How dumb?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope Samantha Elauf wins her case before SCOTUS.

Hoping for a second wind.

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

(Nearly) done with February.

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

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

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

Sunday I read this story in the NYT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


That’s the workaday world these days.

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

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

Laundry plus links.

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

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

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

That was Thursday.

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

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


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

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

Have a great weekend, all.

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

The eagle beagle.

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

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

So, a day off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was her party.

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

I guess she was the Lorde of her day.

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

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

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

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

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

Well, it is a great song.

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

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

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

Have a great Tuesday, all y’all.

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

Pants afire.

I don’t know what to think about Brian Williams. On the one hand? Almost certainly a chronic exaggerator, maybe an utter fabulist. Depressingly, none of this really matters in the performance of his job. The olden days when an anchor was a real journalist are pretty much over; while they might be trotted out to do standups here and there, the producers do the heavy lifting.

When Don Lemon, CNN’s barking idiot, tweeted a photo of his smallpox scar a few days ago and called it a measles scar, and this after speculating on the air that a Malaysian jetliner might have been swallowed by a black hole, I expressed frustration to a member of the NN.c commentariat. He replied:

I think Don Lemon is just fine when you put news stories on a teleprompter and ask him to read them in sequence.

I think William Hurt’s character in Broadcast News was just fine when you put news stories on a teleprompter and ask him to read them in sequence.

That, however, has long ceased to be the CNN “anchor” job description.

I think that’s true everywhere, with maybe a few exceptions. If you have the right look, a modicum of charisma, can read a prompter and are relatively quick on your feet in a live-interview situation, and as long as you have that elusive something that makes you one in a few million — you too can be a network news anchor. It’s not an easy bunch of qualifications to wrangle under one handsome head.

Of course, once you’ve attained this level, you have to deal with this sort of thing, i.e., co-workers trashing you anonymously:

“Brian is deeply disliked inside NBC—extremely unpopular. The people at NBC are loving this,” says someone in the know. Why? “Because he enjoys being a celebrity too much.” He also doesn’t pull his weight. “He never comes in in the morning”—as a managing editor, you should. “He calls in from his apartment and shows up around lunch time, has a fancy lunch with some important person, and then at the 2:30 production meeting—close to air time—he tears everything up.”

They pay him an eight-figure salary. I expect this is part of the deal.

And now Williams has been suspended for six months, effectively ending his career. Seems a big waste of…something, but I’m not sure what.

So. What sort of bloggage am I in the mood for?

This arrived on the radar yesterday, and nobody knows how it happened. Good for the Vipers, though.

The slut shot, i.e., the HPV vaccine, does NOT turn girls into whore-monsters. Such a relief.

An oral history of Laurel Canyon in the ’60s and ’70s. Love that Joni Mitchell.

Now, I must go to bed before I collapse.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Media | 33 Comments

Fortunately, there’s a vaccine.

This appears to be the week in which we ask politicians what they think of vaccines.

Just think about that a minute: We’re asking politicians what they think of vaccines. Was Dwight Eisenhower asked to weigh in on the polio vaccine? I bet not. I bet it was a more sensible world in which great medical advances were celebrated, not something to debate.

Maybe Mike Judge was right. Maybe this is “Idiocracy.”

Anyway, first Barack Obama (“Get your kids vaccinated”), then Chris Christie (“I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well, so that’s the balance that the government has to decide.”), and then Rand Paul (“I’ve heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines”). Rand Paul, I remind you, is a doctor.

So that was the start of the week. That, and a foot of snow, maybe an inch or two more. Kate got a rare snow day, and I worked at home, but! I got to the gym at 6:30 a.m. I had to do some crazy snow-surfing along the way, but that’s why God made big Swedish station wagons with all-wheel drive. That old sled did her home country proud.

I was the only one there. Respect.

OK, some bloggage:

You know I don’t link to BuzzFeed very often, or ever, but hell — Missy Elliott deserves to be better-known by you young’uns.

Whatever Huffington Post is, it ain’t journalism.

I’m exhausted. Have a good Tuesday, all.

Posted at 9:29 pm in Current events | 104 Comments

Back home again.

Hey, I’m back. That felt like a long trip, and I guess by most standards, it was: I was gone from predawn Tuesday to Friday twilight, and I barely had a minute to myself, although at one point I turned on the TV just for the noise of company and actually watched a few minutes of a Real Housewives episode.

What a wonder! I’ve never beheld this spectacle for more time than it takes to change channels or watch Jon Stewart mock them on “The Daily Show.” I’m not clueless. I know the basic gimmick: An assembly of polished, high-dollar women are followed by camera crews as they go about their days, with various trumped-up activities thrown in to give them something to do. Sometimes they sit around their lavish kitchens and drink wine. Sometimes they go to parties and drink wine. On this particular day, the Beverly Hills flock was arriving at some sort of reception or opening or something similar in one of those southern California restaurant courtyards that makes a Michigander wonder why she doesn’t live there.

Everyone wears a curve-hugging sleeveless sheath dress. Everyone’s hair falls in barrel curls. Everyone’s makeup is perfect, if a bit overdone. (Lots of false eyelashes.) Everyone air-kisses. Everyone drinks wine. And then the “reality” begins, as one character approaches another for a tete-a-tete. I have no idea what they’re talking about, but apparently there’s some bad blood there.

“What do I have to do?” one asks. “Eat your pussy?”

Whoa. This is basic cable now? A scene of comic relief followed, in which all the housewives discuss cunnilingus. (The relief comes from one who hasn’t ever heard the term.) And then suddenly I had a camera-pulls-back moment and realized I was actually watching “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” and turned it off.

I swear, we are going to be cutting the cable cord very soon.

The rest of the trip was very nice. I was reporting a project that will appear in another couple of weeks, concerning conditions at the tip of the mitten. Along the way I met some almost freakishly nice people – it’s true what they say about friendliness around here – and saw a lot of good and bad and beautiful things. Of course, ice covers the water, but ski season is in full swing. One night I peeled off to the dark-sky park up there, the Headlands.

True to Connie’s warning, the stargazing was subpar with a bright, waxing moon in the western sky, but Orion looked close enough to touch and the moon was a veritable spotlight. I was absolutely alone out there, and the weird feeling that started as I pulled in began to build. It was helped along by the various information stations on the road in, which featured life-size human cutouts; I only recognized one (Galileo), so I gather the others were pioneering astronomers, too. But with the single-digit cold, the blazing moon, the snow-covered road and the utter absence of other humans, it all took on a sort of Blair Witch vibe: WHAT IS THAT? WHO IS STANDING IN THE WOODS? Ohit’sjustGalileo. I stopped the car at the very end, got out and looked up. The silence was absolute. There was no wind, so the ice wasn’t shifting out in the Straits of Mackinac. No rustling from the surrounding woods. No owls. Even the cooling car engine seemed to stop ticking in just a minute or two. I strained to hear anything, but the best I could do was the far-far-off laboring of a big engine, probably a logging truck on the Mackinac Bridge.

All this while standing in the clearing, under the moon. I watch “Game of Thrones.” If a White Walker had emerged from the forest on a zombie horse, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

I stood there until the cold penetrated deeply enough to make me uncomfortable, and left. I’m going back this summer, I think. There’s a guest house there you can rent. Alan will love it.

So that was sort of the sublime and ridiculous of the trip. Now to write all these stories.

In the meantime, I have some bloggage, some of which you posted in the comments last week.

A dive into Jeb Bush’s role in the Terri Schiavo catastrophe, reported and written for Politico by the talented Michael Kruse. Long, but well worth your time.

Something you’ve probably heard of, but didn’t know there was a name for: Tip-overs, the hazard that kills a few children every year, and doesn’t need to. If you have little kids at home, be advised.

Finally, a Free Press story simultaneously inspiring and infuriating: A Detroit man walks 21 miles, every single work day, to get to his job. From the timeline I gather he has about four hours in his day when he’s not getting to, or doing, his job. I hope with all my heart that by the time you read this, some kindhearted used-car dealer has gifted him with reliable transportation, and the rest of us have donated money to pay his insurance bill.

And so the week begins. We’re currently in the midst of a snowmageddon, and my poor baby has to work tonight — at the pizza place where she’s been since the fall. A pizza place on Super Bowl Sunday during an 8-inch snowfall? It’ll be a character-builder for sure.

Posted at 12:37 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 22 Comments

Linky salad.

Things you will want to read today:

This lovely, sensitive piece on a lesbian couple planning their wedding in Oklahoma, where the wind — and the judgment — comes sweepin’ down the plain. The main part of the narrative concerns what happened after they sent their invitations, and waited to see who would attend:

The person Kathryn wondered about most was her biological father. He had raised her; after his divorce from Jane, it was the two of them alone in a small, boxy house in the middle of open plains. He was a rural postman and the job suited him — a solitary route that took him down the same path, every day, a hundred miles of roads. His world was predictable and contained, and Kathryn hadn’t found the right way to talk to him about the wedding.

Tracy didn’t know they hadn’t spoken. She sent his invitation in a batch with all the others — and now Kathryn had no choice but to call her father, or he would learn about the ceremony by checking the mail. As the words about the invitation came spilling out, they became words about why she and Tracy had decided, despite all their worries, to have this wedding.

She told him that she didn’t think there was anything wrong with the way she and Tracy felt about each other. She said that marriage was an important rite in the history of humanity, something people had been doing throughout time, and something she wanted to be a part of. She told him that marriage, as a value, was American.

He didn’t say anything. There was only silence on the other end of the line.

It’s really wonderful. Read.

For comic relief, you’re going to want to watch this clip of Sarah Palin at the Iowa Freedom Summit last week. Whenever I see her, I think of the Republicans I knew who were head over heels for her in 2008, at least for a few weeks. Looking at her now must feel like the morning after a hot, fevered night with a beautiful stranger who looks so, so different in the cold morning light. That what have I done feeling must be overwhelming.

And back to sensitive: A good one about the evolving view of divorce by the Catholic church, and by “evolving” I mean “the same, but at least some people are fighting about it,” i.e.:

The battle lines are clear: Some high-level church officials, most notably the conference of German bishops, want the church to relax its rules so that divorced Catholics can more fully return to church life, particularly by receiving communion, even if they have remarried. Traditionalists are pushing back fiercely, arguing that the indissolubility of marriage is ordained by God and therefore nonnegotiable.

I’ve been done with the church for years, but in that time, I’ve come across some annulment-seeking Catholic divorcees, and given testimony in one. All were granted. Nothing seemed to make a difference; 20 years together and three children? Hey, sounds like it wasn’t a true spiritual marriage; go on and get married again, folks. I totally understand why spurned ex-spouses fight so hard against them, as one of the unfortunate Kennedy brides did — seriously, what is the point of being against divorce if you’ll de facto grant them for a few hundred bucks and some nosy questions?

In the testimony I gave — and don’t be deceived by the grand nomenclature; all I did was fill out some forms — there were questions about whether I had knowledge the couple used artificial birth control. Of course they did, as 90 percent of all Catholic couples do, but I thought, well, that’s clever. Talk about your built-in grounds for Catholic divorce.

And so the week begins. Snowpocalypse in the east, cold here, and I’m headed north.

Posted at 9:01 pm in Current events | 124 Comments

The lonely curator.

Question for Brian and the other Fort Wayners: What was the name of the taxidermy museum that used to be at one of the city parks? It just came to me: The Diehm Museum, something like that? It was the sort of place that older people love, because they came of age when your only chance to see a bobcat was in an Encyclopedia Britannica or something. Today you have the internet, the zoo, 500 channels of NatGeo footage filmed with remote cameras in the wild.

But the story I’m thinking of was before the internet. One of our reporters did a piece on the declining fortunes of the museum, and the manager/owner was just furious about it. How could people not see the value of taxidermy, the animals arranged in fierce poses? Where else would a child in Indiana see an ocelot, or at least a pelt stretched over a form that resembled an ocelot?

I thought of that when I read this piece in the Freep today, by the talented John Carlisle, who used to be the Detroitblog guy, liberally linked here for years. It’s about the old keeper of a historical museum in Galesburg, Mich. He’s not angry, just sad and old and getting older, wondering who is going to care for his museum when he’s gone, when no one seems to care about it now?

Some days, he might get a few visitors. But there are also whole weeks when he gets none. Yet twice a week, right on time, he dutifully lights the red neon “Open” sign in the window with a yank on its cord, unlocks the door and waits in case someone out there shares his passion for the past.

He’s here because he simply loves history. He loves to teach. And because nobody else will do it.

Most of the museum’s founders and supporters have moved on or passed away over the years, and he’s worried if nobody comes along soon to replace him, all these objects and photos and antiques he’s worked so hard to save might vanish or get thrown out.

It’s a really good story, sad and wonderful at the same time. Y’all read.

And thanks to Alex for finding this artifact of the ever-deepening swamp of weirdness that exists in the far-right fever swamps. This is the MMA fighter who was arrested in Dekalb County, Ind., for either leading the police on a high-speed chase (the cop version) or just being normal freedom-loving citizens with a baby in the back and some car trouble (their version). I was fascinated by their repeated request for “three forms of ID, as required by law.” Is this a new wingnut thing? Say what you will about lefty lunatics, but at least all they do is refuse to get their kids vaccinated.

And so the next 10-day to two-week stretch begins, when I will be working my butt off and maybe dying, but I will try to open a new thread from time to time. I’ll be on the lookout for some interesting images, which is what we foo-foo people say when we mean “pictures.”

Have a great weekend, all. I’ll be in and out.

Posted at 9:58 pm in Current events | 67 Comments