Hello, weekend. I’ve missed you.

Man, do these weeks slip away from me. Election season is heating up, I have two jobs, and the next thing I know, it’s Friday. But that’s better than being bored, no doubt.

Let’s contemplate injustice, shall we?

You’ve probably been keeping up with the story about the man in Dallas, shot to death by a female cop, who mistakenly entered his apartment, thinking it was her own, and thought he was an intruder. It’s an outrageous act, certainly. But that isn’t stopping the police from revealing that a search of the victim’s apartment turned up — get ready to be shocked — marijuana:

The search warrant executed in Jean’s apartment at South Side Flats specifically sought fired cartridge casings, fired projectiles, firearms, ballistic vests, keys, evidence of blood, video surveillance systems, and contraband such as narcotics and other items used in criminal offenses.

The inventory return yielded:
2 fired cartridge casings
1 laptop computer
1 black backpack with police equipment and paperwork
1 insulated lunch box
1 black ballistic vest with “police” markings
10.4 grams of marijuana in ziplock bags
1 metal marijuana grinder
2 RFID keys
2 used packages of medical aid

Ten grams!? Why, we have a kingpin here, no doubt.

Marijuana will most likely be legal in Michigan in a few more months, and in the entire country within a decade. But as long as you can imply that the man shot to death in his own apartment by a copy who entered illegally, you can make him the villain. With someone.

Anybody near the Carolinas right now? How’s it going down there? By the time most of you read this, the story will be very different from right now. A nine-foot storm surge is possible in parts of the Norfolk river basin. Watch this video to the end, and marvel:

And while we’re watching videos, check out this one.

And with that, I’m checking out of this heartbreak hotel. Happy weekend.

Posted at 9:52 pm in Current events | 34 Comments


It’s funny, how stuff you know can hit you like something you don’t know. I think I already deleted the email, but a newsletter I get — pretty sure it was the What a Day end-of-day roundup, from Crooked Media — made a simple statement that stuck with me. Basically, it observed that if the president could restrain himself in the simplest ways, if he could simply go through the presidential motions of not being a jerk, of not tweeting stupid shit, of not behaving like the Fonz at what should be a solemn occasion, of standing up, and showing up, and being what we think of as presidential — essentially, if he could practice the self-control and social skills we expect of seventh graders? He’d be coasting to a not-embarrassing midterm election and most likely a second term.

The economy is good, jobs are plentiful, we’re at what we now consider to be more or less peace. All the conditions that once were considered good enough for re-election for the chief executive.

But he just can’t do it.

That’s sort of astounding, when you think about it. Every week, every 48 hours, something happens that goads him into being his worst self. He has the self-control of a toddler, the sense of propriety of an outlaw biker. And this is who is more or less guiding our nation.

I’m flabbergasted anew. Really.

Or it might be that I, we, just bought our li’l girl her first car today, and I’m in shock from dropping a tidy sum on a vehicle I’ll never drive. Ah, well: She earned herself a full scholarship. She has dutifully ridden the bus for three years now. She has legit needs to get back and forth to Detroit and elsewhere, and she’s earned it. So a used Subaru Forester, big enough to hold the upright bass, small enough to not drink all the gas in the world, will be hers in a couple of days. All-wheel drive will help in Michigan winters. It’s a milestone, and she deserves it.

Couple things:

Like most of you, I’ve been thinking about September 11, 2001 today. I am not thinking of flags waving slowly in the breeze, or eagles with tears dripping down their feathered cheeks, or What I Was Doing When I Heard the Terrible News, because ultimately, who cares? I was getting ready for work. We had the Today show on, as we often did. The first plane was surely an accident. I drove to work. There was another plane. Kate was at her sitter’s. The morning was a blur. A couple of moments stand out:

That was the day we had digital cable installed, an upgrade from the regular stuff. I was of course riveted to CNN that day, and the cable guy needed to disconnect everything for a few minutes to make the switch.

“I can barely stand it if you turn it off,” I said. I believe Ashleigh Banfield was near hysterics, asking some NYC official if the reports she was hearing about bombs in the sewers were true. He stared at me, blankly. I nodded to the screen.

“Yeah,” he said. “Crazy.”

A few days later, in Target: A woman earnestly explaining to two cashiers that the date of the attack was chosen for its numeric significance. 911, you see, like the American emergency number. The cashiers were totally into this idea.

It didn’t occur to me then, but it does now, that the cable guy, the woman and the two cashiers = four votes, whereas Nance = one vote. And the next thing you knew? We were in Iraq.

Couple more things:

I’m not Nancy Pelosi’s biggest fan, but this excerpt, from this story in Time magazine, is dead on:

Also, Alex: If your dad keeps having trouble getting his driver’s license because he can’t find his fucking naturalization papers, SPREAD THE WORD. I have some people you can call. That shit is outrageous.

Time for “Better Call Saul.” Happy Wednesdaying, everyone.

Posted at 8:48 pm in Current events | 35 Comments

Gray Sunday.

Guys, how do you do it? Deal with the news, that is? Because I gotta tell you, I’m approaching an intervention-type crisis. I now have two novels open, and am making my way through them at…well, snails generally move faster. Why? Because I have to read this Jill Abramson review of the Woodward book, and even though it tells me nothing that I don’t already know, besides the fact that there’s one more person out there who feels like the walls are closing in and we are in real goddamn danger, I still have to read it and let it wash over me and make me angry, yet again.

Just these two grafs make my eyes cross:

As a profile of Trump, the book is devastating. Even the most jaded readers will be struck by numerous examples of his childishness and cruelty. He denounces his generals in such harsh language that his secretary of state cringes. He derides the suit McMaster dons for an interview as something a beer salesman would wear. He greets his national security adviser, whose briefings he finds tedious, by saying, “You again?” He imitates Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s Southern accent and calls him “mentally retarded.” He tells his 79-year-old commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, that he has “lost it” and not to do any more negotiating.

Cohn, who comes as close as anyone in the book to being a principled character, is alarmed that Trump doesn’t understand the rudiments of the economy. The president thinks it’s inspired to call his tax cut measure, the only substantial legislation passed in his first year in office, the “Cut, Cut, Cut Bill.” In childish scrawl on his edit of a speech, and reprinted in his hand in the book, the president writes, “Trade is bad.” As Woodward explains it, “The president clung to an outdated view of America — locomotives, factories with huge smokestacks, workers busy on assembly lines.” When Cohn presses Trump on why he clings to such beliefs, the president simply responds: “I just do. I’ve had those views for 30 years.”

And I generally never read books like this, because to me, books are a retreat, a refuge. Periodicals are for information. (Obviously, I make exceptions.) I especially don’t read Bob Woodward books, because a) the important parts are all excerpted; and b) he’s a terrible writer. (Look up his description of the cheeseburger-cheeseburger SNL sketch in “Wired” if you doubt me.)

I need better coping strategies. Rules I can make and then actually follow.

So hello, all. It’s Sunday afternoon as I write this. Sixty-one degrees, going down to the 50s overnight. By the end of the week, it should be back in the 80s. Can’t lie; it was nice to have a few days of break from the heat, to be able to actually wear a long sleeve and shoes that aren’t composed of straps and a sole, but it feels weird, too. I think my feet expand over summer; they never go back into a proper shoe without a little complaining. Summer isn’t over-over, but it’s over.

I was going to post a bunch of links that made me insane this morning, but maybe some self-care is in order. OK, one. This:

Voters across the country are now realizing that they, too, have crossed into the twilight zone: citizens of America without full citizenship rights. The right to vote is central to American democracy. “It’s preservative of all rights,” as the Supreme Court said in its 1886 ruling in Yick Wo v. Hopkins. But chipping away at access to that right has been a central electoral strategy for Republicans.

Anthony Settles, a Texas retiree, had been repeatedly blocked from the ballot box because his mother changed his last name when he was a teenager, and that 50-year-old paperwork was lost in what he described as a “bureaucratic nightmare.” After spending months looking for the wayward document, and then trying to get certified by the name he has used for more than half a century, he knew, beyond all doubt, that he had been targeted.

People, register and VOTE. While you still can.

Posted at 7:24 pm in Current events | 60 Comments

Memo from belowdecks.

Deep in the hold of the ship, this rustbucket, this groaning mass of timbers and sheet steel that no one expected to float, much less clear the harbor on its perilous journey, the rats are growing restless.

From one angle, the voyage looks like a success. They’re making progress, but near-constant storms have most of the crew pale from nausea, and the captain’s equally constant stream of bile and abuse has dispirited all of them, although the first mate, a young man with an old man’s hairline and the dead eyes of a shark, seems just fine. The eyes of the other officers sink deeper into their skulls and even routine encounters in the passageways between their cabins tend to degenerate into shouting matches with the thin edge of hysteria.

The charts and navigation aids tell the story: The ship is moving. Enthusiastic communiques are arriving from shore, urging them on. The captain likes this.

But belowdecks, among the vermin that live on all ships, subsisting on nibbles stolen from the galley, from the hold, from the seemingly inedible leavings of any human gathering, things don’t seem…quite right. Even allowing for all the rest of the craziness. This last storm is still raging; it’s only started in fact, and unlike many of the others, this looks like no squall. It could be a hurricane, followed by another hurricane, and they’re not halfway through the journey.

One rat sits mournfully in the corner, whiskers a-twitch, when he feels it, under his paws. Not the ever-present moisture of any ship, from condensation or the rain. No, this trickle tickling the soft pads of his feet has the tang of salt. This is it — the first leak that will be followed by a breach, a rushing in of seawater, listing and the inevitable sinking.

No rats will be welcome in the lifeboats, and will there even be any, by the time this storm is over? The tradition for this animal is for it to jump into the water and take its chances, which are good; few species on earth are as hardy and adaptable as rattus rattus. One might think drowning is inevitable after such a move, but all it takes is a bit of floating debris to climb on, a favorable breeze, and this rat could be washed ashore in a new place while the humans in the lifeboats are still fighting over a tinned biscuit.

But this rat has resources, skills and connections unknown to previous generations. He knows someone at the New York Times. And so, after yet another day of screaming, of doors slamming into bulkheads, of despairing officers pacing at the stern rail with suicide in their eyes, he boots his personal laptop and begins his cri de coeur:

President Trump is facing a test to his presidency unlike any faced by a modern American leader.

It’s not just that the special counsel looms large. Or that the country is bitterly divided over Mr. Trump’s leadership. Or even that his party might well lose the House to an opposition hellbent on his downfall.

The dilemma — which he does not fully grasp — is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.

I would know. I am one of them.

The rat smiles at the work so far. He knows he’s going to be just fine.

Posted at 5:57 pm in Current events | 81 Comments

The inevitable slideshow.

You guys! I’m back! The bar is OPEN. Let’s clean up all these old coasters, wipe down the bar top and start a new thread. As always, I appreciate all you keeping the lights on in my absence. My vague idea to post a little from Canada fell apart; when we had wifi, I was consumed with following Twitter and the Trump/McCain situation. My eye sockets got a good aerobic workout from all the rolling, of course.

But, as is the custom these days, the Trump/McCain thing now seems like ancient history, because a few days have passed.

Instead, in the great tradition of American vacationing, let me bore you with some photos.

It was quite hot when we were there. So much for traveling north to escape the heat. I know it’s summer, but still — I’ve reached the point where I am no longer amused by having a sweaty head all the time. Day one we went to the Ex, i.e, the Canadian National Exhibition, which promised to be a version of the Ohio State Fair, but, sadly, didn’t deliver. However, there was a union dispute around it, and we got to see our old friend, the big rat:

Who makes the big rat? Does it sell exclusively to unions? I’ve seen it in Lansing, in New York and other venues, always in the context of a labor dispute. Anyway, the Ex was the bad parts of an American state fair and none of the good; “the barn” contained not row after row of prize livestock, but one or two examples of same, with copious signage explaining them to city folk. Disappointing. I wanted to see kids in dairy whites or cattlemen’s cowboy hats, snoozing between classes. Oh well — next time I’ll go to the one in Columbus.

The following day was a heat-warning day, so it seemed a good time to check out the Toronto islands, just offshore from downtown, a large city park. You get there via ferry:

And, once there, relax and enjoy. You can rent bikes…

…and ride them to the end of the complex, where you can behold the skyline:

Very impressive. Although I was taken by this freighter docked across the way, likely a salty (i.e., one that leaves the Great Lakes). Note the lifeboat, stored at that terrifying 45-degree angle. It’s safety orange:

Not exactly the open rowboats of “Titanic,” but then, you wouldn’t want those in the pitching waters of a Great Lakes storm, would you. I wonder how they’re launched, if they wait until the nose sinks enough that it goes down at a gentler angle, or if everyone just climbs in, straps in and boom. That splashdown would be a whiplash-inducer for sure.

Oh, almost forgot the one impressive thing about the Ex — this display of “paper lanterns,” although I suspect the paper may have been rather heavily coated in a way to make it more like fabric. Anyway, in a dark room this was quite beautiful:

And here you thought carrying the weight of the world was your job.

After that first day, we did a lot more — shopping, eating, going to shows, including the summer revue of Second City and a Shakespeare in the park production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” I bought some sandals and Alan bought a Patagonia vest, both on end-of-summer markdowns. It was a good week, even as hot as it was. Oh, wait, one more: What dry-aging beef looks like in process, from the St. Lawrence Market, an indoor food Mecca:

On Friday, after our return, I went ottering — my friend Bill’s word for swimming in fins and a lifejacket — in the St. Clair River, while listening to selections from Aretha’s funeral on the drive there and back. What an event that was. Bill told me about how some firefighters he knows were sitting around the station one day when a fancy car pulls up and Aretha got out with her driver/security guy. You know her famous purse? Some of them have locks on them, and one had malfunctioned. It didn’t need a fire ax to open, but she dated a Detroit firefighter for a while, and knew they had the tools necessary to fix it. They did so, and she posed for selfies all around before riding off into the distance.

Speaking of selfies: The photos I just posted are most of what I shot in the course of a week. I couldn’t help but notice, in the depths of this dense-packed city, how so many people spend so much time just taking photos of themselves. Two cute girls on the doorstep of a yoga studio — selfie. People on the ferry — selfie. In that paper-lantern exhibit? “Selfie spots” where a single light is trained on you, to capture your face and the illuminated sculpture behind you in the proper exposure. If you stand there, an employee rushes up and offers to do it for you. Man, I am growing tired of all this.

(That said, I took one of Alan and I sailing yesterday. Because I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Anyway, I have some more thoughts about the Aretha funeral, and I think I’ll trickle them out over time, as they haven’t quite gelled yet. In the meantime, enjoy the holiday if you’re reading it Monday, and the rest of this short work week. September is upon us.

Posted at 11:29 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 45 Comments

So long, suckers.

Another week where the news has pretty much defeated any effort to keep up with it, make sense of it, put it in context. I woke up about an hour ago and reached for my iPad to scroll Twitter and see what happened overnight. I learned:

There is potentially another Trump in the world, Qanon lunatics got into the Oval Office for photo ops this week and Infowars is telling the world that John Kerry is connected to an Antarctica energy beam that split a hurricane apart.

We booked the ticket a while back, but it appears the train has arrived in Crazytown. Please check around your immediate area for any small items you may have brought on board before you exit.

So I’m going on vacation. We’re spending a few days in Toronto. It’ll be nice to visit a sane country for a while. I intend to see Lake Ontario, eat some good food, maybe check out the racks at the big Uniqlo store, perhaps buy some skin-care serums at The Ordinary shops there. Beyond that, no plans. I will post some photos, depending on the quality of the wifi at our rental.

Haven’t had a vacation in a year. This will be nice. If they shut down the country in our absence, we will come as far as Windsor and wave at y’all. Or maybe we’ll stay in TO. Such a nice city — it’s “New York as run by the Swiss.” You ever hear that one?

I actually think about that sometimes. How I might behave in a national emergency, that is. The Handmaid’s Tale got me considering borders and the crossing thereof in a martial law-type situation. I can’t run anymore, so I’m glad we have a boat. I’m glad we have a kayak. I’m glad I can swim. I know the narrowest point in the Detroit River. Of course it’s all the sort of paranoid fantasy one considers on a long bike ride, or while turning laps in the pool, but you know, World War II wasn’t that long ago. Europeans had to decide which side they were playing for, and how they might resist if they opted to go that way. One thing I know is, if anything like that were to happen here, it would be a lot stupider, because we’d have Twitter and Fox News.

Before I leave, a few items:

The Michigan State alumni magazine, Spartan, tried to address the Larry Nassar situation in its summer issue. It was overruled from the president’s office. The student newspaper — God bless student newspapers everywhere — got a copy of one of the scratched covers. It’s remarkable. So is this passage:

The original teal-laden version of the summer 2018 MSU alumni magazine, aiming to “build a path to a better future,” was stripped down and changed to Spartan green.

The State News obtained the original special issue of the MSU alumni magazine from someone close to the administration of Interim President John Engler. This version, solely focused on ex-MSU doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse and issues surrounding it, was not distributed to alumni.

Engler scrapped the three potential covers, according the Detroit Free Press, of a woman donning teal lipstick, a single teal ribbon and a wall of 60 teal ribbons all bearing the title “Finding Our Way” from a special issue of the MSU alumni magazine.

A Spartan green background, with a quote from Engler praising the university for having emerged from its “most difficult challenge in its history,” replaced these covers.

Propaganda is everywhere. Always.

A ProPublica essay to consider: Why Manafort and Cohen Thought They’d Get Away With It. Here’s some yup-yup-yup right here:

But how anomalous are Mssrs. Manafort and Cohen? Are there legions of K Street big shots working for foreign despots and parking their riches in Cypriot bank accounts to avoid the IRS? Are many political campaigns walking felonies waiting to be exposed? What about the world of luxury residential building in which Cohen plied his trade with the Trump Organization?

The answer is more disturbing than the questions: We don’t know. We don’t know because the cops aren’t on the beat. Resources have been stripped from white-collar enforcement. The FBI shifted agents to work on international terror in the wake of 9/11. White-collar cases made up about one-tenth of the Justice Department’s cases in recent years, compared with one-fifth in the early 1990s. The IRS’ criminal enforcement capabilities have been decimated by years of budget cuts and attrition. The Federal Election Commission is a toothless organization that is widely flouted.

No wonder Cohen and Manafort were so brazen. They must have felt they had impunity.

Finally, I imagine John McCain will no longer be with us by the time I post again. So farewell to a man who aspired to greatness, achieved it fleetingly, was as flawed as any of us and unleashed Sarah Palin upon us. Requiesicat in pace.

When I see you again, I’ll be using plastic money. (Not a card. Canadian cash is plastic. For reals. Another innovation that, in this country, would first be blocked by the vending-machine industry and then by paranoid lunatics.)

Posted at 7:53 am in Current events, Housekeeping | 124 Comments

Guilty, guilty, TBD.

Man, what a kuh-RAYzee news day. And it all seemed to break at once. I see the spirited discussion is already going on down in the comments. As for me, I’m sitting here listening to the first of the crickets begin chirping in the softening light of early evening. It’s either that or the sound of the red hats saying nothing.

I no longer have cable, so I can’t watch the West Virginia rally. Even if I had cable, I wouldn’t watch it, so no big loss. I’ll “watch” it via Twitter, the 24/7/365 cocktail party of snark. Either that, or “Better Call Saul” on iTunes.

It’s nutty, how fast the wheels are coming off. I wonder, if President Trump thinks of anything as he stares at the ceiling in the middle of the night, if he ever thinks how much easier everything would be if he’d just lost that stupid election. (I bet Ivanka does.)

So, give that the news is the news, let’s just talk about the news. And for the hell of it, a little more.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is silly. Very silly.

Sally Jenkins with a head of angry steam over heat-related deaths in football practice. In the WashPost.

This news is like a rat I must, like a snake, unhinge my jaw to swallow. Happy midweek to all.

Posted at 7:54 pm in Current events | 66 Comments

Tickling the ivories, baying at the moon.

Sundays recently have been Nance Day — laundry is done, groceries are gotten, chores are (mostly) out of the way, and I have time to read and write, so what am I doing? Googling “dogs playing piano and singing.”

Try it yourself. There is a rich archive of video evidence that this is no one-off dog trick.

I first became aware of this oddity of canine behavior when I visited my friend Deb in Michigan City, and we visited a local restaurant called Maxine & Heinie’s, and no, I’m not sure about that spelling. It was the after-deadline hang of Deb’s newsroom, and Heinie, the co-owner, had a dog named Timmy. I think Timmy was a Boston terrier, but not sure about that, either. Anyway, Heinie had a piano, and Timmy would jump up on the bench, hit the keys with his paws, and howl along. It was very funny, but difficult to live with, so they mostly kept the keys covered, because once he started — and he started every chance he could — he couldn’t be stopped.

There was a grainy video that Heinie would play on the bar TV when requested, of Timmy doing his thing. It was funny. Funnier was the story about how Heinie, who walked home after closing up late at night, was doing so one night with an armed escort; he’d recently been mugged, and the police offered to protect him, probably in return for the usual police discount.

Anyway, someone had left the piano keys uncovered, and as they approached the front door, the cop stopped and drew his weapon. “Someone’s inside,” he said. “Wait here.”

“It’s just Timmy,” said Heiny. “My dog.”

The cop still made him wait while he unlocked the door and entered, gun at the ready. As he hit the lights, sure enough: Timmy. God knows how long he’d been playing.

So, as I said before, this seems to be a common thing. Does anyone have any working theories on why they take so easily to this trick? Obviously it’s something they have to be taught, but as in the case of Timmy, it’s one that many will continue without the reinforcement of praise or a treat.

I guess the short answer is: Dogs are smart in ways we don’t even understand. And mysterious. Which is why we love them so.

OK, then. Second on the Nance Day topic list: Aretha. There is a rather extraordinary interval between her death and her funeral — 15 days. There will be two days of “lying in state,” which I put quotes around because I’m a strict constructionist on that phrase; I think it should be reserved for those individuals whose bodies are displayed in public buildings, like a capital building. Aretha will lie in the Charles Wright Museum of African-American History, which I think would make the ritual, technically, lying in repose, but don’t listen to me. (No one does, necessitating Nance Days from time to time.) This means the media coverage will roll on and on and on, a sort of Princess Diana II. Rosa Parks was the most recent mega-funeral we had here, with a similar build-up to what ended up being a nine-hour service.

We take funerary traditions rather seriously here, is what I’m saying. Especially for a figure so steeped in black history, and church history, and black church history.

However, there are rewards. I’ve been dipping in and out of radio tributes all weekend. How marvelous to hear the whole breadth of her career in a couple hours or so. There’s some other stuff I will say in time, but that time has not yet arrived. It isn’t sinister, so no implication of same. Rather, it’s about artists and artistry and that conundrum they inevitably pose to us — separation.

I see some of you were discussing so-called “access journalism” here a few days ago. I have some thoughts on that. All beat reporting is access journalism, to some extent. If you are covering a beat over time, you must have access to the people you need, and not all of them may be willing or even interested in extending some. So you start approaching the line, with so-called beat sweeteners, i.e., puff or positive pieces on various individuals, so they’ll think kindly of you. And for some, it goes on.

It’s a thorny topic; in my experience, police and political reporters are most often accused of practicing access journalism. Cop reporters, again in my experience which is not necessarily backed up by empirical study, tend to grow pro-cop over time. They spend their time with cops, they see the way the job is done, they empathize. And cops can be real pricks about opening or closing doors depending on how they feel about your work on any given day. On the other hand, without a good cop reporter, you don’t have much of a news organization. Maggie Haberman at the NYT is often singled out as an access journalist on the political side, and I see the argument, really I do. Personally, I think it’s balanced by the good pieces she’s done since January 20, 2017. This latest story, about FLOTUS, got some people on Twitter up in arms, but overall, I think it’s fair. Melania is never going to talk to the NYT for a profile, so there were a lot of anonymous sources, critics and otherwise, having their say about her. To some, any profile that doesn’t refer to her as an evil-enabling former sex worker is going to be seen as LIES LIES LIES, but that’s not the way the job is done.

The one other thing I have to say about that story is this: The photo editing in it is brilliant.

Nance Day needs to have a little fun for its namesake or it’s not Nance Day, so I’ll sign off for now and relax before the usually brutal Monday/Tuesday whirl begins. I hope your week ahead is great.

Posted at 1:41 pm in Current events, Media | 47 Comments

Not dead yet.

The word of the day is…I guess it’s a compound word, but whatever: “Pre-mourning.”

Allow me to explain.

The news that Aretha Franklin is, quote gravely ill unquote came in late Sunday night. In journo-speak, that means the person involved has hours to live. I generally work Mondays at my non-journalism workplace, but I got there particularly early Monday, so I peeled off my first hour to dash off…I guess you’d call it an appreciation of the queen of soul.

“I will get you something before noon,” I told my editor. It was done by 9:30 a.m. Whew!

But Aretha lingered. Word of her health condition spread. Of course, thanks to social media, everybody has something to say now, and they all started saying it. Traditional news outlets swung into action, some with comical results — two local TV stations did live standups in front of the Motown museum, because TV staffs skew young and apparently no one in their newsrooms knew Aretha had never been a Motown artist, ever. (Columbia, then Atlantic.) The pop music writers started doing their career retrospectives. There was a headline in the Freep yesterday: What we know about Aretha Franklin’s health. Pieces about who was stopping by to visit in these presumably final days.

My poor little appreciation, which seemed crisp 48 hours ago, now stinks like an old fish. This has all been said, I’m thinking, looking at it. It’s not fresh at all. I’ve seen that Kennedy Center thing 14 times on my Facebook in the last hour.

And then I saw this:

The digital age allows us to witness “pre-mourning” on a worldwide scale. And that’s what we’re witnessing right now around the news that Aretha Franklin’s health is failing. People are celebrating her life and bracing for her possible death — and much of this is playing out in public.

OK, first off: Death is not “possible.” It’s inevitable. For everyone, even Aretha Franklin. But I find this kinda…gross. There’s a tribute concert in the works, for god’s sake. It’s not quite like, but close to, the heirs fighting over an estate before the corpse is cool. Let’s give the lady some peace in her final days.

Does your city have Bird scooters yet? Detroit got them a few weeks ago. I won’t say I …hate them, exactly, but man, they can be annoying, and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before some eager-beaver bro runs over an old person, or a young person, or some other person, and then we’ll have a situation like they have in Los Angeles, which you have to agree is pretty funny:

As cities like Santa Monica and Beverly Hills struggle to control a rapid proliferation of electric pay-per-minute scooters, some residents are taking matters into their own hands and waging a guerrilla war against the devices. These vandals are destroying or desecrating the vehicles in disturbingly imaginative ways, and celebrating their illegal deeds on social media — in full view of authorities and the public.

I’ve had a few zoom past me on the not-particularly-crowded streets. They get on my nerves when they weave in and out of sidewalks and streets, but I guess that’s the point.

How’s your August going? August is spider season here — they’re turning up everywhere. They’re pooping all over Alan’s boat and making webs outside the back door every night. Big ones, too — I expect they’re genetic mutants enabled by climate change, don’t you? Grabbing the last meals out of summer, although honestly, there are weeks and weeks left before the first frost. I never kill them; I relocate them outdoors. Anything that kills flies is A-OK with me.

So, what are the current events for discussion? Omarosa? I don’t have the energy, except to note that no one could have possibly seen this amazing, astonishing outcome to her White House employment. Also, I hope she has lots more tapes.

And then there’s the One True Church. Ugh.

Time for bed. Over the hump, Wednesday.

Posted at 9:46 pm in Current events, Popculch | 46 Comments

Post-election cleanup.

May I see a show of hands of anyone who can guess why this entry is late? If you guessed “a primary election,” you win a prize. It is my heavy-lidded presence right here.

It wasn’t that the work was so bad, but the information-packing of one’s own head, of reading take after take and analysis after analysis. After a while, I feel like Lucy and Ethel in front of the candy conveyer belt, and I have to go watch Israelis and Palestinians battle to the death on “Fauda.”

Fortunately, I have so, so many links to share.

First, a subsection on the internet and its peculiarities, starting with an interesting but not-followed-by-anyone-else explanation of how the Al Franken story spread so quickly and seemed to have grassroots momentum in calling for his exit from the Senate, when in fact? It didn’t:

While everyone has been focused on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election to support Donald Trump, the Franken take-down originated in—and was propelled by—a strategic online campaign with digital tentacles reaching to, of all places, Japan. Analysts have now mapped out how the initial accusation against Franken by Hooters pinup girl and lad-mag model Leeann Tweeden was turned into effective propaganda after first being hinted at by right wing black ops master Roger Stone.

A pair of Japan-based websites, created the day before Tweeden came forward, and a swarm of related Twitter bots made the Tweeden story go viral—and then weaponized a liberal writer’s criticism of Franken. The bot army, in tandem with prominent real live human right-wingers with Twitter followers in the millions, such as Mike Cernovich, spewed thousands of posts, helping the #frankenfondles hashtag and the “Franken is a groper” meme effectively silence the testimonies of eight former female staffers who defended the Minnesota Democrat before he resigned last year.

The best argument for studying computer science is being prepared for this bullshit. Of course Roger Stone is up to his neck in it.

On a related but more technical note, J.C. sent along this piece on “the bullshit web,” i.e. the graphics-and-code-laden websites that take forever to load, even with a fast connection and a middle-aged computer:

Take that CNN article, for example. Here’s what it contained when I loaded it:

  • Eleven web fonts, totalling 414 KB
  • Four stylesheets, totalling 315 KB
  • Twenty frames
  • Twenty-nine XML HTTP requests, totalling about 500 KB

Approximately one hundred scripts, totalling several megabytes — though it’s hard to pin down the number and actual size because some of the scripts are “beacons” that load after the page is technically finished downloading.

The vast majority of these resources are not directly related to the information on the page, and I’m including advertising. Many of the scripts that were loaded are purely for surveillance purposes: self-hosted analytics, of which there are several examples; various third-party analytics firms like Salesforce, Chartbeat, and Optimizely; and social network sharing widgets. They churn through CPU cycles and cause my six-year-old computer to cry out in pain and fury. I’m not asking much of it; I have opened a text-based document on the web.

My own beloved MacBook Air is now about four years old, and I can already see signs of this happening to it. It’s the best, fastest computer I’ve ever owned (although I guess you can say that about every new one, right?), but on a night like Tuesday, when I have about a million tabs open, the fans start roaring and I have to go through one by one and shut most of them down, usually because a Pampers ad is playing on a loop.

Anyway, that’s one for you computer geeks.

Speaking of graphics, here’s another one of those juicy NYT data presentations on the average age of first-time motherhood, county by county. There are several maps; note how the age rises with education and income. Fascinating look at the demographics of a significant milestone in almost everyone’s life.

And at the other end of the reproductive arc, also from the NYT, the gift of menopause:

I was never a woman who turned heads, but menopause has made me invisible, and I love being invisible. Why did I ever care if strangers thought I was pretty? Worse, why didn’t I think I was pretty at an age when everyone is pretty? “Oh, how I regret not having worn a bikini for the entire year I was 26,” wrote Nora Ephron in “I Feel Bad About My Neck.” “If anyone young is reading this, go, right this minute, put on a bikini, and don’t take it off until you’re 34.”

I don’t know if it’s menopause or simply aging, but time’s winged chariot has freed me from bikinis, among other things. Life is full of obligations that can’t be shirked, but always there are “obligations” I’m not obliged to do. No, I don’t want to sit on that panel. No, I don’t want to attend that fund-raiser. No, I don’t want to go to that party. The days are running out, faster and faster, and I have learned that every yes I say to something I don’t want to do inevitably means saying no to something that matters to me far more — time with my family, time with my friends, time in the woods, time with a book.

It doesn’t really have a larger point, but it’s a pleasant read, and I know we have a lot of ladies here who’ve gone through the big M. I like being invisible, too. Most days.

I was hoping to keep you-know-who out of my head for a few hours, but he keeps opening the hole in his own, and so we must note the dumber things he says. The stuff about how the fires in California, something something, the water being dumped into the ocean? Like, we could put those fires out if only we had enough water? Er, not true. What’s more, he got this idea from? Alex Jones.

Finally, an elegant little essay about the latest Deplorable picture taken at a Trump rally.

Read it if you like. I’m going to put dinner on.

Posted at 7:04 pm in Current events | 52 Comments