Fat kids.

If you keep your ear to the ground, you probably know there’s a new set of recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics regarding childhood obesity. These are sometimes called “startling,” and they are – the doctors are now recommending medication for obese children as young as 2, and surgery, bariatric surgery, for children 13 and up. In between is a mix of meds and behavior modification classes, which no one really has much faith in.

I’ve now listened to two podcasts on the subject, and I was struck by one thing in particular. Gina Kolata, the New York Times health reporter, referred to obesity as something a child “has,” rather than something he or she is. So: “If your child has obesity, they’re 45 percent more likely to…,” etc. It struck me as one of those language things that seem to be decreed by a memo that I never get, as when we stopped saying people committed suicide and instead say “died by suicide,” or we no longer say “slave,” but “enslaved person.” It’s part of the thinking that makes us consider obesity as a disease, and not a character flaw.

Anyway, that’s just one thing, and not what this is about. A statistic flew by early in this discussion that didn’t surprise me: About 20 percent of American children are obese. You can see it with your own eyes, particularly if you live in the places where the rate is probably far higher, i.e. the American south. In my year-end cleaning/purging, I came across some photos of my grade-school classes. Here’s one, third grade:

To my eye, there’s one fat kid in that group, and she wasn’t that fat, just kinda plump. I just looked her up on Facebook and she’s about the same (which is to say, she’s about like me, still in Misses sizes but a M/L for sure). Side note: 26 kids in that class, with one teacher. And yet we learned, and the school was excellent, and still is. Look at that stonework; they don’t make ’em like that anymore.

Nowadays, even in an affluent area, you’d see at least five. And somehow, the causes for this, which are myriad and diverse, weren’t even mentioned.

Don’t say it’s sugar. We all ate sugar, pure cane sugar, on everything. Pour a bowl of cereal? Sprinkle a teaspoon of sugar before you pour the milk. A favorite snack in my house was something my mom called “garden bread,” i.e., a slice of buttered white bread with, yep, a teaspoon of sugar on top. We ate potato chips, whole milk, all of it. Salads? If you like iceberg lettuce with Good Seasons Italian on it, maybe, and who likes that? By contrast, today’s groceries are cornucopia of unbelievable goodness, to my eye. Avocados, piles of pre-washed and ready-to-eat fresh greens, once-unheard-of exotic fruits and vegetables, and we’re only in the produce aisle. The rest of the store – just an ordinary Kroger, not a Whole Foods or anything like that – offers healthy foodstuffs the richest pashas of antiquity can only dream of.

A friend once pointed out the oranges and lemons in still life paintings by old masters: “That was a treasure. Think how far that orange had to travel to make it to Belgium or the Netherlands in 16-something. No wonder they wanted to capture it in art.”

I don’t have the answer to why kids are consuming far more calories than they can burn in a day, because I suspect it’s not one answer. When we go to Europe, and this was especially true in Spain, I was struck by all the children out playing in the after-school hours. They’re in every square, kicking soccer balls around, climbing on anything climbable. I’m sure some of them have video games, but they’re not playing them while the sun is out. Some of them must have phones, but they’re not staring at them, or taking a million selfies, or keeping up with their favorite influencers. And hardly any of them were fat. Presumably they eat the jamon and queso Spain is so famous for, which isn’t diet food.

I suspect the problem is a cornucopia as rich as the one in the grocery store, and it is filled with 20-ounce soft drinks; single-serving bags of snacks that were once .75 ounces and are now 1.5, yes video games; yes suburbs with a culture that encourages kids to have “play dates” and not just play; yes urban areas where parents fear to let their children roam, justifiably or not; fast-food restaurants where portions keep growing and growing, pushed by economies of scale; and, well, the list goes on. In other words, good old American capitalism-driven trends that we dare not even mention, much less criticize or shape policy to discourage.

I mean, even the dinner plates I got for my wedding in 1993 are 15 percent bigger than the ’50s-era fine china my mother gave me when they downsized.

If we really want to help kids not be fat, we don’t start with medication, let alone bariatric surgery. But it’s a crisis now, and this is what we look like.

OK, rant over. The weekend awaits. What’s on your agenda?

(Oh, and that’s me, top row, second from right.)

Posted at 9:26 am in Current events | 23 Comments
 

Mixed grill, again.

It’s the end of the week, and time for? Items in search of a blog!

Like every other writer on the planet except for me, Gene Weingarten has a Substack, and dropped one of his language pet peeves: “reach out to” instead of “ask.” This peeve is journalism-focused, so he quoted some story where X reached out to Y for an explanation, etc. I am in full agreement with Gene, and would like to add one that came up in my reading yesterday:

“Change out.” X was recommending Y change out their air filter, although sometimes it’s “swap out,” which might have a tiny bit of nuance, but probably doesn’t. Don’t get me started on “change up,” which is just ridiculous. Change your air filter, swap it, I don’t care. Just stop adding “up.” OK? Settled.

Next week: We’ll circle back to “circle back.”

I don’t believe I have it in me to fight another culture war, so I’m just saying it now: I’m a non-combatant in the Gas Stove wars to come. Also, I will give up my gas stove when you pry it from my cold dead fingers. That’s how much I love it, and don’t tell me how great induction is. It may heat up quickly, but it’s the cooling down that takes a while, and that’s what I love about gas. You turn off the flame and…the heat goes away! We cooked on induction in Europe, and that “H” stays lit quite a while after you turn the burners off. Don’t talk to me about air quality, either. I have no respiratory illnesses, neither does Alan, and if gas fumes were going to kill me, they’d have done so by now.

The rest of you who want to preen about your moral superiority in cooking with induction, go right ahead. I’m sitting this one out.

(Also, I know this issue is overblown, and based on sloppy reporting. Still.)

Nolan Finley, the conservative op-ed page editor at the Detroit News, gets a fair amount of undeserved credit for mundane observations; I will never forget or forgive the chorus of what-a-keen-eye-this-gent-has when he noted the near-absence of black people in a trendy new restaurant. But generally, gennnnerrrallly, I can respect that he seems to be a conservative with eyes to see and a tongue to speak, which is another way of saying he’s smart enough to see Trump for what he is. In discussing the current state of the Michigan GOP (paywalled, sorry), he writes:

How sorry are the affairs of the state party?

It still is figuring out how to pay for its state convention in Lansing Feb. 17-18, where roughly 2,000 delegates are set to gather to select a new chairman from an 11-candidate list. That slate, in its mediocrity and lack of both political experience and appeal, is distressingly reminiscent of the field of hopefuls who initially filed for the GOP gubernatorial primary in 2022.

The party is proposing for the first time charging delegates a fee for attending the convention, as many other states do. The suggested amount right now is $50 each.

Failed attorney general candidate Matt DePerno is pitching a proposal to charge the 11 candidates running for party chair, including himself, $20,000 each to pay for the convention and other operations.

Maybe the GOP should just hold a bake sale.

And you know what? DePerno, a thug fired from one of his former firms for putting hands on a client, is likely to win the chairmanship. The two closest competitors are equally crazy and unqualified, and it’s going to be glorious to watch them try to rebuild with a 2020 election denier (no matter who of the top-polling candidates wins, it’ll be a stop-the-stealer) at the helm.

With that, the weekend awaits us all. Let’s enjoy it.

Posted at 10:00 pm in Current events | 74 Comments
 

Please do that indoors.

In today’s delightful news, I drop this nugget in front of you, tail a-wag, and wait for a chorus of GOD I WISH I LIVED THERE.

Now that I check, it’s a paywalled story, so here’s the headline, which is really all you need:

Hamtramck council approves allowing animal sacrifices for religious purposes

And here’s the non-paywalled condensation: The all-Muslim city council was asked to consider whether to outlaw the ritual killing of animals in the name of religion, and decided to weigh in on the side of state and federal law, which allows it, surprisingly. The consideration here isn’t about Santeria, but Islam:

Animal sacrifice is practiced in some religions, specifically around some holidays. In Islam, during Eid al-Adha, or the “Festival of Sacrifice,” some families may sacrifice a sheep, goat, camel or cow.

“There’s a religious and spiritual import to these sacrifices,” Walid said. “It relates to our faith being Abrahamic. The symbolism of the sacrifice in particular around the Eid al-Adha season relates to Abraham giving the permission of sacrificing a ram instead of sacrificing his son based upon a dream he had.”

Walid added: “We would normally sacrifice a sheep or goat. From that meat which is slaughtered religiously, one third is traditionally kept for one family, another third is given to the poor and then another third would be given away to others who are perhaps not indigent but would enjoy the meat. There are a lot of lessons involved in that, being charitable to the poor.”

There are a lot of strings attached to the city ordinance regarding safety, sanitation and clean-up. It’s safe to say no one’s going to be swinging a scimitar at a goat in their front yard. But if it’s done humanely, it’s hard to see a difference from regular commercial slaughter. I also like the idea of giving away two-thirds of the cuts. Not that I am particularly interested in eating goat or sheep, never mind camel.

Weirdly enough, the News didn’t open comments on this one. Gee, wonder why.

The other news of the week: Lynette Hardaway, the Diamond of Diamond & Silk and no don’t ask me which one that is, the talker or the non-talker, because I don’t know, don’t care, and…does this sentence have a landing set up? Whatever. Anyway, Diamond? Is dead. Almost certainly Covid, if you ask me, mainly because they won’t answer questions about it.

And that’s all my midweek news, and inspiration. You should see the sky here — just the most relentless gray blanket imaginable, and no snow.

Posted at 2:35 pm in Current events | 46 Comments
 

Meet the new boss.

Things aren’t going well for Kevin McCarthy, or the congressional GOP, this week. But I want to draw your attention to west Michigan, where a hard-right takeover of a county commission (Ottawa, in this case) has been going great, if you’re a particular sort of wingnut.

I’ll try to summarize, for you out-of-towners: Ottawa County sits on the Lake Michigan shoreline due west of Grand Rapids, and encompasses several communities within easy commuting distance from G.R., as well as rural areas blending into typical lakefront affluence. It’s a conservative area. That’s just a fact. But as has been happening all over the country, the generally saner conservatives have been falling out with the crazies, and it all reached a crescendo this week.

Last summer, in a story that went national, one of the county’s townships defunded its own library over guess-what. Private donations have kept it open, but it will be officially closing in September 2024. The group that led the defunding, accomplished by defeating a tax millage, got high on its own supply, drunk on its power, and successfully ran candidates to take over the county commission last fall. The new members took their seats and had their first meeting earlier this week, during which they fired the county administrator and killed the office of diversity, equity and inclusion, firing its entire staff. They hired John Gibbs, who lost a congressional race to a moderate Democrat last year, to replace the administrator. They also hired an unqualified “industrial hygienist” to replace the health director, who was also fired. Finally, they changed the county’s motto, from “You belong here” to “Where freedom rings.”

All in one meeting! Whew.

Gibbs is notable for a couple reasons: He defeated the far more honorable and qualified Peter Meijer in the primary, and was one of the GOP candidates whose primary campaign was supported by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in the (correct) view he’d be easier to defeat in November. He’s also a real piece of work; he was a bitter-ender in the Trump administration, working for Ben Carson in the HUD office. An election, denier, of course – in his campaign interviews, he’d say it was a “mathematic impossibility” for Trump to lose Michigan, because he got more votes than in 2016. He was also exposed for his college-conservative lunacy, when he wrote for his own “think tank,” called the Society for the Critique of Feminism, that women’s suffrage was a mistake. LOLOL, just boys being boys!

Anyway, he needed a job, and now I guess he has one.

The health director is a more problematic hire, because it has to be approved in Lansing, and so far, the new guy, “a 39-year-old self-proclaimed industrial hygienist with master’s degrees in health from an online college,” is, um, cut from the same cloth as Gibbs:

In November 2021, during the height of the pandemic, (Nathaniel) Kelly dressed in a parody video as (Gov. Gretchen) Whitmer’s sign language interpreter during a press conference earlier in the pandemic, when she told sports fans stadiums would be shut down. In the video, he could be seen with makeup on, miming gunshots to his head and suggesting those who took vaccine shots could fall ill or die.

There’s video of him presenting at the “America’s Frontline Industrial Hygienists & Multidisciplinary Support Summit,” in which he states that if he were health director of a county, his guidance would be to:

…”send each household a kit with “prophylactic medications and tools,” including “Zinc, vitamin D with K2, vitamin C, ivermectin and NAC.”

“A neti pot with instructions for nasal lavage would also be included,” he claimed.

He also suggested companies upgrade their HVAC systems for better ventilation. The punchline: He works for an HVAC company.

You can’t make this shit up, but here we are. You get a neti pot! And you get a neti pot! Everybody gets a neti pot!

My guess is, Kelly’s ascension will be blocked by saner heads in Lansing, but you never know. Maybe his online alma mater, Columbia Southern University, will go to bat for him.

Ay-yi-yi.

In other crazy-Republican news at this hour, Michelle Goldberg’s column on the speaker deadlock is good, but likely paywalled for non-subscribers. Best part:

McCarthy evidently believed that by courting Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, an avatar of hyper-performative politics, he could co-opt her wing of the party. He was set to offer her valuable committee assignments, and, according to Draper, had even offered to create a new leadership position for her. But her elevation would be valuable to other Trumpists only if there were concrete things they hoped to accomplish together. Putting Greene on the Oversight Committee does nothing to help those who aspire to her notoriety. They don’t want policy; they want airtime.

One of the most amazing aspects of the House Republican crackup has been watching Greene’s angry exasperation as her shot at real power is imperiled by attention-seeking hard-liners. “They’re proving to the country that they’re just destructionists,” she said on Sunday. It was the embodiment of the Twitter meme: “‘I never thought leopards would eat MY face,’ sobs woman who voted for the Leopards Eating People’s Faces Party.”

By bowing first to Trump and then to Greene, all McCarthy has done is show other Republicans how much there is to gain from pushing him around. His downfall isn’t surprising: Almost no one who has sold his or her soul to Trump has come out ahead. (The jury is still out on the Republican conference chair Elise Stefanik.) The reason these deals with the devil always go bad, I suspect, isn’t metaphysical. It’s simply that Trump sycophants are ultimately undermined by their weak and flabby character.

Yep, exactly.

OK, then, happy Thursday/Friday to all you celebrate. See you next week.

Posted at 11:03 am in Current events | 43 Comments
 

2023.

Happy new year to all of us. Around here, it dawned — ha ha — so gray and overcast I had to turn on a lamp to read the paper. It’s one of my idiosyncrasies that I really dislike using electric light once the sun is up, probably a leftover from my dad, who was always adjusting the thermostat and turning off lights in empty rooms to save a few pennies on the utility bill. Anyway, when it’s that dark I am at least reminded to take my Vitamin D, and I shrug and think: Michigan. January. Whaddaya gonna do?

One-word resolution for 2023: Balance. So maybe tomorrow will be sunny.

I hope you all had a pleasant NYE. We followed our script: Cooked a better-than-usual meal, watched a movie (“White Noise,” meh), listened to the gunfire at midnight, went to bed. Today I’m scrolling through pix and videos of the Mar-a-Lago NYE party, trying to think what would be worse: Listening to a bad cover band plow through “Footloose” at M-a-L, or standing outside in Detroit, waiting for one round to come down and pierce the soft tissue at the base of my neck.

Outside in Detroit, most definitely. It’s a better, more honorable way to die.

I was thinking again — woolgathering, nothing focused — about 2022 and realized that until I saw one of those Year in Pictures roundups, I had totally spaced that it was an Olympic year. Beijing, the problematic sporting event to open the year, closed of course by the World Cup in Qatar. I recall watching the skiing thinking it would be more pleasant to travel downhill on concrete; not a flake on any of the competition slopes actually fell from a cloud, but was manufactured, and looked and felt like it. The meltdown in the ladies’ figure skating was memorable, but apparently not for more than a few weeks.

Before we put the year entirely to bed, this was an interesting story in the NYT. For those of you who can’t read it, the tl;dr: Politically skewed polls that predicted a red wave in November and the resulting panic may have deprived some candidates of funding that could put them over the finish line.

Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat, had consistently won re-election by healthy margins in her three decades representing Washington State. This year seemed no different: By midsummer, polls showed her cruising to victory over a Republican newcomer, Tiffany Smiley, by as much as 20 percentage points.

So when a survey in late September by the Republican-leaning Trafalgar Group showed Ms. Murray clinging to a lead of just two points, it seemed like an aberration. But in October, two more Republican-leaning polls put Ms. Murray barely ahead, and a third said the race was a dead heat.

As the red and blue trend lines of the closely watched RealClearPolitics average for the contest drew closer together, news organizations reported that Ms. Murray was suddenly in a fight for her political survival. Warning lights flashed in Democratic war rooms. If Ms. Murray was in trouble, no Democrat was safe.

Murray ended up winning by nearly 15 points, which other pollsters had already predicted. But she ended up spending her war chest on her own campaign, rather than spreading it to other, less fortunate candidates. A similar phenomenon happened here, where two-time U.S. Senate loser / empty suit / Trump apologist John James finally will go to Washington — as a congressman — but had a much harder time winning than all the polling indicated. How might he have been thwarted if the DCCC hadn’t written off the race as unwinnable, because Inevitable Red Wave. A little more cash for his opponent might have made the difference. I mean, he only won by half a percentage point.

Polling — good polling — runs the risk of being made irrelevant by bad actors. Trafalgar was the same firm that had GOP challenger Tudor Dixon nipping at Gretchen Whitmer’s heels just before the election, which Dixon lost by more than 10 points. It’s almost like they’re doing this…on purpose.

OK, time to move on to 2023 and greet it properly. Dry January awaits.

Posted at 6:37 pm in Current events | 36 Comments
 

My fabulous, luxurious life.

So Alan, who is normally immune to sales pitches of all kinds, saw a “brown Friday” sale on the Tushy aftermarket bidet, and bought one.

By “aftermarket” I mean that it didn’t involve installing a new fixture in our brand-new bathroom, but was one of those things that attaches to the bottom of your toilet seat and uses the same water line. There’s a button to the side that you use to direct and control the stream.

I avoided it for a few days, thinking, god, who wants to squirt cold water on your asshole, but eventually thought I needed to at least try it. The first splash was a little weird, but within one or two, um, days, I was a convert. Now, when I feel the urge, I go upstairs to the Tushy bathroom and indulge myself. I can’t wait for warm weather, when the cool stream will feel even more refreshing.

It serves to remind me, once again, that middle-class Americans* enjoy a standard of living the richest people a century ago couldn’t imagine.

We went through a few castles/fine homes in Spain, including the Casa Mila in Barcelona, one of Gaudi’s many masterpieces. It was built to house one of the city’s wealthiest families, and yet, a stroll through their living spaces is fairly underwhelming. The audio guide directed our attention, in the bathroom, to a samovar-like tank on a rack over the tub. About five gallons, maybe, with a gas burner underneath. This gave the bather the unimaginable luxury of…hot water. Years ago, I worked on a custom-publishing job about some great houses in Detroit. I looked through the correspondence of the original head of the household, and it was filled with bitching about how much it cost to heat the place, and the damn servants kept leaving windows cracked, in the dead of winter, and how do you like them apples.

I thought about this as I patted my backside dry with a few squares of TP this morning. World, envy me, for I have a clean butthole!

Two warnings about the Tushy: First, make sure to Google “tushy bidet” and go to that link; do not, for any reason, visit tushy-dot-com. Second, if you decide to buy one, prepare yourself for a barrage of excrement puns in your email, filled with poop emojis and the like. You can unsubscribe, of course, but just be advised. If you’re sensitive to that kind of thing.

* And our pets. It’s ridiculous.

I don’t know about you guys, but I have been riveted by the news out of Washington the past few days — the J6 committee report, the Trump tax returns, all of it. Too many links to post. What are the odds the Justice Department will actually live up to its name? Discuss.

Otherwise, we’re all waiting for the big blizzard that’s supposed to hit us overnight. (I had my teeth cleaned on Tuesday, and the hygienist said, “What about those people in Florida? It’s supposed to be in the 40s there!” My reply: “Who gives a shit?”)

Snow totals for our part of Michigan’s banana belt are now forecast at 2 inches, which is nothing, but the wind and plunging temperatures could be grim. I’m way more concerned with power outages. Keeping all devices charged today, and you should, too.

Hunker down! Let’s hope for some good pictures!

Posted at 9:38 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 72 Comments
 

The new owners.

There used to be a hotel off I-96 in Lansing, a former Days Inn. Apparently it sold at some point, and the new owner declined to keep it under the old brand, but in an admirable act of frugality, changed the name in the easiest, most economical way. The hotel became Dads Inn.

They say Harry Helmsley, Leona’s late husband, was cheap as hell, and when he bought the Central Building in New York City, changed its name to the General Building, because it only required him to buy two new letters. This may explain Leona’s infamous bitchiness, but I really don’t know.

On our drive to Columbus this weekend for the my-side-of-the-family holiday, we passed a restaurant called Fricker’s. The signage used the same font as the once-ubiquitous Frisch’s, which held all the Big Boy franchises in much of Ohio when I was growing up. For some reason this convinced Alan we had another Dads Inn situation, and when we stopped for lunch on the way back, he was sure we’d have menus of Big-Boy-but-not, double-decker burgers with secret sauce, milkshakes and the like.

Alas, it was just another sports bar, with a menu full of wings and ribs and other things men like to eat while they’re watching football. And beer, of course, lots of beer. It was Hooter’s without the hooters, with lots and lots and lots of “fricken” wordplay on the menu. Kate and I — two of very few women in the place — split a plate of sliders, and we watched the Lions for a while before pressing on toward home. It was not, I’m sorry to say, very fricken good.

It was a nice weekend, seeing everyone. We did a no-gifts holiday, and I can’t say I missed the presents one bit. And because we were traveling, I mostly collected links:

Here in Detroit, an anti-abortion group’s fake clinic is vandalized, along with a board member’s house.

The NYT’s big Explanatory Journalism Pulitzer entry dropped, an entire special section on how Russia managed to fuck up its Ukrainian campaign. Not through even the first part yet, but it’s pretty devastating. Bottom line: Corruption, Putin’s delusions, lack of morale, outdated equipment, cell phones. A fascinating read so far.

Fr. Frank Pavone, a truly vile anti-abortion priest, is no longer a priest. All three of these stories seem to call for the Jerry Seinfeld “that’s a shame” GIF, so imagine it here.

Oh, and how about that World Cup final? It was exciting even to follow on Twitter.

And have a good week ahead.

Posted at 10:07 pm in Current events | 45 Comments
 

A few words about BG and PW.

I owe Sherri Nichols of our very own commentariat for pointing out, months ago, some things about Brittney Griner’s arrest that I’ve not read anywhere else. The short version: The idea that BG would be carrying her own bags in Moscow, even coming off the plane, is unlikely; the WNBA player was a rock star in Russia — one reason she plays, or played, there. The team would have handlers greet her flight and she wouldn’t need to lift a finger.

I don’t know at what point in the entry process her bags were searched, but the point is: There would have been ample opportunity to plant a vape cartridge in there before she reached that checkpoint. And given the timing of her arrest, almost on the literal eve of the Russian invasion of Ukraine (and during the troop buildup on the border) suggests this was a diversion dreamed up in the Kremlin.

You can really gauge the level of Putin love on the American right at how she’s being portrayed in that wing of the media: As a “lesbian pothead” (Rod Dreher) too stoned or dumb to know you can’t bring that shit into the country. First, we’re taking Russia’s word that her vape cartridge was cannabis? Maybe it was CBD. Maybe it didn’t exist at all. If Griner truly was a user, does anybody think those team handlers mentioned above couldn’t have gotten her a little weed once she was through customs/security? As to her guilty plea, it was explained at the time that it was a strategic move on her part, essentially throwing herself at the mercy of the court, avoiding a trial in hopes of a lenient, face-saving sentence of time served. It didn’t work. Big surprise.

As for Paul Whelan, whose glow-up on the right has been profound: We’ve been reading about this guy for a couple years here, as he’s a Metro Detroiter and his parents live near Ann Arbor. Mr. Clean Marine was dishonorably discharged from the Corps in 2008 for…let this excellent Detroit News 2019 explainer fill in the details:

He received a bad-conduct discharge in 2008 for attempted larceny and dereliction of duty. As a Marine clerk in Iraq, he had tried to steal $10,000 from the U.S. government, according to military court records.

He also used another person’s Social Security number to enter a military computer system and grade his own examinations, thereby advancing his rank and pay.

The court martial, along with the possibility Whelan was a spy, made lawmakers leery of getting involved in his Russian arrest, said his family.

Now. I want to say right here that it’s entirely possible, even likely, that Whelan was framed, too. From the same story:

Whelan was director of global security for BorgWarner until the auto parts supplier laid him off earlier this month in a corporate restructuring. He is an avid traveler who has visited Russia seven times in 12 years, his family said. He is interested in its history and culture.

In December 2018, he was in Moscow for a wedding when a friend, Ilya Yatsenko, gave him a flash drive, said his family.

Whelan thought it contained photos of a trip the men had taken to Yatsenko’s hometown a year earlier. Actually, it listed names of members of a unit of the Russian Federal Security Service, which replaced part of the KGB.

Given Whelan’s bad-conduct discharge and other marks on his record, it’s unlikely he was actually an American spy; I mean, what agency would want the guy?

His family has been working hard to make the case that, whatever his flaws, Whelan is not guilty and should be released. But he still stands convicted of espionage in a hostile country. It’s not the same as possession of hash oil.

The prisoner swap with Victor Bout was uneven, I’ll grant you. But he’s been out of the game 20 years; I doubt he’s returning to arms dealing like some Mafia soldier sprung from prison whining “I gotta earn.” Maybe he will, I don’t know. But he’s internationally notorious now. If he returns to his old job, we can put the Navy SEALS on his ass, I suppose.

It was just to release Griner, however. The repulsive temper tantrums among the Fox News crowd only show you the sort of people they are.

Posted at 11:08 am in Current events | 74 Comments
 

Good guys win.

Georgia, and the country, dodged a bullet on Tuesday. I’m sure others here felt the way I did when I looked at the still-whisker-thin margin and thought: Lord, there were that many people willing to gamble on Herschel Walker? I can’t even look at photos of him for more than a few seconds; seldom has such a dim light shone from a man’s eyes. Of course, now the off-the-record rats are scrabbling to the nearest reporter:

Interviews with a dozen campaign staff members and Republican operatives working with the Walker campaign suggest that it wasn’t just the candidate who had flaws — the campaign itself was hampered by poor decision-making.

Some said that Walker and his wife, Julie Blanchard Walker, never fully empowered his team to make decisions, frequently questioning suggestions and plans by veteran campaign operatives. The pair insisted on spending what aides described as an “excessive” amount of time poring over proposals for every campaign stop, bottlenecking planning. That included wanting to spend significant time in heavily Democratic areas to woo Black voters, a problem that worsened in the runoff when staff wanted Walker to focus exclusively on mobilizing Republicans who had just voted for him in the general election.

Staffers said Blanchard Walker even suggested her husband should be winning as much as 50 percent of the Black vote in Georgia, regularly commenting that the campaign needed “to be getting him in front of his people, in front of his community,” as one person working on the campaign recalled.

A Republican victory in the Georgia Senate race — even with a Black nominee — was unlikely to involve the party winning over droves of Black voters. The overwhelmingly Democratic demographic propelled Warnock to office two years ago.

So farewell, Herschel. Go back to Texas and live out your life.

Meanwhile, in Germany:

The plan was to storm the German Capitol, arrest lawmakers and execute the chancellor. A prince descended from German nobility would take over as the new head of state, and a former far-right member of Parliament would be put in charge of a national purge.

To facilitate the coup, the electricity network would be sabotaged. Satellite phones to communicate off grid had already been bought.

That is what German prosecutors and intelligence officials say a nationwide far-right terrorist network was plotting before 3,000 police officers and Special Forces fanned out across the country on Wednesday to raid 150 homes and arrest 25 suspected co-conspirators. They included an active duty soldier, a former officer in the elite special forces, a police officer and at least two army reservists.

The prince looks like… about what you’d expect a member of German nobility to look like, which is to say, not exactly an übermensch, but rather a doughy Bavarian lout. And there’s this line, toward the end:

Germany’s intelligence services have for years said that the greatest threat to the country came from domestic, far-right extremist groups.

That’s what our intelligence services have been saying for a while, too, but not very loudly, because it might upset Jim Jordan.

Finally, this: BRITTNEY GRINER IS FREE. Hallelujah.

Posted at 9:01 am in Current events | 29 Comments
 

Notes from a prone position.

Because Twitter didn’t collapse in a heap five minutes after Elmo got the keys, there’s a fair amount of pushback from his weird fans. But I’ll tell you: I no longer get served ads for new movies, cars or from any other legit brand, even gambling. Rather, it’s all these super-fast-cut commercials for shit like miracle cleaning brushes, or a wrench that looks like a snowflake, or 25 Times Famous People Ate In Restaurants and You Won’t Believe What Happened.

So I think the longer view is that Twitter won’t collapse in a heap, but rather, be eaten away by glitches and bad user apples like Kanye. Musk will get bored if no one is paying attention to him, and he’ll sell it for pennies on the dollar.

Too bad. Twitter was fun while it lasted. Politics, jokes and cute animals:

Thanks for all the back-care advice. Today, Friday, is the first I’ve felt on the road to recovery. PT starts week after next. Until then, no heavy lifting.

In my convalescence, I’ve been reading the news, oh boy. Two big stories here: One, the battle to lead the Michigan Republican Party, which is revealing that the MAGA wing learned nothing from last month’s election. Either that, or they don’t want to go back to work at their boring old before-times jobs just yet. The losing AG candidate and the losing SOS candidate both have announced their party-chair bids, along with losing U.S. Senate (in 2012) candidate Pete Hoekstra. You junkies might recall him as the guy who ran the “Debbie Spend-it-Now” ad during that year’s Super Bowl, which was so racist the Asian actor cast as Rice Paddy Girl issued a public apology the next day. And he’s the “mainstream” candidate.

The other is about the reshuffling of the Democratic primary calendar for 2024, in which Michigan’s place in the order will move closer to the front of the line. We’re hearing everything from second (after New Hampshire, which for some reason HAS to be first) to fourth, but anything is better than what it’s been in recent years. In 2020, my primary ballot had something like 13 candidates, all of whom had dropped out by the time I voted. Screw Iowa; we can do better than this.

And I guess everyone here has heard what happened when someone put Kanye West in front of a live mic yesterday. A shitshow.

OK, my back is starting to bark again, so wrapping this up. More muscle relaxers! Have a great weekend, all.

Posted at 8:46 am in Current events, Media | 23 Comments