A nation of dummies.

So, in re Friday’s post, I read this over the weekend, the announcement of the final installment of What Was Fake, a Washington Post column devoted to debunking Internet rumors and so forth. It’s not that the author has run out of material, but rather, it’s more she’s run out of hope of ever improving things, mainly because of the rise of fake-news sites.

I try to curate my friend list, and subsequent news feed, so a lot of these things don’t get through. So I was a little surprised to click a link within that story and find this one, about a fake-news entrepreneur who consistently fools credulous readers. This would normally be a reminder that some people simply don’t understand satire, but I found this passage depressing:

Where debunking an Internet fake once involved some research, it’s now often as simple as clicking around for an “about” or “disclaimer” page. And where a willingness to believe hoaxes once seemed to come from a place of honest ignorance or misunderstanding, that’s frequently no longer the case. Headlines like “Casey Anthony found dismembered in truck” go viral via old-fashioned schadenfreude — even hate.

There’s a simple, economic explanation for this shift: If you’re a hoaxer, it’s more profitable. Since early 2014, a series of Internet entrepreneurs have realized that not much drives traffic as effectively as stories that vindicate and/or inflame the biases of their readers. Where many once wrote celebrity death hoaxes or “satires,” they now run entire, successful websites that do nothing but troll convenient minorities or exploit gross stereotypes. Paul Horner, the proprietor of Nbc.com.co and a string of other very profitable fake-news sites, once told me he specifically tries to invent stories that will provoke strong reactions in middle-aged conservatives. They share a lot on Facebook, he explained; they’re the ideal audience.

This is so dispiriting. The country doesn’t need this much ignorance, especially hate-driven ignorance.

So, now that we are officially On Vacation, and in the grip of the holidays, expect nothing much from here, other than an occasional photo, linkage, whatever — I have a lot to do. Cleaned two bedrooms and a bathroom today, which was about as much as I could manage on a mild hangover. It actually made me look forward to my January teetotaling, which I am serious about this year; one dry month with maybe, maybe one night off for the auto-show gala, but maybe not. Stocking up on Pellegrino and lime, and of course, lots of Diet Coke.

So a quick pop to the bloggage, then:

A nice little feature on Jim Harrison, Charlotte’s neighbor, reported just before his wife of 55 years died.

Looking for something to read on your days off? You’ll absolutely find something in Longform’s best of 2015 roundup of very readable journalism.

Any Raffi fans out there? I am, and #notashamed about it at all. A nice piece on the man and his career in New York magazine.

Let Christmas week commence.

Posted at 9:28 pm in Ancient archives, Current events, Media, Popculch | 38 Comments

Pulp fiction.

To close the week, a throwaway interview for a forgotten book that I enjoyed from start to finish, and learned a lot from, too. I love pulp paperbacks. This guy really knew his stuff. From March 2002. Thanks for bearing with me during Ancient Archives week; we’ll see you back here on Monday.

The blonde stands before a man at a desk. He regards her with a certain professional distance, all the more surprising given that she’s caught in the middle of ripping open her blouse, exposing her lacy underthings and ample attributes.

No one could fail to see the immediate appeal of Henry Lewis Nixon’s “The Golden Couch,” described on its cover as “a novel of the private lives and loves of psychiatrists.” The contents have been forgotten, if they were ever remembered long. But the blonde, the blouse, the 25-cent price – these things endure.

They’re the subject of “The Great American Paperback,” writer and cultural historian Richard Lupoff’s coffee-table tribute to the dime novel, pulp fiction, the sensational story – the great 20th-century innovation that took literature out of the library and brought it to the revolving rack in your corner drugstore.

Lupoff will be in Fort Wayne Sunday, appearing at Little Professor Book Company in support of “The Great American Paperback,” as well as his latest short story collection, “Claremont Tales II.”

“The Great American Paperback” is Lupoff’s “wow” volume, however – a fascinating, hilarious, comprehensive look at the forces that came together to make paperback books an institution.

Although the softcover book can be found as early as the 1930s, what we think of as the modern paperback did not arrive until 1938, when the U.S. holder of the Penguin imprint sought to test the waters for such a product with a 2,000-copy printing of Pearl S. Buck’s “The Good Earth.” The concept was revolutionary – a book small enough to fit in one’s pocket, bound only with glue. It had no dust jacket, just a brightly printed cover to draw the eye in the crowded confines of the marketplace.

And the price! About the same as an hour of labor at minimum wage, a figure that Lupoff says has remained remarkably consistent through the years.

“People loved it,” he said of the paperback’s debut. “You didn’t have to wait for the public library to get a book, or visit a lending library” – the early, literary version of a video store, where books could be rented for a small fee. “You could own the book, and it didn’t cost much at all.”

Within a year, the paperback was everywhere, and competition for the reader was pitched. Although an almost immediate struggle began between art and commerce, most publishers were savvy enough to realize they were competing for sometimes indifferent readers, and cloaked their books accordingly.

Thus, the blonde ripping open her blouse. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” was never so true as during the heyday of the paperback, when scantily clad cover girls often promised literary titillation that the pages behind them didn’t deliver.

“I’m competing for the customer’s beer money,” sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein once said, approving this rather mild bait-and-switch. Much quality literature has appeared between paper covers, and if it takes a white lie to get readers to it, it seems forgivable. Besides, such disconnects make for great collecting: Nathanael West’s classic novel of depraved Hollywood, “The Day of the Locust,” once appeared behind a cover that suggested the book was about a plague of insects.

That cover appears in Lupoff’s book, along with hundreds of others that illustrate the signposts along the way since 1938 – the genres, the publishers and the gimmicks. These include the Ace Double, two novels in one cover; finish one, then flip the book over and start the next. Such hooks now make collectors happy, who prize paperbacks not so much for what’s in them (although some do) as what’s on them.

Lupoff, who lives in Berkeley, Calif., said his local dealers report collectors with amazingly specific tastes. “One only wants books with hypodermic needles on the cover,” he said. (Fortunately, due to a strong horrors-of-drugs genre in paperback, there are plenty to choose from.) “Another only wants cover art that features women being menaced by gorillas.”

Others like campy sci-fi covers or content, or collect the work of specific artists, who labored in obscurity throughout their careers. But what really made collecting take off, Lupoff said, was the introduction of ISBN (International Standard Book Number) numbering around 1970. Before that, publishers kept track of their work with simple cover numbers: “D-150,” for instance, might refer to the 150th work of detective fiction produced by a given house. Where 150 exists, there are 149 others to collect, and many do.

“The Great American Paperback,” like great American paperbacks, is doing well since its publication late last year. “At one point I had simultaneous reviews in Entertainment Weekly, Playboy and the Wilson Quarterly,” Lupoff noted with amusement. Just like the volumes it honors, “The Great American Paperback” has appeal that crosses cultural lines.

Posted at 12:30 am in Ancient archives | 53 Comments

Freedom fools.

When I look back at this part of my archive, I’m ashamed at how timid I was in the run-up to the Iraq invasion. I knew in my heart that this was the world’s worst idea, and yet, the city was a flag-waving, patriotic fever swamp. If I’d been braver, I’d have said so every damn day and screw the letters to the editor. But instead, I pulled stupid, sneery shit like this. I was such a coward. I suck. This was from March 2003.

Every war has a home front. It’s our way of acknowledging that some of us are too old, too young, too infirm or too rich in draft deferments to risk dodging bullets, but we wish to do our part, too.

In the Civil War, we rolled bandages and sewed uniforms. In World War II, we saved tin for scrap drives and held blackout drills.

In Gulf War II, we’re rebranding our fried potatoes.

Maybe you’ve seen them around town, the fry formerly known as “french?” It’s now a “freedom fry.” That’ll show those cheese-eating surrender monkeys. If you’re not on the bus, you’re . . . well, you’re off the bus, somewhere, eating Montrachet with cowards. See you later, Pierre! And take your Dijon mustard with you!

Sorry. It’s so easy to get carried away with patriotic fervor.

If you’ve been able to tear yourself away from “Joe Millionaire” long enough to keep up with the events of the day, you know that in certain circles the French have become, if not public enemies, certainly ungrateful allies, unwilling to climb upon the Baghdad-or-bust bandwagon. What’s more, they’re turning their little Pepe LePew noses up! At us! Without whom they’d be speaking German now! And don’t even get us started on Germany, those jackbooted Fritzes. One more word from you, Herr Fischer, and you’re outta here too, with your Wiener schnitzel and hot potato salad.

OK, we’ve calmed down now. But the march to Americanize those pesky unsupportive foreign foods continues apace.

I called up Rick Hembrook, operations manager for Buckets Sports Pub & Grub, who took out a newspaper ad to announce the restaurant’s denunciation of all foods French. It was accompanied by a photo of a beret-wearing hag daring to arch one of her eyebrows in that time-honored way the French call “le snot,” probably fresh from a Jean-Luc Godard film festival.

“I thought, we serve a lot of French food here,” said Hembrook. “French fries, French dressing . . .”

From this week forward, Hembrook declared, Buckets would no longer serve french fries or French dressing. Or rather, the restaurant would serve them under new names, because it’s really un-American to ask us to do without anything, be it cheap gasoline or deep-fried potatoes.

Anyway, french fries come from Idaho. And French dressing comes from Kraft. The new names? “American fries.” And “American dressing.”

Take that, frere Jacques.

Over at Georgetown Bowl, the rechristening of their fries from french to “freedom fries” was “more as a joke,” said owner Dave Kerscher.

“My partner and I were kidding about it, and the next thing we knew, our snack-bar girl had gone ahead and changed it on her own,” he said. “It’s not a huge protest or anything.”

No, it’s not a huge protest. It’s just the little way we can all help. Perhaps the Army can make a short film about the New Francophobia: “Discover the Fun of Kissing Tongue-Free.” “Wouldn’t You Rather Have Pancakes Than Traitor Toast?” “Why Crusty, Chewy Bread is Unpatriotic.”

Oh, I can see it now: Take your dirty postcards, your berets, your fizzy water, your cheese that smells like old socks, your bernaise sauce and your stupid striped jerseys back to Gaul! (We’re keeping the Statue of Liberty and the 2000 Bordeaux.) Away, now, with all things French!

Of course, if we’re diligent, with most of Europe standing against us now, we won’t be left with much. Why, when we’re booting foreign cuisine, do we have to have an ally in Great Britain? Steak and kidney pie, anyone?

Posted at 12:30 am in Ancient archives | 40 Comments

A fat fantasia.

When you’re a columnist, editors are always stopping by your desk with a press release they’d like to offload. The some-magazine-just-named-us-something boilerplate was only the most irritating. “These are designed to get the magazine’s name in the media,” I would point out. “Look at the data they used. This is pure bullshit.” This was never met with anything other than a shrug. I’d round-file most of these, but every so often I’d feel inspired to answer bullshit with more bullshit. Published October 2000.

The word had scarcely gone out that no less a tribunal than the editors of Self magazine had declared our little town “least fit” (for women, anyway) in America than the hand-wringing began.

“What can this mean for our future efforts to be the next Indianapolis?” fretted
 town boosters, many of them picking over egg-white omelets and dressing-on-the-side spinach salads at tables with lovely views. “What does it say about us when an obscure women’s magazine catering to the solipsistic says we’re a city full of people with sofa cushions stuffed down the back of our pants? Does this mean we’re a no-go for the NAIA?”

Does it ever stop? wondered a put-upon soul at one economic-development office or another. Sighing, he launched his word processor and drafted a memo on damage control.

In other quarters, the news was appraised with a cooler eye. Restaurateurs made mental notes to add an extra roll to the bread basket, and underlined “butter” three times on the “must-have” list, just so the suppliers wouldn t forget.

At the health clubs, the bickering was fast and furious. “It doesn t surprise me,” offered one indifferent block of chiseled masculinity. “You thought Monica Lewinsky was overqualified for thong underwear? I won’t even tell you what I was able to make out through Ms. L’ s spandex yesterday.”

That’ll be enough of that,” retorted a blonde — zaftig, but in that apple-cheeked, I-could-bench-press-a-Holstein farm girl way. “It’s well-known that your media-promoted model of skinniness is based on an unhealthy model of living. Not for me the Tic Tac diet, the quiet after-dinner hurl with the water running. Life is a sandwich, and I intend to eat it. With mayonnaise.” With that, she turned and sauntered away, swinging her 42-inch hips — quite fetchingly, the chiseled block thought.

A lone cardiologist, torn between the Porsche and the Mercedes, decided to take both. Business was looking very good, after all.

A high school speech teacher sought to make it the central question for debate class. “Resolved: We are a city of wheezing fat people.” For the affirmative, a sophomore named Heather gamely held her ground. Later, everyone continued the colloquy in the student lounge, over snacks from the vending machines.

Meanwhile — and this next part is true, while the preceding is, fairly obviously, not — plans for a city-county master parks plan are moving forward, in the sense that a company has been hired to prepare one. There is talk of extending the Rivergreenway, rumored to be a place where much exercise takes place, into New Haven. There is no talk of repairing the existing Rivergreenway, a huge chunk of which was torn up earlier this year for sewer work and remains so. And there is that unfortunate washed-out stretch near Lakeside. Just a reminder.

At the same time the rivers flow past their greenways, someone awakens on a sunny morning, filled with resolve. He prepares oatmeal without butter, black coffee, orange juice. He opens the newspaper turns to the classifieds, scans down to the “exercise equipment for sale” listings. Stationary bike treadmill, rower, stepper — the choices seem endless. He dials a few numbers.

In all likelihood, the piece he buys will make a second appearance in the paper in a few months, or else be covered with clothing in that peculiar household sculpture of the late 20th century. The pair of athletic shoes he bought at the same time will be the frame he watches basketball through, when the recliner footrest is up.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to super-size our fast-food meals, no matter how many heart attacks that nice Dave Thomas suffers. We’ll remember he got his start in Fort Wayne, a true son of the city, the city that just made the national news, if only for a moment, but for the same old depressing reasons.

Posted at 12:30 am in Ancient archives | 51 Comments

CSA 1.0.

Continuing our theme of How Things Change, an early look at the now-burgeoning local-food movement in Indiana, back when you had to put “community-supported agriculture” in quotes, so readers would know it was this crazy new idea. I looked up this CSA’s URL with some trepidation, expecting to find it long-gone, but still it thrives! Good news. This was originally published in May 2003.

Jeff Hawkins dropped me a note a few years ago, after I wrote something about food. I think I talked about how hard you have to look to find organic this and free-range that; he sent me a brochure for the Hawkins Family Farm.

It was an experiment, he said, in “raising some food where we know what it is and what’s in it.” The first year, he bought 25 chickens and raised them the old-fashioned way – under a blue North Manchester sky, where they were allowed to scratch the dirt and chase bugs and be chickens.

“My daughter named them all,” he said. Typical first-year mistake for chickens destined for the pot.

But the experiment went fine otherwise, and the next year he bought a few more, and started selling them.

“The old-timers said (the poultry) tasted the way they used to taste,” he said. He began to suspect he might be on to something.

He is. This year the brochure arrived right on time, at the beginning of the growing season. But the Hawkins Family Farm is no longer a health spa for chickens. They’ve added beef, turkeys, fresh produce and a plan – “community-supported agriculture.”

Today, in addition to direct-sale poultry, the farm operates on a share system. For $1,080, shareholders get a quarter carcass of beef, 25 chickens, fresh produce for 22 weeks, soup beans, a Thanksgiving turkey and “extras” – flowers, experimental crops and the like. All the meat is free-range and humanely slaughtered. Fifty shares are available, minus the five he will tithe to local food banks.

“It’s become a calling,” said Hawkins, who quit his job as pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in North Manchester to run the farm full time.

He’s also using the farm as the basis for a new ministry, aimed at the well-being of clergy. About a dozen ministers meet monthly on the farm for a “day away” of work and discussion – a working retreat for personal reflection.

Hawkins believes we spend a lot of time talking about how the hand of God moves in the world, but too little actually going out to see it at work. He found, with two teenage children, that doing farm chores together has a way of loosening restraints on conversation. And a day on the farm, away from one’s usual work and concerns, “connects us to the natural world” in ways other activities don’t, he said.

Nevertheless, it’s not all blue skies and fresh breezes.

“This is teaching me a number of things,” he said. “It’s teaching me a whole lot about trust, and to learn to ask for help.” When you’re an unemployed preacher embarking on an experiment in community agriculture, you need a lot of both.

It’s not unheard of. No less an entity than the U.S. Department of Agriculture recognizes community-supported agriculture as a viable economic model for small farms. And Hawkins doesn’t discount the hunger some townfolks have for a slower pace of living, as well as farm-raised food. Shareholders may be asked to pick their own produce, which saves labor and assures customers of the freshest possible product, among other things.

“(Wife) Kathy plans to have the porch swing ready and a pitcher of iced tea waiting for you when you come to the farm,” the farm’s Web site says. (Yes, Web site. Even back-to-the-land folks have to live in the modern world, and the farm’s place in it is at www.hawkinsfamilyfarm.com.) Come, pick, reconnect – that’s the message.

And get a chicken that tastes the way they used to. Not a bad deal.

Posted at 12:30 am in Ancient archives | 19 Comments

He hears.

Ancient Archives Week — i.e., I’m on vacation and can’t update daily — kicks off with a theme, of sorts: How Things Change. I wrote this column in October 2001, when Elliot Kwilinski, 9 months, was about to become Indiana’s youngest cochlear implant recipient. The Kwilinskis moved to Colorado not long after their son’s surgery, but before they left I heard from them that the procedure was a success. A little present-day Googling reveals they had a second son, also born with profound deafness, also a CI recipient. I’m struck by the optimism she shows in this interview, and in this YouTube video, she indicates their choice has not been popular with some, presumably in the deaf-culture community. It was to be expected, but still depressing. The videos would indicate Elliot is growing into a fine young man. Anyway, this column, and all the ones that will follow this week, originally appeared in The News-Sentinel of Fort Wayne, my employer at the time.

In her “crying in the shower moments,” Amy Kwilinski thinks of the beach.

The beach, where one of the rituals is taking off your watch, your jewelry, and other valuables that might be harmed by exposure to sand and grit and water.

“But how do you tell a child to take off a $5,000 device that allows him to hear?” she wonders. It’s not the device she worries about; it’s her son Elliot’s ability to experience the beach the way everyone else does.

Those moments pass pretty quickly, though. Kwilinski and her husband, Kevin, know that $5,000 device – a cochlear implant – will give their son an excellent chance at experiencing life the way everyone else does.

Next week, if all goes as scheduled, Elliot will travel to Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis and there become the youngest Indiana resident to receive one of the electronic devices, which help the profoundly deaf to hear in a manner approaching natural hearing. He’s only 9 months old, still nursing, not yet crawling. But his young age will allow him to adapt to the implant in a way older recipients might not – and get the maximum benefit from it.

“We wanted to take advantage of the brain’s plasticity,” said Amy, 33, who has been researching deafness, deaf culture, hearing aids and cochlear implants since Elliot’s disability turned up in a newborn screening. In infancy, the brain is wired to learn, and learn quickly; they want Elliot experiencing the world of sound before his personal learning window narrows or closes.

A cochlear implant works through its three main parts – an external microphone, which picks up sound; a microprocessor, which codes the sound into a series of electrical impulses; and a wire that carries those impulses into the human cochlea, where they are sent to the brain and understood as sound. It is an imperfect way to hear, but an enormous improvement over conventional hearing aids.

And for an infant, whose brain is especially open to learning about sound and what sounds mean, it’s a golden opportunity, Amy believes.

“Who really knows if the way I hear is the way you hear,” she said. “The important thing is, we understand one another. . . . (People who’ve lost their hearing and then received cochlear implants) say that the voices sound like Darth Vader and Minnie Mouse at first, but you get used to them. And you recognize the voices as speech and know what they’re saying.”

Cochlear implant technology is advancing in huge strides, as well, Amy said. The latest implants represent enormous improvements over the earliest ones, and the technology itself is only a few years old. By Elliot’s adulthood, she hopes, the devices may be so small and so sophisticated that no one else need know a person is wearing one.

Many in the deaf community are opposed to the implants, particularly in children. Deafness, they believe, is not a condition to be cured but a trait of human diversity. Adults might choose CIs, but children should not have the choice imposed upon them. The Kwilinskis reject that argument.

“It’s much more difficult for a person to learn to process sound the older they are,” Amy said. “And for Elliot to talk until then, he’d have to use sign language. I want him to be able to communicate with everybody, and to choose any career he wants. What if he wants to be a surgeon? How can he work with his hands if he has to talk with them, too?”

The surgery is only the first step for Elliot. It’ll be a month before the device is activated, after which he will spend time with audiologists and speech therapists to calibrate and adjust it, effectively turning on an entirely new sense in a person who lacks any framework to understand it. After that, “it’ll be pretty noisy around here,” Amy said. She expects lots of crying, followed by sounds of delight.

“People who’ve done this with their toddlers say within a few days, the kids don’t want to take them off,” she said.

“We went to a convention (of cochlear implant recipients), and I sat there with tears in my eyes, watching these teen-agers talk to one another,” she said. “I know this is the right thing to do.”

Posted at 12:30 am in Ancient archives | 26 Comments

A long, long time ago…

One of those evenings when you curse your life — a long day, the Lansing to/fro drive, capped by a school-board meeting in which they immediately went into closed session and stayed there for TWO HOURS.

I passed the time with no wi-fi connection, no iPad…why, my God, it was like some primitive hellhole where all I had to read were a bunch of old crap in a file marked “writing” in my Documents folder.

Evidently I had a guest-blogging stint at the Detroit News during Hurricane Katrina:

Apres le deluge, the backlash.

This past week has been emotionally exhausting. Anyone with a heart bigger and softer than a pebble has had it wrenched by the images beaming out of New Orleans — the frightening chaos, the infuriating bumbling, the misery of the afflicted.

And then there are…the rest of us.

A friend of mine was in her office Friday, and overheard two cube-mates discussing an incident from the ruined city, in which a brother shot a sister in a dispute over a bag of ice.

“What do they need ice for?” one wondered.

“Mixed drinks,” the other cracked.

It’s natural, when bad things happen to other people, to search for a reason. Everyone does it; it makes us feel safer. Of course it’s terrible that woman was raped, but she shouldn’t have been walking home after dark, especially not in that neighborhood. No wonder the Turners’ son is on drugs — his mother stuck him in daycare when he was six weeks old. Joe’s heart attack shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone who’s seen him put away a pepperoni pizza.

Needless to say, we would never walk home after dark through that neighborhood, put a newborn in daycare or eat pork sausage so heedlessly. So of course these things will not happen to us.

I’ve always thought of this phenomenon as “distancing,” the way a herd skitters away when the lions take a straggler. I’m waiting for the distancing from the events in New Orleans to assert itself.

It’s already starting. Officials lamely protest that those who suffer in the city were told to leave ahead of time, for cryin’ out loud. Callers to talk radio wonder who told those morons to live below sea level, and in a hurricane zone no less. The obsession with looting — in a city where old people are dying in wheelchairs for lack of help — will only grow, until the plundering of an abandoned Wal-Mart will take on the gravity of an al-Qaeda-led sacking of the Smithsonian.

Finally, on Friday, came the ultimate: It is reported, intoned Randall Robinson on The Huffington Post, that black hurricane victims in New Orleans have begun eating corpses to survive. That this came from a so-called “internationally respected foreign policy advocate and author” and an African American makes me fear for whatever foreign policy he’s advocating for.

Get a grip, Mr. Robinson. Other than your passive-voice “reporting,” there’s not a shred of evidence anyone is eating dead bodies. I’m sure there are still some ramen noodles left down at the Wal-Mart.

I’m sure someone out there believes him, though, and it only puts more distance between us and the unfortunates there. They loot, they chose a foolish place to live and now they’re field-dressing drowning victims. It’s all the justification many people need to change the channel, turn the page and otherwise move on to a more comfortable place, ignoring the truth: Like it or not, we’re all in this together.

What tripe! (Although I like that line about sacking the Smithsonian. I am capable of vanity.) Who was this woman? So strange to come across one’s earlier writing-self; I’m reminded of a quote attributed to the author of “Mandingo,” who refused to rewrite anything. “Do you expect me to return to my vomit?” However, sitting there waiting for the goddamn closed session to be over, it reminded me of the Colorado wildfires, and the thing you’re not hearing today, from the rest of the country: Gee, why’d you choose to live in such a tinderbox-y place, eh? The people of New Orleans had to put up with that over and over and over, up to and probably including today.

I think I might have brought it up myself. A useful reminder that one can be a douchebag oneself, every day.

Coasting into the holiday, I am. I hope your flag cake is moist and delicious, and if you live in a city affected by power outages, that you have some. Here’s a column by my Harrisburg buddy on the final lesson of Penn State (for some). I liked it; maybe you will, too.

Posted at 12:25 am in Ancient archives, Current events | 53 Comments

Details, details.

My initiation into e-books is more or less complete; I have a small library, and I’m starting to get a sense of how the format suits, and doesn’t suit, my reading habits. I can tell you one thing it’s great for: Reading in the dark, which is useful when, for example, you’ve accompanied your kid to the Pop Punk’s Not Dead tour at the Royal Oak Music Theatre. Since I got my iPad, I’ve come to appreciate the ability to find a table for one, screw in my earplugs and get lost in my reading — or Angry Birds — while ignoring the clamor onstage.

Another is to save you a trip to the store. I scheduled an interview with a local author three days hence, then downloaded her novel in less time than it took me to move from desk to chaise to start reading the thing.

And, as if we needed another, it gives buyers of Apple products another reason to wallow in smug superiority.

I have two e-book apps on my device — Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s own iBooks. With the Kindle (most titles available for $9.99) app, pages slide by with a touch as though they were on a conveyer belt. In iBooks ($14.99), you get this cool page-turning effect:

(That’s Roy Edroso’s self-published “Morgue for Whores,” by the way — $2.99.) Note the ghostly type bleed-through from the previous page, and yes, that’s the actual backward text of the page. Note around the edges of the frame, where you see a book cover. Note the shadow cast by the turning page. Note the edges of the unread pages.

You can highlight in both formats. Here’s Kindle’s:

Perfectly fine. But here’s iBooks:

The edges of the yellow are ragged, the way they would be if you’d used a real highlighter. And yes, I checked — it’s random. Another highlight will be ragged in a different way.

There are two ways to look at these details. First way: And for this I’m paying $5 more? Are you kidding me?

Second way: If they’re paying attention to this sort of thing, everything you can’t see will be equally fussed over. Here’s hoping.

I leave you with a detail from the Calendar app:

Note the remnants of the previous “pages.” (If I showed you the rest of the page, you’d see that the last time I sync’d all my calendars, it duplicated most events. Which goes to show you someone needs to spend more time under the hood with the code and less fussing over torn pages.)

OK, then. Sweet, sweet Friday, how I welcome your sun-drenched dawn. Here’s hoping I can get to the gym today, so I can spend tomorrow wallowing in stiffness and pain. Bloggage?

One of my Facebook friends directs me to Michigan Senate Bill 821, recently passed by the legislature. Folks, you want to know how nitpicking regulations get that way? Here’s how, from the House Legislative Analysis Section:

Ever since the smoking ban went into effect May 1, 2010, bowling centers have reported an increased number of bowlers wearing bowling shoes when they go outside to smoke. Bowling shoes are not like regular shoes. They have a special sole that allows a bowler to slide along the alley when releasing the bowling ball. If foreign substances are picked up on the sole when a bowler goes outside, the shoe can stick or have no traction, a dangerous situation for a person in the act of throwing a heavy bowling ball down an alley.

Since the implementation of the indoor smoking ban, lawsuits against bowling centers for slip and falls have increased – reportedly, about 30-40 actions have been filed since last year. Proprietors of bowling centers are concerned that their livelihoods may be threatened by dangerous conditions created by the bowlers themselves. Legislation has been offered to create protection from liability for bowling center operators that clearly communicate to their patrons the inherent danger of bowling with bowling shoes that have been worn outside.

Indemnification from personal-injury lawsuits for bowling-alley owners — your government (mine, anyway) at work. It passed yesterday.

The lead singer of GWAR was found dead on the tour bus yesterday. No cause of death has been reported, but judging from the photo? My money’s on embarrassment.

Have to hustle to my morning meeting. Have a great weekend. November, where did you come from?

Posted at 9:07 am in Ancient archives, Current events | 52 Comments

Go for it.

Eh, a weak one to end Wayback Week, but this one took me back to how pathetic public-sector crime is in the Fort. Penny ante. Small-time. Itty-bitty crooks. Something you can’t say about Detroit, ever.

November 13, 2001

If you’re going to sin, sin big.

Not having the sort of personal relationship with God that many others do, I can’t say whether he grades on the curve. But I do, and there’s something about some of our latest public scandals that is not only troubling, but pathetic. One can feel outrage for an audaciously dishonest public servant. One can feel only contempt for small-time crooks.

At the moment, it’s the great city-county parking garage scandal that’s in the news. Allen County Sheriff Jim Herman disciplined 25 employees of his office for participating in what early news reports called a “ticket-swap scheme.”

You hear this, and you think someone was making traffic tickets go away, which, while hardly the sort of civic scandal that makes jaws drop, at least sounds like something worth doing. The last traffic ticket I got carried a fine of $170, a lot of money where I come from.

But no, these weren’t traffic tickets. They weren’t even moving violations. They weren’t even parking tickets in the sense that we all understand them. They were parking-garage tickets.

It worked like this: First-shift workers parked in the garage. Second-shift workers parked in the garage. As the second-shifters came on duty, they gave their tickets to first-shift employees as they left. The first shift got to leave and pay for only a few minutes of parking; the second shift got away clean because when the attendants left work for the day they raised the gates, effectively making the garage free for everyone.

The punch line: Those employees already have free parking available to them, but it’s a whole two blocks away.

There is only one reaction available to a story like this: “Sin big!”

At this point we must pause to note they don’t call it public service for nothing. Particularly in Allen County, city and county employees accept salaries far lower than those paid a similar job in the private sector. As compensation, they have available a number of options.

They can use their time in publicly supported jobs to build a vast array of contacts in the local power structure, then dive into private-sector consultancy or some other, more lucrative career; they can build a variety of unique skills that others will pay more for; or they can simply console themselves with the fat benefits and Veterans Day holidays and greater job security not available to the non-apparatchiks working elsewhere.

A few years ago, a township trustee was indicted in office for funneling public money to his private pocket. When the details of the kickback scheme were released, you could feel only pity for this man, who flushed his good name away for a sum that after four years barely reached the low five figures.

“It’s like he’s short on his house payment, so he takes $60,” a reporter remarked at the time, sadly.

Sin big! Linda Tripp didn’t do anything explicitly illegal, if you discount perhaps her taping of Monica Lewinsky, but you had to admire her moxie once all the beans spilled. She knew what a federal job is worth, and she hung onto hers with everything she had, even while it became evident she wasn’t doing much of anything for a salary that topped (wheeze!) $90,000 a year, plus a paid holiday on Veterans Day. No hostile Clinton administration could knock her loose.

Public servants, if larceny is on your mind, do it well. Give us a reason to hate you. Open an offshore bank account, grow a mustache suitable for Snidely Whiplash-style twirling, don’t cover your face during the perp walk. Hold it high and sneer.

And take the free parking you’re offered. It’s the cheap stuff that gets you.

Posted at 12:05 am in Ancient archives | 73 Comments

Gotta light?

A specialty of mine: Take some beloved community event — like the running of the Olympic torch through town — and shit all over it. But nearly a decade later, I remain appalled by how thoroughly corporate money and the accompanying shotcallers have seeped into every crack of public life, as well as how meekly we acquiesce to it.

January 9, 2002

Clear-eyed observers of the Olympic Games – as opposed to those misting up over a plucky-skater-who-overcomes-cancer story on NBC – have noted with a mixture of respect and admiration just how ruthlessly the International Olympic Committee guards its copyrights.

Dressed not in colorful uniforms but business suits, the IOC’s lawyers have taken down violators ranging from the Gay Olympics (now renamed the Gay Games) to any number of Greek-owned diners that had the cheek to call upon their own cultural landmarks and paint the word “Olympic” on the front window. It’s enough to make you think the lawyers should stand on the risers and receive medals for Best Cease-and-Desist Order.

It isn’t news that the Olympics have become a parade of corporate logos, and that the keepers of those logos pay dearly for the privilege of attaching them to the prestige of the Olympic Games. But it isn’t widely known just how far down the line the marketing efforts go, and how carefully the logos are pampered, lest any CEO feel he’s not getting his full measure of reflected Olympic glory.

Take last week’s appearance of the Olympic flame in Fort Wayne. From start to finish, it was a bonanza of feel-good words and, especially, images, most of which contained the logos of the flame tour’s two major sponsors – Chevrolet and Coca-Cola. Why was Linda Jackson chosen to carry the torch and not one of the other news anchors? Because WKJG-TV is an NBC affiliate, and NBC carries the Games, that’s why.

But many in the city might not be aware of how much those sponsorships weighed in the months-long planning process. For instance, you might have wondered why the torch run didn’t include a pass by Memorial Coliseum, which is, after all, the main venue for winter sports in Fort Wayne.

Look no further than the sign out front, and the logo thereon: Pepsi.

Coliseum General Manager Randy Brown said he was directly told the coliseum was out as a possible host for the flame, “because we are a Pepsi building.”

Joan Goldner, who headed the local committee that organized the torch run, said Brown “mis-remembered” any conversation in which he was told that. But another committee member confirmed the coliseum was counted out for exactly that reason, among others. Coca-Cola didn’t do the vetoing – it was the local committee, taking into consideration sponsors’ wishes.

“Way early on, I thought maybe we could skate the flame around the rink at the coliseum,” Goldner said, adding that she thought it would make a photogenic image promoting the Winter Games. But the scoreboard over the ice features a Pepsi logo, too. The idea was never pursued, in part for that reason.

“We had a very tight time schedule,” she said. But, “we had to be very careful who we asked for money. We couldn’t ask a Ford dealer. We could not have Pizza Hut as a major contributor,” because Pizza Hut pours Pepsi exclusively in its restaurants. “We could not include direct competitors to the national sponsors.”

However, she added, “I doubt if we would have been able to do (a skating leg on coliseum ice) because of timing.”

Fair enough. But just the fact the Pepsi sign out front played a part in the planning ought to tell us something not only about the torch run but also about the Olympics themselves. Companies bask in the reflected glory of the Olympic flame because of what it claims to represent – healthy competition that transcends the dirty business of politics. We expect competitors from countries that don’t get along to ascend to a higher level at the Olympics.

Basking in reflected glory, though, is only that. The keepers of the flame might want to consider just what is going on in its penumbra.

Posted at 12:05 am in Ancient archives | 33 Comments