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Thursday, February 01, 2007

I love Molly past tense. She was an American Star, a brilliant, perceptive satirist and patriot, in the authentic sense of that word.

Here are two tributes, the first a tribute in progress, an anti-war column to continue ---

From: "Becky O'Malley" Becky O'MalleyExecutive EditorBerkeley Daily Planet3025A ShattuckBerkeley, CA, 94705(510)841-5600 ext. 122Date: January 29, 2007 2:41:39 PM ESTTo: "Becky O'Malley"

Subject: Molly Ivins tribute: call for columns against the warDear Friends, Molly Ivins has vowed to conduct a continuous campaign against the war in her column, but she's gotten sick again, so she's only managed to write one more column since then. We're asking colleagues to take up Molly's campaign for the time being as a tribute to her. This call for contributions will be published in tomorrow's Berkeley Daily Planet. Please forward to the right people, and write a column or two yourself if you can: ----------------------------------------------------------

The news over the weekend was not good. Molly Ivins, everyone's favorite smart-mouth columnist, was back in the hospital for the third time, dealing with her raging cancer, which started in her breasts but now has spread throughout her body. Last fall, she was in San Francisco on a panel at a conference of journalism educators, and she didn't look well then, wan, thin, wearing a bold hat to cover up the loss of most of her hair. Her tongue was as sharp as ever, of course, causing a roomful of ordinarily sincere and cautious academics to shriek with laughter before giving her a standing ovation.

Since then she's continued to write as much as she could, devoting an increasing portion of her limited energy to castigating the fools in Washington (and she's never suffered fools gladly) for continuing the war in Iraq. A sample pronouncement, early this year: "The president of the United States doesn't have the sense God gave a duck. So it's up to us. You and me." In that column she promised that "This will be a regular feature of mine, like an old-fashioned newspaper campaign. Every column, I'll write about this war until we find some way to end it...every time, we'll review some factor we should have gotten right." But since then she's only managed to write one more column. That one ran on Jan. 11 and opposed George Bush's proposed "surge" escalation of the war. In it she said: "We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders.And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war."

At the Washington peace march on Saturday, which Molly had promoted in her latest column, actor Sean Penn picked up her refrain "We are the deciders" and vamped on it to great effect before an audience of tens of thousands. And now it really is up to us. While Molly is sick, the rest of us will have to carry her "old-fashioned newspaper campaign" forward. With that in mind, the Berkeley Daily Planet is hereby launching what we might call the "Molly Ivins Festschrift". A festschrift is defined by Merriam-Webster as "a volume of writings by different authors presented as a tribute or memorial especially to a scholar."

Academics are wont to create festschrifts on the occasion of a revered colleague's sixtieth birthday, for example. Molly's already sixty-two, but no time like the present to catch up with what we should have done two years ago. And we might call it festschrift if we could reliably remember how to spell or pronounce that German word, but let's just call it the Molly Ivins Tribute Project. The idea is that her colleagues in the opinionated part of the journalistic world should take over her campaign while she's sick, creating a deluge of columns about what's wrong with Bush's war and what should be done to set things right. It would be nice if a lot of these columns could be funny, since skewering serious subjects with humor is what Molly does best, but that's not required.

Here at the Berkeley Daily Planet we've set up a special mailbox to receive the offerings,'ll publish them as they come in, at least one every day if possible, in our internet edition, .

We'd like them to be contributed free of copyright, so that any publication, print or online, can take them off the web and re-circulate them to their own readers. The best ones we'll also run in our Tuesday and Friday printed papers. A good length would be 600-800 words, which would work for most publications. Readers, please take on the job of forwarding this call for contributions to any good columnist you read regularly, and to any publications which might circulate the results. (And of course, columnists under contract should just write pieces to run in their regular outlets.)

Just to get started, would-be writers might take a look at Monday's top story from Iraq, which described a fierce battle in which 200 (or was it 300?) Iraqis were killed. They were variously described, in A.P. reports and by L.A. Times correspondents, as members of a messianic Shiite sect, die-hard survivors of Hussein's (mostly Sunni or secular) Baath party, tribal fighters dressed in colorful Afghan robes, and more-no one really seems to know who they were or what they were up to. But whoever they were, we seem to have killed a bunch of them-and it's "we" because though the Iraqi national forces started things off, U.S. helicopters and bombers were called in to finish up when things were not going well. And yes, two or three Americans died too, fighting whoever they were for whatever reason it turned out to be. I'm glad I'm not the person who has to explain to their families why they died.

Becky O'Malley Executive EditorBerkeley Daily Planet3025A ShattuckBerkeley, CA, 94705(510)841-5600 ext. 122


Molly Ivins is gone, and her words will never grace these pages again -- for this, we will mourn. But Molly wasn't the type of woman who would want us to grieve. More likely, she'd say something like, "Hang in there, keep fightin' for freedom, raise more hell, and don't forget to laugh, too."

If there was one thing Molly wanted us to understand, it's that the world of politics is absurd. Since we can't cry, we might as well laugh. And in case we ever forgot, Molly would remind us, several times a week, in her own unique style.

Shortly after becoming editor of Molly Ivins' syndicated column, I learned one of my most important jobs was to tell her newspaper clients that, yes, Molly meant to write it that way. We called her linguistic peculiarities "Molly-isms." Administration officials were "Bushies," government was in fact spelled "guvment," business was "bidness." And if someone was "madder than a peach orchard boar," well, he was quite mad indeed.

Of course, having grown up in Texas, all of this made sense to me. But to newspaper editors in Seattle, Chicago, Detroit and beyond -- Yankee land, as Molly would say -- her folksy language could be a mystery. "That's just Molly being Molly," I would explain and leave it at that.
But there was more to Molly Ivins than insightful political commentary packaged in an aw-shucks Southern charm. In the coming days, much will be made of Molly's contributions to the liberal cause, how important she was as an authentic female voice on opinion pages across the country, her passionate and eloquent defense of the poorest and the weakest among us against the corruption of the most powerful, and the joy she took in celebrating the uniqueness of American culture -- and all of this is true. But more than that, Molly Ivins was a woman who loved and cared deeply for the world around her. And her warm and generous spirit was apparent in all her words and deeds.

Molly's work was truly her passion. She would regularly turn down lucrative speaking engagements to give rally-the-troops speeches at liberalism's loneliest outposts. And when she did rub elbows with the highfalutin' well-to-do, the encounter would invariably end up as comedic grist in future columns.

For a woman who made a profession of offering her opinion to others, Molly was remarkably humble. She was known for hosting unforgettable parties at her Austin home, which would feature rollicking political discussions, and impromptu poetry recitals and satirical songs. At one such event, I noticed her dining table was littered with various awards and distinguished speaker plaques, put to use as trivets for steaming plates of tamales, chili and fajita meat. When I called this to her attention, Molly matter-of-factly replied, "Well, what else am I going to do with 'em?"

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Molly's life is the love she engendered from her legions of fans. If Molly missed a column for any reason, her newspapers would hear about it the next day. As word of Molly's illness spread, the letters, cards, e-mails and gifts poured in.
Even as Molly fought her last battle with cancer, she continued to make public appearances. When she was too weak to write, she dictated her final two columns. Although her body was failing, she still had so much to say. Last fall, before an audience at the University of Texas, her voice began as barely a whisper. But as she went on, she drew strength from the standing-room-only crowd until, at the end of the hour, she was forcefully imploring the students to get involved and make a difference. As Molly once wrote, "Politics is not a picture on a wall or a television sitcom that you can decide you don't much care for."

For me, Molly's greatest words of wisdom came with three children's books she gave my son when he was born. In her inimitable way, she captured the spirit of each in one-sentence inscriptions. In "Alice in Wonderland," she offered, "Here's to six impossible things before breakfast." For "The Wind in the Willows," it was, "May you have Toad's zest for life." And in "The Little Prince," she wrote, "May your heart always see clearly."

Like the Little Prince, Molly Ivins has left us for a journey of her own. But while she was here, her heart never failed to see clear and true -- and for that, we can all be grateful.
To find out more about Molly Ivins and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at

Molly Ivins' final column, "Stand Up Against the Surge," is available here. Use the calendar below to navigate through her columns from 2006.

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