Friday, December 23, 2005

Journalist Jack Anderson

Stories That Matter: "Jack Anderson died last Saturday morning. He gave me a job as a reporter in 1968. He taught me that a kid from California could investigate anything and ask anyone in government any question. ... He taught me that too much time in power corrupts. ... He taught me that I could overcome a state education and the lack of an ivy- league pedigree by simply calling more people than anyone else. That is how Jack became the best reporter of his generation. No one spoke truth to power as eloquently as Jack Anderson. ... Jack Anderson put the fire in my belly, convincing me that being a reporter was the most important thing I could do with my life."

TPMCafe: "All of us at TPMCafe are associated with Josh Marshall's intrepid effort to revive the tradition of muckraking journalism at a time when there's so much muck to rake. Accordingly, there should be some acknowledgement of the passing of one of the last century's great muckrakers, Jack Anderson. ... [I]n his time, Anderson was himself a bigfoot journalist and a fearful factor in Washington, ready at any moment to turn rumors into ruin.
And he had his own cult of minor celebrity, back in the day. ... [W]e should take a moment to remember Anderson, with all his faults, as a man who never took official obfuscations and denials for an answer."

POGO Blog: "I'll always remember Jack at his 16th Street office, wearing a pair of slippers and coolly marking up copy at his desk. Whenever I saw Jack, he appeared in control of everything around him. ... I can still sense the respect that Jack's presence commanded, as well as the extent to which people, like me, would go to earn his respect. He could make a young associate's day by simply flashing his wry smile and saying, "Good job." To be sure, Jack, in his familiar role as mentor, kept a watchful eye over all the young journalists in his stable. He wanted them to succeed beyond their work for him."

MF Blog: "Overall, one may confidently say the weight of the deeds in the life of Jack Anderson fall far more often on the "good" side of life's ledger. Anderson was a national treasure. His consistent willingness to attack the powerful has been sorely missed among our remaining major newspapers for more years than we as a nation may want to admit."

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Sen. William Proxmire

GM's Corner: "A true political giant, William Proxmire died today at the age of 90. ... [H]e was one Democrat that I really liked -- liberal in some areas but a fierce conservative when it came to government spending and encroachment into ordinary life. Proxmire was called once so independent that he was often considered a party of one. He almost always got elected by huge margins, seldom took any money from anyone and often had election expenses of less than $1,000. His Golden Fleece awards [for wasteful federal spending] were absolutely priceless in terms of humor, grace, and caustic wit and absolute correctness."

The Debate Link: "Though most obituaries focused on his admirable opposition to corruption, pork and government waste, Senator Proxmire had a far more important issue he adopted as his own. For 20 years, from 1967 to 1986, William Proxmire gave one speech every single day Congress was in session urging the American ratification of the Genocide Convention. When he started, it was considered a fanciful ambition; 3,211 speeches later, America finally affirmed the absolute and categorical imperative to oppose genocide in an 83-11 vote."

The Xoff Files: "The stories about Bill Proxmire ... all say he was a maverick, and he was. But more than that, he was a character. He was quirky. He was eccentric. On some things, he was a fanatic. At times, there was even a touch of the crackpot. But the people of Wisconsin liked his style. He was known nationally for his Golden Fleece Awards to spotlight and ridicule what he saw as wasteful spending, but he was almost as well-known for his hair transplant and his fanatic exercise and diet regimens. ... Former staffers tell of Proxmire batting out his own press releases on a typewriter in the Senate office. And they recall his insistence on prompt attention to constituent letters, and how [he] might stop at a staffer's desk and ask to see the oldest unanswered letter."

The Needle Man: "In more than two decades, Proxmire did not travel abroad on Senate business, and he returned more than $900,000 from his office allowances to the treasury. He repeatedly sparked his colleagues' ire by opposing salary increases, fighting against such Senate 'perks' as a new gym in the Hart office building. ... Even so, his reputation was that of a workaholic, and even his strongest critics found him to be one of the chamber's most disciplined, intelligent and persistent members. He held the longest unbroken record in the history of the Senate for roll call votes."

POGO Blog: "Although he used the press to draw the public's attention to some of the more egregious abuses of the public, the more telling stories about his concern for the public were ones that never made it to the press. Two examples: During the Vietnam war, he would regularly go out to Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval Hospital to visit with wounded soldiers, but we were under strict orders not to let anyone in the press know about it because
he thought it might embarrass the wounded and he wanted to keep doing it. The second, and funnier, story occurred during the Cuban missile crisis, when the Wisconsin National Guard was nationalized and sent to Oregon. The office kept getting complaints that there were inadequate blankets and intolerable food, even for the Army. Well Prox, being Prox, decided to investigate and, without telling anyone, got on a plane to Oregon. ... That afternoon truckloads of unavailable blankets started arriving, more than enough to double the normal allotment of blankets for the troops and, surprisingly, the quality of the food improved, too. Can you imagine any of the current senators doing that?"

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Blogger Steven Malcolm Anderson

Classical Values: "Steven Malcolm Anderson died suddenly of heart failure on Sunday, November 27, at a hospital in Bellevue, Washington. ... [E]ven though we never met, Steven was more than a friend to me. His comments were more than comments, and I considered him to be a sort of de facto co-blogger [at Classical Values]. ... I am putting the world, the blogosphere (and all appropriate deities) on notice that Steven's glorious spirit -- his 'style!' if I can borrow his favorite word -- will always be part of my blog. I'll do my best to keep him alive, and I'll never forget him. ... Few human beings are possessed of such joyous exuberance, such charm and wit, such knowledge of history, and such brilliant humor. Truly, the world is a worse place for his passing. Mine certainly is.

Bloggledygook: "One of the most astute, witty and intelligent denizens of the blogosphere, Steven Malcolm Anderson, known to many of us as SMA, has died suddenly of heart failure. ... SMA was one of those whose writing spoke of his intelligence and humor, not from self-aggrandizing, but from its pure lucidity and purpose."

Doc Rampage: "How is it that I feel so bad about a man I never met? Many authors, actors, and performers that I knew have died. What was different about Steven? I suppose it was that I didn't just read what he wrote, but responded to him, and he would sometimes respond to me. We interacted, even if only through the comments at Dean's World. We were aware of each other, not merely as a collection of written ideas, but as living souls."

Angling Author Ernest Schweibert Jr.

Never Yet Melted: "Internationally renowned angling author Ernest George Schwiebert Jr. passed away Saturday morning. He was approximately 73 years of age. ...

While still at Princeton, Schwiebert wrote his first book, Matching the Hatch (1955), which astonished the American angling community by realizing American angling's most avidly desired, yet most unattainable, theoretical goal: reconciling traditional artificial fly patterns and their use in actual practice with science. The book's title became a by-word for the preferred methodology of serious dry fly fishermen everywhere. ... In a single step, the youthful Schwiebert vaulted to the supreme heights of angling authority; and, over the years, other publications appropriate to his sporting stature followed. ...

In the course of a long and illustrious career, he fished, and wrote about, the finest rivers all over the world. He was a regular habituee of the choicest waters and the most exclusive clubs, and was renowned for his enthusiasm for the best of everything. As the years went on, Schwiebert's elitist perspective and idiosyncratic writing style came in for a certain amount of criticism. He was reported to be a colorful personality, and intensely competitive, by those who traveled in the same circles. Criticisms of Schwiebert's latest book and anecdotes of conflicts in the field and at events became staples of gossip in the sporting community. One envious scribbler went so far as to caricature the great man in an anonymously published, pretentious and ridiculously overpriced lampoon. ...

The roll of major angling writers is thickly populated with egotists and curmudgeons. His passing, however, is bound to silence criticism. Even those who did not like Ernest G. Schwiebert will be forced to acknowledge that we have lost probably the single-most important angling theorist of the last century, the most important figure in North America this side of Theodore Gordon."

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Sen. Eugene McCarthy

Power Line: "Former Senator Eugene McCarthy has died at age 89. ... In 1968, McCarthy ran as an anti-Vietnam War candidate in a series of Democratic primaries. ... McCarthy's most ardent supporters were college students. Most of my anti-war friends preferred him to [Robert] Kennedy, as I did (and still do). First, McCarthy had shown more guts than Kennedy by challenging [President Lyndon] Johnson before it was clear how weak the president's position was. Second, McCarthy came across as cool; Kennedy as anything but. ... In many respects, some of them superficial, Robert Kennedy's position in 1967 can be compared to Hillary Clinton's position today. It's more difficult to identify the new Gene McCarthy (it's certainly not Howard Dean). He was one of a kind."

Bull Moose: "These days, our politics are infected by innumerable humorless, cowardly, predictable, witless and mindlessly partisan politicians. McCarthy had his faults, but those were not them. He was a wit, independent and had the capacity to surprise."

The Lonely Centrist: "In recent years, he was critical of government excesses in the war on terror, without joining the over-the-top Michael Moore crowd. And McCarthy was too much of a gentleman to be sucked into the nasty rhetoric of such people. He always assumed the best motives in his opponents, and treated opposing arguments fairly and with respect."

Deep Thought: "Eugene McCarthy ran for president. He didn't win. He didn't even get nominated. In fact, he got beat in the New Hampshire primary in 1968. Yet it was his effort in losing, that truly shook the nation. ... McCarthy ran for president four more times after 1968, but he never again recaptured the lighting that he held for a few brief days in that year, when he inspired and sparked a movement that quickly grew beyond any one person. He didn't need to inspire it anymore. He came along as the right man, with the right message, at the right moment in history."

The Grumpy Forester: "McCarthy gave voice to a generation that couldn't otherwise break through the party machine noise that had come to control Democratic politics prior to 1968, and his anti-war message buried a seed in the hearts of people of my era whose germination explains a lot of the grey-haired, balding objection to the current Grand Iraqi Adventure that bears, for those of us of a certain age, a remarkable resemblence to the Vietnam of our vital, robust healthy-kneed youth. ... The passing, on the same day, of both [Richard] Pryor and McCarthy is a bit of a jolt for some of us folks. ... These were people that we grew up with and who -- in one way or another -- contributed to the 'me' that we ended up being."

Comedian Richard Pryor

Captain's Quarters: "Richard Pryor died today at 65, after suffering from long bouts of multiple sclerosis, heart disease, drug abuse, and what appeared to be a decades-long death wish. Pryor overcame the pain and illness of his life to change an entire entertainment form -- stand-up comedy -- from a series of jokes and witty third-party observations to a review of his life and his pain that seemed almost Freudian at times, even while making us cry with laughter. ... [A]s Pryor left the pain and the abuse behind him, life dealt him one last blow in the form of multiple sclerosis. Typically, he made it part of his act, refusing to allow the disease to keep him off the stage. Eventually, however, Pryor had to retire from the work he loved and transformed, and we were the poorer for it. Today, the world is poorer for his leaving it."

Daily Kos: "In many ways, Richard Pryor provided the first unvarnished discussion of race relations that people of all races could understand. ... Warts and all -- everybody's warts, but within the context of the realities of what the African American experience has been."

The Huffington Post: "Pryor's true genius was in his ability to convey an unparalleled humanity in his work, whether performing as a character or opening up his personal life with brutal candor -- practically right up until the end. I personally attended a couple of his final performances where he used his battle with MS as fodder for his act. ... It's often been said that only the truth is funny and Richard Pryor was both painfully truthful in his work and painfully funny."

Pajamas Media: "On a couple of occasions, I drove up with Richard to an orphanage in the San Gabriel Mountains for research for 'Family Dream.' ... It was on those jaunts I came to experience up close what Richard meant to the African American community. When black people saw us pulling up at a stoplight in his red Mercedes convertible, it was as if Jesus Christ himself had just come up beside them. 'Daddy Rich! Daddy Rich!' they would shout through tears of excitement. ... I knew that it was Richard's remarkable humanity they were reacting to, his ability to express a people's pain without rancor or anger, with a forgiving grace that finally defused all rage in laughter and put everything on a different, even strangely color-blind, level."

Back To My Obit Roots

Journalism is rarely as glamorous as it seems to be on television or in the movies, and that is especially true in the newspaper world. Those who choose print journalism as their profession generally can expect low pay, lousy hours and lots of grunt work like writing obituaries.

That was the message my first journalism professor at West Virginia University delivered to every new crop of ambitious and altruistic wannabe scribes, and my own early experiences proved him prophetic. My first job at The Tampa Tribune in the late 1980s: copy clerk. I literally copied the page layouts of editors for each day's edition and delivered them to the print shop. My second job at the Tribune: full-time obit writer.

It wasn't exactly the stuff of Woodward and Bernstein (before Woodward became something of a villain), and I much prefer the work I do now for National Journal, especially Beltway Blogroll, which focuses on the political and policy impact of blogs. But let me tell ya, I loved my brief stint as an obit writer. It's probably the biggest reason that I am a journalist today.

It's also the reason I am starting this blog.

When former Sen. Eugene McCarthy and comedian Richard Pryor died this weekend and an abundance of tributes to them started appearing in the blogosphere, it struck me that the best obits these days are not necessarily written by the "professionals" of yesteryear but by the creative amateurs of citizen media. It also struck me that people who like to read such tributes need a good place to go online that pulls together the best tributes from the blogosphere.

I'm not the first person to think of showcasing obits online. The Blog of Death has been publishing great copy since 2003, and Legacy.com offers obits, guest books and tributes. Various bloggers also provide occasional roundups of tributes for specific people important to them. But I hope the Carnival of Tribute can add value to the work that sites like those have done.

I'll start today with roundups on McCarthy and Pryor. As for the future, I'll post entries as I see the need, and I welcome your suggestions. My e-mail is danny -at- comtekmail.com.