Week in Review: Ice, Haiti

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The week began not with fire but with ice, sheets of it forming on sidewalks and roads that had already been snowed upon and only diffidently cleared. I took Coen on a walk in his stroller on Sunday in hopes of lulling him into a much-needed nap, but the ice created such an uneven surface on nearly every sidewalk that he was kept awake by the lurching and bumping of the stroller’s wheels over the lumps of ice.

Missoula has recently vowed to enforce sidewalk-shoveling ordinances more stringently; if authorities were offering a reward for turning in your neighbors, I could have made a pretty penny. But the real question is whether the city has fined itself for the days’-long impassability of the sidewalk along the bridge near our house.

The freeze, which had been with us for a week or so, finally broke on Monday, and by Wednesday the midday temperatures had been above freezing consistently enough that the ice was starting to retreat. But temperatures were still below freezing overnight, and there was rain on several mornings, and the resulting ice was thin and invisible but no less dangerous for that. Around mid-week, the paper reported that there had been about 20 car crashes one morning because of the freezing rain.

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Of course, all of this is only confirming the suspicion of my out-of-state readers that I reside in some sort of Arctic hell for ten months out of the year. They never seem to quite believe me when I explain that this is the warm part of the state, and that the kind of cold I’m describing here is anomalous.

For real cold, you have to go east of the Rockies, out into the flatter parts of Montana. There was a day in early December, during the last true cold snap, when it was in the twenties in Missoula and still about fifty degrees warmer than the northeast corner of the state.

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Even Choteau, just on the other side of the Rockies, gets the kind of cold to make last week’s low temperatures in Missoula sound downright tropical by comparison. Our friends Vin and Casey, who used to live two doors down but moved to Choteau for work, suffered a broken water pump and some burst pipes in the last weeks of 2009.

To replace the water pump, they had to drive 50 miles to the nearest Home Depot, and they didn’t realize the broken pipes were broken until the new water pump was up and running. Having just completed the pump repair, Vin was lying under the house in the crawlspace when he began to wonder why he was being soaked with hot water.

That’s country living for you.

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On the home front, Coen continued his campaign against drinking from a bottle, leading to long afternoons of struggle and resentment, until all of a sudden he changed his mind. He is large, he contains multitudes, so we’ll call his new openness to the idea a trend only once it has proved to be-but so far, so good.

Amy’s job hunt commenced in earnest this week with her discovery of an ad for a job she would actually like to have. There’s a good chance that’s the last one of those we’ll see, at least as far as Missoula-area jobs are concerned. There’s also a good chance that her application package will be one of 500 or so that the company will receive, and that some blunt filter like “has a microbiology degree” will result in her resume not even being read, but we’ll keep our fingers crossed.

It would be nice if she doesn’t have to compete in the blue/pink-collar market, like for a cashier job at the local version of Whole Foods, since various area plant closings in the last month have dumped about 500 additional job-seekers onto the pavement, or about one percent of the population of Missoula.

Even if our grand Missoula dream comes crashing down, at least our city hasn’t come crashing down on top of us, as happened to the residents of Port-au-Prince this week. In the first day or so after the disaster, I heard someone on the radio quote someone else who had once said something like this:

“War brings out the worst but also the best in people. Wouldn’t it be great if we could have the best without having to have the worst?”

The commentator went on to make the point that such a thing is possible after an event like this earthquake. As I have watched the coverage of one of the worst disasters to befall a nation-relative to population size, relative to ability to respond-in recent memory, it’s occurred to me to wonder if it’s the kind of event that should lead me to change the course of my life, in the way a war might. A Mr. Rogers quote-about how the thing to focus on during catastrophes is all the people who are helping-is making the rounds on Facebook, and I feel the stirrings of that part of me that has always wanted to be one of the helpers.

Of course, that’s the same part of me that led to my joining the Coast Guard, which in turn led to my awkward relationship to Haitians: I used to help deport desperate would-be refugees back to that hellish island. As a result, I can’t help but think that maybe I owe these people more than a ten-dollar text message (though of course every bit helps). What would repay that debt, though, is another and so far unanswerable question.

Hey, did you know that you can subscribe to Margin Notes by email? One email per day, if that, letting you know of any new posts. What’s not to like?

Note on the photos: except for Coen’s, they are from an ice-fishing trip two years ago.

The Week’s Tweets (2010-01-17)

  • As much as I enjoy feeling superior to people, I'm not really digging Mad Men so far. (One disk in.) #
  • Satan not happy with portrayal by Pat Robertson. http://bit.ly/8683PK #
  • The logistical frustrations of rescue work in Haiti. http://bit.ly/4Eo6ym #
  • BPA concern no longer just on the fringes: http://bit.ly/8HwU2k #
  • Company shows tourists LA's "high-profile gang areas"; agreement with gangsters obtains safe passage. http://bit.ly/6EA4oS #
  • Crisp, large-format photos of hell: the Big Picture has a Haiti photo set. http://bit.ly/4Ev1tA #
  • Coen seems to have taken today's news that he is only in 73rd percentile for weight as a challenge: 2.5 bottles this p.m. w/ no fussing. #
  • Hey @bradrourke, thanks for retweeting my column, Your Child Is Safe From Internet Predators. http://j.mp/4znnDI #
  • Powell's staff top books for 2009. http://bit.ly/8reSYN #
  • Dads: finally some practical advice on bottle-feeding an infant. http://bit.ly/82kbSj #
  • What your life is missing: an email subscription to my blog, Margin Notes. Click here to set one up: http://bit.ly/4QqOQp #
  • Your child is safe from internet predators. The latest at Went West: http://bit.ly/4XzYTF #
  • Obama has done more for gun-owners than any other president? http://bit.ly/4IST6b #
  • Haitis: what NOT to donate. #Haiti. http://bit.ly/7bVrHK #
  • RT @Stokes: Haiti: best to donate to orgs with established presence in-country-others are just fundraising. http://bit.ly/8OLlBz #haiti #
  • Haiti: best to donate to orgs with established presence in-country-otherwise, it's just empty fundraising. http://bit.ly/8OLlBz #
  • Haiti: 100,000 dead. http://bit.ly/8gm9A7 #
  • Can everyone please stop saying "congressman/woman" when they mean "representative"? A senator is a "congressman/woman," too, after all. #
  • A baby who sleeps in the living room will sure help you memorize which floorboards creak. #
  • Obamacare unpopular? Yes–but mostly because it doesn't go far enough: http://bit.ly/5ph26e #
  • Help Haiti: donate $10 to Red Cross by texting "Haiti" to 90999. Charged to your phone bill. http://bit.ly/8SZIV8 #
  • Trying to think of how I can help Haiti. Lord knows I helped deport enough people back there to owe them something. #
  • Looking for advice on social media? Check out the new e-book from @bradrourke. http://bit.ly/80I7n0 #
  • Gitmo guard Facebook-friends and reunites with two former captives! They discover common ground in love of Dr. Dre! http://bit.ly/6N5mtl #
  • Doorway pull-up bars: can anyone recommend a good one? #
  • Partisanship blinds George Will to what's really wrong with California. My latest at Went West: http://bit.ly/5JygwH #
  • I love Talking Points Memo, but the idiocy of the comments threads never fails to disappoint. #
  • The MPD coffee klatch at the Break this morning sure was suspicious of the suspicious-looking guy with the mohawk. Mohawks! Suspicious! #
  • Just ecstatic that we are having yet another "dialog about race." #
  • George Will: deceptive, or just lazy? My latest Went West column: http://bit.ly/5JygwH #
  • Thanks for the RT of my DUI article ( http://bit.ly/8xRb0A), @problembear. #
  • Surprised how much trouble I'm having finding a state-by-state comparison of incarceration rates. #
  • Thinking of moving my cash into forever stamps. #

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How to Feed a Baby

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Please note: these instructions are for men. If you are a woman, you just take your shirt off.[1]

  1. Notice your baby is fussing and squirming. Lightly stroke his cheek. If he eagerly swings his mouth toward your finger, he is hungry.
  2. Unless he is lying, which you will find out when you try to put the bottle in his mouth and he reacts as though you are trying to put out a cigarette on the tip of his tongue.
  3. Pick him back up and keep walking endlessly up and down the living room. It may seem as though the baby is purposely trying to make your bad back worse by leaning out further and further to the side.
  4. He is.
  5. Unless he’s hungry now and is trying to get into the horizontal position he usually associates with eating! Quick, get him the bottle before he gets too furious to eat!
  6. Unless he’s lying again.
  7. Or maybe all of his squirming and grunting means he really wants to lie on the floor and look at some toys.
  8. Or not. Christ, he’s got to be hungry, it’s been like four hours since the last time he ate. Try again.
  10. BUT HE’S FLAILING HIS ARMS AROUND UNCONTROLLABLY FOR SOME REASON and oh crap he just knocked the bottle out of his mouth.
  11. Control his arms with one hand.
  13. Let go of his arms and fold the sleeper’s chest tent out of the way and reinsert the bottle CRAP IT’S TOO LATE HE DOESN’T WANT IT ANYMORE.
  14. Get back to walking, mule.
  15. Despite his screaming when you stop walking, sit down on the couch and rest your back for a few minutes. You aren’t going to be any good to anyone if you cripple yourself.
  16. Pat his back to help him calm down. Once he falls asleep, keep patting and shushing to keep him that way. Maybe you can keep him asleep until mom gets home from work.
  18. Perhaps you should just watch Ellen Degeneres instead.
  19. Don’t forget to keep patting and shushing FOR THE NEXT HOUR AND A HALF.

1. Assuming you are lactating.[2]
2. Yes, I know, it’s not always that easy even if you have mammary glands and are lactating. I am sorry for making light.

20 Years of “D’oh!”

Jonathan Chait is right when he says, on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of The Simpsons :

“Of course, the show has been on the decline now far longer than it was good. But oh, how good it was in its heyday.”

I was a Simpsons watcher before The Simpsons show existed, back when the much-cruder versions of the characters we love today helped break up The Tracey Ullman Show. Is it weird that-as a middle schooler sneaking TV in my room-I associated the then-upstart Fox channel with the underground comics I was snapping up over at The Fantasy Five and Dime in depressing downtown Sterling, Virginia?

In addition to Ullman and her Simpsons, there were Married With Children, 21 Jump Street, and eventually In Living Color, all of which seemed to me to throb with genre-busting creative fervor and to confront the uptight morality of, you know, people older than me in the same way that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the comic book, which, lest it need saying, was so different from the later show/movies).

They rerun Married With Children on one of the local channels here, and I find it pretty much unwatchable, and maybe I’d think the same of the other examples, although I do think I might enjoy a DVD boxed-set of 21 Jump Street, if only so that I can more precisely analyze how my sense of “cool” first began to form (the characters’ wardrobe choices influenced me throughout high school and might even still do so today).

But I can usually enjoy most of even a bad Simpsons episode.

In fact, one consolation I’ve taken in so often not having a television over the years (or, now, no longer being able to receive Fox via my digital-to-analog converter) is the fact that as a result so many Simpsons reruns will be new to me when I am once again in a position to watch them. (The Simpsons being the only Fox show I’d ever go out of my way to see, although I probably would have watched American Idol last night if I could have.)

Of course, for the reason Chait points out, both my desire to watch Fox and the extent to which the above consolation actually consoles me has declined over the years. So I was excited when he called out and linked to an episode from the 1992 season that is entirely unfamiliar to me. Glad to know that some gems still await me. Chait particularly recommends Barney’s “Plow King” commercial at minute 11:50.

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Did I Stutter?

Well, no, but was Raj Patel stuttering when Amy Goodman interviewed him about his new book, The Value of Nothing, yesterday on Democracy Now? As he answered Amy’s first question, it seemed all he could do to get each word out. I apologize if Raj really does have a stutter, but it seemed to me that it was an affectation, as though he wanted to prove that he is not only passionate but also has so much to say that it is all he can do to control the firehose stream of his consciousness long enough to form complete sentences.

Then today I saw this from Christopher Hitchens’s Vanity Fair article about the origins of the filler word “like”:

“This is an example of “filler” words being used as props, to try to shore up a lame sentence. People who can’t get along without “um” or “er” or “basically” (or, in England, “actually”) or “et cetera et cetera” are of two types: the chronically modest and inarticulate, such as Ms. Kennedy, and the mildly authoritarian who want to make themselves un-interruptible. Saul Bellow’s character Ravelstein is a good example of the latter: in order to deny any opening to a rival, he says “the-uh, the-uh” while searching for the noun or concept that is eluding him.”

This doesn’t quite fit my impression of Patel. I think he’s really just imitating/influenced by some stereotype of a scholar at some ancient British university, brought blinking out from his study to expound on his scholarship for a lecture hall of eager young students and too confident in the import of his work to bother worrying about presenting it in a considerate, easy-to-understand fashion.

But I couldn’t wait to be the first person to go into print comparing Raj Patel to Bellow’s uber-neoconservative character, Ravelstein (in what is a truly great book, by the way-among other things, it influenced me to shave my head for one of the first times, not that that takes much doing).

By the way, the title of Patel’s book comes from an Oscar Wilde quote, although he’s either misquoting him or there are multiple versions of this particular aphorism floating around.

Finally, why does Democracy Now sound so bad? There’s always this weird hiss and the voices seem bloodless and inhuman, sort of the way the first CDs sounded. I’d ascribe it to using digital technology instead of analog-it reminds me of nothing so much as the way voices sound when I’m interviewing people who use VoIP phones-but aren’t all radio programs recorded digitally now? Maybe it’s the result of just using really cheap digital technology.

Taking Comfort Where You Can Find It

In an Atlantic cover story called “How America Can Rise Again,” the always interesting James Fallows quotes the always interesting Garry Wills:

“When people say how bad things are, I always emphasize that we have never in our history been so good on human rights. The rights of women, gays, the disabled, Native Americans, Hispanics-all of those have soared in the last 40 years.” Even the “birther” and “tea bag” movements are indirect evidence of progress, Wills said. “They are reactions to a really great achievement. We did elect a black president. Not many people thought that was possible, even two or three years ago.”

Good Riddance To U-MT Football Coach Bobby Hauck?

Last Wednesday, two high-school football players from a small Montana town were charged with felony assault for a November 17th hazing incident in which they allegedly beat a younger boy with a piece of wood.

Charging documents claim that Rico Rodriguez, 15, held the boy down while Zachary Peavey, 16, swung the stick. According to the Billings Gazette, their coach, Jay Santy, “had earlier downplayed the alleged assault, saying criminal charges were not warranted.”

“The way I understood it,” Santy told the Gazette, “it was kids messing around and they got carried away.”

Nonetheless, the boys were expelled indefinitely in December and will be arraigned in state district court on January 27th.

Hazing incidents happen all the time, of course, especially on sports teams, and many are the school administrators nationwide who have struggled with how best to prevent them. But if anyone in Huntley Project, the area where the boys are from, is wondering where they got the idea that it’s acceptable for football players to act like thugs-and, perhaps more importantly, where Santy got the idea that it’s acceptable for a coach to downplay an attack on one of his players involving a weapon-it’s possible that we need to look no further than 350 miles west to Missoula, and Bobby Hauck’s Montana Grizzlies football team.

I doubt that-as Rodriguez and Peavey cornered their teammate in the locker room-they were consciously emulating the behavior of a team that has since 2007 become at least as well known for violent criminality as for its admirable winning record on the field. Unfortunately, however, it’s fair to say that it would have been unwise for Huntley Project parents to hold up the Montana Grizzlies as role models to their children-unless the only thing they wanted their kids to care about was winning football games.

And speaking of role models, there is something in Santy’s reported response that is reminiscent of Hauck’s response to an incident in March 2009, in which two of his players are alleged to have attacked a fellow UM student at a party, eventually kicking him multiple times-including in the head-as he lay unconscious in the street.

Police weren’t called and no charges were filed, so there is much that will never be known about what happened that night. But here are some things we do know:

  • Coach Hauck gave every appearance of trying to duck public accountability for a vicious and potentially deadly attack by two of his players on a member of the community he serves, including by trying to bully a student reporter with denial of access. (This behavior attracted national attention and condemnation.)
  • Coach Hauck claimed to have disciplined the two players, but-other than having them sit out the first game of the fall season-it’s unclear what this consisted of. (Hauck never responded to my or any other reporter’s requests for information.)
  • The two players were both starters, and Hauck-whom we now know was also job hunting-stood to earn a $30,000 bonus if he brought his team to and won the FCS championship.

Let me be clear that I am not rehearsing the same old tired argument about how athletes should be better role models to young people. This is too much to ask of 20-year-old college athletes, but even if we were talking about allegedly grown-up NFL players, it’s foolish to look to someone who can run fast and throw far for guidance in anything but those skills.

What I am saying is that a college football coach has a responsibility to behave like a role model for and demand accountability from his players. If we cannot agree that the primary mission of a college football team is as a venue for the education and improvement of its players, then I don’t understand why we need to have college football teams at all. It’s wonderful that the Grizzlies bring so much pleasure to so many people, but that must never be considered a goal of having such a team, lest we start using on-field performance to excuse the failure of its coach to demand that his players treat their team membership as the honor and privilege that it is.

Missoulians were rightfully proud of the accomplishments of the Grizzlies under Hauck; imagine if they could be equally as proud of the off-field behavior of those players. Imagine if it had become known that Hauck had threatened to expel from the team any players who even appeared to be engaged in criminal behavior. Imagine if parents in Huntley Project-parents across Montana-could point to an example like that.

The last time I wrote about Hauck’s shameful behavior, I received more than a few comments from people with a severe case of hero worship for the man, essentially recommending that I get down on my knees with them and thank the big, powerful man for whatever scraps he chooses to toss to the community he works for and represents.

These same fans had barely had time to hang their knee pads in the closet after the Griz’s December championship defeat before the announcement came that Hauck would be moving on to greener pastures in Las Vegas. Fortunately for all Griz fans, Hauck’s replacement, Robin Pflugrad, looks like a capable man with every chance of replicating Hauck’s winning record.

Here’s hoping he won’t replicate Hauck’s record of avoiding accountability and covering up for the violent behavior of his players.

Montana’s DUI Bloodbath

In my latest Went West column, I take a look at Montana’s culture of drinking and driving.

In the last days of the terrible year 2009, Missoula residents received a fresh helping of horror to carry with them into the new year. The day after Christmas, four local high-school girls were walking along a dark stretch of highway on the edge of town when a pickup truck drifted off the road and slammed into them. The crash killed two of the girls and hospitalized the other two.

Court documents say that the accused driver had a blood alcohol content of .147 three hours after the accident. He was also on prescription medication. And in a sort of trifecta of recklessness, he happened to be talking on his cell phone when he plowed into the girls, who were walking about five feet from the edge of the road.

The rest is here.