As a young boy my list of grown-ups I idolized included a long list of what you’d expect with any typical boy—athletes, political figures, a few movie stars (the character more than the actor, of course).
But when I was about 12 years old I was in a hotel room with a friend watching a movie that we were able to get through the hotel. It was Love and Death by Woody Allen. It played in the background while I played with my friend. But I kept trying to watch it. The humor was quirky and absurd. And when there was the scene of the view of a battlefield from the perspective of the generals (which was a pack of stampeding sheep instead of men fighting for their lives on the battlefield), I started laughing uncontrollably. I guess I thought it was brilliant and silly at the same time but it hit my funny bone from an angle and with a velocity I had never experienced before –and I stopped my playing with my friend altogether to watch this unusual and hilarious movie. And watched again a second and a third time before I stopped ordering it for fear my parents would get angry when they saw the bill.
A few years later I asked my mom to drive me to see the movie Manhattan. I heard Woody Allen had written it and starred in it. The same guy who wrote and starred in that hilarious movie I saw at the hotel when I was 12.
I didn’t like Manhattan as much as Love and Death, but left the theater a bona fide Woody Allen fan.
In high school, there were no VCR’s yet, but Louisville did have The Vogue and The Uptown art theaters which often played older and less commercially popular films, and I got to see many of the older Allen movies—Bananas, Take the Money and Run, and of course, Annie Hall, which I adored.
I wouldn’t let other kids in high school know about my Woody Allen fetish but I felt like he “got me.” Or at least, “I got him.” I was a smallish and philosophical kid that didn’t fit into any of the traditional groups or cliques in high school. Woody Allen’s humor provided a refuge for me. A sanctuary where I didn’t feel like as much of an oddity—and the pressure to be like everyone else would temporarily evaporate as long as the movie played, and I could even feel a surge of pride for being a humorous oddball who saw the world through a neurotic lens. Woody Allen helped me feel I wasn’t alone…and wasn’t defective or inferior.
As a college student living in Los Angeles for a year and a half and majoring in philosophy at USC — and still a smallish and slightly neurotic guy— I purchased a VCR and depended even more on Woody Allen’s worldview. I watched all of his movies at least several times. Some probably 10 or 12 times. They continued to provide me comfort in a world that wasn’t receptive to self-questioning, nervous, guys like me.
I also read his books: Without Feathers and Side Effects and Getting Even. And actually read each all the way through. Something I rarely did with any book even though I was a college student at the time. And I didn’t even get college credit for reading Allen’s books! And I bought a rare cassette of his early stand-up routines. Which I also found uproariously funny as well as finding a kinship with the humor. It wasn’t just comic relief any more but absorbing chunks of Woody Allen’s philosophy at life by this juncture of my fanhood.
I saw Woody Allen once at about this time in my life. My stepmother, Phyllis, was working for CBS news and living in New York. I visited her one weekend and we went to Elaine’s restaurant. Phyllis kept trying to introduce me at our noisy table to Pat O’Brien who was a sports colleague at CBS. But I couldn’t take my eyes of the two gentlemen seated quietly in the corner talking thoughtfully between themselves, Woody Allen and Dick Cavett.
Again, I was too self-conscious to mention—especially to a sports loving crowd at our table—I wanted nothing more than to meet Woody Allen. Inside I felt like one of those screaming teenage girls you see as the Beatles get off the plane for their first trip to the US. But outside I tried to pretend I was listening to a funny sports story I couldn’t care less about and laugh along with everyone else.
That same weekend in NY after everyone in my family was asleep I played a Woody Allen movie I had rented. My father woke up and got some ice cream and sat down with me and asked what I was watching. I told him and hoped he’d watch a few minutes and find the scene we were watching as hilarious as I did. He chuckled awkwardly as he had before when I tried a Woody Allen joke on him. I asked him why he didn’t like him more. He said, “Woody Allen reminds me of eating cauliflower. It just didn’t look very good and I never bothered trying it.”
In his defense, my father was never a very self-conscious person who would appreciate Allen’s humor and we just had very different taste in film. The night before I took my father to see the movie “The Gods Must be Crazy.” But we left after about 25 minutes when my father said it was too slow and he couldn’t figure out what it was about.
By the time I reached my 20s, I started coming into my own as a person and began to feel it was safer to acknowledge my Woody Allen infatuation. I read a piece—maybe in the New Yorker—about a young woman who secretly wanted to be Woody Allen, only a female version, who snarkily and with wry and sophisticated humor poked fun at others around her for being shallow. It was safe to come out of the Woody Allen closet.
When Allen was awarded the Cecile B Demille award for lifetime achievement at the Golden Globe awards last month. Of course, as always, he didn’t attend to receive his award. I felt like I had been vindicated in my adoration of Woody Allen’s work. But moments later I read about a series of Tweets from Mia Farrow and Ronan Farrow bringing up old accusations about child molestation charges about Woody molesting Farrow and his adopted daughter, Dylan, when she was 7 years old.
Initially, I am disappointed to report, I thought, “Oh, please. Enough already. Let the man receive this well-deserved award for his art without going there…..”
The next few days and weeks became a full-blown rehash of a shocking episode in Allen’s career that had stayed publicly buried for nearly 20 years where he and Farrow broke up after Woody fell in love with their then adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn and later married her. It was an ugly public battle and shook my worship of Allen to its core at the time. But I somehow mustered the denial and distinction between one’s art and personal life give him the benefit of the doubt to eventually continue my admiration for Woody Allen, although it would never quite be the same as before.
But this time –over the past few days—sifting through the sordid accusations and factual details again as an older and wiser man, I can’t deny that something outrageous and wholly inappropriate happened between Woody Allen and his young adopted daughter over 20 years ago.
I acknowledge that fact and am saddened to learn that you are never too old to become disillusioned with those you place on a pedestal. Or even find part of their life—which is inextricably part of who they are—despicable. And that is true even if you are a 50 year old fan and moved on from hero worship many years ago. But it still stings…and still hurts, too.
So, no, I won’t defend Woody Allen art or try to distinguish it from his personal life. But please don’t expect me –just yet anyway– to line up behind his ex-wife and adopted daughter and pile on Allen either. I would like to say that I won’t be doing that because it is a personal matter and should be handled in private. But the real reason is there is still a part of denial in me that my childhood hero was capable of doing such inexplicable things. And since I am only a fan—and not a direct player in this drama—in my defense and in defense of all similarly situated Woody Allen fans, I ask that you understand it is not the grieving of the public death of a man’s reputation that makes us unable to be objective right now. It is the grieving of the private death of part of ourselves.
Jeff Smith @JeffSmithMO Feb 2
Think Wildstein a distraction now. If he had the goods he’d be giving em up below radar. The ones feeling real heat likely Baroni/Samson.
Jeff Smith @JeffSmithMO Feb 2
Immunity grant Wildstein seeking pie in sky. 5K.1.1 letter in which feds request lenient sentence aftr substantial cooperation more frequent
Jeff Smith @JeffSmithMO Feb 2
The impt thing about Wildstein letter isn’t anything in it. It’s degree to which it may motivate others to flip while they still have value.
Jeff Smith @JeffSmithMO Feb 2
Once the feds have the dude you were gonna rat out, you’re useless – and your cooperation agreement evaporates. Thus the potential rush here
Jeff Smith @JeffSmithMO Feb 2
Federal targets are like poker players: the weak hands act strong, while the strong hands stay quiet. So Wildstein may be in real trouble here
Jeff Smith @JeffSmithMO Feb 2
Interesting to see Wildstein beg for attn. Feds have likely moved on to others with more/better cards to play on non-Ft Lee issues.
Jeff Smith @JeffSmithMO Feb 2
Big Christie problem now: tenuousness of power position renders notion that he’ll “take care” of allies who eat it increasingly implausible.
Jeff Smith @JeffSmithMO Feb 2
Smart- Legal survival trumps politics MT @lis_Smith “Christie has not taken q’s at a news conference for 21 days.” http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/01/31/nyregion/for-christie-a-governor-under-fire-super-bowl-brings-glee.html?from=nyregion … …
Jeff Smith @JeffSmithMO Feb 2
Bridgegate fed crimes a stretch. No breach of honest services statute post-Conrad Black. W/ WH hopes fading,obstruction for pol reasons nuts
Jeff Smith @JeffSmithMO Feb 3
Silly how pundits write, “just as things were calming down for Christie…” Things were heating up, not calming; most US Attys aren’t sieves
Jeff Smith @JeffSmithMO Feb 3
Pundit silliness #2: suggesting Wildstein’s letter indicates “heating up”. Media confuses letter aimed at them for actual event of import.
Jeff Smith @JeffSmithMO Feb 3
We knew from Day 1 Wildstein itching to sing; his letter impt only insofar as it might goad waverers to sing before their info made redundnt
Jeff Smith @JeffSmithMO Feb 3
A snitch can give the Feds every morsel he’s got, but if they already have it or if it’s not on the guy they want, he’ll get zilch for it.
A second week into Chris Christie’s soap opera, one sign of trouble is pretty hard to dispute: subpoenas and inquiries from federal prosecutors almost never end well for politicians, and the newest allegation, of conditioning access to federal grant money on a political favor, fits the four corners of federal criminal statutes much more neatly than the traffic tie-up element of the affair. And of course, if the legal side of the equation unravels, the political side collapses with it.
Assuming that the worst case doesn’t transpire, the Christie camp ought to still fear something else, and it goes beyond the conventional wisdom that Christie looks petty, vindictive, and guilty of fostering a culture of retaliation. That risk is obviously real enough, but probably more likely to rub off on insiders than Republican caucus and primary voters, and may not ultimately prove more damaging to voters than Ted Cruz’s embrace of obstructionism or the more exotic pieces of Rand Paul’s profile.
In fact, there are already early signs that Christie is being insulated with Republicans for the simple reason that his sharpest inquisitors are a left-wing cable network and the ever disreputable beast in Republican circles, the mainstream media.
And therein lies the more subtle danger to Christie—the possibility that his effort to armor himself by donning the hardware of conservative resentment remakes the governor into the partisan warrior he has so assiduously avoided becoming. To put this in perspective, consider that the general election promise of a Christie candidacy has always had two related components: (1) that he is not the kind of Republican who revels in pseudo theories about socialist conspiracies being cooked up in Washington and (2) that his best (and shrewdest) critique of Barack Obama has arisen from a high ground that is not terribly partisan, namely that five years of liberal ascension have contributed to rather than softened the country’s divisions.
That profile explains how Christie has so effectively assailed liberal interest group politics in New Jersey as a threat to the common good without seeming overly ideological. It is also what enabled Christie to practice a genuinely coalitional reelection strategy last year, which was stunningly effective in splintering the Democratic voting base, from Latinos to blacks to suburban female professionals.
It is hardly that Christie is some anodyne, passionless figure who keeps votes in play by saying little and offending no sacred cows. Instead, the Christie persona has been that he is the rare Republican whose anger seems less directed at lost cultural ground, or Obama’s presumptions, or dark fantasies about diminished liberty, and more at the dysfunction and smallness of the current political landscape.
Can that image survive if Christie’s mainline of defense is that he is just another Republican under siege by the left? How much is left of Christie’s national appeal if he is about to morph into another Fox Republican? And even in the context of the Republican nomination, just how sustainable is the path of conservative warrior for a politician who has been known to bristle at right-wing orthodoxy on guns, the environment, and healthcare?
Assuming that Christie’s fingerprints aren’t found any places that they shouldn’t be, I would still bet that the verdict on the governor’s character and political style will end up being rendered by the primary voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, not the thirty-somethings at MSNBC and Politico, much less a handful of government lawyers. But Christie’s center-right admirers ought to worry that the tactics of survival don’t end up erasing what made Christie worth admiring in the first place.
Yes, folks, once again it’s time for a male politician to introduce us to an outlandish character, in the course of either sending indiscreet texts or making tone-deaf remarks about women. And for the record, I am NOT taking Mike Huckabee’s remarks out of context – I know he was saying that he believes Democrats are the ones ‘making women believe they are helpless without Uncle Sugar providing them a prescription for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government.’ You know, because the Democrats’ real war on women is forcing us to make our own decisions and denying us mandatory transvaginal ultrasounds . . . ? (Not to mention an apparently confused idea of exactly what birth control pills do . . . )
At any rate, it was yet another example of why men of either party should stay away from sex – from talking about it, from texting about it, and certainly from making up middle-school-worthy aliases. Fortunately, I was raised by a feminist mother (which had some disadvantages – I was never allowed to have a Barbie because my mom disapproved of the unrealistic body image expectations generated by a doll whose real life measurements would be 39-21-33, who would be 6′ and weigh 100 lbs. . . . . . but I digress). Anyway, as an unpopular late-blooming geeky high school sophomore (whose real life measurements at the time were approximately 24-24-24), I came in for a fair amount of name-calling and teasing. One day I complained to my mother about the football captain in my physics class who constantly leered at me, “Hey, Mayer – your place or mine?” and made his buddies erupt in raucous laughter. (Remember, this was way before anyone had heard of ‘sexual harassment’ – it was only a couple of years after girls were finally allowed to wear pants at my school!) Mom suggested I try joking back (reminding me of the scene in A Tree Grows In Brooklyn where Francie is ostracized by the other girls at her first job until she laughs at something . . . like I said, I was a geek!) So the next day, when he re-used the same joke for the 47th time (and confirmed that he was a jock and no scholar-athlete), I retorted, “How about my place tonight and yours tomorrow, if you’re man enough?” His friends laughed, he turned beet red, and that was the end of the teasing. And I learned a valuable lesson!
In other words, Mike Huckabee just wrote my next song for me . . .
Nothing is ever quite the same after you wake up to the feds pounding on your door. Trust me: I learned the hard way.
Which is why most of the media response to the “Bridgegate” scandal and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s handling thereof feels off to me.
The optimists, including Time and Washington Post political analysts, have asserted that after his “virtuoso” press conference performance, Christie remains the 2016 Republican frontrunner. Somewhere in the middle are Politico and Slate columnists, who acknowledge that this episode may affect the governor’s 2016 prospects. Others less enamored of the governor say that despite his mistakes, the media’s infatuation with him will keep him afloat.
The most pessimistic analysts contend that Christie’s presidential hopes are finished because this episode has highlighted his famously overbearing style, or would force him to change it, which may be beyond his ability and/or cost him support. A few even think his governorship may be in jeopardy based on Bridgegate or the more recent revelation that he awarded a contract to the highest (as opposed to the lowest) bidder for ads featuring his own visage in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
But other than New York’s Jonathan Chait, who recognized the cumulative weight of multiple investigations at multiple levels of government, most commentators are focusing on the wrong thing: the politics of recent revelations. The few who are focused on the potential criminal violations by Christie aides (and perhaps Christie himself) are focused on Bridgegate and, to a lesser extent, the tourism ad kerfluffle. Was wire fraud committed by anyone who used email to further an illicit act? Do state crimes of willful negligence or public corruption might apply here? Was a federal crime of interfering with interstate transportation committed?
What these pundits forget—and, as Christie, a former U.S. attorney, knows as well as anyone—is the old saw that federal prosecutors can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. They don’t need a bulletproof case. And once they have a target, they aren’t limited to investigating the matter that caught their attention; public corruption probes often widen as new information emerges. Federal prosecutors rarely have just one attack route. Remember, they brought down Al Capone for income tax evasion, not bribery, bootlegging, or murder. The Fort Lee incident may be merely a bridge, if you will, to other Christie administration misconduct. As a former target of a federal investigation that started in one place and ended in a very different one, I’m all too familiar with the unpredictable directions in which these things can go. What piques a prosecutor’s interest during plea negotiations may be totally unrelated to the original crime.
Read the rest of…
Jeff Smith: Yes, Chris Christie, the Feds Are Out to Get You
Just in case you haven’t seen Avenue Q or studied German, Schadenfreude means “enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others,” which makes it sound like sadism or bullying. But combine it with hubris – in case you haven’t studied Greek or read op-ed pieces about Anthony Weiner, hubris is “extreme pride, arrogance and overconfidence.” So when someone displaying great hubris has a spectacular public failure, one could make a pretty good case for ‘justifiable schadenfreude.’
For example, have you ever enjoyed the delicious satisfaction of seeing a driver pulled over for speeding who a few miles earlier cut you off? Or isn’t it fun to hear someone telling a clearly fabricated story get tripped up by a question he or she can’t answer? It’s not that we are relishing the pain of other people, but occasionally it is sure nice to see someone get caught (often referred to as ‘hoisted by one’s own petard,’ which is a Shakespearean phrase meaning lifted by one’s own explosive device, and that makes me seem kind of mean, but ‘getting one’s just deserts’ makes it look like I’ve misspelled a bakery title . . . but I digress).
Anyway, Chris Christie may have had nothing directly to do with ‘Bridge-gate,’ as the flap over the GW Bridge closure has come to be known. And maybe it doesn’t strain credulity that several senior members of his staff planned an enormous revenge plan without consulting or informing him. However, despite his press conference performance as a mild-mannered clueless mayor sad about being lied to and betrayed, he does have a bit of a track record for being vindictive and combative. Plus in the past few months he’d made any number of disparaging, sarcastic remarks about the reporters and state legislators looking into the whole thing. So is it any wonder that plenty of people are taking just a little, teeny tiny bit of joy in his discomfort?
Incidentally, it looked for awhile like Christie had achieved the impossible – creating bipartisan agreement, since both Republicans and Democrats were criticizing him. But apparently most Republicans got the GOP memo on the subject, so they’re now all talking about the left-wing media witch hunt, and why aren’t we as critical of Obama not knowing about the IRS conspiracy to cover-up the security situation in Benghazi to distract from the health care website rollout, or something along those lines.
So now that we’re back to ‘business as usual,’ I’m indulging in comedians’ favorite form of ‘justifiable schadenfreude,’ which is finding comic relief in a politician’s self-imposed difficulties:
A “rebellion” is about to begin the second day. I am tracking its progress on the Internet.
Staging what they have dubbed “the New Hampshire Rebellion,” a group led by Harvard professor, author and activist Lawrence Lessig set out for a 185 mile journey across the “live free or die” state calling attention to what they see as one of the most important issues in U.S. politics today—the dire need for campaign finance reform.
Lessig recently wrote in The Daily Beast:
On Saturday, we begin a walk across the state of New Hampshire, to launch a campaign to bring about an end to the system of corruption that we believe infects DC.
The march will pay homage to a similar attempt by famed activist Dorris Haddock, or “Granny D,” who, fifteen years ago at the age of 88, marched across the United States from Los Angeles to Washington DC with a sign reading “Campaign Finance Reform” across her chest.
Haddock is credited with helping to galvanize public will around the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act,” “which was signed into law in 2002.
However, since then, the Supreme Court, has ruled in favor of big donors, and the politicians who use them. In 2010, in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, and in 2013, in McCutcheon vs FEC many of the limits put in place on campaign finance has been overturned, paving the way for a new era of unprecedented spending by special interests, corporations and individuals.
Lessig said he expects over 100 people to join him along the way as they stop in over a dozen towns over the course of two weeks. The group will hold events and public discussions centered around the issues of big money in politics—and how to cleanse such influence from the democratic process.
Citing the importance of New Hampshire in U.S. presidential elections, being the site of the first presidential primary, the goal of the walk will be to convince voters to pressure candidates on the issue of campaign finance reform.
Along the way, we will recruit everyone we can to do one thing: We want them to ask every presidential candidate at every event between now and January 2016, this one question: ’How will YOU end the system of corruption in Washington?
A system of corruption, a system of campaign funding in which fundraising is key, and the funders represent the tiniest fraction of the 1%. That system, we believe, corrupts this democracy. (We, and 71% of Americans according to a recent poll.) And until that system changes, no sensible reform on the right or the left is possible.
As this question gets asked, we will record the responses. Literally. And post them. And through allied campaigns, we will put pressure on the candidates to surface this issue — and if we’re lucky — make it central to their campaigns”.
The walk began in Dixville Notch, NH, the place where the first presidential ballots are cast and will end in Nashua, NH, on the day Granny D was born, January 24th.
The activists embarked Saturday January 11th, exactly one year after the the suicide of internet activist Aaron Swartz, a close friend and colleague of Lessig’s.
“I wanted to find a way to mark this day,” Lessig writes. “I wanted to feel it, as physically painful as it was emotionally painful one year ago, and every moment since. So I am marking it with the cause that he convinced me to take up seven years ago and which I am certain he wanted to make his legacy too.”
Lessig talks about the New Hampshire Rebellion:
The walkers current location, Akers Pond Inn, Errol, NH. Distance Traveled: 10 miles. Distance To Go: 175 miles.
How would YOU end the system of corruption in Washington? Send responses to firstname.lastname@example.org. I will summarize them in a future article.
Tom Mabe’s most popular –and depressing—prank yet.
Louisvillian Tom Mabe is a very talented and funny guy. He’s the ultimate social media prankster and very clever and provocative as he pushes the comedic envelope.
His latest exploit …didn’t feel as funny as usual to me, though. Perhaps his most popular prank to date (at least in YouTube views, now over 17 million), Mabe tricks a hard drinking buddy who has passed out from intoxication (again) that he has been in a coma for 10 years and missed out on a lot of important life moments due to his excessive drinking.
It’s tough love that overlaps into cringe humor.
It is a brilliantly clever prank that was hopefully going to scare Mabe’s friend straight. The friend already has 5 DUIs and wasn’t changing his drinking habits. Tom was trying to help a friend, help protect others, and create a viral video at the same time. And I hope he succeeded with all three objectives.. The video’s viral popularity is already established.
But did it help his friend? I’m not so sure. In my view, a prank like that, by itself, rarely has a long term impact on the drinker. But the 17 million views of this video means that the secret on this heavy drinker is now out—something that most everyone knows or will soon hear about in this gentlemen’s home town.
That public intolerance for his alcohol abuse will mean he’ll have to change to stay in his current community or live elsewhere. But a few more days passed and the video prank continued to gnaw at me for some reason. My self-righteous conclusions weren’t enough to satisfy me.
There was something else going on in this video that was vaguely haunting me. And, I suspect, vaguely haunting others because several friends brought it up to me. For me the metaphor of going into a coma for 10 years and missing out on important life moments, saddened me. In some ways I am guilty of that. And I am not in a medical coma and don’t drink alcohol. But that doesn’t mean I (we) can’t go on auto-pilot, get too obsessed with work, hobbies, other distractions and miss out on some important memories with our children, spouse and friends. And that, in the end, is what I learned most from this video. It’s unintended consequences.
A prank to scare a heavy drinker straight by outing him was a very funny scheme. But what was profound –and perhaps ultimately more socially beneficial from this video–is that as much as we 17 million viewers want to laugh and feel superior to the drunken foil in this prank, I suspect a significant portion of us were simultaneously trying to conceal our sadness that we’d been outed too.
I hope Mabe’s friend does get help and get sober or at least stop driving while drinking. But whatever happens to Tom Mabe’s boozing friend, I hope this video helps change me in ways so that 10 years from now I don’t feel like portions of that time were spent in my own metaphorical coma.
Because, thanks to Tom Mabe’s prank, I now have a clearer idea of what that looks like and how horrifyingly tragic it can be.
From St. Louis Magazine:
A few years ago, Missouri state Sen. Jeff Smith was caught lying to the feds about the funding for a certain political-attack mailer and wound up sentenced to a year behind bars. The charismatic young progressive, who has since left prison and politics behind, contributed a chapter to the new book The Recovering Politician’s Twelve Step Program to Survive Crisis. He tells confessional, instructive stories about what he learned from his mistakes. His chapter begins with a grabber—being strip-searched as he enters the lock-up.
Is the book literally a practical guide for politicians who’ve stumbled, or does it have a broader purpose? To some extent, it’s designed to be a guide, but in a broader way, it’s designed to give anyone who’s going through tough times a lot of ways to handle situations more appropriately, more effectively, in a way that’s healthier. For instance, let’s say you’re a salesman and you’re trying to sell widgets and the company you’re selling to says, “You knock 10 percent off that $1.7 million you just quoted me, and we’ll make it worth your while.” These things are often not so blunt, though. People in everyday life encounter ethical dilemmas in everything they do. The book provides a lot of insight into the mistakes that those of us in the public eye have made that mushroom out of control. Hopefully that can help a lot of people prevent their situations from ever getting to that stage. Most people are not going to be Eliot Spitzer or Anthony Weiner, plastered all over the tabloids, but we all live in a constant state of trying to do the right thing.
The book offers tales of woe from a bunch of former politicians being painfully honest, more so than you usually expect from politicians. We are all pretty vulnerable in that book. We’re getting deep, talking about the lowest moments in our lives, and we’re hoping it transcends people’s typical views of politicians as full of crap and constantly dissembling. There’s not a lot of that in this book.
How did you get involved with the Recovering Politician blog? There are two guys—the former secretary of state of Kentucky and the former treasurer of Kentucky—they started it. My ex-girlfriend had worked in Kentucky, and I met one of these guys. The two of them got together and brainstormed at the time I had just come out of prison, and it came together by happenstance. They asked me to write an essay about my experience, and it went from there.
In a candid column for the Recovering Politician website, you wrote about how the revelation that you’d spent a year in prison got the attention of a group of jaded young people at a party in Brooklyn. Is that a weird feeling, to have a certain street cred by virtue of having served time? Yeah, it’s weird. But you have to try to always let people remember a couple of things—that a lot of people in prison aren’t very much different from them, and that even the ones they think are very different aren’t as different as they think. I try not to let people “go slumming” off my experience. What I’m concerned about is the complete lack of rehabilitation in most prisons and the effect that has.
You’ve had some time, since November 2010, that you’ve been out of prison and the halfway house you went to after prison. Have you gotten some emotional distance from everything? Yes and no. I’ve gotten involved in a lot of activities related to prison issues. Compared to 2011, well, then I wasn’t ready to engage in a lot of stuff like that. But in the last six months, I’ve been spending a lot more time on those issues. I gave a speech at the Cleveland State Prison in Texas to several hundred graduates of one of their programs. The experience of being back inside was emotional. I’m working on a book about my experience in prison and how it’s informed my views on prison policy, and about how we can do a better job leveraging of the untapped talent in our prisons and cut our spending and reduce our recidivist rate.
In 2010, you told SLM’s Jeannette Cooperman that academe “does not even resemble the real world… One of my objectives is to try to explore ways to better connect poli sci with real-world politics.” Now you’re the assistant professor of politics and advocacy at the Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy at the New School in New York. Is that what you’re doing there? Yes. In fact, in the next week or two, I have to turn in my dossier, which is my giant file of everything I’ve done in the past few years, for my job renewal, and the opening of that is a statement of purpose, what you’re trying to do in academia. My goals are to help infuse academia with more of an understanding of real-world politics and to give students a better understanding of how things really work, what people who haven’t been in the game might not know. Conversely, I try to bring some of the social-science discipline and analytical training into the public world.
Click here to read the full piece.
Nelson Mandela, with the possible exception of Winston Churchill, has been the most positively transformational figure of the past 100 years. The impact of his courage, spirit, faith, persistence, forgiveness, intelligence, and leadership in bringing South Africa out of the depths of apartheid cannot be overstated. But his passing should invite more scrutiny as to how South Africa and its neighbors are faring today. Perhaps Mandela’s absence can help the rest of us revisit the unacceptable level of political, economic and civil discourse that is South Africa today, without the distraction his life has provided.
For the indices of income inequality, government integrity and transparency, economic growth, health care and cultural progress, the record is abysmal. For literacy, education, and racial integration the record is a little better. Here are some 21st century vignettes from my own family’s experience in the country:
- · My college sophomore daughter’s semester abroad at Grahamstown University in 2000-2001 was highlighted by her volunteering one day per week in the neighborhood township ; while the campus was modestly integrated, not a single white student joined her and most thought she was crazy to so “risk her life”;
- · At a November 2000 dinner with the white provost (a liberal) at Grahamstown University, we learned that more than 2/3 of his children and their friends (25-30 years old) had emigrated to UK, US, or Australia since l995.
- · A black taxi driver in Capetown told us he perceived his then six-year old black majority government no better than the previous apartheid, and even more corrupt;
- · My sister’s 2013 two-week training in Pretoria and Capetown of predominantly black hospital administrators in the basics of hospital finance yielded her perception of intelligent people with college degrees (and the most grateful students she has ever had) and not a clue of how to manage a hospital or the basics of health care finance.
While the world must be more patient than I am about a country emerging from such abject poverty and oppression for 85% of its citizenry (the Capetown townships occupying the medians of express highways are the most appalling living spaces I have ever seen), one cannot be optimistic about fifteen years of tenure by Mbeki and Zuma so unwilling to confront AIDs, tribal conflict, government ineptness and corruption, or any of the major economic challenges confronting them. And South Africa’s long term unwillingness to mitigate the murderous tyranny of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe is analogous to the Germans’ tolerance of Hitler after the spring of l944.
Given the rich natural resources and relatively advanced industrial development of this beautiful, haunted country, we should expect better. Then again, with no democratic tradition, undeveloped civic institutions, no uniform rule of law, too small a black middle class, inferior schools, not yet equality for women, legitimate government, little national pride, and no overarching commitment of the country’s black and white elites to fundamentally redistribute income widely, what can we expect?
Steve Morgan is President of Clean Energy Solutions, Inc., of Boston, MA