Six Characters in Search of a Blogger

8.2 AKMuckraker Tiptoes through the Muck of Alaskan Politics at

Sometimes a writer and a historical moment collide in a fateful and wonderful way.

AKMuckraker slings the truth about Alaskan politics at

Here's mud in your eye, Governor: AKMuckraker slings the truth about Alaskan politics at

That was the case this year with AKMuckraker and; a clever and very well-written blog about Alaskan politics that suddenly exploded onto the international blogosphere scene when an obscure Republican governor was picked as John McCain’s Vice Presidential running mate.  (Mudflats are a very clever geological metaphor for the political situation in our nation’s largest state–read about them here.)

Yes, AKMuckraker gives us the Sarah Palin show, up close.  It’s very well worth a read–if only to discover the fate of Tripp Easton Mitchell Johnston’s grandma.  I mean, of course, the one that isn’t the meth addict/dealer.  (Although she could have her fair share of appearances, too.)

5.7 The Seventh Day: Six more fascinating characters

So here are some of the folks who didn’t make the cut this week, but certainly deserve a little attention:

The Irish Voter.  This year, the voters of one small country (Ireland) decided the fate of Europe’s critical Lisbon Treaty, which represented some key policy changes in voting standards, defense, and representation for the European Union.  The Treaty went down to defeat by a margin of 53.4% to 46.6%; and with the defeat came questions about the strength of the European Union’s future.  That remains to be seen;  but the Irish voter has certainly earned him/herself a place in history as a result.

Sarah Silverman.  From the woman who created the brilliant “I’m F***ing Matt Damon” video (“on the bed, on the floor, on the towel by the door…”) earlier this year came “The Great Schlep,” an attempt to get college kids to visit their Jewish grandparents in Florida and convince them to vote for Barack Obama.  Hilarious.  My grandparents are no longer alive, and they weren’t Jewish, and didn’t live in Florida, but she still made me want to go.  Heck, I still do.

The fascinating Richard Armitage

The fascinating Richard Armitage

Richard Armitage.  This guy is HOT.  If you’ve never seen the BBC production Spooks (renamed MI-5 here in the U.S.), do yourself a favor and watch.  You probably won’t see his character surface on the show for a few years–broadcast schedules here are lagging behind the U.K. by several seasons–but believe me, the wait will be worth it.  And if you’re impatient, you can catch Mr. Armitage in BBC America’s Robin Hood.  The show itself is fluff, but seeing him clad in black leather is…fascinating.

A-Rod.  Schtupping Madonna?  The Kabbalah?  What?  I’m so confused.  Since when are baseball players spiritual gurus?

Amy Winehouse.  She doesn’t want to go to rehab.  Yup, I think we got it.

Those guys who made the prank call to Sarah Palin.  I don’t know if there is some Canadian national award for merit or something, but these guys (“Masked Avengers” Marc-Antoine Audette and Sebastien Trudel) certainly deserve it.  Holy crap, I still can’t believe she was stupid enough to think that Nicolas Sarkozy wanted to go on a helicopter hunting trip with her.  Or that they had a lot in common because he could see Belgium from his house.  Or that he would tell her that his wife, former model turned singer Carla Bruni, was hot in bed.  

And to think, this woman is still considered a serious contender for 2012.

5.1 Bristol Palin’s Baby Daddy: Levi Johnston


Levi Johnston

Political roadkill: Levi Johnston

He’s the self-described “f***in’ redneck” who enjoys snowboarding and riding dirt bikes, hangin’ with the boys, fishin’, “shootin’ some sh**”, and “just f***in’ chillin’, I guess.”

He’s the boy that every pregnant teenage girl would like to bring home to her parents.  (Not.)

And he could quite possibly be the most prominent piece of political roadkill we have had in decades.

Levi first came into the spotlight after Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s surprise Vice Presidential nomination in August 2008, when reports surfaced that Palin’s eldest daughter, Bristol, was pregnant.  Soon outed as the “baby daddy,” Johnston’s MySpace page was overwhelmed with hits, and we lucky few who got to see it before it was taken down found out that the father-to-be was a very reluctant one, indeed.  He clearly stated “I don’t want kids” in his bio.  D’oh.

Fast forward to the campaign trail, when Johnston appeared with a new haircut, a clean-shaven jaw, and a suit in which he appeared immensely uncomfortable.  Just looking at his face revealed so much:  behind that expression of frightened and bewildered awe was the stunning fact that (holy crap!) a bit of messing around with Bristol in the cab of his Chevy Silverado and here he was on national television, being watched by tens of millions of people.  And it landed him on the fast track to teenage marriage.  Gulp.

What followed was a groundswell of public support for Levi’s plight.  “Free Levi” shirts began to fly off the shelves.  309350721v2_350x350_front_color-black2Bill Maher made an impassioned plea on Levi’s behalf on his popular HBO show, Real Time with Bill Maher.  Levi even had songs written about him, including “The Ballad of Levi’s Johnson.”   And he became a YouTube star.

But why does this matter?  Why does Levi matter?  Put simply, his story magnifies a larger social issue that has been our national preoccupation for some years now: who is allowed to be married, and who is not.  The passage of Proposition 8–and subsequent revocation of marriage rights for gay couples in California–is one example of the egregious double-standards we have for different sets of people in this country.  The fact that Levi and Bristol’s wedding is not only encouraged–but celebrated!–by many people throughout the U.S. is another.  What both cases have in common is that a life commitment between two people is being made into a political decision rather than a personal one–and we are all the worse for it.   

This is a young man who should be allowed the time and space to grow up before undertaking anything as important as marriage.  And he should be told by his parents and other authority figures that he can still be true to himself–and his future child–by fulfilling his own potential before he becomes a husband (if that is ultimately what he wants to do.)  It’s already clear that a premature marriage might be ruinous–only weeks after their engagement announcement, he and Bristol looked quite uncomfortable together at some campaign events in Alaska (no hand holding, no eye contact.)  And we know that, even though he was 18 at the time of the election, he didn’t vote (he didn’t register in time)–which speaks a bit to his maturity and sense of purpose.  (Especially when his potential mother-in-law was on the ticket.)  We also know that he’s planning to drop out of high school to support his child, which would seriously impact his future earning potential; surely there is some adult in his life telling him he should wait until graduation to get a job.  (Wouldn’t it be nice if his magnanimous mother-in-law to be might loan him a teeny bit of that $7 million book advance she’s been offered, at least until he can get his diploma?)  

For now, we know the future is rapidly overtaking Levi Johnston–fatherhood is mere days away, as Palin/Johnston baby X is due on December 18.  Beyond the excitement of what the name might be (Sixpack Palin Johnston?  Joe Plumber Johnston?  Chevy Silverado Johnston?  Hockey Puck Palin Johnston?  The possibilities are endless), there remains the question of what Levi will do.  Will he bend to societal expectation and marry Bristol immediately?  Or will he give himself the chance to discover who he is before he ties his life to someone else’s?  It doesn’t mean he can’t be in the baby’s life.  It doesn’t mean he can’t be a good father.  

If only his MySpace message were actually true, and he could tell everyone to back off and leave him alone:  “Ya f*** with me I’ll kick [your] ass.”  But a more honest testament to his predicament would likely be this:  “I f***ed a Palin and got my ass kicked.”  

Let’s hope Levi can take a little page out of that fantastic 2007 sleeper hit, Juno, and realize that being a biological adult does not necessarily make him ready for adulthood.  And speaking of Juno, I have this funny little parody number called “Juneau” I discovered on YouTube recently, which describes Levi’s fascinating predicament quite well.  Enjoy.

Week 5: Take that, Babs–MY 6 Most Fascinating Characters of 2008

Like me, many of you may have missed Barbara Walter’s interviews last week with the “most fascinating people of 2008.”  She was way off.  But why am I surprised?  Barbara always becomes a bit of a dominatrix at this time of year, telling us whom we should like, whom we should watch, etc. Here’s her list for 2008:    

Barbara Walters recently revealed her "10 Most Fascinating People" of 2008

Barbara Walters recently revealed her "10 Most Fascinating People" of 2008

1. Barack Obama (duh.)
2. Tom Cruise (I don’t get it.  I find Suri a lot more compelling.  And she would probably give a better interview.)
3. Sarah Palin (Won’t argue here, but I’m “fascinated” with her in the way that I am about car wrecks at the side of the road. I’m a rubbernecker. And that’s bad–I know, I know–but I can’t help but look.)
4. Frank Langella (Clearly Barbara likes to score dates by putting people on the list.)
5. Thomas Beatie, the Pregnant Man (rubbing it in the face of women struggling with infertility everywhere. And he’s pregnant AGAIN. Thanks, Barbara!)
6. Rush Limbaugh (Eew. I think I just got sick a little in my mouth.)
7. Tina Fey (I bow before her awesomeness.)
8. Miley Cyrus (Mmkay. I think she can officially go away now. I saw a clip of Hannah Montana the other day, and it was the programmatic equivalent of fingernails being scratched across a chalkboard.)
9. Michael Phelps  (In my opinion, he’s merely interesting when he’s wearing street clothes.  But put him in that ankle-length Speedo?  Fascinating.)
10. Will Smith (Sony Pictures must have paid ABC to feature Smith before the imminent release of Seven Pounds on Dec. 19.  Otherwise, I can’t explain it.)

Me?  I have a slightly different take on things.  This week, I’ll be looking at the 6 Most Fascinating Characters of 2008–from my perspective.  And unlike Barbara, I’m not going to tease you with any hints.  You’ll just have to wait and see.

3.4 A Woman Who Cooked for Them: Mary Brewster

 It is suggested that there were over 140 people who took part in the “first” Thanksgiving of 1621, the 52 survivors of the Mayflower, as well as the 90 Native Americans who accompanied Wampanoag Chief Massasoit to the legendary meal.

But who cooked at this most symbolic meal of our nation’s history? pilgrim-woman-with-turkey-4

While Edward Winslow (and later, William Bradford) left very brief accounts of what transpired during that mythologized moment in history, they neglected to mention who prepared the meal for such a large gathering of people.  In the absence of real proof, we are left to speculate that the caterers for the event were the women of Plymouth, of whom only 4 adults had survived the bleak winter of 1620-21 (18 who had originally departed on the journey.)  Among this rare group of female survivors was Mary Brewster.

Mary Brewster lives in the history books only as the wife of Elder William Brewster (the first religious leader of the colony and advisor to Governor William Bradford) and the mother of his children.  Like her sister survivors in the Plymouth colony, not much is known about her biography or individual contribution to the fledgling community; sadly, there isn’t even a clear record of her maiden name.  Like so many women in our nation’s—and indeed the world’s—past, her story has been forgotten.

But we can paint a broad portrait about the kind of life she may have lived.  As a woman of her time, she was likely subject to the patriarchal confines we would assume for women of the late 16th and early 17th century.  Women were expected to marry.  Once married, they were beholden to decisions their husbands made (such as where & how to live, etc.)  Especially in the New World, it was considered their bounden duty to bear children—the survival of the community was tantamount.  They could not vote, or speak in church; they were expected at all times to have their heads covered, as a sign of modesty and subservience.

And, of course, there was the woman’s critical role in the early colonial home:

Almost everything a family used or ate was prepared at home under the woman’s direction. She made butter, cheese, soap, and candles. She preserved meat and vegetables, spun and wove cloth and made it into clothing, took care of chickens and dairy cattle, worked the vegetable garden, kept the fire going—women produced a significant share of the necessities of life.

Girls were taught housewifery by their mothers. They learned to grind corn, barley and wheat into flour, then to measure flour in their hands for baking bread. They also learned how to cook outdoors, how to scour, scald, and cook meats, to dry fish, and how to use herbs for cooking and medicinal purposes.

Source: History of American Women

These unique and challenging circumstances of colonization allowed, for a brief moment in time, some singular opportunities for the pilgrim women.  Because the colony depended on their work and contributions to the home, their social status rose.  Unlike most of Europe at the time, laws passed in Plymouth recognized women’s importance in property law.  Women were allowed to enter into contracts (most commonly pre-nuptial agreements)—in fact, premarital agreements about distribution of goods and wealth were common.  In addition, wives were guaranteed at least 1/3 of their husband’s property after his passing; and if they were widowed and entered into a subsequent marriage, they were entitled to keep whatever wealth they had brought from the first.        

But Mary Brewster never had the opportunity to exercise her property rights (which was unfortunate, due to Elder Brewster’s significant land holdings by the time of his death in 1644.)  She died only a handful of years after the Mayflower arrival, in 1627, when she was approximately 59 years of age.  But her legacy to the New World was in her children, of whom five survived to adulthood:  Jonathan, Patience, Fear, Love, and Wrestling.  (Yes—those were their real names.  I can’t believe it either.  “Patience” and “Love,” I suppose, can be explained away; they do, after all, fit in with names we’ve heard before like “Honor,” “Grace,” and “Joy.”  But what are the mental ramifications of naming your children “Fear” and “Wrestling”?  Sounds like a recipe for trouble to me.)  Nevertheless, through these (albeit questionably named) children, it is suggested that Mary has become the ancestor of millions of Americans.

Perhaps one of the most amusing coincidences during this 2008 Thanksgiving season is the suggestion that one of Brewster’s descendants is none other than Sarah Palin, recent Vice Presidential candidate and Governor of Alaska.  (I just can’t seem to escape her, no matter what topic I choose to discuss.)  While I can’t find much evidence to back up this assertion by Wikipedia, perhaps we can discern some anecdotal proof by looking at some similar traits of these frontier women.  Both have lived on the outskirts of civilization.  Both have belonged to somewhat unorthodox religious traditions.  Both have field dressed wild game.  But perhaps the strongest link between the two is their shared delight in bizarre children’s names: so Patience, Fear, Love and Wrestling, meet Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper and Trig.

Some things never change.

1.2 Off to Never-Never-Land with Rachel Maddow (in a good way)
November 12, 2008, 1:08 am
Filed under: Women of Campaign 2008 | Tags: , , , , ,

I’ll teach you to jump on the wind’s back, and away we go.  -Peter Pan

Rachel Maddow is like the Peter Pan of MSNBC.  I’m not talking simply about the physical resemblance; it isn’t a stretch to see Maddow playing the part, flying across the set in a green tunic and her pixie hair cut, leading the “Lost Boys” of Olbermann, Matthews, Scarborough and Buchanan as they fight the good fight against FOX  (Bill O’Reilly as Captain Hook, anyone?)  No, what I’m referring to is her enthusiastic, easy boyishness; her absolute self-confidence; how skilled she is at what she does.  It’s like inhaling a little bit of magic dust every time I watch her.

Anyone with their eyes on the political scene in recent weeks–or for that matter, anyone who watches late-night television–must be aware of Maddow by now.  She has been taking the talk shows by storm; she’s mixed drinks with Martha Stewart, chatted on the couch with Jay Leno, been called the “Queen of Cable” by Stephen Colbert.  And here’s the thing:  the “Queen of Cable” title could actually be true.  Maddow has been a phenomenon, often beating her opponents Larry King and Sean Hannity in their 9pm time slot on rival news stations CNN and FOX.  And her show only premiered in September.

So what is this magic dust that Rachel exudes?  Where does this Peter Pan phenomenon come from?  The most succinct answer I can give is that she is simply being herself:  a highly intelligent and incisive pundit with a sharp wit, extraordinary memory, a cool head, and a polite manner.  And here’s the best part:  she’s a Democrat.  With a big, big D.  For years, liberals have had to endure pundits from their own party who, although they made sense to us, couldn’t penetrate the vast fog of political rhetoric Republicans would spout.  They were the nerds cowering in front of the bullies–think of Alan Colmes facing Sean Hannity.  Or if they weren’t nerds, they simply couldn’t beat the Republican strategy of TALKING SO LOUD AND WITH SO MUCH FORCE NO ONE COULD GET A WORD IN EDGEWISE EVEN IF THEY TRIED.

Enter Rachel, with her extraordinary calm and impeccable analysis–and with one, quick insight/puff she blows the Republican political fog away.  It’s like watching Peter Pan fly circles around pirates, with a little bit of playful glee thrown in for good measure.

What is also amazing about Maddow is her background–Ivy League without the pretention; Rhodes Scholar without the hubris; a prison AIDS activist; a doer of odd-jobs and deeds before she landed an on-air slot at a small Western Massachusetts radio station.  And her career has simply proceeded on from there–she got a gig as a co-host on an Air America radio show during its nascency, and from there started appearing as a guest on CNN and MSNBC.  After that, it was only a matter of time before The Rachel Maddow Show was born;  her talent was undeniable.   

But why is all of this important?  Because Rachel Maddow represents all of the promise in progressivism, at least as it is represented in television punditry.  Her intelligent analysis allows the big D Democratic argument–that government can effectively improve our society–to move away from its popular caricature in modern America, that of the bleeding heart, big spending solution.  Think of her as the next evolutionary step beyond Keith Olbermann’s eloquent and righteous outrage; Democrats can be playful and funny, too.  And win arguments with their wits, not with their volume.   

As I sit on my living room couch in my pajamas, typing away, I’m realizing that the Rachel Maddow/Peter Pan comparison seems to be a particularly apt symbol today, as indignant bloggers around the country react to Sarah Palin’s latest barb.  In her Monday night interview with Greta Van Susteren of FOX News, Palin called us “those bloggers in their pajamas, sittin’ in their parents’ basements, just writin’ garbage.”  

Let me pause here for a moment of Maddowian self composure.  Deep breath.  Ahem.  The pajama issue aside, if Sarah Palin is our nation’s future, then I don’t mind saying that I would rather be in Never-Never-Land than here.  I don’t think I could endure more of the passionate ignorance, religious intolerance, unchecked militarism, willful deceit, and championed mediocrity that has marked the last eight political years in our country.  So yes, I would like to go to a place where time seems to stand still.  Could we make it this one moment, now?  This moment when possibility is so palpable, despite the immense challenges we face as a nation?  This moment when my country doing right in the world seems possible again, when intellect and eloquence in prized politically, when “yes we can” is a better answer than “no, let’s just trust big business to do it”?    

Rachel, let me just say, should the worst come in 2012, I will be waiting for you here by the window in my pajamas. Promise me that we’ll just jump on the wind’s back, and away we’ll go.  Even if it’s only to your house in Western Massachusetts.  


The Rachel Maddow Show airs on MSNBC, every Monday through Friday at 9pm EST.  Check it out!


1.1 Sarah Palin goes to Disney World!
November 11, 2008, 1:06 am
Filed under: Women of Campaign 2008 | Tags: , , , ,

We are a nation that loves princesses.  Just ask my two-year-old niece, Neve, who rarely sits still, but is somehow hypnotized by the image of “Cindalella” swirling across her TV screen.  Or ask any of my fellow Wellesley alumnae with daughters, who have tried in vain to fight the rising tide of princess mania.  Or there is, of course, the simple evidence of this most recent Halloween, where every fourth piece of candy was distributed to a Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Belle, Snow White, or Jasmine. Despite the economic crisis, this was certainly the year of tulle and the tiara.

We are also a nation that loves Sarah Palin (another 2008 Halloween favorite): we love to love her, love to hate her, love to laugh about her, love to watch her.  In a year that was already forged with political emotions, due to the virulent reaction to the Bush legacy, the historical promise of the Obama candidacy, and the unexpected demise of the Clinton campaign, when Palin joined the McCain ticket she became an unprecedented emotional lightning rod.  For some (like my mom) this emotion was a visceral reaction to Governor Palin’s approachability:  her “aw shucks” folksiness; her can-do approach as a mother of five; her unapologetic Christianity; her girl-next-door youth and good looks.  But for others (like me), there was the shuddering horror at Palin’s lack of basic knowledge about domestic and world affairs, her questionable political pedigree, her rhetorically narrow vision of patriotism.  

Two visions of Sarah: one of adulation, one of fear.  Both extremes might have disappeared last week when she returned to Alaska after her defeat, back to her frozen exile of gas pipelines, political scandals, moose hunting, troublesome brother-in-laws, and snow machine races.  But instead, she remains in the public eye, still very much a part of the zeitgeist.  Journalists have flocked to Juneau to see if she might run for Ted Stevens’ senate seat; pundits have speculated about a future career in television; she has even received the longed-for summons from Oprah. But why, some might say?  She failed.  She should become a political footnote, like Dan Quayle.  McCain’s loss has been (rightly or wrongly) attributed to her candidacy.  So why can’t we let her go?  

And then I realized:  it all comes back to princesses.  Gosh, Matt Damon was right.  It’s Disney’s fault.  

Perhaps many of you will remember Mr. Damon’s now infamous comments about the Palin candidacy back on September 10 (oh so politically long ago):  “It’s like a really bad Disney movie–‘The Hockey Mom’; you know, ‘oh, I’m just a hockey mom from Alaska,’ and she’s facing down President Putin and using the folksy stuff she learned at the hockey rink.  It’s totally absurd.”  Check out this hilarious parody:

But beyond the obvious sarcasm behind Damon’s comparison, there is something that rings resoundingly true: America, and with it that uberAmerican institution, Disney, is all about the rags-to-riches story, about pulling characters from obscurity into the limelight, about making nobodies into somebody, dreams into reality.  And what else is Sarah Palin but the embodiment of the ultimate political Cinderella story?  The girl who went from Wasilla to Washington?  You can almost visualize the scene of McCain at her doorstep, asking if the red patent stiletto will fit.  (And enter the fairy godmother, the RNC, waving its wand and covering her in Neiman Marcus splendor.)

Say what you will about Sarah Palin, but know that in a very real way, she is a product of our own distinctly American Disneyesque design, for better or for worse.  With her pretty face, skill at the podium, and sleek wardrobe she became a part of that cult of celebrity that has gained such esteem in our culture.  We may have mocked her for the “I can see Russia from my house” claim, but 70 million of us watched her from our houses during the Vice Presidential debate.  So perhaps the last laugh is hers.

Not surprisingly, as McCain gave his very gracious concession speech last week, I couldn’t help but stare at Sarah Palin.  I could tell her eyes were tearing up, and I found myself questioning her motives.  By then, news reports had been circulated about dissension in the McCain/Palin camp, Sarah “going rogue,” even planting the seeds for a 2012 run. Was it regret, I wondered, coming through those eyes, pity for herself and for her running mate after such a hard-fought race?  Or was it anger, because McCain campaign strategist Steve Schmidt wouldn’t let her give a valedictory speech to her adoring fans?  Or perhaps even resentment–I could almost see the Schwarzeneggeresque lines “I’ll. Be. Back.” being broadcast through her designer rimless glasses.

Thinking about it now, the teary-eyed emotion might have been something else entirely: triumph.  Like a political phoenix rising from the ashes, who’s “not doin’ this for naught,” she saw her future pretty clearly.  All we were missing was that quintessential moment from our political superbowl as the teams leave the field after the game is done.  While the victorious Obama is carried off (to face some of the greatest historical challenges our country has known), we are left to question his smiling (victorious in her own way) challenger:  Governor Palin, what’s next for you?  

(Cue the instrumental music from “When You Wish Upon a Star.”)

And she will answer, with a knowing wink and a nod (for every princess gets her happy ending), “I’m goin’ to Disney World.”  And the next stop in the political pumpkin coach?  2012.  You betcha.