Thursday, August 25, 2011


When I left California for Chicago in 1981 I figured my earthquake days were behind me. I’d sweated through a number of minor and yet somehow deeply disturbing temblors in northern California and was looking forward to putting the fine points of the Richter scale behind me.

Earthquakes are a part of the culture of the state, of course, a continuing topic of conversation, speculation, theory and no little dread. Talk of the San Andreas Fault and “the Big One,” as promised by the boys and girls at Cal Tech, is as commonplace as discussions of traffic jams, beach getaways and those characters in Silicon Valley.

The matter of “the first one” is a fairly big deal for an interloper, as I was when I ventured west in 1979 to pursue a newspaper career. The weather was perfect, the setting sublime, and the work-play ratio less intense than I was used to as an East Coast guy.

As a friend of mine said when I complained about adapting to the easygoing lifestyle, “What’s not to like?”

Well, the first earthquake. It is invariably a startling and spooky affair.

Sorting it out, it comes to this: With the first one, you move from the theoretical to the practical in a big hurry. There is no one you can call to make it stop or make it go away. You can’t pour water on it or wait for Doppler radar and Andy the weatherman to tell you the cell is moving east. The waters will not recede.

Most earthquakes last only a few seconds. Indeed, most earthquakes go unnoticed. Until they don’t. Then, everything is wrong. Objects that don’t move start moving. You often get the sense that the building that you are in may fly apart, that the stresses are too great and, worst of all, that it won’t stop. Experts and normal people argue as to whether or not earthquakes make noise (They do, or so I believe. A lot of noise).

My wife Jane, who had her own earthquake experiences living in Los Angeles, talks about the ferocious instinct you feel to go outside, to get outside, even though the experts insist that is absolutely the wrong thing to do.

But that was my instinct last Tuesday, when several million rookies in the eastern United States came up against a stunning 5.8 earthquake that rattled walls, emptied government buildings, schools and offices, challenged assumptions (hey, no earthquakes in this part of the country) and amped up heartbeats from Toronto to South Carolina.

The quake was centered in someplace called Mineral, Va., about 80 miles south of our house. A shaking that felt like an explosion - hello, al Qaeda - rolled into what was unmistakably an earthquake.

Sitting right where I am now, at the computer, I found myself picking up my house keys and my wallet, grabbing the phone, worrying about the barking dog, standing under a wide doorway between the front room and the dining room. I really, really wanted to go outside.

In downtown Washington and all over the East Coast, frightened people trapped in what was for them a singular experience did just that, pouring into streets, clutching cell phones that had gone silent.

They were frightened in a whole new way. And if you have never shared the seismic experience, understand they were scared on merit.

Then it was over. Nobody died. Around here there was damage to the Washington Monument and the National Cathedral, and much more structural damage south, towards the epicenter. Foundations cracked. Some chimneys collapsed, in some cases doing damage to parked cars.

If it ends well, of course, there are always stories. In 1980 my parents came to visit me in Palo Alto, CA., where I was working as a sports columnist. My mother had never been to California and my father hadn’t seen the place since he sailed into Oakland at the end of World War II.

For some reason I was living in a small, one person cabin in Portola Valley, outside Stanford, so I had no room for the folks. I booked them into a two-story Holiday Inn not far from the Stanford University campus.

On the second or third morning of the visit I awoke to find my bedroom moving, books and pictures flying around my little hideaway. Earthquake. Parents.

I jumped into my dependable Datsun and roared across Highway 1 toward the Holiday Inn, expecting the worst. I bounded up the stairs to find the motel room door open. Betty and Joe were sipping coffee, watching the “Today” show. “Big earthquake,” my father intoned, a smile on his face.

Naturally, I had missed the best part. My father had been in the shower when the quake rolled in. The room shook, the cheap prints sailed off the walls and my mother yelled through the bathroom door: “Joe, what are you doing in there?”

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Riggleman Walks Away, His Own Way

Posted on Huffington Post, June 26, 2011

By Steve Daley

Jim Riggleman grew up in the Maryland suburbs outside Washington D.C. But it’s clear he doesn’t know much about the culture of the Federal City.

No one quits here. Absent personal disgrace (see Anthony Weiner) or historic ignominy (see Richard M. Nixon), no one in Washington walks away from the job title or the money or the dinner parties or the town car.

The angry and the disgruntled, those bothered by budget cuts or endless wars or the incompetence of others above their station, leak stories to reporters. They let feuds percolate. They whinge in private, or call the “Reliable Source” at the Washington Post. Nobody actually quits.

But last Thursday, Riggleman, a 58-year-old baseball lifer, resigned as manager of the Washington Nationals. He just quit. And he did so in mid-season, with his team in third place.

That’s rarefied air for a franchise that has been at the bottom its division in five of the six years of its existence. At this writing, your Washington Nationals have a record of 449-596 since the National League club stumbled into town from Montreal in 2005.

Timing is everything, of course, and Riggleman’s team had won 11 of its last 12 games and owned a modest winning record (38-37).

“I’m too old to be disrespected,” he told a gaggle of gobsmacked reporters after the Nats had defeated the Seattle Mariners,1-0.

The issue, as far as we know, was contractual and the fact that Riggleman was reportedly the lowest paid manager in the game is likely not irrelevant.

He says he “repeatedly” asked Nationals’ General Manager Mike Rizzo about extending his one-year contract. When Riggleman asked for a meeting, Rizzo told him once again the “time wasn’t right.” The manager said he would not be on the team bus for the flight to Chicago. And he wasn’t.

Inside the Beltway and the 202 area code, Jim Riggleman is as rare as a polar bear.

Counting the roll of those public figures who walked away from a pretty good job on a matter of what they considered principle doesn’t take but a minute or two.

A few good men fell by the wayside over principle during Watergate. Veteran diplomat George Ball, a fierce opponent of Vietnam policy in the Kennedy and Johnson years, became celebrated for almost resigning, but not quite.

Back in the 1990s, Peter Edelman, a senior advisor to Health and Services Secretary Donna Shalala, quit in protest of President Clinton’s approach to welfare reform.

Others who had a Howard Beale, “mad as hell” moment, who turned in the top security clearance in anger or outrage or even shame?

I’m waiting …

Washingtonians resign to spend more time with the family. They resign to move to K Street, or Santa Fe, or the Kennedy School at Harvard.

They so rarely resign on principle you have to conclude they really don’t understand the concept.

Think about Iraq and Afghanistan. Think about Katrina and FEMA, about the boys and girls at the Securities and Exchange Commission or the other regulatory agencies during the recent and ongoing economic meltdown or the oil explosion in the Gulf or a dozen other scandals and affronts.

Jim Riggleman gave them back the watch and likely ended his baseball career. At some level, it had to feel pretty good.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Joe D

He was a hard worker and a worrier, the latter a trait he passed along to his son and daughter. He had a lively sense of humor and a low threshold of tolerance for those he thought were posturing.

When he sent you a note, often with a drawing attached, he signed it “Just, Joe.”

He distrusted rich folk. He disliked all forms of pretense as he saw it – in the church on Sunday, in the saloon on a lazy afternoon, at the dinner table.

One of the best things about Joe Daley - father, husband, friend - was that he wished people well. He was fiercely loyal and had a great heart, though he had his dark Irish moments and that heart was not always evident to those closest to him.

He delighted in the stories and successes of his children and their friends. He was that small-town father all your buddies and your first girl friend and your wife really liked. “Call me Joe,” he would tell them. “Mr. Daley is my father.”

He was a veteran of the Pacific war, a cartoonist and a Democrat, a fledgling local politician, a neighborhood guy with a million friends, a New York Yankee fan, a skeptical Catholic. Toward the end of life, as our mother and his wife Betty descended into Alzheimer’s disease, he was a hero.

Well before she turned 70, Betty Daley fell victim to early onset Alzheimer’s. The short term memory loss, the rambling conversations, the wandering away from the house – it all happened at a crushing pace.

My sister and I were gone, off in our lives, doing the best we could to help. But with Alzheimer’s there comes a point of no return, when the familial recognition fades from the eyes and the connection becomes entirely spiritual, for want of a better word. Betty was in a nursing home called Three Rivers, but she was gone.

From the first days of Betty’s dementia, I had no idea how my father would react to this awful reality. The bills and Medicaid forms and bureaucracy were tortuous and intimidating to him and conversations with the doctors and lawyers were worse.

Eventually he got some help on those troublesome matters from good friends but the larger question remained: What about Betty?

Joe’s answer was to show up, unobtrusively at first. Then he became a fixture.

Always polite to working people, he nonetheless inspected her room and eventually talked his way into the kitchen and pureed her food, sometimes twice a day, insisting he knew what Betty would like and eat.

At their best, nursing homes are sad, soul-wrenching places. Joe felt that, felt the despair and the anger. Once, over coffee, he shot me an unforgettable look, a look full of disappointment and betrayal.

“Who are these retired fuckers in the magazines I see playing golf in Florida?” he snapped. “How does that work?”

There are no answers. But he kept getting in the car and going to Three Rivers, for years, until his own health failed.

At his wake in 2000 in his lifelong home of Corning, N.Y., friends and family stood around the casket, contemplating a world without Joe Daley in it.

Through the door, off the job at Three Rivers, wearing their scrubs and sneakers, the women and men who had tended to Betty down the long years and would until she died in 2003 filed in.

They changed the beds and washed the floors and pushed the wheel chair, and they came to Haughey’s Funeral Home to pay their respects to Joe. My wife Jane, my sister Maribeth, Betty’s sister Aunt Moo and I choked back tears. For us it was a tribute beyond measure.

“He came every day for your mother, every day, for years,” one of the women said to me.

“Sometimes people come for a while and then it just gets too hard and we never see them again. The person in the bed doesn’t know, does she? Your father came every day, for years.”

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Memo From the Political Editor

Posted on Columbia Journalism Review (, 4/25/11

To: All Hands
From: The Political Editor
Re: Decision 2012 – Our Election Coverage

It seems like only yesterday that we (thought Gov. Sarah Palin was a breath of fresh North Slope air; wondered whom John Edwards of North Carolina might pick as a running mate; believed that then Sen. Barack Obama was serious about closing down Guantanamo).

In 2008 we (tumbled for John McCain’s “maverick” shtick; asked our readers to take a serious look at the candidacy of former GOP Sen. Fred Dalton Thompson; believed everything told to us by any man in a U.S. military uniform).

Over the long campaign we (identified Democrat Bill Richardson of New Mexico as a “sleeper” candidate; offered readers a 4,500-word Sunday magazine piece on Arkansan Mike Huckabee’s campaign staff; found then-Sen. Hillary Clinton’s confrontational political style not to our liking).

Since President Obama took office, we have (slammed the TARP program until we noticed that it worked; trimmed our Washington bureau by 50 percent; hired several old George W. Bush speechwriters as columnists).

From our editorial perch atop a gasping industry, we believe that the president has not yet reached out to those who (paint Hitler mustaches on his picture; liken him to a chimp; question his ancestry, his patriotism, and his wife’s eating habits).

Truth to tell, we have been disappointed that the president has not (engaged in a public spat with Secretary of State Clinton; been more transformational and post-partisan; aggressively addressed the mounting national debt we ignored entirely in the 2008 campaign).

Nor has he satisfied our profound desire to see him extend a bipartisan hand to those new members of Congress who (use House offices as free dormitories while making $174,000 a year; defund NPR in “emergency” session; fail to understand that, yes, they do receive government health care).

We passionately believe in (having an ‘adult conversation’; a group of jowly white male senators we can comfortably call “the Gang of Six;” Standard & Poor’s).

Some of you in the newsroom have taken issue with our early 2012 campaign efforts. And, in retrospect, perhaps we should have taken a second look at (‘Dr. Jill Biden – Threat or Menace;” “The Wit and Wisdom of Eric Cantor;” “Rep. Paul Ryan – Bound for Mount Rushmore?”).

But as we approach the next presidential election cycle, we are excited about some innovative changes we’ve made in our coverage.

Our readers can expect to see (an array of splenetic blogs launched from every dreary, wrong-headed corner of the political universe; ongoing editorial page chin-pulling about “younger voters;” utter predictability from our talented roster of thought-provoking columnists).

We can be trusted to (ape whatever Politico thinks it’s doing; use what’s left of the wire services to cover those pesky primaries and straw polls; keep posting hauntingly familiar op-eds by Paul Begala, Michael Barone, Robert Reich, and Frank Luntz).

In the coming campaign, we pledge (to focus on the issues, not the personalities; to work diligently to stir up a primary challenge by Hillary Clinton; to keep writing and writing about Donald Trump while trashing him on the editorial page).

We can do no less. As a society we must (constantly change our view of the most pressing issue we are pretending to address; not leave a crushing burden of debt on our children and our children’s children; continue to write blank checks for three (3) wars).

See you on the (virtual) trail!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Suze Rotolo

The photograph stared out at me over time for decades. A young woman on a wintry Greenwich Village street, wrapped in a green coat, looking cool and self-possessed on the arm of a youthful Bob Dylan.

It’s the album cover for “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” the great man’s second album and the one that for him would make all the difference.

Suze Rotolo, a teenage Village hipster before any of us knew what that term meant, was the smiling, attractive woman with Dylan, trundling down Jones Street in the snow, captured forever in a photograph by Don Hunstein. The photo was taken in Feb. 1963, which is the sort of thing you know if Bob Dylan is a big deal to you.

The album was a revelation, even for a high school kid. Among 13 tracks are 11 original songs including “Girl from the North Country,” “Hard Rain,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” “Masters of War,” and “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

"Freewheelin'" broke Dylan from the pack, changing the face of American music, and the politics, and the culture. And changing the perspective of millions of high school and college kids who felt the breeze of the 1960s. There was, as Van Morrison said, no "moon and June" in this stuff. Dylan had taken reality into the mainstream

To me, beyond the music, the album cover looked like freedom and adventure. It was 1964 and my aunt Moo gave me the album, me a high school kid from western New York State. Looking at the photo, so hip and urban and so removed from my small town life (ironically, for me, the life that Dylan himself had just left behind in Minnesota), I felt the way some must have felt about Paris in the 1920s.

That sounds pretentious, perhaps, though it isn't meant to be. And it should be noted that Suze Rotolo was very attractive, in a way that 14-year-old boys from western New York were unaccustomed to seeing.

Dylan and Rotolo were together, in the fashion of the time, from 1961 to 1964, sharing an apartment on West Fourth St. She was the child of immigrants, born in Queens, a “red-diaper” baby whose parents were communists and activists. She was marching and protesting by the time she was 15.

Dylan told his biographer, ”Suze was into the equality-freedom thing long before I was. I checked the songs with her.”

In 1962 she left New York for eight months to study art in Italy. A furious Dylan wrote her angry letters, lashed out at her family and, being Dylan at 23, wrote a series of tremendous broken heart songs, including “One Too Many Mornings,” “Love Is Just a Four Letter Word” and “Tomorrow Is a Long Time.”

None are better than “Boots of Spanish Leather,” perhaps the most remarkable of his love songs, a perfect short story and a conversation, an elegant, sad and resigned evocation of every serious romance ending or gone wrong, or both.

The irony is that the album photo shoot came after Rotolo returned from Italy. It was complicated. On his fourth album, “Another Side of Bob Dylan,” he attacked Rotolo, her mother and her “parasite” sister Carla in “Ballad in Plain D.” It is perhaps the most bitter and mean-spirited of his songs.

In an interview in the mid-1980s, Dylan, among the least apologetic of men, said, “It was a mistake to record it and I regret it.”

For her part, Rotolo for decades said virtually nothing in public about her time with Dylan, an experience she once described as “the elephant in the room of my life.”

She gave an interview to director Martin Scorsese for his fine 2005 film “No Direction Home: Bob Dylan.” And another to NPR in 2009, the year she published a highly praised memoir.

I confess I never read it. But in the book, “A Freewheelin’ Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties,” she described the photo shoot, with a sly dig at the old boy friend:

“The snow on the streets was slushy and filthy from the traffic. Don (Hunstein) kept clicking away … in some of the outtakes it’s obvious that by then we were freezing; certainly Bob was, in that thin jacket. But image was all.”

Suze Rotolo, who said she was more than “a string on his guitar” and lived her life that way, stayed in Greenwich Village. She was married for 40 years to film editor Enzo Bartoccioli. They had a son named Luca. According to the obits, she taught at the Parsons School of Design and maintained her interest in politics, her community and the arts.

She died Feb. 25, 2011 of lung cancer at 67 in her New York loft, with her son and husband at her side. By all accounts she had a full and accomplished life. I hope so. I have a picture.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Talked Out

Posted on Columbia Journalism Review ( - Jan. 26, 2011

By Steve Daley

Like a lot of folks I was surprised by the apparent sacking of Keith Olbermann at MSNBC, if for no other reason than it’s unusual for marginal enterprises such as cable networks to rid themselves of their most popular commodity.

But as I read the postmortems and the sendoffs, it occurred to me that it had been some time – a long time, actually – since I had watched Keith Olbermann. Or anyone else in that boisterous, opinionated and way-up the-remote-dial realm.

When Comcast sent Keith packing, it struck me that I had put myself on an ersatz boycott of what used to be my favorite “news” programming and managed not to notice.

The thing is, I am the target audience for this stuff. I’m an election junkie, a defrocked journalist, a person with ironclad political beliefs and an Irish temperament. But somewhere back in the days of George W. Bush I just stopped watching.

No, it’s not W’s fault, though he and his minions sure didn’t help back when they were getting that war in Iraq going.

It’s a kind of rhetorical combat fatigue, a sense that all these years later you aren’t going to hear anything that is in any way new and different. It’s a feeling that you’d be just as well off watching “Bones” on Fox rather than anything else on Fox.

The malaise built slowly, if I may borrow a concept from President Carter.

The Sunday morning talk shows went first. There was a time – it was May, 1992 – when I could spend the better part of an afternoon with friends chewing over the job that NBC’s Tim Russert had done on “Meet the Press” to a dithering presidential candidate named Ross Perot.

But nowadays, no matter who is in the big chair, watching a pair of over-coached Senators, one from each party, racing through the approved talking points on immigration or TARP seems a poor way to spend a Sunday.

When all the world was young I marveled at the interview prowess of Ted Koppel in his “Nightline” days and may have contributed to the legend by writing at least two adoring pieces about him when I was media critic at the Chicago Tribune.

As a consumer I confess I was hooked in the early 1980s when “The McLaughlin Group” made its bumptious debut, giggling as Jack Germond tussled with and outsmarted Robert Novak, Pat Buchanan and Morton Kondracke.

Now it seems that for me the lure of the advocacy format has gone the way of caring about the Super Bowl and drinking at lunch.

Just between us, I have never watched Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly. Or Ed Schultz. At least not for more than minute or two. And I’m pretty sure I don’t have to.

It’s mostly bipartisan on my end. Al Franken in the U.S. Senate? Fine. Al Franken on the radio? No, thanks. The allure of Sean Hannity is lost on me; he’s “Fox and Friends” Steve Doocy with an anger management problem.

Lawrence O’Donnell is every slick Capitol Hill VIP staffer who only talked to the New York Times and the Washington Post. While I enjoyed Stephen Colbert’s skewering of the Washington press at that 2006 White House Correspondent’s Dinner, he is, well, exhausting and not as clever as he thinks he is.

Rachel Maddow seems to be wicked smart and sassy, or so it says here. But even her considerable charms are lost on me. I turn it on, I listen for a bit, I go away. And I think I know why.

Opinion is now a team sport. Interview shows, talk shows, panel shows are set pieces and to some degree they always have been. I like this pundit, you like another. This one got the better of that one the other night.

What exists in cable-ville now is a set of armies storming across open ground, interrupting, smirking and eyeball rolling to the cheers of their partisans, left and right. Now it is a team game – my team versus your team, no quarter, army ants with all the racial and gender slots filled.

Make no mistake: I haven’t checked out. I read what’s left of the good newspapers and scour websites such as this one. And, to be honest, the social network makes sure I don’t have to miss a good rant by Maddow or, until the other day, Olbermann, if I don’t want to.

Finally, this is not an argument for civility, whatever that means. It’s part of my lifelong war on boredom. And my solution is a simple one: “Bones.”

Friday, October 22, 2010

Selling St. Vincent's

The church is for sale. It’s been a long time since I’ve been what they call a “practicing Catholic” but a recent tour of the website of my hometown newspaper in Corning N.Y. produced a startling news item.

St. Vincent de Paul’s, the Roman Catholic church, school, rectory and convent that pretty much defined the first part of my life, is on the block, about to be sold to a developer.

Senior housing. Sale price, they say, is about $350,000. It will likely be some years in the making or unmaking, but there will be no going back.

Growing up, there were three Roman Catholic churches and the three Catholic schools in a town that probably never got larger than 20,000 people.

St. Vincent’s was within easy walking distance of our house. My maternal grandparents lived within sight of it, on Onondaga St. My grandfather, Paul Lovette, spent large chunks of his retirement pulling weeds from the lush lawn that surrounded the church. It was for him an act of faith.

My sister Maribeth and I would often walk the block to our grandparents’ house for lunch on a school day, a tableau worthy of a TV sitcom in the lower-middle-class America of the early 1960s. And a very sweet memory.

I was an altar boy from the 5th grade through my freshman year of high school, back in the days when the Latin Mass was in vogue.

I can recite some of those prayers in Latin, in the same way I can still smell the incense that pervaded the Lenten services and Midnight Mass on Christmas and the funerals, including the funerals of both my parents.

Joe and Betty Daley were married in St. Vincent’s after World War II. When the service was over, the wedding party and the congregation walked to the reception in the back yard on Onondaga St.

There’s a part of all this that mystifies me and I guess it’s my reaction – or overreaction – to the latest news.

The demographics of Corning have been changing for decades and the population has fallen. It was below 11,000 in the 2000 census.

Many of the kids who coped with Sister Domenica in the 5th grade and Sister Paul in the 6th grade, who sold candy bars and magazines and Easter seals to raise money for the parish, as I did, are grandparents now.

There are fewer people in the town, fewer people in the churches. In some ways it’s simply the sociological math.

The “parochial” school where I spent eight years has been shuttered for many years. The Sisters of Mercy are mostly gone, as are the priests.

It may sound odd in this era to say that we liked the priests. They came to the house; they showed up at the hospital with a kind word and some priestly reassurance.

They knew about you and your people, your grandfather who was a railroad engineer and your other grandfather, the one who pulled the dandelions.

They remembered names, asked how you were doing in school, were kind and respectful to the old women who showed up alone in the cold for the 6 a.m. Mass. They were useful. As far as I can tell, they are all but extinct.

Some years ago the three Corning churches (St. Mary’s and St. Patrick’s were the others) and the Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in nearby Painted Post merged into what became known as All Saints Parish.

From a distance it seemed a poor resolution. I saw it as a loss of cultural and community identity, papered over by a generic designation - “All Saints Parish” - that seemed drawn up by a committee.

But nobody asked me, which was fair enough as I was gone from both Corning and the church.

St. Patrick’s was sold outright. Sunday Mass was performed on a rotating basis. The weekday Mass - there were two every morning at 6 and 7 at St. Vincent’s when I was growing up - kept the altar boy crew busy. Nowadays Mass is a Sunday-only affair.

I read the melancholy news stories in the Corning paper, with angry parishioners and equivocating clergy. I see the property described as a “campus” and I think, well, that’s real estate talking. I think someone has a fundamental misunderstanding of what went on there on Dodge Ave. for the better part of a century.

I think that I am a hopeless romantic, getting older, nostalgic about a religion I abandoned at 17. And I think that I was lucky.