Open Thread: Progress, If We Can Keep It

Tom Foley, Democratic House Speaker between 1989 and 1994, died last week. The New Republic took to its wayback machine to pull up what’s probably the best-remembered story about Rep. Foley — Lee Atwater sending out an official RNC memo comparing Foley to Barney Frank (“Tom Foley, Out of the Liberal Closet”):

Atwater said, “I don’t think it’s that big of a deal.” Lesser functionaries insisted that no sexual innuendo was intended. The closet metaphor, they maintained, was purely political: Foley is a liberal who pretends to be a moderate…

To accept these explanations one would have to begin by accepting the dubious theory that Frank is uniquely qualified to represent House liberals, even though he is known for the heterodoxy of his opinions (he recently advised liberals to forget about gun control, for example)… More to the point, one would have to believe that the memo’s authors were unaware (a) that the primary meaning of the phrase “out of the closet” is to denote the public disclosure of previously concealed homosexuality; (b) that Frank is a gay person who became nationally famous when he came out of the closet two years ago; or (c) that for weeks prior to the release of the memo Foley had been the target of a campaign of scurrilous but unpublished rumors suggesting that he too is gay, and perforce closeted. (“We hear it’s little boys,” an aide to Newt Gingrich, the House Republican whip, had been going around saying.)…

Barney Frank, by the way, knows about deterrence. At a conference of political operatives and reporters at Harvard last weekend, I found surprising unanimity that the decisive factor in squelching the anti-Foley smear campaign had been Frank’s threat to name five gay Republicans on Capitol Hill. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have actually done it. But then, isn’t the purpose of possessing nuclear weapons to ensure that they never have to be used?

Frank, like many others, is unhappy about the underlying premise of the closet memo flap: That calling someone gay ipso facto a smear. “But the reality is that we still have a prejudiced society,” he says. “When FDR was being called ‘Rosenfeld’ and ‘Rosenstein,’ it wasn’t inconsistent with opposition to anti-Semitism for people to point out that he was not in fact Jewish.” In any case, Frank has done wonders for the “image” of gay people by facing down the bigots….

Lee Atwater, incidentally, died horribly just a few years after that, amid rumors his brain cancer was AIDS-related.

There’s all kinds of conclusions could be drawn from this twisted little epic, but I’ll go with these:

(1) Yes, American politics have always been pretty ugly;

(2) Barney Frank is a OG gunslinger; and

(3) Sometimes we do make progress. Twenty-four years ago, just suggesting a politician might be gay was considered a political death threat; being gay still isn’t a net positive in all parts of the country, but it’s been significantly defanged as a threat, largely due to the hard work of gay activists and politicians (like Mr. Frank).


From the NYTimes:

On Jan. 28, 1948, a plane chartered by federal immigration officials left Oakland, Calif., carrying two pilots, a flight attendant, an immigration guard and 28 Mexican farmworkers. Some were in the United States legally as part of the federal Braceros guest-worker program; others had crossed the border without documents. All 28 were being returned to Mexico.

Eighty miles southwest of Fresno, road workers reported hearing what sounded like an explosion, only to look up and see the left wing shear off the Douglas DC-3 passing high above them. Nearly a dozen bodies were seen falling from a hole in the fuselage before the plane burst into flames and plummeted into a wooded canyon.

Everyone aboard was killed. The bodies of the four crew members were shipped to family members, but the remains of the 28 Mexicans were buried in a mass grave here, at the edge of the cemetery…

“Woody always believed in the power of invoking people’s names; he wrote many songs using names,” Nora Guthrie, a daughter of the folk singer, wrote in an e-mail. “Sometimes, songs leave behind questions which ultimately can, and will, be answered by someone whose heart is pulled into the mystery.”

In the case of “Deportee,” that person was Tim Z. Hernandez, 39, a writer and a son and grandson of Mexican farmworkers. In 2010, Mr. Hernandez came across several newspaper articles about the crash at a Fresno library while he was doing research for a novel.

“When I saw the newspaper stories, Woody Guthrie’s lyrics became real to me,” he said. “I thought, someone somewhere must have those names.”…

Berenice Guzman, a history teacher at Dinuba High School in nearby Dinuba, Calif., had never heard of the plane wreck, or the Woody Guthrie song, until this year. Captivated, she told her students the story. They organized a bake sale to help raise $14,000 for the headstone and memorial service.

“They connected right away because many of their parents are farm workers from Mexico,” Ms. Guzman said at the ceremony. “This is an agricultural community. For many of us here, the people in that crash could have been family.”

RIP, Artie Donovan, One of a Kind


This is really sad:

Art Donovan played pro football for 12 years. The rest of his life, he spent telling everyone about it.

Donovan, 89, who died Sunday of a respiratory ailment at Stella Maris Hospice, played and talked a great game. He was a Hall of Fame defensive tackle for the Baltimore Colts and an engaging raconteur at banquets and on TV talk shows. His cherublike face, adenoidal voice and side-splitting tales of yore captivated generations of viewers who never saw Donovan collar a quarterback or take down a runner.

“Artie made a career out of telling people everything that he’d done right — and wrong — in football,” said Ordell Braase, his teammate on the field and in the broadcast studio. “The diversity of his appeal was amazing. Everyone wanted to hug ‘Fatso,’ from young girls to little old ladies.”

Donovan died just before 8 p.m., surrounded by 15 to 20 family members, said his daughter, Kelly Donovan-Mazzulli.

“My mom [Dorothy] was with dad to his last breath, as she was determined to be,” she said.

Ten times, Donovan appeared on “Late Night with David Letterman,” where he spun yarns about his youth in the Bronx, his hitch in the Marines during World War II and his experiences during the sanguinary years of the National Football League, when the game was played by “oversized coal miners and West Texas psychopaths.”

Often, his stories were laced with self-deprecating humor and some choice four-letter words. Like beer, Spam and junk food.

I know I have mentioned how my mom grew up a couple blocks from Memorial Stadium, and was a die-hard Colts fan. Daddy (what she still calls my grandfather, George), used to have a radio on top of the tv in case the tv went out, and back then, more often than not, it would. Mom and Daddy met the Colts at the train station when they returned from the Greatest Game in ’58, and when we were kids, we listened to that game on vinyl a number of times. She still winces when she hears the word Mayflower. So now you know where I got the sports bug- it wasn’t from the gardening/cooking/wallpapering/landscape sire (and don’t get me wrong, thank FSM for those inherited traits- except the wallpapering. Do people even use wallpaper anymore outside the White House?).

Back to Artie- some of my favorite memories of him were from his local Baltimore show called Donovan, Braase, and friends. Mom’s childhood best friend still lived in Baltimore, and would send VHS tapes with a whole seasons worth of the show, and Seth, mom, and I would sit down and binge on them, watching multiple episodes in a sitting. Artie Donovan was seriously one of the funniest and best story tellers I’ve ever listened to, and you just knew he was exactly the same on tv as he was while he sat on the corner bar stool drinking beer and eating crabcakes and living, as always, large.

RIP, Jerry

He’d have been 71 today.

Bon Jovi is still touring. Fuck me.

And here is one for the expat Yinzers:


So funny. So true. And if you are like me, you’re negotiating all this with hands that are still greasy from an egg and sardine or a hot gabagool and cheese or hot Italian from Primanti’s because you were down in the strip at PennMac and Wholey’s and all the other awesome shops.

RIP, Helen Thomas

Dead at the age of 92.