Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for August 2011

Just reviewed Jennifer Haymore’s “A Season of Seduction” for SBR

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Folks, I wanted a great deal more than I got out of Jennifer Haymore’s “A Season of Seduction.”  Maybe it’s that there are a great many more writers who’ve worked this sort of premise better, including Sherry Thomas and Rosemary Edghill — I know better writing exists, and better books, and this one just did not measure up.

Anyway, here’s the link to tonight’s review at SBR:

http://shinybookreview.wordpress.com/2011/08/31/jennifer-haymores-a-season-of-seduction-is-not-nearly-seductive-enough/

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 30, 2011 at 11:42 pm

Posted in Book reviews

Baseball, Mike Flanagan, and Depression

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It’s now been a week since former pitcher Mike Flanagan’s death rocked the world of major league baseball.  It’s been six days since Flanagan’s death was ruled a suicide.  And it’s taken me all this time to try, somehow, to come to terms with Flanagan’s death enough to discuss it because I think it’s important.

Flanagan lived an interesting, fulfilling life, and was a bright man with a biting wit and a winning personality to go along with his substantial athletic gifts; all you have to do to understand this is to read Washington Post baseball writer Thomas Boswell’s tribute to him, or perhaps former Washington Post baseball writer Jane Leavy’s piece about how unusual Flanagan was because he wasn’t self-focused as many athletes are, or better yet, Kevin Cowherd’s assessment in the Baltimore Sun (reprinted by the Boston Herald, where I found it) on how the Orioles did their best to cope in their first game back (Friday night) after Flanagan’s suicide.  All of these are essential reading if you want to know who Flanagan was, much less how big a hole his passing has left in its wake.

But to this long-time Brewers fan, the best way I have to remember Flanagan is to remember how good a pitcher he was.  How strong a competitor he was.  How indomitable his spirit seemed while he was out on the mound, and how impressive Flanagan was even in defeat (which was a rare thing as the Brewers seemingly never got the better of him).

But baseball, as important as it was to Flanagan, wasn’t the sum total of his life.  Flanagan was a husband, a father, a friend, a mentor, and many other good things in a life that spanned fifty-nine years; that he left behind three daughters, a wife, many close friends and a baseball community behind who will miss him greatly is heartbreaking.

Depression is an illness that knows no boundaries; it can strike anyone at any time.  Baseball players are far from immune, and baseball itself should have realized this quite some time ago as it’s been over fifty years since Jimmy Piersall wrote FEAR STRIKES OUT, the story of Piersall’s struggles with mental illness and how he overcame them to play professional baseball with the Boston Red Sox and other teams.  And yet despite the publication of Piersall’s important book, it seems like baseball would rather not admit problems like Piersall’s — or Flanagan’s — exist.

Flanagan’s depression and suicide is not an isolated incident by any means, as there have been a number of players suffering depression in recent years.  Joey Votto, famously, had to make a statement regarding his father’s death and subsequent severe depressionKen Griffey, Jr., once tried to commit suicide; fortunately, he didn’t succeed.  On the Milwaukee Brewers, my favorite team, there are two players — both pitchers — who have problems often linked to depression or anxiety.  These are Zack Greinke, who has SAD, an anxiety disorder treated by medication, and Zach Braddock, who has a severe sleep disorder that may well have caused some depression — quite understandably, to be sure — and who is now on the disabled list.

So this problem is not unknown here in Milwaukee; in actuality, we should be among the cities who understand this issue the most because two of our players are battling these problems.

Yet it disturbs me that so little has been said in the Milwaukee area regarding the death of Flanagan, who was a superb pitcher in his time and used to give the Brewers fits (this, of course, was when the Brewers were still in the American League).  Bob Uecker discussed the rain-out of games due to Hurricane Irene and made an off-handed remark after finding out that the Orioles didn’t want to schedule a double-header on Friday that Baltimore probably “didn’t want to lose out on gate receipts” in conversation with Cory Provis on the Brewers Radio Network last Friday night.  But Uecker had to know that the real reason the Orioles didn’t want to play a double-header that evening is because the team was grieving and in shock as Flanagan had been one of the Orioles’ television broadcasters at the time of his death, and had been heavily identified with the whole Orioles franchise as he’d been a player, coach, assistant general manager, and member of the television broadcast team.   And Friday’s game between the Orioles and Yankees was the very first one since Flanagan’s death had been ruled a suicide; tributes to Flanagan, including a moment of silence and a retrospective of Flanagan’s service to baseball and the Orioles franchise in particular, abounded during Friday night’s game as Cowherd’s article, referenced above, clearly shows.

Lest you think that it’s only the Brewers radio broadcast team that seemingly would rather avoid the whole subject of Mike Flanagan, the Brewers television broadcast team of Brian Anderson and Bill Schroeder also hasn’t said anything at all regarding Flanagan to the best of my knowledge.   The only possibly reasoning that I’ve come up with as to why Anderson and Schroeder would be silent is that due to the Brewers impressive record and season (in the last 32 games, the Brewers are 27-5, one of the best stretches in their history, and are currently 10.5 games ahead of their nearest National League Central Division rival, the St. Louis Cardinals) that talking about Flanagan would be “a downer” or perhaps even irrelevant despite the fact that Schroeder was a catcher for the Brewers years ago and had to bat, several times, against Flanagan.

The lack of discussion regarding Flanagan is disturbing, because depression is a part of life.  Many of us have light bouts with it from time to time, and we pull out of it; some have heavier bouts, get medication, and are eventually able to pull out of it.  But some, sadly, cannot pull out of it no matter how hard they try, with Flanagan obviously belonging to this last list along with 49 other baseball players known to have taken their own lives.

How I wish baseball weren’t so close-mouthed regarding those who suffer with depression.  How I wish that baseball would do what Leavy suggested:

Flanagan’s suicide and that of former Yankee pitcher Hideki Irabu after the spotlight passed them by, that of Denver Bronco’s receiver Kenny McKinley and LPGA golfer Erica Blasberg after suffering debilitating injuries, and that of former Pro Bowl safety Dave Duerson, who shot himself in the chest so his brain could be studied for evidence of trauma-induced disease — which was found to be ample — cry out for the availability of on-going psychological services for professional athletes and for a reexamination of the fallacious assumptions we make as a result of their sturdy professional lives.

I agree with Ms. Leavy, and wish that baseball along with all professional sports would come out of the “dark ages” and realize that depression is not a dirty word, nor one to be shunned.  Those with the courage to admit they have a problem and get help for it should be appreciated, rather than being pushed to the side or ignored.

Considering that major league baseball has known since 1957, if not before, that some of its players have struggled with mental illness, anxiety, depression, and now sleep disorders (which often have a depressive component mixed in), it’s long past time that baseball did something to attempt to head future tragedies like Flanagan’s off at the pass.  And if they decide to actually do something about all this, that would be the best memorial to Flanagan’s life that this baseball fan could possibly imagine.

What to do when a Publishing Relationship Ends

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Why is it that most writers plan for the beginning of a publishing relationship, but never plan for the end?

I know, I know.  The end of any relationship, in or out of publishing, is not what most people prefer to dwell upon because it’s depressing.  The end of any relationship means the end of any current possibilities, and that’s sad and extremely difficult for most human beings to contemplate.

That being said, in the current world we live in, we need to plan how to deal with failure graciously.  (Not that every end to every publishing relationship means you’ve failed, mind you; just that it’s going to feel like failure, especially when you know you’ve tried everything in your power to make a publishing enterprise work.)  We need to learn how to come to terms with setbacks, be they minor or major, and learn to deal with them as graciously as possible.

See, I look at the publishing business as a long-term thing that, in its own way, is a microcosm of life.  We’re going to have good days and bad.  The good days are usually easy to handle; it’s the tough ones we must learn from as best we can.

What I do when a publishing relationship has ended is to acknowledge it, make some sort of announcement to those who need to know about it, and am otherwise as polite as humanly possible.  My thoughts, which are greatly influenced by those of my late husband Michael in this regard, are these: who knows if I’ll be working with this person/these people in the future?  So why be obnoxious now when there’s really no need for it?

Yes, we need to acknowledge when we’re upset or frustrated.  I’ve never advocated “sitting on” any emotion, as in my experience that tends to fester and make things worse later on.  But we don’t need to go out of our way burning bridges this way and that, either . . . in fact, if we can avoid burning bridges, that’s probably the best way to handle things.

All that being said, it’s sad when anything you’ve spent a great deal of time and effort on goes for naught; I’ve had this happen a few times this past year, and the only thing that can be done is this: chalk it up to experience, be as polite as possible, and move on.

This is very hard to do, granted.  But if you can do it, others will notice and appreciate the professionalism of your attitude, which may lead you to further and better work in the future.

So, to sum up, here’s the three things you need to do when a publishing relationship of any sort ends:

1) Come to terms with it and write a brief, polite, professional note saying you’re sorry things have come to this pass (whatever it is), and that you’ve appreciated working with whomever.  Also, if you can bring yourself to it, wish the person (or people) well in the future as this costs you nothing.

2) Acknowledge it to those who need to know in a brief, polite and professional note.  (Keep your feelings about it, as much as possible, to yourself.)

3) Allow yourself to grieve the loss, because it is a loss — give yourself an hour, or even half a day if you must, to be upset over it.  Then, do your best to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move on.

Most importantly, do your best not to bear a grudge.  Remember that we’re all human, we’re all fallible, and there’s no need to spread nastiness.  You don’t need to put up with bad treatment, mind you; far from it.  Just try to rise above it if you can while knowing that it’s possible that someday you might work with this person (or these people) again.  And if that opportunity arises, you want to be able to work with whomever without undue rancor if at all possible.

You need to think long-term at a time when your inner self is screaming, “No!” at the top of its lungs.  This isn’t easy, but if you can do it, it’ll help you in the long run.**

——–

** Michael’s name for this was the “better in sorrow than in anger” method.  Try it.  It works.

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 29, 2011 at 4:33 pm

Chris Capuano, now a Met, pitches a 2-hit shutout

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Former Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Chris Capuano, now 33 years of age, pitched a 2-hit shutout in New York for his new team, the New York Mets, last night.  Capuano did this knowing full well that Hurricane Irene was on its way and won easily, 6-0, against the Atlanta Braves.

As the story from the New York Times said: 

While the storm commanded headlines, Capuano’s superb performance got attention at Citi Field. He threw a two-hit shutout, striking out a career-high 13 and walking none.

“I was able to get ahead and just finish some guys off,” Capuano said. “It just felt really good.”

The Times story also pointed out that Capuano did not fret about the weather before Friday evening’s game as many of his teammates (quite understandably) did.  Capuano’s serenity paid off, as he took a no-hit bid into the 5th inning before Dan Uggla got the first hit off Capuano, a single.

Here’s a bit more from the story:

Capuano threw at least 65 percent of his pitches for strikes in all but three innings, according to data from the Web site pitch f/x. He effectively used his changeup, which generated swinging strikes more than 25 percent of the time.

Capuano said his trust in catcher Josh Thole was an important element of his outing.

“I took a little different mental approach tonight,” said Capuano, who improved to 10-11. “I really tried not to shake off too much and just stayed in a good rhythm. I let Josh call the game back there, and it worked out.”

This was by far the best game Capuano has pitched since his return to the big leagues last year for the Brewers.

As I said last year when “Cappy” returned to the Brewers after rehabilitation from a second “Tommy John” surgery, I knew it was only a matter of time before he’d regain his complete pitching form.  But now, it looks like he’s done so, and the Mets are the beneficiaries of taking a chance on him.

“Cappy,” when he’s on, pitches lights-out in the same way future Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux used to (Maddux, like “Cappy,” never had blazing speed; he instead had pinpoint control).  He’s also one of the most professional, put-together ballplayers around, as shown by going out the night before he knew a huge hurricane was on the way that was about to postpone the rest of the baseball series and pitch a two-hit, complete game shutout.

Note that ESPN.com called Capuano’s performance last night “one of the best games in (Mets) franchise history.”  And on that article page is a link to last night’s “Baseball Tonight” show on ESPN where the commentators talk about how good it is when a veteran like Capuano can “persevere” through two major arm surgeries, which just goes to show you how important persistence — along with faith and belief in yourself — can be in overcoming nearly any obstacle.

The only odd thing about Capuano’s game last night from my perspective (being a long-time observer of his pitching style) is that “Cappy” struck out thirteen guys.  (Not walking anyone, well, that’s part of “Cappy’s” game.)  Normally, “Cappy” is a pitcher who induces a lot of ground-ball outs and might strike out one or two guys, not thirteen.  Even in “Cappy’s” best season, 2005, where he was 18-12 for the Brewers, he didn’t come close to doing anything like this.

As Chris Capuano’s USA Today fantasy baseball page put it (emphasis added):

Chris Capuano had the start of a lifetime on Friday, striking out a career-high 13 in a two-hit shutout of the Braves in New York.

The outing was one of the best by any pitcher in baseball this season.

Well done, “Cappy!”

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 27, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Just reviewed Anjali Banerjee’s “Haunting Jasmine” for SBR — Plus More Book Review Stuff

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Before I forget, here’s the link to today’s review:

http://shinybookreview.wordpress.com/2011/08/24/anjali-banerjees-haunting-jasmine-paranormal-romance-with-a-twis/

Now, as to the rest of the “book review stuff” I promised.

I started following author Victoria Strauss on Twitter and one of the articles she Tweeted (or possibly re-Tweeted as I now can’t find it) talked about how some places are paying people a fee, per review, in order to give a place a five star review.  An undeserved five star review, at that — the highest possible rating for many rating scales — which skews the curve and makes a business that employs this practice seem to be a little better than they really are until people catch on that many of the highest reviews are out-and-out frauds.

I quickly did a Web search and put in “pay for reviews.”  I saw many links at Craigslist and other places (including Jobs.com) promoting this despicable practice.  Which is why I wanted to discuss it tonight.

I review books because I enjoy reading and I enjoy reviewing what I read.  I do my best to give the fairest review I possibly can.  I don’t give a ton of negative reviews, but I have been known to give two star reviews and have even given a one star review to a major author (Mercedes Lackey) once because I felt she could do much better and that she also should’ve known better because by that time she’d published at least fifteen solo novels and certainly knew her art and craft.  (Mind you, this is where the highest review possible is a five-star review.)

I also, occasionally, have re-reviewed something when I felt I didn’t give someone a fair shake; I’ve discussed that here on my blog before.  I don’t do this often, but if I feel I’ve made a mistake, or that there were other things that I should’ve known but somehow didn’t that clearly would’ve changed my review, I’m glad to correct the record as best I’m able.

But I do that because I’m honest, and because I like books, not because anyone is paying me to give ’em a better review.

Look.  The only thing a reviewer should accept from a place like Baen Books or Tor Books or whatever publisher is a free copy of the book (in dead-tree or e-book form).  That’s it — that’s the only gratuity any reviewer worth his or her salt should accept — because if reviewers start accepting money from a publisher (or from a travel company, which is one of the places hiring for the fraudulent reviews) in order to review something, that throws the entirety of their reviews into question.  And by extension, it makes every reviewer — including the poor but honest ones, like me — look bad.

I love books, and I don’t enjoy giving bad reviews to anyone.  But I’ll do it — I’ve done it with Debbie Macomber, one of my favorite romance authors, in my review for “Hannah’s List” at SBR.  I’ve done it at Amazon.com in a review for one of Ursula K. LeGuin’s books (two stars).  I’ve done it at Amazon.com in a review for one of Misty Lackey’s books as previously mentioned, and Lackey is one of the few authors I’ll go out of my way to buy in hardcover.

The reason I do it is because if I don’t like a book, I had better say so, and say why I don’t like it.   This is the right thing to do, and it’s the only fair thing to do, even if you occasionally tick off one of your favorite authors in the process.

So if you’re thinking about selling your skills to write a fake review, please take another look at this and realize it’s a scam.  Yes, you’ll get paid something to do it.  But you’ll also be selling something that’s far more worthy than any amount of money — your good name and reputation.

———-

Additional note — there are still some places out there, like the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Washington Post, who pay book reviewers for their time and trouble.  I am all in favor of paying reviewers when it’s done by an independent newspaper or online source.  But that in no way, shape or form allows for people to sell fraudulent reviews to Web sites.

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 24, 2011 at 3:07 pm

Posted in Book reviews

Periodic State of the Elfyverse

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Folks, it’s been a while, so it’s time for another “state of the Elfyverse” blog.

What’s going on with the Elfyverse right now is that I’m stalled in part 47 of AN ELFY ABROAD (the sequel to ELFY, which still hasn’t found a home).  I have figured out an alternate beginning to ELFY which may help me find an agent who’ll understand it and help me find a publisher, but I haven’t yet managed to get it down in a way that makes any more sense than what I already have.  (“May” being the operative word, of course.)  And I managed to get a few thousand words into the ELFY prequel, KEISHA’S VOW . . . mind you, KEISHA’S is a big-time prequel as it’s set in 1954 and ELFY is present-day.  (The dead characters in ELFY are alive and well in KEISHA’S, and it explains in part — or should, once completed — why one of the ELFY characters is such a mucked-up mess.)

Things get a bit more problematic when I start trying to fix an Elfyverse short story “Boys Night In,” as so far I’ve had comments like, “The dialogue makes no sense.”  “They get into this way too easily.”  “What’s the point of this again?” and so on.  (I did get high marks for humor from one test reader.  So I’m still doing something right.)  So that story is in need of extensive revision, perhaps to the degree Carolyn See recommends in her book MAKING A LITERARY LIFE, complete with the wine, the red pen, and more wine.

The good news is that I’m still hard after it; the bad news is that when I get stalled in a chapter (as I am in part 47 of EA) I just sit there until I figure out whatever’s bothering me.  This is a far different process than what I had while Michael was alive, as we were both writing the story then and talking things out with him — always an interested audience, even when I wasn’t writing an Elfyverse story of any kind — made big messes like this one get solved a little faster.  Or in this case, a lot faster as I’ve been stuck in the same place for at least three weeks.

Some of my friends who are authors write different things — say, a romance instead of a Western, or a hard SF story instead of a mystery — to break a hard block like this one.  I’ve tried that in the past and for whatever reason, unless I have a really good idea in a different genre that takes off, it just doesn’t work for me.  Whatever it is in my backbrain has to take its own, sweet time toward resolving itself, and then and only then can I get on with the business of writing.

While I’m doing all that, I continue to edit.  And, of course, I comment, I blog when the mood strikes me (or a really big story hits that I know I can’t pass on no matter how blocked I feel at the time), and I just let things play out as they will.

See, the best thing we can do when we’re stalled on a project is to continue to have faith in ourselves.  We’ve already written X words (in my case, probably well over 600,000 in the past seven years, and who knows how many before then?  Many, many, many.), and we’re going to write more, so why fret it?

Or, as Michael used to tell me, “If you can’t write today, you will write tomorrow.  And if you’re too ill to write tomorrow, you’ll write three times as much the next day.”  (He knew me very well, and he was always right about such things.)

The upshot is, it’s pointless to fret, even though it’s very human that we do so . . . and sometimes, the best “medicine” with a story is to completely get away from it (perhaps by what my other writer-friends have suggested by writing something completely different, or perhaps a change of scenery or a vacation away from the MSS) so you can come back at it afresh.

I’m doing my best to listen to Michael’s advice, as it was always good, and try to be patient with myself.  I’ve got a better shot that way at breaking the block in part 47, and then, once that’s gone, working on part 48 and winding up the first draft of EA, however many more chapters that’s going to be.  (I estimate seven.  But who really knows?)  Once I’ve done that — completely managed to get the whole EA story out of my head and onto the page — then I have a better shot at fixing “Boys Night In” and perhaps writing an alternate opening to ELFY that might increase its chances of finding an agent or publisher who’ll love it and can’t live without it.

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 22, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Tonight’s SBR review: Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Bright-Sided”

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Folks, you need to read Barbara Ehrenreich’s BRIGHT-SIDED.  You need to read it right now, then come back and talk with me — because this is the most honest take on what Ehrenreich calls “the cult of positive thinking” I’ve ever seen.

Here’s my review, which I finished about fifteen minutes ago at SBR:

http://shinybookreview.wordpress.com/2011/08/20/barbara-ehrenreichs-bright-sided-a-curmudgeons-frustration-with-the-cult-of-positive-thinking/

I hope to have more thoughts about this astonishingly relevant book tomorrow, but for now, all I can say is, “Brava, Ms. Ehrenreich!”

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 20, 2011 at 11:12 pm

Posted in Book reviews

Robin Vos, R-Rochester, Wants to Limit Recall Elections Rather than Push Job Creation

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And here I thought I’d said all I possibly could about the need for Wisconsin recalls, when wouldn’t you know it?  There’s something new to be said due to Wisconsin Assemblyman Robin Vos, R-Rochester, as he wants to limit recall elections.  Vos calls this initiative “recall the recall elections.”

But why is he more worried about this than job creation, you ask?

You see, Vos is a far-right Republican who started saying in public only after two Republican state Senators were recalled from office and replaced by Democrats that the Wisconsin state constitution needs to be amended.  His new bill, which probably will pass the Republican-controlled Assembly and possibly pass the Republican-controlled Senate, would limit recalls to petitioners who “give a specific reason” like malfeasance in office or an actual criminal conviction — and that’s just wrong, especially considering Vos didn’t start making an issue of this until after Republicans Randy Hopper and Dan Kapanke were successfully recalled and replaced on August 9, 2011.

As state Assemblyman Cory Mason (D-Racine) said in the Racine Journal-Times article on 8/10/2011 (note that date, please, as it’s one day after Hopper and Kapanke were recalled and replaced):

“This is the most self-serving piece of legislation we’ve seen so far this session,” said Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine.

I agree completely.

Then, Mason went on to say that:

the right to recall state elected officials is a constitutional guarantee and Vos is proposing to limit that.

“I understand the motivation behind it,” Mason said. “But it seems more about keeping a Republican majority than protecting Wisconsin citizens’ constitutional rights.”

Vos pointed out in the above-quoted article from the Racine Journal-Times that an amendment to the state Constitution requires two separate, successful votes in the state Legislature, then the voters of Wisconsin will get the opportunity to vote the amendment up or down.  But a recent poll from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Survey Center pointed out that 78% of Wisconsinites surveyed — an overwhelming majority — believed that recalls are a good thing, while 50% — half the electorate surveyed — believe that the then-current recalls of Wisconsin state Senators made them feel better about Wisconsin politics.  Which would surely make getting the public to throw out recalls as a way to remove a legislator much less likely, now, wouldn’t it?

State Assembly minority leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) had this to say about Vos’s proposed amendment:

“On Tuesday we saw two Republicans who ran on a message of creating jobs, yet spent a session pursuing an anti-middle class agenda, being removed from office by the voters who felt betrayed by their actions. The results of the election should serve notice to all politicians that they cannot ignore the will of the people.
“Floating this constitutional amendment the day after successful recall elections that held legislators accountable appears to indicate that Republicans are frightened that future actions to hold them accountable will also be successful.
“We must encourage and build on the amazing outpouring of public involvement in democracy that we have seen this year. The people of Wisconsin deserve to know that we are listening to them and responding to their concerns.”

Then Barca reinforced the whole “job-creation” issue with this comment, also from the WisPolitics.com article quoted above:

“The first bipartisan bill should address the vital issues of job creation, job training and improving public education in Wisconsin.”

And Barca is far from alone.  Overwhelmingly, the American people as a whole (not just in Wisconsin) want politicians on both sides of the aisle to concentrate on jobs as this recent poll from the New York Times and CBS News shows.  As this poll pointed out, people are extremely frustrated with the United States Congress and a record 82% of people disapprove of them because most of the folks who are “on the ground” in America know that creating jobs is the only way to cut the budget deficit in the long run.  It’s also the only way to have a healthy, prosperous society, as the recent poll said: by a ratio of two to one, more Americans believe that job creation, not deficit reduction, is what American politicians should be talking about.

So as you see, it’s not just in Wisconsin that joblessness is an issue.  Even brothers of members of Congress are not immune, as recent comments by Representative Maxine Waters (D-California) and the actions of Republican Rep. Allen West (R-Florida) have shown.  West sent his brother to a job fair in Atlanta, and he’s admitted doing so in an e-mail response from his office to Ed Schultz’s “The Ed Show” on MSNBC.  This should be a link to the segment on Ed’s show last night that discusses the whole issue; note that West is the only Republican member of the Congressional Black Caucus, which supported a job fair in Atlanta, Georgia, yesterday.

But job fairs and unemployed people are not found only in Atlanta, which leads me back to to Governor Walker and Wisconsin, as the July unemployment numbers in Wisconsin went up to a seasonally-adjusted 7.8%.  Some of this may be due to the fact that many people finally received unemployment after federal Extended Benefits were accepted earlier this month by the Wisconsin Republicans in the state Legislature after being out of benefits since April 16, 2011.  (The Democrats had wanted to approve the benefits as soon as they were aware they were available, probably back in June of this year, but as the Republicans control both halves of the Legislature, the Ds had no power to bring a bill to the floor.)

Why is this noteworthy?  Well, only a month ago, Walker was all over the news crediting the “Wisconsin Miracle” as in June there had been a net increase in job creation, even though Media Matters debunked this — so the fact that the July numbers were bad just underscored how dubious the previous claims were.

I don’t know what the answers are.  But I do know that focusing on limiting recalls in Wisconsin is not the way to create any jobs.  Because the only way to “limit recalls” in the future is simply this: legislators from both parties need to be responsive to their constituents, including focusing on job creation rather than stupid and petty crap, rather than insist they’re right until they’re blue in the face no matter how many people tell them they’re wrong.

If Walker was a truly gifted politician, he’d realize this and start dialing his rhetoric — and his actions — way, way back in order to avoid his potential recall.  While the Wisconsin Rs should distance themselves from Vos’s bill as most of us in Wisconsin know that the Rs also pursued recalls of Democratic Senators — they just didn’t manage to get any of them out.  This means that any vote on “recalling the recall elections” will look extremely hypocritical at best, which will make every single member of the Assembly who votes for this vulnerable to being voted out in November 2012.

But my guess is that most of the Wisconsin Rs, including Walker and Vos, will continue to insist they have a “mandate” and that they’re right, until they’re all voted out by a disgusted Wisconsin electorate.

Recalls, part 3 (the end, for now) — Wirch and Holperin Retain their Seats

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Folks, the Wisconsin “recall summer” came to an end last night, with incumbent Democratic Senators Bob Wirch and Jim Holperin** retaining their seats, both in comfortable fashion.  These two recall elections were the last of nine recalls that were scheduled between July and August, and the final standings were that seven incumbents won — three Democratic incumbents (all three of them; the third was Dave Hansen, who crushed his opponent on July 19) and four Republican incumbents — and two challengers won, Democratic Assemblywoman Jennifer Shilling in Lacrosse and Oshkosh’s former deputy mayor Jessica King, also a Democrat.

That means that none of the “Wisconsin 14” Democrats lost their seats over their actions of leaving the state in February in order to protest Governor Scott Walker’s “budget repair bill” which attempted to strip public employee union members of their rights.   Two of the six Republicans who were recalled for voting in lockstep with Scott Walker and the Fitzgerald Brothers (Jeff, the Speaker of the Assembly, and his brother Scott, Senate Majority leader) regarding the “budget repair bill” and many other controversial issues, including taking $800 million out of Wisconsin’s public education budget, ended up losing their seats (the ousted Republicans being Dan Kapanke of LaCrosse and Randy Hopper of Fond du Lac).

Overall, what the recall season proved is that an incumbent Senator on either side, in general, has a serious edge over a challenger regardless of the nature of the dispute that has brought him (or her) to be recalled and have to stand for election once again.  The recall summer has also proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that Wisconsin remains a 50/50 state — a state that neither Democrats nor Republicans can say solidly is behind their policies — which you’d think would make Wisconsin stronger rather than weaker in the days and weeks to come.

However, the reason I say that the recalls have ended “for now” is because I’ll be really astonished if we don’t see more recalls at the first of the year.  The freshmen Republican Senators are eligible to be recalled as of January 3, 2012, as is Governor Scott Walker, and it looks more likely than not that Walker, and several Republican Senators who followed the party line, including my own Van Wanggaard of Racine, will be recalled.  Further, there are some members of the Democratic “Wisconsin 14” who can be recalled, including the high-profile Senators Chris Larson of Milwaukee and Jon Erpenbach of Middleton — neither one of these Senators would be likely to get voted out, but the Republicans may well be able to get the signatures needed to force a recall election for all I know.  (Note that the two newest members of the Wisconsin state Senate, King and Shilling, are not eligible to be recalled.  They must, however, defend their seats in November of 2012, so they’ll have just over a year to prove their worth to their constituents.)

What adds fuel to the fire here is the new, gerrymandered map of political districts, which will make three Senate seats — including Alberta Darling’s district 8 and Wanggaard’s district 21 — much more safely “Republican.”  Those new boundaries are expected to kick in for the November ’12 elections, which is why getting Wanggaard out is likely to happen sooner rather than later as his current constituents want him out, partly because he voted for that horrible map which will make his district part rural Racine county and part rural Kenosha county, excluding much of the city of Racine.  Note that the “new” boundaries of district 21 would include Senator Bob Wirch’s house — yes, Wirch was “drawn out” of his own, home district 22 (which right now is the city of Kenosha, Kenosha County, and a little bit of Racine County) — so it’s possible Wanggaard might get recalled anyway no matter who his constituents are, as Wirch is extremely popular in Kenosha (city and county, both) and would be as likely to knock Wanggaard out of office as anyone, should he choose to do so.  (Note that Wirch’s term of office also ends in November ’12; the only way he could hold his seat and keep his home is to have Wanggaard recalled, then challenge him for the seat.  But it’s more likely Wirch will move to the “new boundaries” of district 22 than do that, providing the law holds up in court.)

The map is currently being litigated in Federal court by several former Democratic legislators, and may end up getting overturned.  There’s a lot of stupid, petty political crap in there like chopping up the city of Milwaukee and putting it with four different districts (rather than the two it, mostly, has now) in order to weaken the urban influence, which is just as bad as putting the cities of Kenosha and Racine in one district (district 22) while putting the counties of Kenosha and Racine in another (district 21), but all of that may not actually violate any federal laws — as I’m not a lawyer, I cannot judge the merits of the lawsuit.

Because I can’t plan on the lawsuit overturning the gerrymandering — nor can any other political activist — my current plan is to keep working with the folks I know who want Wanggaard out, and get him recalled ASAP right along with Walker.  That way, the people who voted Wanggaard in will still have a chance to get him out if they indeed wish to do so rather than many of them being forced into the “new” version of district 22 as the current, revamped map has it.

So as I said, the recalls are over — for now.  But there’s still much to be done.

As Ed Schultz says on his MSNBC show, “Let’s get to work.”

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** Jim Holperin is the only legislator in Wisconsin history to survive two recall elections.  He was recalled in 1993 as an Assemblyman, then won his race and was retained.  This year, Holperin was recalled as a Senator, and was once again retained.  So he’s either really good at what he does, really lucky — or, perhaps, both.

Baseball Update: Thome’s 600 HR, Brewers Triple Play, and Zambrano on DQ List

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Folks, we’ve had quite the season from my favorite team, the Milwaukee Brewers, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t start out with the story everyone’s talking about (no, not the Brewers’ triple play, though I’ll get to that in a bit): Jim Thome hit two home runs tonight, numbers 599 and 600, to bring him to the 600 HR club — and he’s only the eighth person in major league baseball history to do so.

Here’s a quote:

“To get it over with, what a sigh of relief,” he said. “You work so hard — obviously fought through some injuries all year long.”

But when healthy, he’s still as capable as anyone of putting a powerful swing on the ball.

Rodriguez needed two weeks to hit No. 600 after reaching 599 last year. Thome waited one inning.

After a lineout and a single in his first two at-bats, Thome lifted a drive to left-center off Rick Porcello(notes) in the sixth, breaking a 3-all tie. That homer went an estimated 412 feet. His 600th was shorter. For a moment, it appeared Young might have a chance to make a play on the ball, but Young—who was traded from the Twins to the Tigers earlier in the day—could only watch as his former teammate’s hit disappeared over his head.

Congratulations, Mr. Thome!  Way to go!

Next, we get to the Brewers triple play (only the sixth in team history), an unusual one — second to short to first to home (4-6-1-2) — which happened in the second inning.  First Josh Wilson at second grabbed the ball, shoveling it to shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt for the first out.  Betancourt threw it to Prince Fielder at first base to get the second out, then Fielder in a head’s up move threw it to catcher George Kotteras for the third out — Kotteras ably made a tag on a sliding Matt Kemp to complete the triple play. 

It was a lot of fun to watch, and has to be something I can honestly say I never expected to see from this year’s version of the Milwaukee Brewers infield, none of whom are known to be Gold Glove-caliber fielders. 

As for the rest of the game, the Brewers had four double plays in this game, one of ’em being a Prince Fielder (3) unassisted one in the ninth to cement the win.  The Brewers’ runs were all solo homers by Ryan Braun, Jonathan Lucroy (who pinch hit in the 8th) and Corey Hart.  John Axford finished the game with his 32nd consecutive save, a Brewers record he keeps adding to (he broke the old one four or five saves ago), and Randy Wolf got excellent run and defensive support for a change to bring his overall record to 10-8.  Dodgers’ pitcher Ted Lilly, who only gave up two hits in seven innings (both to Ryan Braun, one being Braun’s homer to get the Brewers on the board) took a very tough loss, dropping his record to 7-13.

Finally, we get to the third, and much less optimistic, story of the last weekend, that being of Carlos Zambrano’s unusual move of cleaning out his Cubs locker after getting ejected on Friday night for throwing two consecutive brushback pitches to Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones.  Zambrano had given up five home runs in that game, and from what I’ve read overall, was very upset that no one — not his catcher, not the pitching coach, not Cubs manager Mike Quade — came out to try to settle him down.  Zambrano has been since placed on the disqualified list (DQ list), meaning he will not be paid and cannot report back to the Cubs even if he wants to; the major league players association is appealing this decision.

Zambrano is known to have anger management issues, or in more practical terms, he’s fiery and a hothead.   But he’s never cleaned out his locker before, nor left his team in the middle of a season no matter how poorly the team was doing (and the Cubs have looked plenty bad this season with a 54-68 record, and are currently fifth in the NL Central division), probably because he’s one of the highest-paid pitchers around as the Yahoo Sports article goes on to say:

If the 30-year-old Zambrano really were to go through with retirement, he’d leave the $4.7 million he’s owed over the reminder of this season and the $18 million he’s scheduled to make next year. Then there’s the $19 million vesting option for 2013.

So far, Zambrano isn’t speaking directly, which is probably wise; baseball fans only know that the MLBPA is negotiating on Zambrano’s behalf.  While I have never really appreciated Zambrano’s antics on or off the mound, he’s an excellent pitcher when he’s concentrating, and I enjoy his sometimes-blistering comments (earlier this year he called the Cubs a AAA team, which was accurate if disloyal in the extreme, something that also amused the professional baseball reporters).  I hope for Zambrano’s sake that he’s able to take the time off to figure out why he got so angry, and work on himself in order to change it; if it’s solely due to how the Cubs were playing, or this other issue of no one being willing to help Zambrano calm down in the game that set him off to the point he cleared his locker out and left the team, maybe this “time out” will do Zambrano some good.

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Update: a fourth story has just been posted, this one about the San Francisco fan who got beaten into a coma in Los Angeles at the start of the season.  According to Yahoo Sports, the fan’s doctor is optimistic about fan Bryan Stow’s chances of further recovery:

Bryan Stow is awake, breathing on his own, can move slightly and has been able to interact with his family, said Dr. Geoff Manley, the chief of neurosurgery at San Francisco General Hospital. However, Manley said it’s still unclear how far Stow’s recovery will take him.

“His ability to follow commands has greatly increased,” Manley said. “There have been a lot of ups and downs and we still don’t know where he’s going to plateau in terms of his recovery.”

Stow remains in serious condition and has many hurdles to overcome in dealing with his traumatic brain injury (TBI).  But this sounds good, much better than I’d expected due to the circumstances regarding how Stow was attacked in the first place.  Here’s hoping Stow defies the odds and comes all the way back.

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 16, 2011 at 1:00 am