Category Archives: Philadelphia

can you hear me major tom?

So I’ve been of late calling myself “Billy Pilgrim,” when people ask me how I am; digging tenaciously through those mad years we call “the Vietnam era,” which I subtitle as “When Everything Blew Up and Everything Grew.” What, she’s not done yet? Not yet, not when I spent thompsonnearly three weeks with the likes of Hugh Thompson (left) Ron Ridenhour (right) ron5 and the ubiquitous Tod Ensign,  as well a the guy below (hidden three rows behind Jane Fonda) who hasn’t yet talked to me about what I still think of as his proudest hour. (Also buds like Steve Morse, Bill Perry, and Susan Schnall, who’ve given me so much of their time…)  The whole thing makes me weirder than usual. I’m boring to be around: scattered, listening constantly to Hanoi Hannah on to get in the mood, etc. etc.


But this week, I realized that Vonnegut is far too noble an antecedent to call on here: better that  TV show “Life on Mars,” (thus the David Bowie above). So now, when people ask me “How’s the book??” I won’t say I’m Billy Pilgrim. This week, at least, I’m Sam Tyler – a 21st-century creature who keeps thinking they’ve moved on, only to be dragged right back to 1973, one more time.

non-state of the union, semi liveblog

You know you’ve spent too much time doing nothing but write when you show up at a party of sorts – the Philadelphia Drinking Liberally, featuring cool folk like Duncan and Jeremy and Roxanne – and end up fading into the background. You know you’re hanging out with bloggers when you realize its been way too long since you posted, so you might as well liveblog a presidential speech.

I wake up to find that my publisher was just like those purple lines of joy we saw dancing at the bottom of the speech. I just posted her love letter here: go click on it, if only for the Jimmy Stewart film clip. Then read below, for my somewhat-snarky-almost-grateful musings.

The group that was clustered at the bar is now all crowding into this conference/semi-banquet room, which was also cold until filled with bodies.

Frankly, it’s been a relief to hear someone reasonable at each press conference- but as I write this I hear that Obama is going to announce *here* that he’s not going to withdraw troops from Iraq as he’d promised. Ouch.

Keith and Rachel trying to figure things out as they go. We’ll see what we think by what’s actually said.

Lots of brass in the  house. Young men in dress uniforms and Purple Hearts, shyly greeting Jane Harman et al.

Jill Biden (god, she *is beautiful)  shaking one of their hands. Someone serving with Beau?

Kirsten Gillibeand looking incredibly short. Rache calling her “Senator from the Lollipop Guild.”

The Cabinet files through: Hilda Solis –  confirmed today! – grinning in the crowd. She and Susan Rice also in the short crowd 😉

This room erupts in applause when Ginzburg shows up – looking pretty healthy, surprisingly.

I personally love the Baltimore-born Italian San Francisco girl at the head of the room, gently clapping as her Prez shakes hands along the way.

To have the Supreme Court clapping for you: I can’t imagine how  that must feel.

Ohhhhh FUCK those lines, like in the debate. NOOOOOOOOOOES!

Peanut gallery (the bloggers): “si se puede!” when he says “We will rebuild.”

Professor Obama: “It is only by understanding how we got to this moment..”

For too many years we ignored crises in:

energy, healthcare

global economy

more debt than ever before

short-term over long-term

‘surplus became an oppty to transfer wealth to the wealthy,” thank you.

Pelosi looking tired/worried now

“begins with jobs,” gets applause. applauds stimpak, are Reeps applauding?

Kerry grins a little much, as if he’d been drinking. McCain absolutely has.

“A proven and effective Inspector General.” That guy, who looks like he’s just been told his wife is pregnant again?

9:20 update: Lecture re “if we don’t get lending restarted”

new lending fund – auto loans, student loans, etc

Won’t help speculators, will help others struggling w/declining home values……

When we learn a major bank has serious problems,we hold accountable, fix them. Is he talking receivership w.o talking recerivership?

Joe Lieberman sucks on a sour lemon.

“..private jet. Those days are over.” easy applaue line.

McCain voters happier than Obama voters? (from the lines….)

My job is to solve the problem. Thats what this is about. Not helping banks but helping people.  Trickle-down theory of bank fixes.

What exactly i this reform u speak of? I know, I know, this is a night for big concepts…..

Eric Cantor’s forced smile: what he been smoking?

Civil war railroads, public high schools, GI Bill – big government you can believe in?

Govt catalyzed private enterprise. Three areas: energy, healthcare, education.

Energy: Van Jones approach? Camera goes to Steven Chu when Obama mentions how much further along China is on this stuff.

Double supply of renewable energy, research, power lines. – clean energy! market-based cap on pollution..

re-tooled auto industry. “the nation that invented the auto cannot walk away from it.” how???

healthcare: The real issue here. Can’t afford to put healthcare reform on hold. Applauds S-CHIP. Now on to electronic health records, etc. Curing cancer. Where’s the word universal health care?

“quality healthcare for every American” = universal? Mandate, as Ezra says Obama finally accepts?

“Will not wait another week.” Better mean it.

Education: more charter schools. at least one yr of higher ed for every American. (Now? On top of what we have, or?)

by 2020 America will once again have highest proportion of college graduates in the world

If you’re volunteering or serving your country, we’ll make sure u get thry college

Hatch-Kennedy National Service Act?

“No substitute for a parent.” Lindsey Graham playing with his hair obviously needed one.

“The deficit e inherited” gets applause, but what now?

$2 trillion in savings over the next decade. Payments to large agribusiness, no-bid contracts in Iraq, cold war weapons systems we don’t use. Ending  tax breaks for corps that ship jobs overseas.

McConnell and Hoyer lean in as if they’re buds.

When he talks abt including both wars in the budget, both line go up and up.

The men in uniform, many with gray hair and tons of medeals, lean forward as people applaud. Then they applaud, too.

Obama does a coin pose.

expanded health care for vets.

Closing of Gitmo, “swift and certain justice.” But what of Bagram? Still, no-torture pledge is worth something.

Closing phrases. diplomacy, envoys, forge alliances, incl G-20 on trade etc.

Now the poster children: Leonard Abess, bank prez who gave  his bonus to employees, Greensberg, KS (new green town post-tornado), and Ty’Sheoma Bethea, girl from SC school who wrote to Congress. She smiles when he quotes her saying “We are not quitters.” This feels like that pre-election movie from October. Camera on Sully Sullenberger.

“We must show them we are equal to the task before us. ” Knows everyone loves this country and wants it to succeed. (really?)

“This was the time.” Reminiscent of South Carolina speech. Totally jazzed and relaxed at the same time.

now time to make the long, wearying trek back to  Nofeast Philly…..

If you’re mad about Rick Warren, get out tomorrow and light up the night.

I was going to try to write about  Rick Warren being  asked to give the inaugural invocation, which yesterday pulled me from my bookwriting stupor back into that November 5, no we can’t! fury. And as you see above, I wasn’t alone:

As Michelle Goldberg puts it so pleasantly in The Guardian: He is a man who compares legal abortion to the Holocaust and gay marriage to incest and paedophilia. He believes that Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and other non-Christians are going to spend eternity burning in hell. He doesn’t believe in evolution. He recently the social gospelthe late 19th- and early 20th-century Protestant movement that led a religious crusade against poverty and inequalityas “Marxism in Christian clothing.

Or as Linda Hirshman noted on the WAM listserv (I’m posting this with her permission):

Rick Warren’s site for educating preachers,, has a long essay on why women should submit to their husbands. Here’s the money line: “The Greek word for ‘submit’ is hupotassoHupo means “under” and tasso means “to place in order.” The compound word hupotasso means “to place under or in an orderly fashion.” Paul didn’t dislike women, he liked order! He advocated order in the church, order in government, order in business, and, yes, order in the home.

Then I remembered what gave me hope after that, and decided I was better off pushing this event for tomorrow.

It’s not just a vigil and food drive: it’s us giving notice that Obama better mean what he said yesterday, that they’ll push for a quick repeal of DOMA and eliminatinn of DADT.  And we’ll press that case in Washington on January 10th, just before the inaugural. Just in case.

100 million castaways, demanding a home

100 million: That’s how many people who felt as I did last week. Or at least as many as stood up yesterday to say: Not in our America.

Using the skills that were so essential to the election of the current president, a handful of kids-with-broadband organized the event in cities around the country. They used email, Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube to provide a single, coordinated answer to the question so many were asking: “What do I do now?”

In Philly, the weather complied, with 70-degree temps warming the crowd of 5,000 clustered by City Hall. A group as diverse as my new city, in both ethnic composition and age. Families with small children, parents,  ministers joined folks like myself and Rachel, or the guy with the sign “No More Mr. Nice Gay.” Or like white-haired Cass McGough, 72,  who eyes were a soft match to her carved earrings, and whose sign said simply: I’M TOO OLD FOR THIS SHIT. I didn’t ask her if she knew Harvey Milk, who would have been proud of the day.

“I never thought I’d live to see a black President,” McGough grinned as the crowd gathered. “But I also never thought they’d leave us so thoroughly out of this moment, either.”

Even more heartening, to me, was the Cataldi family — South Philly types who wouldn’t have looked out of place among my Bronx relatives. Dino Cataldi brought his entire family, whose signs were among those made famous on TV and here: A GAY MARRIAGE IS JUST AS IMPORTANT AS MY FIRST, SECOND AND THIRD STRAIGHT MARRIAGE. When I asked one of them why they’d come, he said “My brother-in-law!” and pointed to Dino, a burly guy with wavy hair and muscle-y arms.

Upon learning his last name, I told Cataldi about my own Italian family, and that my coming-out process felt at best incomplete. “You wanna know how I came out? My father asked me one night at dinner, Are you queer?  Before I could say anything, my brother answered for me: He’s not queer. He’s  gay.” In other words, not creepy, not other. For all my San Francisco-bred comfort with the term ‘queer,’ the story moved me, and I wished I could tell one just like it.

Meanwhile, the kids just kept coming. I felt like I’d seen them canvassing for Obama, and they’d just gone on to the next logical goal. They were passionate about not, as columnists did,  targeting not any demographic group, not even the Mormon Church — instead targeting the indifference of those to whom think gay and lesbian civil rights are a side issue, not worth showing up for.

Now, of course, comes the hard work of making even future protests share a goal. I’ll watch, and show up when I can. This could be the 21st-century ACT-UP, though so far we don’t have the artists to show for it.

(The video is from the 1981 Secret Policeman’s Other Ball, a benefit for Amnesty International. My title’s quote from The Police feels suddenly pretty on-topic.)

Notes from a swing state

Walking along this suburban-ish street today, I kept seeing young people with clipboards. Using cell phones. I giggled; this is what democracy looks like.

Those who know me well, or even knew my old blog shop, might feel puzzled that I almost never blog about electoral politics  – especially since I moved this summer to Pennsylvania, which both candidates treat as their jogging track. I didn’t blog Springsteen’s free concert in Philly, or Joe Biden’s frequent invocations of Scranton, or try one whit to write something comparable to the folks crowding my Google Reader — Sullivan, or Ezra, or Coates or Aravosis, or the brilliant Lindsay, who writes in 10 places at once. Because they all do it so well; because I’ve been spending as much time as possible working on the book, and trying to help propel the nonpartisan site that gives me my current day job. I didn’t even think of my feelings the day we lost last time, or how I talked to my students about the long haul – how only organizing could prevent it from happening again.

I didn’t know that day that someone who didn’t lose his Senate race that day, who had once worked at the very same college where I was now subjecting them to writing drills, would prove an uber-organizer.

I wonder if this week, any of those students are doing what those kids I saw today were doing. Maybe even today.

I do know that not a single canvasser, in my usually-leans-Republican Northeast Philly neighborhood, was doing so for John McCain. I’m just saying. (Update, Mon: The others were, apparently, part of a 1.9-million-voters-strong weekend.)

So much for the loneliness of the long-distance runner

National Novel Writing Month? Me?

Normally, I’m one of those skeptical of the enterprise, the idea that a jillion people checking in online and pushing out 50,000 words had anything to do with producing quality work. Still, over the years I’ve thought of doing it, worried about it, then as I put aside the idea that fiction is what I do, mostly cheered on a friend or two from way on the sidelines.

But now, if I’m going to fulfill my contract with University of California Press, and deliver a 110,000 word nonfiction narrative by January 1 – desperate measures are called for. So when I got a note from the online community Red Room about participating in NaNoWriMo, I had one question: “Does it have to be fiction?”

The FAQ says nothing about nonfiction, so I decided to take the plunge.

After all, I just stopped calling myself a “novelist” three years ago. My book has plots, characters, more themes than you can shake a stick at and is as vivid as I can make it considering I can’t make shit up.

I’m hoping that adding the structure and mass mutual cheerleading of NaNoWriMo to my daily practice will add to my determination to produce against all odds – with little else that matters. I have six chapters, a prologue and an epilogue nowhere near drafted – and that doesn’t count fact-checking and revision. It’s still impossible. I’m still determined to do it. If it takes a jillion writers in a jillion cities, well, I never did put much stock in all that stuff about the loneliness of the long-distance runner.

older cities of dreams

Which of these venerable, beloved by artists (and thus too costly for most), old streets came first?

Philly’s Old City, where I sit now (in a cafe I already love)?

Or its jealous cousin in my hometown?

I suspect the latter, due to the Dutch assault on the Lenape land predating the days of William Penn.

However, both bow down to their ancestor above, in the country of *my* particular forefathers. I’d love to live there too.