful lot about the pros and cons of The Stimulus Package. About a million words later, it all comes down to this.

In both a public relations and journalism capacity I have rubbed elbows and shot the breeze with many politicians in social settings. I know how they are wined and dined. I know the bourbon is good and the food is better. These elected or appointed leaders move in a world of wealth – of $1,000-a-plate dinners and picked-up tabs.

Perhaps this country, in this financial crisis, would be better served if they drove their limos into the slums of our cities and down rural roads, stepped out of their privileged world and looked upon the face of poverty.


We're all in the same wagon

Early this evening, the U.S. House passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 – Obama’s $819 billion stimulus package – by a vote of 244-188.


Why can’t we learn from history and use it to predict the future?

That modern-day marvel of a historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin, can be relied upon to give us superbly documented evidence that history does, indeed, repeat itself.

Right now I am listening to Talking Books of biographies I’ve read along the way – a refresher course, if you will, in what history has to teach.

Few sources offer a clearer picture of the stock market and the forces which led to The Great Depression than Goodwin’s “The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys.” At least not in a readable and entertaining format.

Joe Kennedy, patriarch of America’s premier political family, was an adviser aboard Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s campaign train in 1932 as it criss-crossed the country. In the context of the Kennedy biography, we get a glimpse of what FDR promised Americans. More importantly, we learn what Americans were desperate for in this direst of times.

While there was no Rush Limbaugh, blasting away on the airwaves, calling for FDR’s failure, there were plenty of naysayers.

During the long train ride, the crippled FDR found rallying crowds at every stop along the tracks. Almost daily he received telegrams of encouragement from people across the nation. Herbert Bayard Swope, former executive editor of the New York World, suggested the presidential hopeful “must prove that liberalism is not radicalism, that reform of the capitalist system did not mean its abolition.”

“Capitalism,” he wrote to FDR, “is the wagon in which we ride to such measure of happiness as it is possible to humanly achieve. It has been a reasonably good vehicle for several hundred years and in it we have gone ahead. Now, it is creaking and in places worn out. This does not mean we must abandon the wagon, that we must climb out and destroy it, and then search for another conveyance or travel through the bogs afoot. It means we must repair it. That we must replace the worn-out parts with new ones. That we must continue to make the wheels go ‘round. That we must see that those riding in it are given reasonably good chances at good seats. After all, capitalism is not an end in itself, but the means to an end.”

Once more our nation faces a time of recovery. Limbaugh, with his microphone, aspires to be the self-proclaimed leader of the right-wing naysayers.

The right-wing would have you believe the stimulus package, aka recovery plan, the House has adopted is throwing your money to the wind and will neither stimulate the economy nor create new jobs. Republicans in the House have continued to beat the Bush drum of permanent tax cuts as the only solution in sight.

Suddenly, the party which spent like drunken sailors has had an acute attack of frugality. Conservatives just love the status quo and quiver in their Guccis at the threat of socialism. They could give a damn about the words of a Tom Joad.

Economic crises and economic recoveries come in cycles, haven’t we learned that? This nation is still a capitalist democracy. Studying past remedies will teach us even more.


Several years ago I went over to meet my new neighbors in the townhouse next door, two young single girls, one very, very pregnant. In the course of the conversation, I asked them what their jobs were. The very, very pregnant girl replied, “I test condoms.” I burst out laughing. I could not help myself!

One of the Republican talking points of the last few days is to claim the stimulus package (ahem!) would provide millions of condoms, presumably to prevent AIDS and other STDs. Knowing this will appeal to the lowest common denominator among us, they have insisted this will not create jobs.

My young neighbor was working for Schmid Laboratories, which has a large plant here in Anderson, South Carolina. Schmid produces condoms, and, yes, it provides jobs.


Start with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s speech to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, 23 September 1932: LINK


Planting a seed

One of the joys of my life is correspondence. For many years my early morning routine was to sip hot coffee while writing letters to friends and family.

The wonder of email is that you can exchange words with folks far and wide, folks you’ve never met, and call them “friends.” Quite often, these distant friends share more about themselves than persons you’ve known most of your life. That is a phenomenon of the medium I’ll leave to the appropriate disciplines to dissect.

Occasionally, an email comes along which is worth sharing. The sender of the following wishes to be signed “a friend.”



Your Jefferson Young story (LINK) took me back to images and shocking experiences in Gadsden County, Florida. (The largest, although second poorest, county in the state, it's northwest of Tallahassee.). My husband and I lived there for several years. Gadsden was the only Florida county to vote for Geraldine Ferraro. There, many people had no running water or electricity. Some people still plowed with mules.

I volunteered in the local 'alternative' school where, to my horror, I discovered that the teacher couldn't pronounce the vocabulary for English class. Worse in its own way, she was an African-American woman and graduate of Florida A&M.

I have many, many stories from those Gadsden County days. The beef I'd purchased from the local IGA had birdshot in it.

One day my husband and I were having a sandwich in a beat-up eatery on the town square in Quincy, the county seat. We were sitting next to a grimy, massive picture window facing the square. Quincy had seen happier, more prosperous days. In the '70s, droves of local workers in the shade-grown-tobacco industry had been let go. Beyond mowing grass and other dead-end jobs, there'd been no local jobs for these workers ever since, and no public transportation to afford people an education and opportunities elsewhere.

In my view, Gadsden County represented a continuation of Florida's brutal history of haves and have-nots. Blacks weren't even allowed on Florida beaches until the 1960s.

The town square suffered from years of neglect. You could see that Quincy had been stately at one time - and might be so today. (Let's hope so.) But in the late '80s or early '90s when we were there, it felt bleak. While eating our sandwiches by the grimy window, a parade of stretch limos shot by from around the corner, one right after the other. There must have been eight or nine of them. We were stunned, mystified. Later, we found out that Quincy, Florida, a place where time stood still, had the most Coca-Cola millionaires per capita of anywhere in the USA. Bigwigs from Atlanta were coming to town to call on the big shareholders following the debacle of Coke Classic.

We found out that in the ‘30s or so, the president of the Quincy State Bank, maybe the oldest bank in Florida, was a very likeable, popular guy. He'd told his bank customers that there was an exciting new company in Atlanta called Coca-Cola, and recommended that folks consider buying some shares. When my husband and I lived there, the third generation of Coca-Cola shareholders had no financial concerns.

I have lots of stories from Gadsden County days. Living there was an experience almost out of this world. It would be fascinating to see the place today.

As someone new to that community, its ways mystified and often shocked me. Still, it is important to note that, beneath the surface of some deep-South ways that threw me for a loop, great love and respectful relations went on there, too. A particular experience comes to mind.

A dastardly Miami group with colossal bucks came to the county to promote a medical waste dump with the promise of “good jobs.” Several dozen residents rallied in that extremely rural place. People from all walks of life - white and black, educated and uneducated, some with financial means and some with no means whatsoever - joined together to stop this destructive proposal.

We became a splendid, rag-tag activist group with only nickels and dimes on our side. We were up against huge money and who knows what else. An overarching concern for the welfare of the people and the community spurred us on.

The consequences of this proposed social and environmental nightmare were frightening to consider. Among other things, it would have polluted the air and local streams with mercury and other highly toxic substances that would have wound up in human bodies, including tiny ones; many people fished local streams for food. Nor were these good jobs at all. Off the top, they were very dangerous jobs with great risk of hepatitis C.. Also, if the monstrosity had been allowed, a medical waste dump for the entire Southeast might have been grandfathered in afterwards.

Our rag-tag group pulled together, did massive research at FSU, talked with professors, knocked on doors of homes and shacks alike, held public meetings galore. Thankfully, we had some good coverage in the Tallahassee paper, and that helped. We also experienced some astounding serendipity along the way.

A video of a South Carolina news broadcast about the gory details of a medical waste dump dropped in our laps from out of nowhere. In it were references to things unholy to the African-American community which, up to this point, had been keen on the promise of good jobs. We duplicated this video and circulated it to local parishes. Looking back, this was the turning point. Still, the stakes were huge and the work hard, exhausting, overwhelming, inherently terrifying. We kept at it anyway.

In the end, I'd say that a miracle happened. The stretch limo and Miami gang left town for the last time. Goodness won! The Miami folks and some local politicians got caught on the same plane together. According to Florida's Sunshine Law, that was a major no-no. This entire experience also taught me exactly what Margaret Mead meant: "Never doubt that a small group of caring citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

As new life comes into the White House, perhaps this is a symbol that a ruthless, cruel part of American history has finally died so we can move forward. I couldn't agree with Obama more about embracing diversity, that, indeed, diversity is colossal strength.

Sign me “a friend.”


Thanks, friend!


So, what of Quincy today? It has been designated an “All-American City.” In 2006, Gadsden County was named USDA Rural Development Community of the Year.

Apparently, my activist friend and her rag-tag group planted a seed of civic consciousness, giving credence to anthropologist Margaret Mead’s assertion.


'Prayers for Bobby'

‘Prayers for Bobby,’ which aired Saturday night on Lifetime, is a must-see made-for-TV movie based on a true story.

This is the story of a mother, played by Sigourney Weaver, and her passage from religious denial to compassionate acceptance of her gay son’s sexuality - and goodness.

In sharing her story, she gives each of us an opportunity for better understanding.

The movie encores on Tuesday, January 27, at 9 p.m. ET/PT and 8 p.m. CT.

Please share this information with others. Thanks!


An interview with Bobby’s mother.


Homosexuality and religion

In 1979, when I was editor of The Student Printz at the University of Southern Mississippi, I conducted a group interview with 18 campus gays, who came to my home willing to talk with me openly and anonymously.

These students – all male – were active in every phase of campus life (three were members of the football team). We discussed every aspect of their gay lifestyle. All of these young men had grown up attending church and expressed a “Sodom and Gomorrah” sense of guilt – their words - about their sexuality.

A new TV movie, based on a true story and starring Sigourney Weaver, explores the subject of homosexuality and religion. “Prayers for Bobby” examines a mother’s relationship with her gay son and her inability to accept his sexuality because of her own religious beliefs.

Actress Weaver appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” today to talk about the movie and the mother. No spoilers – other than to say this true story should be essential viewing for anyone who is gay or has friends or family members who are gay. Please pass this information along!

“Prayers for Bobby” airs on Lifetime, Saturday, 24 January 2009, at 9 p.m. ET & PT, 8 p.m. CT.


Which wolf will we feed?

History has taught us it is best to separate church and state. Even Jesus wouldn’t fall into the trap of putting one above the other, answering the Pharisees, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.”

There is comfort, though, in our national tradition, dating back to the inauguration of our first president, of holding a prayer service seeking blessings upon our newly installed leader.

Yesterday’s service at the National Cathedral – the 56th Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service - was the most ecumenical ever and involved more women.

For the first time, in fact, a woman was selected to deliver the sermon: The Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins, general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

For me, the Rev. Dr. Watkins’ words and the riveting rendition of “Amazing Grace” by Dr. Wintley Phipps, president of the U.S. Dream Academy in Columbia, Maryland, were the highlights of the service.

At the bottom of this post, I will put links to the Cathedral’s Webcast of the service and a video of Dr. Phipp’s performance, but first, here are the thought-provoking words of the sermon (the ellipses in the text are those of Watkins and do not represent omitted words):

Harmonies of Liberty (LINK)

(Isaiah 58:6-12, Matthew 22:6-40)

Mr. President and Mrs. Obama, Mr. Vice President and Dr. Biden, and your families, what an inaugural celebration you have hosted! Train ride, opening concert, service to neighbor, dancing till dawn . . .

And yesterday . . . With your inauguration, Mr. President, the flame of America’s promise burns just a little brighter for every child of this land!

There is still a lot of work to do, and today the nation turns its full attention to that work. As we do, it is good that we pause to take a deep spiritual breath. It is good that we center for a moment.

What you are entering now, Mr. President and Mr. Vice President, will tend to draw you away from your ethical center. But, we, the nation that you serve, need you to hold the ground of your deepest values, of our deepest values.

Beyond this moment of high hopes, we need you to stay focused on our shared hopes, so that we can continue to hope, too.

We will follow your lead.

There is a story attributed to Cherokee wisdom:
One evening a grandfather was teaching his young grandson about the internal battle that each person faces.
“There are two wolves struggling inside each of us,” the old man said. “One wolf is vengefulness, anger, resentment, self-pity, fear . . . “The other wolf is compassion, faithfulness, hope, truth, love . . .” The grandson sat, thinking, then asked: “Which wolf wins, Grandfather?” His grandfather replied, “The one you feed.”

There are crises banging on the door right now, pawing at us, trying to draw us off our ethical center – crises that tempt us to feed the wolf of vengefulness and fear.

We need you, Mr. President, to hold your ground. We need you, leaders of this nation, to stay centered on the values that have guided us in the past; values that empowered to move us through the perils of earlier times and can guide us now into a future of renewed promise.

We need you to feed the good wolf within you, to listen to the better angels of your nature, and by your example encourage us to do the same.

This is not a new word for a pastor to bring at such a moment. In the later chapters of Isaiah, in the 500s BCE, the prophet speaks to the people. Back in the capital city after long years of exile, their joy should be great, but things aren’t working out just right. Their homecoming is more complicated than expected. Not everyone is watching their parade or dancing all night at their arrival.

They turn to God, “What’s going on here? We pray and we fast, but you do not bless us. We’re confused.” Through the prophet, God answers, What fast? You fast only to quarrel and fight and strike with the fist… Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice . . . to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house . .? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly . . .
At our time of new beginning, focused on renewing America’s promise – yet at a time of great crisis – which fast do we choose? Which “wolf” do we feed? What of America’s promise do we honor?

Recently Muslim scholars from around the world released a document, known as “A Common Word Between Us.” It proposes a common basis for building a world at peace. That common basis? Love of God and love of neighbor! What we just read in the Gospel of Matthew!

So, how do we go about loving God? Well, according to Isaiah, summed up by Jesus, affirmed by a worldwide community of Muslim scholars and many others, it is by facing hard times with a generous spirit: by reaching out toward each other rather than turning our backs on each other. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “People can be so poor that the only way they see God is in a piece of bread.”

In the days immediately before us, there will be much to draw us away from the grand work of loving God and the hard work of loving neighbor. In crisis times, a basic instinct seeks to take us over – a fight/flight instinct that leans us toward the fearful wolf, orients us toward the self-interested fast . . . In international hard times, our instinct is to fight – to pick up the sword, to seek out enemies, to build walls against the other – and why not? They just might be out to get us. We’ve got plenty of evidence to that effect. Someone has to keep watch and be ready to defend, and Mr. President – Tag! You’re it!

But, on the way to those tough decisions, which American promises will frame those decisions? Will you continue to reason from your ethical center, from the bedrock values of our best shared hopes? Which wolf will you feed?

In financial hard times, our instinct is flight – to hunker down, to turn inward, to hoard what little we can get our hands on, to be fearful of others who may take the resources we need. In hard financial times, which fast do we choose? The fast that placates our hunkered-down soul – or the fast that reaches out to our sister and our brother? In times, such as these, we the people need you, the leaders of this nation, to be guided by the counsel that Isaiah gave so long ago, to work for the common good, for the public happiness, the well-being of the nation and the world, knowing that our individual well-being depends upon a world in which liberty and justice prevail. This is the biblical way. It is also the American way – to believe in something bigger than ourselves, to reach out to neighbor to build communities of possibility, of liberty and justice for all.

This is the center we can find again whenever we are pulled at and pawed at by the vengeful wolf, when we are tempted by the self-interested fast. America’s true character, the source of our national wisdom and strength, is rooted in a generous and hopeful spirit.

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, . . . Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.” (1)

Emma Lazarus’ poetry is spelled out further by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr,: “As long as there is poverty in the world I can never be rich, even if I have a billion dollars. As long as diseases are rampant and millions of people in this world cannot expect to live more than twenty-eight or thirty years, I can never be totally healthy . . . I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way our world is made.” (2)

You yourself, Mr. President, have already added to this call, “If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child. . . . It's that fundamental belief — I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper — that makes this country work.” It is right that college classes on political oratory already study your words. You, as our president, will set the tone for us. You will help us as a nation choose again and again which wolf to feed, which fast to choose, to love God by loving our neighbor. We will follow your lead – and we will walk with you. And sometimes we will swirl in front of you, pulling you along. At times like these – hard times –we find out what we’re made of.

Is that blazing torch of liberty just for me? Or, do we seek the “harmonies of liberty,” many voices joined together, many hands offering to care for neighbors far and near? Though tempted to withdraw the offer, surely Lady Liberty can still raise that golden torch of generosity to the world.

Even in these financial hard times, these times of international challenge, the words of Katherine Lee Bates describe a nation with more than enough to share: “Oh, beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain . . .”

A land of abundance guided by a God of abundance, generosity, and hope – This is our heritage. This is America’s promise which we fulfill when we reach out to each other. Even in these hard times, rich or poor, we can reach out to our neighbor, including our global neighbor, in generous hospitality, building together communities of possibility and of hope. Even in these tough times, we can feed the good wolf, listen to the better angels of our nature. We can choose the fast of God’s desiring.

1 Emma Lazarus
2 The Words of MLK, Jr., selected by Coretta Scott King, 21
Even now in these hard times let us Lift every voice and sing Till earth and heaven ring, . . . with the harmonies of Liberty; Even now let us Sing a song full of hope. . . Especially now, from the center of our deepest shared values, let us pray, still in the words of James Weldon Johnson:
Thou who has by Thy might Led us into the light, Keep us . . . in the path, we pray. Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee, Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee; Shadowed beneath Thy hand, May we forever stand. True to our God, True to our native land.3
3 James Weldon Johnson


View the Natioanl Cathedral Webcast of the service.

Read the service program.

Listen to Dr. Phipps’ performance of “Amazing Grace.”


Instant gratification

I woke up this morning and microwaved the cold coffee in my pot. My feet are cold. It’s 17 degrees here, and my central heat is running off the wall. So, I’m worried about next month’s electric bill. The alimony checks finally arrived, and a friend is going to get them to the bank. I’m praying Medicaid will finally approve the application I mailed November 16. I need to get the water/sewer bill in the mail. Oh, Lord, I forgot a good friend’s birthday! (Not surprising, I talked with my 82-year-old brother Saturday and failed to mention it was our daddy's birthday.)

So, what’s my point? I woke up this morning and nothing has changed. After dancing the night away with Barack and the beautifully bedecked Michelle, there's no glass slipper, no pumpkin.

I thought Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address was one of most profound messages I’d ever heard. Somewhere in it, he warned us against our propensity for instant gratification.

Like my microwaved cold coffee.

I cannot even imagine where Obama will start when he walks into the Oval Office this morning. I wouldn't be in his shoes for, as my mother used to say, all the tea in China.

Even as the first couple danced, Raum Emanuel was already at work attempting to overturn some of the former president’s directives.

But, as Obama said, we must not expect overnight miracles. I believe he will work from day one on the myriad of problems he’s inherited, but we must be patient, and we must be proactive.

I rarely take note of the well-traveled political blogs, but last night I went to dailykos.com to see how that far-left outlet received Obama’s message. What I found there was sophomoric drivel. To quote one post, “Nyah, nyah, nyah.”

For right now, I believe the most important message Obama seeks to convey is his admonition from “The Love Chapter” in I Corinthians: “Put away childish things.”

Nothing new this morning. People stuck in Abraham Maslow’s first stage of development – people like Michelle Malkin and the wunderkinder of Daily Kos – just don’t get the wisdom of those well-chosen words.

Talk about shifting the deck chairs on the Titanic. It’s time to grow up, boys and girls. There are some things more important than your own petty preferences.


A white house

This is a tribute to a man you’ve never heard of.

Today, as America celebrates the birthday of a man who helped a race find its way, I hope you will leave this post with a knowledge of silenced heroes.


Frequent commenter “Frodo” and his lovely wife “Sam” surprised me at Christmas with an audiobook of John Grisham’s “A Painted House.” I absolutely loved the book – a Southern tale which raises Grisham to the level of a Eudora Welty or a Willie Morris.

As the title notes, there is a clapboard farmhouse getting its first coat of white paint. As I listened to Grisham’s book, I thought of an earlier book, and there is no doubt in my mind that Grisham borrowed from its Mississippi writer.


One day in the early 1970s, my former husband, then principal of Monticello High School, brought home a little book, the high school library’s only copy. He handed it to me and said, “You need to read this book.” Then, he told me the story behind the short novel.


Many, many times I drove the route from my hometown Jackson, Mississippi, 60 miles south to my new Monticello home. Leaving I-55 South at Crystal Springs, you drive south to Georgetown. From there to Monticello, you travel through 20 miles of verdant tunnel formed by virgin pine trees. As you near Monticello, there is an opening to the right – a road with a country grocery store on one side and one of those lovely old white Southern homes on the other. This is all that’s visible of a community named Oma.

I did not know until I held that book that back in the woods at Oma lived a very noteworthy person.


The book was “A Good Man” by Jefferson Young, published by Bobbs-Merrill in 1953.

Thomas Jefferson Young, with the exception of college and service in the U.S. Air Force in WWII, spent his whole life in Oma. In 1953, the year before Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, he dared to write a simple story about a black man who wanted to paint his house white. The book, beautifully written, won national acclaim.


The original Time magazine review of “A Good Man:”

Monday, Mar. 09, 1953

White Is a Color

A GOOD MAN (239 Pp.)—Jefferson Young—Bobbs-Merrill ($3).

There were those in Longfield, Miss. who thought that Albert Clayton was getting too big for his britches. He was a hardworking, illiterate sharecropper who had cleared all of $43 the year before, and this year's prospects didn't even look as good as that. In 15 years he had been able to save nothing. His two kids were hungry, his wife Louella's Sunday dress was seven years old, and yet Albert had some mighty uppity ideas. Wanted to paint his shack white, something no Negro in those parts had ever talked about, much less tried to do.

From fictional materials as simple as these, Mississippi-born Jefferson Young, 31, has spun a completely successful story, as true as it is humble, as convincing as humble truth. A Good Man does unobtrusively what the sordid sharecropper novels of the Erskine Caldwell school have never been able to do: it generates enormous sympathy for the Albert Claytons at the same time that it gives them dignity; it refuses to be defeatist about their future so long as heart and conscience have their say in human affairs.

Everyone knew that painting the shack white went deeper than a paint job. The Negroes knew and were either exhilarated or frightened by Albert's boldness. Albert's boss, Mr. Tittle, knew it, but in his own way he admired his sharecropper's spunk and aspiration. If Albert could buy the paint, he wouldn't stop him. Mathis, the storekeeper, was another kind of white man. Said he to Mr. Tittle: "Every nigger around here knows what he's doing ... If you let this business get out of hand they'll all start thinking they're good as you or me. So I'm going to stop this thing. If somebody don't, a man can't say where it all would end." And he cut off Albert's credit at his store. Albert's own position was simple enough: "A white house let a man be a man."

Albert doesn't get to paint his house white. A whole series of intimidations and threats are too much for his wife Louella, and in a desperate act of family preservation, she kills the calf Albert has been raising to pay for the paint. And Albert understands. But it is one of the strengths of this well-written first novel that Louella understands her husband's need, too. Says she: "We get the house painted next year." And life goes on, but as in all good fiction the dimensions have been subtly altered and the simplest meanings enlarged. (LINK)


In 2006, “A Good Man” was produced as a musical with book and lyrics by, ironically, Philip S. Goodman. The musical opened in Vienna, Austria. Variety’s review called it “dramatically impotent.” Apparently, the reviewer wanted less gospel music and more struggle. Read the Variety review.


In the photo on the back of the book jacket, Jefferson Young, then 31 years old, reminded me of the fair-haired and delicate Ashley Wilkes as played by Leslie Howard in “Gone With the Wind.”

This young man, who could have given so much more to American literature, was ostracized by a 1953 Mississippi and lived the rest of his life as a recluse.

“He lives in a cottage beside a wood under a towering sweet gum tree just south of Oma,” wrote Elmo Howell in his book, Mississippi Scenes: Notes on Literature and History, 1992.

Although “A Good Man” is available on Amazon.com and was recently produced as a musical, there is very little known about Jefferson Young. Howell’s book has the only Internet reference to the man himself.

On Friday, I had a wonderful, long phone chat with Elmo Howell, retired Mississippi schoolteacher and author of numerous books on the South. Elmo, as he prefers to be called, is 90 years old and lives independently in Memphis, Tennessee. He remembers, “I loved the book. I was so impressed with Young’s writing ability and use of dialect, I wanted to include a vignette about him in my book.” He did not interview Young and described his cottage setting from an old photograph which he still has.

We discussed the times in which Young’s book appeared – an era when Jimmy Ward, longtime editor of the Jackson (Miss.) Daily News, used the word “nigger” in front-page editorials. Elmo might have learned more from me about Young than I learned from him. I promised to mail him a copy of this post, and he, in turn, will mail me some of his notes on Young.

The chat with Elmo was the culmination of weeks of research which turned up scant information about Jefferson Young the man.


In the 1970s, when my longtime friend Lynn Lofton and I worked for the Lawrence County (Miss.) Press, she secured what might have been the only newspaper interview with the secluded writer, resulting in an excellent feature story.

Lynn, a freelance writer living in Gulfport, Mississippi, while salvaging her home, sadly lost all its contents, including her newspaper clippings, to Hurricane Katrina.

My Monticello friend Annelle Poole has spent hours at the public library and the Lawrence County Courthouse going through old, bound copies of the Press. There are missing issues and apparently one of these has Lynn’s article.

A pity as Lynn’s interview with Young would have added so much to this post.

I called on my college buddy Bill Sumrall, master researcher, and Bill went into action, digging into library files and talking with folks at the Mississippi Archives.

If ever a man “faded into obscurity,” it was Thomas Jefferson Young. No one seemed to know whether the writer was dead or alive.

Bill finally was emailed a PDF copy of Young’s obituary, published in the Brookhaven, Miss., Daily Leader:

Thomas Jefferson Young, the brief obit said, died at age 73 on 31 March 1995. He was survived by three elderly aunts living in Louisiana. There is a simple mention of his authoring a book titled “A Good Man.” He is buried in Lowe Cemetery in Copiah County, Mississippi.


There is a picture in my mind of a man growing old in a small cottage in the woods, his book on a nearby shelf, saying to himself, “I was right.”

Now, 56 years after a simple story about a black man wanting to paint his house white created racial discord which broke its writer’s heart, a black man is getting ready to move his family into the nation’s White House.

Rest in peace, Thomas Jefferson Young.


Ranking the Bushies

The Progress Report ranks “43 Who Helped Make Bush the Worst Ever:” LINK


Smart girls

In October 1890, the editors of Donahoe’s magazine, one of the leading Catholic publications in America, made this observation:

“The girl who knows everything makes herself obnoxious by flaunting recently acquired knowledge. Young men dread her. Old ones have the utmost contempt for her. She is losing her womanliness.”

- Quoted by Doris Kearns Goodwin, The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys.


I watched, on C-SPAN, all six hours of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The Washington Post (LINK) summed up the day: “ … Democrats and Republicans alike praised her for her intellect and her abilities.” Even MSNBC’s Chris Matthews called her testimony “brilliant” and “a tour de force.”


This morning, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, by a vote of 16 to 1, overwhelmingly backed her appointment to be secretary of state.

The single vote against her came from David Vitter (R-LA). Although Vitter claimed “conflict of interest” concerns, I would question his attitude toward Democrats in general and women in particular.


In 1908, Donahoe’s magazine ceased publication. Read the original New York Times article.

In American cities and in London, “radical” and “militant” suffragettes had taken to the streets demanding a voice.


Thanks, girls, your voices are being heard.


The last hurrahs

Dick Cheney called in to Bill Bennett’s radio show to let America know the grim outcome of closing Gitmo: turning people “who want to kill Americans” loose to wreak more murder and mayhem. He didn’t bother to explain that many prisoners there have been held without habeas corpus, due process of law and legal representation. He merely delivered the verdict, “murderers.”

Those of us who have closely watched this administration have lost count through the years of how many times Cheney has lied to Americans. In my opinion, Cheney is not immoral: he is amoral.

Moving up the food chain only a notch, George W. Bush is “a horse of a different color.” He has lied to Americans, but I honestly don’t believe the man knew he was lying. His pathetic performance at his last press conference a couple of days ago brings to mind words like “desperate,” “delusional,” “in denial,” and simply “dimwitted.”

Once more my favorite online newsletter – THE PROGRESS REPORT from the Center for American Progress - comes through. In the 1/13/09 edition titled Bush’s ‘Ultimate Exit Interview,’ the editors fact-checked his final remarks to the gathered White House Press Corps – and posterity.

READ Bush’s ‘Ultimate Exit Interview.’

As I sat and watched this beaten man make an effort to salvage his so-called “legacy,” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

He worked really hard to screw this country – and the world – and I only hope he can find some semblance of peace as he exits the world stage and fades into a Texas sunset.

Cheney. Now that’s another story.


Don't miss the "comments party" on the next post!


Conjuring a dream job

A couple of friends have lost their jobs as companies downsize. Another’s job is threatened by fallout from General Motors’ woes.

I’m thinking of them - and a couple of million fellow Americans who have found themselves unemployed - as I sit at my computer this morning. My feet are freezing as a “winter weather advisory” is being broadcast on the tube.

So, let me conjure a dream job.

How would you like to live on an island in the Great Barrier Reef with no other responsibility than to explore the islands of the area and report on their splendor?

All that’s required is that you swim and snorkel and have good communication skills.

This caretaker job pays $100,000, and there’s a free house with a pool, insurance and travel expenses, and camera, computer and snorkeling equipment thrown in.

I must say the word “caretaker” might give you pause as that was the dream job in Stephen King’s “The Shining.”

If only such a job were available!

Well, it is! Tourism Queensland of Australia is offering the position, and you can read about it and how to apoly for it in this CNN report:


No finder’s fee is expected, just drop DemWit a postcard!


Golden Globes 2009

Hooray for Bollywood, the fabulous Kate Winslet and the comeback kid, Mickey Rourke!


Best Picture - Drama
'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button'
'The Reader'
'Revolutionary Road'
X-'Slumdog Millionaire'

Best Director
X-Danny Boyle, 'Slumdog Millionaire'
Stephen Daldry, 'The Reader'
David Fincher, 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button'
Ron Howard, 'Frost/Nixon'
Sam Mendes, 'Revolutionary Road'

Best Actor - Drama
Leonardo DiCaprio, 'Revolutionary Road'
Frank Langella, 'Frost/Nixon'
Sean Penn, 'Milk'
Brad Pitt, 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button'
X-Mickey Rourke, 'The Wrestler'

Best Actress - Drama
Anne Hathaway, 'Rachel Getting Married'
Angelina Jolie, 'The Changeling'
Meryl Streep, 'Doubt'
Kristin Scott Thomas, 'I've Loved You So Long'
X-Kate Winslet, 'Revolutionary Road'

Best Picture - Musical/Comedy
'Burn After Reading'
'Happy Go Lucky'
'In Bruges'
'Mamma Mia'
X-'Vicky Cristina Barcelona'

Best Actor - Musical/Comedy
Javier Bardem, 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona'
X-Colin Farrell, 'In Bruges'
James Franco, 'Pineapple Express'
Brendan Gleeson, 'In Bruges'
Dustin Hoffman, 'Last Chance Harvey'

Best Actress - Musical/Comedy
Rebecca Hall, 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona'
X-Sally Hawkins, 'Happy Go Lucky'
Frances McDormand, 'Burn After Reading'
Meryl Streep, 'Mamma Mia'
Emma Thompson, 'Last Chance Harvey'

Best Supporting Actor
Tom Cruise, 'Tropic Thunder'
Robert Downey Jr., 'Tropic Thunder'
Ralph Fiennes, 'The Duchess'
Philip Seymour Hoffman, 'Doubt'
X-Heath Ledger, 'The Dark Knight'

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, 'Doubt'
Penelope Cruz, 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona'
Viola Davis, 'Doubt'
Marisa Tomei, 'The Wrestler'
X-Kate Winslet, 'The Reader'

Best Animated Feature Film
'Kung Fu Panda'

Best Foreign Language Film
'The Baader Meinhof Complex' (Germany)
'Everlasting Moments' (Sweden)
'Gomorrah' (Italy)
'I've Loved You So Long' (France)
X-'Waltz with Bashir' (Israel)

Best Screenplay
X-Simon Beafoy, 'Slumdog Millionaire'
David Hare, 'The Reader'
Peter Morgan, 'Frost/Nixon'
Eric Roth, 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button'
John Patrick Shanley, 'Doubt'

Best Original Score
'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button'
X-'Slumdog Millionaire'

Best Original Song
'Down to Earth' - 'WALL-E'
'Gran Torino' - 'Gran Torino'
'I Thought I Lost You' - 'Bolt'
'Once in a Lifetime' - 'Cadillac Records'
X-'The Wrestler' - 'The Wrestler'

Best Television Drama
'In Treatment'
X-'Mad Men'
'True Blood'

Best Actor - Television Drama
X-Gabriel Byrne, 'In Treatment'
Michael C. Hall, 'Dexter'
Jon Hamm, 'Mad Men'
Hugh Laurie, 'House'
Jonathan Rhys Meyers, 'The Tudors'

Best Actress - Television Drama
Sally Field, 'Brothers & Sisters'
Mariska Hargitay, 'Law and Order: Special Victims Unit'
January Jones, 'Mad Men'
X-Anna Paquin, 'True Blood'
Kyra Sedgwick, 'The Closer'

Best Television Musical/Comedy
X-'30 Rock'
'The Office'

Best Actor - Television Musical/Comedy
X-Alec Baldwin, '30 Rock'
Steve Carell, 'The Office'
Kevin Connolly, 'Entourage'
David Duchovny, 'Californication'
Tony Shalhoub, 'Monk'

Best Actress - Television Musical/Comedy
Christina Applegate, 'Samantha Who?'
America Ferrera, 'Ugly Betty'
X-Tina Fey, '30 Rock'
Debra Messing, 'The Starter Wife'
Mary-Louise Parker, 'Weeds'

Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture- Television
'A Raisin in the Sun'
'Bernard and Doris'
X-'John Adams'

Best Actor in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture - Television
Ralph Fiennes, 'Bernard and Doris'
X-Paul Giamatti, 'John Adams'
Kevin Spacey, 'Recount'
Kiefer Sutherland, '24: Redemption'
Tom Wilkinson, 'Recount'

Best Actress in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture - Television
Judi Dench, 'Cranford'
Catherine Keener, 'An American Crime'
X-Laura Linney, 'John Adams'
Shirley MacLaine, 'Coco Chanel'
Susan Sarandon, 'Bernard and Doris'

Best Supporting Actor - Television
Neil Patrick Harris, 'How I Met Your Mother'
Denis Leary, 'Recount'
Jeremy Piven, 'Entourage'
Blair Underwood, 'In Treatment'
X-Tom Wilkinson, 'John Adams'

Best Supporting Actress - Television
Eileen Atkins, 'Cranford'
X- Laura Dern, 'Recount'
Melissa George, 'In Treatment'
Rachel Griffiths, 'Brothers and Sisters'
Dianne Wiest, 'In Treatment'

Cecil B. DeMille Award: Steven Spielberg

Miss Golden Globes – Rumor Willis, daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore


Please see next post!


Please don’t email me your revelations and gripes about certain Obama decisions and appointments. After eight years of George W. Bush, I am tired of revelations and gripes.

I supported Hillary Rodham Clinton. I voted for Barack Obama and Joe Biden. I am ready to trust my new president to do what’s right for this country.

My friend Mat, whose blog is “Papamoka Straight Talk,” says we all need to take a deep breath. I agree.

Read what Papamoka has to say!


The trouble with Krugman

A couple of years ago an Army nurse, hawking her new book on C-SPAN, paid homage to Dr. Sanjay Gupta. The neurosurgeon, seen regularly on CNN, had laid down his reporter’s microphone in Iraq, slipped into the field hospital tent where she was stationed and performed operations which saved the lives of soldiers with head trauma. To this nurse, Gupta was nothing short of a true hero.

To be honest, I don’t like to listen to Dr. Gupta as the medical breakthroughs he often reports seem only affordable for the filthy rich. But, after hearing this Army nurse’s stories, my respect for him rose.

President-elect Barack Obama, as you know, plans to nominate Dr. Gupta for the post of surgeon general. About 15 minutes after this news broke, the far left went nuts.

Enter Paul Krugman, New York Times columnist, Princeton professor with a Ph.D. from MIT, and current Nobel Laureate in economics. Krugman tells us “The Trouble with Sanjay Gupta” (LINK).

Well, I trust Krugman, who has for years been dead-on about this country’s economic path, so I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into this one. Krugman’s complaint about Gupta? Are you ready for this? Gupta reported that Michael Moore in his film “Sicko” “fudged the facts.”

Although Moore has been known to do just that in some of his terrific documentaries – the fact-check site Spinsanity.org (LINK) once stated Moore is as bad as Ann Coulter at fact-bending – Krugman says Moore’s film was accurate.

The really interesting part of what Krugman had to say follows:

“Moore is an outsider, he’s uncouth, so he gets smeared as unreliable even though he actually got it right. It’s sort of a minor-league version of the way people who pointed out in real time that Bush was misleading us into war are to this day considered less '
serious' than people who waited until it was fashionable to reach that conclusion. And appointing Gupta now, although it’s a small thing, is just another example of the lack of accountability that always seems to be the rule when you get things wrong in a socially acceptable way.”

On last night’s edition of “Countdown,” MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, who has said Gupta’s nomination would be like naming Judge Judy as attorney general, went a step farther – wondering if Krugman’s remarks mean Obama’s appointments are part of “the Washington culture – if you’re on the inside, you get the job, while those crazy left-wing nuts are frozen out.”

Yep, same Olbermann. One of the NBC/MSNBC pompon-waving Obama Cheering Squad throughout the presidential campaign.

Now, Congressman John Conyers (D-Michigan) is going after Gupta. Conyers supports “single-payer” insurance, and that was the context of Gupta’s complaints about “Sicko.”

The bright side of a Gupta appointment, to me, is his strong support for preventive medicine, which, as he has stated, is a lot less expensive than treating people after they get sick. I could get behind a surgeon general who pushs a wellness agenda.


Related DemWit posts:

“Prediction,” 11/19/08

“A plan for the 44th president,” 11/17/08


Of Yellow Cabs and errata

My Yellow Cab drivers are young guys and gals who are quite surprised when I tell them that at the beginning of the Vietnam War death notices to “next of kin” were piling up so fast the cab company’s drivers were called upon to deliver those tragic missives. The sight of a Yellow Cab coming down the street struck terror in the hearts of many a family member.

I was reminded of this insensitivity this morning when I read that some 7,000 Army family members who have lost loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan will be receiving letters with the greeting, “Dear John Doe.”

The error was made by a printing company contracted by the Army.

While there was no malicious intent, there are plenty of red faces in the offices of the U.S. Army Human Resources Command's Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Center in Alexandria, Virginia.

Top-ranking Army personnel have apologized, in advance, to these families and are asking them and the public to consider the original intent of the letters – to inform these families of services provided to them by non-profit organizations.

Maybe it’s time to pull out that old axiom, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” or maybe Sherman’s truism, “War is hell.”

Or, maybe it’s just time to stop and reflect on the heartache.


Read the CNN article.


Need a room for Jan. 20?

It’s always great fun to read my annual Christmas issue of The Waddell Post – sent from friends Alex, Jackie and Seth.

Alex Waddell and I worked together at the Jackson (Miss.) Daily News in the early 80s, and he has been with The Washington Post for many years now.

This year son Seth is a sophomore at William and Mary, and his parents took up beekeeping and ballroom dancing and celebrated their 25th anniversary with an Alaskan cruise.

One of the front-page stories has Alex’s trademark wit. As a public service, I pass along his offer for the Jan. 20 Inaugural festivities:

Change You Can Reside In!

We know what you’re thinking: I want to go to Washington to see history – the inauguration of America’s first African-American president – but I don’t have a place to stay. Well, we have the solution – stay at the Waddells! We have several nice rooms; we’re close to Metro, making it easy to get around; and we give each guest a map to Hank Paulson’s house, so you can lobby for your own personal bailout. Since we’re firm believers in the free market and laws of supply and demand, pricing is still flexible, but the number of Economic Stimulus icons will give you an idea of the approximate cost.

Seth’s room: “The Lincoln Bedroom”

We call it this for two reasons – it’s the nicest guest room in the house, and we often want to shoot the person who usually sleeps there. As part of the inauguration experience, you can participate in several Obama-esque activities that come with the room. For example, when you arrive you get to choose a first dog, to sleep with you during your stay. And then you get to clean up a giant mess left by the previous resident.

Economic Stimulus: 5

The guest room: “The Joe Sixpack”

Maybe “The Linc” is a little too fancy for you. Maybe you’re more the “Joe the Plumber” or “hockey mom” type. In that case, we have a room that’s a little more plain, but also a lot cheaper. Now, we realize that this room may not be everything that you might want, so feel free to exaggerate when talking to friends. To wit:

“It’s an incredible room. We can see the mall from our window.”
“If it’s cold at the inauguration, there are some nice coats that we can wear, and then keep to take home.”
“They tried to talk us into taking the Memorial Bridge to the inauguration, but we said, ‘Thanks, but no thanks’ to that bridge.“

Economic Stimulus: 3

The basement: “The Cheney Dungeon”

OK, not our top-of-the-line accommodations, but we know there’s some of you out there who are going to miss our soon-to-be-ex-president Bush. What better way to bid adieu to the administration that brought us Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay than by spending a few days in a dark, windowless room, harassed by vicious guard dogs. You do have to make certain allowances: No habeas corpus and no closet; no water boarding, but also no bathroom.

Economic Stimulus: 1

I met Alex shortly before his marriage to Jackie and have long valued their friendship – and their great, good humor!

Enjoy the day, guys! And, send me a press kit souvenir!


Doctrines of hate

Midnight. Flipping channels. Nothing on the tube. Nothing but “Breaking News” on CNN as Israel begins “Phase Two,” a “ground operation” inside the Northern end of the Gaza Strip.

“What Phase Three is one can only imagine,” so says a CNN correspondent, inside Southern Israel with Western journalists not yet granted access inside the Strip.

2 a.m. Reuters is reporting that hundreds of Israeli tanks have moved deep inside Gaza, into heavily populated areas.

CNN is attempting to be fair in reporting a very unfair situation, with supporters of Hamas and of Israel feverishly placing blame.

Blame. I’ll tell you what’s to blame: these people absolutely hate each other. Hate is a strange and strong doctrine to be embraced by two of the world’s major religions.

“Barack Obama cannot wait until he’s inaugurated: he must speak out NOW!” screams one man into the camera. I didn’t catch which “side” he's on, and it really doesn’t matter.

Joe Biden, with about as much foreign relations expertise as anyone in the country, was right when he said there would be an international crisis to test Obama’s strength within the first six months of his presidency. Only it appears the crisis has arrived early. “Mark my words,” Biden said, and I did.

The thing is: the United States is fraught with crises - compounded over the last eight years - in almost every facet of American life. Americans are looking to President-elect Obama for leadership in abating these crises. We are on our knees.

I don’t know about you, but I deeply resent that we are expected to choose sides and get caught up in an unceasing maelstrom of hatred when we face so much at home.