How we got here.

Well, happy new year to y’all, too. I hope you had a pleasant pair of long weekends, or in my case, TWO SOLID WEEKS of not having to think about work (too much). I had a particularly fine time reading the comments on the last entry, about how so many of you made it here, and why you stick around.

To clear up some points made there, which I might as well do now, because I’m not sure when, precisely, this blog began, although J.C. probably does:

NN.c was born out of boredom, restlessness and a sense that things were changing in my business, and some skills in the new era might be useful. J.C. had already launched his own site — and that’s what we called them, just websites or “personal websites” — which was updated then more often than it is now. I always looked forward to reading it, and in his always-encouraging way, he urged me to try it myself. At least secure your, he said, so I did, at Network Solutions, for something like $25. I only got the .com, because $75 to secure the .net and .org seemed like a lot of money to spend on something I might not ever even do.

On one of J.C.’s swings through town, he showed me how to work Adobe GoLive in sort of an all-thumbs, basic way, and in about 10 minutes, mocked up the first NN.c. Dominant color: Blue. He showed me how to make new pages, how to upload to the server. I understood what a server was. And so I tapped out a tentative first entry, introducing myself and telling the world that I now had a personal website. There were pages devoted to my scary-clown news clippings, and my postcard collection, links to sites I regularly visited, and that was about it. All this was in January 2001.

I sent emails to everyone I know, saying hey, I now have a website. And I told my editors, just in case there was a conflict. They decided there wouldn’t be, as long as I didn’t try to sell anything that might be construed as competing with the paper. Everyone looked at Day One, patted me on the head and said, “Isn’t that nice” and went back to putting out the paper.

I believe I got 104 visits that day. Clicks, anyway. Google analytics didn’t exist yet.

As Day One drew to a close, I called up my page and looked at it. The question “now what?” seemed to announce itself. Guess I should write something new, I thought, starting the first weekly archive page, pasting the first day’s content to that and starting anew in the now-blank box on the home page.

On that second day, I considered a few things when at the keyboard. First, that one of my great regrets in life is that I haven’t kept a regular journal, and large swaths of my life are only committed to my increasingly faulty memory. Another is that I couldn’t keep a real journal on a site that was called by my real name, because it’s the internet and I don’t want everyone reading the intimate details of our household, or that my boss was a jerk that day, or whatever. So I fell into a style that had become familiar to me over the years, in my long-running correspondence with my best friend, who now lives in Milwaukee: A letter to a friend. Sort of easy and breezy and a report on the day’s events, trivial and less-so. A journal with some intimacy, but not total access. And that’s really how it went, for quite a while.

But then a couple things happened: 9/11, which was followed by an explosion of these things called weblogs, or blogs for short (a horrible word, in my opinion). Most of them were atrocious and rightly died a swift death, but they led to a shift in the conversation about websites that weren’t established and maintained by an institution, but by an individual. New tools — Blogger, Typepad, et al. — made it easy to get your own version of NN.c up and running in a matter of minutes. Suddenly it wasn’t just me and J.C. and a few others. It was everyone.

The other thing that happened was the Humiliation and Firing of Mr. Bob Greene, which happened over a weekend. I saw the news via Jim Romenesko, probably, and dashed off a column-length piece about it. I announced what every young woman who’d ever passed within 10 yards of the guy knew — that he was a horndog, a fact so widely known in media circles that it hardly even counted as gossip. I also said he was a hack, and had been for some time, another observation that barely rises above Duh. And I mentioned his stupid toupees, because are they not a metaphor for his hackitude and desperate need to paw women? They are. I uploaded it and went to bed.

The next morning, I looked at my email. “Great rant,” said someone with an address from — a staff writer. More continued to arrive through the next few days, one from none other than Lucianne Goldberg. It turned out I’d been linked by Romenesko, and then by Slate, and then by many other blogs and publications and whatnot. Newsweek magazine quoted me. A Japanese magazine writer conducted a phone interview, in halting English, through a bad phone connection. For the first time, I was Internet Famous.

I told the executive editor, expecting an explosion of whatthefuck, but got little more than the that’s-nice head-pat he’d given me on day one. And that, more than anything, exposed a few things in sharp relief. First, that the newspaper business had no idea what was coming for it, and second, that if I wanted to be known outside Fort Wayne, Indiana, I should stop trying to get carried by the Knight-Ridder wire service (which had turned me down more than once) and start writing more stuff like 700 dashed-off words about Bob Greene. If it’s true that on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog, it’s equally true that no one knows you’re a nobody toiling for a fading daily in the Hoosier state.

I’ve said it many times, in many places: Every good thing that’s happened in my writing life has happened because of this site. I was routinely ignored by hiring K-R editors who passed through the Fort, but here? Here’s where I met Laura Lippman, and her husband Mr. Lippman. Here’s where Ben Yagoda found me, and put me in a textbook about finding your writing voice. (Take that, stupid hiring editors!) This here place is what I wrote about in the essay that got me a Knight Wallace Fellowship. Here’s where the career of Tim Goeglein, White House aide, went up in flames. (And Tim? I am pissed I didn’t get mentioned in your book. Not once.)

And here’s where I met all of you guys. Because after 15 years, frankly, there are days when I sit in front of my blinking cursor and can barely think of one thing to say. Now that I’m a working reporter again, I have to be more circumspect in what I write here, and that chafes sometimes, believe me. But I know that if I put up just a little something, someone here will take it and run with it, or will introduce something else and go in another direction.

Something else I’ve said many times: This place, and its commentariat, is the world’s greatest and friendliest bar. Some people teetotal, some cry into their beer, some fall off their stools (a moment of silence for Prospero here). If “Cheers” had a bigger set and cast, it would be like this site. Which is really one of the things the internet did for everyone, right? If you were a lonely gay boy in Nowhere, Nebraska, you could find other gay boys out there. If you collected paintings of chickens and only chickens, somewhere out there someone is keeping a blog for you. Not all of these communities have been good and healthy ones, but this one? It’s pretty good. After all, it has Coozledad, who not only amuses us here, but also at his own site. (Read that one — it’s pretty good. I so wish he’d write a book.)

And just now, looking at my word count, I’m struck by the horrible feeling I’ve written this thing before, probably many times.

Anyway, today isn’t the anniversary of the blog. That was either the 14th or 21st, maybe? Those dates stick in my head. But I’ll take today to say, once again, how happy I am to have you guys in my life, even on days when I feel like pulling the plug. Because a writer without readers is just shouting into the void, and a writer with readers who can talk back and contribute is lucky indeed.

On to the links:

What the hell is going on in Oregon? Discuss.

If Boston Globe reporters and editors were going to moonlight as carriers, they should have just done it and kept it to themselves. This just comes off as self-aggrandizement, to me.

One of the trainers at my gym just announced she’s planning to attend one of these learn-to-surf camps this summer, to commemorate her 50th birthday, and invited others to come with her. I cannot. Get it OUT. Of my mind. Someone talk me out of spending a September week in San Onofre, Calif. making a fool of myself. But I cannot deny, being able to get even one ride on a surfboard would be a total bucket-list item for me.

Here’s to 2016, all. It can be a pretty great one, if we make it so.

Posted at 3:09 pm in Housekeeping, Same ol' same ol' | 46 Comments

The beginning of the slog.

I have a number of looming hurdles to clear in the last weeks of summer, and none of them are brush boxes — a little hunter/jumper reference for the two or so of you who might get it (hey, Charlotte). That is to say, not easy. So there may be some outages between now and mid-September. Be advised. And be advised we’re going to be a little jangly today because: See above.

On the other hand, I learned that one of my colleagues was working at a farmers’ market last week, and there was a shooting just across the parking lot. If anyone ever tells you think-tank work is boring? They don’t work in Michigan.

Did you know Apple, as part of the promotion for “Straight Outta Compton,” is making it possible to do things like this?


Is that not awesome? Even though I hate that Beats stuff.

Neal Rubin is a columnist for the Detroit News I should include here more often, because he’s frequently wonderful. This piece, about a 71-year-old couple who accidentally wandered into a thrash-metal concert at a local amphitheater, is particularly so:

Jeff, whose goal was to take his wife to the nearest show to her birthday, thought maybe he’d bought tickets to an oldies revue. But The Shirelles weren’t on the bill, either.

Instead, there was an Australian metalcore band called Feed Her to the Sharks. At the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival, the Pardees were most definitely fish out of water.

Finally, it’s a function of how out of it I’ve been lately that I saw these Serena Williams photos earlier this week and didn’t think I should blog this. Fortunately, LA Mary sent them along and nudged me out of my torpor. Check ’em out. She’s amazing.

So forward we go into a big month or so.

Posted at 12:24 am in Housekeeping, Popculch | 62 Comments

Break coming up.

First a little light housekeeping: Light-to-nonexistent posting next week, as it is time for the Derringers to lay down their scythes and head into the cool north woods for a few days. It’s one step up from a staycation, but the price is right and a river runs through it. Alan will take his fishing gear, I will take a stack of books and other non-work reading, and we will both eat a lot of tavern cheeseburgers while I avoid cooking.

I might do a little yoga on the deck, but nothing more strenuous.

There might be some photo posts along the way. It depends on how picture-perfect things are. And how robust the cellular network is, and whether the WordPress mobile app is still a pain in the butt to work with.

Funny to think about these things. Kate is off in the great American west with intermittent cell service, and I just have to get used to her being out of range for a while. That’s what life used to be, and not that long ago.

I’ll do what I can.

Meanwhile, it remains hot here, although a line of thunderstorms yesterday blew out the humidity, if not the heat. It’s a little Los Angeles-y today, hot and dry and blindingly sunny. This I can live with, even as it makes me feel a little like a kid stuck in school, having to work when all this gloriousness is going on outside. But that’s what next week will be about.

I’m ready to take a news break, frankly. Donald Trump, lion killers, the construction outside my front door — it’s time to unplug.

That said, this isn’t a terrible take on Trump, and by a Republican, no less.

Capturing people who don’t collect their dogs’ poop with? What else — DNA.

Finally, Jon Stewart comes clean about his relationship with POTUS.

As for the rest of the weekend, I think Connie said it best:

Hope yours is good.

Posted at 12:03 am in Current events, Housekeeping | 88 Comments

The title is the review, sorta.

“Trainwreck,” the Amy Schumer movie that opened earlier this month, plays like a third-draft script (six were probably needed), made by people who simply don’t care about such things. It’s too long. Individual scenes go on forever and some don’t end so much as they run out of gas. There are weird tonal shifts. I kept hearing the voice of my screenwriting teacher in my ear, saying, “But how does this raise the stakes? What’s the point of this action?” As a reinvention of the rom-com, I give it a B-minus — tries hard, chickens out in the end. In other words, as much Judd Apatow as Schumer. Oh, well.

And yet, I laughed throughout and am glad I saw it. I wanted 30 percent more Tilda Swinton, 25 percent more LeBron James, 8 percent less Hollywood sex, i.e., the kind actors have in movies when they have contractually agreed not to show their nude bodies. You see it on premium cable a lot; I call it bra sex because actresses on HBO — at least the ones famous enough to have their names in the credits — are the only women who keep their bras on during the act. There’s one scene — again, too long and sorta pointless — where Schumer seems to be having sex entirely clothed, while her boyfriend, the pro wrestler John Cena, is entirely naked.

I’d like to have seen 15 percent more John Cena, too. Cena is sort of delightful, even with his clothes on, as is James. In fact, all the pro athletes in this mess are pretty great playing themselves, with the exception of poor Chris Evert, who reads two or three lines like a hostage statement, but then again — the scene she was in is terrible and makes no sense. See above.

Someday we’ll look back and realize that while “Saturday Night Live” gave a lot of promising actors a good start, it was mainly a waste of time, comedically. Improv and riffing can be wonderful things, but in a movie, it better sing. And a lot of “Trainwreck” is, in comparison, humming.

That said, the funny stuff is really funny. There’s an opening-scene flashback to her father’s explanation of why her parents are divorcing, a long speech about cheating and dolls, that’s hysterical. If it had stayed that funny and sharp throughout, it’d be perfect. Alas.

That was Saturday night. Friday night was a free Bootsy Collins show at Campus Martius park. It’s always interesting to attend events in the central business district that more accurately reflect the racial mix of the city as a whole. It was a hot night, hotter in the crowd, so after a while we extracted ourselves from the press and wandered over to the Hard Rock Cafe for a drink and some more remote listening. These folks were all around:



I see bikes tricked out like this every so often, first at the Dlectricity festival nighttime bike parade. I actually looked into adding some really flashy LEDs to my own ride, just for the sake of visibility. It added up real fast, and required battery packs and other foofraw I didn’t want to mess with. Glad to see someone’s getting creative.

Links? Maybe.

Reading this story, about the strangeness of digital memories after the corporeal has passed — i.e, death — inspired me to write a letter, including all my social-media account logins and passwords, and seal it in an envelope with “J.C. Burns” written on the outside. It’s going in with my estate documents. I’m putting him in charge of my digital archive; he can have all the blog content to do with as he sees fit, and I’m asking him to seek out and destroy my Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts, as well as whatever else piles up in the interim. I’ve known a few people on those platforms who’ve died, and it absolutely kills me to get notifications of their birthdays, or to go to their pages and see people leaving miss-you messages months or years later. When I’m gone, I want to be gone.

If you had asked me last week what I wanted to read about the Lingerie Football League, I’d answer, “Um, nothing?” I was wrong. This was interesting:

A primer: Yes, they play football while wearing next to nothing; and yes, the spirals and tackles and playbooks are real. No, most players are not aspiring models or actresses; and no, they do not get paid. “If we paid a dime to a player, we wouldn’t sustain a season of play,” says Mitchell Mortaza, the league’s founder and chairman.

They practice seven to eight months a year, often three times a week. They show up in tank tops to sports bars and tailgates, where they sell tickets and promote the league. When they walk into the arena, they are transformed. “There is nothing,” says one former player, “like stepping onto that field and getting ready to knock a bitch out.” Although their sport can be a source of intense joy, it also creates acute pain. Bones break. Ligaments tear. Medical bills mount, and often, no support arrives. For some, hopelessness sets in: Are my skills really worth nothing? Few complain about the lingerie. They’re bothered more by what their uniforms seem to represent: that they are replaceable bodies, each no more valuable than the last.

“No one is here to watch you play football,” players say Mortaza has told them.

Raising children is hard. Raising children in public in the age of the smartphone is harder.

And with that, we march forth to face Monday.

Posted at 12:30 am in Housekeeping, Movies | 46 Comments

Things can’t stay the same forever.

I’m thinking lately of making some changes here. Not shutting down the blog, no, but I’m trying to figure out a way to re-fit it into my life. It seems, night after night, I find myself sitting in front of this screen, trying to think of something to write about, tapped out. Sometimes this goes on for far longer than it should. A hobby shouldn’t be frustrating, and it shouldn’t consume this much time on the way to being frustrating.

It’s not that I lack opinions. I have them. My job doesn’t allow me to express (many of) them (publicly). It’s not that I lack links; I have those, too, but Jolene usually beats me to them. No, what I’m lacking these days is the energy and time to post those long, meandering column-like things that built whatever readership this blog once had, and maybe still has, but probably doesn’t. Honestly, I haven’t checked my traffic in years, because I fear what I might find. This was never a big-readership blog, but it had some fans.

So I thought, hell, treat it like social media — a post here, a post there, and let the comments coalesce around them. Then I consider how our commenting community here is very much like a family, and I fear what would happen if there were three posts a day here instead of one. Then I think, is that my problem? and I’m afraid the answer is yes, it is. I am my blogger’s keeper. To mangle a phrase.

All of which boils down to this, I think: Maybe we’re in a dry patch, maybe I’m sapped by too much stuff here and there, maybe it’s just one of those things I have to ride out. I’m not sure now. What I am sure of is, I don’t want to be staring at my laptop screen for hours after the work day is done. I may have to trim here and there. I’m asking for forbearance.

The blog can’t go away. Because otherwise, where would I share gems like this?


(THAT’S WHAT JUNE SAID, as Jim Romenesko noted.)

Here’s the story of the day for me, about how Colorado took a bold chance on sharply reducing unplanned pregnancies in the state, and damn if it didn’t work. The magic formula: Long-acting birth control, provided free of charge to anyone who wanted it. And holy shit, look at these numbers:

The birthrate among teenagers across the state plunged by 40 percent from 2009 to 2013, while their rate of abortions fell by 42 percent, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. There was a similar decline in births for another group particularly vulnerable to unplanned pregnancies: unmarried women under 25 who have not finished high school.

“Our demographer came into my office with a chart and said, ‘Greta, look at this, we’ve never seen this before,’” said Greta Klingler, the family planning supervisor for the public health department. “The numbers were plummeting.”

White House Warns Insurers About Surcharges and Gaps for ContraceptionMAY 11, 2015
The changes were particularly pronounced in the poorest areas of the state, places like Walsenburg, a small city in southern Colorado where jobs are scarce and many young women have unplanned pregnancies. Taking advantage of the free program, Hope Martinez, a 20-year-old nursing home receptionist here, recently had a small rod implanted under the skin of her upper arm to prevent pregnancy for three years. She has big plans — to marry, to move farther west and to become a dental hygienist.

“I don’t want any babies for a while,” she said.

It’s not just birth control, it’s good, long-term, safe and free birth control. Spend a dollar there, save $6 in Medicaid funding. What a radical idea. And it worked. Amazing.

Do I have anything else?

No, I don’t. Onward to a new era. Or maybe not.

Posted at 12:30 am in Housekeeping | 57 Comments

Where I am today.

So here we are, in beautiful, warm, sunny Atlanta. For a wedding, but of course we’re staying with J.C. and Sammy. Who have some spectacular neon in their neighborhood.




We drove, and broke it into two days, leaving after work Thursday and spending the first night in Cincinnati. A question for the room: Whatever happened to Red Roof Inn? I recall it as the cleanest and safest of the budget-hotel segment, and given that we were staying for less than 10 hours, it seemed silly to pay for anything more. Alas, it was seedy and smelly and creepy. There were bloodstains — yes, bloodstains, falling well short of shotgun-massacre but definitely WTF-happened-here — on the wall of the bathroom, and the door of the room next door had dents in it, at precisely boot-kicking height: CHRISTINE! YOU BITCH! YOU AIN’T KEEPIN MY KIDS FROM ME! OPEN THIS DOOR OR I’MA KICK IT DOWN!

Well, we got shut of that p.d.q. Friday morning and had breakfast at Bob Evans. Another bad idea, alas.

But now we’re here and dinner last night was far from a bad idea. And it’s not cold, and the sun is out, and everything is groovy. Open thread, and enjoy the pictures. Because I’m a journalist, one more — Manuel’s, the media-hangout bar, doomed-but-not.


Happy weekending, all.

Posted at 9:40 am in Friends and family, Housekeeping, Media, Same ol' same ol' | 73 Comments

I been workin’.

Sorry no post for a while; in the past few days I’ve been up and back to Port Huron twice, then up and back from Mackinac. I have a freelance assignment to write/edit the 100th anniversary book for the local yacht club that sponsors the Port Huron-to-Mackinac race, and it was last weekend. Today, two German teenagers are arriving for a few days; we’re a host family for their summer-camp arts tour, a way to close the circle on Kate’s trip to Europe last year.

So it’s been one of those weeks, and will continue to be so.

But here’s what the sunset over St. Ignace looked like on Monday. As the kids say, it’s all good:


Carry on. I’ll be in and out as circumstances allow.

Posted at 11:27 am in Housekeeping | 103 Comments

Some housekeeping.

First, an announcement and some general air-clearing: There may be gaps here in the next few days, and over the course of the summer. I’ll be doing some traveling next week for my book project, and I won’t necessarily be near wifi and all the rest of it. And then I will need to double down on the book project, so that might mean some dark nights or days. I think I will put up lots of photo posts this summer, sort of like T-Lo’s lounge posts, for general chitchat in the comments and something to look at in the bargain.

Next week I will be in a pretty place for a couple of days. (Mackinac.) So we’ll start with that.

And today, I’m a little wrung out. Slept badly, drove a long way (to Lansing), drove back. Thank God for the iPod, so I could sing, loudly, all the way home. I love me some public radio, but after a while, the only thing that keeps my heart beating is the original cast recording of “Oklahoma!”

Gonna give you barley, carrots and potaters, pasture for the cattle, spinach and tomaters — that’s my favorite line.

Hello, am I ever out of gas. So.

J-Lo, don’t ever change. Don’t ever change the batshit outfits and especially don’t change your makeup.

Taylor Swift, optimist, takes apart the contemporary music business. Of course I don’t believe she wrote a word of it, but nice try.

He shot his eye out, kid: Local TV weather guy loses an eye messing around with fireworks.  Not at my neighbor’s house.


Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Housekeeping | 35 Comments


We had a power surge today that appears to have fried our internet. Open thread until we get it sorted out? As always, thanks for your patience.

Posted at 8:01 pm in Housekeeping | 37 Comments


I posted the following over at Prospero’s obit:

To Michael’s friends and family,

Michael’s passing poses a very 21st-century quandary: How to sincerely acknowledge the passing of someone I’d never met, couldn’t identify in a lineup and yet still feel I “know” — via his near-daily participation in the comments section of my blog.

In fact, it was his silence on the passing of Phil Everly that led one of our number to wonder why we hadn’t heard from him in a while. As he was one of the few who knew “Prospero’s” real name, he googled and got the bad news.

We knew Michael as amazingly intelligent, eccentrically knowledgeable and never boring. His interests, his passions and, of course, his colorful vocabulary — all set him apart from the rest of us mortals.

We who knew him at will miss him mightily. Please know you have our condolences, and best wishes for comfort.

I also plan to make a donation to his charity — Second Helpings of Hilton Head, S.C. — and if any of you are so inclined, I’m sure it would be appreciated.

If you’re just joining us, go check out the previous comments thread. Pros’ daughter and at least one other relative checked in to say thanks for the good wishes.

What a strange world we have constructed, where we are having a virtual wake for a virtual stranger, although someone we “know” via the internet and communicate with, or hear from, almost every day.

Perhaps more will be revealed. I hope so.

I sometimes wonder what would happen if I checked out suddenly. J.C. is in charge of the NN.c archive, and can do with it as he likes. Maybe there’s a book in these millions of words. Maybe there’s a new blogmaster or mistress who wants to wrangle the commenting community. At some point it won’t matter.

I have links, but I think I’ll save them for tomorrow. For now, the news of Prospero’s death cut short the Tonya Harding thread, and late in the day, a newcomer posted this comment, and it bears repeating:

What I recall, though, was how completely and utterly (Harding) reminded me of the people I knew who came from the same parts of Clackamas County she did. These were people who were just accidents waiting to happen, a deadly combination of barely-bright, poorly-educated, indisciplined-and-almost-undisciplinable shit magnets. “Bad stuff” just “happened” to them; car wrecks, arrests, lost jobs, lost husbands and wives. Tonya was a kind of patron saint for those people. She WAS them, just a little bigger, a little sparklier, a little better known.


You Jim Harrison fans might enjoy this:

Once I start, I very rarely change my mind about the nature of the story. And when I begin writing, it’s sound that guides me—language, not plot. Plot can be overrated. What I strive for more is rhythm. When you have the rhythm of a character, the novel becomes almost like a musical composition. It’s like taking dictation, when you’re really attuned to the rhythm of that voice.

You can’t go to it. It has to come to you. You have to find the voice of the character. Your own voice should be irrelevant in a novel. Bad novels are full of opinions, and the writer intruding, when you should leave it to your character.

I love Jim Harrison, but most of his characters sound very similar to one another, but oh well –he’s right about this.

Me, I have a big day Wednesday, and should prepare for it. Let’s all stay this side of the soil for one more, eh?

Posted at 12:30 am in Housekeeping | 66 Comments