101-level.

And so we lurch to the end of the week. I’m mailing out a few copies of a Deadly Vipers press release. It only took Alan and I, two professionals who have read thousands of press releases between us over the course of decades, about three days to bang it out. It was ridiculous, batting drafts back and forth like a couple of toddlers. I thought I had it nailed, but then realized I’d forgotten the social media and a goddamn phone number.

It’s early dementia, I’m sure.

Oh, well. Speaking of journalism, this was Thursday’s chuckle, Hank’s review of a vile new show called “Sex Box,” in which a couple sits on stage for therapy, and is then ushered into a bed-sized box onstage for, presumably, y’know:

While they’re in there supposedly having sex (in the two episodes shared with critics, duration in the Sex Box lasts anywhere from 11 to 31 minutes), the therapists continue to discuss the couple’s problems. The audience fidgets. The Parents Television Council issues another useless press release. We wait.

The musical cues in “Sex Box” are more suited to a reality show about sharks or avalanches. I mean, is the saxophone solo so out of fashion that it can’t even be put to use here, where we need it most? The tone and presentation make it seem as if something really awful is happening in there, in addition to the making of truly awful television out here.

More tragically, the Sex Box doesn’t move, shake, thrum, glow or give any indication of what’s occurring within. It would be such a better show if the Sex Box, once occupied, could then be lowered onto a shipping vessel bound for the Asian continent, or shot into orbit by Richard Branson, or driven to a storage unit in West Covina and stashed away. Something, anything to make up for the time wasted watching “Sex Box.”

People wonder why critics take so much apparent glee in writing pans. Because there’s so much more fun, that’s why. (I love the idea of lowering the box onto a freighter. I’d watch that show.)

Sigh. When I get up to hit the gym tomorrow, it is predicted to be 0 degrees, maybe lower. Should I skip? Perish the thought!

Have a great weekend.

Posted at 12:30 am in Media | 65 Comments
 

How dumb?

Lately I’ve been gathering string for a Facebook post I’m tentatively calling, “I read it online; is it true?” This is born of frustration with the sheer amount of utter bullshit I see posted on social media, and particularly Facebook.

Hard to imagine that just a year or two ago, I was looking forward to the end of Facebook. No dice. It’s more popular than ever, and is an important driver of traffic to Bridge, among other sites. Drives me nuts, but it is what it is.

I’m not talking about the stupid, obviously fake news stories, like the one about the Marines who beat up the thief at a Best Buy. (Nice little twist of racism in that one; note the thief’s subtle name, “Tyrone Jackson.”) I’m talking about ones where an aggregator takes a legit news story, rewrites it, spins it like a top, slaps on a new headline and hopes for maximum viral magic.

The more partisan/crazy the aggregator, ditto the spin. Here’s an example, with the subtle headline New York Times Wants to Force Nursing Homes to Starve Alzheimer’s Patients to Death. (Another corollary to crazy news sites: They Are Most Likely to Use Up-Style Headlines, Which Drive Me Nuts.) The story links to a complex NYT story about elderly people who are writing advance directives requesting nutrition/hydration withdrawal in the event they develop severe dementia. How they get to that forcing business? Well, it’s Life News dot com; what else would you expect?

Speaking of dementia, here’s one from the other side, yet another chapter in the continuing mental deterioration of Pat Robertson, who today is down on yoga, because it makes people “speak Hindu.” I wonder what it’s like to have your own show and have a daily stage for your own decrepitude. To which we must all ask: Is macaroni and cheese a black thing?

Getting back to the other thing: It’s no secret that people don’t mind being lied to if they like the lie, but it’s always been disappointing. Mitch Albom had no shortage of defenders when he was caught reporting a heartwarming story that was, well, not true, because people liked the heartwarming part and the facts? Eh, we’re going for a larger truth here.

It should be illegal to be this tired at 9:42 p.m., but we’re into week three of a deep cold snap, and it’s getting exhausting — struggling in and out of the Parka of Tribulation; choosing every morning between flannel-lined pants, jeans-and-longjohns and which warm socks will fit in which boots, and which boots are warmer, and… ugh. And tomorrow I have to swim, so off to bed I go.

Remember last summer, when a national gathering of men’s rights advocates came to Detroit? GQ dropped its story this week.

I hope Samantha Elauf wins her case before SCOTUS.

Hoping for a second wind.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events | 32 Comments
 

Protected.

Something I learned today: Michigan is the only state in the nation that explicitly forbids discrimination based on height and weight.

There’s been talk of adding sexual orientation to the state’s civil-rights law, but in the current legislature, that’s unlikely to happen. A little googling reveals that height and weight were added in 1976, and it was the foundation of a suit brought five years ago by a Hooters waitress — 5-foot-8 and 132 pounds, who was pressured to lose more weight, so as to fit into a size-XS uniform.

In the comments, some guy refers to her as “a porker.” Which put me in mind of this, semi-NSFW. We are so cruel to one another, but only in the comments sections are we cruel to young women who can’t squeeze into an XS.

The other thing worth reading today is this Frank Rich piece on Ben Carson, or “Dr. Ben Carson,” as he’s popularly known. Cutting right to the point:

Thanks to his status as the political equivalent of a unicorn, Carson qualifies for the most elite affirmative-action program in America, albeit one paradoxically administered by a party opposed to affirmative-action programs. Simply put: If an African-American raises his hand to run for president as a Republican, he (they’ve all been men) will instantly be cheered on as a serious contender by conservative grandees, few or no questions asked. He is guaranteed editorials like the one in the Journal, accolades from powerful talk-show hosts (Carson would make “a superb president,” says Mark Levin), and credulous profiles like the one Fred Barnes contributed to The Weekly Standard last month. Barnes’s piece regurgitated spin from Carson’s political circle, typified by his neophyte campaign chief Terry Giles, a criminal litigator whose clients have included Richard Pryor, Enron’s Kenneth Lay, and an estate-seeking son of Anna Nicole Smith’s elderly final husband. “If nominated, can Carson beat Hillary Clinton or another Democrat?” Barnes asked—and then answered the question himself: “Yes, he can.” How? By winning 17 percent of the black vote in swing states—a theoretical percentage offered by a co-founder of the Draft Carson movement.

There’s no reason that a small-government black conservative Republican couldn’t be elected president—a proposition that might have been tested by Colin Powell and no doubt will be by other black Republicans one day. But not today. There have been three Great Black Presidential Hopes in the GOP’s entire history, Carson included—all of them in the past two decades. None has had a chance of victory in a national election, not least because none of the three ever won any elective office. None can be classified as presidential timber without a herculean suspension of disbelief. Indeed, the two Great Hopes before Carson were a buffoon with congenital financial woes and a two-time settler of sexual-harassment suits. But they, too, were praised to the skies by their Republican cheering section up until—and sometimes past—their inevitable implosions. And not without reason. There is a political method to this madness that reaches its culmination with Carson.

If nothing else, it’s an entertaining walk down memory lane. I’d forgotten about Alan Keyes. And Herman Cain is probably best left that way.

Whoa, but I’m sort of whipped. Let’s try again later.

Posted at 9:46 pm in Same ol' same ol' | 40 Comments
 

(Nearly) done with February.

The cold abated this weekend. It went clear up to the high 20s, which felt like beach weather. We were promised snow, just in case we thought the near-thaw was a prelude to spring, but only a dusting fell, and the forecast is for more subzero cold, arriving today (Monday).

On Saturday I bought a pair of fleece-lined tights, and if you were reading this on a text message, I would insert a thumbs-up emoji right here. Instead I’ll note that today is a prelude to spring, because everything in winter is, in some way. Sunset is a full hour later than it was at Christmastime, and sunrise ditto. Believe me, the early-morning exerciser notices these things. It takes our minds off the fact our hair is freezing.

It hasn’t been a terrible February. We’ve had parties to attend each of the last three weekends, and Saturday’s was at the home of one of the old filmmaking crew’s, so there were lots of jokes about getting the band back together. I doubt we will, but it was fun to catch up. One of our number is a pretty high-level IT guy, and was describing an incident in which some guy nearly crashed the internet for a very large ISP through one mistake. “The more you learn about any complicated system, the more you come away thinking it’s a miracle it works at all,” he said. Amen to that, brother.

Sunday I read this story in the NYT:

On the nights when she has just seven hours between shifts at a Taco Bell in Tampa, Fla., Shetara Brown drops off her three young children with her mother. After work, she catches a bus to her apartment, takes a shower to wash off the grease and sleeps three and a half hours before getting back on the bus to return to her job.

…Employees are literally losing sleep as restaurants, retailers and many other businesses shrink the intervals between shifts and rely on smaller, leaner staffs to shave costs. These scheduling practices can take a toll on employees who have to squeeze commuting, family duties and sleep into fewer hours between shifts. The growing practice of the same workers closing the doors at night and returning to open them in the morning even has its own name: “clopening.”

This is the second story about this phenomenon I’ve seen recently; the other was also in the NYT, and looked at a single mother at a single business – Starbucks, if I recall correctly. The story led to some red-faced corrections on the part of Starbucks, but as this one makes clear, the practice is widespread across fast food, retail and other service businesses. There are some reasons this isn’t 100 percent a human-rights issue…

Some managers say there are workers who don’t mind clopenings — like students who have classes Monday through Friday and want to cram in a lot of weekend work hours to maximize their pay.

Tightly scheduled shifts seem to have become more common for a number of reasons. Many fast-food restaurants and other service businesses have high employee turnover, and as a result they are often left with only a few trusted workers who have the authority and experience to close at night and open in the morning.

…but at the same time, you have to ask yourself: Hmm, why high turnover? Maybe because the money is bad and the hours are torture. What’s the solution? Keep the money low and the hours ditto, and hope a unicorn drops off an application.

Come the revolution, the quants and MBAs who dreamed this stuff up will be the first to the guillotines, and who will cry for them? Maybe their mothers. Meanwhile, our own Jolene passed this along, via her Facebook network:

parttimework

That’s the workaday world these days.

And here’s the workaday week, upon us. Another thumbs-up emoji here for a good one.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 52 Comments
 

Laundry plus links.

For the record, my family knows how to do laundry. I do the laundry because I’m a control freak and I like it done the way I like it done, but friends? That’s going to change. I’m done washing those goddamn towels.

You wouldn’t think laundry would be a high-skill job, but with all the fast-fashion items out there in weird fabrics, and my mania to reduce dry-cleaning bills, it can get a little complicated. Cold-water wash, low-temperature dry — ah, it’s a muddle.

But towels are uncomplicated. Wash, dry, fold, bing-bam-boom.

That was Thursday.

So much good linkage today, let’s just get to it.

This story is basically a shortened, condensed version of the Michael Kruse Politico piece on Jeb Bush and the Terri Schiavo case, spiced up with some obvious point of view. Still, worth reading. I’d forgotten how awful that skirmish in the culture wars was, but you shouldn’t. It also led me to this obviously sympathetic, 10-year-old profile of Michael Schiavo’s new woman, but hey — life is complicated.

How complicated? CLOWNS, THAT’S HOW COMPLICATED.

Finally, Ta’Nehisi Coates’ remembrance of David Carr brought me to tears. We should always have a mentor like this is our lives, but few of us are that lucky.

Oliver Sacks is on his way out. Another sad story.

Have a great weekend, all.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 56 Comments
 

The eagle beagle.

Sorry for the no-show yesterday. I was planning to write an information-dense, four- to five-paragraph press release for Kate’s band’s press kit instead of blogging, then I decided to blog instead, and then I ended up doing neither.

Yeah, I ended up watching the dog show. But I went to bed after the Russells. Didn’t see the beagle win. I don’t worry about missing things on TV anymore, because everything’s on YouTube the following day.

So, a day off.

A little housekeeping before you get bored: The poverty-in-paradise project concludes today, and my part is on how Aspen and Jackson Hole have instituted affordable-housing programs amid spiking real-estate prices. The Jackson Hole portion came with the help of our own MarkH, yay NN.c commentariat. That link won’t work until after 6:05 a.m. EST, mind you. The other two main pieces, on two schools up north and the exodus of young workers, are pretty good, too. There are also some short pieces; you can start here and cycle through.

That out of the way, let’s start a discussion about towels. Dirty towels. Or not-dirty ones.

Lately I feel like all I do is wash towels. Every week, I do four loads of clothing and three of goddamn towels. A while back I stopped using a fresh one every day, because what does a towel do? You step out of the shower, clean, and use it to absorb clean water from your body. Does that require a new towel every time? I think not. But I live with two people who get a fresh one every time, and that adds up to MORE GODDAMN TOWELS in the wash than you can imagine.

I started college during a summer term, one of the steamiest I’ve ever endured, and in un-air conditioned dorms. It was two- or three-shower a day weather, and I quickly ran out of towels. I’d rotate them through, hoping I could find a dry one by the time the next shower rolled around. So I’m not some hotel-dwelling, fresh-towel-every-handwash petunia. Have I underlined this enough? You don’t need a fresh towel every day.

That is all. Now to wash another load of practically clean towels.

Did you all see Neely Tucker’s WashPost piece on how Harper Lee was manipulated into publishing her first draft of what became “To Kill a Mockingbird?” You should. There’s no way I would buy this book, and unlikely I’d even read it.

The president explains why he won’t call ISIS “Islamic extremists,” as the ravening chorus is demanding he do:

“They are not religious leaders; they are terrorists,” Obama said during remarks at a White House event on countering violent extremism. “We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.”

Obama said the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, also known as ISIS or ISIL, is “desperate” to portray itself as a group of holy warriors defending Islam. It counts on that legitimacy, he said, to propagate the idea that Western countries are at war with Islam, which is how it recruits and radicalizes young people.

“We must never accept the premise that they put forward, because it is a lie,” he said.

Of course this won’t work, but it’s nice to hear.

The midweek hump is behind us. Let’s coast to the weekend.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 55 Comments
 

It was her party.

A shame about Lesley Gore — how the hell did this woman, whom I associate with the early ’60s girl-singer moment of sheath dresses and sprayed bouffants — come to be only 11 years old than me? Either I’m aging faster or she was the Lorde of her day.

I guess she was the Lorde of her day.

Something I did not know: She was a lesbian. No wonder she sounded so confident when it was Judy’s turn to cry. (Check out those Mondrian shifts on her background singers! I wonder if those were original YSL, or knockoffs. Either way: Specto-freakin’-tacular.)

You know who else was a lesbian ’60s girl singer? Dusty Springfield, although that link will take you to a piece about her life with this obnoxious lead:

Call me a crazy old physiognomist, but my theory is that you can always spot a lesbian by her big thrusting chin. Celebrity Eskimo Sandi Toksvig, Ellen DeGeneres, Jodie Foster, Clare Balding, Vita Sackville-West, God love them: there’s a touch of Desperate Dan in the jaw-bone area, no doubt the better to go bobbing for apples.

It is thus a tragedy that Dusty Springfield’s whole existence was blighted by her orientation, which explains ‘the silence and secrecy she extended over much of her life, and her self-loathing’. One glance at her chin should have revealed all — but the Sixties was not a fraction as liberated and swinging as people now assume.

Oh, blow me. Although the story isn’t terrible. I’ve been thinking of Dusty lately, ever since one of Kate’s homemade CD mixes revealed “Son of a Preacher Man.” I thought mainly she’d picked it up from “Pulp Fiction,” but she said it was for a friend who had decided this was the Best Song Ever, and made the entire car fall silent whenever it came on.

Well, it is a great song.

Some bloggage: My stories (and my partner Ted Roelofs’ stories) on what we’re calling “poverty in paradise,” i.e. the widening gap between the well-to-do and the left-behind, start running today in Bridge. Part one goes live around 6 a.m. EST, so if you’re reading this afterward, feel free to click on part one. Gracias.

I know I’m late to this, but I thought this piece on the online shaming that followed a single ill-advised tweet was very, very good.

Today I discovered it is, indeed, possible to get to an ISIS beheading video in three clicks. I don’t recommend it.

Have a great Tuesday, all y’all.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Media, Popculch | 81 Comments
 

Your dirty uncle.

So, the Dirty Show. It’s been going on since we’ve lived here, but this was our first time going. John Waters was the draw, of course – we’ve both been fans for a while, Alan of his movies and me of his post-Hairspray persona as this cuddly post-smutmeister who keeps telling people what a smutmeister he is.

His one-man show is raw, but also funny, which makes the raw go down easy. “What ever happened to pubic hair? I went to court to show bush. Now no one has one.” He talks about his parents a lot. He talks about assholes (the real ones, the ones we all have). He talks about his projects; when I heard his Hairspray-sequel TV series, currently in development hell, is called “White Lipstick,” I knew he would get it all right. He manages to come across as a perv and your favorite uncle all at the same time.

Afterward, he did a signing that went on for hours and hours. Everybody got a picture. We didn’t participate, as we were busy touring the rest of show, trying to find the pearls among an awful lot of bad oysters. It’s not that I find the human body artless, it’s just that you have to do more with it than just show me a big red dick. And dicks were scarce compared to the seemingly endless parade of tits ‘n’ vulvas. The sideshows were more interesting, including a touring burlesque show featuring a dwarf stripper and a man whose whole act was a hymn to the hot dog. There was also one of those gymnasts who performs aloft suspended and entwined in a long length of cloth, whatever they’re called. At first I thought she was nude, but after she came down I saw she was wearing a flesh-colored bodysuit with the anatomy spray painted on, and quite well.

Really, the only thing left to the imagination was why so many women into baroque lingerie, especially corsetry, are overweight.

I only saw one piece I could take home, a sketch that looked like a bunch of birds of paradise flowers but turned out to be, yes, more vulvas. But it was clever. And alas, it had a red “sold” sticker on it.

The rest of the weekend was half fun, half duty — a wedding, plus FAFSA and related forms. The wedding was at the National Shrine of the Little Flower, better known as Father Coughlin’s old church. Which is spectacular. Fr. Coughlin was the original Rush Limbaugh, and had quite the career until the diocese reined him in. The church has a theater-in-the-round thing going on; the first guests weren’t sure where to sit, but we all figured it out. The bride was beautiful, the groom flubbed some hand-holding instructions and we all went out to face the cold front howling in. Current temperature: 2 below, and the night has only begun.

Let’s hope we get a little relief by the end of the week, but I’m not hopeful.

Posted at 12:30 am in Popculch, Same ol' same ol' | 42 Comments
 

Dirty.

Hey, guys. This is where Alan and I were last night: The Dirty Show, Detroit’s annual erotic-art exhibition, although “erotic” isn’t the word that came to mind most often last night. “Dirty” did, though.

Photography is forbidden, but I saw so many people breaking the rule I dared to capture these dancers, and a bouncer shut me down after a single frame. So apologies for the pic, but you get the idea:

dirtyshow

We went to see the opening-night performer – John Waters. He did a version of “This Filthy World,” his one-man show, another aptly named entertainment, with the distinct advantage of being very funny.

Then I got a text about David Carr, and, well…

But we stayed out late, and I have a buttload of work to do now, so short shrift. I’ll tell you all about it on Monday. Have a great weekend.

Posted at 7:55 am in Detroit life | 75 Comments
 

Fifty shades.

The other day I fell into a rabbit hole. It’s easy to do online. You follow one link, then another, then another and soon you’re looking at something like this, amusingly titled “Why Kindles Can Wreck Your Marriage”:

Look, I think sharing “sexy” thoughts with one’s husband, and flirting, and playing together is all pretty great. I am not against sexual play or sexual fun at all. But when we use something outside of marriage to get aroused, we’re transferring our sexual energy from our spouse. And if you then have sex with your spouse after getting aroused some other way, it becomes increasingly difficult to “be present” when you make love. Your mind starts to focus on what you were reading, not on your husband. And that’s not really making love.

This is an argument, I should clarify, against reading romance novels.

I’ve been around certain extremely Christian Christians enough to understand this is their definition of marriage: Two pythons tying themselves into knots, all the while proclaiming the unique strength of their bond, which was after all given by GOD HIMSELF. And in many cases I don’t even think it’s so awful; I think if people paid less attention to their children and more to their marriages, the children would take care of themselves. But at the same time, it makes me understand why they have higher divorce rates than the rest of us, too. A hug can feel like smothering if it goes on too long. And face it, does anyone want to live in a world where you can’t imagine Clive Owen with his pants off from time to time?

What prompted all this is “Fifty Shades of Gray,” a book I haven’t read and a movie I won’t see, at least until it comes around on Netflix and I’m sick with the flu or something. But judging from some of the social-media chatter I’ve seen lately, it appears to have unhinged a segment of the religious among us, who cannot be convinced that the vast majority of BDSM relationships are a) consensual; and b) no big deal. Personally? I don’t want to be spanked as a prelude to sex, but I understand others do, and I don’t think it qualifies as mental illness.

One of those things you inevitably read in any profile of a sex worker who specializes in this stuff is some version of: “Some of my most loyal clients are very powerful men.” It’s like: Duh. You spend all day influencing global exchange rates or lowering the tax bills of multinational corporations or bringing 747s in for a safe landing? Maybe you welcome a safe space where you can lay down that burden, have your hands cuffed to a bed frame and hear some lady in leather tell you what a bad, bad boy you’ve been.

As for women, well, we run the whole damn world, at least the part that involved getting dinner on the table and kids off to school and cookies made for a church bake sale. You don’t have to have aced Psych 101 to see why all those ladies made a bestseller out of a terribly written book that featured a woman who is blindfolded and restrained, so that her lover can fiddle with her: Oh, you mean I don’t have to run this show? Kind, kind sir!

The rougher stuff is a different breed of cat, but hey — as long as everyone’s clear on the boundaries and knows the safe word? Who cares.

Meanwhile, David Edelstein says the movie’s not so bad. And what a surprise:

The movie’s biggest surprise is its powerful affirmation of family values. It’s Jane Eyre with ropes. That this vanilla bean has been denounced by religious decency brigades while female churchgoers pleasure themselves over advance tickets is further proof of America’s insane cultural bifurcation — or trifurcation, if you count the worriers who predict that women’s shelters will have to add more beds to accommodate battered copycats. Are there really people who still think that watching a man tie up a woman and both of them get off is the gateway to hell?

Yeah, that sounds about right. This is Hollywood, after all. Meanwhile, I add this phenomenon to the list of Things I Am Not, Nor Ever Will Be, Into, which includes the “Sex and the City” movies, Uggs and the novels of Nicholas Sparks.

Some bloggage? OK:

This profile of young Scott Walker, college dropout, is essential reading for those who want to know more about him. As Hank said on Facebook, there’s a version of this guy on every college campus.

As we’re closing in on V-Day and I mentioned it above, this Esther Perel TED talk on maintaining desire in a long-term relationship is pretty damn smart, and a phenom all its own. Bonus: If you watch it, you pretty much have the gist of her book.

Back to edits. Have a great Thursday.

Posted at 8:51 am in Movies, Popculch | 36 Comments