Waiting for a miracle.

All the advice was to see “Dunkirk” in IMAX, so I googled around. Turned out there’s an IMAX screen at a multiplex in Royal Oak that I didn’t know about. Royal Oak is closer than the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, which is where I feared we’d have to go, so this was good news. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a regular theatrical-entertainment film in IMAX, only short science films like they show at museums. Bought tickets online, paid IMAX prices.

After the credit-card sale went through I looked at the tickets. “‘Dunkirk’ in EMAX,” they said. What’s EMAX? I thought, but figured it had to be some version of IMAX.

It wasn’t. It was just a wide screen. The theater is called Emagine, and sure enough, there’s no such thing as EMAX as a film format, it’s just the chain’s name for “PREMIUM LARGE FORMAT, bigger picture & maximum sound.” You can say that again; it was really, really loud. But the screen was nice and wide and oh well, at least for a movie like this you don’t generally have people talking throughout. And if they had, the soundtrack would have drowned them out pretty well.

And I can’t say I missed the IMAX, honestly. “Dunkirk” was an immersive experience in every sense of the word; it’s hard to see people wearing boots and heavy wool uniforms trying to swim in an unforgiving sea. A colleague saw it Thursday and panned its storytelling trick of multiple, non-synchronized timelines, but it worked for me. I imagine service in a war zone is a series of minutes-become-hours, hours-pass-like-seconds episodes, part of what makes it so disorienting.

You can read entire shelves of books about the Dunkirk evacuation, and thousands of words about this telling of the story, so I won’t add to it other than to say I liked the film very much and it made me want to sail our boat across the lake and rescue some Canadians. Or maybe the other way around. And I’ll also stand with David Edelstein, who took a pasting in the comments about his review in New York magazine, for writing that he assumed one chapter/timeline, titled “the Mole,” was about the anonymous soldier at its center, who has a prominent mole on his jaw. I did too! And I subsequently learned that “mole” is another term for a jetty, pier or breakwater, a structure that is very important in this story. I’ve read pretty widely and spent lots of time on or near water and boats, and I’ve never heard this before. Ever.

Before the movie, we visited a local brewhouse/restaurant. On the menu:

Proud to be an American.

I guess the next movie we’ll see in a theater is “Detroit,” about an incident in the ’67 riots, being commemorated this very week. Here’s a tick-tock by my former colleague Bill, roused from retirement to help the Freep staff. Lots of links within to other stuff, and sorry about the goddamn autoplaying videos, but that’s Gannett these days. And here’s the News’ editorial-page editor with the suburban take.

Over my years here, I’ve heard many personal recollections of that week, mostly bad ones. Some were grimly amusing; a guy on a local message board lived in St. Clair Shores, and remembers one of his mother’s friends knocking on the door late one night in a panic. She’d heard that gangs of black men were going house-to-house in Grosse Pointe, raping white women, and could she take shelter with them? He thought it was extra funny that he saw her a year later at a party his parents threw, and her escort was a black man. I always wonder, when I hear stuff like that, if there are people who deliberately start hateful rumors in the wake of chaos, for whatever reason. They were rife after 9/11, none backed by any shred of evidence.

This personal story isn’t funny at all, but it was written by a friend whose father was a Detroit firefighter in 1967, and it’s sad and worth your time.

As for the events from Washington, the Fall of Spicey and the rise of the next guy, Scaramucci, I leave it to the comedians.

Happy week ahead, all.

Posted at 12:10 am in Current events, Detroit life, Movies | 89 Comments

Pardon me.

I just realized I promised you guys a MWF blog, and this week I neglected the F. And now it’s 10 minutes before I really should start working, so here goes with the speedblog.

Also, I’ve also realized that the way news moves at a breakneck pace these days, the links I haphazardly gather throughout my week are going to be stale by the time I post them. Last night, for instance, I was watching “Creed,” because I was exhausted, and all I wanted to do was eat pizza, drink a glass of wine and forget I live under the current regime for a couple hours. Adonis Creed was in the climactic fight when Alan groaned and announced the president may be planning to have a pardon party, with himself as the guest of honor. (Of course.)

I wanted to whimper. Can’t I watch a dumb boxing movie for two hours? I guess not.

So, then! The president’s pardon party! Discuss. Also, you’ve probably read by now about R. Kelly’s harem of zombie sex drones, but if you haven’t, do so. Jim DeRogatis, the Chicago pop-music writer, has done dogged, heroic work on this story. Please, let this be the one that makes a difference.

And a housekeeping note: MarkH, send me your email. I tried to forward something from basset and it bounced.

We’re going to see “Dunkirk” in IMAX this weekend if it’s the last bloody thing I do. Starting to go a little stir-crazy around here.

Posted at 8:59 am in Current events | 82 Comments

Wooden stakes and garlic.

With the health-care overhaul bill dead — and yes, let’s stipulate that it is merely horror-movie dead, which is to say it might not be dead at all and we won’t know until the credits roll, the house lights come up and no one announces a sequel — I think we can all agree that this was a strange moment in a half-year full of them:

That was the Rose Garden ceremony to celebrate the passage of the House health-care bill. If you remember your Schoolhouse Rock, you know that in this case “passage” means “it was sent to the Senate.” Doesn’t that photo just…speak volumes? I think my right-wing friends in Indiana are still counting on President Pence one day bringing glory to that put-upon state, but if I were compiling an ad for his opponent, I’d put together a montage of these pictures — him standing at his master’s elbow, clapping and smiling, to an appropriate piece of music. I can’t think of one now, and searching “songs about toadies” isn’t helping, Google-wise. Maybe you don’t need music; maybe you could run the montage over his opening salvo at the first cabinet meeting, the “greatest honor of my life” stuff.

But now it’s more or less over, at least this part of it. A party that dominates the legislative and executive branch couldn’t repeal a law they’ve been howling about for seven years. They’re nihilists now:

I mean, say what you want about the tenets of national socialism, at least it’s an ethos.

Hot here. Gonna be hotter tomorrow. Gonna be hot for about a week. Then: Less hot. Still summer, though. I’m enjoying it. It’s not quite the silly season, but it’s the silly shoulder season, so let’s consider some fashion-y things in the bloggage.

Like Calista Gingrich’s hair:

The men — Nathan Sales, George Glass, Carl Risch — arrived in their dark suits and their crisp white shirts. Callista Gingrich, nominated to be ambassador to the Vatican, was dressed in a bright blue jacket with a modest portrait neckline. They all looked spit-shined for the occasion. But visually, nothing could compete with Gingrich’s hair, which over the course of time has become a kind of platinum synecdoche for the woman herself. The hair — a perfectly styled chin-length bob with a side swoosh — is Gingrich. The hair arrived, and it was perfectly composed. It did not wilt under the spotlight; it did not collapse when lawmakers raised questions about climate change and refugees. The hair was controlled and proper and smooth. The hair did well at the hearing.

I guess, as a well-known adulteress, she has to dress against type. But man, that hair freaks my cheese.

Cathy Cambridge has upped her style game, T-Lo note. Love the first dress, like the second one, but she absolutely did the right thing by taking six inches or so off her hair. The only thing about the first dress I don’t like is the stiffness of the fabric, to the point that the bust darts are giving her actual nipples.

I may read nothing but T-Lo for the rest of the summer. I’m in that kind of mood. Read fashion, and watch the Russian drips continue to fall. That would work for me.

Happy Wednesday, all. Carry on.

Posted at 12:11 am in Current events | 79 Comments

Diurnal animals.

I don’t know what you were doing late on a Sunday afternoon, but after cooking two complicated, and error-filled, dinners on Friday and Saturday afternoon, I can tell you what I’m doing: Dreaming of a pizza made by someone else. And then watching “Game of Thrones.” Because Sunday funday.

Everyone is out enjoying some activity. Alan went sailing, Kate’s at Belle Isle with her buddies, and I’m listening for the dryer buzzer. Did a bit of a bike ride, but a persistent backache set in at mile six or so, and I turned around rather than gut it out. Once out of the evaporative breeze of movement, I commenced to once again re-secure my title as World’s Sweatiest Woman. But it’s nice and cool in the AC and under the ceiling fan; time to enjoy my solitude and get a little blogging done.

A quiet weekend, all told. I feel like we’re getting old — we’re not doing much this summer, but truth be told, I don’t mind. Happy to stay home and bake cherry pies and not get sweaty waiting in lines. And lines are simply the reality at some of these summer events we’re all beckoned to. You might as well bring a picnic basket. A couple weeks ago, I spent a lengthy lunch hour riding the new streetcar down to where the food trucks were parked, and ended up in a bar, unwilling to wait in line for 20-30 minutes to get a cardboard-bowl lunch. So sorry, missed the Concert of Colors last night, but we watched “Nocturnal Animals” on iTunes and it was very disturbing, but a pretty OK movie.

Can’t complain.

Can complain about this, though: No more celebrities running for office, for fuck’s sake. Their recent record is, how you say, uneven. Sorry, Caitlyn Jenner. Sorry, Kid Rock. (I won’t link, because I can’t even bear to Google.) Sorry, actual Rock. Now more than ever, we need competence. I don’t generally swoon over Frank Bruni the way some people do, but buried in his Sunday column was this brief passage:

Infrastructure that’s no longer competitive (or safe), a tax code crying out for revision, a work force without the right skills: When do we fix this? How far behind do we fall?

In-effing-deed. When? How? The world is at a very dangerous precipice. Career politicians, which is to say, people who know how the game is played and how to get results out of the system, may be our last hope.

Meanwhile, the picture of Jenner that accompanies that story is ghastly. Looks like she ordered the Madonna model cheek implant in XL.

Meanwhile, some comic relief: A little bit of the sunshine Ann Coulter spreads in the world came back to her over the weekend. We can all agree that when Ann has a bad day, the world gets a little bit nicer.

Finally, think you’re good at spotting fake news? Here’s a game that will let you show your skills. (Use the quick start option.) I found it pretty easy, considering you could view the source for individual stories.

For me, it’s back to “Game of Thrones” homework. See you mid-week.

Posted at 12:23 am in Current events, Movies, Same ol' same ol' | 92 Comments

Coppertone baby.

There are people in the world, most of them women I expect, who put on sunscreen every morning, rain or shine. In fact, I read about one once — a dermatologist, and she lives in Michigan, no less. But she lathers up, face and hands and neck and any other area that might see a ray of sun, every single day. Winter, summer, spring and fall.

Then there is me.

I got the sunscreen memo, but I live in Michigan. Sun is only a rumor for months at a time. I try to remember, once summer comes, to apply and reapply. But I always forget. I usually get at least one Rudolph nose in summer, and it’ll catch up with me. It already is. I have a brown perma-freckle on my nose and another one or two threatening. But I neglect my arms and legs, sometimes on purpose, because I grew up in the ’70s and in my opinion a little color makes them look better. The other day I caught sight of my shoulders in a mirror and thought, they look much better now than in January.

It is vanity, yes. A deadly sin. And still, the sun beckons me to frolic beneath it, to swim and sail and cycle and don’t stress about the Coppertone, here’s some nice Vitamin D for you.

I don’t care if I wrinkle. I’d rather be a wrinkled tan than one of those weird porcelain-faced old women. At least I’d look like I got outside once in a while.

I recall an early scene in “Gone With the Wind,” when Scarlett is getting dressed for the party at Twelve Oaks, which you might recall as Corset Scene I in the movie. Scarlett wants to wear an off-the-shoulder dress, and Mammy pitches a fit:

“No, you ain’. It ain’ fittin’ fer mawnin’. You kain show yo’ buzzum befo’ three o’clock an’ dat dress ain’ got no neck an’ no sleeves. An’ you’ll git freckled sho as you born, an’ Ah ain’ figgerin’ on you gittin’ freckled affer all de buttermilk Ah been puttin’ on you all dis winter, bleachin’ dem freckles you got at Savannah settin’ on de beach.”

(Man, can you believe that? All the black characters’ dialogue is rendered thusly. It is cringeworthy.)

Later, Mammy commands her to keep her shawl on, and her hat, lest she come home looking brown, like the white-trash women in the neighborhood. There’s your class hierarchy, right there, at least in Margaret Mitchell’s telling. Which you shouldn’t trust. Although I’ve long believed GWTW was a fine feminist novel.

OK, then, with that let’s transition into the bloggage. Because vanity is not just a feminine vice, let’s start with this fine profile from Bridge, about a lawyer who made his reputation defending Detroit police at the height of the city’s violence and their own arrogance. He’s pretty vain, too. But a great lawyer, which he states more than once. With the Kathryn Bigelow movie about 1967 opening in a few weeks, he’s waiting for his moment of being played by John Krasinski. Or at least a character based on him. If you want to understand why Black Lives Matter happened, read a little bit about how this guy worked, and what he had to defend.

Moving on, I think the best single comment I read about this guy was a tweet showing him in a photo array with Trump’s doctor and Steve Bannon: Why does everyone connected with Trump look like the scene-stealer in a Coen Brothers movie?

Is Mike Pence trolling us? Ahem:

During a speech at the National Student Leadership Conference, Pence said in order for a leader to be like the president, they must listen, be humble, have a character people respect, work to serve others and learn from other leaders.

Finally, not to leave you with a disturbing story, but hey, the world is what it is, I found this via an obituary of a talented Miami Herald writer. This piece is 20 years old, but I’d never heard any of it. The perp died a decade ago, the mother he tortured some years before. It’s a modern horror story for our time, and an answer to the question of “what did trolls do before the internet?” Some of them did stuff like this.

A summer weekend ahead — make sure you use sunscreen.

Posted at 12:03 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 107 Comments


Love work-at-home days. I eat better, can throw loads of laundry into the dryer and make coffee any old way I want. I get more done. And I can work in my bathrobe, as I did for the first 90 minutes of my day, until I got up and put on some random assemblage of dirty laundry and wore it until 6 p.m.

“Career clothes” has a different definition for the home worker. Although I always do better when I’ve at least had a shower. But this is summer; rules change.

Besides, who cares what you’re wearing when news is breaking? That being the latest wrinkle on…what are we calling this one? Fredogate? Or just Normal?

Meanwhile, stuff like this comes out as sort of a side dish. Click and read the whole thread:

Oh, what have we done to our beloved country? Is this the way out, or just another drop toward a seemingly bottomless bottom?

I need some uplift. Here’s an uplifting story:

It was Saturday evening, after all, peak summer season in Panama City Beach for overheated Florida tourists to cross paths with curious marine life. Then they noticed flashing lights by the boardwalk, a police truck on the sand and nearly a dozen bobbing heads about 100 yards beyond the beach, crying desperately for help.

Six members of a single family — four adults and two young boys — and four other swimmers had been swept away by powerful and deceptive rip currents churning below the water’s surface.

“These people are not drowning today,” Jessica Simmons thought, she told the Panama City News Herald. “It’s not happening. We’re going to get them out.”

You oceanside dwellers are going to have to explain rip currents to me. I understand what they are; they’re powerful currents that run offshore, more or less perpendicular to the beach, right? And to get out of them, you swim parallel to the beach until you’re out, or else you float on your back until it’s spent and spits you out. But the scenario described in this story doesn’t sound right, but I have only read about rips, never seen or been in one.

There were no lifeguards, and the main heroine of this story says the police were just sitting on the beach, waiting for a rescue boat. But it sounds like these people were struggling in one place. I can’t quite picture it. Someone needs to explain this. But it’s a good story just the same.

Finally, because Alan remarked at dinner today, out of the blue, “I am not a violent person. But I find Donald Trump Jr.’s face very punchable.”

What makes a face punchable?

I leave you with that. Carry on.

Posted at 12:10 am in Current events | 58 Comments

Blue collar.

God bless this nice lady, Heather Bryant for falling for, and marrying, a truck mechanic. As someone who did what lots of journalists do — marry a co-worker — I could have spared myself a lot of grief over the last 15 years if I’d done the same. As it is, our two-income household is a very fragile thing, and likely will remain so until we collapse, exhausted, into retirement like a couple of people outrunning zombies in a horror movie. A truck mechanic likely out-earns both of us, and maybe both of us together.

And of course, all journalists love a good essay, especially one that tells us how much we suck. I’d have probably given her a version of the look she describes, too:

While they didn’t explicitly say it, the person was very much thrown off by the nature of my husband’s work. I was left with a very strong feeling they were expecting a more middle-class answer than a garbage worker. Their facial reaction has been stuck in my head for a while now. Surprise. A little confusion. And just enough distaste to notice.

Face it, you just don’t meet many Stanford Fellow/truck mechanic couples these days. And lady, that’s a hell of a lot of subtext to read into one facial expression, but never mind that.

Because I agree with her: Journalism would be better if we hired more people who had the basic skills, or a trainable aptitude for the job, but no college degree. As she puts it:

That person was genuinely surprised that the spouse of a journalist had such a blue collar job. The reaction makes me wonder how badly our industry really lacks for people with more diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. Our journalism would be better if we were a better representation of the backgrounds and experiences our audiences have.

From time to time during my career, I’ve heard of various programs to do just that. All collapsed, or graduated trainees into jobs at such insultingly low salaries (because that was the motivation for starting it in the first place — to snag candidates without an expectation of ever making a college graduate’s living) that they failed to sustain themselves.

I remember one at my alma mater, and can’t remember if it was for non-grads or just those with no journalism classes or experience. It was specifically for racial minorities, because the lack of diversity in the newsroom was and remains a stubborn problem. I’m not sure how it turned out, because its big splash was ruined by one of its leaders calling it a six-week journalism boot camp, and someone else informed the world that “boot” was an obscure, but definite, racial slur. (Yeah, I’d never heard it either, and I thought I’d heard them all. I think the etymology is shoeshine boy > boot black > boot.)

Another I remember was started by a chain of weeklies whose bosses simply couldn’t get people to work for the poverty-level wages they were offering, and I thought I’d seen most of those, too (the lousy salaries, that is). Many of the younger staffers in Fort Wayne had second jobs, if not to make ends meet, then at least to have a little bit of extra spending money. Fort Wayne is a cheap city to live in, and a running joke — which was actually true — was that the bosses lured potential hires by mentioning that all the grocery stores doubled coupons, and sometimes tripled them.

I don’t think that training program worked, either. Probably the chain went under, or was sold to an even more chintzy owner. Even in rural Kansas, even in double-coupon Fort Wayne, being a journalist is a hard choice these days; the pay isn’t great, the hours are long and the president rains contempt on the whole craft with every tweet. You’d think being an enemy of the people would pay better.

Michael Moore hired a guy, Ben Hamper, off the line at some GM factory to be a columnist, first for the Flint weekly he ran, then for Mother Jones. I think I read a couple of his pieces, and they were pretty good — one took aim at Bruce Springsteen, Troubadour of the Working Class — but Moore didn’t last at MJ, and neither did Hamper. I just checked, and his home page is dead. Facebook says he lives in northern Michigan now, and works for a public radio station. Talk about frying pan to fire.

There are some lucky people who can make a decent living, and I count our co-prosperity sphere among them. But as I said before, it’s a creaky arrangement and has been for a while. I’ll be honest: If Kate told me she wanted to change her major to journalism, I’d cry, then tell her to reconsider.

So yeah, sure, let’s get some blue collars in the newsroom. I knew one at WANE-TV, in the early ’90s. He’d been a union electrician in Michigan, a very smart guy who decided one day he was tired of wiring buildings, put himself through Michigan State and graduated into a sub-100 media market, i.e. Fort Wayne.

I went to his going-away party. I asked what he planned to do next.

“Get re-certified as an electrician,” he said. “I found some of my tax returns a few months ago. I was making more money in 1973 than I am today.” This was 20 years later.

God bless him, too.

So, bloggage:

Someone on Twitter remarked that she’d been trying to figure out who in the Trump family was Fredo, then realized they’re all Fredo. Yes, I’d say so:

President Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton before agreeing to meet with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign, according to three advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting and two others with knowledge of it.

The meeting was also attended by his campaign chairman at the time, Paul J. Manafort, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Mr. Manafort and Mr. Kushner only recently disclosed the meeting, though not its content, in confidential government documents described to The New York Times.

The Times reported the existence of the meeting on Saturday. But in subsequent interviews, the advisers and others revealed the motivation behind it.

“Game of Thrones” fan, are you? The definitive essay on George R.R. Martin’s fondness for soup.

Happy week ahead, all.

Posted at 12:01 am in Current events, Media | 86 Comments

The slough.

Well, I’ll tell you one thing that Patty Hearst book — and the study of history in general — has been good for: It’s convinced me the current era isn’t the darkest in our recent history. In the ’70s, during the Hearst kidnapping era, Kathy Soliah worked with a small group that placed bombs around the Bay area, set to explode during evening hours, when no one would be around. Just, y’know, to make a statement.

I’ve been tipping toward despair with regard to our current situation. It’s temporary, I’m sure, but after reading this regarding the Joe-Mika-POTUS affair, which already seems like it happened two years ago, despair seemed the only option:

According to three sources familiar with the private conversations, what happened was this: After the inauguration, Morning Joe’s coverage of Trump turned sharply negative. “This presidency is fake and failed,” Brzezinski said on March 6, for example. Around this time, Scarborough and Brzezinski found out the Enquirer was preparing a story about their affair. While Scarborough and Brzezinski’s relationship had been gossiped about in media circles for some time, it was not yet public, and the tabloid was going to report that they had left their spouses to be together.

In mid-April, Scarborough texted with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner about the pending Enquirer story. Kushner told Scarborough that he would need to personally apologize to Trump in exchange for getting Enquirer owner David Pecker to stop the story. (A spokesperson for Kushner declined to comment.) Scarborough says he refused, and the Enquirer published the story in print on June 5, headlined “Morning Joe Sleazy Cheating Scandal!”

David Pecker was, perhaps not coincidentally, profiled last week in the New Yorker. Talk about depressing:

Throughout the 2016 Presidential race, the Enquirer embraced Trump with sycophantic fervor. The magazine made its first political endorsement ever, of Trump, last spring. Cover headlines promised, “DONALD TRUMP’S REVENGE ON HILLARY & HER PUPPETS” and “TOP SECRET PLAN INSIDE: HOW TRUMP WILL WIN DEBATE!” The publication trashed Trump’s rivals, running a dubious cover story on Ted Cruz that described him as a philanderer and another highly questionable piece that linked Cruz’s father to the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

It was even tougher on Hillary Clinton, regularly printing such headlines as “ ‘SOCIOPATH’ HILLARY CLINTON’S SECRET PSYCH FILES EXPOSED!” A 2015 piece began, “Failing health and a deadly thirst for power are driving Hillary Clinton to an early grave, The National Enquirer has learned in a bombshell investigation. The desperate and deteriorating 67-year-old won’t make it to the White House—because she’ll be dead in six months.” On election eve, the Enquirer offered a special nine-page investigation under the headline “HILLARY: CORRUPT! RACIST! CRIMINAL!” This blatantly skewed coverage continued after Trump took office. Post-election cover stories included “TRUMP TAKES CHARGE! SUCCESS IN JUST 36 DAYS!” and “PROOF OBAMA WIRETAPPED TRUMP! LIES, LEAKS & ILLEGAL BUGGING.”

Pecker and Trump have been friends for decades—their professional and personal lives have intersected in myriad ways—and Pecker acknowledges that his tabloids’ coverage of Trump has a personal dimension. All Presidents seek to influence the media, but Trump enjoys unusual advantages in this regard. He is also in close contact with Rupert Murdoch, whose empire includes Fox News and the Wall Street Journal. (While the Times and the Washington Post have produced repeated scoops about Trump and Russia, the Journal, which employs a large investigative staff, has largely been silent on the issue.)

So that’s why we don’t have Middle East peace or a fix for the opioid crisis: The 36-year-old dilettante in charge of both projects is trying to broker an apology to his father-in-law from two cable-TV personalities.

Despair, despair, despair.

Then there was Saturday. I went to Columbus for fewer than 24 hours, to attend a high-school reunion one-off, for our 60th birthdays. I had been chatting cordially with one guy off and on all night when the health-care bill came up. The situation escalated so quickly that I picked up an empty beer bottle between us, pressed the bottom to his chest and gave him a little push, to let him know I found his leaning in almost physically threatening. (I didn’t think a jab-cross-hook combination was called for just yet.) When he finally hissed, “Barack Obama! He’s the biggest racist in the world,” I stood up, announced I had to pee and was not going to listen to any more of this bullshit anyway, and left. I did pee, but I didn’t go back to the party. And I think it’s safe to say that’s the last reunion I’ll be attending, too.

Despair. Oh, woe.

Neil Steinberg appears to be in a similar frame of mind:

The first 4th of July under the Trump presidency. A buffoon king propped up by his court of cringing underlings, flattering toadies, traitors, psychopaths and henchmen. The first of four, or eight, depending on how things go. And we really have no idea how that will unfold. Are we in the lull before the true calamity starts? Is it spring 1914? August 1939? Where all the elements of disaster are in place, waiting for the spark to touch it off. Half the nation is already in lingering shock that we could have elected someone so unfit. Will the other half quickly learn the cost of their folly, when some irreparable harm is done? Will they never learn, and race off toward calamity with an enthusiastic whoop?

Has that harm already happened? Are we on the other side of the mirror now, bouncing down the proverbial slippery slope, watching mileposts of the unimaginable, boundaries of the unacceptable, flash past as we tumble into our new world? Will we look back on Trump with nostalgia as we squirm under the boot of a true tyrant?

But rallies in his final grafs:

With a conscienceless buffoon swinging a pick axe daily, if not hourly, at our institutions, nothing is certain. The battle is going on right now, today, this minute. Anyone who ever wished they could have been there at the nation’s birth, a cobbler in Lexington, a baker in Concord, so he could have heard the call, set down his hammer, his bowl, taken up his flintlock and rose to the defense of our aborning country, has to be a little grateful to be alive at this moment, this 4th, when the country needs every sound head and every stout heart it can muster. Every man and woman who believes in the United States of America at its best, not at its worst. This is the gravest sort of crisis—one self-imposed, by the cowardice of our leaders, the selfishness of our electorate, the loss of faith in ourselves and in each other. People have never needed an America more, and America has never needed her people more.

So, that’s my head on the Fourth. My body? This helped a lot:

Wendy the photobomber. It was a good day to be out. We had dinner later that night at an old-fashioned ’50s drive-in, so she could come along and help us eat the french fries. The place appears to be a hangout for hotrod people, all of whom appeared to be at least 60. One had a convertible Corvair, the car I learned to drive on, a model my mother believes was the victim of a great, great injustice thanks to Ralph Nader. All I know is, it went well in the snow.

So, change of subject? Change of subject. You might as well get your knees replaced, although I’m holding out. The pain’s not that bad. Yet.

Oh, and some data. Gotta love data. American carnage? No, Latin American carnage. U.S. cities are still pretty safe, as any city resident could tell you.

Finally, this is a few days old and you may have seen it, but no one writes better about internet trolling than Lindy West, and she did so over the weekend in the NYT.

Back in two days, then. Don’t despair.

Posted at 12:02 am in Current events | 30 Comments

Desperate daring devils.

Thirteen years ago we took our first and only trip to Niagara Falls. Never say never – I guess circumstance could bring me back one day – but once is enough for that place, and having seen Iceland’s great waterfalls, none of which have a casino overlooking them, I see no reason to go back to Niagara.

Of course we checked out the gift shop. I believe I bought a tacky spoon rest which has never been used, and a book. Not much of a book, more like a fat pamphlet, self-published and titled something like “Daredevils of the Falls.” It might have been the only item in the store that addressed the thing everyone knows about Niagara Falls: People have been trying to “conquer” them forever. The falls generally remain unconquered.

I read the book on the drive back to Toronto, and a theme quickly emerged: The people who take on Niagara, almost to a man or woman, are desperate. They’re out of money, out of options, and think that one spectacular stunt will lift them out of their rut once and for all. Even the town itself has a certain desperation to it (the casino, just so no tourist dollar remains un-angled-for). It’s as though they arrive at the falls thinking here’s where the road ends for you, but maybe it doesn’t, and if it doesn’t, won’t you have a story to tell. There was a little tourist boom in the 19th century, when people were amused and amazed at daredevils who would cross the river gorge on a tightrope. Then that got old, and the devils had to get more daring. They began to grapple with the falls themselves.

Humans have dreamed up and built all sorts of conveyances meant to carry them over the drop and let them live through it. We speak of “going over Niagara Falls in a barrel,” but that was only the beginning. Barrel after barrel has smashed on the rocks below, killing the occupants, as humans tried to improve the concept.

That’s not to say some people didn’t make it. A few did, and the Wikipedia entry is sort of a Cliff’s notes of “Daredevils of the Falls,” starting with Annie Edson Taylor in 1901, the first to do it and live.

The list of attempts reads like grim comedy:

1920 – On July 11, Charles Stephens from Bristol went over the falls in a barrel. Bobby Leach and William “Red” Hill, Sr. urged Stephens to test his barrel over the falls before attempting the stunt, but he refused. When the barrel was recovered at the foot of the falls, the ballast had pulled Stephen’s body out of the barrel, leaving just his right arm in the safety harness.

1930 – On July 4, George Stathakis, a Greek immigrant working as a chef in Buffalo, New York, went over the falls in a barrel. Upon impact, the barrel was stuck behind a curtain of water and could not be recovered for 18 hours. Stathakis had an air supply of up to eight hours – although he had survived the initial fall, he died of suffocation. Stathakis took the plunge with his pet turtle, which was said to be around 150 years old. The turtle survived the ordeal.

1990 – On June 5, Jessie Sharp went over the falls in a kayak. He intended to continue paddling downriver after the fall, and had made dinner reservations at a restaurant in Lewiston, 4 miles downstream. After beginning the plunge he quickly disappeared into the falls and although his kayak was later found, his body was never recovered. Sharp decided not to wear a life jacket in case it impeded an escape should he get trapped under the falls, and refused to wear a helmet in order to keep his face recognizable to cameras.

My all-time favorite, though, was Karel Soucek, a career stuntman. He crafted a special, high-tech barrel, and made it in one piece and with only a minor injury, caused by his own wristwatch hitting his face. He sought to capitalize on his fame with a tour re-enacting the feat. How do you do such a thing away from the falls? He rented the Houston Astrodome and installed a tank on the field, that’s how, and then had himself and his barrel winched 180 feet up to the ceiling, about the height of Niagara. Thirty-five thousand people bought tickets to watch this spectacle. The barrel started to spin as it fell, clipped the edge of the tank and killed its occupant.

Yes, he survived Niagara Falls, but not the Houston Astrodome. This was in 1985. I have to assume video of it exists somewhere, but it’s not immediately available on YouTube.

I was studying screenwriting at the time, and thought these stories would make a wonderful movie. A Robert Altman movie, to be precise.

I also recalled that a few months before our trip, right after we moved to Ann Arbor, a Metro Detroit man named Kirk Jones had gone over the falls and lived. He claimed it was a suicide attempt, although some dispute this, but it wasn’t his turn to die, and he lived through it without maiming or serious injury, only the second person to do so without any protective gear or conveyance. (The other was a boy who’d fallen from a fishing boat in 1960.) Within a few months he had joined a traveling circus. Adrianne? Fort Wayne peeps from the ’80s? He joined the Toby Tyler Circus, which is a whole other story. He didn’t have to drop from the top of the tent or anything, but was featured in a segment where he basically just told his story and, if I’m remembering correctly, gave the glory to God.

(I’ll tell the Toby Tyler Circus story some other day. Promise.)

So this long story brings us up to Thursday, and guess what I read yesterday morning: Kirk Jones is dead, killed by Niagara Falls. And because this is Niagara Falls, the story is extra-weird:

A man who died going down Niagara Falls in a plastic ball may have taken a seven-foot snake down with him.

The body of Kirk Jones was discovered below the falls on June 2, and authorities now believe he may have put a boa constrictor inside an inflatable ball with him.

Following Jones’ death, police discovered a website called “Kirk Jones Niagara Falls Daredevil” in which he shared his plans for going down the falls with the seven-foot snake named Misty, the Associated Press reported.

Who knows, maybe Misty killed him. I’d be one pissed-off snake if I knew some unstable asshole had sealed me into a plastic ball and intended to take us both over a 200-foot waterfall. I might give him a good squeeze and hope he cushioned the blow for both of us.

If I’d met an actual Icelandic person at Gullfoss or Go∂afoss or one of their spectacular falls, I might have asked if that country had a tradition of idiots and famewhores trying to conquer their natural beauty. Somehow, I doubt it. This seems a peculiarly American pursuit.

So, a little bloggage beyond Kirk? Rex Tillerson threw a fit at the White House recently, but it doesn’t matter because the State Department is pretty much screwed, anyway.

And finally, a note about Trump’s tweets about Mika Brzezinski: I think these are flat-out lies. Not that a TV newswoman would never have a facelift, but when women in her position do have that sort of thing done, they don’t go out to dinner, even at a private club, when they’re still “bleeding badly,” or whatever. There are high-end spas and recovery centers for just this purpose, where you lie around in a robe and maybe get your toenails painted and eat dinner in your suite. Have you ever seen a woman’s face immediately after a lift? They look like they’ve been in a car accident — black eyes, puffy everything, the works. No woman would risk having her photo taken by a Mar-a-lago guest, or a paparazzo. I speculated on Facebook that maybe she got caught by Joe’s backswing on the golf course, and the president just made an assumption.

OK, then. Long weekend ahead for many of us. Enjoy.

Posted at 12:01 am in Current events | 124 Comments

Down days.

First, just a bit of housekeeping: For the remainder of the summer, I’m taking the blog down to a M/W/F schedule. I realize it’s been erratic for a while, pretty much a four-times-a-week thing unless it’s three times a week, so why not just do it? Three times a week it is, through Labor Day. Perhaps beyond, if the quality picks up, which I hope it does.

I dunno what’s behind this, except that I’m tired, and feel like there’s a new direction to take this thing, but I’m not sure what it is, yet. It’s not shutting down, it’s just slowing down. After all, I never promised to blog Every Goddamn Day, only most goddamn days.

Not shutting down, nosirree. Rest easy. We’ll just have some longer comment threads.

So. Today the indispensable David Fahrenthold dropped this lovely item into the mix: At at least four different Trump golf clubs, there’s a framed Time magazine cover on the wall. With Trump out front, of course. And it’s fake. Of course.

There was no March 1, 2009, issue of Time magazine. And there was no issue at all in 2009 that had Trump on the cover.

In fact, the cover on display at Trump’s clubs, observed recently by a reporter visiting one of the properties, contains several small but telling mistakes. Its red border is skinnier than that of a genuine Time cover, and, unlike the real thing, there is no thin white border next to the red. The Trump cover’s secondary headlines are stacked on the right side — on a real Time cover, they would go across the top.

And it has two exclamation points. Time headlines don’t yell.

“I can confirm that this is not a real TIME cover,” Kerri Chyka, a spokeswoman for Time Inc., wrote in an email to The Washington Post.

I don’t know what to think anymore. The country is caught in some sort of horrible vortex. Why aren’t we running down the middle of the street, screaming?

If I’d been to Seth Mnuchin’s wedding, I’d sure be doing that.

Wellness: Such a goddamn scam. Thanks, Gwyneth:

When Gwyneth Paltrow first launched Goop in 2008, it was a great place to find out where to eat the best tapas in Barcelona. It was straight-up celebrity-lifestyle voyeurism, and Paltrow, with her long blonde hair and aura of complete self-satisfaction, was irresistible. There’s the expression “living your best life,” and then there is Paltrow: best life manifest.

But then Goop’s focus started to shift. Paltrow began to describe in detail her exercise regimen with her trainer Tracy Anderson, who believes one should work out two hours a day, six days a week. Then she began providing information on a cleanse she does each January. The mission became less about revealing the trappings of the good life and more about the notion that the really good life is internal. Rich and beautiful people don’t just go to nicer places, their organs work better. They even know how to breathe better, with more oxygen per ounce. They’re not afraid to try fecal transplants, with really top-notch, vegan-only feces. Goop became less about hotels and restaurants and more about chakras and thyroids, with the implication that maybe what’s actually standing between you and your inner Gwyneth is some mysterious virus that your overextended, pharmaceutically corrupt doctor is too narrow-minded to address.

If you spend even a minute of your day thinking, “Should I get a fecal transplant?” and you’re not in the hospital with C.diff, you need more things to worry about. Maybe the wrong fecal transplant will give them to you.

See you Friday.

Posted at 9:23 pm in Current events, Housekeeping | 91 Comments