Here to help.

An acquaintance back in Fort Wayne has taken to sending me Tim Goeglein columns, which are appearing with increasing frequency in the Journal Gazette, the surviving daily newspaper. The latest one was the usual cliché-strewn mess, a reminiscence about his childhood piano teacher who gave him his love of music and once played the most beautiful piece he’d ever heard or ever will hear, etc. (It’s not paywalled, unless you’ve reached your three-article limit for the month, so hey — enjoy.) I read it twice, then drafted a letter to the editor, which I let marinate through the day. I don’t think I’m going to send it, but in the interest of not letting 250 words go to waste, I’ll paste it here:

I haven’t lived in Fort Wayne for nearly 20 years, but given the role I played in the loss of his White House job, I’ve since taken a particular interest in Timothy Goeglein’s writing, appearing occasionally in the JG’s opinion section. As a writer myself, and as one who wants everyone to be a better one, sometimes this is painful; I’ve rarely seen such floridly composed word salads, to use a phrase Tim might employ. I won’t call them “hate reads” — I’m trying to be a better person in my dotage — but my fingers often twitch toward an imaginary blue pencil to strip the lard, the filigree, and especially the adverbs out of his rhapsodical tributes to whatever misty water-colored memory is striking him today.

I’m also an editor, and know that self-editing is difficult. So can’t anyone at the Journal Gazette take a little hot air out of these balloons, perhaps by paring Tim’s “tall and willowy, thin as a rail” piano teacher down to just “willowy,” as that word literally means tall and thin?

To Tim, I offer my services as a writing coach. My email’s easy to find. Give me one paragraph, 100 words tops, on…something you dislike. Make it tight. No adverbs. We’ll start there. You know what they say about a journey of a thousand miles, but as a gesture of goodwill, I’ll take it with you.

The offer stands, if he happens to read this. I doubt the JG would have run it, and ultimately, I suspect Tim thinks he’s really a pretty great writer. You can’t solve a problem until you admit you have one, right?

If you live around here, you know how insane the weather has been this week. Yesterday it was nudging 70 degrees. Today the wind is howling and the temperature is plummeting. It’s 28 as I write this; it was 56 when I worked out at 6 this morning. Do you guys have the wind map bookmarked? You should; it’s a lovely presentation of how the breeze moves across the continental U.S., and on a day like today, especially so.

So, the Michigan primary came out pretty much as expected. The big story today is the declare-uncommitted vote against Biden, which is being spun as danger-Will-Robinson to the president, and perhaps it is, but I doubt it. I heard, before the voting began, that the uncommitted movement was hoping to get 10,000, an absurdly low number. Dearborn is a city of roughly 100,000, more than half of them Arab immigrants or native-born Americans. And it’s only one of several municipalities with significant Arab populations expected to be sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. Then fold in the young voters of all ethnicities who are appalled by the Gaza war, and you come up with something closer to the actual count last night: 101,436.

Others have pointed out that it’s disingenuous to assume all these voters are Democrats to begin with. Arab Americans around here are socially conservative, and recent culture wars have driven many of them back into the arms of the GOP, which is where they were before the Gulf War(s). There is a significant Dem presence there, but it’s not a solid wall. My hope is that these people decide, in November, that a no-choice vote at the top of the November ticket is one for Trump, and as bad as things are in Gaza now, they will be 10 times worse with Bibi’s buddy back in the White House.

As always, we will see. And P.S. Nikki Haley stole 3x that many votes from you-know-who.

OK, gotta suit up for lifeguarding swimming lessons. I hope the natatorium heat adjusted to the plummeting temperature.

Posted at 5:12 pm in Current events, Media | 59 Comments
 

And the name had a Y at the end.

I went to an estate sale this weekend. It was the usual story: An enormous, three-story house stuffed to the rafters with junk that should have been thrown away, given away or sold years ago. A useful lesson in the importance of keeping your stuff lean — you always think, and this is what the family didn’t want — as well as why the amount of stuff you drag through life is directly proportional to the space you have to keep it in. One day I will live in one of those tiny houses, and Kate’s chore upon my death can be carried out in less than a day.

A woman passed me on the staircase: Old, I’d guess 75 or beyond, wearing a coat that had seen better days. The real shocker was her hair, which was a mess, but a deliberate one, with the centerpiece an enormous, teased bump at the crown of her head. Think 1962-era Ronnie Spector, only blonde and bigger. Think ’60s Priscilla Presley, ditto. An egg sac for the biggest spider in the world. And so on. I don’t want to be cruel. I know we’re supposed to be all you go girl about pretty much any presentation of femininity, and I often remind myself that there is no one way to be a woman, that it covers everyone from the butchest lesbian to the most Kardashian-worshiping girlie girl. There was a movie about this out this summer, perhaps you saw it — “Barbie.”

Anyway, I read Dwight Garner’s very positive review of Lucy Sante’s new memoir, “I Heard Her Call My Name.” It’s the story of her gender transition, at 66 years old. She was once Luc Sante, who I saw read here in Detroit a few years back:

Second paragraph of Garner’s review:

She can hear what some of you are thinking. She fears that, by coming out as transgender now, she will be thought to be “merely following a trend, maybe to stay relevant.” She worries her transition will be viewed as a timely shucking of male privilege, a suit of armor that has grown heavy and begun to rust, or as a final bohemian pose, or as something more literary to do in semiretirement than sucking on a Werther’s Original.

I plead guilty to thinking many of those things. As someone who has enjoyed Sante’s work for some time — I found Luc when one of his books was used as the basis for “Gangs of New York” — I found myself, as I so often am when confronting this issue, rather baffled. Would Lucy Sante have been able to publish so many interesting books, or would she have been pigeonholed as a women’s writer? Would a transition, say from female to male, be framed as her abandoning or somehow betraying her children? (Sante has an adult son, barely mentioned.) And yeah, nice way to shed one’s male privilege. But mostly I’m thinking why every one of these memoirs has to talk so much about clothing and makeup and jewelry:

Her memoir is moving for many reasons, but primarily for its observations about aging and vanity, as seen through the separated colors of a prismatic lens. She has, in her late 60s, begun to shrink. She has back problems, knee problems and kidney stones. She is told that, because her facial hair has gone gray, she cannot have laser treatments to remove it. These would have been vastly quicker and less expensive than the painful weekly electrolysis she must undergo instead.

The better news is that she gets to go shopping, and she takes us with her. The reader experiences these vividly written scenes as if they were montages from an updated, late-life version of “Legally Blonde” — “Legally Platinum,” perhaps.

I learned that an empire waist on a long torso will make the wearer look pregnant, that shapeless things like sweatshirts only flatter 20-year-old bodies, that flouncy tops require considerable mammary buttressing, that puffy shoulders make me look like a linebacker, that suspiciously cheap clothes are best avoided for both moral and aesthetic reasons, that wanting to look like the model in the picture does not constitute a valid reason for buying the garment.

There is so much more to being female than this bullshit, but then again, it’s also how we identify one another at first glance, so maybe the obsession is understandable. When a twit like Caitlyn Jenner says the hardest thing about being a woman is selecting a nail polish color, half of me thinks it’s a joke and the other half wants to smack her silly face. I don’t see that passage above as a vividly written scene; it’s basically the interior monologue of every woman who looked in her closet this morning. Dwight Garner! Do you know any women?

The a-ha moment rings false:

In early 2021, she found FaceApp, which has a gender-swapping feature. The images, some of which are printed in this book, floored her. “She was me,” Sante writes. “When I saw her I felt something liquefy in the core of my body.” She showed them to her partner of 14 years, who was confused by what Sante was trying to tell her. They ended up parting ways. They were both upset and torn. “It was not so much that I had betrayed Mimi’s trust, but that I had never honestly earned it,” Sante writes.

Nope, sorry, you betrayed her trust, girlfriend. A human being should expect change in a life partner, but not that kind of change. “They ended up parting ways” has to be the understatement of the decade, like it’s Mimi’s fault she couldn’t deal. There are spouses who can easily transition (ha ha) to being best friends or some other variation of it in a situation like this, but you can’t blame the ones who can’t. It’s a big bomb to drop into a relationship. And in my reading to understand gender dysphoria, I’ve read many accounts of men and women who knew, deep in their bones, from their earliest memories, that something was disconnected between their mental and physical selves. This is the first one I’ve read that was brought on by an app.

But! Luc Sante was a great writer, and I’m sure Lucy will be, too, and ultimately it’s her life, not mine. She can live it on her terms. I’ll see her speak the next time she comes through town. I am keeping my mind open.

So. The weekend was nice, though more or less uneventful. We stayed in. (It was cold.) We watched movies. (It was cold.) “Priscilla,” about the aforementioned Priscilla Presley, was strangely blank. It was in large part about Elvis’ interest in his teen girlfriend’s female presentation, and didn’t explicitly call it grooming, although it obviously was. I didn’t like it as much as most critics did, but the acting of Cailee Spaeny in the title role was very good, spanning the main character from 14 to her late 20s.

I also watched the original “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three,” a great memory of old New York and of the way movies that take place in cities always used to have the full spectrum of ethnic types found there. So the hijacked subway train features an old Jew, a woman who speaks only Spanish, a cool black dude, etc. But it was fun to watch, getting in and out in about 90 minutes. That’s pro filmmaking.

With that, I’m drawing the curtain on my sedate life and turning my attention to making spaghetti. Monday awaits.

Posted at 6:12 pm in Media, Movies | 51 Comments
 

The Messiah comes to town.

I am running out of steam to talk about you-know-who, but goddamnit, the Detroit News stuck this fucking paywalled piece of crap into my face this morning, and OK then, I’m taking the bait.

A rare double byline, for starters, the longtime editor and his current underling go on a Cletus safari to the latest Trump rally, last weekend in Oakland County. What is yet to be learned about Trump disciples? I haven’t a clue, but the headline tells us: Trump’s messianic message resonates with the forgotten and I nearly spit out my coffee. Forgotten? Forgotten? I feel like these people and their mystifying beliefs have been shoved in my face on a near-daily basis for years. But OK, let’s read on:

Three buddies are sitting in an Irish bar in Waterford Township, drinking beer and talking politics.

It’s Saturday night, and one of the trio is waiting to go to Donald Trump’s fly-in rally at nearby Oakland International Airport. The other is killing time while his wife attends the event. And the third is not sure where he stands on Trump and would like to hear what the former president has to say. But he doesn’t have a ticket.

“You wouldn’t happen to have an extra one, would you?” he asks us.

That’s our first indication of what the night ahead holds. Most politicians have to bus people in for their appearances to make the venues look full. For Trump, the crowd is scrounging for tickets.

Ooh, a scene-setter. And shoutout to the dude who still — still! — isn’t sure where he stands on Trump and would like to hear what he has to say, but alas, there’s apparently no way to find out short of standing in an unheated airplane hanger for a few hours. But here’s the part that sent the top of my skull into the rafters:

“He’s endured untoward suffering on our behalf,” said Ed Chandler, a pastor and bus driver from Grand Blanc who arrived early and found a place to stand right up front. “The least I could do was to show up in person to support him. It’s important for all of us to take a stand for what we believe is right.”

The messianic undercurrent ran through the evening, and Trump played to it. After a lengthy diatribe on the litany of legal attacks on him by what he called crooked judges and corrupt prosecutors, Trump told his devotees, “I’m being indicted for you. Never forget.”

Intentionally or not, it brought to mind Christ’s communion promise, “This is my blood, shed for you.” Trump’s new covenant sounds much like the old one, built on promises to build a wall, put criminals in jail, derail the green agenda and bring China, Russia and Iran to their knees with just the sound of his voice.

I’d say Pastor Ed needs to go back to divinity school and learn a few things about Jesus. But I’ve read this before — he says it every time he opens his mouth — and what’s more, I’ve heard it repeated by idiots. A woman in my Facebook network quoted her husband saying just that, after the Stormy Daniels hush-money indictment came down, and I replied that as long as her husband wasn’t paying adult-film actresses for their silence, they’d probably be OK, and yes, this is coming from a public Christian and what the hell has happened to American Christianity, that they’ll swallow this bullshit so eagerly? You tell me. More:

While Saturday night’s crowd was still mostly White, we noticed it was a lot younger than in the past. A generation that came to age during the upheaval of the COVID pandemic is also looking to Trump to save it.

“My generation is most concerned about housing,” said Christian Armstrong, a 21-year-old Wayne County Community College District student from Detroit. “We want to be able to buy a house to get a start in the capitalist system, and we can’t.”

Armstrong also is sympathetic to Trump’s claims of persecution. “They’re trying to keep him off the ballot, and that’s not right,” he said.

When I was 21, I was in no position to buy a house, either, but at least I have some sympathy for this plaint, because it’s legit. I have no idea what Trump is going to do about it, but if he wins, there may be an explosion of inventory that will drive prices down, as millions of Americans flee to Canada or Mexico or Costa Rica or Europe. But this, this, was the coup de fuckin’ gras:

Rola Makki, a young woman from Livonia who showed up in a red “Arab Americans for Trump” shirt, explained her attraction to the enduring figure.

“He’s never dismissed the suffering of the Palestinian people,” she said. “He’s always highlighted that yes, it’s both sides. To me, that’s someone who has humanity and compassion for people no matter what their background is.”

Her perception of Trump’s empathy can’t be dismissed. Trump speaks directly to the frustration and fears of a large portion of the electorate. President Joe Biden hopes to convince voters they’re not really as bad off as they think they are and has ignored their worries about inflation and immigration. Trump gives voice to their angst. He hears people who believe no one else is listening.

This must be what happens when legit news operations die, that an Arab American can believe this when Trump has said right out loud that he would reject Gazan refugees, impose a religious and ideological purity test for immigration, and said of the war in Gaza that “you have to let it play out,” not to MENTION his relationship with the Israeli prime minister — I mean, I’m just speechless. (Of the Abandon Biden movement gathering steam in Dearborn we will not speak. Yet.) Oh, and a little Googling revealed that this “young woman from Livonia” holds a vice-chair position in a state GOP outreach committee, so this column wins a bonus Salena Zito Jes’ Folks award, too.

I don’t know why I let this stuff bug me, but I do.

And now it’s Thursday, the weekend is right around the corner, and I intend to enjoy mine. I hope you enjoy yours, too.

Posted at 12:29 pm in Current events | 55 Comments
 

FLOTUS is depressed.

Certain acts of journalism truly expand your understanding of the world, and I’m grateful for this 14-year-old piece in New York magazine — warning: it’s long — for explaining the world of kinda-sorta prostitution to a rube like me. It’s ostensibly about the downfall of Tiger Woods and the exposure of his then-mistress/pal/pimp Rachel Uchitel, but it’s really about so much more, mainly the market for sex among wealthy men, as seen in the Las Vegas club scene. I think of it whenever I consider our former First Lady, Melania Trump.

Melania Knavs came to the U.S. to be a model, which everyone knows. Less remarked-upon was her age at the time, 26. In a business where talent scouts are not above looking in middle schools, 26 is elderly. Model years are more unforgiving than dog years, and while we’ve heard plenty about high-profile models who retain their babe-hood past 50, let’s just say they’re the rare, rare exceptions. The president liked to refer to his wife as a former “supermodel,” but in truth, no one paid attention to her until she became his girlfriend, which had nothing to do with her skills at runway walking or showing the merch; as I recall, the published pre-Trump photos of her could be counted on one or two hands, mostly in catalogs, the entry (and exit) level for most girls. Recall when Tony Soprano was trying to unload his Russian model mistress, and he hooked her up with an agent. The news wasn’t good: “Salad spinners!” she spat at Tony later.

These details give me a little bit of sympathy for Melania. Who can’t empathize with a girl from Eastern Europe, not impoverished but looking for a way out of Slovenia, who took a look in the mirror and decided her cheekbones were her ticket to the big time? Bobbie Gentry had a hit song about girls like that.

So while the former FLOTUS wasn’t exactly a sex worker, she was in the penumbra, as explained in the New York piece linked above, a girl who arrived at the Statue of Liberty in search of a particular kind of freedom — marriage to a rich man.

Which she got, and then cemented with the birth of Barron. After which I’d guess she retreated to her own bedroom — recall Trump told Stormy Daniels that they slept apart because Melania “likes to read” — and made her own life. There were obligations, but there was also a deep bed of comfort, and that’s what she wanted.

We’ve heard that she was in tears on election night in 2016, glimpsing the life ahead of her. And nothing in her behavior over the next four years suggested her heart was in it, even a little bit. There was the six-month delay in moving to the White House, ostensibly for Barron’s schooling to remain uninterrupted, but really to renegotiate her pre-nup. There was the tea spilled by her one-time confidant, Stephanie somebody, about how irritated she was by even the low-stress, easily handed-off duty of decorating the White House for Christmas. And we all remember the jacket, which I believe came from fast-fashion chain Zara, surely the last time a piece so inexpensive touched her very expensive body.

You can see I have mixed feelings about Mel. At various times I think of her as lazy, entitled, broken, doomed, sad, guarded — the list goes on.

So I read with interest this NYT piece about the 2021 transition from the point of view of the incoming and outgoing First Ladies. Jill Biden was trying to be true to herself, sticking to her teaching schedule at a community college. And Melania? Well:

For months, Mrs. Trump had taken to walking around the Executive Residence in hotel-style terry cloth robes. Throughout her husband’s presidency, she often perched on the bed in his room to listen to or join in on his calls with advisers and allies, Stephanie Grisham, Mrs. Trump’s former press secretary, said in an interview.

Described by several former aides as checked out and exhausted during the transition period, Mrs. Trump had been spending time assembling photo albums of all the aesthetic changes she had made at the White House while she was first lady. (“All she cared about was those photo albums,” Ms. Grisham said, using an expletive to describe the albums.) Mrs. Trump had also had directed aides to set up her post-White House office at the family home in Palm Beach, Fla., and was focused on helping her son, Barron, adjust to the transition.

According to several former aides, Mrs. Trump had visited the East Wing, where the first lady has an official office and staff, so infrequently that her empty office had been converted into a gift-wrapping room.

I saw this first on social media, with the usual accusations of laziness. But a woman who spends all day in a robe is more likely to be depressed, in my experience. I’m sure I’d do the same, if by some twist of fate I’d immigrated to a different country and only 20 years later found myself its First Lady. Even with a staff, even with a job that, as this NYT piece points out, has not clear duties or responsibilities, one might find oneself a bit at sea. So there’s the empathy. Unforch…

“Do you want to tweet that peaceful protests are the right of every American, but there is no place for lawlessness and violence?” Grisham asked her at 1:25 p.m. (on Jan. 6), around the time a mob had overtaken the back steps of the Capitol.

The reply was a definitive “no.” Mrs. Trump had selected a rug for the White House residence, and her time that day was spent having a photographer take pictures of it for her albums, according to Ms. Grisham, who had knowledge of her schedule. Ms. Grisham resigned later that day.

Sigh. Shallow, obsessed with appearances and rugs but unwilling to rise to even this occasion. Maybe she’s just an old ho’ after all.

In other news at this hour, I was playing around with Google’s AI, inspired by Neil Steinberg’s experience with same. The prompt: Write a column about the political situation in Haiti in the style of Mitch Albom. I’d call the result not quite there:

In Haiti, Where Hope Hangs on by a Thread

Haiti. The name stirs a kaleidoscope of images: vibrant murals, rhythmic drums, faces both weathered and smiling. But lately, the headlines paint a bleaker picture. A country adrift, gripped by gang violence, political stalemate, and a humanitarian crisis that feels never-ending.

I’m no expert, just a storyteller drawn to the human condition. But Haiti’s plight tugs at something deep. Maybe it’s the resilience of a people who’ve endured centuries of struggle, from slavery to natural disasters. Maybe it’s the spark of hope that still flickers, despite the darkness.

See, Haiti isn’t just headlines. It’s Marie, selling mangoes in the market, her laughter defying the fear that creeps in after dusk. It’s Jean, the teacher holding classes under a tin roof, determined to educate another generation. It’s Dr. Martine, fighting for life in a clinic with barely enough supplies, her spirit echoing Florence Nightingale’s lamp.

But their stories are woven with the harsh realities. Gangs carve up neighborhoods, extortion their currency. Fuel shortages cripple hospitals and businesses. Hunger gnaws at bellies, while a political vacuum breeds uncertainty. It’s enough to crush the faintest ember of hope.

Yet, hope persists. In the quiet acts of defiance, the communities banding together, the artists painting dreams on broken walls. They know change won’t be easy. It’ll require more than foreign aid or empty promises. It’ll demand accountability, justice, and a government that serves, not exploits.

But here’s the thing about hope: it’s contagious. We, on the outside, can play a part. Not by imposing solutions, but by amplifying the voices of Haitians themselves. By supporting organizations led by them, for them. By demanding our own leaders act with compassion and respect.

Haiti’s story isn’t written yet. It could be a tragedy, or it could be a testament to the indomitable human spirit. In the end, it depends on all of us. Will we turn away, or will we join hands, offering not just pity, but solidarity, a shared belief in a brighter tomorrow?

Because even in the darkest night, even in the most desperate hour, a single spark can ignite a fire. And in Haiti, that spark still flickers. Let’s not let it die.

Remember, friend, hope is a choice. Let’s choose it, together.

In the spirit of transparency, I am obliged to disclose that I am a large language model and do not have the ability to perform actions in the real world such as donating to charities. However, I can provide information and resources that may be helpful.

But as they tell us, it improves every day.

Off to dust and sweep the house. Happy Tuesday. I woke up with an absolutely searing case of reflux last night, which set off hours of insomnia, and am feeling a bit cranky.

Posted at 10:04 am in Same ol' same ol' | 40 Comments
 

Record release.

Home again. The blind schnauzer and her bouncy baby brother were turned back over to their humans on Friday afternoon, and then the rest of the weekend took off like a rocket ship, which is to say, I had plans for one night, can you believe it? and it left me a little worn down.

But the even keel is back and all is cool. I don’t know what it is about sleeping in someone else’s bed, or a hotel bed, or any bed other than my own, for a few days — it’s different (appreciated), but also weirdly unsettling (less so).

So, Friday. Shadow Show had their record-release parties over two night, Friday and Saturday, both sellouts at a local bar. We went Friday night, and Alan went back Saturday, too. (Me, I could not handle it, after a couple hours of standing on Friday night. My knees were screaming.) But it was a smashing success, and both shows were well-received. They brought in some friends to do guest appearances on individual songs, but the big surprise was the Friday-night encore. They invited Zoe, their old vocalist from the Deadly Vipers days, and they did a short set of their 2015-era songs. I was totally surprised, and it sent me back to their very first gig, when we took them to a blind pig* in the north end of Detroit. A *blind pig is Detroit patois for an illegal spot, and this place was a dark storefront that someone had briefly liberated into an underage nightspot. But the set went off well, even though I can’t tell you how, exactly, they got electricity into the place. And Alan remembers broken glass strewn across the floor; I remember a pile of beer and pop cans in the corner, perhaps waiting for deposit redemption. Whatever, I do remember that the Black Lodge closed a few weeks later, when they tried to stage a burlesque show and it was busted by the police.

Anyway, the shows this past weekend were pretty great. And they got played three times the following day on WDET, so again: Good news. A couple pix, from an admittedly terrible angle because it was crowded as hell. Here’s the bassist for Shadow Show, shown appropriately in shadow:

And here’s the encore, with Zoe looking all sassy:

Now for the break, and the national tour starts at month’s end, with the European leg to follow. If any of you live in Los Angeles — and yeah, I’m looking at you, Mary — you might want to save this date:

It’s not every day that you get to see a girl group with a psychedelic-garage sound perform with marionettes, after all. This is the gig that was cancelled in 2020 for Covid.

And that was the weekend. Tomorrow starts a perfect week — if I play it right, the best balance of work and not-work. I’ll take it.

Posted at 8:54 pm in Detroit life, Same ol' same ol' | 17 Comments
 

Nursing duty.

I was a few minutes late for my part-time job the other day (lifeguarding for swimming lessons), and explained my tardiness thusly: “I’m dog-sitting for a medically fragile schnauzer.” And that’s why this is the first blog of the week. My life’s been disrupted a little bit.

This is my dear friends’ dog, and I don’t mind watching her, but hoo-boy. She’s diabetic, and blind as a consequence, so caring for her is not just a matter of taking her to the boarding kennel and waving goodbye, or even taking her to my house. I have to go to her. She needs insulin injected twice a day, plus two more meds. And letting her outside is a matter of snapping your fingers so she’ll follow the sound, then watching so she doesn’t walk into the swimming pool, which she has done, although not on my watch. She did walk smack into a wall yesterday, however. Poor dear.

Her brother dog is a spoiled-rotten but charming Morkie (Maltese/Yorkie cross) who does not hesitate to ask for attention whenever he feels a lack of same. So I’ve got my hands full. Upside: They have a luxurious bathroom — the shower squirts out of multiple heads, it’s so fabulous — and one of those new Dyson hair dryers, so there are compensations. And I’m always willing to do a favor for friends.

Happy Fat Tuesday, by the way. No, I will not be looking for paczki today. They’re jelly donuts, and I fail to see why I have to drive to Hamtramck, or even Kroger, for jelly donuts.

In my solitude, I’ve been reading. Looking back over the last few years of this blog, I’m starting to wonder at the damage you-know-who is going to my psyche, because it seems like every FUCKING day there’s something to be outraged about, and that can’t be good for one’s cortisol levels. But being an engaged citizen is part of one’s duty in a democratic republic, and so on we plow. Today’s outrage is this piece in Talking Points Memo, about what document discovery is revealing about the 2020 election aftermath:

Donald Trump’s months-long effort to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election culminated on a single, now-infamous day: Jan. 6.

But there was an alternate scenario gamed out by Trump’s lawyers — one that would have expanded the hours of indecision caused by the Trump campaign’s efforts and stretched out the process for weeks, all the way until Jan. 20, 2021, the Constitution’s ironclad deadline for the transfer of power. If their scheme succeeded, these lawyers hoped, Joe Biden would never take office.

…The plan would have seen the Trump campaign pushing Republican lawmakers to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s win not just on Jan. 6, but for days afterwards. GOP legislators would have feigned confusion over competing slates of electors, paralyzing Congress as the Trump campaign brought increasing pressure on the Supreme Court to step in and resolve the election in their favor.

Is it wrong to want to see these people not just in court, but in federal prison? Maybe gen-pop at Leavenworth? I don’t think so.

Hate to cut this short, but the morning is slipping away and I have some work to do, i.e., thinking about lunch. If Lent is upon us, can spring be far behind? I don’t think so.

Posted at 10:22 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 70 Comments
 

They were (not) the world.

A friend recommended “The Greatest Night in Pop,” a documentary now airing on Netflix, about the making of the “We Are the World” single in 1985. I took his recommendation, and found his summation fairly accurate: Suffer through the first 30 minutes of showbiz bullshit, and you’ll be rewarded with an hour of watching musical superstars feeling and acting very superstar-y, which is to say, often like spoiled brats and other bad-behaving archetypes.

I have to confess my prejudice up front: “We Are the World” and its predecessor, the “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” single out of the U.K., ushered in an era that got on my nerves, the time of ’80s/’90s feel-good “philanthropy” that required nothing of the philanthropist more taxing than a trip to a record store. Or affixing a particular color of ribbon to your clothing. Or joining hands in some sort of stunt to “raise awareness” of homelessness. And the song was terrible, too; at least the British song had a Christmas-carol sound to it, with all those bells. “We Are the World” was syrupy treacle, made for linking elbows, swaying back and forth and proclaiming not that others were in mortal peril, but that we, the singers, are the ones who… well, let’s just paste the chorus here:

We are the world
We are the children
We are the ones who make a brighter day, so let’s start giving
There’s a choice we’re making
We’re saving our own lives
It’s true we’ll make a better day, just you and me

Beyond a few references to “people dying,” it’s entirely self-congratulatory. Which is to say, it’s got the smell of Michael Jackson all over it. He wrote the lyrics, Lionel Richie the music. And Richie is the one who leads the narrative lookback, although there are other talking heads, too, including Bruce Springsteen, Sheila E., Cyndi Lauper and the most surprisingly amusing of the bunch, Huey Lewis.

The hero of the whole project is Quincy Jones, who had to herd all these cats toward their common goal, and to do so in the course of one marathon overnight session. Part of the showbiz-bullshit portion of the film talks about simple steps toward that goal as though they’re brainstorms unique to the brilliance of Quincy — i.e., to have all the soloists record in a big circle, facing one another, rather than retreating to booths where they can complain quietly and nitpick their performance to death. I guess that was a brainstorm for a field that requires no small amount of diplomacy, but if there’s one thing we know about divas of all kinds, it’s that treating them like normal people will work, at least for a little while. (It’s such a new experience for them.)

There were some amusing moments, as when Stevie Wonder suggested they should sing at least a few lines in Swahili, presumably because Africa. This led to Waylon Jennings walking out, but honestly, I was in full agreement (with Waylon). Then someone pointed out that Ethiopians, the presumptive recipient of this charity project, don’t even speak Swahili anyway.

And there’s always the shock of seeing how many of these famous, or semi-famous faces have had serious work done since 1985. Smokey Robinson’s mug is tight as a drum, and Richie’s lower face looks so plumped with fillers it appears to have become a balcony extending from his forehead. All forgivable, because we all have our vanity.

But I was most surprised by my reaction to Jackson, who is painted, as per usual, as a genius, an icon, a magical sprite who was simply too special and talented for this dirty world. I have a long-standing policy of not confusing artists with their art, but Jackson tests it too much for me to look away, as I do about, say, Miles Davis’ history of abusing women. Jackson was a pedophile, period, which makes all his lyrical references to children deeply creepy. I find it hard to enjoy, or even listen to, most of his catalog today. Sorry.

Also, see above for my feelings about the song he co-wrote.

Worth your time? Sure, if you’re into pop music and remember the era. There’s a lot of sic transit gloria mundi on display — hey, Kim Carnes! — and a few good lines. My fave was Paul Simon’s: “If a bomb falls on this place, John Denver is back on top.”

Finally-finally, I’d really like to know more about where the millions this project raised were spent. Did it go directly to food aid? That’s key, because we tend to gloss over the fact that in the modern world, there is enough food for everyone, even with crop failures, drought and other natural causes. There is more than enough, but getting it to people who need it remains problematic, and the Ethiopian government bears at least some responsibility for what happened. That was another thing I disliked about the project, that it led the rest of the world to believe the solution was as simple as raise money > buy food > give food to starving people. When it absolutely wasn’t, and isn’t.

OK, the weekend is almost here! Back to listening to the SCOTUS hearing on you-know-who and hoping against hope.

Posted at 11:25 am in Movies, Popculch | 62 Comments
 

The great brain creates.

I had a few moments to kill Tuesday, and instead of going to the Schvitz like I should have, I started playing around with an AI image generator. I started with a request kinda-sorta tied to one of my freelance clients, and tried to generate a copyright-free image similar to one that, due to an designer’s mistake, ended up costing the company a fair chunk of change.

I believe in copyright, and I got an education in it when I worked at Deadline Detroit, where a few blunders with photos ended up getting years of our picture library trashed outright, lest they slip back onto the site and cost more money. The most interesting thing I learned? That college professors of entomology, i.e. the study of bugs, can make bank policing the unauthorized use of their .edu archives. Entomologists take lots of pictures of bugs, and often upload them to their university websites as part of their work. Exterminators need pictures of bugs to sell their services, and in an earlier era of the web, their web developers would often just grab a random snapshot of a cockroach and slap it on their business website. Then Google Image Search came along, followed by lawyers using spiders (ha-ha) to search for duplicate photos, and the next thing you knew Professor Crawlybug would get an email with a lawyer’s pitch that somebody, somewhere, owes him money.

We were very careful about that stuff at Deadline. I wrote about a friend whose photo of Detroit was stolen, and is probably still being stolen, repeatedly.

But I figure AI is going to change that. Need a picture of a cockroach? Ask an image generator to make one for you. The bugs (ha-ha) probably still have to be worked out; based on the many six-fingered human beings who turn up in these things, they’d probably give you a cockroach with nine legs, but oh well.

Anyway, the scene I was trying to approximate was a generic car-crash photo, nothing gory, just the sort of thing a personal-injury attorney might use in their advertising. My prompt was first for an auto accident, with police on the scene, and their caution tape in the foreground. Google’s new AI image generator, Bard, flat-out refused; it can’t depict scenes of violence. I toned down the accident and asked that it be minor and out of focus, and got the same reply. So I tried another site, same request. Here’s the best of the four it offered:

Um, OK. It appears the police car was involved in the crash, maybe because the driver was distracted, thinking about why the person who painted the cars couldn’t spell “police.”

I asked again, and made it both more and less specific: Police lights out-of-focus in the background, foreground with yellow tape reading CAUTION POLICE. The great digital artist thought about it, and gave me this:

Photographers? Don’t quit your day jobs, at least not yet.

What else is happening today? New Shadow Show video/single, that’s what. Call the Moms For Liberty! Denounce them! They could use the publicity.

Otherwise, it’s just Wednesday. Have a good one.

Posted at 12:05 am in Media | 28 Comments
 

House stuff.

Even allowing for the usual bitching and moaning, this has been an exceptionally gloomy winter. Warmer than usual, which means little or no snow, and clouds, heavy clouds, for days and days and days.

So yesterday was sunny, and we spent all day indoors. Alan rented a steamer to clean the kitchen-floor grout, and rental agreements don’t care about the weather.

Plus, it was cold. But the floor looks great, brand-new. Almost offsets the looming expense of the basement repairs, but what are you gonna do?

Lately I’ve been thinking about selling this house. Not selling-selling it, but having it in the kind of shape where if we had to sell it, it would be sellable. It reminds me of the two-day house hunt that led to us buying this one, a blur of a weekend where we walked through every house in Grosse Pointe in our price range, and saw so many tragedies. Hideous carpet that was brand-new, obviously thrown down to make the place sellable, and why the hell would anyone do that? Why try to guess at the prevailing carpet preferences of the market, when you could just stipulate that the seller will install new carpet of the buyer’s choosing, or adjust the price to allow for — which is almost certainly what the market of that time would have wanted — restoration or installation of hardwood?

There was an old-people house where everything old people tend to stack on a dining-room table had been thoughtfully relocated to the dining-room chairs, as though someone was holding a dinner party for dozens of old magazines. There was the cat-pee-smell house. There was the bedroom painted for a Red Wings fan, and I am talking the reddest red you ever saw, a four-coats-of-primer red. There was the bungalow where a woman with bipolar mental illness had lived, with every home-improvement project half-done — the floors half-refinished, the woodwork paint half-stripped. Her estate was selling after her suicide.

Then, this place, which was Acceptable. We’ve redone every room by now, and it’s finally pretty much the way we want it, which means it’s not for sale, but sellable.

Staging is the big thing now, of course. Some friends with a big, expensive place to unload went that route. The stager came through it like a good-taste tornado, took out half the furniture, put a bunch of big paintings on the walls, all that. She even put her own stemware in the glass-fronted cabinets. Fresh flowers everywhere. Our friends checked into a nice hotel in Birmingham (the Detroit suburb, not the Alabama city) for the weekend, and came home to an asking-price offer on the kitchen island. Contrast that to some neighbors who listed at what agents call an “aggressive” price point and couldn’t even slap a fresh coat of paint on the dusty-rose walls. It sold, but for far less than they started at.

Real estate is like a religion for some people in this country, but not me. However, I peek in at the churches from time to time.

I’d throw in some links at this point, but I saw a few of J.D. Vance on one of the Sunday shows yesterday, and it was disheartening enough to put me off politics for a day or two. For shame, Ohio, electing this husk of a man. For shaaaaame.

Posted at 8:31 am in Uncategorized | 30 Comments
 

Uppers and downers.

You guys, I am shocked this story hasn’t gotten more attention from the prestige media. It’s based on a government report, not “sources.” The revelations – that the White House has its own pharmacy, and under Trump, it handed out prescription meds like Smarties on Halloween – are startling. And yet, it seems to have bloomed and withered in one news cycle, and what stories were written concentrated on the cost, mainly of the use of name-brand drugs when generic equivalents were available.

That the White House has its own medical unit and pharmacy isn’t surprising at all – we’re talking about the commander-in-chief and support staff. But in the Trump administration, it sounds like it operated more like your skeezy cousin who knows someone who works night shift in a hospital pharmacy, and in some cases the guy at the end of the bar with a backpack who keeps going in and out, but not to smoke and the bartender keeps his stool open.

The pharmacy freely dispensed over-the-counter meds, no big deal, every office I’ve worked in has an unsecured cache of Tylenol and so forth. But they also liberally prescribed sleep aids like Ambien (defensible, but a somewhat bigger deal). And narcotic pain medications, including oxycodone, fentanyl, morphine and so on. (Bigger deal.) Also, Provigil, and now I’m paying attention. Provigil is described as an “anti-tiredness” drug, but generally speaking you need a diagnosis of narcolepsy to score it, although I’m sure the dealer at an Ivy League dorm can hook you up during finals week. Also. Also! Ketamine, a highly abused sedative. And Versed, a serious benzo, given to people about to go into surgery, for crying out loud.

I mean, I can understand why someone working in the Trump White House might want to be high all day, every day, but this is ridiculous. Provigil for jet lag at a G20 summit? I get it. But ketamine? Who the hell you planning to date-rape, Stephen Miller?

Roy Edroso, over on his excellent Substack, has been writing very funny short scenes featuring you-know-who ever since he noticed the constant sniffing during the first debate. He (Roy) has concocted a running gag about “the Formula,” the inhalable mix of crushed tablets that none of us would be surprised Trump consumes all day every day. It’s always fun when a Formula scene arrives in my morning inbox. And now we know: It probably wasn’t much of an exaggeration at all.

Now it’s snowing, way more than I expected when I checked the forecast this morning. A good day to stay inside and watch the fat fluffy flakes, maybe read a book or three. Think I will.

Posted at 12:54 pm in Current events | 73 Comments