So, so ready.

Alan lurched through the door last evening and pronounced himself ready for vacation, if only to get away from the country in a more or less constant constitutional crisis these days.

Couldn’t agree more.

What else, today? Not much. Just a to-do list a mile long. Why is it so hard to get out of town for a couple weeks? Of course, it doesn’t help that there’s a strike going on, which has blotted out the sun in Alan’s world for a month or so. It’s just hard to slip the surly bonds of earth, even for a little while. But stuff is getting ticked off the list, and one way or another we’re getting on the plane.

As to the constitutional crisis.

I’m so damn tired of all this stuff. The bonkers communications, the horrible family, the idiot enablers, the First Sex Worker, all of it. And this sort of thing, as well:

“Pathay.” Or maybe it’s “pathé.” I guess that’s fancy talk you learn in fancy-talk school.

And now we’re going to be seeing more of Trey Gowdy. Another reason to be so, so glad I gave up cable TV.

You guys can post the links today. Alas, I have to tackle this to-do list.

Posted at 9:23 am in Current events | 37 Comments
 

His brand is chaos.

The other day I said to someone in the office, “You remember when we would say, on Friday, that something happened on Monday and it seemed like six months ago? Now something happens at 9 a.m. and by 3 p.m. something else has happened and it’s like, ‘oh, that’s so 9 a.m.'”

It’s about 9:30 p.m. now, and there are multiple scoops breaking all over Newsville, which makes yesterday’s astonishing press conferences seem like they happened a year ago, but come on, this picture is one for the ages:

I used to work with Chip Somodevilla. Great photographer.

Yeesh, what a week. The last 48 hours have been bananas, necessitating a drive to Goddamn Lansing in which it rained, hard, both ways. Welcome to fall, bitch, every drop seemed to say. I don’t mind an overcast, drizzly day from time to time, but it’s never fun to pass an 18-wheeler in that sort of weather. You just drive into the mist and hope the road is still under your tires as you do so. And it’s worse at night.

But never you mind that. Because anything I write now will be outdated in 15 minutes, some bloggage to take you into the weekend, then.

I read this piece by Gene Weingarten, an excerpt from his upcoming book, the other day, marveling at how well it’s written. It’s likely something you’ve read before, a story about an organ donor and organ recipient on their separate journeys, but it’s just So. Good. You want to know how to write about complex medicine? Watch and learn, kids. Here’s the moment where the donor heart is extracted from the chest:

If you’ve read about open-heart surgery or seen videos, you may have a mental image of what followed: hours of precise, delicate work on gossamer tissue and threadlike vessels, performed by beetle-browed people wearing those eyeglasses with little telescopes in them.

Discard everything but the furrowed foreheads and telescope glasses. Compared with other open-heart procedures in which Lefrak was already expert — say, coronary artery bypass — heart transplantation seems like butchery. The heart as a whole is a large, unsubtle organ, and those vessels feeding it that aren’t the circumference of a D battery are still as fat as thumbs. Edward Lefrak removed Mark Willey’s heart with a single tool: a pair of scissors not all that structurally different from what second-graders use on colored paper. There were no nurses beside him handing him tools or mopping his brow.

First he separated the superior and inferior venae cavae, the two large vessels that return blood from the body into the right atrium, and severed them. Then he lifted the organ with his left hand and cut behind it with his right, one snip on each of the four pulmonary veins that run lung to heart. He lowered it back into the chest. Below the clamp, he cut through the aorta and finally the pulmonary artery, which runs heart to lung. The heart was now in the doctor’s hands, free of the body. It felt cold, even through a latex glove.

All that detail, using both simple and specialized language, in images you can see in your mind’s eye – D batteries, a child’s scissors. And here’s the moment after it’s been attached to the recipient, before it’s brought back to life:

What happened next defied everything most people presume about the human heart. Lefrak lowered Eva’s head, cupped her new heart with his left hand and tilted the bottom of it up so it became the highest point in her body. Then he accepted from Dellinger a long 18-gauge hypodermic needle and stabbed it into the heart’s apex, clean through the muscle to the cavity of the left ventricle. From the plastic collet of the needle came a bloody froth. When that stopped, Lefrak withdrew the needle, then pushed it in again, a few millimeters away. More bubbles.

If a heart is sliced by the thrust of a knife, that is usually fatal. If it is pierced by a bullet, it is nearly always fatal. But the heart is, in the end, a muscle, and as anyone knows who has ever gotten a vaccination in the arm — or anyone familiar with the overdose scene in “Pulp Fiction” — muscles can withstand and survive a needle. They close back up and heal instantly. Lefrak repeated this unnerving stab of the needle more than a dozen times. The goal was to empty the heart of all air bubbles before reconnecting it to its prime source of blood, via the venae cavae. Air bubbles cause embolisms, and embolisms cause brain damage.

Satisfied all the air was gone — no more froth — Lefrak allowed the heart to fill with blood.

The magic phrase there is “anyone knows who has ever gotten a vaccination,” because it makes you understand immediately. Of course you can stab a heart with needles; it’s a muscle.

Alan used to be a medical writer in Fort Wayne, doing disease-of-the-week stories. He was good at this sort of explanation. Not this good.

OK, I’m going to bed. I’m going to nibble a quarter square of an indica edible, swallow a melatonin and go off to dreamland. Let’s hope we survive the weekend.

Posted at 9:59 pm in Current events | 51 Comments
 

Take a deep inhale.

My old Russian teacher called the other day. I hadn’t heard from her in quite a while, so it was nice to catch up. I told her that Alan and I were thinking about traveling to Russia with some friends, maybe next year or the year after. They want to see St. Petersburg, I want to see Lenin laid out in his tomb. So I said I should start watching some Russian movies, get used to hearing the language again. She recommended a show on Netflix called “The Sniffer.” I watched an episode yesterday. It is hilarious.

The premise: A Russian investigator of some sort possesses a superhuman sense of smell. This is established in the first scenes, where he boards a plane. As he settles into his seat, another boarding passenger walks down the aisle, arm in a cast, and he determines that the cast contains plastique and a blasting cap; the passenger is a suicide bomber. So he calls the stewardess and calmly asks for the pilot, who appears reluctantly, hears the story, and asks just how this chill gent knows all this.

The same way I know you had sex with this lovely lady in the cockpit. Thirty minutes ago. Twice, he says. And that’s how we meet the Sniffer — and that’s his character’s name, he doesn’t have a regular one — who solves crimes by smelling them.

It’s plainly influenced by the CSI franchise. When the Sniffer inhales, special effects swirl around him, sometimes taking human form. He is able to take a few deep breaths and sketch out how the crime was committed — by a woman in her 40s, left-handed, who showered this morning, stopped menstruating four days ago, etc. It’s ridiculous, and yet, it’s in Russian, and I can pick up a few words. Two episodes in, and I am totally invested in the Sniffer.

You might ask yourself the obvious question: When you have the sense of smell of a million bloodhounds, how the hell do you keep from gagging around, say, a public toilet? (One reason hounds are hard to train is, their noses are like satellite dishes of smells, and it’s, shall we say, distracting. They have a hard time concentrating on your commands.) The answer? The Sniffer wears a plastic nose piece that presumably blocks the worst of it.

Like I said: Ridiculous. Shot in Ukraine, though, which brings us to the events of today, of which I can only say this: I can’t. I can’t even. I can’t even EVEN.

I feel confident that as I start this sentence, something will happen before the end of it that will upend anything I might write. So I will leave you with this:

I somehow wrangled a media pass to Kanye West’s “Sunday Service” concert, which is popping up in Detroit tomorrow, and which I am attending. Ooh, exciting. I’ll give you a report on Monday. For now, let’s grab our popcorn and watch everything unfold.

Happy Friday, happy weekend, God save the United States of America.

Posted at 9:03 pm in Current events, Television | 39 Comments
 

And so it begins.

Jeez, what a goddamn news day. What a news week. (And it’s only Tuesday.) What a month, what a year, what…yeesh, I’m tired just reading these stories. I can’t imagine being a reporter based in Washington these days. (Unless, like Hank, I covered TV or pop culture or something. Although that’s pretty busy too, being Peak TV and all. You should read Hank’s appreciation of Ric Ocasek and the Cars. It’s good.)

I guess now the pace and the atmosphere and the rhetoric and all the rest of it, which has been crazy, will be even crazier. The things we should be discussing in the next 14 months — policy and the beer test and whatnot — we will not be discussing. And so, in what might be the final act of this shitshow, we will be discussing Him.

Mission accomplished. This is our penance, I guess. So let’s get on with it.

It’s a little like falling from a high place, isn’t it? You hope there’s a net at the bottom, but you don’t know until you get there. If there’s one for us, let’s hope it’s still strong.

I can’t stand to talk about Him right now, but I will mention a couple little things. Last summer, the News ran a story about the widespread use of facial-recognition software in summer camps. It was a revelation. First, that so many camps employ a full-time photographer to capture every day of the action, and that these photos are made available to parents to look at every day as well. Facial-recognition software is used — with permission, which I gather is readily granted — to single out your own kid’s pictures, so you don’t have to look at a bunch of others if you don’t want to.

The other day I saw, on Facebook, some parents recommending to some other parents a particular app to allow surveillance on their teens. This app, Life360, informs everyone of where everyone else is every minute of the day — this is increasingly seen as reasonable — but also this, for a premium. It’s called Driver Protect:

Unlimited Place notifications: Set up unlimited Place notifications, and get notified when your family members come and go from home, work, school, and any other important locations.

Driving reports: We let you know what happened during each drive with instant, detailed driving reports, showing potentially unsafe behaviors (including phone usage, high speed, hard braking, and rapid acceleration) in the map at the time of occurrence.

Get that, kids? You have your driver’s license, and mom will be getting real-time alerts if you peel out from the light by the malt shop. Don’t you feel safe?

And now, this: Neighborhood watch gets the FBI’s toy box. From Slate:

A new venture called Flock Safety is a good example of the problem. The Atlanta-based company sells a particular vision of security: Residents can track every single car that passes through their neighborhood with the help of the company’s automatic license plate readers. As the Los Angeles Times recently reported, a two-year contract entitles you to the cameras, cloud storage for the data, and, most importantly, software that allows quick identification of license plates—completing a task in seconds that would take a person hours or days. (It’s not necessary for a whole neighborhood to agree to adopt the system, as long as some neighbors agree to pay for it.) If a crime happens within the neighborhood, residents can check and see which cars were captured by the cameras in the area at the time. Imagine being able to produce a detailed map of one car’s whereabouts. Residents can send videos to the police, and the police can presumably request data from residents. Although the data is stored on the company’s servers, residents own the data, according to the company’s website.

In this way, suspicious neighbors are just catching up to the police, repo agents, and property managers, who already have access to license plate readers that can capture data at rates of thousands of plates per minute. Flock essentially tells potential customers: If these are useful tools for safety, shouldn’t individuals and communities have them, too? And like many other surveillance products sold to the police and the public, it promotes surveillance as a service with a for-profit motive. The company begin as a 2017 Y Combinator startup and has since raised millions in venture capital funding from Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, among others. Its website promises to “increase solvability around crime with infrastructure-free [automatic license plate readers] in your community.”

How many times do we have to learn this lesson? All the technology that is supposed to save us will be used in ways we do not anticipate or intend. Sometimes this is, if not a good thing, at least a way to find the truth; I’m sure, if the law enforcement community knew how cell phones would be deployed to reveal racist behavior by police officers, they would have figured out a way to monkey-wrench the iPhone before it was released. This “service” (koff-koff) is being marketed to improve “neighborhood safety,” but my guess is, that’s not the way it’s going to happen.

Why do we stand for this? Because we’re afraid — of everything. I suspect that’s also why we elected Him.

OK, I’m going to read a novel published when He was just a toddler. I hope it’ll calm my nerves. This too shall pass.

Posted at 8:59 pm in Current events | 56 Comments
 

Worse than manure.

Well, that was a weekend. For once, the news was closer to home. The Michigan GOP held its biannual leadership complex on Mackinac Island. If you know about Mackinac, you know that one of its traditions — one of its laws — is that cars and motor vehicles are forbidden. Bikes and horses are the way you get around, with exceptions made only for emergency vehicles.

Until the leadership conference, and its keynote speaker, Mike Pence.

The Secret Service insisted on a motor vehicle, for security reasons, and what the Secret Service wants, the Secret Service gets. So the vice president rolled in and out of the Grand Hotel in an EIGHT-CAR motorcade.

Seen here:

I don’t really have a strong opinion once way or another. I understand the need for more than a few agents jogging along with a horse-drawn conveyance (although it was good enough for President Ford, admittedly in a simpler time), and I don’t have that long-standing connection with Mackinac that most Michiganians have. But people here went nuts over this. Even Republicans harrumphed over why this had to happen; why couldn’t he make other arrangements, or turn down the gig? Or why couldn’t the service figure another way to keep him safe. And why EIGHT vehicles?

People feel very protective of Mackinac around here. And I think it’s safe to say they don’t like this one little bit. Here’s a roundup.

Eight vehicles. For that empty suit. I ask you.

He made a joke about how Mother wants him to bring home some fudge. Ha ha ha.

Mackinac was supposedly one of the places shopped for next year’s G-7, and didn’t make the cut. Thank God, because that would have been a car shitshow.

The other big thing was this nonprofit I work with, and our second annual House to Home project, wherein we find a woman who owns a house that could use a lot of work, and then do it. (The work, that is.) This year’s was insanely ambitious, and by the end of the weekend, we were exhausted and crabby. It didn’t help that it was about 85 degrees all three days, and the house didn’t have A/C. But we got it cleaned out and painted and redecorated, and the look on her little boy’s face when he saw his new Black Panther-themed room was something to see.

But now I feel like I am running on fumes, and “Succession” starts in four minutes. Guess what I’m going to do.

Posted at 8:58 pm in Current events, Detroit life | 54 Comments
 

What a nice man.

Tuesday already, and already: What a week. Post-Labor Day is the time to shift into a higher gear, and the tach is definitely climbing. But still manageable. For the millionth time, it’s hard to work two half-time jobs; you have to be good at planning (which I’m not) and boundaries (ditto), as well as willing to bend everything, all the time.

Ah, well. Employed is better than unemployed.

How is everyone at midweek? The news about Cokie Roberts broke late morning, and as I know a lot of public-radio types, the tributes, as they say, poured in. Until late afternoon, when a different sort of reaction hit the porch like a wet load of manure:

“I never met her,” Trump told reporters traveling with him on Air Force One. “She never treated me nicely. But I would like to wish her family well. She was a professional, and I respect professionals. I respect you guys a lot, you people a lot. She was a real professional. Never treated me well, but I certainly respect her as a professional.”

My god, is there anything this idiot can’t ruin?

Truth be told, haven’t been a Roberts fan for a while; she was the high priestess of the conventional-wisdom take for many years, and I’m just done with that. She was also Washington establishment/journalistic royalty, and again: BFD. It did seem that she was a sterling person and a great friend and mentor, so that counts for something. It counts for a lot, actually.

Yesterday, the president of the United States spoke highly of Saudi Arabia as a military partner/client. Because they “pay cash.” I need a vacation so bad I can taste it. A vacation out of the country. One more month.

Not much to blog today, but this is really good. Long, but good. Enjoy. Me, I’m into Netflix tonight.

Posted at 9:16 pm in Current events | 91 Comments
 

Someone else said it better.

I have been thinking about Jeffrey Epstein and the elites for a few days now, and am not really any closer to a coherent opinion on them. I mistrust my brain when my feelings get too involved, and I can’t be absolutely sure they’re entirely disengaged here.

So lucky for me I found a particular Twitter thread, which is long even for a Twitter thread, but gets very close to what I’ve been thinking. I’m-a let this nice lady lay out her problems with the MIT Media Lab, and just say: Seconded. (Along with a HT to Heather for finding it.)

And I’m glad someone brought up Anand Giridharadas, too. I have his book on reserve at the library.

So. Sunday afternoon and I am home alone. Alan is at work, after working Saturday, too, coordinating coverage of the UAW strike called for midnight. I have already cleaned a bathroom and am now in my gym clothes, trying to summon the motivation to actually go there. Weight work is the most difficult motivation for me, because I do it alone. Also, I’ve skipped enough lately that I know I’m going to be sore as hell tomorrow, but I really should go anyway. Maybe after some food prep, and a banana. And a little power nap. And another chapter of “The Sheltering Sky” and ooh look, gym’s closed.

Has anyone seen the new Linda Ronstadt movie? I was always a fan, if not a superfan, but seeing all these YouTubes that keep popping up is making me wonder if I made a big miscalculation, back in the day. Maybe it’s because my brain has been broken by autotune, but when I hear this, I think, goddamn, now that is a voice. Shoulda gone to more of her shows, but I saw her at the Hollywood Bowl, and once you’ve done that, Vets Memorial in Columbus looks pretty small-time.

And with that, I seem to have run out of things to say. I can’t put it off any longer: Gym. (After maybe a little snack.)

Posted at 1:58 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 56 Comments
 

Drain the swamp.

I’ve started and stopped this blog about 90 times since Tuesday. I started out inflamed about the MIT Media Lab thing about Jeffrey Epstein’s enablers, and hence the headline. Then 9/11 popped up, and I went down another dead end. In that spirit, I’m keeping the headline and much of the 9/11 chatter, and we’ll just get to the Publish button one way or another.

I’ve been thinking about 9/11 today, as probably most of you have, too, at least in passing. One thing I hear in the conversational buzz in both the digital and analog world is this: Remember how united we were, afterward? It’d be great if we could get back to that.

See, I don’t remember that.

Oh, there was unity of a sort. We all agreed what had happened was terrible. We all agreed something had to be done. We agreed in a rather vague, amorphous sense, that we were still The Best Country in the World, and Nothing Could Change That.

But I don’t remember any particular unity beyond that. Here are a few things I do remember:

Conservative Republicans pressing their advantage almost immediately. Disagreement with the president was frowned upon. We had to be united! Division is what the enemy wants! So we had to bow and scrape to every pronouncement – that we would “answer this” with fire and fury, etc. That GWB was the man to handle it; OMG can you imagine Al Gore? We needed this tough-talking Texan. And so on.

Even without social media, we endured the stupidest prole-level static imaginable. God, talk radio was insufferable. We didn’t have Facebook, but we had email, and memes. “If you have to fly, carry a small baggie of ham chunks, to throw at the hijackers.” “Did you hear that they found a full-size SUV under the towers with six uninjured firefighters in it? SUVs rule!!!” Here’s this thing Leonard Pitts wrote. Here’s this thing Christopher Hitchens wrote. Here’s something even stupider than the last thing I sent.

I don’t excuse myself from any of this; I was there, I was as crazy as everyone else. But lordy, I don’t look back on those days of grief and pain and fear as something I’d like to get back. Yea, Republicans and Democrats sang “God Bless America” on the Capitol steps. But about five minutes after that happened, the American flag started to be worn as a political statement and sartorial wish to turn Afghanistan into a sea of glass, not as an expression of patriotism. Who knew an Old Navy T-shirt could be so unnerving?

Anthrax. Also, anthrax. Yeah, that was no fun, either. That sense that what happened with the planes was only Act I, and soon we could look forward to car bombs and amorphous poisons sent through the mail — that was real unnerving. It didn’t help that there kept being more stupid stories in the media; even the lifestyle writers were pressed into service to ask whether high-end cookware might sell more now, because we were all eating in instead of going out. There was a piece on giving “comfort” gifts at the holidays. There was one on workout routines, for fuck’s sake; more women were taking up swimming, so if they needed to evacuate Manhattan in a big ol’ hurry, they could get to New Jersey or Brooklyn in the water. (As a recent open-water swimmer, I have some news for those gals: No, you can’t. Unless you can steal a boat.)

So no, I don’t have any particular nostalgia for 9/12, for the rise of horrible people like Pamela Geller and Instapundit and all of those. I did read this piece on Wednesday, though, which read in part:

The best of us rushed into burning towers in September or descended upon Afghanistan in October. The rest of us watched in stupefaction or satisfaction, or perhaps both. That goes even for direct witnesses of the great massacre, including me. We spectated. It was not two years later that the phrase emerged, not from Afghanistan but Iraq, that in the post-9/11 era only the American military was at war: the American people were at the mall.

It irritated me, only because it underlined something I’ve always despised, this idea that only first responders and soldiers can be “the best of us,” because man, have you been paying attention to what some cops have been up to lately? Did you hear about Abu Ghraib? But it wasn’t a terrible piece, and I read it, and thought, OK, now I have read that.

Today I surfed past the Indiana Policy Review site, to see if it’s still got my old colleague Leo writing his airy, dismissive, who-really-gives-a-shit columns (yes), and found this, by an Evansville attorney named Joshua Claybourn. Note that I’m posting it from one of the Indiana newspapers that accepts syndicated columns from the IPR:

The best of us rushed into burning towers in September or descended upon Afghanistan in October. The rest of us watched in stupefaction or satisfaction, or perhaps both. That goes even for direct witnesses of the great massacre, including me. We spectated. It was not two years later that the phrase emerged, not from Afghanistan but Iraq, that in the post-9/11 era only the American military was at war: the American people were at the mall.

And yes, for a minute I thought, wearily, JFC, another one? But I’m not entirely sure what happened here. Because besides Claire Berlinski’s blog and the IPR site, it also appeared on another site, Israel National News, also with an anonymous byline. Which doesn’t really suggest someone stole it, because it appeared more or less simultaneously at all three sites.

So is Josh Claybourn Claire Berlinski’s anonymous friend and the Israel National News site’s anonymous contributor? Or is some other funny business going on?

I DM’d Claybourn on Twitter. He is indeed Claire’s correspondent. And what are the odds that I, of all people, saw both pieces in the course of two days? I’m probably the only one. What a distinction. Why can’t this happen for the Powerball?

OK, so that’s it. I’m still gathering my thoughts on Epstein’s enablers, and maybe that’ll gel over the weekend. For now, I’m done, and you all have a great weekend. I’m getting my hair cut.

Posted at 7:30 pm in Current events, Media, Uncategorized | 51 Comments
 

Movies and racism.

You know what makes me feel old? Watching something on TV or in the movies and thinking, “Wow, that guy looks just like William Hurt/Bill Hader/Meryl Streep/etc.,” looking them up win IMDB, and discovering they’re either William Hurt’s son or Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan’s son, or Meryl’s daughter or whoever.

And if you read that right, yes, Dennis and Meg’s son looks so much like Bill Hader that if I were Dennis I’d be checking my back calendars to see whether Bill was working anywhere nearby when young Jack was conceived. Although, to be sure, Jack Quaid looks like a perfect amalgam of both his parents. Maybe Bill Hader is their other son.

William Hurt’s son, Alex, looks freakishly like the old man. And Meryl Streep’s daughters are her virtual twins. It’s almost creepy.

I’m talking about actors and actresses because this is what’s happening in the Bahamas, and I’m trying not to start screaming:

Turning away victims of the worst environmental disaster in years. We lift our lamp beside the velvet rope. And you can’t come in.

Also, this, on the MIT Media Lab quagmire.

Happy goddamn Monday.

Posted at 9:05 pm in Current events, Movies | 67 Comments
 

Stupidville, USA.

I wonder why I have trouble sleeping, then I look at the news.

Every fucking day, it’s something. Every. Single. Day.

People keep telling me to watch “The Factory,” but honestly, I can’t stand it, after a day of paying attention to the news. I keep seeking out stupid, non-topical comedies, and while “Workin’ Moms” ain’t cutting it, there are new episodes of “The Great British Baking Show” dropping this month, and that is right up my alley.

Light bulbs, today. Who even asked for this? Is it just Because Obama? Because, as Alan noted at dinner, the light bulb regulations came during the Bush administration, and you know what? THE NEW LIGHT BULBS ARE BETTER. Sorry for yelling, but really. The first corkscrew bulbs gave garish light but as the technology advanced, the bulbs improved. This often happens; I know we’ve had the low-flow toilets discussion here before. Two out of three toilets in our house are now low-flow, and they are awesome. Everything disappears with one flush.

And new, LED light bulbs not only light the room, they do so efficiently, and they last forever. We used to replace our porch lights, which we leave on all night long, every six months. We haven’t replaced the new ones in three years.

This stupid country.

I have some good, less infuriating bloggage for you to enjoy today, however.

Both are from the New Yorker, but it’s early in the month and maybe you haven’t blown through your free articles yet.

A Q&A with Linda Ronstadt. She’s disabled with Parkinson’s now, but not self-pitying at all — clear-eyed, smart and very vital.

And this, about the short-lived adventure of Prince’s biographer, whose work was, shall we say, cut short. Another super-smart guy, who really thinks differently about almost everything.

Beyond that, I’ll just watch some “Succession” and wait for the next onion-y belch from Washington. This stupid country.

Posted at 9:02 pm in Current events | 56 Comments