Supplemental reading.

Yeesh, what a week, although now we’re over the hump, so to speak. Less of it after today than there was this morning.

There certainly was a lot of news today. Let’s get to it:

A friend of mine is making progress persuading his father not to vote for Trump in November. He read some verbatim passages from a recent rally, then asked whether this man should have the nuclear codes. Good thing dad doesn’t listen to NPR, because he might beg to differ:

By almost any standard, President Donald Trump’s rally on Tuesday evening in Milwaukee was a bizarre affair. The president went on a lengthy tirade about lightbulbs, toilets, and showers; touted war crimes; joked about a former president being in hell; and said he’d like to see one of his domestic political foes locked up.

…But for media outlets that view themselves as above taking sides, attempts to provide a sober, “balanced” look at presidential speeches often end up normalizing things that are decidedly not normal.

A brief report about Trump’s Milwaukee speech that aired Wednesday morning on NPR illustrates this phenomenon. The anchor’s intro framed Trump’s at times disjointed ramblings as a normal political speech that “ranged widely,” and the ensuing report (which originated from member station WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio) characterized his delivery as one in which he “snapped back at Democrats for bringing impeachment proceedings.”

My sustaining pledge to my local station lapsed when my credit card expired. I’ve been dragging my feet restarting it. This is one reason.

A few days ago, I posted a photo from the meeting described in this story. It was an amazing pic, in black-and-white, by a Minneapolis Star-Tribune shooter. It was actually of many of the same people in the picture with this story, actually, just better composed and in black-and-white. A few of my friends shared it, and the usual comments started, about liberal disdain for the honest working class, etc. etc. But how are you supposed to feel about this:

Reed Olson knew some members of his community would actively oppose his attempt as a Beltrami County commissioner to tell the world the county is a welcoming place for refugees.

But he didn’t anticipate the level of misinformation that would spread ahead of the vote last week rejecting refugee resettlement — an action that has led some to associate Bemidji and the rest of the county with racism and intolerance.

It isn’t clear who started the spread of misinformation about refugees in Beltrami County. One piece included a text message framed as a prayer and call to action.

“Prayer @ Action needed,” the message read, adding, “Possibly 100’s of Muslims!!”

I looked up Bemidji on a map. It’s way, way, way the hell up north in Minnesota. The idea of hundreds of Muslims relocating there is ludicrous, and even if it weren’t — how could the place not be improved by a few hundred new residents? It’s not like the ones there are reproducing.

Also, what the hell: Was someone stalking the Ukrainian ambassador with evil intent? This stupid country.

On to Thursday.

Posted at 9:10 pm in Current events | 33 Comments
 

Clean and sober.

I’m now approaching two weeks without alcohol, and the results so far are dispiriting.

I’m sleeping better, feeling better, and have lost a couple of pounds.

Every year I do this, my body edges closer to the all-out declaration that I should really quit drinking. And let me remind you: I am not a heavy drinker, or even a moderate one. I’ll have a glass of wine as I make dinner, and another one with the meal. When I go out, I generally stop at two if I’m driving, and rarely go over three. A friend’s son describes himself as a “three-beer queer,” apologies for the slur, but that describes me perfectly.

But there’s also this: I like to drink. Not to get drunk, mercy no, but for the feeling when a shitty day just ended and you schlep your tired ass to the bar and order something, it doesn’t matter what, and just realizing, as the glass is halfway down, that things have improved. The tension begins to drain away, your shoulders loosen and your mood lifts, even incrementally. You still have all your problems, of course, but they don’t seem so daunting. Everything will work out, like it always does. Noisy children are no longer a DRILL THROUGH YOUR SKULL, but just small people who are legit members of the human family. You have, dare I say it? Perspective.

Of course it doesn’t last. Everyone knows this. A couple years ago I had a long sit in a bar during Dry January, and a party came in for the bloody mary brunch — about six or eight young people doing what young people do on the weekends, i.e., not clean their houses or drive kids around or whatever. They were loud and happy, a condition that seemed to peak at the second round. After that, one or two got louder, one or two got quieter, the laughs were harsher, the conversation more repetitious. That’s booze for you.

Oh, well. Enjoy dry January if you’re doing it. After the first week it isn’t even all that hard. Lately I’ve been treating myself to a LaCroix with a shot of Pom Wonderful and maybe a squeeze of lime. Feels special without being sinful.

On to the bloggage, then.

Just one piece today, a story of how one Facebook group dedicated to trashing Michigan’s governor went off the rails. I hope you’re not feeling optimistic about the human race — I hope you’re not halfway through your drink — because I have some bummer juice to offer here:

The public group, “People vs Gov. Gretchen Whitmer,” was rapidly growing, attracting nearly 9,000 conservatives of all kinds – elected officials, veterans, firefighters, law enforcement officers, educators, pastors, business owners, political candidates, militia members, blue-collar workers, and your garden variety trolls.

Metro Times identified dozens of recent posts promoting or threatening violence, primarily against Whitmer, U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Elissa Slotkin, American Muslims, and Dearborn. Hundreds of comments were posted each day, and many included vulgar insults against women, Muslims, Democrats, and LGTBQ+ communities.

Tlaib, who is a Muslim American from Detroit, was a common target of the vitriol.

“She needs a bullet between her eyes,” Spencer Hayward wrote.

Note that the Metro Times actually named names of people posting such things, which led to one being fired on Friday. Here’s his response to the writer:

I’d disagree that this is about “indoctrination.” It’s about pig-ignorance, pure and simple. But may God bless America, cuz we sure do need it.

OK, gotta make dinner. No cocktail hour. And prep for the week ahead.

Posted at 5:26 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 58 Comments
 

Friday mixed grill.

One advantage to keeping younger friends around is, they are acquainted with things you never knew, or have long forgotten. So it was that one of mine was demanding, after Trump’s statement yesterday, why more people aren’t investigating why the president of the United States was OBVIOUSLY ON SPEED during his Mar-a-Lago speech.

The sniffing, the dry mouth, the slurring — it’s all very obvious to a person who sees these symptoms from time to time in his own social circle. Just because the president is a 70something gramps doesn’t mean he doesn’t know his way around an Adderall script.

On the other hand, I saw Rick Wilson has taken to calling him Sniffles the Clown, so: Upside.

The end of the first full week of the new year, and I’m managing to get this blog updated three times, whaddaya know. We had a breakfast-dinner, however, because sometimes in January you trudge home and just aren’t feelin’ it, and there is no law whatsoever against pancakes, eggs and bacon for dinner, is there? There was a little excitement tonight because Kate’s band’s record got played on the BBC Radio 6, which they didn’t know until they started getting Facebook messages from new fans using words like “brilliant.”

You can find them on Spotify, if so inclined. Search for “Shadow Show.”

It’s been interesting to track the reaction to Harry and Meghan’s semi-abdication, don’t you think? Those two are really spilling the tea:

With gauzy photos and corporate-style language, the site sets out the couple’s rationale for scaling back their duties, defends their sources of funding and serves notice that they will no longer engage with the news media in the way Buckingham Palace traditionally has.

Among its features is an explanation of who pays for their upkeep, complete with a graphic showing how money flows from the crown estate through the Treasury and back to the queen. But it raises as many questions as it answers.

The couple say, for example, that they will forgo money from the Sovereign Grant, the public purse that pays for lodgings and offices for the royal family. But they note that it accounts for only 5 percent of their expenses. The other 95 percent comes from Prince Charles, through the proceeds he gets from the Duchy of Cornwall, a vast private estate established by King Edward III in 1337.

I always wondered about the cash flow in that arrangement. And then there’s this:

If the media paid more attention to Britain’s communities of color, perhaps it would find the announcement far less surprising. With a new prime minister whose track record includes overtly racist statements, some of which would make even Donald Trump blush, a Brexit project linked to native nationalism and a desire to rid Britain of large numbers of immigrants, and an ever thickening loom of imperial nostalgia, many of us are also thinking about moving.

From the very first headline about her being “(almost) straight outta Compton” and having “exotic” DNA, the racist treatment of Meghan has been impossible to ignore. Princess Michael of Kent wore an overtly racist brooch in the duchess’s company. A BBC host compared the couple’s newborn baby to a chimpanzee. Then there was the sublimely ludicrous suggestion that Meghan’s avocado consumption is responsible for mass murder, while her charity cookbook was portrayed as somehow helping terrorists.

A …chimpanzee? Good lord, I had no idea it was that bad.

But it’s not all about the attractive young couple. It’s also about…him:

The Trump administration has for nearly two years ignored mounting evidence that Russian operatives and other foreign actors were deliberately targeting U.S. troops and veterans with online disinformation amplified on a massive scale, a leading veterans group said.

American veterans and service members enjoy a high degree of social respect, and ongoing manipulation campaigns aimed at them could be weaponized to sow social discord in their communities, Vietnam Veterans of America warned officials at the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments in March 2018, among other agencies.

God bless America, and let’s make it great again.

Have a good weekend, all.

Posted at 10:00 pm in Current events | 44 Comments
 

And so it begins.

It’s a quarter to seven where I am now and the Iranians are firing rockets at American positions in Iraq. The dotard has backed off on his threat to trash the country’s cultural sites, but who knows what he’ll do when Fox News airs a talking head who says it’s OK to blow up a few mosques. You know?

I do not have enough stress capacity to deal with another Middle East war. Do you? I mean, I have job stress, house stress, day-to-day stress and all the general free-floating stress and I don’t think I have any more room for the insane level of bullshit that will be falling on all of us in the coming…however long this takes. Maybe years.

Anyway, fresh thread for the discussion. I’m sorry it’s only seven days into Dry January, because I sure could use one.

Posted at 7:50 pm in Current events | 32 Comments
 

Pine needles.

The tree is at the curb, the bulk of the dropped needles swept up – we’ll be finding them in nooks and crannies until July and beyond – and gift boxes have been collapsed and in the recycling. The holidays are o-vuh, and I for one kinda like this time of year.

I’m not drinking, I’m at the gym more often like the cliché that I am, and I’m glad that the here-have-a-chocolate-covered-thing has abated for a bit. I went to Target the other day and they had already hung up the St. Patrick’s Day socks.

Maybe we won’t be in a nuking war with Iran by St. Patrick’s Day. A girl can dream.

We may actually also be legit war criminals:

Aboard Air Force One on his way back from his holiday trip to Florida, Mr. Trump reiterated to reporters traveling with him the spirit of a Twitter post on Saturday, when he said that the United States government had identified 52 sites for retaliation against Iran if there were a response to Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani’s death. Some, he tweeted, were of “cultural” significance.

Such a move could be considered a war crime under international laws, but Mr. Trump said Sunday that he was undeterred.

“They’re allowed to kill our people. They’re allowed to torture and maim our people. They’re allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people,” the president said. “And we’re not allowed to touch their cultural site? It doesn’t work that way.”

Remember when the Taliban blew up the Buddhas of Bamiyan on the old silk road? That could be us.

I’m so depressed about this. The cabinet should be sending texts to one another with the phrase “25th amendment,” but I seriously doubt that’s happening.

Have a good week ahead. Let’s take it day by day.

Posted at 8:28 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 20 Comments
 

Nowheresville.

We were headed to Columbus for Nall Family Christmas, driving through rural Ohio, when I missed an exit. It was one of those where the next exit is something like 15 miles down the road, so I said screw it and let Siri or whoever recalculate the route. It wouldn’t have paid to double back.

The new route took us through the back roads of western Ohio. It’s been a while since I did that; probably since we lived in Fort Wayne, and I would travel U.S. 33 from northeast Indiana to Columbus, through all the small towns along the way — Neptune, Willshire, Rockford, et al. It’s all four-lane now, but wasn’t back then; I knew every place it was safe to pass, when it paid to wait until the next four-lane stretch. One time I raced a particularly jerkoffish trucker through Willshire, him on the main road, me on a residential side street that ran parallel. And beat him back to the main drag! Because there’s nothing worse than sucking semi tail pipe if you don’t have to.

God, that drive sucked so bad. What I remember about the course of 20 years, though, was how the little farm towns never improved. They got shabbier by the year, the signs to the food co-op fading, the dairy freezes marking time with their seasonal openings and closings. About the only institutions that seemed to have staying power were the bars, but even they didn’t age well.

Year after year, the young people decamped for Columbus or Toledo or Fort Wayne. Because that’s where the jobs are. Not in…Pleasant Mills, Ind.

I guess this is the America that some think can be made Great again — the farms rescued from corporate owners and restored to ma and pa; the giant dairy processor that’s driving prices into the basement dematerialized somehow. And who knows what else. The kids come home and sell farm implements instead of motorcycles downstate? Hard to say. It was depressing.

I’m a city person, and I can’t ever see not being one. And now — puts finger to earpiece — I hear we’ve taken out a major Iranian military leader, just in time for the 2020 campaign! Yay! A distracting war!!!

An airstrike near the Baghdad airport has killed Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani and another senior Iranian-linked figure in Baghdad, Iraqi state television reported Thursday.

No one immediately asserted responsibility for the strike, which Iraqi television said also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi militia commander. But the death of Iran’s most revered military leader appeared likely to send tensions soaring between the United States and Iran.

Also, this:

A book that pushes the conspiracy theory Qanon climbed within the top 75 of all books sold on Amazon in recent days, pushed by Amazon’s algorithmically generated recommendations page.

“QAnon: An Invitation to the Great Awakening,” which has no stated author, ranked at No. 56 at press time, was featured in the algorithmically generated “Hot new releases” section on Amazon’s books landing page. The book claims without evidence a variety of outlandish claims including that prominent Democrats murder and eat children and that the U.S. government created both AIDS and the movie Monsters Inc.

God, this stupid country.

Well, here it is, January 2, and the new year already is off to a pretty bad start. Full speed ahead!

Posted at 9:42 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 33 Comments
 

The enormous radio.

Some years back, I wrote a column for Grosse Pointe Today about a developing murder case here in town. The basics: A beloved G.P. woman was found dead, strangled, in the back seat of her Mercedes SUV, which had been dumped in an alley on the east side of Detroit.

Now. Those of you who are journalists, or even fond of crime fiction, already suspect who the killer was. My friend Dustin was my student at the time, contributing to GPToday, and it was him that I contacted to write up a few paragraphs for the site, because I was doing something else and he had already been a staffer for a daily newspaper for some time. He said, “I’m putting on my coat, but you know who likely did this, right? Her husband.”

I agreed wholeheartedly. It looked like a botched body dump that was supposed to look like a carjacking, if you can ignore two big problems: Carjackers use a weapon or maybe simple brute force to get you out of your car. Which they then drive away, that being the point of the carjacking. It takes long long minutes to strangle a healthy person to death, at least three or even longer if you want to be sure. That’s a long goddamn time to spend killing someone whose Mercedes you’re not going to take.

But this being Grosse Pointe, with its pathological fear of Detroit, the hysteria began on Facebook almost immediately.

When are these ANIMALS going to be kept OUT of our communities was only the least of it. It started nuts and built over the course of two days and was well into a third, posts with hundreds of comments about the need for gates, for structural impediments to streets, for more police and, of course, for everybody to carry at least one gun. You know the drill. The crime was discovered on a Wednesday and the hysteria built until Friday, when in the late afternoon the police announced that the victim’s husband was a person of interest in the crime.

The sound of a social-media thread of morons ceasing to talk should make a sound. Like when tires screech into a sliding stop, or a whole flock of quarreling starlings suddenly goes silent.

Me, I wrote a column. I compared the events of the previous few days to “The Enormous Radio,” John Cheever’s fantastic short story which you should read if you haven’t already. (You can get the gist from Wikipedia.) It’s about a woman who discovers her living-room radio is picking up conversations from the other apartments in her building. Within a few days, she learns terrible things about her neighbors and the sorts of things they say in the privacy of their own living rooms.

I concentrated on just this case, but it applies to pretty much everything now. Facebook is just another enormous radio, revealing the bigotries and ignorance of people we thought we knew. I just scrolled through the comments on the Deadline Detroit Facebook page and reflected, for the millionth time, that if regular people got the sort of hate mail journalists get almost every day, most people would walk around in a state of near-nervous collapse, every single day.

No, I don’t have to read it all. But I need to at least keep up with it as part of my job. So I do.

All of which brings me to this story, from Axios, not a favorite news source but whatever, analyzing the “insane” news cycles of 2019. As per Axios, it’s not much of a story, and it contains bullet points for no apparent reason other than they like bullet points, but this right here seemed to be the heart of it:

Why it matters: The chart, based on search trends compiled by Google News Lab, highlights how short the public’s attention span was as the media darted from one big thing to another.

  • In the era of President Trump and social media, surges of Google interest in the biggest events of the year only lasted about a week before the public’s attention was drawn elsewhere.
  • Some issues, such as the 2020 election and the Mexico-U.S. border, drew more steady attention — but fewer of the dramatic spikes of interest that other topics had.
  • There’s a chart in the story that’s pretty interesting, too, tracking outrage after outrage through the year.

    I’m considering my one-word new year’s resolution in these final days, and considering Disengage. For a journalist, it feels like a betrayal. You have to stay engaged! You have to keep up! But I am honestly exhausted with keeping up. I don’t want to know anything about Baby Yoda. I don’t subscribe to Disney+, I left all things Star Wars behind in, what? Nineteen-eighty-something? Is there a filter I can install, an app of some sort, that will tell me what I want to know, and what I need to know, and maybe surprise me with some things I didn’t know I wanted to know but am now glad I know, without including Baby Yoda? And all the social-media bullshit that goes with it?

    I don’t think there is. If so, I would have known about it by now. Because you know, I keep up. I would never have turned off the enormous radio.

    I hope your Christmas was everything you asked for. We had a nice time. Watched some movies, opened lots of presents, ate our weight in carbs. I got two cookbooks — Alison Roman’s “Nothing Fancy,” and Mark Bittman’s “Dinner for Everyone.” Both look wonderful. I find myself drooling over the photos of garlicky greens. I hope that means I’m on the road back to dietary temperance.

    However, for now, it’s time to walk Wendy. A great weekend to all.

    Posted at 4:30 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 69 Comments
     

    Orange you sorry?

    Yeesh, the holidays can be exhausting. Every day this week, someplace I have to be. On the other hand, these are mainly fun things, so hey — the holidays! Exhausting in a good way! Tomorrow is the holiday breakfast for the sunrise swimmers, when we see what we all look like; every year I have to be re-introduced to people I work out next to three days a week but can’t recognize in street clothes because I only see them a) wet; b) mostly naked; c) wearing a plastic cap; and d) goggles.

    Fun times. I plan to order the potato pancakes.

    Kate will be home soon. She’s leaving California to tour with her band and hopes to be back in a few months. I just called her. She was having a farewell skate on Venice Beach. I could hear the seagulls in the background.

    It is cold here. But you knew that.

    It was a busy week, besides the personal stuff. Trumps in Michigan two nights running (Lara and her father-in-law). You probably heard the headline — he implied the recently deceased Michigan congressman, John Dingell, was in hell. Also, he looked like this, i.e. microwaved. We know he uses makeup, we know he has a tanning bed, we know he…well, we don’t know the state of his health. But that face kept ringing a bell. And then I got it:

    I know, terrifying.

    This is terrifying too:

    Almost from the moment he took office, President Trump seized on a theory that troubled his senior aides: Ukraine, he told them on many occasions, had tried to stop him from winning the White House.

    After meeting privately in July 2017 with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Trump grew more insistent that Ukraine worked to defeat him, according to multiple former officials familiar with his assertions.

    …One former senior White House official said Trump even stated so explicitly at one point, saying he knew Ukraine was the real culprit because “Putin told me.”

    Sigh. Every country runs aground sooner or later. This is our time on the reef.

    But now he’s impeached. So there’s that.

    I think I have one more entry in me before the holiday, but just in case I don’t, let me take this opportunity to tell you how much I appreciate all you guys. Your eyeballs are a gift to me. I hope, at least sometimes, this site is a gift to you.

    Posted at 9:33 pm in Current events | 81 Comments
     

    Mopey Monday.

    Sorry for no update yesterday.

    Today, Deadline ran a lengthy profile of Rashida Tlaib. I don’t know her well, but I’ve seen her out and about from time to time, and my impression is of a woman who feels things strongly, who makes mistakes, who cries a lot but laughs twice as much, and generally is about as different from the popular caricature as chalk is from cheese. Again, I don’t know her, but this struck me as about right:

    Tlaib projects an unusual combination of toughness and vulnerability, equally unafraid to shout or cry. She blends a Quixotic quality with a mixture of street savvy and the wide-eyed wonder of a newcomer to the national circle of power.

    But this was the passage that stuck with me, about a local talk-radio host who has made her a Thing:

    Locally, many of these cheap shots come from Frank Beckmann, a radio talk-show host on WJR (760-AM).

    In early November, painting her as an anti-Semite, Beckmann said Tlaib “gets this warm feeling in her heart when she thinks about the Holocaust.” Later, he smeared her after a Middle Eastern community activist was charged in Hamtramck with sexual assault of a mentally disabled student outside a school.

    “We’re still waiting for words from Rashida Tlaib,” Beckmann snarled. “Did you know about this, Rashida? Why didn’t you stop it?”

    The accused was a politically active man who was pictured on Facebook with many Detroit-area elected officials. But Beckmann stressed a photo of him with Tlaib.

    Alluding to the oral sex charge, Beckmann taunted Tlaib by describing the photograph.

    “Almost cheek-to-cheek,” Beckmann said. “Lip-to-lip with him.”

    People? I can’t imagine doing this for a living. I don’t care how much money they give you. “A warm feeling in her heard when she thinks about the Holocaust?” Someone thought that up, someone test-marketed in the fevered confines of his skull, and then sent it out of his mouth, in front of a microphone.

    Ah, well. I have been known to refer to FLOTUS as the first sex worker, so maybe it’s just my point of view. I’d still hate that job. Talk radio is awful, but entirely predicted social media, when you think about it.

    As you can see, I’m pretty much out of gas. Slept badly last night, determined not to do so tonight.

    Bloggage? Impeachment, I guess. The links will be overtaken by events as soon as I post them, so I won’t.

    Posted at 8:41 pm in Current events, Media | 29 Comments
     

    Hygge.

    We had a cold snap in recent days — into the teens — and I’m feeling like it’s hygge time. All that Scandinavian winter-comfort stuff, you know. Roaring fires, thick socks, heavy sweaters to burrow into. Netflix. Tea. Hot chocolate. It gets you through.

    Which is by way of saying I got home from work this evening and hyyge’d into a 30-minute nap because jeez, I cannot with this 5 p.m. darkness. Why not go to bed, you know?

    But then I woke up and made chicken tetrazzini and roasted broccoli, because I do my fucking job, people.

    I’m exhausted, though. I wish I were in the south of France, like Deborah. I wish I were in California with my daughter. I wish I were in Florida with my BFF, who just retired. But here I am, where it gets dark at 5 p.m.

    Some items of note:

    Betsy DeVos gets yelled at, poor baby.

    I am no longer watching the impeachment hearings, because things like this are making me nauseous. Hey, Florida Man.

    #BeBest, you despicable woman.

    So here’s a new thread for the weekend, and let’s all recharge.

    Posted at 9:04 pm in Current events | 44 Comments