An Open Letter to Stephen George

Dear Mr. George,

This is not a hit piece.”? Really? I would hope it was a hit piece because if this is how you write about female politicians in general, I’m going to have a lot of open letters to you to write.

Let’s consider who, aside from Evans, gets quoted in your story: Mike Jameson, Jason Holleman, Kevin Sharp, Richard Riebeling, and Joe Hall. You don’t find that the least bit strange or remarkable? I’ll tell you what; I find it strange and remarkable. Not one woman in town had anything quotable to say about Evans? Is that because you didn’t talk to women? Women wouldn’t talk to you? It didn’t occur to you to talk to women? Women don’t have enough power, in general, to make your list of important people to talk to? You just didn’t think your quotes from women were as interesting? What?

It makes me wonder whether criticisms of Evans being too much of a smarty pants, too arrogant, not helpful have to do with her as a politician or have to do with her not behaving how your “certain cadre of well-connected Nashvillians” expect a woman to behave.

You provided no examples of what folks think is her intellectual dishonesty, no examples of what you found arrogant about her, and when you were flailing around for a way to describe her, you said, “Evans looks more like a mom than a crusader,” as if those are mutually exclusive terms.  And what the hell does a “mom” look like anyway? The majority of women over the age of 30 are moms.

So, you’re basically saying that she looks more like a woman than a crusader. Your criticisms of her and the criticisms of her you pass along from others are all pretty thinly-veiled gendered complaints–the way she moves through the world hurts the egos of powerful men. They want her to be more, you know, demure, willing to hide her brains, willing to defer to them, willing to know her place.

And you! You feed into this nonsense. First by calling her arrogant without, you know, providing examples so your readers can judge for themselves, like we should just take the word of you and five other men that this woman is arrogant. Then you call her a mom, as if that tells your reader anything other than her gender and reproductive status–as if her gender and reproductive status somehow shed light on her brains. And your whole framing is kind of vile–that Evans has become less of a public figure, perhaps because she’s learned her place.

As the kids say, WTF? Your story is basically, some men don’t like her, but some dude did fuck her at least a couple of times, and now maybe she’s gotten most of that thinking silliness out of her system.

How is that a story? More than that, how is that not a hit piece? And not even a hit piece on Evans as a person, which, you know, more power to you on that, but on Evans as a woman? That’s kind of a finger in the eye to all your female readers.

Shape up,

B.

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25 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Stephen George

  1. That’s labeled a news story? (It’s hard to tell from the way the website is organized.) Sure looks like an opinion piece to me.

  2. I really don’t even know what to say here.. To call this a hit piece would be a slight to the time-honored tradition and art of hit-pieces. This is just utter garbage..

  3. Hm. There are a lot of charges against me here. Let’s tackle this in chronological order, just to avoid any confusion.

    Paragraph 1: It was a profile of one of the most controversial people on the Metro Council, three months after the convention center vote, which is invariably a part of her story — as are the men who helped make the decision, the man who asked her to run for council, so forth.

    Paragraph 2: As I wrote, there were some 15 people contacted for this story. Some of them were women. Most people — not women, but people — did not want to comment on the record for this piece. Can you imagine why?

    Further, the men you mention who were quoted are, to put it simply, the people with whom she was involved during the convention center debate. If you have a problem with the fact that the city’s finance director, the leader of the anti-convention center movement and the vast majority of the Metro Council are men, take it up with the people who elect and appoint them. I was trying to reflect the reality of a political situation, not write a discourse about gender inequity in local government.

    Paragraph 3: You might be right. You’d have to ask my sources that question directly. Admittedly, I did not ask them whether they hate women or think a woman’s place is outside the sphere of influence. But my $0.02: Their criticisms have to do with her as a politician. If that part wasn’t clear enough in my piece, then I will go back to serving food to rich white men as a career.

    Paragraph 4: Examples from the story of the intellectual dishonesty, conspiracies and arrogance she is accused of: That she called media outlets reporting about the bond sales in order to insert a negative viewpoint and, in turn, damage the city’s chances of being seen as dependable to bond investors; That she was blamed for Fitch’s downgrading of the CC bonds when she had nothing to do with it, she says; That she burns anyone she disagrees with (ie “scorched earth” approach), of which multiple sources had firsthand knowledge; That her methods as a politician are overly personal.

    And about the description: I chose to construct it that way (and to leave it at that) for two reasons: One, most people — obviously not you — have an idea of what those two characters could look like, and yes, it’s easy and quick to use such a line. I didn’t want to spend too much time or space describing her, as it doesn’t much matter for this kind of piece. More importantly, though: Motherhood is extremely important to Evans. It’s a major part of her identity, at least according to what she told me during our interview. She left a big-time career to raise her children, and she is proud of that. More power to her. I tried to give a nod to that without being heavy-handed. I thought feminism was big-tent enough to include women who choose full-time motherhood.

    Paragraph 5: If you want to write a piece about gender politics in city government, I’ll be happy to consider running it in The City Paper. In fact, I think it would be fascinating to hear what people have to say on the subject. That, however, was not what I was writing about here, nor did I feel the need to spend half of a relatively short piece complaining that all these nasty dudes are in charge and poor Emily Evans can’t get a fair shake because of her sex. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say Evans would be disgusted by the very thought of such a thing. And, you know, it’s just not true.

    It seems you’re projecting your objections about the men who are in high places in this city onto me. I was trying to write about a person who was very nearly a gamechanger in Nashville’s biggest capital project ever. What the hell does it matter that she’s a woman?

    Paragraph 6: I spent considerably more time and space on her brains than on the fact that she is a woman who is married and has children. To say otherwise is just silly, and it reflects the agenda you brought to reading this piece more than what the piece actually says. The piece details her education and career path, not to mention a caveat that everyone — regardless of their position on the CC or political persuasion in general — agrees that the woman is basically a financial genius whose insights were, to some, extremely helpful and to others, a real kick in the ass.

    As for her withdrawing from the public eye, well, that’s just the fact of the matter. She chose not to give a floor speech on the night of the vote on her signature issue. She hasn’t written on her blog in months when she was once very active on it. Those things suggest she’s demoralized about what happened, although when I asked her that — and she is quoted on this matter — she said no, she’s still rolling along … perhaps a little more quietly. I did think it necessary to include Joe Hall’s quote about her being the sole source for reporters on this issue and, therefore, being an easy target for those who oppose her. How that’s sexist, I am not really sure.

    I did not refer to the fact that she is a mother as a way to somehow shed light on her brains — that’s ridiculous, although to connect the two is certainly a convenient fit to your critique of me as chauvinistic. I think the mentions of her education and work experience, as well as the input of multiple sources on the matter, reflected her brains plenty. I referred to Evans-as-mom because 1) It tells the reader something personal about the subject of the piece when most of what has been written about this person has been totally impersonal — in other words, it humanizes the human; 2) Like I said before, motherhood is important to her. She’s spent the last 9 years working as a full-time mom. It’s something she’s proud of, that she mentioned when it came up in conversation not as some sheepish “I’m a stay-at-home mom now” but as a career choice.

    I’d be shocked to discover that you didn’t think personal details like that reflect priorities in a person’s life, as well as offering the reader a broader understanding than the typical “Evans goes off on convention center, pisses off establishment” treatment the storyline has thus far been given by our media.

    I appreciate your reading of my story as an indictment of all women who seek something beyond the demure, willing-to-hide-their-brains status of the ones you apparently know of in our local government. To each her own. That’s part of the difficulty of taking on a complex subject and letting your work out to the general public. Every reader will bring her agenda.

    Hell, if nothing else, this confirms my suspicion going into the reporting of this piece that the mere mention of Emily Evans’ name still conjures severe reactions — and from all sides. And that, of course, is a very particular kind of power in politics.

    Perhaps the real problem here is that Emily Evans isn’t exactly the type of “woman in power” you’re seeking. Or maybe I’m just projecting.

    Glad to be of service,

    SG

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  5. I don’t know, Chris. My first reaction was the same as yours but then I re-read it and it’s clear that the negative opinions of anonymous interviewees are given more weight than the positive opinion of those who actually went on record.

    Jameson’s defense was so rife with obscenities that George “couldn’t print the transcript?” Really? What’s the matter, is his asterisk key broken? And the best quote he could pull out of the Holleman defense is one that insinuates a vast conspiracy?

  6. Mr. George:

    I’ve noted that this City Paper story is at least more personal than the hit pieces that the City Paper did on Music City Center critics up until the big vote.

    However, saying that Evans “looks like a mom” really means nothing, it suggests bias in framing parents, and it frankly smacks of sexism.

    I am a primary parent who takes pride in parenthood, and I’m almost sure I don’t “look like a mom,” even in the million different ways someone could so look.

  7. On one hand, George says that he can’t print Jameson’s comments because they’re “not fit for a family publication”. On the other hand, George doesn’t cite a single person in the whisper campaign of anonymous smears against Evans.

    We have “rumblings in some political circles” – which circles? Who said that?

    We have “conspiracy theories” that are “surprisingly abundant” – did anyone go on record to make those allegations? Where did you hear them?

    We have “a person in the finance industry” making off-record denials that Evans “pulled such a trick” as the “rumblings” suggest.

    Look – if I want to read a gossip story, I’ll get the National Enquirer. Make the naysayers go on record or don’t publish their attacks.

    There are rumblings going around that Stephen George should be fired. Some say that he’s a useless hack with no integrity. But a source in the newspaper industry said that he’s just doing what he’s been told to do.

  8. Mr. Byrd,

    The fact that Evans is a full-time mother — among everything else, which is certainly not to be diminished and is not in the piece — is an important part of her overall self, in fact a defining part, and I thought it important to humanize her when she really hasn’t been in past coverage.

    Putting those two things in opposition — being a mom and being an activist public official — was intended as a setup to be contradicted by what came later in the piece, and I think it worked. All this discussion of my “sexism” — while certainly a distraction from the relevant issues brought up by those quoted (and not) in the piece, including Evans — only goes to prove that her occupying both spaces in the public consciousness is still, sadly, a difficult concept for some to grasp.

    To suggest I don’t understand that by pulling one line out of a 1500-word piece that otherwise lays out some of the difficult, complicated issues that swirl around a dynamic council member with a unique kind of power, a person who is so clearly threatening to many around her, is unfortunate, and it ignores the larger points here.

    SG

  9. It’s poor “journalism”. My agenda, such as it is, is to expect political reporters to source their work, to avoid smear words and unsubstantiated allegations, to steer clear of trite phrasing, and to deliver the news free of sexist crap. I don’t think those expectations are shockingly high; I just think Mr. George fails to meet them and then pretends the problem is with his reader. (See also “Oxford American” episode…what is it with these guys?)

    What is this guy’s journalism training, beyond being a part-time music critic and chief cook and bottle washer for another alt-weekly? I’m not implying he doesn’t have cred; I’m just having trouble finding it.

  10. Mr. George, the whole ‘looks like a mom’ thing stands out like a sore thumb. It doesn’t really do much for you and it seems like an attempt to capitalize on some sort of demur mom stereotype.

    B, I don’t get him saying she got into trouble because she’s a woman who was smarter than the guys. Generally when someone says anything along the lines of ‘s/he thinks s/he’s smarter than I am’ it really means ‘I think s/he is smarter than I am, and I don’t like feeling inferior’. That’s the dynamic at work on all the comments about ‘liberal elites’ and ‘elitism’ floating around about Obama and the Democrat leadership. I think the way you’re reading it to apply to women is you filtering it through your own experiences. I get the same kind of crap from time to time.

    Lately I’ve been getting the same kind of grief during political discussions on Facebook with old high school acquantces who stayed in our hometown. I’m a ‘city boy’ who thinks he knows better than my humble ‘country folk’ friends.

    If someone decides you are smarter than they, then they invariably get defensive. And for a lot of people the best defense is a good offense.

  11. Okay, at this point, I have to beg you, Mr. George, to stop digging. Please, for the love of god, stop digging.

    I mean, you can accuse me all you want of having an agenda, but who doesn’t? At least mine is out in the open. The folks you interviewed, who used this as a chance to yet again rehash their problems with Evans in yet again another public forum while yet again they get to hide behind anonymity or what would rightly be called on the internet “concern trollling,” have agendas, too.

    And you played right into theirs.

    How many times can folks get their “Emily Evans sucks, even though she’s smart” stories run before someone says, “Yeah, dudes, how about we wonder out loud in public what your agenda is?” What if someone spent 1/3 as much time niggling over the details of those guys’ politics and agendas as has been spent worrying over Evans’s?

    Anyway, I’m not going to lose a lot of sleep over the fact that a guy who thinks moms have a certain look and that “mom” is somehow the opposite of crusader thinks I’m a bad feminist or that I’m the mom-hater.

  12. Hah, there I go insinuating myself to be elite and then phonetically spelling demur. I confess, I have no idea how to correctly spell the word I intended to use there. I was intending it to mean ‘shy and letting her husband speak for her’.

  13. W., don’t get me wrong. There may be a great deal of just your garden-variety “we hate you because you’re smarter than us” stuff going on here. But when it comes wrapped in a package of “mommy” and her now being more quiet, it seems to me pretty obvious that we’re at the intersection of “Death to Smartypants!” and “Get back in the kitchen, bitch.”

  14. Mr George, your defense of the “looks like a mom” line is that she is proud of putting her career aside to raise her family and that you “tried to give a nod to that”. If you wanted to honor her decision to be a stay at home mother, maybe the article should have described it as something other than “bailing.” The way you wrote it, it sounds like she couldn’t handle all the travel and bailed out.

    Before you start knocking feminists for not honoring stay at home mothers, why don’t you consider how calling this choice “bailing” belittles it.

  15. Mr George –

    First, I hope that you will make half as much of an effort to write your paper column in the future, as you did to respond to this blog post. If you had done that in the first place, I think this entire misunderstanding (such as it is), might have been avoided. You’re obviously capable of forming rational thoughts and putting them into sentences and paragraphs. I don’t know why you wouldn’t use that talent at work as well as on the Internet, but I hope you’ll start soon. Your readership could certainly benefit, and so would your paper. I’m sure I don’t need to explain to a SouthComm employee how even the best talent often ends up without a job these days. When the best use of a newspaper turns out to be winter kindling, chances are it won’t stay in business for long.

    On to the point, your stated intention in writing the article was not to slur CM Emily Evans, particularly in a sexist manner, but to “humanize” her. I find it interesting that you even felt it necessary to do this. Did you feel she was being portrayed as less-than-human before? Superhuman, perhaps? The media coverage surrounding the MCC has been rough, for certain, and as one of its most outspoken opponents Evans has suffered her share of it. I haven’t seen any other articles in your publication touting the familial accomplishments of her male peers in an effort to humanize them in the course of this debate, however. Why not?

    Families are not public accomplishments. As you say – what the hell does it matter that she’s a woman? You mention her brains and experience, sure. You should have stopped there, because those are the only two things that have any relevance in a public debate. It’s not breaking news that she has a family, and despite what you might think you didn’t score any originality points by referencing it. Emily Evans undoubtedly values her experience as a wife, mother, and homemaker, as well she should. I’m certain it defines her on some personal level. It has absolutely nothing to do with her expertise in finance or her role in politics, however, just as whether any councilman is married or has kids or has ever taken a career hiatus to stay at home with them does.

    Perhaps by pointing out that she is a mother with children, you were trying to shame her anonymous critiques – which you quote with such aplomb – into treating her more appropriately as a fragile woman, instead of as the raging bitch you described in the article? No, you admit that Emily Evans would be offended by such a piece, and you had no intention of writing it. You say above that you wrote this as a juxtaposition of her soft, motherly, personal side with her hard, political public persona. How literary of you! I submit for your consideration that it was nothing of the sort.

    Combined with the extraordinary flimsy allegations and insults you decided to print up in your little gossip column, the subtext of your article says only one thing: Emily Evans is an emotionally hysterical former homemaker who can’t play politics with the big boys no matter how smart she thinks she is. You’re not extolling her virtue by referencing her domestic status, you’re attacking her credentials. You, Sir, are the one who is being intellectually dishonest when you claim any other way of reading it is only in our crazy, feminist heads. If you didn’t mean to make this implication, then of course you’re not a sexist, but you are a really poor writer. Thankfully, you can improve on both with a little effort. I sincerely hope that you do, for our benefit and for your own.

  16. The double standard expressed by anarchival is exactly what dooms “Convention center crusader” to lapses into sexism and bias:

    >>haven’t seen any other articles in your publication touting the familial accomplishments of her male peers in an effort to humanize them in the course of this debate<<

    There seems to be a vicious double standard applied by reporters to men and women in politics vis a vis family vs. work life.

  17. Anarchival – The CP is printed on slick paper, not exactly the best kindling.

    Guess we showed you ;)

    JR “Clearly a Youngest Child” Lind

  18. I might as well offer some thoughts, along with my support of Stephen and, in particular, this story. After all, I was among his editors on it (not that I was paid to be).

    It is no easy task for a reporter to convey a complicated situation, especially one in which part of the story that needs telling is being provided on background. That’s exactly what he was trying to do with this piece, to balance these two forces, and I think he succeeded. The piece is fair and judicious (count the sources on both sides), and it’s important to note — as half the blogosphere mobilizes to accuse him of sexism — that the reporter should not be held to blame for the way Emily Evans is seen by others. I’m a big fan of the Metro Council member, and her self-assured manner and her intellectual rigor are refreshing. She does not suffer fools and can at times be brash and, yes, occasionally come off as arrogant — a woman after my own heart, actually.

    Does that upset the city’s power structure, many of whose members are her political opponents? Sure. Are there some misogynists among them? Of course. As a former newspaper editor who has more than once been called “little girl” or been characterized as “that girl who edits the Scene” by elected officials, I know a little something about it. But just because that exists doesn’t make my detractors — or in this case, Evans’ — figments of our imagination.

    I’m convinced that there’s been a concerted effort to vilify Evans, and some of that might well be because she’s a woman. Who knows. Stephen wasn’t and isn’t defending Evans’ detractors, but merely reporting that they’re out there. He quite rightly seized on one of the city’s most interesting people and the strong feelings she inspires among both friends and foes.

    If what you want is merely stenographic journalism, there are a number of places to get it. That Stephen is trying to improve his paper with more sophisticated journalism is to his credit. Moreover, if you let people scuttle your story by refusing to attach their name to accusations they’re making about a public official, you risk allowing that entire system of vilification to remain intact. It takes some fortitude to find a way to tell a story in its entirety. I applaud Stephen — who, by the way, is among the brightest, most talented journalistic minds I’ve ever worked with, and I’ve worked with my share — for taking a crack at it. It’s good to know someone is.

    Also, I’m a big fan of Betsy’s — so much so that I have been potting some awesome plant cuttings for this engaging queen of green thumbs — but I think she’s way off the reservation here. It’s not Stephen’s fault that there are far more men in positions of civic power than women.

    Meanwhile, I hope Emily Evans doesn’t go changing anytime soon.

  19. Yes, I actually like journalism that treats the subjects of its pieces respectfully, handles sources with integrity, doesn’t substitute rumor and innuendo for researched fact, and so forth. I realize that this makes my taste in news somewhat passe (dare I say, stenographic), but that’s why we call them schools of journalism rather than schools of gossip.

    And, in fact, he did not tell the story in its entirety. We have a bunch of allegations without sources and all the waving of hands and saying “but the rumors are the story and he can get away with being a sexist asshat because he’s just reporting on what sexist asshats say!”…well, that’s just weak. Does the phrase “independent investigative analysis” ring any bells?

  20. Liz, you already gave me an awesome very tiny lilac! What more could a gal ask for?

    But listen, here’s the thing. George is a fine writer, he’s doing great things at the City Paper. No one doubts his talent.

    But it was not his sources that said Evans “bailed” on her career to be at home with her kids; that was George. George’s sources may have said that Evans was arrogant, but George did as well. And once he established that Evans is the kind of woman who bails out on jobs once she finds something better to occupy her time, his analysis of her lessened presence in the public sphere starts to feel a little hinky.

    I thought George did a fine job in the article of letting Evans’s nay-sayers come across like the jackasses they are, but he also confirms without providing evidence, some of their accusations against her. If he found her arrogant, he should say how and let his readers judge for ourselves whether we agree, rather than just taking his word for it.

    And once he brought her being a mom into it–in other words, once he made her gender an issue–then he should have made more of an effort to include other women in the story instead of making it all “me and these dudes sit around and shape conventional wisdom about Evans.” Once he introduced the gender dynamic, it’s there.

    He brought it up; it’s not somehow unseemly for me to consider whether the genders of the other people in the story matter.

    And yes, there clearly has been a concerted effort to vilify Evans.

    But let me be clear. No one (that I know of anyway) is vilifying Evans because she is a woman. I think W. is right about that; they are vilifying her because she’s smarter than them and not afraid to show it.

    But the ways they’ve attacked her utilize a great deal of sexism. That’s the tool they use because that’s their trump card–once you’re a bitch, how do you prove you’re not a bitch? You can’t unprove being a bitch.

    So, there we are. Liz, as always, you kick butt. But I’m still right about this. And I’m looking forward to these cuttings!

  21. All: Thanks so much for the kind words of support and some pretty sophisticated news analysis like I have not seen in quite some time. Many of the points raised here are well worth further exploration and I hope Liz and Stephen take up that charge.
    But let me also say, that when you turn in a petition to put your name on a ballot you do it knowing full well it comes at a price. That price may include some attention often burdened with emotional, social and political baggage over which you have little or no control.
    But it’s ok.
    If that is the price for representing those that elected me, I gladly pay it. I see the alternative as a much more dismal prospect.
    With Regards to All,
    Emily

  22. As a journalist who has developed a deep fondness and professional respect for both Betsy and Stephen in recent months, and who has long respected what Emily Evans brings to the Council, I feel obliged to say this much:

    1) I have read thru the article a fourth time after considering the comments here and on the piece itself. Now, we all come from different perspectives in life — and Betsy appears well-equipped to go all Barthes on me here — but I find Stephen’s article a cogent, well-reported analysis of current inside baseball in the Council, written with due regard to all the elements he was in contact with. A feminist critique of what he wrote and of the circumstances he wrote about could indeed be edifying, but the story at hand was bigger than that polemic.

    2) A single verb — “bailed” — did serious damage to Stephen’s article. I have been aware of similarly bad choices that made me cringe just after stories of mine came out. Sometimes you get called on them; more often not. The verb here was meant to carry a certain light amount of freight but turned out to be overloaded with meaning.

    3) Obviously, I’ll speak for many in admiring CM Evans’ post here. I have no stake in this dispute, but I do admire those in our local polity who take on difficult jobs and try to carry them out well and honestly.

    In peace,
    Tom

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  24. OMFG. Is this what journalism in this town has become? I don’t even know where to start.

    I will try. Let’s start here: George doesn’t have the knowledge of this city to even pen a piece like this.

    You want proof? How about the fact that no where in this opinion piece masquerading as a news story is it quantified – despite his dollops of anonymously sourced material – that the senior staff of Mayor Karl Dean’s office are the key instigators in the campaign to vilify Evans. Fuck, even the damn janitors and contract Wackenhut guards at City Hall know that! George quotes Rich but doesn’t note the historic, ongoing war between Evans and the Dean administration – of which she is brains and Jameson and Holleman are the mouth pieces? Christ, the City Paper has reported on this battle going back to Nate Rau and Bill Harless’ time on the Metro beat. How does this alleged editor – he’s an editor, not a “reporter” – not know where the “search” feature is on his own web site?

    Want another one? Hall has managed the political campaigns of at least one of Evans’ opponents and was on the other side in the fight over the Harding Academy issues in her district that got her into the public spotlight in the first place.

    How do you write a profile piece on Evans’ role in this city or debut into public life without even a passing mention of Harding Academy? How do you source Hall without at least noting his role as a political adviser to her past opponent? The answer is, you can’t, but the City Paper did.

    Stenographic? Recording facts and reporting them is a news downgrade whereas writing with a point of view and an agenda is more erudite? Ignoring a long track record of reporting on a topic at YOUR OWN NEWSPAPER is somehow better journalism than not? When did these become the values of Nashville’s press? I mean, this guy ignored shit his own publication has reported – fact not fiction – off and on for nearly the last five years. How is that journalism in any sense of the word?

    George might try a little stenography, then, just in the spirit of learning to crawl before we tries to walk. I won’t even get into the obvious sexism of the piece which B has nailed. Suffice it to say it is beneath Liz Garrigan to defend it. Very disappointing to me as a long time fan and reader of Garrigan.

    Finally, it bears noting that George is the editor of the City Paper, but the former editor of the Scene is editing his stories – not even paid apparently. It seems Southcomm doesn’t want to take George’s training wheels off yet. Good thing. There is no telling what this piece would have read like without an adult looking over his shoulder.

    And E. Thomas Wood needs to visit the doctor. Suckers cramp can be a dangerous condition.

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