So yesterday morning Bleacher Report published a piece I wrote on Matt Sandusky, the adopted son of Jerry Sandusky. Here’s the link.
Of the thousands of stories I’ve written through the years, this may well have been the most difficult. A. Because spending weeks upon weeks thinking about pedophilia (especially as the father of two kids) is more brutal than one might imagine; B. Because there are just tons upon tons of documents, papers, articles, briefs to sift through; C. Because of John Ziegler.
If you have yet to read the story, or you’re not one who listens to C-level podcasts, Ziegler is a former radio personality who has dedicated much of his existence to proving Jerry Sandusky’s innocence. And, I believe, he’s doing so out of a genuine desire to bring forth the truth. Ziegler has no doubt (literally, zero) that Jerry Sandusky is wrongly imprisoned, and that his accusers are liars. Again, I don’t doubt Ziegler’s sincerity, and if you read enough of his website (props for the throwback design scheme) you’ll find yourself starting to wonder, “Hmm … maybe this whole thing really is a setup.” There are endless posts defending Jerry Sandusky while also tackling the sincerity and truthfulness of those who oppose him. It’s an interesting read.
And yet … in 20-plus years as a journalist, I’ve never encountered a bigger tool bag than John Ziegler. I actually think Ziegler might agree with that take; like, he might actually nod and say, “Yeah, I am a tool bag. So?” He oozes anger, and is the kind of guy who’ll freely, casually, ruthlessly call you (well, in this case, me), an idiot, a moron, an asshole. I first spoke with him, via phone, while sitting in the lobby of a Hampton Inn, and I actually ended the conversation by hanging up on him. I later apologized, but that doesn’t mean I find him any more digestible.
Worse than his personality, though, is his methodology. When I started this research, I knew little of Matt Sandusky and nothing of John Ziegler. In fact, Matt was the one who first mentioned him—and I immediately thought, “Ah, now that’s interesting.” So I reached out to Ziegler, spent a shitload of time on his website, started to think that maybe, just maybe, Matt was exaggerating/lying about his alleged history of abuse. I mean, his story changed a lot. Perhaps it was all a money ploy. Perhaps he was milking the system. Perhaps …
Those thoughts lasted for a few days. Then three things happened that changed my perspective quite a bit:
1. I chatted at length with Matt’s wife, Kim—a soft-spoken woman who struck me as extremely sincere and decent. I told Kim how critics like Ziegler questioned Matt’s decision to take the Penn State money. She said that he truly did not want to; that it was his belief people would see him receiving dollars and turn skeptical. She said, ultimately, she convinced him that—after what he’d been through—he was entitled to it. When he’s asked why he accepted the dough, he never mentions his wife. She says she hates that.
2. I spoke with myriad experts on child molestation—all of whom independently agreed that the vast majority of victims adjust their stories numerous times. That the norm is to change your story, not stick to one. Ziegler does not allow this as an argument. In fact, he seems to hate it.
3. I started digging deeper into Ziegler and his work.
Actually, this is the part that fascinates me. Ziegler, who loathes the media, has been, ahem, a member of the media for more than 25 years. He was fired from multiple talk radio positions for what can best be described as a proclivity for poor taste (or, he would probably argue, a refusal to cave to political correctness). In the April 2005 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, writer David Foster Wallace focused upon Ziegler—at the time a late-evening host on KFI 640-AM in Los Angeles—in a lengthy piece on the inner-workings of American talk radio. The story was detailed and largely complimentary, yet Ziegler did not take it well. Shortly after Wallace—who suffered from depression—committed suicide in 2008, Ziegler penned a blog post, titled Death of a Salesman, that mocked the famed writer as a wanna-be genius who, “didn’t have the goods to back up those kind of elevated expectations.”
With his radio career fizzled, Ziegler initially turned toward creating conspiracy-fueled documentaries. In 2008 he wrote, directed and produced “Blocking the Path to 9/11,” which examined the role the Clintons and liberal politicians played in censoring the truth about the September 11 attacks. His follow-up, “Media Malpractice: How Obama Got Elected and Palin Was Targeted,” came out a year later and argued that Barack Obama became America’s 44th president thanks in part to the news media’s partisan agenda. He also, famously, made a jackoff of himself on some dating show.
The original piece I submitted to Bleacher Report included much more about Ziegler, his background, his takes. Much of that was removed, which initially annoyed me (in hindsight, my editors were probably right. It was more distracting than interesting). Because for all his bluster and shouting and laughing (the dude loves to employ a, “You’re so stupid, I’m laughing at you” guffaw) and claims of “proof” that Matt is a fraud, Ziegler seems to have no real “proof” that Matt is a fraud. He has theories and hypotheses, sometimes momentarily convincing, ultimately damned by questionable and biased reporting methods.
• On his site, Ziegler notes Matt’s claim that—thanks to “repressed memory therapy”—he was able to recover recollections of Jerry Sandusky abusing him. Ziegler writes that he discussed the matter with Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, a world-renowned expert on memory issues, and that she “mocked” the idea that memories can be “found” via therapy. There are two problems with this: A. Matt never said he was undergoing “repressed memory therapy”—a controversial practice that, according to Richard McNally, a Harvard psychology professor, has been largely debunked in modern times. No, what he said in a 29-minute interview with police detectives was that he was going through normal therapy sessions, and certain memories were starting to return. That’s not a parsing of words—it’s an entirely different thing. Talk to most anyone who has gone through therapy of one sort or another (guilty!) and you’ll hear about certain memories being jarred loose or brought to the forefront. “Before therapy, before I heard another victim, before I went to police, I had many memories of the perverted hell one sick man subjected me to as a child,” Matt told me. “And it’s not because someone told me what to think. My memories were there before I ever started therapy. But when you talk and talk about a subject, it brings things out you hadn’t thought about for a long time.” B. In his writing, Ziegler (oops) failed to mention that Loftus was retained by the defense team to serve as an expert witness on their behalf. In other words, she’s probably the only memory expert Ziegler (from an ethical standpoint) should not have called. But, hey.
• On his site, Ziegler says Matt came home from the first day of the trial and told the entire Sandusky family, “I could get up on the stand and lie just like that.” Ziegler reiterated to me that Matt unequivocally, “told the family of his plan.” Jeff Sandusky, Matt’s older brother and a man who believes Jerry never molested anyone, told me this is untrue. “Why would he tell us that?” he said. “That makes no sense. He’d have lost his credibility and we could have totally nailed him. No, he didn’t say that.”
• On his site, Ziegler repeatedly reports anything that Dottie Sandusky says to him as fact. Why? Because Ziegler says he has a great “BS detector,” and the Sandusky family has never lied to him. “Everything they’ve said has checked out,” he says. So when Dottie says she didn’t know Victim 10, it’s a fact that she didn’t know Victim 10. Dottie says she didn’t hear a victim screaming from the basement, therefore she didn’t hear a victim screaming from the basement. Dottie says police told her Matt stole two of Jerry Sandusky’s national championship rings, so—fact—Matt stole two of Jerry’s national championship rings. There’s no reason to question her truthfulness … because Ziegler believes her.
• On his site and Twitter feed, Ziegler offers links to several video clips he’s created about the Sandusky case. The one he seems most excited about was released July 18, 2014 and is titled, The Overwhelming Case that Matt Sandusky Lied to Oprah Winfrey. It was a reaction to Matt’s July 17 interview with Oprah on the OWN Network, and focused on his rambling, somewhat incoherent response to Winfrey asking why he should be believed, “Did you see how horrendous that was?” Ziegler said to me during a conversation. “She asks how we know he’s telling the truth, and he’s horrendous. He stutters, sits there dumbfounded. Did you see the fear in his eyes? It was obvious. Yet the media said nothing about it.”
I contacted Dr. Dan Hill, the president of Sensory Logic and one of the world’s foremost authorities on analyzing facial expressions (and a man with no ties to the case). He watched the exchange multiple times and broke it down. “I don’t know all the specifics, but for him to say he can definitely see Matt is lying—well, that makes no sense,” he said. “The most common emotion Matt Sandusky showed in his face, by far, was sadness. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean he is or isn’t a liar. But sadness is not a common facial expression for liars, and for someone to say he knows that man is lying, off of that clip, is silly.”
• Ziegler has made the case—often stated by the Sanduskys—that Matt was desperate for the money. However, Matt and Kim wed on Dec. 10, 2011, well before he came forward to testify. The two moved into a modest townhouse together (where they still reside), and the total of their combined incomes (not including benefits, provided by her job) was significantly above the standard of living rate for a State College family of four in 2012 (financial information was provided to Bleacher Report, then verified). “I can assure you, we were doing just fine, money-wise,” says Kim. “It’s been made out like we were poor. That’s just not true.”
• Early on in our first discussion, I asked Ziegler what Matt said when they spoke. After all, who would accuse a man of lying about being sexually abused without making every possible effort to at least hear his side of the story? The documentary filmmaker, who boasts of spending “at least 100 hours, maybe more” on the phone with the Sandusky family, did not like this line of questioning, ripping the “liberal media” and people with “agendas.” He said that he repeatedly offered Matt a $10,000 donation to his foundation should he appear on his show—a weekly three-hour broadcast on AM-1220 KHTS, Santa Clarita’s self-anointed “local radio station” (He also told me, should Matt agree to appear, he would, “tear him apart.” Which isn’t exactly a Welcome to the Show invitation one would accept). I asked Matt and Kim whether they were listeners of Santa Clarita’s self-anointed “local radio station” (the show is also available online), and both said no. When I told John that this (making the offer via his radio show and Twitter) seemed to be a soft effort, and that he could at least knock on Matt and Kim’s door (as the majority of investigative reporters/documentarians would certainly do) he disagreed—loudly. First, he told me it wouldn’t make sense to fly from his home in Los Angeles all the way to State College, Pa., because of the price. “It would cost me $2,000 for the off chance he’d talk,” said Ziegler. (According to Travelocity.com, a flight from Los Angeles to Altoona, Pa. can be purchased for $461). Which is a quirky answer, considering: A. He was offering $10,000; B. He’s been in the area three different times to speak with the Sandusky family. Later, he told me it would be unfair to Dottie, because “it will be presumed Dottie put me up to it.” He also insisted, “I don’t have contact information for the asshole!” (the Peaceful Hearts website includes a fully functioning CONTACT link, as well as a MEDIA INQUIRIES section with two working phone numbers and a mailing address). Finally, Ziegler screamed, “Are you that fucking retarded? Really?”
When I asked Matt whether he would have sat down with Ziegler, he paused for a long time before shaking his head. “Knowing what I know about his tactics, probably not,” he said. “But if it comes down to it and John Ziegler puts me in a corner and it just happens, then it happens. My truth is my truth. It’s out there.”
A couple of days later, I asked Kim. “Hard to say,” she said. “One thing about Matt—he isn’t afraid of people who think he’s lying. I actually think he embraces that challenge.”
Here’s my final point: I get people doubting Matt Sandusky. I truly do. Because, as I already noted, his story changed, and there’s a lot of money involved, and Penn State took a huge hit. If you love the university, and you hear this stuff … well, I get it. Truly. Do I think Matt is telling the truth about being molested? I do. For myriad reasons. I also can’t figure out why a guy would lie about being molested, then decide to devote his life to a foundation aimed at bringing awareness to … child molestation prevention. I looked into Matt Sandusky’s organization. He has a $30,000 salary that only kicks in if the foundation exceeds a certain financial threshold. Peaceful Hearts is not even close to that figure.
Mostly, what I don’t understand—for the life of me—is why the Sandusky family and supporters have hitched their wagons to John Ziegler. If you believe Jerry Sandusky is being railroaded; if you believe all these accusations are lies; if you think something is truly wrong … well, dear God, don’t rally behind a conspiracy theorist with this sort of reputation and temperament.
And can someone please loan the guy $500 for a website redesign?
It’s true, and no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves otherwise, there’s no denying our inevitable collective fate. Plastic surgery and Botox won’t save you. Two hours a day at Gold’s Gym won’t, either. You can eat 100 carrots, jog 20 miles, try the lifetime juice diet. Whatever. Come day’s end, we all cease to exist.
The question is: How to use the time we’re given?
Kate Granger has asked herself this quite a bit since 2011, when she was first diagnosed with sarcoma, a rare-yet-terminal form of cancer. At the time, she was a 29-year-old elderly medicine registrar at St. James University Hospital in Leeds, and the news—naturally—hit her like a Mike Tyson hook to the ribs. As a doctor, she had certainly been around death. But …. she was dying? How could this be? Why me? Why now?
Shortly after the diagnosis, Granger made the decision to live. She created an amazing bucket list—and is tackling the items one by one. She has written two books—The Other Side and The Bright Side, chronicling her journey (all proceeded benefit the Yorkshire Cancer Centre). She blogs regularly, and kicked off a social media movement (#HelloMyNameIs) to, in her words, “encourage and remind healthcare staff about the importance of introductions in the delivery of care.” She has thought long and hard about life, about death, about legacy, about love. You can follow Kate on Twitter here, learn more about #HelloMyNameIs here and visit her personal website/blog here.
It’s an honor to welcome our 196th Quaz, Kate Granger …
JEFF PEARLMAN:Kate, I’m gonna start this very bluntly. You are dying of cancer. What is it like to be dying of cancer?
KATE GRANGER: Well, I wouldn’t have chosen it if you’d asked me what my life ambitions were in my early 20s. However, in some ways it has allowed me to make sure my friends and family know I love them and to do some amazing activities over the past three years. I think of it as a kind of gremlin we now carry with us every single day, which sometimes sits quietly and allows me to live my life relatively normally, but sometimes chooses to prod me hard to make sure I know it’s still there. My cancer causes lots of pain, particularly at night so my sleep is disturbed and I’m reliant on strong painkillers to be able to function day to day. However to anyone glancing at me in the street they’d probably see a normal, healthy-looking girl. I struggle with that all-too-common comment, “You look really well!”—especially when I’m feeling rubbish. The invisible effects of dying mean that I carry a huge burden of fears, anxieties and uncertainty about my nonexistent future. I can’t plan anything more than a few months in advance and a common response to wedding invitations is, “I’d love to come, if I’m still alive.” The only way to cope with it, I’ve found, is to live by a one-day-at-a-time mantra, embracing humour as a coping mechanism and trying to enjoy every last little piece of life that I’m lucky enough to have.
J.P.:I have long suffered from a horrible, sometimes crippling fear of dying. It’s not the act itself (cancer, plane crash, drowning, etc). No, it’s being dead. Not existing. No consciousness, no awareness. Just being nothing. I tell this to others and they usually blow it off—with either God talk or the ol’ “You’re dead, so you don’t know you’re dead. What’s so awful?” Neither soothes me. As someone who has surely given her mortality quite a bit of thought, I’m fascinated by what you think …
K.G.: I’m scared of the non-existential aspect of dying, too. I’m scared of the process of actually dying more though—the chances are that my dying will involve bowel obstruction, bleeding and pain. And being unable to control those horrible symptoms is a hugely scary prospect. I’ve seen lots of patients die in similar circumstances throughout my career so my professional experience doesn’t really offer any comfort. I think the aspect that causes me most distress though is the pain I’ll cause my husband Chris and my family when I do die; that I won’t be there to comfort them; that I will be the source of their tears. I was brought up in the Christian faith and we were married in church, but illness seems to have pushed any faith I did have away. I can’t remember the last time I went to church and I’m not sure I even believe in God anymore.
Checked off the bucket list.
J.P.:Here’s what I know: You have a husband, Chris. You live and work in Yorkshire. You graduated from Edinburgh University in 2005 and passed your MRCP in 2008. But what’s your journey? Like, why did you become a doctor? When did you decide to become a doctor? What sort of medicine do you focus upon?
K.G.: When I was little my mum used to volunteer at a day centre for older people with mental health problems. She used to cook the lunch once a week and in the school holidays I used to go along and help. I loved sitting and chatting with the older people there, playing Bingo and doing crafts. I think that’s where the foundations of my career to become a geriatrician were laid. I was bright at school and worked hard so with my love of people and science it seemed obvious to go for medicine. I was educated at state school but was a very under-confident teenager. I didn’t get a place at university in the first round of offers, but when I was studying for my final A-level exams I received a phone call from the admissions dean at Edinburgh offering me a place to study there. I was obviously elated at this news and didn’t stop smiling for at least a week. All through university I enjoyed the medical as opposed to the surgical specialties and the specialty I loved above all was elderly medicine. I loved the challenge of diagnosis, the variety, the people. I was fascinated by how very different one 90-year old is from the next. The stories patients have to tell and the context of their illnesses within their lives still excites me today. I have trained for 10 years post graduation and have for the past three months been acting up into a consultant role in medicine for older people. It has been hugely exhausting, challenging and scary but wonderful all the same. Many of my professional ambitions were stolen when I was diagnosed so to have the chance to do the job I’ve spend 15 years of my life training for has been amazing and a huge tick on the bucket list.
J.P.:You were diagnosed in 2011 with a rare and aggressive form of sarcoma. How did you know something was wrong? How long did you wait before seeing a doctor? How was the awful news delivered, and how did you initially respond?
K.G.: I was 29 and working hard as a medical registrar doing long days and night shifts. I’d been studying for my last set of post-graduate exams. So I felt tired. Understandably so, but looking back perhaps that fatigue was the first pointer to something being wrong. I then missed a period. I did a pregnancy test which was negative so I didn’t think much of it. Then Chris and I took a holiday to California. His aunty and uncle live in Santa Cruz in California and we love that part of the world. I had back pain when we stepped off the plane but thought I’d just slept awkwardly. I took some painkillers and got on with our holiday. We were very busy exploring San Francisco, Monterey and spending time with family. My symptoms weren’t going away though, and I started to go off my food. I just couldn’t eat—it was really weird. The pain was becoming unbearable. Eventually Chris found me lying on our bed in agony and put his foot down. His uncle took us to an urgent care centre where the doctor thought I looked unwell and referred us to the local emergency room. Within an hour of being in the hospital it became apparent that I was indeed very sick. My kidneys had failed and an ultrasound scan showed my kidneys were swollen. A CT scan showed the reason for my sudden illness; multiple tumours throughout my abdomen and pelvis, obstructing my ureters and causing the renal failure. I’d worked out I had cancer before they told me; there was no other reasonable explanation for the early test results. The doctor who told me stood near the door of my side room with his arms crossed and his back against the wall. He said, “We think it’s ovarian.” He didn’t finish the sentence with the scary big C word. I remember being calm and collected. I had to protect and shield Chris. I had to take charge of telling my family thousands of miles away. It was not a time for hysterics. I had to concentrate on the immediate hurdle of getting well enough to fly home.
With Chris, the hubby.
J.P.:You’ve started an amazing movement, the #HelloMyNameIs campaign, to “encourage and remind healthcare staff about the importance of introductions in the delivery of care.” Which strikes me as sort of strange, in that, well, why wouldn’t a doctor introduce himself/herself? Why wouldn’t a doctor ooze compassion, humanity, empathy? So, Kate, why was this needed?
K.G.: In the UK healthcare is publicly funded and in the recent times of austerity that funding has been squeezed. This means everybody delivering healthcare in the NHS is under immense pressure. I think when that is the case and you are incredibly busy the first thing that tends to suffer is the compassion staff feel able to deliver. Somewhere we’ve gone wrong and along the way forgotten the basics of care and the person on the receiving end. I started the #HelloMyNameIs movement in 2013 after an experience in hospital where I’d been admitted to a surgical ward with post-operative sepsis following a routine stent exchange. I’m a keen observer of my healthcare and one of my starkest observations on that occasion was that very few staff introduced themselves to me before they started interacting with me. This felt very wrong, as the first thing we are taught in medical school clinical skills sessions is that you start with introducing yourself, your role, asking what the patient would like to be called and explaining what you’re going to do. So I decided, after discovering on Twitter that my experience was not unique, to do something positive about it. Hence #hellomynameis was born. I think it is needed to remind healthcare staff, by using my fairly powerful narrative, that the little things do matter and mean a huge amount to patients, and that delivering truly person-centred care can benefit both patient and staff alike. It is essentially a gentle reminder to inspire and encourage a change in personal behaviour of healthcare staff by harnessing the immense reach and power of social media.
J.P.:In your Nov. 23, 2014 blog entry you wrote this: “Charlie. That was what we planned to call our first born in honour and remembrance of Chris’s paternal Grandfather. But Charlie will always remain in our dreams and never become a reality. I will never have those precious new-born cuddles or experience the wonder of childbirth.” Kate, how have you been able to deal with these things? With the child you’ll never have? The events you miss? Because you seem to possess a profound bravery most people surely lack.
K.G.: Life is what it is. I can’t change what’s happening to Chris and me. We try our absolute hardest to live in the now most of the time. However, I am reflective about my losses and grief in my writing and the space of my blog and books; I guess as a cathartic exercise. I’ve been lucky to have been given much more time than we ever expected. I’ve managed to get to perform those bridesmaid and wedding cake baking duties; I’ve managed to get to know those children I never thought I’d see born. I have to be grateful for those things. I don’t see it as brave because being brave implies making a choice to act in a certain way. I haven’t had any choice about what has happened to us so we just take it each day as it comes. I do shed tears for Charlie, for the life we should have had, for the guilt of not being a complete wife for Chris and causing him pain, for not giving my parents grandchildren. But if I allow myself to dwell on those things I would be overwhelmed by depression and anger so I simply don’t allow myself to. I suppose that is my choice, so that could be viewed as brave.
J.P.:You decided to blog about dying–in v-e-r-y detailed, gripping passages (“Why had you come along to ruin our lives? Abolished dreams of having my own family? Stolen my lifelong ambition to become a Consultant Geriatrician? Chris and I would never grow old together and be able to spoil our Grandchildren”). First, why? And second, do you find it more exhausting or exhilarating? Is it therapy? Painful therapy? You trying to leave a legacy? Both? All? Neither?
K.G.: Writing was not part of my life before illness. During those early days of a six-week hospital admission when I was very sick and the outlook was especially grim my boss at the time suggested to me the idea of writing a diary. It had helped his late sister gather her thoughts and deal with her emotions during her cancer journey. So I did and kept a diary, initially in a notebook, and when the notebook was full on my laptop. It grew into almost an obsession and during long, painful, lonely nights I would take solace in pouring my feelings and observations out onto the page. I wasn’t trying to write a book—not initially anyway. When I read back what I’d written it became clear to me it held a message and that message was to healthcare staff. It had become apparent to me that how the people looking after me behaved, whether that be in a positive or a negative way, had a profound impact on my experience as the patient. Those messages were not ones that I had considered much in my medical training before illness. Sharing my experiences as “one of them” but “one of us” seemed like the right thing to do. One of my passions professionally is medical education and I guess writing is kind of teaching … I enjoy writing and I do find it therapeutic. I like to try and say the “unsaid” to try and stimulate conversation and trigger reflections from others. It is comforting to me that my blog will exist long after I’m gone as a permanent record of my journey. Legacies are important to me. I really don’t want to be remembered as “that poor young doctor who died of a rare cancer before her time,” but rather someone who made a positive improvement to healthcare.
J.P.:Do you feel like people approach you differently since cancer was diagnosed? I mean, are there those who overdo it, those who stay far away? And, going through this, what would you advise people to do, if a friend has cancer? Is there a proper emotional/behavioral response?
K.G.: Inevitably … I want to just be treated as Kate. The Kate that I always was. Just because I have a serious disease doesn’t mean that I don’t still enjoy the same things in life; have the same values. I hate being treated with kid gloves—independence is so important to me. But cancer is part of me now and does mean things are different. I’ve always been the sort of person who has a small circle of close friends and that hasn’t changed. I’m also quite happy in my own company much of the time. I know those people are there for me no matter what, but they don’t smother us with attention. I’m not sure there is a ‘correct’ response to support a friend on a cancer journey as everyone’s needs are so individual. I think remembering the importance of ongoing support after diagnosis is essential though. People can be quick to send cards and presents in the beginning but putting the effort into being there for the long haul means a lot more to me personally.
J.P.:What do you think people, in day to day life, fail to see? Fail to grasp? Fail to do?
K.G.: I think it is very tough for people who look at me to see someone who is not going to get better, who is dying. I have fairly clear skin, glossy hair and I’m certainly not skinny. Even at my most sick I didn’t outwardly look that unwell. I’m also incredibly open about the fact that my life is going to be cut short prematurely and regularly speak about the ‘D’ word. I’m sure trying to associate those two disparate factors can be difficult for people. Because I’ve defied the odds in terms of my prognosis I think many people think I’m invincible. I hear, “You’re not really going to die though, are you?” I am. I always try to keep the realist view of what’s happening.
I’ve often been faced with people who perhaps haven’t seen me in a while who are in fact rendered completely speechless by the situation. They always seem to have those sad, sympathetic, “But you’re too young” eyes. Everyone wanted to be involved at the beginning—we were overwhelmed with messages and visits. But as time has dragged on we’ve found out who our true friends are; those people who have kept up their support week in and week out; and those who have disappeared from the scene. I keep many of my symptoms to myself and don’t allow most people to see my suffering publicly. Chris is the only one who really sees how unwell I become with chemotherapy; the tears at 2 am because I’m in so much pain I can’t move. We are blessed, though, to be surrounded by some wonderful support and are extremely lucky in that respect.
J.P.: I love your bucket list—especially your accomplished goals of making brioche, riding a horse, skydive, visit Venice and getting a tattoo (which, sort of ironically, is listed right above visiting Anne Frank’s house). So tell me, Kate, what was skydiving like? What’s the tattoo, and where’s it located? What was the horse’s name, how was the brioche? And what did you think of Venice?
K.G.: My bucket list has given everyone in my life such a positive focus to create special memories not associated with illness and has led to some amazing experiences. Skydiving was simply awesome—I’ve never done anything like that before but I loved it and would do it again. It was such a rush. The tattoo is a small, pretty purple butterfly on my left ankle. The horse was called Harvey and was very patient with me after so many years since I’d be in the saddle. The brioche turned out really well. I love to cook and bake, and some of the items on the list are about learning new skills. Michel Roux, Jr. who is a famous French chef in the UK, gave me a lesson in brioche baking at his restaurant. With all his tips I’ve made it at home successfully twice now and it was delicious (if I do say so myself!). Venice was beautiful—we’d always talked about going but never quite got there. I loved the Rialto market, the ice cream and the tiny back streets crammed full of a huge array of different shops. We nearly fell out of a gondola on the Grand Canal when we got a little too close to a large boat! I would say my favourite item on the list though has been renewing our wedding vows. It was an incredibly emotional and special day.
• Three things you can tell me about your husband, Chris: He’s like a human calculator—if you ask him any mental arithmetic he’ll give you the correct answer straight away. He’s amazing at blagging free stuff which has meant my bucket list has been extra special. He’s a keen walker and has done some amazingly long hikes for charity.
• Should there be another A-Team movie? And do you like the idea of Rampage Jackson filling Mr. T’s shoes?: I’m not really that bothered for me, but if the A-Team fans have an appetite for another movie then fine. I wouldn’t be first in the queue at the cinema to see it though.
• I’m starting to have lots of hair growing from my ears. What should I do?: Don’t stress. Life’s too short.
• What are three things that should immediately turn a person off of a new doctor?: As a patient you form a judgement of a doctor extremely quickly. For me it’s when someone fails to introduce themselves, stands over you when you are in bed or has disinterested body body language such as lack of eye contact.
• Tell me the best joke you know: A bit childish but someone told me this one the other day: ‘Doctor, doctor, I’ve got something wrong with my eyes. I keep seeing an insect spinning round my head.’ ‘Don’t worry, that’s just a bug going round.’ I’m rubbish at remembering the punch line to jokes!
• Can you create a poem, right now, that incorporates Starbucks, Cleveland, Muhammad Ali and the number eight?: Been sat in Starbucks since about 8/ They asked me my name, #hellomynameis Kate/ I’m reading an article on Muhammad Ali/ Before meeting my friend from Cleveland called Sally/ Must rush now before I am late! (Thanks to Chris for his help on this!)
• Six words that describe your knees: Pale, fat, scarred (I knelt on a piece of broken glass when playing in long grass as a little girl) and best covered up!
• You have “another visit to California” on your bucket list. I’m officially offering up my house in Southern Cal as a place to stay. You coming?: If you’re offering and I survive round 3 in the chemo boxing ring Chris and I will be there. Thank you! That’s an incredibly generous offer.
The sweet swing of Emmett Pearlman, second baseman for the Red Sox.
So two days ago I made my little league managerial debut, leading the Red Sox against the Dodgers in a noon game on a sun-drenched field.
I was actually a bit nervous, because coaches pitch and my accuracy is a bit erratic, and I worried about obnoxious parents and bratty kids and overly competitive rival coaches and … and …
It was terrific.
Beyond terrific. At time, the practices have been a bit, eh, rough. Nothing terrible, but 7-year-old boys are 7-year-old boys, and 8-year-old boys are 8-year-old boys. They stop listening. They spit raspberries. They spin round and round and look every which way but straight. Last week’s practice, in particular, was not fun. I actually had all the kids sit on the infield grass, and I said, “Look, I don’t get paid to do this. I’m doing this for fun, and to help you guys. So …”
That held the collective attention for at least four minutes.
Anyhow, I had low expectations for the game. And they were exceeded times 1,000. One, because my kids smacked the crap out of the ball. Two, because my son went 3-for-3 and make some terrific plays at second and first. Third, and most important, because it was REALLY fun. We have a team handshake—slap-slap-pound-dove wings—that was utilized about 500 times. The kids chanted from the bench. One boy, Jason, never played organized ball before. At the plate, he was grinning from dimple to dimple—and singled twice. I don’t know whether we won or lost (I suspect we won), because scores aren’t kept in A ball. But I felt like a winner, because we had a lovely 1 1/2 hours. So, hey.
One interesting thing: Before the game, I met with the Dodgers coach. He was a very nice guy, very chill. League rules call for three swings=a strikeout, and he said he was pretty loose with it. He wanted every kid to have the chance to get a hit, which I completely agreed with. Then, however, the game began and I forgot. If my kids swung through three pitches, they were out and sent back to the bench. And you know what? It was for the best. I’m usually not this type of guy (stick to the rules, etc), but there’s nothing wrong with learning what happens when you don’t connect; nothing wrong with striking out. We don’t always succeed in life, and that’s fine. So, even as the Ks mounted, I was comfortable with it. Because accepting a setback is just as important as accepting victory.
Scott Walker (left) and Ted Cruz. “We must attack ISIS, before we attack ISIS!”
ISIS is an entity that scares you because, 14 years ago, we did something really dumb.
In the aftermath of Al Queda striking the United States, we went after Iraq, a nation that had—literally—nothing to do with the Sept. 11 attacks. We cooked the intelligence so it leaned negatively toward Saddam Hussein, built up this nonsense case, went in, dominated, had the leader executed and clapped as our president—dressed in a Ken Doll military outfit—saluted the flag while exclaiming, “Mission accomplished!” Then, as questions began trickling in, we repeated one line over and over and over: “Saddam Hussein was a mad man, and the world is a safer place without him.”
Um … no.
Here we are. It’s 2015. Saddam Hussein—not a good guy—is dead. And Iraq is now home to ISIS, an operation 1,000,000,000 times more threatening to the United States (and the world) than Iraq under Saddam ever was. There is, I believe, no denying this: Without the Iraqi invasion, ISIS either doesn’t exist or is a fraction of what we now behold. Both physically (the literal invasion of a nation) and emotionally (Look at what the Americans are doing in Gitmo!), our actions resulted in thousands of young Middle Eastern men to loathe/detest/abhor the United States; to believe (understandably) that we were the enemy, determined to change their way of life to our (supposed superior) way of life.
Think what you may about Barack Obama’s foreign policy. It’s a hard one to figure, and I’m often befuddled by the president’s decisions. But right now, as GOP presidential ambitions turn vibrant, I am dumbfounded and scared by the saber rattling emerging from the right. Listen to Scott Walker, to Ted Cruz, to Jeb Bush. There’s this idea—repeated endlessly—that we need to take the fight to ISIS, in the same manner Ronald Reagan took the fight to communism.
The problem, however, is that ISIS is to the Soviet Union what a glass or orange juice is to scissors. Namely, they’re totally different entities, at different times, with different complexities. You “take the fight” to ISIS by putting American troops on the ground, you’re basically filming a powerful ISIS recruiting video starring the invading infidels. Young men would come running to join the fight. You’ll have increasing numbers of American troops captured, beheaded, captured, beheaded. Yeah, we’ll have our wins. But we’ll also have our nightmares. It’ll be like hatching cockroaches.
So, please, can we chill with the bluster, think this thing out, figure out a way to handle this with intelligence, with righteousness, with conviction.
So a few days ago I wrote this blog post about the crappiest of crap editorials, written by a Tennessean sports editor named Dave Ammenheuser. And, truly, it had nothing to do with Dave as a human being, or even Dave as a sports editor. Hell, I don’t know the guy. I simply take exception to newspaper columnists soliciting ideas from readers. It’s, at best, a curious way to cultivate column concepts.
Anyhow, in the ensuing days I’ve had a chance to read some of Dave’s actual sports columns, and I was slugged in the face by a profound reality: Men like Dave Ammenheuser are a big reason daily sports sections are becoming obsolete.
Now, I want to make this clear: Nothing here is about Dave as a person. I don’t know him, I have zero personal animosity toward him. But, as an editor, he has clearly bought into the modern Gannett philosophy, which concerns making the newspaper as reader-centric as possible. Meaning, turn the product into a three-dimensional vehicle where customers (and potential customers) feel involved in the product. Make it about them. Bring them in. Feel what they feel. Tell their stories.
I suppose, from an unemotional Spock-like standpoint, this makes sense. I mean, why wouldn’t people want to be involved with that they read? Don’t things like Twitter and Facebook verify that we’re a me-me-me-me society? Heck, let them eat cake.
Here’s the problem with that: It’s bullshit. When you decide your sports columns (not profiles. Columns.) are going to focus on the volleyball player with a heart of gold, the mid-level college offensive coordinator finally getting his shot, the distance runner who shocked the region, the equestrian rider who gave up golf to pursue horses, well … you’re writing not for a mass audience, but for somebody’s scrapbook. In other words, the equestrian rider’s mom, dad, grandma and Aunt Lucy will love you forever. But, for the most part, nobody else will give two shits.
If I’m the sports editor of The Tennessean, or any newspaper dying a slow-and-painful death, I’m begging my columnists to go for the jugular. I want to hear why Vanderbilt’s football coach needs to be fired. I want to hear why the Vols will never be good again. I want a man/woman unafraid to blast, to praise, to write hard, to bring a jolt of lightning to the page. This doesn’t mean you have to regularly slam people. But you need to have an opinion, and you can’t tiptoe. You must bring it. Then bring it again. And again. I’m no fan of Skip Bayless. But you know why he’s enormously popular while peers from his newspaper day are long gone? Because he makes points and drives them home. Repeatedly, awkwardly, sometimes cruelly.
Truth is, newspapers are on the way out. It sucks, it hurts.
But if they want to last a bit longer, they need to stop following this inane idea that readers need to be a part of the process.
So it appears Josh Hamilton—once-upon-a-time phenom, once-upon-a-time superstar—has returned to cocaine, the drug that nearly ended his baseball career and his life.
Multiple reports say he fell off the wagon last season, and now faces possible punishment from Major League Baseball.
As a guy who’s written much about Hamilton, I’m sad.
As a guy who’s written much about Hamilton, I’m not surprised.
The No. 1 pick in the 1999 amateur draft, Hamilton’s ride has been unlike few others. He was a phenom—arguably the most talented prospect since Ken Griffey, Jr. He got hurt. He had free time. He turned to cocaine. He became an addict, and surrendered years of his life to the drug. He was thought to be dead and gone. He wasn’t. He finally reached the Majors, with Cincinnati in 2007, and went on to become one of the game’s elite power hitters. All was good and grand and dandy.
Only it wasn’t. Not really. When it came to staying off of drugs, the Hamilton plan was very similar to the way Orthodox Jewish men approach the temptation that is the female body. Namely, they ignore. They cover. They cower. They stay away. By making women cover their bodies and sit far away during services, men reduce the risk of straying. And yet, it doesn’t solve the problem. You don’t become less sexually tempted by not seeing women. You’re just suppressing a desire.
Hamilton avoided temptation at all costs. He never carried more than $40 in his wallet. His wife traveled everywhere with him. The Texas Rangers hired an addiction specialist, just to stick by his side. Technically, this worked. He closed his eyes and covered his ears and screamed, “NO DRUGD NO DRUGS NO DRUGS NO DRUGS!!!!!” But is that a cure? A solution?
I actually had a lengthy discussion about Hamilton’s recovery with Ellis Valentine, the former Montreal Expos star whose career was shorted by cocaine. Ellis now works as an addiction specialist, and he saw the Hamilton approach and cringed. “I wish he’d call me,” Ellis said a few years back. “Because there are better ways to approach this.”
Something unfolded recently on Twitter, and I friggin’ loved it.
So ISIS issued a threat to the good people of Rome. It warned the Italian capital to be on alert, because ISIS is coming, and coming hard. “We will conquer Rome with Allah’s permission,” the group said in one of its predictably brutal videos.
So how did the Romans respond? By laughing. Actually, by mocking. They took to Twitter in grand numbers, and tossed out stuff like this …
… and this …
… and this …
… and this …
There were dozens upon dozens of these Tweets. And I absolutely loved them. Why? Because … fuck ISIS and their cowardly ways. Fuck people who think they’re so tough, but do everything behind a mask. Yeah, it’s kinda terrifying. And the beheadings are awful. But, to me, the best way to make a so-called terrorist group less scary and intimidating is to mock it. Or, as Fonzie would advise, to punch a bully in the mouth and let everyone see the blood.
It strikes me that young fools flock to ISIS because, well, they’re young fools. They feel alone, isolated, worthless. And ISIS is, in Grease terminology, the Pink Ladies. Cool, hip, smoking cigarettes and getting laid. So the fools join, because they aspire to be cool, too.
Well, let’s stop making ISIS cool. Let’s call the members out for what they are.
Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.