Drain the swamp.

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

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

See, I don’t remember that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Too close.

We started to watch “Vice” Thursday night. Not a terrible effort at all — good performances, imaginative telling of a familiar story, interesting creative choices. But I tapped out early. It was too much like current events, and felt too much like watching the president yesterday. Freshly spray-tanned, sniffing, barely able to read the Teleprompter, and then with that stupid god-bless riff at the end, which turned the exhaust-belching sedan of his brain north on I-75 instead of south, and took him to Toledo.

Easy to confuse, Dayton and Toledo. They’re both cities in Ohio, and we all look alike, anyway.

An alternative explanation:

But what if Trump’s problem was a literal lack of focus? What if, where most people saw the words Texas and Ohio on the teleprompter, the president saw a capital T, a big blur, and maybe an O somewhere? Minor Ohio city, starts with T: Toledo.

In 2014, as Donald Trump took the stand to testify in a civil case brought against him by two would-be residents (had his tower in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, ever actually opened), he asked the judge presiding over the case if he could borrow the judge’s reading glasses. According to a photo caption in the Sun-Sentinel at the time, “Trump quipped that he should wear them all the time, but he’s ‘too vain.’ ”

Another curiosity of the Trump presidency has been his approach to stairs. Almost every time he exits Air Force One, Trump can be spotted white-knuckling the guardrail as he stares intently at his feet. And in 2017, The Times of London reported that widely mocked photo in which Trump grabbed Theresa May’s hand was due explicitly to his fear of stairs. …A man with poor eyesight and perhaps poor depth perception, however, would indeed be far more cautious around stairs than most. And a man terrified of embarrassing himself in any capacity, doubly so.

I think she’s on to something. However, I still can’t watch him. Every time he holds up his hand in one of those dumb thumb-to-forefinger gestures he does, I feel a little more dead inside.

So I left “Vice” as Dick was getting the call from Dubya. I’ve literally seen this movie. I know how it turns out.

Sorry I’m so listless of late. I’m just…listless. And stuff like this depresses me. Also, for the record: I absolutely believe the story told in the last comment thread: Oh, FFS, Joe, of course that woman said that stuff about Obama. How dumb do you think we are? How dumb are you? I have heard many versions of her remark in the last few years. I walked out of my last high-school reunion after some blockhead popped off that Obama was “the most racist president ever.” And that was before the last election. I honestly don’t think I could handle that bunch now. I won’t be attending the next one.

So, some odds and ends:

I checked the Columbus Dispatch the other day, looking for fresh angles on the Dayton shootings. I was distracted by a story on the Sale of Champions at the Ohio State Fair, where the prize-winning livestock is auctioned off to the area’s markets and restaurants. It can be a sad occasion, as the 4-H kids say goodbye to the animals they helped raise, knowing they’re all going to their deaths on the altar of our carnivorous culture, but they walk away with big checks, which helps take the sting out.

The lead mentioned something about the top price going to the champion “cow.” I thought, hmm, usually the steer gets the biggest bid, but OK maybe dairy is super-hot this year, and then realized the writer was referring to a steer. She just called him a cow, because he walks on four legs and moos, I guess. A few lines down, she described the sale of “turkey’s.” The errors have been fixed now, but JFC I can’t stand it. My old pal Kirk Arnott, who ran the copy desk with both benevolence and an insistence on upholding the fucking English language, has really left the building.

Of course, the paper is owned by GateHouse now. Which just bought Gannett, which owns the Free Press here in Detroit, so.

What else? I’m doing my first swim meet this weekend. It’s the sunrise swimmers at one park against the sunrise swimmers at another. Everyone is at least 40, and a few are past 80. This should be fun. Wish me luck.

I’ll try to be back before then, though.

Posted at 9:56 am in Current events, Media | 81 Comments
 

Of course he did it.

I see you guys pounced on the Carroll story, as I figured you would. I wish I could say I was surprised by the reaction, but I’m not, not at this point, anyway. And the reaction? At least on social media, it boils down to a few main themes:

1) It’s entirely made up by a crazy woman to sell books, I guess because it’s so much fun to interrupt your career as a successful writer to have people sending you death threats.
2) It never happened because she’s so old and ugly. That it happened 20 years ago is still incomprehensible to these people, because she was 52 at the time, and 52? OMG gross, etc. That was even older than Trump at the time, and anyway…
3) …he has a type, and you’re not it, you crazy lying attention-starved crone. That E. Jean Carroll was once young and lovely, and middle-aged and still lovely, is too hard for them to understand, so they have to default to her not being a Trump Type, i.e., Melania/Ivanka/Lara/Kimberly Guilfoyle/Hope Hicks, et al, i.e., long legs and big fake tits and barrel-curled hair.
4) Maybe something happened, but not like that. This last was a one-off, admittedly; I read one comment from an incel who suggested that what really happened was, she actually tried on the lingerie and modeled it for him, capping it off with “probably the last time she was able to have natural lubrication,” which is how I know this guy must be an incel.
5) I’ve been to Bergdorf Goodman, and based on this knowledge I am certain there is no way they could have been alone in the lingerie department. I imagine these people are the ones who examine satellite images of FEMA death camps and blueprints of Comet Ping Pong to find the hidden child-trafficking sex dens.
6) Finally, where’s the evidence, bitch? Because of course a department store keeps tapes — and they would have been tapes, then — of its fitting-room cameras for 20-plus years. And so on.

For the record, I believe her. Because:

1) This fits a pattern, well-established by now and testified to by a couple dozen women — the abrupt push against a wall, the forceful kissing, the fumbling.
2) He grabbed her you-know-what. He’s said he likes to do that.
3) He’s impressed by people who are on TV; that’s how he recognized her.
4) He told her, “you’re in good shape,” more or less precisely what he told the French first lady on one of their meetings. It seems to be how he expresses amazement that a woman older than the man she’s with might actually be appealing.

As for her old-ass looks — ooh, gross! a woman over FIFTY? — not only is E. Jean Carroll still quite striking, in her youth she was — and I have this on good authority — an absolute knockout. Tall, slim, beautiful.

You know what? Fuck this guy, and fuck all the guys who defend him, and then set fire to the whole pile of them. The fat between their ears should make for a nice blaze. Reading that article ruined my Friday afternoon. I was in a bad mood for hours. A beautiful young girl got on the #31 a few stops after me that morning, and I got to watch the so-called male gaze, as many turned to look at her as she passed. That’s never a good feeling to be on the opposite end of, and not much fun to watch. I know men will always look — it’s their nature — but it’s one thing to shift your eyes, and quite another to turn your head and bug out your eyes like something in a Tex Avery cartoon. Practice the first kind.

Palate-cleanser: I got my hair cut this weekend, and as I came in, a man was checking out with two exquisitely groomed standard poodles, both white. Neither had the full Westminster Kennel Club clip with the strategically placed little balls, but they looked like they got their hair did about every five minutes. I petted one, and he left. Asked my stylist what-the, as the salon only handles human heads. She said he comes in every few weeks with both dogs. For a pedicure, or rather, to have their nails painted. No, I didn’t notice the color.

I’m reading a wonderful novel now, too — “Fleishman is in Trouble,” by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, an NYT magazine staff writer, and one of those bylines I always turn to with pleasure. It’s fantastic, but I’m not done yet. A fuller review when I am, but if you’re looking for something to read on vacation, you won’t be disappointed.

It’s been a lovely weekend, but it’s coming to an end. Time to start thinking about children in concentration camps again. Not to bum you out.

Posted at 6:55 pm in Current events, Media | 64 Comments
 

Fewer followers.

Hey. So how’s your week going? Mine’s OK, the usual roller coaster of I-don’t-have-time-for-this and Oops-forgot-I-have-to-do-that, but I’m maintaining. The incredibly detailed to-do list is working, for now. But messy.

So let’s just hop bunny-quick to the news. What is today’s outrage?

The president is mad at Twitter, yawn. Barack Obama has 106 million followers, Trump not quite 60 million. I’m sure that has nothing to do with his displeasure. Anyway, in a meeting with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey yesterday:

A significant portion of the meeting focused on Trump’s concerns that Twitter quietly, and deliberately, has limited or removed some of his followers, according to a person with direct knowledge of the conversation who requested anonymity because it was private. Trump said he had heard from fellow conservatives who had lost followers for unclear reasons as well.

But Twitter long has explained that follower figures fluctuate as the company takes action to remove fraudulent spam accounts. In the meeting, Dorsey stressed that point, noting even he had lost followers as part of Twitter’s work to enforce its policies, according to the source, who described the meeting as cordial.

Looks like Dorsey took off the stupid hat he wears in recent pictures, but did not put on a tie:

Well, I wouldn’t, either.

One of my favorite spots in Eastern Market is closing, because the area is changing quickly, and the new landlord appears to want more money from the deli than they’re willing to pay. The dispute is officially over a $50,000 floor repair; the landlord has spent $20 million buying buildings over the last couple of years, but is balking at a $50,000 repair on one of the market’s best-loved businesses. Anyway, I wrote a thing about it. Maybe you’d like to read it.

Finally, a story this weird could only come out of anti-vax land, or whatever you call it. Goopville, maybe:

This world is full of surprises, some of them involving anti-vaccine activists, sedated bears, and the small-scale production of literal fake news. A couple of weeks ago, I thought I was working on a quick, weird story about an anti-vaccine activist in Florida who was attempting to hold a rally in her hometown featuring a drugged bear. As it turns out, that’s not the story at all. Here, instead, is a story about someone who worked extremely hard to generate a news cycle involving a rally that they clearly have no intention of ever holding and a real activist who had no idea her name was being used. The bear also seems to be fake, and—despite my initial, hopeful understanding of the situation—is not named Ron.

Anyway, it’s funny. Me, I gotta run. Ciao!

Posted at 8:32 am in Current events, Media | 63 Comments
 

Spring is risen.

Well, finally it is spring, real spring. (Seemingly, anyway.) After a totally sucktastic Friday and Saturday (40s, rain), Easter was sunny and mild, a true miracle of resurrection. It might not last. It probably won’t last. I took the rosemary plant outside and put it on the back steps, and I will not be bringing it back in. If it dies, it dies. I’m tired of looking at it in the kitchen.

Winter is over by the decree of Nance. So let it be written, so let it be done.

And now it’s Sunday night, the forecast for the rest of the week looks well above freezing, and I might take my winter coat to the dry cleaner. Been smashing those little tasks on my to-do list the last few days. The secret: Actually putting them on the to-do list in the first place. Yes, that sounds like a no-brainer, but over these last few months of old-lady Swiss-cheese winter-depression brain, putting stuff on the list in the first place has seemed like a huge hurdle. My thoughts run like this, most days:

Yeah I need to do that thing before Tuesday and oh look this article on Twitter looks interesting I’ll put it on my reading list with the 9 million other things I’m going to read anyway I really should read this novel because remember I had that short-story idea that I wanted to get done by March? And now it’s April? Oh shit there’s that other thing, and the bathroom is dirty and did I feed Wendy? Did I pay the phone bill? Am I going to get high-speed fiber internet and knock $60 off that bill? Did I remember to eat today? Dumb question. I never forget to eat. This tab has been open on my browser for four hours, and the story that looked really interesting four hours ago looks considerably less so now. I’m going to close it. No! Don’t close it! You won’t be a well-informed person if you do.

How on earth do people keep their minds cruel and simple? With to-do lists, that’s how.

One story that did stay open on the browser long enough for me to read was this one, about Pete Buttigieg’s blight-eradication program in South Bend. It’s from BuzzFeed. (Sigh.) The mayor set an ambitious goal of tearing down or rehabbing 1,000 homes in 1,000 days. This, BF notes, “smacked of gentrification,” which made me stare off into space for a minute.

Gentrification. In a city with a population of 100,000. In Indiana.

Maybe the problem is, no one can actually define what gentrification is. My working understanding is this: The rapid transformation of a neighborhood, where the pace of change is so fast that rents and taxes rise precipitously and has the effect of driving out long-term, lower-income residents. Owners sell, cashing in on the rising-price market. Renters are less lucky, finding their rents rising out of reach. This often includes businesses, because who needs a dry cleaner when you can have a wood-fired pizzeria/bistro in the same space, paying triple?

It’s a real problem. Maybe it happened in South Bend. But I seriously doubt it.

Eradicating blight is not gentrification. It’s improvement. The problems come when people want to stay in their houses but can’t afford to improve them (or pay their taxes), but Buttigieg’s plan wasn’t just to demolish; it also supported rehab. The main oppositional sources in this story aren’t even that opposed, if passages like this are to be believed:

“I’m not sure we got that completely right,” Buttigieg told the Christian Science Monitor last week, specifically with regard to aggressive code enforcement.

The mayor did not respond directly to questions from BuzzFeed News. His campaign manager, Mike Schmuhl, said in a telephone interview that a recent internal poll by Buttigieg’s mayoral committee found that 86% of respondents believed South Bend was on the right track. Schmuhl also noted that Buttigieg won his second term with more than 75% of the vote in both the Democratic primary and general election.

No one says that Buttigieg was guided by racial or sinister motives. (The mayor recently found himself explaining his 2015 declaration that “all lives matter” — a phrase that’s been used as a retort to the Black Lives Matter social justice movement.) But they also don’t buy his simplistic narrative, the story in which he’s the hero of a model program that could save cities like South Bend.

“Everyone wants to find a villain,” Williams-Preston said. “This is just how economic development happens. And I’m just constantly telling the administration: If we do what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always gotten. And what we have always gotten in cities all across the country is displacement of poor people and people of color.”

I am by no means sold on Mayor Pete (although I like him more than Bernie. Sue me.), but I hope the national news organizations covering him make an effort to fully understand the problems of Rust Belt cities with the sort of depopulation South Bend (and Detroit) have faced over the decades. They ain’t New York. Or even Chicago.

OK, it’s Game of Thrones time. In the week ahead, a visit from J.C., en route to the U.P. So that’ll be fun.

Hope yours is pretty great, too.

Posted at 8:59 pm in Media | 36 Comments
 

The toolkit.

I was reading Mitch Albom’s stupid column today, and —

But why do you read Mitch Albom’s stupid column, Nance? you’re asking. Because I enjoy picking scabs and scratching the patch of eczema on my left palm that won’t go away, mainly because I keep clawing at it, that’s why.

So anyway. I was reading Mitch Albom’s stupid column today, and it occurred to me that I should make a list of Columnist Tropes, that toolbox of pundit tricks that can be reliably deployed in service of getting something filed by deadline. The Open Letter, the Notes From My Vacation, that sort of thing.

I’m calling Mitch’s today the Buck Up, Buttercup, in which he deploys his hard-won wisdom to tell his readers not to be so naive. The topic is the college cheating scandal, which Mitch pronounces old news, using another crowbar from the Trope Toolbox, the “Casablanca” lead:

There’s a famous scene in “Casablanca” where the corrupt police chief played by Claude Rains shuts down Humphrey Bogart’s casino.

“I’m shocked — shocked — to find that gambling is going on in here!” Rains deadpans.

A croupier then hands him a wad of cash. “Your winnings, sir.”

“Oh, thank you,” Rains says.

You can tell what an effortless and instinctive word-count-padder Mitch is by that “famous.” I used to tell my students, if an expression, quote or what-have-you is truly famous, you don’t have to say “so-and-so famously said.” And then to explain the whole joke, as though there might be a single person in the readership who doesn’t know that scene — that’s champion-level padding, right there.

He goes on:

Are we really shocked — shocked! — to learn that a small group of very rich people paid stupid money to make their kids look smart? The college scandal dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues” has been a huge story this past week, but are we really that stunned that 33 parents are accused paying a con artist named Rick Singer to hire a phony test taker or bribe college coaches in order to open “side doors’” for their kids’ admission?

Um, yeah?

To judge by the headlines — and the breathless class-warfare commentaries — you’d think this was the first time someone tried to improperly get into a college. Try that idea on any veteran sportswriter. You’ll get a laugh.

Then on to the well-known college-athlete recruitment scandals, then on to this just-asking-questions riff:

Has every applicant written his or her own essay? Or did they get help?

Has every applicant only gotten letters of recommendation from people who truly knew them or employed them — or did family friends and connections earn them more impressive endorsements?

Has every applicant truly done the stellar community service they claim on their form? Or did they exaggerate with someone’s blessing? Did they only join certain clubs or associations for the illusion of being well-rounded?

And this, of course, simply proves that the entire process is so, so wrong, that outrage is “simply disingenuous.” I guess as takes go, this one is maybe slightly above room temperature, but on second thought, maybe not.

I shouldn’t let this stuff bug me, and generally I don’t. But I just finally, finally found the courage to start doing our taxes, only to find the SSN on one of my W-2s is incorrect. On the one hand, got to shut down TurboTax and start this blog. On the other? Another chore to handle in the next month.

Hope everyone’s weekend and St. Patrick’s Day was good. I repotted an orchid, got some reading done, and had the right impulse on our taxes, at least. Also, I made Nigella’s chocolate Guinness cake. Haven’t tucked into it yet, but I expect it’ll be delicious, because duh, chocolate cake. I also started doing some very preliminary research into our next big vacation, which I hope will be next fall — to Morocco. Anybody with experience in that part of the world, chime in.

I also spent some time on Twitter, and saw this:

These people. Sigh.

Good week ahead, all. I’m hoping for some peace and quiet. But right now I’m-a make some chicken pot pie with a homemade biscuit crust.

Posted at 5:54 pm in Media | 70 Comments
 

And now, the shadow.

A big local-news talker dropped Friday morning, and bear with me, because I’m going to try to make my comments about it universal. So here goes, the first five grafs:

Former Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell had a Hall of Fame career and a marriage to match.

Friends and strangers alike marveled at the love he and his wife, Lulu, shared for almost 70 years.

But their fairy-tale family included a large dose of heartache, most of it unseen and much of it unseemly.

Oakland County court records show that for years, the couple’s four children have been beset by infighting and impatience for their inheritance from parents often unable to say no.

The children point fingers at family lawyers. The lawyers point back with allegations of unpaid bills, missing money and alleged mistreatment of Lulu, who battled dementia for years before dying March 1 at age 99. She was more or less broke.

It’s hard to overstate what a beloved figure Harwell was in Detroit. Mitch Albom, no stranger to lavish print-smooching, can hardly restrain himself when he writes about him. Of course, like another dead old man, Harwell has been good for Mitch’s bottom line — he wrote a play, “Ernie,” that runs every year through baseball season at a theater across the street from the ballpark. I saw it a few years back; it’s not terrible, but Mitch only paints in primary colors, and only pretty-pretty ones. The play works for what it is, a nostalgia-wallow that makes everyone cry, then time for a beer before the first pitch. (Almost everyone cries, that is; this was me.)

To give you a taste of how he handles all things Harwell: His column upon Lulu’s death earlier this month may out-Mitch even Mitch.

And like I said, Harwell was beloved.

He had a Georgia drawl and an easy patter, plus a bottomless well of folksy expressions he could summon at the crack of a bat. (No, I’m not going to look them up for you; that’s what the internet is for.) Plus he did seem, from all accounts, to be genuine and modest and charming. He was one of those personalities made for a time when baseball was coming out of the transistor radio on the back steps as you washed the car.

But even though he is routinely called a saint, no mortal actually is a saint. Everyone has flaws. Everyone. What’s more, our flaws are what make us interesting — the tension between light and dark, how we reconcile the two. If I were teaching feature writing, I’d do a whole unit on how to balance the good stuff with the less-good stuff, how to ask about it, that sort of thing. How to add, with words, what the Italians call chiaroscuro, the shadows that give the light dimension.

Conversely, this is also something to remember when considering straight-news stories, especially those about people who have suffered a misfortune: There are no perfect victims, either. When you find yourself detaching from the plight of a person screwed over by a corrupt system because she worked as a stripper or smoked weed or whatever, you’re forgetting what the greater sin is.

The Harwell marriage, so recently aired in Lulu’s obituary, was close and loving and long-lived. Assuming this story is correct, it also gave the world what seem to be four terrible children, or at least three. While Ernie left a tidy estate, it was hardly substantial, and he devoutly wanted his widow cared for after his death. That was expensive, and ate the money one bite at a time. But his children? One nickel-and-dimed his elderly mom to cover his own financial failings. One billed her conservator for “caregiving,” 24 hours a day, whenever he traveled to Michigan to visit her. Another was emotionally abusive. The fourth seems a cut above the rest, but who knows.

From the tweeting around this, I get the feeling this was an open secret among sports journalists. And yet, this appears to be the first reporting on it. That’s…not good. But also not surprising.

The weekend is nearly upon us, but I still have some work to do, so best get to it.

So much to blog about, but who has the time? Manafort, Fox News, all of it. Let’s stick with this, headlined, “Melania chooses spaghetti.” In which we learn a Fox host referred to FLOTUS as “Lady M” throughout their interview, a very strange thing.

Supposed to rise well above freezing Saturday. Here’s hoping. Have a good weekend, all.

Posted at 2:01 pm in Detroit life, Media | 78 Comments
 

What we mean when we say THIS.

I always think the best columns are those that don’t tell you what you already know or flatter your existing prejudices (Mr. Albom’s territory), or even those that make you think of something you hadn’t before (which is still a pretty good column), but those that make you think YES THIS IS EXACTLY IT and it’s something that was right in front of you all the time. Like those 3D puzzles where you have to find the dolphin in the pattern. You let your eyes swim out of focus, and then the dolphin is right there.

Today, that distinction goes to Monica Hesse at the Washington Post, writing about the infamous picture from Baraboo High School, of the Nazi-saluting kids, taken last spring at the prom.

On Monday, this photo surfaced online (under the hashtag #BarabooProud) and immediately went viral. The photographer later maintained he’d merely asked the boys to wave, though the gesture didn’t resemble a wave made by any hand-possessing human. In response to an outpouring of outrage, the superintendent issued a statement: “We want to be very clear. The Baraboo School District is a hate-free environment.”

If this response sounds familiar, it’s because it echoes the bland assurances recited by officials whenever poison bubbles up in America.

…So, to the Baraboo superintendent: If your defense is, “We’re a hate-free environment,” but there’s a photo of 60 of your students Sieg Heil-ing on the steps of the county courthouse, then maybe you should consider the possibility that you are, in fact, a hate-filled environment.

Maybe it hit home because it has happened a few times around here, particularly before kids realized that social media is not a private affair. There were some kids who wrote “I (heart) n*ggers” on their bodies, took pictures and sent them around, then seemed amazed that they ended up on the 6 o’clock news. There was another closer to the 2016 campaign, where they shot video of themselves being racist.

Here, as in Baraboo, the reaction was exactly the same: This isn’t who we are! And, to be sure, it isn’t who most people are, at least not out loud and in public. However, anyone who denies the casual racism that percolates in suburban and rural communities — hell, in pretty much all communities — isn’t paying attention.

I think a lot of people would like to believe they live in a hate-free environment simply because they won’t let their children drop n-bombs at the dinner table, but as Hesse says, when 60 kids will sieg heil on command, either you’re not teaching them what it means, or, option B, they think it’s no big deal.

And that’s a big deal. That’s the dolphin in the 3D puzzle.

Hesse’s columns are really good. Find them here.

And that will be it for me today, for lo, though the week is still young, it has me feeling very old. Gotta eat more protein tomorrow. Carbs are poison.

Posted at 9:16 pm in Current events, Media | 31 Comments
 

Manhandled, men handling.

I was just thinking of all the women I know who have had an experience like the one Christine Blasey Ford describes having with a 17-year-old Brett Kavanaugh. And I can’t count them all, not if you throw in all unwanted, sexual, rape-adjacent touching, pawing and manhandling. Mine were comparatively minor, but then, I’ve always been tall-ish and built fairly solidly, and maybe that discouraged some guys who might have been inclined to do so. For years, I envied those tiny girls whose boyfriends could hold them on their shoulders during the encore at the Elton John concert. I guess I shouldn’t have, although who knows whether that had anything to do with it? My point is: This is a common occurrence. It really is.

So now, Sunday afternoon, we can already see how it’s going to go. Senate Republicans will lash themselves to the mast; there’s no way they’ll back down now, not after they helped put a pussy-grabber into the Oval. And now, a few more women will contemplate their choices and decide they can do way better in November. This is a true dilemma, i.e., a choice between two equally bad outcomes.

I pause at this moment to remind you that Douglas Ginsburg was forced to withdraw from consideration for a seat on the Supreme Court because he smoked weed.

They’re not only not backing down, they’re going to be real pricks about it to the end:

A lawyer close to the White House said the nomination will not be withdrawn.

“No way, not even a hint of it,” the lawyer said. “If anything, it’s the opposite. If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried. We can all be accused of something.”

I can’t even. So I won’t.

Speaking of bad men, though, do give a read to Sarah Weinman’s snappy riposte to John Hockenberry’s use of “Lolita” to explain his own bad behavior. It’s good. But man, between him and Jian Ghomeshi and Kavanaugh, it was kind of a Bad Men weekend.

Fortunately, none of them live under this roof, so it was mostly running errands, going to shows, eating good food and watching my only child drive away in her new car, which will help the overnight parking situation in our driveway. We went to the local contemporary-art museum Friday night to do something we never do, i.e., see a DJ set by Questlove, in town to promote a new book, something about food. I just wanted to hear him make music, and he didn’t disappoint — his knowledge of pop music is encyclopedic, and hearing him weave and blend deep cuts, decades-old Top 40 and about a million beats into one seamless, irresistible groove was great fun. However, after about an hour of this, it became steam-bath hot in there, so we booked.

Saturday, Kate and her new band — now a trio, after they lost their vocalist a few months back — played out for the first time. I couldn’t get close, so I mainly listened to Kate’s bass lines from the bar while Alan watched from a closer vantage point. Here’s their single, if you’d like to listen. And here’s a picture, because I thought she looked cute, but then, I’m prejudiced:

How was your weekend?

Posted at 6:01 pm in Current events, Media | 55 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