Guilty, guilty, TBD.

Man, what a kuh-RAYzee news day. And it all seemed to break at once. I see the spirited discussion is already going on down in the comments. As for me, I’m sitting here listening to the first of the crickets begin chirping in the softening light of early evening. It’s either that or the sound of the red hats saying nothing.

I no longer have cable, so I can’t watch the West Virginia rally. Even if I had cable, I wouldn’t watch it, so no big loss. I’ll “watch” it via Twitter, the 24/7/365 cocktail party of snark. Either that, or “Better Call Saul” on iTunes.

It’s nutty, how fast the wheels are coming off. I wonder, if President Trump thinks of anything as he stares at the ceiling in the middle of the night, if he ever thinks how much easier everything would be if he’d just lost that stupid election. (I bet Ivanka does.)

So, give that the news is the news, let’s just talk about the news. And for the hell of it, a little more.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is silly. Very silly.

Sally Jenkins with a head of angry steam over heat-related deaths in football practice. In the WashPost.

This news is like a rat I must, like a snake, unhinge my jaw to swallow. Happy midweek to all.

Posted at 7:54 pm in Current events | 6 Comments
 

Tickling the ivories, baying at the moon.

Sundays recently have been Nance Day — laundry is done, groceries are gotten, chores are (mostly) out of the way, and I have time to read and write, so what am I doing? Googling “dogs playing piano and singing.”

Try it yourself. There is a rich archive of video evidence that this is no one-off dog trick.

I first became aware of this oddity of canine behavior when I visited my friend Deb in Michigan City, and we visited a local restaurant called Maxine & Heinie’s, and no, I’m not sure about that spelling. It was the after-deadline hang of Deb’s newsroom, and Heinie, the co-owner, had a dog named Timmy. I think Timmy was a Boston terrier, but not sure about that, either. Anyway, Heinie had a piano, and Timmy would jump up on the bench, hit the keys with his paws, and howl along. It was very funny, but difficult to live with, so they mostly kept the keys covered, because once he started — and he started every chance he could — he couldn’t be stopped.

There was a grainy video that Heinie would play on the bar TV when requested, of Timmy doing his thing. It was funny. Funnier was the story about how Heinie, who walked home after closing up late at night, was doing so one night with an armed escort; he’d recently been mugged, and the police offered to protect him, probably in return for the usual police discount.

Anyway, someone had left the piano keys uncovered, and as they approached the front door, the cop stopped and drew his weapon. “Someone’s inside,” he said. “Wait here.”

“It’s just Timmy,” said Heiny. “My dog.”

The cop still made him wait while he unlocked the door and entered, gun at the ready. As he hit the lights, sure enough: Timmy. God knows how long he’d been playing.

So, as I said before, this seems to be a common thing. Does anyone have any working theories on why they take so easily to this trick? Obviously it’s something they have to be taught, but as in the case of Timmy, it’s one that many will continue without the reinforcement of praise or a treat.

I guess the short answer is: Dogs are smart in ways we don’t even understand. And mysterious. Which is why we love them so.

OK, then. Second on the Nance Day topic list: Aretha. There is a rather extraordinary interval between her death and her funeral — 15 days. There will be two days of “lying in state,” which I put quotes around because I’m a strict constructionist on that phrase; I think it should be reserved for those individuals whose bodies are displayed in public buildings, like a capital building. Aretha will lie in the Charles Wright Museum of African-American History, which I think would make the ritual, technically, lying in repose, but don’t listen to me. (No one does, necessitating Nance Days from time to time.) This means the media coverage will roll on and on and on, a sort of Princess Diana II. Rosa Parks was the most recent mega-funeral we had here, with a similar build-up to what ended up being a nine-hour service.

We take funerary traditions rather seriously here, is what I’m saying. Especially for a figure so steeped in black history, and church history, and black church history.

However, there are rewards. I’ve been dipping in and out of radio tributes all weekend. How marvelous to hear the whole breadth of her career in a couple hours or so. There’s some other stuff I will say in time, but that time has not yet arrived. It isn’t sinister, so no implication of same. Rather, it’s about artists and artistry and that conundrum they inevitably pose to us — separation.

I see some of you were discussing so-called “access journalism” here a few days ago. I have some thoughts on that. All beat reporting is access journalism, to some extent. If you are covering a beat over time, you must have access to the people you need, and not all of them may be willing or even interested in extending some. So you start approaching the line, with so-called beat sweeteners, i.e., puff or positive pieces on various individuals, so they’ll think kindly of you. And for some, it goes on.

It’s a thorny topic; in my experience, police and political reporters are most often accused of practicing access journalism. Cop reporters, again in my experience which is not necessarily backed up by empirical study, tend to grow pro-cop over time. They spend their time with cops, they see the way the job is done, they empathize. And cops can be real pricks about opening or closing doors depending on how they feel about your work on any given day. On the other hand, without a good cop reporter, you don’t have much of a news organization. Maggie Haberman at the NYT is often singled out as an access journalist on the political side, and I see the argument, really I do. Personally, I think it’s balanced by the good pieces she’s done since January 20, 2017. This latest story, about FLOTUS, got some people on Twitter up in arms, but overall, I think it’s fair. Melania is never going to talk to the NYT for a profile, so there were a lot of anonymous sources, critics and otherwise, having their say about her. To some, any profile that doesn’t refer to her as an evil-enabling former sex worker is going to be seen as LIES LIES LIES, but that’s not the way the job is done.

The one other thing I have to say about that story is this: The photo editing in it is brilliant.

Nance Day needs to have a little fun for its namesake or it’s not Nance Day, so I’ll sign off for now and relax before the usually brutal Monday/Tuesday whirl begins. I hope your week ahead is great.

Posted at 1:41 pm in Current events, Media | 47 Comments
 

Not dead yet.

The word of the day is…I guess it’s a compound word, but whatever: “Pre-mourning.”

Allow me to explain.

The news that Aretha Franklin is, quote gravely ill unquote came in late Sunday night. In journo-speak, that means the person involved has hours to live. I generally work Mondays at my non-journalism workplace, but I got there particularly early Monday, so I peeled off my first hour to dash off…I guess you’d call it an appreciation of the queen of soul.

“I will get you something before noon,” I told my editor. It was done by 9:30 a.m. Whew!

But Aretha lingered. Word of her health condition spread. Of course, thanks to social media, everybody has something to say now, and they all started saying it. Traditional news outlets swung into action, some with comical results — two local TV stations did live standups in front of the Motown museum, because TV staffs skew young and apparently no one in their newsrooms knew Aretha had never been a Motown artist, ever. (Columbia, then Atlantic.) The pop music writers started doing their career retrospectives. There was a headline in the Freep yesterday: What we know about Aretha Franklin’s health. Pieces about who was stopping by to visit in these presumably final days.

My poor little appreciation, which seemed crisp 48 hours ago, now stinks like an old fish. This has all been said, I’m thinking, looking at it. It’s not fresh at all. I’ve seen that Kennedy Center thing 14 times on my Facebook in the last hour.

And then I saw this:

The digital age allows us to witness “pre-mourning” on a worldwide scale. And that’s what we’re witnessing right now around the news that Aretha Franklin’s health is failing. People are celebrating her life and bracing for her possible death — and much of this is playing out in public.

OK, first off: Death is not “possible.” It’s inevitable. For everyone, even Aretha Franklin. But I find this kinda…gross. There’s a tribute concert in the works, for god’s sake. It’s not quite like, but close to, the heirs fighting over an estate before the corpse is cool. Let’s give the lady some peace in her final days.

Does your city have Bird scooters yet? Detroit got them a few weeks ago. I won’t say I …hate them, exactly, but man, they can be annoying, and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before some eager-beaver bro runs over an old person, or a young person, or some other person, and then we’ll have a situation like they have in Los Angeles, which you have to agree is pretty funny:

As cities like Santa Monica and Beverly Hills struggle to control a rapid proliferation of electric pay-per-minute scooters, some residents are taking matters into their own hands and waging a guerrilla war against the devices. These vandals are destroying or desecrating the vehicles in disturbingly imaginative ways, and celebrating their illegal deeds on social media — in full view of authorities and the public.

I’ve had a few zoom past me on the not-particularly-crowded streets. They get on my nerves when they weave in and out of sidewalks and streets, but I guess that’s the point.

How’s your August going? August is spider season here — they’re turning up everywhere. They’re pooping all over Alan’s boat and making webs outside the back door every night. Big ones, too — I expect they’re genetic mutants enabled by climate change, don’t you? Grabbing the last meals out of summer, although honestly, there are weeks and weeks left before the first frost. I never kill them; I relocate them outdoors. Anything that kills flies is A-OK with me.

So, what are the current events for discussion? Omarosa? I don’t have the energy, except to note that no one could have possibly seen this amazing, astonishing outcome to her White House employment. Also, I hope she has lots more tapes.

And then there’s the One True Church. Ugh.

Time for bed. Over the hump, Wednesday.

Posted at 9:46 pm in Current events, Popculch | 46 Comments
 

The zombie newspaper.

I see the word got out that my alma mater, the News-Sentinel of Fort Wayne, Ind., alma mater of my husband as well, not to mention a few of our commentariat and some very good journalists who used it as a stepping stone to bigger careers elsewhere, is muerte.

Or rather, not dead, just downsized. How, you might be wondering, is that even possible, when the staff — around 80something when Alan and I worked there — is now down to eight? Easy. You lay off seven of them. This allegedly daily newspaper, which dispensed of its print product when it downsized to eight, will now be staffed by a single soul, who happens to be the right-wing columnist who also does news stories, because hey, having a columnist is kind of a luxury, when ya think about it.

Here’s the closest thing to a company press release, delivered two full days after the layoff happened. Get a load of this bullshit:

“We’ll still have a website. We’ll still have a page in The Journal Gazette every Monday through Saturday. And we’ll still have a presence at key events in the area,” he said. “Kevin Leininger is staying with us to provide great community, business and political coverage.”

That’s the “publisher,” a company man recently called back to corporate HQ in West Virginia. I hope he enjoyed his time squeezing every last nickel out of the place. I wonder who will get the Pulitzer hanging on the wall when they finally call it quits.

Guys! Let’s put together a raiding party and steal it! If the building security is anything like it used to be, it’ll be a proverbial candy/baby situation. (Once a female security guard maced herself. It’s a long, embarrassing [for her] story; another time.) We can donate it to the Newseum or find a more useful place for it than on the wall of an empty newsroom, or, worse, on their corporate boardroom wall, assuming they have one. For all I know, this outfit operates out of a former strip-mall insurance office down there in Parkersburg, West-by-God.

Yes, a little testy about this, I must say. I’ll also say this: There is always meat on a carcass’ bones, no matter how long after it dropped to its knees and expired out there on the prairie. And there is always a scavenger willing to gnaw off its share.

Otherwise, not a bad weekend. Got a fair amount done, including two workouts and a dinner on the table. Alan’s been curious about Filmstruck, the new all-movies streaming service, for a while now, and finally bit the equipment-upgrade bullet necessary to get it here — it only works with the second-generation AppleTV, evidently, unless you want to link it to your laptop somehow. So I’m accustomed to hearing chortling coming from downstairs as I drift off to sleep, as Alan plows through the entire Jim Jarmusch catalog, for instance.

Last night we watched “Reflections in a Golden Eye,” a John Huston adaptation of Carson McCullers’ novel, c. 1967. Talk about ahead of its time: Marlon Brando plays a repressed homosexual Army major, teaching “leadership” or some such on a remote southern base, so far off the beaten path it could be existing in a dream. (It’s dedicated to the mounted — as in, on horseback — cavalry. This after World War II.) Elizabeth Taylor is his wife, described in the synopsis as a “nymphomaniac,” which I guess means that she finds sexual solace other than in her gay husband’s arms. Her lover is Brian Keith, of all people. Her role is basically Martha from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” almost down to the letter — she’s a middle-age spoiled brat whose husband will never be as manly and powerful as daddy. Then there’s Julie Harris as Keith’s neurotic wife, Zorro David as her mincing Filipino houseboy and “Introducing Robert Forster.” He plays a young private, gifted with horses, who becomes obsessed with Liz while Brando becomes obsessed with him. (He — the private — likes to take a horse out for a bareback spin, stopping to shed his own clothes after he’s out of eyeshot of the barn. Bareback and bareassed.

It’s quite a story, and of course it tanked. The gay stuff was probably unheard-of for a mid-’60s audience, and very explicit without being so; at one point Liz takes off all her clothes to taunt her husband, who flies into a rage. The idea of America’s violet-eyed sex goddess not being devoured by a healthy man couldn’t have sent a stronger message that Maj. Penderton was not all there, sexually.

Fun fact, via Wikipedia: Stills of Brando in character, and in uniform, as Maj. Penderton were used in “Apocalypse Now” — they’re the pictures in the dossier about Col. Kurtz that Martin Sheen looks through as he goes upriver.

Now I think I’ll go downstairs and start scaring up some dinner. There might be some purple involved:

Variations on a theme of #Purple. #farmersmarket #detroit

A post shared by nderringer (@nderringer) on

Have a good week ahead, all. The pace should be slower. I certainly hope so.

Posted at 6:12 pm in Media, Movies | 46 Comments
 

Post-election cleanup.

May I see a show of hands of anyone who can guess why this entry is late? If you guessed “a primary election,” you win a prize. It is my heavy-lidded presence right here.

It wasn’t that the work was so bad, but the information-packing of one’s own head, of reading take after take and analysis after analysis. After a while, I feel like Lucy and Ethel in front of the candy conveyer belt, and I have to go watch Israelis and Palestinians battle to the death on “Fauda.”

Fortunately, I have so, so many links to share.

First, a subsection on the internet and its peculiarities, starting with an interesting but not-followed-by-anyone-else explanation of how the Al Franken story spread so quickly and seemed to have grassroots momentum in calling for his exit from the Senate, when in fact? It didn’t:

While everyone has been focused on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election to support Donald Trump, the Franken take-down originated in—and was propelled by—a strategic online campaign with digital tentacles reaching to, of all places, Japan. Analysts have now mapped out how the initial accusation against Franken by Hooters pinup girl and lad-mag model Leeann Tweeden was turned into effective propaganda after first being hinted at by right wing black ops master Roger Stone.

A pair of Japan-based websites, created the day before Tweeden came forward, and a swarm of related Twitter bots made the Tweeden story go viral—and then weaponized a liberal writer’s criticism of Franken. The bot army, in tandem with prominent real live human right-wingers with Twitter followers in the millions, such as Mike Cernovich, spewed thousands of posts, helping the #frankenfondles hashtag and the “Franken is a groper” meme effectively silence the testimonies of eight former female staffers who defended the Minnesota Democrat before he resigned last year.

The best argument for studying computer science is being prepared for this bullshit. Of course Roger Stone is up to his neck in it.

On a related but more technical note, J.C. sent along this piece on “the bullshit web,” i.e. the graphics-and-code-laden websites that take forever to load, even with a fast connection and a middle-aged computer:

Take that CNN article, for example. Here’s what it contained when I loaded it:

  • Eleven web fonts, totalling 414 KB
  • Four stylesheets, totalling 315 KB
  • Twenty frames
  • Twenty-nine XML HTTP requests, totalling about 500 KB

Approximately one hundred scripts, totalling several megabytes — though it’s hard to pin down the number and actual size because some of the scripts are “beacons” that load after the page is technically finished downloading.

The vast majority of these resources are not directly related to the information on the page, and I’m including advertising. Many of the scripts that were loaded are purely for surveillance purposes: self-hosted analytics, of which there are several examples; various third-party analytics firms like Salesforce, Chartbeat, and Optimizely; and social network sharing widgets. They churn through CPU cycles and cause my six-year-old computer to cry out in pain and fury. I’m not asking much of it; I have opened a text-based document on the web.

My own beloved MacBook Air is now about four years old, and I can already see signs of this happening to it. It’s the best, fastest computer I’ve ever owned (although I guess you can say that about every new one, right?), but on a night like Tuesday, when I have about a million tabs open, the fans start roaring and I have to go through one by one and shut most of them down, usually because a Pampers ad is playing on a loop.

Anyway, that’s one for you computer geeks.

Speaking of graphics, here’s another one of those juicy NYT data presentations on the average age of first-time motherhood, county by county. There are several maps; note how the age rises with education and income. Fascinating look at the demographics of a significant milestone in almost everyone’s life.

And at the other end of the reproductive arc, also from the NYT, the gift of menopause:

I was never a woman who turned heads, but menopause has made me invisible, and I love being invisible. Why did I ever care if strangers thought I was pretty? Worse, why didn’t I think I was pretty at an age when everyone is pretty? “Oh, how I regret not having worn a bikini for the entire year I was 26,” wrote Nora Ephron in “I Feel Bad About My Neck.” “If anyone young is reading this, go, right this minute, put on a bikini, and don’t take it off until you’re 34.”

I don’t know if it’s menopause or simply aging, but time’s winged chariot has freed me from bikinis, among other things. Life is full of obligations that can’t be shirked, but always there are “obligations” I’m not obliged to do. No, I don’t want to sit on that panel. No, I don’t want to attend that fund-raiser. No, I don’t want to go to that party. The days are running out, faster and faster, and I have learned that every yes I say to something I don’t want to do inevitably means saying no to something that matters to me far more — time with my family, time with my friends, time in the woods, time with a book.

It doesn’t really have a larger point, but it’s a pleasant read, and I know we have a lot of ladies here who’ve gone through the big M. I like being invisible, too. Most days.

I was hoping to keep you-know-who out of my head for a few hours, but he keeps opening the hole in his own, and so we must note the dumber things he says. The stuff about how the fires in California, something something, the water being dumped into the ocean? Like, we could put those fires out if only we had enough water? Er, not true. What’s more, he got this idea from? Alex Jones.

Finally, an elegant little essay about the latest Deplorable picture taken at a Trump rally.

Read it if you like. I’m going to put dinner on.

Posted at 7:04 pm in Current events | 52 Comments
 

Hot again.

The workload eases a bit, and the temperature soars — story of the summer, but I guess it could be worse. Nothing is burning here, and thats better than large swaths of the country at the moment. But by this time of the season, I’m weary of day after day of miserable heat.

But the seasons are a wheel, and the wheel, it turns.

You might think this is a lead-in to advising everyone to read the NYT magazine piece on climate change, and you can if you wish, but honestly, it’s so depressing I wouldn’t advise it unless you prepare by first removing all hanging rope, razor blades, barbiturates and your garage door, because cuz, you’re going to want to use it. I started the piece and put it down. I’ll finish it later. When I’m feeling a little, how you say? Stronger.

It was a good weekend. Got a lot done, Kate came through, and we actually had a meal together. I made eggplant with tomatoes, and it was delicious. Had enough leftovers to make it my omelet filling this morning, which I ate all by my little self while Alan and Kate slept in.

(I don’t think I’ll ever “sleep in” again. The other day I made it to 7 a.m. and it felt like noon.)

So this was a big weekend, news-wise. There was a big Unite the Right march out in Portland, which I followed only glancingly, via a couple of good tweeters who keep up with this stuff — @willsommer and @jjmacnab. The latter passed this along Sunday; VOP is Veterans on Patrol, a very strange group that is currently combing the desert around Tucson looking for the pedophile human trafficking ring they’re absolutely certain is out there:

Please, don’t be alarmed.

Meanwhile, Claude Brodesser-Akner (Taffy’s husband) put on some camo shorts and hit the Pennsylvania Trump rally, just to eavesdrop:

An older married couple in front of me stopped short as an impromptu merchant passed by, selling buttons, $10 for 3.

Trump Space Force. Trump as Rambo. Trump smiling above the words ‘Mr. President.’

She settled on a “Deplorable Me” yellow minion, evocative of the fictional yellow creatures that populate the “Despicable Me” film franchise.

The guy next to me selected a Trump Space Force button, and promptly affixed it to his hat.

“We need a President with NO foreign policy,” her husband was saying. “That’s what I wanted to tell Paul Ryan and all his cronies: ‘Who made us big brother of the world?’ Screw that.”

For some reason, this made me think of a guy who used to live near us in Fort Wayne. He came to a block party and told a story that included him stating how he decided whether or not to go to high school classes based on what the cafeteria was serving that day.

“I never cut class when they were having apple crisp,” he said.

I’d bet two paychecks that guy, if he voted, voted for Trump. And now this is what we have — an empowered electorate who thinks foreign policy is stupid.

Yeah, well, screw that.

I need a palate-cleanser. How about the fabulous Dr. Jen Gunter, debunker of Goop nonsense, on how “wellness” is harmful:

So what’s the harm of spending money on charcoal for nonexistent toxins or vitamins for expensive urine or grounding bedsheets to better connect you with the earth’s electrons?

Here’s what: the placebo effect or “trying something natural” can lead people with serious illnesses to postpone effective medical care. Every doctor I know has more than one story about a patient who died because they chose to try to alkalinize their blood or gambled on intravenous vitamins instead of getting cancer care. Data is emerging that cancer patients who opt for alternative medical practices, many promoted by companies that sell products of questionable value, are more likely to die.

Moving the kind of product that churns the wheels of the wellness-industrial complex requires a constant stream of fear and misinformation. Look closer at most wellness sites and at many of their physician partners, and you’ll find a plethora of medical conspiracy theories: Vaccines and autism. The dangers of water fluoridation. Bras and breast cancer. Cellphones and brain cancer. Heavy metal poisoning. AIDS as a construct of Big Pharma.

She told a funny story on her Twitter a few days ago about how she objected to the Goop stories suggesting — they often only suggest, hey, just asking questions! — that underwire bras are linked to breast cancer. One of the authors, she said, accused her of carrying water for bra makers. Yes, a tool of Big Lingerie!

That’s a job I want. Man, bras are expensive. I’m sure a discount is part of the compensation package.

More heavy weather ahead. Y’all take care, now.

Posted at 8:43 pm in Current events | 59 Comments
 

The ‘Wolf continues to rock.

I forgot to tell you about Steppenwolf. OK, here goes:

This was yet another outing organized by my friend Dustin, who has yet to reach 30 but, as he often says, is devoted mainly to musicians who qualify for Medicare. And the ‘Wolf — as John Kay referred to the band from the stage — certainly qualifies. Kay does, anyway, and for all intents and purposes, he *is* Steppenwolf. He’s now 74, and announced from the stage that this would be the final! Steppenwolf! Tour! EVER.

Sorry you couldn’t be there to hear them plow through a completely standard oldies-act set, with all the usual hits, from “Sookie Sookie” through “Rock Me,” “Snowblind Friend,” blah blah blah, “Monster” and then the band introduction, followed by “Magic Carpet Ride,” “Born to be Wild” and one more I can’t remember…oh right, “The Pusher.” (Thanks, Setlist.fm!)

I was hoping for a MAGA-led riot during “Monster,” as anti-America a song as was produced in the ’60s, but no deal. The Trump voters in the audience — and I’m confident a straw poll would have shown a crowd as red as blood — either saw it as a nostalgia piece or just didn’t know what it was about.

But of course I wasn’t there for the music, which I burned out on before junior year of high school. I was there to see the amazing audience of elderly bikers, who looked sort of like the Confederate Army in full retreat, if the Rebels had still had decent boots, four-footed canes and health insurance. There was so much evidence of hard living — beer bellies, prosthetic legs, baroque surgery scars running up and down legs from where they’d had to lay the bike down on that bitch of a turn that one time.

Being a biker is a look that doesn’t age well, but hey, no one cared! And so there were women who looked 70 if they were a day, still wearing skintight jeans, Harley-Davidson tank tops, engineer boots and American-flag bandannas on their hair, a face full of wrinkles like W.H. Auden, in total IDGAF mode. Once an old lady, always an old lady. And their dudes were similarly dressed, and guess what? They made for some cute couples.

Lots of this sort of thing:

When was the last time we used combat paratroopers? That guy’s hair looks too young to be a Vietnam vet.

Here was John Kay, signing a last autograph before heading off to his bus or hotel room or something:

The ‘Wolf has had a good run, Kay said from the stage — 50 years and then some — but it’s time to move on. He’s planning to save the elephants in his remaining years. God bless him.

So.

Some of you were talking in the comments about companies moving their corporate offices hither and yon in search of the young and educated. That’s certainly happening here. But I wonder how well this trend will scale, as the wonks say. The older I get, the less willing I am to sit in traffic, under any circumstances. Commuting at rush hour is one of my least-favorite things to do, ever, and I’ll do almost anything to avoid it — take surface streets, be an hour late, whatever — because it’s the closest I get to murder these days.

If I had to get into a dense downtown via car every day, I’d go insane. Fortunately I mainly do so off-peak, or else take the bus.

Just one piece of bloggage as we slide into the weekend — the peerless Robin Givhan on Paul Manafort’s revolting, expensive wardrobe:

His is the story of a man’s inexorable slide into a nauseating spectacle of insatiable consumption — a parable, or perhaps, a farce that included salivating merchants flying across the country to cater to his appetites. There are so many enticing, beguiling entry points in this story of unbridled decadence: the use of wire transfers from foreign bank accounts to pay his clothing bills, the capacity to spend more than $929,000 on suits in a five-year period, a perplexing fixation on plaid sport jackets. But ultimately, the one thing that most folks will remember from the first week of Manafort’s trial on bank and tax fraud charges is his $15,000 ostrich-leather bomber jacket.

The jacket is an atrocity — both literal and symbolic. It’s a garment thick with hubris and intent. For the prosecution, it was not an opening statement; it was an opening salvo.

As a matter of aesthetics, it’s worth stipulating that most clothes would not look particularly enticing dangling from a wooden hanger hooked over the back of an open door. And the government’s photographer is not exactly Richard Avedon. But hanger appeal is not the problem. The jacket, with its white topstitching and white satin lining, lacks finesse, artistry and sophistication. It’s simply a celebration of ostrich leather, which is to say that it is a celebration of money and excess. Ostrich, after all, is an expensive, exotic skin. Manafort also owned python, which he had stitched into an equally unimpressive but expensive jacket.

Now that. Is fashion writing.

Happy weekend, all. Rock on.

Posted at 8:55 pm in Current events, Popculch | 46 Comments
 

Slow food.

OK, a little breathing space this afternoon, so here goes:

As Connie may have hinted at in the previous post comments, one of my two part-time employers is hosting a conference this week, and it’s been time-consuming. It’s short but pretty dense-packed, and between the tweeting and coffee-swilling and field-trip wrangling, I haven’t had much time to spare. Yesterday was “Detroit Day” for our guests, policy researchers from several different states, and we had sessions on the bankruptcy, the autonomous-vehicle future, the lead neurotoxin menace and to finish the day, a bus tour to two urban farms. There were a lot of details and emails involved, but it all came off without a hitch, so most of the pressure is off now. Tonight is a dinner at the DIA, then the rest is just administrative stuff and waving goodbye.

So.

Let me begin by asking for a show of hands: Anybody been to a McDonald’s lately? If your hand is up, can you tell me what the hell is going on at that place? Because I’ve stopped there twice in maybe the last six months, and if this is the way they’re running, sell your stock.

I guess I have to start with the usual disclaimers: I’m not a regular, although I’ll stop there from time to time when I’m on a long drive and it’s clear there will be no Steak & Shake for at least 100 miles, or if I’m running between errands and ravenously hungry with no time to eat. A small fries and a Diet Coke will tide me over to the next real-food occasion pretty well. Oh, and cards on the table: I still enjoy an Egg McMuffin from time to time. Maybe twice a year.

As it happened, some of these circumstances led me to a Mickey D’s a couple times lately. Both times, the drive-through lanes were backed way up, and I figured I could park, order inside and be on my way in less time. If only. They’ve revamped their order-and-delivery system, and the delays now make the term “fast food” ironic. Gone is the slanting aluminum rack behind the counter, where the cooks kept the wrapped burgers sliding down to the counter people to bag and deliver p.d.q. Now you get a slip with an order number, and you stand around and wait. And wait. And wait.

Both times I’ve been lately, it’s clear why the drive-through lane was backed up, why the lot’s been re-striped with sit-and-wait parking spots. I’ve had faster food service in bars. Hell, even in real restaurants, they can usually get a salad or bowl of soup out within a few minutes of ordering, but the other day it took at least 10 or 15 to deliver a quarter-pounder.

I suspect the labor shortage has something to do with this. We’re long past the time when a fast-food joint was a teenager’s traditional first job; I think the average FF worker’s age is now 31. Every McD’s I’ve been in lately has signs touting the excellent benefits to be gained from working there, and the smiling person on the poster rarely looks 16. It’s possible this is a transitional step to the order-from-kiosks model, too, and the kid running the register is simply dead man walking. Or it might just be that fast food is going through yet another transition as an industry, and I don’t read deep enough into the Wall Street Journal to know what it is.

Anyway, for as long as it took me to get my food, it took the kid in front of me about 20 to get his chicken nuggets.

OK, so a little bloggage:

How America uses its land — a data package with some great maps.

Here’s a piece from my other part-time job — not mine — about the GOP Senate battle here in Michigan. Two candidates are trying to outdo one another in pledging fealty to you-know-who. One is a young war vet, the other an older businessman. Both should know better, but I guess not:

A Pensler campaign ad noted that James’ only campaign contribution ever consisted of a $500 donation to a liberal Detroit City Council candidate who now supports “sanctuary cities,” which shield illegal immigrants from deportation. At the time, James said, he naively backed a local candidate running for office in a district that included his family’s Detroit business.

In response to a counterattack, Pensler was forced to defend a few campaign contributions he made to Democrats two decades ago. The wealthy financier said he has contributed more than 30 times to GOP candidates and his attempt to “cross the aisle” with Dem donations was a mistake.

…As both candidates vie for the affections of staunchly pro-Trump voters, James attacked “liberal” Pensler for saying Trump talks “like a fourth grader.” Pensler cried foul, contending that his remarks in context show that he was complimenting the president. He tried to say that Trump successfully boils issues down to a fourth-grade level, which Pensler views as an admirable political skill.

Not that they’re anywhere close to the bottom, either. Oh, no. This guy is much, much closer.

And with that, I’m going to try to grab a bike ride before I have to change for the evening. Thanks for bearing with the erratic schedule around here.

Posted at 2:25 pm in Current events, Popculch | 46 Comments
 

The ‘Wolf rocks on. Me, likewise.

I’m heading into a 48-hour period of grindstone-meet-nose stuff, but I wanted to put up a fresh post and let er’rybody talk about this and that. My weekend started with seeing, of all bands, Steppenwolf, and ended with an all-day there-and-back to Fort Wayne, to say farewell to one of our neighbors, who died unexpectedly a few weeks ago. It was a good trip, but exhausting, and for now, let me just show you this photo of one of the ‘Wolf crowd, and I’ll be back probably Tuesday or Wednesday:

Yeah, it was that kind of night. Carry on, and I’ll see y’all soon.

Posted at 10:24 pm in Popculch | 24 Comments
 

Two blondes, parted in the middle.

I have about 15 minutes to write this, so hey — expect typos.

Today’s Interesting Juxtaposition comes as the NYT magazine looks at the strange story of Goop, aka Gwyneth Paltrow’s “wellness” business that peddles not just incredibly overpriced creams and potions, but actual quackery, some of it harmless, some less so:

A gynecologist and obstetrician in San Francisco named Jen Gunter, who also writes a column on reproductive health for The Times, has criticized Goop in about 30 blog posts on her website since 2015. A post she wrote last May — an open letter that she signed on behalf of “Science” — generated more than 800,000 page views. She was angry about all the bad advice she had seen from Goop in the last few years. She was angry that her own patients were worried they’d given themselves breast cancer by wearing underwire bras, thanks to an article by an osteopath who cited a much-debunked book published in 1995. Gunter cited many of Goop’s greatest hits: “Tampons are not vaginal death sticks, vegetables with lectins are not killing us, vaginas don’t need steaming, Epstein Barr virus (E.B.V.) does not cause every thyroid disease and for [expletive] sake no one needs to know their latex farmer; what they need to know is that the only thing between them and H.I.V. or gonorrhea is a few millimeters of latex, so glove that [expletive] up.”

That is but one moment in a long, extremely entertaining read. But it gets to the heart of my complaint with Gwynnie. And then there’s the other blonde grifter:

In public interviews, Ivanka’s been a master of careful excellence, the artful dodge, the well-phrased nothing. As for her influence: She’s said only that if she disagrees with her father, it’s expressed privately and “with total candor.” …But the biggest question surrounding Ivanka has always been this one: How much of her identity is about herself? Her own name, her own brand, her own legacy? And how much of her identity is tied up in being her father’s daughter?

Actually, that last one’s not a hard question to answer at all: 100 percent. Ivanka’s clothes are basic career dressing — sheath dresses, skirts and blouses. She no more “designs” them than I do. If you click through, note the photo down low in the story, of Ivanka photographed in profile, hair in a bun, chin resting on a knuckle, as posiest a pose as was ever posed. Her fembot brain said, “Camera! Look thoughtful!” and that’s the first one that popped up. There isn’t an authentic bone in her body, or if there is, we haven’t seen it yet.

That both these pieces are about privilege, white/blonde/rich/genetic lottery privilege, goes without saying. That both these women lead (or led) “aspirational” companies is kinda depressing. Here’s my aspiration: To live long enough to see Ivanka become her mother, and all that implies — two more marriages, children grown into disappointments, face puffed with fillers and, of course, a “signature” hairdo. Straight and forever blonde, parted in the middle.

Fifteen minutes is up, and I have to shower and get to work. Sorry I’ve been scarce. Next week will be worse, at least until Wednesday. Try to get by without me.

Posted at 8:24 am in Popculch | 30 Comments