Dick Durbin: Majority Whip or Democratic Whipping Boy
"A whipping boy was a young boy who was assigned to a young prince and was punished when the prince misbehaved or fell behind in his schooling."
I should preface this by saying that I have met and spoken with Dick Durbin on several occasions and seen him close up doing impressive political work publicly in huge crowds, behind the scenes in small rooms with important people, and privately and quietly with individual constituents other pols would quickly hand off to an aide after feigning being late for an urgent matter.
On one face-to-face occasion, when he could easily have blown smoke up my skirt and appeased me with equivocations and evasions, he stuck to the inconvenient truth (of course, he was right).
More importantly, I have found my Senator to be a consistent and forceful voice for Big-D Democratic ideals where others in his ranks triangulate, appease and backpedal on the most important values. The bitter disappointment of having Illinois’ other senate seat filled by the unctuous Mark Kirk was balanced by the knowledge that Durbin’s gravitas, well-articulated positions and status among his peers would cast a giant shadow over the diminutive toy soldier.
While Republicans generally rally the troops to portray Nancy Pelosi and even President Obama as the devils incarnate, when the chips are down and their hallucinations cease providing traction, it appears that their manual includes a play called from the cooling ashes of their latest self immolation that enlists Democrats to help sacrifice one of their own and join with them in hyena shreiks of ersatz outrage.
Eight years ago, when every Democrat should have been apoplectic about the casual way our nation approached the topic of torture, very few stood up to point out the shameful hypocrisy of our policies and even more shameful unwillingness to examine them. Here is what he said at one point. Read it carefully:
“If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime - Pol Pot or others - that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case.”
Even before he sat down, the wingnut screaming machine went into top gear, manufacturing panic over a top Democratic leader calling our brave American troops Nazis. Over and over, louder and louder, this poisonous morsel of slander was whipped up into a ten-course meal of vicious indignation. I listened carefully, day after day, hoping to hear one of Durbin’s colleagues step forward and denounce the sick twisting of his words, to point out that the topic was our tolerance for documented torture first and, secondly, its uncanny resemblance to historically reprehensible behavior we stand unified against.
But no such Democratic defense of a respected Senator was offered. Durbin was left to twist in the wind, painfully, publicly… until finally in a humiliating act of unnecessary contrition, he apologized.
Now, in the wake of the government shutdown fiasco, echoes of that past fill the air as the disgraced and disgraceful Republicans pull their tails from between their legs, rear up on their hind legs and bray again about something Senator Durbin said last weekend. In a Facebook post he wrote that a top House Republican leader told President Barack Obama, “I cannot even stand to look at you” during negotiations over the government shutdown.
Of course the Republicans denied it. And of course, the White House wasted no time denying it as well. And again, the Senator is left to twist slowly in the wind, although, so far, he has not fallen on his sword.
I don’t know what the reality behind the quote in question is, whether Durbin heard it himself, or accepted it as fact from a reliable source in his circle. I find it hard to believe that he alone heard the offensive statement or was the only one it was reported to, despite the absence of anyone stepping forward to corroborate. I find it harder to believe it is a fiction of his making.
As of now, Senator Durbin is standing by his statement, and whether it makes a difference or not, or whether anyone else in Washington does so, I stand by the senator.
Of Nervous Breakdowns, Kardashian Jokes and Free-range Pig Blood
Now that “Breaking Bad” is over, the best thing on TV is the “Parts Unknown" travel/food porn series by Anthony Bourdain. Set in unusual locales from Copenhagen to South Africa, from Detroit to Jerusalem, the mouth watering food journalism doesn’t ignore harsh political and social realities, or focus on tourist favorites.
The recently aired episode on Sicily stands out, not just because it is a fine example of spectacular food and its role in the local culture, but also because Bourdain classifies it as a personal failure (read the blog entry on the episode http://www.cnn.com/video/shows/anthony-bourdain-parts-unknown/season-2/sicily/index.html): “Failure has a smell. Of burnt synapses, of dick jokes and wet ashes. Why, why, why can’t I get Sicily right?”)
I disagree, as unlike any other food show I’ve ever seen, this includes a nervous breakdown, a dinner filmed in a drunken stupor, Kardashian jokes, a new cruel way to make his daughter cry, snuff footage of an on-camera Sicilian hit and shows, without shame, how the sausage — in this case, blood sausage — is really made. The narration is priceless and I’m quoting it extensively, as it can easily be missed with the primal part of your brain focusing on the spectacular images of food and cooking .
Although a previous trip to document Sicilian cuisine a decade ago proved as unsatisfying and phony as the tours of the “Godfather” landmarks that tourists flock to, Bourdain returns for another stab as part of his CNN series.
On the day of his birthday, promised a three hour diving trip to capture the best and freshest of the local delicacies, Bourdain and crew are instead anchored in a crowded harbor while squid and other creatures float by a diving suit clad Bourdain and the underwater camera. To his horror but not to his surprise, the scene is staged. His voiceover narration:
"Strangely everyone pretends to believe the hideous sham unfolding before our eyes, doing their best to ignore the blindingly obvious….
"Then they gave up and just dumped the whole bag of dead fish into the sea. At this point I begin desperately looking for signs of life, hoping that one of them would stir, become revived. I’m frantically swimming around the bottom littered with dead things looking for one that’s still twitching so can I hold it up to the camera and end this misery, but, no, my shame will be absolute.
"For some reason I feel something snap, and I slide quickly into a spiral of near hysterical depression. "Is this what it’s come to, I’m thinking, as another dead squid narrowly misses my head? Almost a decade later back in the same country, and I’m still desperately staging fishing scenes, seeding the oceans with supermarket seafood, complicit in a shameful, shameful incident of fakery?
"But there I was, bobbing listlessly in the water. Dead sea life sinking to the bottom all around me. You’ve got to be pretty immune to the world to not see some kind of obvious metaphor. "I’ve never had a nervous breakdown before, but I tell you from the bottom of my heart something fell apart down there, and it took a long, long time after the end of this damn episode to recover."
Scenes follow showing the fisherman preparing the delicacies raw right next to the water, sharing tidbits with charming local children.
"You’ll notice, I’m not there. I’m sitting in a nearby cafe pounding one Negrone after in a smoldering miserable rage.
"Our evening meal will be at Ture’s place, which is just up the hill in Turmina, but by the time dinner rolls around, I’m ripped to the — did I mention it’s my birthday? I’ve had three hours of bobbing around on a pitching boat, a couple more hours getting looped, two more hours lying on the sidewalk outside the restaurant while the crew hangs lights so I’m gone, baby, gone. I don’t remember any of this. Any of it….
"I must have slumped back to bed somehow, collapsed in a sodden drunken heap of self-loathing. I would ordinarily have turned on the porn channel and maybe loaded up on prescription meds. But there’s no TV at the Agriturismo."
The episode includes plenty of mouthwatering dishes, beautiful landscapes, and interesting local characters including an American expat woman active in the local food scene for five decades and part of the brave movement to create a coalition of food businesses that stand up to the rampant Mafia extortion.
And a visit to a local provider of the freshest, most succulent horse meat.
"Let’s put it this way. When my daughter asks me for a pony, I’m bringing her here, pointing at that grill and saying here is your pony."
Then there’s the segment on free-range pork:
"Parco delle Madonie is a national park and within that is this free range pig farm. They breed these special heritage pigs here, the black boar of Nedbrodi. A combination of wild Sicilian boar and domesticated swine thought to have been brought here from Spain long ago, this breed of pig is raising the profile of the pig here.
"With any good-tasting high-quality pig, the secret is largely what were they fed? How did they live? Were they happy?
"A poorly fed pig who lived his life in squalor, stress and fear makes for bad pork. This is why we should treat animals well, not just because that’s the nice thing to do, but because it makes them provably more delicious….
"I like pigs. Not to hang out with, to eat. I don’t have a tattoo of a pig or anything, but I like them fine, and when given the opportunity to shoot one in the brain or see one shot in the brain so that I may suck on its entrails and other parts, I’m down. That’s what is called cheering me up from some manic depression.
"Bang, and this pig is like Pauly, you won’t see him no more. Even with the brain dead, the heart still goes on beating, sort of, like, pick a Kardashian. "
CNN reruns episodes at odd hour all through the week, and they are also available on On Demand.