Let’s take a spin.

Hey, guys! Let’s all say hi to Joe Louis, check our coats in the Delta lounge and see what the North American International Auto Show has to offer this year, shall we?

(I’m not sure how we got on The List for the Delta lounge, but I hope we get on it again next year. They had a little pre-party and an after-party, but the best perk was a separate coat check — it let us skip another line. The finger food and the champagne weren’t bad, either.)

Onto the show floor, where every year I’m a little overwhelmed by the first 10 minutes. As I’ve no doubt said before, it’s a very strange event. The lighting is about 1 trillion candlepower, there are liquid-video screens on every upright surface, lots of noise, and thousands and thousands of people dressed in black tie. I was talking to a guy a few months ago who said he likes to take LSD about twice a year. If he did it at this show, he’d run screaming from the floor before he hit the GM space. I want to send an avant-garde cinematographer in to capture surrealism on the hoof. Me, I just hold up my phone and say a Hail Mary:

Hello, Mercedes weirdness. Of course, that’s all anybody does: Take pictures. Of themselves, each other, and once in a while, a car. Like so:

I have no idea who that woman in the pink sequins is, although she appears to know me.

The media are all there, reporting live, reporting for later, just reporting-reporting-reporting. This guy is the No. 1 drive-time morning host on the AM talk station. I find his show almost unendurable; when I’m holed up in a bunker with federal troops outside, they’ll blare it on giant speakers and I’ll surrender in a minute:

Every year, it seems the cars are less of a story than the technology. The show follows the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, every year more seamlessly. The luxury models are more and more like rolling living rooms, with price tags to match, and even the less-luxurious do everything but make you lunch, and that may be on the drawing board. We have an automotive expression in our household — “it comes with all the shit on it,” with all pronounced Texas-style: awwwllll. I’m not sure what this photo represents, all-the-shit-wise; I only welcome our robot overlords with these well-dressed people:

Jeff Borden can tell a funny story about one of his early automotive purchases, where the trunk/glove box light was part of the deluxe accessories package.

But this is a car show, so here’s a car. Ford is reintroducing the fastback Mustang from “Bullitt” in 2019. I always sigh over these nostalgia-wallows, even while I know how useful they are for whipping up the auto press. Here’s the new Bullitt next to one of the two models used in the classic chase scene from the 1968 movie. Guess which one is valued at $4 million?

(Although the first 2019 production model just sold for $300,000 at auction, a price distorted by a charity donation.)

Me, I love a concept car. Freed from the constraints of federal safety standards, designers can go wild with the coolness. Like the carbon-fiber grille on this Lexus:

That’s the LF-1 Limitless, which Alan says is likely to go into production. I’m convinced the product expert was hired because his hair matched the paint job:

“We’re never going to be able to afford this car, are we?”

Look! A bedazzled fun fur!

Here’s a Chinese crossover. The name? A total coincidence, the company says. Well, I’m glad someone else is making money off the name other than you-know-who:

The Ram logo has been squared off and made more macho. Apparently the company thought the old one looked too much like a uterus.

What I said up there about rolling living rooms? Here’s the mileage sticker for the new Suburban, which is basically a bus for soccer moms who like to spend a lot of time at the gas station:

On the way out, we passed yet another refreshment station. Hey, it’s the Detroit News autos team. Good job, guys!

You can see their full coverage here, with more stories and many, far better pictures than these. As for us, bye for now:

Posted at 4:04 pm in Detroit life | 36 Comments
 

BOLO.

Hey, just realized I forgot to blog for Friday. A quick one, because I’m Cinderella-fying myself for the big dance tonight, and brother, that’s a long-term process at my age.

For those keeping score at home: I have just removed unwanted leg and pit hair and moisturized heavily. Next step: Nails.

I’ve also been following internet worm holes on human trafficking hysteria. With the auto show in town, the usual suspects are claiming their share of the spotlight, spewing questionable data and offering such helpful tips as: Watch for situations that just don’t seem right.

See, this is predicated on the extremely shaky contention that any large group of people descending on a city for an event – Super Bowl, Final Four, auto show – will lead to a “spike” in human trafficking, specifically sex trafficking, but I bet you knew that. These press conferences aren’t to draw attention to domestic servants who are essentially held prisoner in their employers’ basement, but to give the local TV stations a chance to break out their whores-on-the-stroll video with the faces pixelated out. Anyway, I think the contention is shaky because so far, no one has ever produced any evidence other than this: Sex-service classifieds on sites like Backpage spike around that time.

This week, I tried to test it. To be sure, there are a lot of Backpage sex ads right now. But the ads drop off sharply after they’ve been up a day or two, and I’m not sure why. I also don’t have a control group from a non-auto show week. I tweeted a thread about this yesterday:

Any of you with experience in this area, feel free to private-message me via email or the channel of your choice. I’m genuinely curious.

Earlier this week, the police and some HT advocates held a presser that advised the public to BOLO (be on the lookout, in the cop lingo) for trafficked women at the show. They also said they made 22 arrests last year “tied to” the show, and apparently no one asked for more detail. So are girls, what? Working the floor? I find that hard to believe. Outside of Cobo? Ditto. Almost all prostitution is online now, anyway, so I don’t know how the public might see one of these women in the first place. Then there’s this:

Last year, police made 22 arrests for human trafficking that were tied to the auto show, Craig said. Some cases are still being investigated.

The chief anticipates there will be more reports at this year’s show, which runs through Jan. 28. Sex traffickers often go to major events that attract large crowds to find their victims, Craig said.

Craig emphasized that sex trafficking is much different from prostitution because trafficking means the person is held against their will.

Wait, what? Prostitution cases being investigated for a year? And what is he saying in the second paragraph there? That pimps are trolling the crowd for girls? Has anyone actually been to this show? The public week is hardly a magnet for young women traveling alone — it’s families, couples, and lots of guys. Is he pushing the “Taken” myth here? Oh, and trafficking vs. prostitution, he’s wrong there. He just is.

When I wrote about HT a couple years ago, one of my sources told me that, in terms of understanding the problem, we were about where we were with understanding domestic violence – in 1979.

It’s an interesting topic. I wish we had better data.

OK, on to the nails. I’ll have a photo roundup of the action tonight Sunday/Monday. Be good, all.

Posted at 11:53 am in Current events, Detroit life | 54 Comments
 

Mixed signals.

When I was a girl, rape was what happened when a man brandished a gun or knife, dragged you into a dark alley, and had sex with you. That was easy to understand.

Then, when I was a young adult, the concept of date rape was introduced – that it could be someone you knew, and there might be no weapon involved, just a stronger man holding you down. Also easy to understand. There was also a brief pass through the concept of marital rape, with John and Greta Rideout suddenly everywhere, testing the idea that a man didn’t have an absolute right to sex with his wife whenever he wanted, and that cause was strange, then righteous, then infuriating (with the Rideouts reconciled after his, guess what, acquittal).

Date-rape drugs were next. Remember roofies? Where do you get roofies? I am not deeply immersed in drug culture, but I know my way around a little, and I’ve never seen or been offered a roofie. A third, fourth, sixth or ninth cocktail? Now there’s a date-rape drug that doesn’t get its due.

Then, in the ’90s, Antioch College instituted its widely ridiculed sexual consent policy, and by widely ridiculed I mean it was an SNL sketch that very weekend. Antioch eventually went out of business, but that was a hardy seed it planted, because it flowered into how we now talk about sexual encounters: They must be consensual, and they must be consensual at every step of the escalation, and that consent can be revoked at any time. Already stuck it in? Sorry, guys, if she tells you to take it out, you have to. No one cares about your sexual frustration; that’s why your hands reach all the way down there.

This is where I began to step off the train. I like sex, but I don’t like sex that proceeds like a contract negotiation. Once the clothing starts to come off, I think it’s safe to make some assumptions. If I don’t like what you’re doing, I’ll speak up. I don’t want to answer “is this OK? Is this OK?” every few minutes. But at the same time, I see where that might be a useful framework, especially for college students who are still figuring this stuff out. Sex and navigating intimate relationships are skills you have to learn, and if these policies are essentially training wheels for the early years, no harm done.

Which brings us, as you knew it would, to Aziz Ansari, who is probably pacing his apartment rage-smoking, or maybe in a Xanax haze, or otherwise coping with the agony of being revealed to the world as a lousy hookup at best, and a near-rapist at worst. And here is where I step all the way off the train. Because the next stop is Pencetown, and I ain’t going there.

Either women are strong, independent individuals with the capacity to say what they do and don’t want in an intimate relationship, or they are delicate flowers who put out “cues” that men must decipher, and woe betide if they get their signals crossed.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, count yourself lucky. Or read up. A lot of us have been talking about being older lately; never have I thanked the fates for my arthritic knees and wrinkly ass more than this week, when the thought of having to navigate this dating moonscape made me quake with fear. Because evidently you can go back to a guy’s place, take off your clothes, perform oral sex on one another, change your mind because “things are going too fast” and also because he’s a lousy kisser, and still feel you were wronged somehow, because he also served you the wrong wine and he did that thing with his fingers and, and, and…

This young woman sounds, at the very least, deeply confused. It’s also possible she’ll grow into the sort of woman who gives her husband the silent treatment, and when called on it, says, “If I have to tell you what you did, then you’re even more wrong!” Maybe these two deserve one another, come to think of it.

I’m with Gene Weingarten. This was a terrible piece that should never have been published, and could do significant damage to an important cause. But I guess progress is rarely linear. We’re still figuring out how to get along with one another. I expect we always will.

So. Nearly the midweek. And the decline of facts continues apace:

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — When truck driver Chris Gromek wants to know what’s really going on in Washington, he scans the internet and satellite radio. He no longer flips TV channels because networks such as Fox News and MSNBC deliver conflicting accounts tainted by politics, he says.

“Where is the truth?” asks the 47-year-old North Carolina resident.

Don’t have much to say about that, just throwing it out there. There might be hope for journalism yet, but I’m not sure how.

Finally, this horrifying thing from an English-language Russian news site. It’s easy to say “nothing will come of this,” but that requires ignoring history, in which genocides and purges always start with this sort of propaganda, and rarely end well.

But now it’s Wednesday, or nearly so. Over the hump.

Posted at 5:52 pm in Current events | 111 Comments
 

Rotten Apple.

Someday we’re going to look back on this era and…marvel, I guess, although “recoil in horror” may well be an option, too. I think often how long it’s been since I’ve done business with a larger outfit that didn’t make me seethe with anger or sneer with contempt. This weekend it was Apple’s fault.

My iPhone 6 is three years old and going strong, except that the battery is failing. How do I know this? Because the power falls from 75 percent to 20 percent in 10 minutes, that’s how. Sounds like a failing battery to me! Apple recently acknowledged it was slowing down the older model phones accordingly, and, chastened, offered replacement batteries for them for $30. How very convenient, because I need a battery.

I followed all the links, which led me to an appointment at the Genius Bar. I arrived on time: Hello, I need a battery. The nice lady plugged my phone into her iPad and ran all sorts of diagnostics. It turns out? I need a battery. I surpassed my impulse to eye-roll. So let’s get it done. It turned out there were none in stock, but when one arrived, they’d let me know.

So, one trip to the Apple store down.

The email came a few days later, and said, “come anytime.” I headed out in a gathering snowstorm on Friday. The nearest Apple store is about 15 miles away, I should mention. I arrived and handed over my phone. Give us 90 minutes, they said. So I went back out and shopped the clearance sales, got a French press at Nordstrom, then came back to the warm, bustling Apple store. Are those places ever not bustling? Just asking.

The tech greeted me like a mother who’d brought her child to the ER with suspicious bruises. He showed me a photograph of the phone’d innards. “We can see that this phone has had liquids inside it,” he said. Yep, that sounded right — I was caught in a drenching downpour last summer with the phone in my back pocket, ports facing up. I’m sure it got wet then, because the speaker and mic failed for a couple of days. But I dried it out in a bag of rice and it’s worked fine ever since. So fix the battery, OK?

“We can’t do that,” he said. “We don’t work on phones that have been penetrated by liquids.” Options: Buy a reconditioned iPhone 6 – a three-year-old phone, mind you – for three! Hundred! Dollars! Or just do the usual upgrade thing. Hundreds of dollars more. But to fix a “penetrated” phone in fine working order, only in need of a battery? Out of the question.

Well, it was nice to visit Nordstrom. Good coffee. And I got some tights at 40 percent off.

Why do we let tech companies treat us like this? Why do we happily help them run established businesses out of town for a slightly better price, and then scrape to them and beg them for the latest sacred object? I wish I knew.

I’m going to Office Depot. The hell with this.

And I’m sorry about that rant. It’s cold again, and I’m feeling cranky. Plus it’s the auto show this week, and I’m on my own. To whoever asked in the comments, the prom is this coming Friday, and I’ll have my usual report. From what I’m hearing, the tl;dr is: Trucks for days.

While Alan was working at the kitchen table, I took myself down to the DIA and saw “Bombshell,” the documentary about Hedy Lamarr, movie star and frustrated scientist. It’s very fine, and I recommend it. If you didn’t know that this legendary Hollywood beauty also had a restless, problem-solving intellect, then you should know now. The story is both triumph and tragedy, but what I found most interesting was what it had to say about the human imagination, and how ideas can come from anywhere. Engineering ideas don’t always come from engineers; Lamarr’s singular idea – a way to make radio communications secure via switching frequencies – came from who-knows-where, because she wasn’t even college-educated, and the man she worked with was inspired by player-piano scrolls. But their idea was sound, even as the military brass scoffed at it.

They didn’t get paid. (And she could have used the money.) But her reputation has made a comeback.

Tomorrow will be warmer, and it’ll be Monday. And we’ll await what fresh hell might be around the corner from Shithole-gate. Sigh. Bundle up.

Posted at 8:11 pm in Movies, Same ol' same ol' | 70 Comments
 

Always look ahead.

In honor of his 60th birthday, Eric Zorn published a column called, I hope at least somewhat ironically, “My 14-point plan to be a good old man.” I reached that milestone a few weeks ahead of Eric, and never even considered such a thing, but admittedly, I no longer have a column deadline, and might well have if I did.

For the record, I don’t even consider myself close to being old. I get what he’s saying, though — at this age you can see senescence on the horizon, maybe closer. People you know are starting to die, sometimes of aggressive cancers that just show up one day, announcing time’s up.

On Tuesday you’re fine. On Friday, you have a few weeks left. It happens.

I read Eric’s list, and I approve of it. The tl;dr might be: Your body is one thing, but you can always be young in heart and spirit. I have young friends, real friends, not just my friends’ adult children. I listen to new music when I can. I respect a lot of their art, popular and otherwise. I consider that younger people as a group have many things better figured-out than my generation did at their age. I have hope for a better future, which I further hope will arrive before a totally horrible future comes beforehand. I’m sorry that the boomer generation, of which I am a part, is going out so disgracefully, even though the president is way older than me and I consider him part of a different subset. Unlike lots of young people, I don’t think my generation is the worst ever, or, in the current slangy parlance, Worst. Generation. Ever. Can’t we all get along? We need our confederates.

I was thinking this while reading a piece by a former colleague, a man I once liked very much, who seems to have taken a different path, desiccating into a bitter husk. It’s possible it was written on a bad day – we all have them – but it made me sad. I won’t link to it, in the interest of keeping a certain peace. Practicing kindness seems the best option here.

The other day I was sweating through the final moments of my weight workout when an old man started…I guess he was flirting. It wasn’t anything serious or creepy, just a semi-obvious I see you and I like what I see exchange. At first I was baffled, as he seemed to be much, much older. Then I realized he’s maybe 5-6 years ahead of me, so entirely age-appropriate if I were into it. He picked himself up off the mat where he’d been doing crunches and walked off to the locker room with the step of a far younger man. Here’s to you, you spicy geezer. I hope I have that confidence when I’m…your age.

Bloggage: A pretty good take on Facebook, what ails it and how it should be fixed. And it should be fixed.

The Case of the Infamous Dossier gets more complicated. Still sorting through this one.

Finally, from the comments, I know a lot of you have been getting junk phone calls lately. Me, too. I have a 734 area code, a souvenir of my first cell phone being purchased in Ann Arbor. I make a lot of calls to people who aren’t in my network, so I answer them all, but lately when I see not only the 734 area code but the first three numbers of my own, I let it go, then immediately block it. Lately, I’m starting to get weird email, too, and I wonder if it, too, is a new scam.

One of my private email addresses is first initial/married name -at- a popular domain. And a couple months ago — about the time I started posting my resume on job-search sites, a huge mistake I regret — I started getting email for Norma MyMarriedName, who also uses first initial/last name. She appears to be a very busy lady, buying stuff online and signing up for gym memberships and all sorts of stuff. One included her street address, which I figured had to be a fake, but I G-mapped it and lo it exists, and in Newark, Ohio, no less. We don’t yet have your down payment, Norma, and without it we can’t guarantee delivery by Christmas, wrote someone at Montgomery Ward. (It still exists, yes!) It doesn’t seem exactly…legit.

It keeps happening. I’ve started hitting Unsubscribe on some of them, and by doing so I’m wondering if I just delivered the full contents of my inbox to the Russians. If so, have at it! It’s the address that I mainly use for crap, so enjoy my utility billing notices and unread New York Times Cooking newsletters, Boris.

But who doesn’t know their own damn email address?

Time to punch down the pizza dough and consider toppings. Good midweek to all.

Posted at 6:40 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 123 Comments
 

I’m not with her.

No. Oprah Winfrey should not run for president, no no no no no. No. Don’t even pretend it’s a good idea. Don’t take it seriously. DO NOT DO THIS, AMERICA.

I want our next president to be a quiet, hard-working, younger-than-me-or-at-least-not-a-lot-older policy nerd. Charismatic, yes, but not goddamn Oprah. We shouldn’t even be talking about it, because talking about it makes it sound possible, and you know how that’s worked out so far.

So let’s stop this silliness right now.

Then you might consider reading this very sad story from Politico, about the widening divide between neighbors in little Pepin County, Wis., which went 58 percent for you-know-who in 2016, bewildering and baffling its many Democratic residents. Both factions have used the results as a pretext to stay angry and divided from the very people they live, work, shop and perhaps even worship next to on a regular basis.

Trump is surely not the only reason for America’s worrisome and worsening partisan strife, with 80 percent of people in recent polling saying they see the country as “mainly or totally divided.” But his election framed that chasm in stark terms, an emotional choice that felt bitterly personal on both sides. And since taking office, the 45th president has only stoked the discord with his comments about “ungrateful” blacks, the criminal propensities of immigrants, his anti-Islam rhetoric and his equivocations on behalf of white supremacists. People here, in this demographically homogeneous, almost entirely white community, have plenty to say about all this—they just have chosen not to say it to each other. If there is a wall that Trump has built, it’s not the “big, beautiful” one on the Mexican border—it’s the figurative wall that has risen in places like Pepin County, Wisconsin.

I sat at a bar in Durand called the Cell Block one afternoon and listened to Bill Ingram, a GOP member of the county board, bluntly describe Republicans as “good” and Democrats as “evil.” I spent another evening in a cabin on a dark hill as deer hunters downed cans of Keystone Light while discussing what they viewed as a Trump-boosted economic surge—and the next night at a cozy, artsy concert venue where aghast liberals drank $4 bottles of craft beer and lamented the “erosion” of democracy. Myklebust characterized Pepin County as a Venn diagram with two circles that no longer touch.

Not surprising, really. I found myself nodding along to much of it.

Sorry for the late update today. Just got jammed up after a bitter-cold weekend when not much happened, other than seeing “I, Tonya,” which we both enjoyed very much. I recommend it.

Posted at 4:12 pm in Current events | 39 Comments
 

The wrong person for the job.

The rest of you are talking and thinking nonstop about you-know-who, but I’ve been woolgathering on Karen Spranger today.

Chances are you don’t know her, although I know we have some journalists reading today, and if you’ve ever covered a small-city council and one of those people inevitably described as “a local gadfly” shows up, you know her. Spranger once attended a Warren city council meeting in a suit made of aluminum foil, to make her point that something – smart meters or chemtrails or one of those boogiemen – was poisoning local residents. She filed multiple petitions to recall a politician she disliked. And then she threw her hat in the ring as a candidate for Macomb County clerk, just north of where I live, and in one of those weird planetary alignments that happen from time to time in politics, last November she won.

It became evident almost immediately that she was unqualified and unprepared for the job. The office had run efficiently for years under a safe incumbent, who waited until the last minute to retire and tried to pass the position off to a hand-picked successor, but a party squabble broke out that allowed Spranger to surf into office on the Trumpian wave. And from there, it hasn’t gone well.

The biggest problem was Spranger herself, who appears to have mental-health issues. Her address of record is a blighted wreck that only a family of raccoons would find hospitable. She must live somewhere, but no one knows exactly where, and she won’t say. She’s never held a job like this before, and her actual employment record is sketchy – she was on public assistance before she started earning $109,000 a year as county clerk.

Needless to say, the existing staff hasn’t taken well to her. Key deputies were fired almost immediately, and the place has sunk into dysfunction, with filing backlogs, staff shortages and, of course, lawsuits.

Does this sound familiar? Spranger is Donald Trump, writ small. (This Free Press story from last summer outlines it all, with the bothsidesiest bothsides headline ever.)

It’s been fashionable for decades now to run for office on the claim that one is not a career politician, but if Trump and Spranger are what non-career politicians do? Bring on the people who know what they’re doing. Please.

Which brings us to the Michael Wolff book. Not a fan of Wolff, but not too proud to say this one landed like a daisy-cutter, and probably should have. The Real Journalists ™ over at Axios had this to say:

There are definitely parts of Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” that are wrong, sloppy, or betray off-the-record confidence. But there are two things he gets absolutely right, even in the eyes of White House officials who think some of the book’s scenes are fiction: his spot-on portrait of Trump as an emotionally erratic president, and the low opinion of him among some of those serving him.

There follows a long list of things Wolff got right, and it’s all the important stuff. So. Make of that what you will. Meanwhile, Wolff’s column yesterday in his employer’s publication, the Hollywood Reporter, winds up like this:

Donald Trump’s small staff of factotums, advisors and family began, on Jan. 20, 2017, an experience that none of them, by any right or logic, thought they would — or, in many cases, should — have, being part of a Trump presidency. Hoping for the best, with their personal futures as well as the country’s future depending on it, my indelible impression of talking to them and observing them through much of the first year of his presidency, is that they all — 100 percent — came to believe he was incapable of functioning in his job.

At Mar-a-Lago, just before the new year, a heavily made-up Trump failed to recognize a succession of old friends.

Terrific. This is the fix we’re in. I see someone yesterday posted James Fallows’ comment on all this, something I’m in full agreement with. Everybody knows. And no one in a position of power is doing anything.

Have a great weekend, all. And brace yourselves for the rest of 2018.

Posted at 9:02 am in Current events | 94 Comments
 

Something’s brewing out to sea.

Hello from the deep freeze. Drove to the pool at 6:20 a.m. to find it closed. If there’s anything worse than venturing out in 2-degree weather for a predawn workout, it’s having it cancelled, after you’re dressed and your contacts are in.

Oh, well. Compared to some of you guys, I have it easy. For some time now, I’ve thought that weather reporting, especially TV weather reporting, is well into boy-who-cried-wolf territory; the other day, I watched an entire TV weathercast that failed to mention the actual forecast temperatures, so fixated they were on the wind-chill numbers. If you wear clothing, and enough of it, wind chill shouldn’t be a problem for the vast majority of us who don’t have to work outdoors in cold snaps like this.

And then I go on the WaPo last night and read the news of a “bomb cyclone” forming as we speak off the eastern seaboard. A bomb cyclone, if I understand it correctly, is the new, sexy name for a bad blizzard:

Forecasters are expecting the storm to become a so-called “bomb cyclone” because its pressure is predicted to fall so fast, an indicator of explosive strengthening.

Yep, it’s 1978 all over again:

The third lowest non-tropical atmospheric pressure ever recorded in the mainland United States occurred as the storm passed over Mount Clemens, Michigan, where the barometer fell to 956.0 mb (28.23 inHg) on January 26.

So I guess those of you in the midst of that soup have it worse. At least the roads are clear here. For now.

Man, does the dog hate this crap, though. Even in her fetching winter coat and with mushers’ wax on her paws, all she wants to do is get the job done and go back to standing in front of the furnace vents.

As for me, I ate very lightly yesterday, abstained from alcohol and feel much better today. Even with my aborted workout.

For today, a rich banquet of linkage.

From Politico, an analysis of the Trump administration’s foreign policy that will not make you sleep well tonight, particularly in light of the dick-measuring button tweets last night. Here he is, meeting with leaders from Latin America:

After the photo op was over and the cameras had left the room, Trump dominated the long table. His vice president, Mike Pence, was to his right; Pence had just spent nearly a week on a conciliatory, well-received tour of the region, the first by a high-ranking administration official since Trump’s inauguration. To Trump’s left was his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. “Rex tells me you don’t want me to use the military option in Venezuela,” the president told the gathered Latin American leaders, according to an account offered by an attendee soon after the dinner. “Is that right? Are you sure?” Everyone said they were sure. But they were rattled. War with Venezuela, as absurd as that seemed, was clearly still on Trump’s mind.

A thesis statement, after a couple more disturbing anecdotes:

So what the hell is going on? I’ve come to believe that when it comes to Trump and the world, it’s not better than you think. It’s worse.

How comforting.

Not that things are better on the domestic front. The House Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation may well produce two reports:

In an interview with me, Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut — the No. 2 Democrat on the House intel committee — said that Democrats are seriously exploring the possibility of issuing a minority report that details (among other things) the degree to which Republicans tried to impede a full investigation, should that end up happening. In this scenario, the public would at least have a clear sense of just how far Republicans went to protect President Trump and his top officials from accountability.

“It’s in both the Democrats’ and the Republicans’ interests to … write a report based on a common set of facts,” Himes told me. “It would be a tragedy if the report has a minority section that says, ‘Look, we wanted to talk to these two dozen witnesses and weren’t able to do so.’”

But I don’t want to bum you out on a day when just stepping outside is…trying. So here’s this: The year in weird Florida news, a veritable Whitman’s Sampler of giggles:

When a SWAT team raided a home in the retirement mega-community of The Villages, police found more than just the meth lab they’d expected. They also discovered it was a chop shop for stolen golf carts. …A Plantation police officer giving a gun safety lesson to schoolchildren warned them that his Taser was not a toy, then accidentally Tasered a 10-year-old. …Police in Fort Pierce said a man jumped into a burning car, drove it around the block, stopped, jumped out, then fired several shots into it.

PS: It wasn’t his car.

Happy Wednesday.

Posted at 9:22 am in Current events | 46 Comments
 

Into it we go.

I believe it was another blogger who once said that she enjoys Christmas as much as the next girl, but dragging that tree to the curb is like getting another room on your house. Seconded. Every time I sweep up the pine needles, I think how a pre-lit artificial tree is definitely not selling out. Things are complicated this year by the snow on the walks and a serious deep freeze, which means we’re going to be tracking those fuckers back into the house for days and weeks yet.

Yes, I just referred to pine needles as fuckers. I go on a jihad about cleanliness at this time of year.

Otherwise, it was a pleasant new year’s weekend. Prime rib was prepared and served, as was spinach soufflé and a disappointing potato dish, bailed out by a wonderful sorbet. I may make sorbet every weekend for the rest of my life, if it’s as good as the kir royale sorbet I made for dinner yesterday. Glad I bought an ice cream maker at a garage sale a few years back. (“Does it work?” “Oh yes. It’s just that I have two of them.” #GrossePointeProblems)

Now for dry, abstemious January. I’m pretty damn ready for this one, gotta say. But I’ll eat the rest of the sorbet first.

I can say with confidence that my New Year’s Eve was better than young Barron Trump’s:

When I was 11 and my parents had plans for NYE, I could sleep over at a friend’s house, or have someone over, or otherwise do something that an 11-year-old might consider fun. I was never dressed up and required to go to their party with them. Just looking at the random crowd shots gives me the heebie-jeebies on his behalf:

Have we ever speculated on whether Barron is on the spectrum? I’ve thought so for a while now. Those of you experienced with these kids are encouraged to weigh in. His may be the only book out of this administration I might look forward to reading.

Speaking of which, this is required reading for those of you keeping up. And that’s all from me for now. I’m going to try out my new meditation app. Happy new year to all of us.

Posted at 4:55 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 39 Comments
 

January dead ahead.

A few years ago, novelist and NN.C internet-friend Laura Lippman started a New Year’s tradition: The one-word resolution. No long lists of overly optimistic goals, sure to be abandoned by January 23, but just one word. A verb, obviously, since a resolution implies change, and you can’t change without taking action.

I can’t remember what all of hers were; one-word resolutions are personal enough that if they aren’t yours, they’re not exactly memorable. I took her up on it, and remember a few of mine. Focus, for one. Finish, for another. Breathe was the year I got more serious about my fitness regimen; most of the breathing was deep or fast and accompanied by a quicker heartbeat. Last year’s – Twerk – was a total failure; I just don’t have the lumbar suppleness anymore. But if you take it metaphorically, I guess I did some twerking. Kinda.

This year’s isn’t entirely gelled yet, and may change, but I’m leaning toward Tune. It’s a transitive verb, so it’s not quite right. Tune what? A radio? Your engine? In my case, I want to tune in and tune out, which may blow up the one-word rule entirely. But here’s how I’d explain it:

I want to tune in to things that seem to pay real dividends, in either personal happiness or professional accomplishment. I want to read fewer words online and more of them between covers, and have a good stack of novels already in hand. I want to take more time, productive time, to work on writing and editing I’ve been putting off too long. Pay attention to good things, or interesting things, in other words.

And I want to tune out the daily outrage machine that has made 2017 so, so trying. Sorry, but I just don’t have it in me to read one more well-crafted takedown of the president, or Congress, or whoever is cranking the dials on any given day. Nor one more tweetstorm. Nor a hot take from a surprising source, or whatever. I’m not going to stop paying attention; no one can afford to do that. But the accumulated static, the constant clanging gong of OMG I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS IS HAPPENING? That has to go, or at least be put in its place. These are important and transformational times we’re living through, and I understand that. But we can’t properly focus on our work if we are standing in this firehose of hot takes, laughing, jeering and, of course, the screaming inside our own heads. Arm’s length on this stuff in 2018.

I guess both of these boil down to Focus, again. But isn’t that what all of us are trying to do?

Maybe so.

And this will wrap 2018 for NN.c. I’ll be back…New Year’s Day, most likely, maybe later. In the meantime, I’ll be cleaning, organizing, throwing stuff away and throwing a fancy dinner party. Or rather, a casual dinner party with fancy food. (Prime rib.) Stop by.

One bit of bloggage:

Many of you may know that Michigan State University is going through some hard times of late. A doctor to the U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team, employed by the university, sexually assaulted female patients, including many of those gymnasts, for years, while parties in a position to sound the alarm averted their gaze and made excuses and let things go on and on and on. The same story we’ve seen more than once in recent years. So far the administration appears to be resisting the sort of accountability that translates to people losing their jobs. It’s causing front-page editorials in newspapers and a great deal of anguish for the school’s vast and loyal alumni community.

Well, all involved parties might want to take a look at this story about the Penn State scandal, six years down the road. These wounds don’t heal quickly or cleanly.

So, everybody? Before I go, thanks again for your readership, your participation in our lively comment sections, and just showing up from time to time to read what you find here. It’s all I can ask for, and I’m grateful for it. Especially grateful to J.C., who keeps the machine running. Happy New Year to all of us.

FOCUS.

Posted at 7:31 pm in Same ol' same ol' | 57 Comments