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 | 30 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
 

The zombie newspaper.

I see the word got out that my alma mater, the News-Sentinel of Fort Wayne, Ind., alma mater of my husband as well, not to mention a few of our commentariat and some very good journalists who used it as a stepping stone to bigger careers elsewhere, is muerte.

Or rather, not dead, just downsized. How, you might be wondering, is that even possible, when the staff — around 80something when Alan and I worked there — is now down to eight? Easy. You lay off seven of them. This allegedly daily newspaper, which dispensed of its print product when it downsized to eight, will now be staffed by a single soul, who happens to be the right-wing columnist who also does news stories, because hey, having a columnist is kind of a luxury, when ya think about it.

Here’s the closest thing to a company press release, delivered two full days after the layoff happened. Get a load of this bullshit:

“We’ll still have a website. We’ll still have a page in The Journal Gazette every Monday through Saturday. And we’ll still have a presence at key events in the area,” he said. “Kevin Leininger is staying with us to provide great community, business and political coverage.”

That’s the “publisher,” a company man recently called back to corporate HQ in West Virginia. I hope he enjoyed his time squeezing every last nickel out of the place. I wonder who will get the Pulitzer hanging on the wall when they finally call it quits.

Guys! Let’s put together a raiding party and steal it! If the building security is anything like it used to be, it’ll be a proverbial candy/baby situation. (Once a female security guard maced herself. It’s a long, embarrassing [for her] story; another time.) We can donate it to the Newseum or find a more useful place for it than on the wall of an empty newsroom, or, worse, on their corporate boardroom wall, assuming they have one. For all I know, this outfit operates out of a former strip-mall insurance office down there in Parkersburg, West-by-God.

Yes, a little testy about this, I must say. I’ll also say this: There is always meat on a carcass’ bones, no matter how long after it dropped to its knees and expired out there on the prairie. And there is always a scavenger willing to gnaw off its share.

Otherwise, not a bad weekend. Got a fair amount done, including two workouts and a dinner on the table. Alan’s been curious about Filmstruck, the new all-movies streaming service, for a while now, and finally bit the equipment-upgrade bullet necessary to get it here — it only works with the second-generation AppleTV, evidently, unless you want to link it to your laptop somehow. So I’m accustomed to hearing chortling coming from downstairs as I drift off to sleep, as Alan plows through the entire Jim Jarmusch catalog, for instance.

Last night we watched “Reflections in a Golden Eye,” a John Huston adaptation of Carson McCullers’ novel, c. 1967. Talk about ahead of its time: Marlon Brando plays a repressed homosexual Army major, teaching “leadership” or some such on a remote southern base, so far off the beaten path it could be existing in a dream. (It’s dedicated to the mounted — as in, on horseback — cavalry. This after World War II.) Elizabeth Taylor is his wife, described in the synopsis as a “nymphomaniac,” which I guess means that she finds sexual solace other than in her gay husband’s arms. Her lover is Brian Keith, of all people. Her role is basically Martha from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” almost down to the letter — she’s a middle-age spoiled brat whose husband will never be as manly and powerful as daddy. Then there’s Julie Harris as Keith’s neurotic wife, Zorro David as her mincing Filipino houseboy and “Introducing Robert Forster.” He plays a young private, gifted with horses, who becomes obsessed with Liz while Brando becomes obsessed with him. (He — the private — likes to take a horse out for a bareback spin, stopping to shed his own clothes after he’s out of eyeshot of the barn. Bareback and bareassed.

It’s quite a story, and of course it tanked. The gay stuff was probably unheard-of for a mid-’60s audience, and very explicit without being so; at one point Liz takes off all her clothes to taunt her husband, who flies into a rage. The idea of America’s violet-eyed sex goddess not being devoured by a healthy man couldn’t have sent a stronger message that Maj. Penderton was not all there, sexually.

Fun fact, via Wikipedia: Stills of Brando in character, and in uniform, as Maj. Penderton were used in “Apocalypse Now” — they’re the pictures in the dossier about Col. Kurtz that Martin Sheen looks through as he goes upriver.

Now I think I’ll go downstairs and start scaring up some dinner. There might be some purple involved:

Variations on a theme of #Purple. #farmersmarket #detroit

A post shared by nderringer (@nderringer) on

Have a good week ahead, all. The pace should be slower. I certainly hope so.

Posted at 6:12 pm in Media, Movies | 46 Comments
 

A new bag?

I suppose it’s a measure of my increasing disengagement with media inside baseball that I noticed this when it was happening, but didn’t register it as an issue I should care about, but I’m glad Farai Chideya (a name you public-radio people should know) said something:

I was at Harvard for two conferences last week: one on gender bias in the technology industry, the other on fighting disinformation in news. While I was at the tech conference, tweeting out notes on presenters’ data-driven studies of gender in the industry, I also composed a Twitter thread on the story the death of designer Kate Spade and the coverage of it. “The class-based assumptions in the writing are staggering,” I wrote. “From A1 lede: ‘Buying a Kate Spade bag was a coming-of-age ritual for a generation of Americans.’” What about those of us, like me, who grew up wearing a mix of clothes from Sears and JCPenney, secondhand garb, and outfits my mother sewed; and then, in college and after, continued to shop at vintage and discount stores?

Yep. That was me, too. We were a long way from poor, but my parents were Depression children, and the idea of buying overpriced accessories as a “coming-of-age ritual” for their children is laughable. College was enough of an uphill climb; a plain-but-fancy bag in a shade usually reserved for the phrase “pop of color” would have prompted my mother to raise one eyebrow and give me her you-are-kidding-right look. She was a stylish woman, but her style came from inside, not labels. I remember showing her a pair of $90 Frye boots in Glamour magazine, and her reaction was, “Layaway.” And I did — I laid them away and paid $10 every so often until they were mine.

So while I mourned Kate Spade in a general that’s-very-sad sense, I didn’t wail and gnash my teeth. Bottom line, Coach is what I consider a luxury handbag, but only the leather ones, not that C-branded crap you get at the factory outlets. And I have plenty, and don’t need any more.

This is a weekend to look forward to: J.C. and Sammy are headed our way, en route to opening their cottage in the U.P. They’re not staying over, but maybe if we pour enough likker down their throats, they’ll be forced to. It’s a good time of year to have your friends swing by, as I could rustle up a wonderful dinner from a speed-shop at the Eastern Market on Saturday. Morels are plentiful, as well as strawberries and leafy greens and all the rest of it. We split a New York strip tonight with some sautéed morels, grilled romaine and a pasta thing I sorta threw together. It’s a wonderful time of year in Michigan.

Meanwhile, do we have any bloggage? Yes.

The Divine Dahlia, on the shameful separation of families at our southern border:

Most of the women I know are as heartsick about the obscene actions taking place at the borders as I am. I think a year ago we would have been out on the streets, were the government stealing the children of asylum-seekers and refugees and sending them halfway across the country or stacking them up like lumber in detention facilities. But today, I worry, we are horrified but numb. We want to be told what to do.

I think about this numbness constantly, because I worry about normalization all day, every day. Numbness is something thrust upon us, a physical or emotional reaction to external shocks, a natural bodily response. It is also maybe a buffer we put up against the devastation of being part of a group that is constantly told it is worthless and undeserving of meaningful attention.

That we are finding ourselves unable to process or act or organize because the large-scale daily horrors are escalating and the news is overpowering is perfectly understandable. But we need to understand that and acknowledge it and then refuse it any purchase. Because to be overwhelmed and to do nothing are a choice.

God, yes. Once you live through a national crisis, what blows your mind is this: The dailiness of life never stops. You still have to put food on the table, drive kids to school. This is “normalization” of a sort, but you never stop checking yourself. What do we do? You tell me.

Hank has some thoughts on how you might spend your summer TV time. Me, I’m working my way through “The Americans,” even though I saw some spoilers about the series end, and don’t care. I love the long scenes in Russian, because — wonder of wonders — I’m understanding about 10 percent of it.

And with that, I welcome the dawn of the weekend, and hope you do, too.

Posted at 9:21 pm in Current events, Media | 50 Comments
 

Deplorables.

Alan came home from work one day last week and reported his employer was about to drop a break-the-internet story, and a few hours later, it did, with the publication of this piece about Matt Patricia, the new head coach for the Detroit Lions. It turns out that 22 years ago, while a college student on spring break on South Padre Island, he and another young man were charged with raping a woman. He was arrested, charged and indicted by a grand jury, but the case never went to trial because the alleged victim decided she didn’t think she could handle the stress of a trial and declined to testify. Charges were dropped.

This is the nut of the story, to my mind:

Although both men have gone on to successful careers, the relevance of even old and untried charges raises questions for the Lions at the height of the “Me Too” movement, which has brought new scrutiny to sexual misconduct allegations.

The indictment remained an untold part of Patricia’s past during his rise in the coaching ranks, and the Lions said it eluded them during a background check that only searched for criminal convictions.

When approached by The Detroit News, team president Rod Wood initially said “I don’t know anything about this” — but hours later said his review of the situation only reinforced the team’s decision to hire Patricia.

The NFL prides itself on its towering moral superiority — witness how lovingly they look after the reputations of its cheerleading teams, for instance — but somehow no one knew this. Patricia’s record was literally part of his Nexis profile, available to anyone with an account and the dexterity to punch his name into a search field. You can argue whether a dismissed 22-year-old case should matter today, and whether it should be brought up in the news media, and I will listen respectfully. But virtually no one in the Lions fan base is doing that, preferring to leave steaming turds in the comment section of, well, this follow-up piece from the weekend, detailing that, contrary to Patricia’s lawyer’s description of the case, this was not a he-said/she-said scenario, but one with medical evidence. Here’s one:

Ok, let me point something out for Snell. Let’s take each witness on their own merit.
1) Detective = took statement
2) Roommate = heard roomate talk about sex with two football players including DP.
3) Nurse = found semen in slut
4) Doctor = confirmed semen in slut
5) Slut = slut. Enough said

And this:

Without dna evidence tying these two guys to the sex, you have a bunch of witnesses who can testified that the accuser had sex, maybe aggressive sex. Now think about all the possibilities on south padre island during spring break.

And this:

Us older Americans think if the “#” system as the pound sign. So guess what we we’re thinking when we saw #MeToo.

I know, I know: Never read the comments, especially on a sports story. But I did, because I’m stupid.

Happy mothers’ day, if you read this while it’s still going on. I’m spending it with my feet up, at least for a while, until I have to make dinner. The only person who qualifies me as a mother — besides Wendy, of course — is not in a place where wifi is easy to get to, so she’s forgiven.

In other news at this hour, the grifting goes on. But enough current events.

After having my heart dug out of my chest by last week’s Saturday-night couch movie, “Call Me By Your Name,” we opted for simpler fare this week, “Dr. No,” the first Sean Connery Bond movie, produced in 1962. A different time, you’d say. Two characters who are supposed to be Asian, or half-Asian, are played by white actors, including Dr. No himself. I know makeup artists back then used to try to Asia-fy white eyes with tape, and it looked like something similar was going on with Joseph Wiseman and Zena Marshall, who played The Girl, or A Girl, or more accurately, A Girl Bond Screws Before the Real Girl shows up, and that was, of course, Ursula Andress in her white bikini and knife belt. I thought she played the Bond girl who shot a guy with a pair of guns hidden in her pasties; as I recall, she was doing a sexy striptease or something, and gave him the old one-two with a couple of shoulder shrugs. Cherchez la femme, Bond actors! Which one was that? You guys can dig up any information, but all the googling I’ve done so far is fruitless.

And if there’s a bra available with shoulder-activated firearms built in, I’d like to know where I can buy one, because you never know when you’re going to overhear someone bitching about the Matt Patricia story, right?

Kate just called. Said she’s having a blast, working very hard, and they will soon be learning Santeria dances of the various orishas. Good. I may need her to summon Chango when she gets home, just in case we have to deal with some pissed-off Lions fans.

Great week ahead, all. I’m going to read something fun and non-Twitter-adjacent.

Posted at 4:46 pm in Media, Movies, Same ol' same ol' | 57 Comments
 

Terrible people, terrible enablers.

Guys, I had this mostly written and thisclose to being ready to post on Friday, then Friday slithered out of my grasp. Yeah, I know. Excuses, excuses.

Remember when we all first discovered the internet? Whether you came aboard in the Compuserve era, or with America Online, or after that, or before, we probably all had our aha moment, when we realized this vast network of souls connected by keyboards meant we are not alone.

For years, I felt like the only Warren Zevon fan in the world. Of course I wasn’t the only one at the shows, but the fellow Warren fans I actually knew were few, far between, and could mainly be counted on one or two hands. Then I went on AOL and found…a community! Warren Himself sometimes came into the chat room, or the bulletin board, or whatever it was, and would say a few words. It was thrilling. It was amazing. The world felt smaller, and in an entirely good way.

Of course, sooner or later I realized that not everyone looking for a community wanted to celebrate the work of an underappreciated singer-songwriter. I recall a letter to Dan Savage, a guy confessing a terrible secret lust for pornography featuring women in snow-white Keds sneakers. Where can I find my tribe, he asked. Savage’s reply: Duh. The internet. When I turned 40, I told Alan he was permitted to buy me an Hermes scarf for the next significant gift-giving occasion, and went online to see what I might find under the tree. It turns out Hermes-scarf bondage porn is a thing, too, and I’m sorry to say that I am so bougie about these expensive accessories that the thought of some dude ruining one forever made me shut down my browser in horror. Shudder.

We all know how it went from there. The internet makes social movements easier to organize. It helped spread the early word about Barack Obama. It’s given us YouTube stars, and journalism stars, and generally freshened things up by elevating and amplifying new, interesting voices.

But because there is literally nothing we can’t fuck up, things took a turn. We once thought television would bring a university into every living room, and we got “The Apprentice” instead. And so the same internet that brought me together with new nursing mothers and Zevon fans also now provides you-are-not-alone cover to pedophiles, anti-vaccine lunatics and, we now know, so-called incels, or “involuntary celibates,” colloquially known as guys who can’t get laid.

You know all this, but here’s what bugs me: You know how newspapers are always on about their ethics, which invariably leads someone to roll their eyes and say, whoa, there’s an oxymoron? Well, it’s not. Journalists — traditional-source journalists, anyway, and most of the others — do have certain ethical standards, and most of them are based on a single principle: You are responsible for what you publish.

This is another idea that the internet’s creative destruction has done away with. Facebook isn’t responsible for allowing Russians to sow lies and confusion. Google isn’t responsible for its blogging platforms. Hey, don’t look at us! To them, they’re Goss, the company that makes printing presses, not publishers. Meanwhile, it’s hard to get them to even shut down websites that turn a mass murderer into a hero. What? You don’t like free speech?

A former state representative I once wrote about now spends significant chunks of time online, posting tinfoil-hat stories about crisis actors and chemtrails and government schools. He believes the UK’s National Health Service killed that sick little kid in cold blood. He is carrying on. He is nuts.

Here’s an article about the founder of 4chan, one of the most notorious sites for the sort of content that seeks to wound, to spread lies, to foment violence. The reporter describes it as “controversial.” The story is about this guy joining Google, where presumably he isn’t regularly pelted with rotten fruit, as he deserves.

The world is an awful place sometimes, and the worst among us are celebrated.

While you can read about incels at dozens and dozens of places, this skimmable piece from a fashion site does offer a helpful graphic. This more serious piece — HT to Sherri — is good, too.

On to the White House correspondents dinner, of which I have only this to say: If people don’t want a comedian to make jokes, don’t hire one. I actually saw one tweet that claimed this evening is about showcasing “decency and purpose.” O rly? Coulda fooled me. I thought it was a mutual-congratulation schmoozefest with a comedy routine thrown in. I watched Michelle Wolf’s set, and I dunno, maybe I watch too many comedy specials on Netflix, but it didn’t seem that bad to me. From the advance whining, I thought she’d called Sarah Sanders something horrible. She called her “Aunt Lydia,” a Handmaids Tale joke, and said something about her eye shadow. BFD.

OK, enough.

How Trump trickles down to the local level, in Michigan. Both the candidate featured here and the opponent he’s attacking are polling way, way below other candidates in their respective primaries, making this fight something else entirely, i.e., a sort of far-right virtue signaling to the base.

And with that, I’m wrapping and getting outside, because it’s a beautiful day. A bit chilly, but nothing terrible. A fine week ahead to all.

Posted at 12:39 pm in Current events, Media | 81 Comments