Thank You to The Public

The Public, a Buffalo, New York, alternative newspaper and web site with a circulation of 35,000, published my article about José Coyote Pérez, an immigrant laborer and labor activist in upstate New York, who was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), earlier today.

The article, with the headline “Labor Activist Detained by ICE,” which is a far superior headline to the one that I slapped on it in a rush, appears here: “Labor Activist Detained by ICE.”
Read More

Advertisements

Jimmy Breslin Is Not Finished

About a dozen years ago, his columns began to be the sort of column that one’s editors classify as “occasional,” the sort written on the death of an acquaintance or because the writer needs to release a memory so it can release him.

In November 2004, he quit abruptly, quit writing his regular column, quit in the headline, which read in full: “I’m Right—Again. So I Quit. Beautiful.” Jimmy Breslin’s final column for New York Newsday on November 2, 2004, predicted a John Kerry victory in the U.S. Presidential election that day and closed with the image of him going to bed early so he can “rise in the darkness and pursue immediately an exciting, overdue project.” Thus, since he considered himself to be otherwise occupied, he was through with writing a column and he ended with, “Thanks for the use of the hall.”

He was 74. He had earned the right. Almost six decades in the newspaper business? He wrote for almost every newspaper and helped start New York magazine. He won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. He had earned to right to quit with the newspaper running banner headlines, a week-long countdown to his final goodbye column, and a special section devoted to his work, but he chose to simply announce in a column that there would not be another one, that the space was now available for someone else.

On Sunday, The Daily Beast published the first new work from Jimmy Breslin in more than a decade, a 2500-word work of what is being called “autobiographical fiction” entitled “Trumpet Lessons, Life Lessons.” The online magazine has been re-publishing classic Breslin columns for the last several years; John Avlon, the editor-in-chief, is a Breslin fan.
Read More

Step by Step

Six years today …

* * * *
Every alcoholic in recovery has a collection of anecdotes that can be simultaneously heartbreaking, outrageous, and hilarious. Perhaps they are hilarious only to fellow alcoholics; perhaps they can not even be listened to by outsiders. For an outsider, most alcoholic anecdotes may as well conclude with the same dark punchline, an interchangeable rubber-stamped ending: “And then I got away with it again.” Or, “I didn’t die that time, either.” And then comes the next hair-raising—or eyebrow-raising—tale.

Every alcoholic in recovery is living a story with a weird ending, if they remain in recovery. It is that two-word pair there, “in recovery,” that provides the surprise, the weirdness, a period of life as surprising to behold as some of the antics, the many bizarre actions and activities and inactions and inactivities that were surprising for outsiders to watch unfold in the previous life.
Read More

Statistics and Other Things

Our newspaper’s weekly circulation was a closely guarded exaggeration. The circulation manager knew the number, the editorial department knew it, the advertising manager knew it. The newspaper’s circulation was about 2000 copies per week. And now you know it, too.

The pliability of the words “circulation,” “copies,” “newspaper,” and “week” was tested with every ad sales phone call. This is because if we told an advertiser the (correct) 2000-per-week number, that advertiser might have asked us to pay them for the honor of placing their ads; thus, our ad sales manager gave them a number 10 times larger. More often than not, they were told that over 20,000 pairs of eyes “saw” any given issue of the newspaper. Actually, in a laudable effort at a specificity that would grant our numbers legitimacy, they were given a figure of “21,000 readers.”
Read More

An Untold Story

“We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over.”—James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.

Boswell’s “Life of Johnson” was published in 1791, a little more than six years after Johnson’s death. It is not a biography as readers may think of a biography: the recounting of incidents from a life of action. The poet W.H. Auden said that writers are “makers, not doers” and thus he, Auden, was not going to write his memoirs. We need biographies of the doers in order to learn what was happening behind the scenes, how close the men of action came to disaster and saved their (and sometimes, our) day, he suggested. Johnson’s life was the life of a man of letters, a life spent writing plays, compiling the first major English dictionary, compiling an edition of Shakespeare’s plays, writing weekly columns on every topic his extraordinary mind could entertain. He was a maker.
Read More

#FreeShawkan

So far in 2015, we have seen journalists beheaded with machetes, a blogger whipped with a cane as an official judicial punishment for his writing, editorial cartoonists gunned down in their office, bloggers hacked to death in Bangladesh, more than 20 journalists detained and even convicted and jailed in Egypt, and journalists detained in America for covering the racism prevalent in almost every official part of our system. Not a great year.

In August, a judge reaffirmed a guilty verdict against three al-Jazeera English journalists. Last month, President al-Sisi pardoned the journalists as a part of the annual Eid holiday tradition of leaders granting pardons. The current regime in Egypt does not much like journalists, and it is estimated that some two dozen writers and photographers are in prison in that country, having been arrested for doing their jobs. Usually, they are charged with “spying,” but more often than not they are detained for months or even years before they even hear why they were arrested or what charges they face.

Mahmoud Abu Zeid is a photojournalist whose work you may very well have seen, as his photographs have appeared in Time magazine and some of them were syndicated by Corbis. (One appears below the fold.) He covered the protests in Tahrir Square and the trial of former president Hosni Mubarak. His professional name is Shawkan. As of today, November 30, 2015, he has spent 838 days in pre-trial detention. His first court session is due to take place on December 12, but his lawyer reports to Amnesty International that he has yet to see Shawkan’s case file. Under Egyptian law, there is a two-year cap on pre-trial detention; 794 days is longer than two years.
Read More

A Farce in Egypt

The judge “bellowed” the verdict against the three journalists today, according to reports. He announced that the three were found guilty and sentenced them to three years in jail. Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed, and Peter Greste already spent more than 400 days in prison in Egypt after being arrested for “spreading false news” while working for al-Jazeera English.

The three have already been convicted, retried, acquitted, retried again. Greste, an Australian, was deported last year.

Judge Hassan Farid declared today that the court had determined that the defendants are not journalists as they are not members of Egypt’s “Journalists Syndicate,” nor had they registered with a national agency that grants foreign reporters permits to work in the country. Thus, since they are not officially journalists, they were working against the government. They had been convicted in a first trial in 2014, sentenced to seven years in prison each, retried, acquitted, retried again, and convicted again today. Another retrial is being worked on but the earliest it can start is 2016.
Read More

A Long Road

Every alcoholic in recovery has a collection of anecdotes that can be simultaneously heartbreaking, outrageous, and hilarious. Perhaps they are hilarious only to fellow alcoholics; perhaps they can not even be listened to by outsiders. For an outsider, most alcoholic anecdotes may as well conclude with the same dark punchline, an interchangeable rubber-stamped ending: “And then I got away with it again.” Or, “I didn’t die that time, either.” And then comes the next hair-raising—or eyebrow-raising—tale.

Every alcoholic in recovery is living a story with a weird ending, if they remain in recovery. It is that two-word pair there, “in recovery,” that provides the surprise, the weirdness, a period of life as surprising to behold as some of the antics, the many bizarre actions and activities and inactions and inactivities that were surprising for outsiders to watch unfold in the previous life.
Read More