My Two Moments With Alexander Cockburn

by Jeff Costello, March 15, 2017

At this point, after nearly 30 years, I seem to be an older-timer at the AVA, the Editor and The Major notwithstanding. I discovered the paper at the home of my old friend and fellow senior AVA contributor Jim Gibbons, on the outskirts of Willits. It was in the AVA that I first heard of and read columns, then called Ashes and Diamonds, by Alex Cockburn. This was a scant year after I quit drinking due to liver troubles, and other than voting against Nixon in '72, I began — to some extent — getting immersed, or at least interested, in politics. And that wouldn't have happened if it weren't for the radical nature of Bruce Anderson's newspaper. Political matters had always seemed mostly a bunch of boring bullshit. Cockburn and Anderson made it interesting.

Cockburn, Anderson

These were the days of Wanda Tinasky, Charles Hurwitz's assault on the redwoods, the Bari bombing, and the editor's arrest for courtroom disruption. I did meet Judi Bari, when working with Gibbons starting a new building on her property, but the closest I came to meeting Cockburn was reading a freshly arrived article from him at the old AVA compound on Anderson Valley Way — the article was typewritten and loaded with slashes, crossed-out words and scribbled notes in the margins.

I read his columns every week, it was more or less my introduction to political observation in print, beyond my old fuck a buncha bullshit view. He treated the power-mongers and authority figures as the flawed humans they were, rather than people to be feared and respected simply because of their lofty positions.

One day, in a piece about then-president Bill Clinton, he pointed out that Clinton referred to children as "investments," which tells you a lot about the workings of the Bubba mind. Unfortunately, at the time, AC was capping off the columns with a final note he called The Bottom Line. After the Clinton reference, use of another finance industry metaphor was too much for me, and I wrote to the AVA, pointing out the irony. The Bottom Line section disappeared from AC's column forthwith.

Another AC column dealt with overpopulation, with reference to WASPs (a nearly bygone term for White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, the whitest of the white). This reminded me of a Richard Pryor routine where he asked a white audience, "What's the matter? Y'all stop fuckin'? There will be no shortage of niggers. Niggers is fuckin' " I emailed this quote to AC and he replied, "Thanks for reminding me."

Many years later I bought a copy of ‘A Colossal Wreck’ from Counterpunch, in which I came across that same Pryor quote. Once again, I was glad to have helped.

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