Here to help.

An acquaintance back in Fort Wayne has taken to sending me Tim Goeglein columns, which are appearing with increasing frequency in the Journal Gazette, the surviving daily newspaper. The latest one was the usual cliché-strewn mess, a reminiscence about his childhood piano teacher who gave him his love of music and once played the most beautiful piece he’d ever heard or ever will hear, etc. (It’s not paywalled, unless you’ve reached your three-article limit for the month, so hey — enjoy.) I read it twice, then drafted a letter to the editor, which I let marinate through the day. I don’t think I’m going to send it, but in the interest of not letting 250 words go to waste, I’ll paste it here:

I haven’t lived in Fort Wayne for nearly 20 years, but given the role I played in the loss of his White House job, I’ve since taken a particular interest in Timothy Goeglein’s writing, appearing occasionally in the JG’s opinion section. As a writer myself, and as one who wants everyone to be a better one, sometimes this is painful; I’ve rarely seen such floridly composed word salads, to use a phrase Tim might employ. I won’t call them “hate reads” — I’m trying to be a better person in my dotage — but my fingers often twitch toward an imaginary blue pencil to strip the lard, the filigree, and especially the adverbs out of his rhapsodical tributes to whatever misty water-colored memory is striking him today.

I’m also an editor, and know that self-editing is difficult. So can’t anyone at the Journal Gazette take a little hot air out of these balloons, perhaps by paring Tim’s “tall and willowy, thin as a rail” piano teacher down to just “willowy,” as that word literally means tall and thin?

To Tim, I offer my services as a writing coach. My email’s easy to find. Give me one paragraph, 100 words tops, on…something you dislike. Make it tight. No adverbs. We’ll start there. You know what they say about a journey of a thousand miles, but as a gesture of goodwill, I’ll take it with you.

The offer stands, if he happens to read this. I doubt the JG would have run it, and ultimately, I suspect Tim thinks he’s really a pretty great writer. You can’t solve a problem until you admit you have one, right?

If you live around here, you know how insane the weather has been this week. Yesterday it was nudging 70 degrees. Today the wind is howling and the temperature is plummeting. It’s 28 as I write this; it was 56 when I worked out at 6 this morning. Do you guys have the wind map bookmarked? You should; it’s a lovely presentation of how the breeze moves across the continental U.S., and on a day like today, especially so.

So, the Michigan primary came out pretty much as expected. The big story today is the declare-uncommitted vote against Biden, which is being spun as danger-Will-Robinson to the president, and perhaps it is, but I doubt it. I heard, before the voting began, that the uncommitted movement was hoping to get 10,000, an absurdly low number. Dearborn is a city of roughly 100,000, more than half of them Arab immigrants or native-born Americans. And it’s only one of several municipalities with significant Arab populations expected to be sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. Then fold in the young voters of all ethnicities who are appalled by the Gaza war, and you come up with something closer to the actual count last night: 101,436.

Others have pointed out that it’s disingenuous to assume all these voters are Democrats to begin with. Arab Americans around here are socially conservative, and recent culture wars have driven many of them back into the arms of the GOP, which is where they were before the Gulf War(s). There is a significant Dem presence there, but it’s not a solid wall. My hope is that these people decide, in November, that a no-choice vote at the top of the November ticket is one for Trump, and as bad as things are in Gaza now, they will be 10 times worse with Bibi’s buddy back in the White House.

As always, we will see. And P.S. Nikki Haley stole 3x that many votes from you-know-who.

OK, gotta suit up for lifeguarding swimming lessons. I hope the natatorium heat adjusted to the plummeting temperature.

Posted at 5:12 pm in Current events, Media | 92 Comments

And the name had a Y at the end.

I went to an estate sale this weekend. It was the usual story: An enormous, three-story house stuffed to the rafters with junk that should have been thrown away, given away or sold years ago. A useful lesson in the importance of keeping your stuff lean — you always think, and this is what the family didn’t want — as well as why the amount of stuff you drag through life is directly proportional to the space you have to keep it in. One day I will live in one of those tiny houses, and Kate’s chore upon my death can be carried out in less than a day.

A woman passed me on the staircase: Old, I’d guess 75 or beyond, wearing a coat that had seen better days. The real shocker was her hair, which was a mess, but a deliberate one, with the centerpiece an enormous, teased bump at the crown of her head. Think 1962-era Ronnie Spector, only blonde and bigger. Think ’60s Priscilla Presley, ditto. An egg sac for the biggest spider in the world. And so on. I don’t want to be cruel. I know we’re supposed to be all you go girl about pretty much any presentation of femininity, and I often remind myself that there is no one way to be a woman, that it covers everyone from the butchest lesbian to the most Kardashian-worshiping girlie girl. There was a movie about this out this summer, perhaps you saw it — “Barbie.”

Anyway, I read Dwight Garner’s very positive review of Lucy Sante’s new memoir, “I Heard Her Call My Name.” It’s the story of her gender transition, at 66 years old. She was once Luc Sante, who I saw read here in Detroit a few years back:

Second paragraph of Garner’s review:

She can hear what some of you are thinking. She fears that, by coming out as transgender now, she will be thought to be “merely following a trend, maybe to stay relevant.” She worries her transition will be viewed as a timely shucking of male privilege, a suit of armor that has grown heavy and begun to rust, or as a final bohemian pose, or as something more literary to do in semiretirement than sucking on a Werther’s Original.

I plead guilty to thinking many of those things. As someone who has enjoyed Sante’s work for some time — I found Luc when one of his books was used as the basis for “Gangs of New York” — I found myself, as I so often am when confronting this issue, rather baffled. Would Lucy Sante have been able to publish so many interesting books, or would she have been pigeonholed as a women’s writer? Would a transition, say from female to male, be framed as her abandoning or somehow betraying her children? (Sante has an adult son, barely mentioned.) And yeah, nice way to shed one’s male privilege. But mostly I’m thinking why every one of these memoirs has to talk so much about clothing and makeup and jewelry:

Her memoir is moving for many reasons, but primarily for its observations about aging and vanity, as seen through the separated colors of a prismatic lens. She has, in her late 60s, begun to shrink. She has back problems, knee problems and kidney stones. She is told that, because her facial hair has gone gray, she cannot have laser treatments to remove it. These would have been vastly quicker and less expensive than the painful weekly electrolysis she must undergo instead.

The better news is that she gets to go shopping, and she takes us with her. The reader experiences these vividly written scenes as if they were montages from an updated, late-life version of “Legally Blonde” — “Legally Platinum,” perhaps.

I learned that an empire waist on a long torso will make the wearer look pregnant, that shapeless things like sweatshirts only flatter 20-year-old bodies, that flouncy tops require considerable mammary buttressing, that puffy shoulders make me look like a linebacker, that suspiciously cheap clothes are best avoided for both moral and aesthetic reasons, that wanting to look like the model in the picture does not constitute a valid reason for buying the garment.

There is so much more to being female than this bullshit, but then again, it’s also how we identify one another at first glance, so maybe the obsession is understandable. When a twit like Caitlyn Jenner says the hardest thing about being a woman is selecting a nail polish color, half of me thinks it’s a joke and the other half wants to smack her silly face. I don’t see that passage above as a vividly written scene; it’s basically the interior monologue of every woman who looked in her closet this morning. Dwight Garner! Do you know any women?

The a-ha moment rings false:

In early 2021, she found FaceApp, which has a gender-swapping feature. The images, some of which are printed in this book, floored her. “She was me,” Sante writes. “When I saw her I felt something liquefy in the core of my body.” She showed them to her partner of 14 years, who was confused by what Sante was trying to tell her. They ended up parting ways. They were both upset and torn. “It was not so much that I had betrayed Mimi’s trust, but that I had never honestly earned it,” Sante writes.

Nope, sorry, you betrayed her trust, girlfriend. A human being should expect change in a life partner, but not that kind of change. “They ended up parting ways” has to be the understatement of the decade, like it’s Mimi’s fault she couldn’t deal. There are spouses who can easily transition (ha ha) to being best friends or some other variation of it in a situation like this, but you can’t blame the ones who can’t. It’s a big bomb to drop into a relationship. And in my reading to understand gender dysphoria, I’ve read many accounts of men and women who knew, deep in their bones, from their earliest memories, that something was disconnected between their mental and physical selves. This is the first one I’ve read that was brought on by an app.

But! Luc Sante was a great writer, and I’m sure Lucy will be, too, and ultimately it’s her life, not mine. She can live it on her terms. I’ll see her speak the next time she comes through town. I am keeping my mind open.

So. The weekend was nice, though more or less uneventful. We stayed in. (It was cold.) We watched movies. (It was cold.) “Priscilla,” about the aforementioned Priscilla Presley, was strangely blank. It was in large part about Elvis’ interest in his teen girlfriend’s female presentation, and didn’t explicitly call it grooming, although it obviously was. I didn’t like it as much as most critics did, but the acting of Cailee Spaeny in the title role was very good, spanning the main character from 14 to her late 20s.

I also watched the original “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three,” a great memory of old New York and of the way movies that take place in cities always used to have the full spectrum of ethnic types found there. So the hijacked subway train features an old Jew, a woman who speaks only Spanish, a cool black dude, etc. But it was fun to watch, getting in and out in about 90 minutes. That’s pro filmmaking.

With that, I’m drawing the curtain on my sedate life and turning my attention to making spaghetti. Monday awaits.

Posted at 6:12 pm in Media, Movies | 51 Comments

The great brain creates.

I had a few moments to kill Tuesday, and instead of going to the Schvitz like I should have, I started playing around with an AI image generator. I started with a request kinda-sorta tied to one of my freelance clients, and tried to generate a copyright-free image similar to one that, due to an designer’s mistake, ended up costing the company a fair chunk of change.

I believe in copyright, and I got an education in it when I worked at Deadline Detroit, where a few blunders with photos ended up getting years of our picture library trashed outright, lest they slip back onto the site and cost more money. The most interesting thing I learned? That college professors of entomology, i.e. the study of bugs, can make bank policing the unauthorized use of their .edu archives. Entomologists take lots of pictures of bugs, and often upload them to their university websites as part of their work. Exterminators need pictures of bugs to sell their services, and in an earlier era of the web, their web developers would often just grab a random snapshot of a cockroach and slap it on their business website. Then Google Image Search came along, followed by lawyers using spiders (ha-ha) to search for duplicate photos, and the next thing you knew Professor Crawlybug would get an email with a lawyer’s pitch that somebody, somewhere, owes him money.

We were very careful about that stuff at Deadline. I wrote about a friend whose photo of Detroit was stolen, and is probably still being stolen, repeatedly.

But I figure AI is going to change that. Need a picture of a cockroach? Ask an image generator to make one for you. The bugs (ha-ha) probably still have to be worked out; based on the many six-fingered human beings who turn up in these things, they’d probably give you a cockroach with nine legs, but oh well.

Anyway, the scene I was trying to approximate was a generic car-crash photo, nothing gory, just the sort of thing a personal-injury attorney might use in their advertising. My prompt was first for an auto accident, with police on the scene, and their caution tape in the foreground. Google’s new AI image generator, Bard, flat-out refused; it can’t depict scenes of violence. I toned down the accident and asked that it be minor and out of focus, and got the same reply. So I tried another site, same request. Here’s the best of the four it offered:

Um, OK. It appears the police car was involved in the crash, maybe because the driver was distracted, thinking about why the person who painted the cars couldn’t spell “police.”

I asked again, and made it both more and less specific: Police lights out-of-focus in the background, foreground with yellow tape reading CAUTION POLICE. The great digital artist thought about it, and gave me this:

Photographers? Don’t quit your day jobs, at least not yet.

What else is happening today? New Shadow Show video/single, that’s what. Call the Moms For Liberty! Denounce them! They could use the publicity.

Otherwise, it’s just Wednesday. Have a good one.

Posted at 12:05 am in Media | 28 Comments

It never stops with these people.

A few years ago — two or three, maybe four — I was in the Deadline Detroit offices when a YouTube video crossed my feed, somehow. I don’t remember who sent or posted it, but I vividly remember the video: It featured four or five young men, employees of the Church Militant, a right-wing Catholic group based in Ferndale, a suburb here.

The guys were boxing, shirtless, in a Ferndale park on a fine summer day. I don’t remember if they were gloved or just barehanded, but they were boxing in the 19th century style, which is to say hands held high, like you see in old woodcuts. They were mostly moving around each other, throwing little jabs and crosses, not connecting hard, more like shadowboxing with the threat of a bruise or bloody nose around the edges. “We are enjoying manly, fresh-air exercise on a beautiful day,” was either the voiceover or maybe a title. Again, can’t remember. I watched it for a while and thought, this is the gayest thing I’ve seen in a month.

I didn’t save the URL, and when I looked for it later, it was gone. I searched and searched, googled everything I could think of, but it was gone. Last week, I had lunch with my friend Michael, who was ordained as a priest in a schismatic Catholic church earlier in the year. I told him about the video, and he said, “That’s the gayest thing ever.”

Wednesday I read an AP story about the leader of Church Militant:

The founder of a far-right, unofficial Catholic media group has resigned for an unspecified violation of the organization’s morality clause, the group said in a statement Tuesday.

Michael Voris stepped down as president of St. Michael’s Media and Church Militant, a Michigan-based enterprise established to address what Voris’ official biography calls “the serious erosion of the Catholic faith in the last 50 years.”

“Michael Voris has been asked to resign for breaching the Church Militant morality clause,” the organization said in its statement. “The board has accepted his resignation.” More details were not provided, and the board said it “has chosen not to disclose Michael’s private matters to the public” but asked for prayers for him as he is “focusing on his personal health.”

….In 2016, Voris acknowledged that when he was younger, he had for years been involved in “live-in relationships with homosexual men” and multiple other sexual relationships with men and women, actions he later abhorred as “extremely sinful.”

The Church Militant, which is also a schismatic group, likes to play dirty. During Covid, they sent an operative, a woman, to knock on the door of the music director for the archdiocese, the cathedral organist. He answered and she told him she and her wife were looking at buying a house in the neighborhood, but they were worried they wouldn’t be tolerated. The music director assured her he and his male partner had lived in the neighborhood for years and had never had any problems. She was wearing a hidden camera and captured the exchange on video. They aired it, and soon the music director was out of a job.

They are pro-Trump, of course. On election night 2022, they had a media credential and were doing live standups from the TCF Center, where the absentee ballots were being counted. I’m told the reporter doing the standups was the same woman who stung the music director.

I don’t think I’m going out on a particularly shaky limb to speculate what the breach of the morality clause might be. But they’ve asked for privacy at this difficult time.

A fuller story about the parting, from the Freep.

In other news at this hour, dogs are biting men. Film at 11. Happy Thanksgiving.

Posted at 2:18 am in Media | 42 Comments

The pile-up.

You guys, I know I’m late on a new blog, but things have piled up early in the week – two doctor appointments (checkups only, no need for alarm), a bad-news bomb about a local friend (an aggressive cancer that sounds like something out of a horror movie), the usual work obligations, PLUS I’m trying out a new book club tonight and still have reading to get through.

But! Another thing I had to get off my plate early was this Free Press op-ed, which I’ve posted on my social channels already, but if you haven’t seen it, I’d appreciate you giving it a click. It’s not paywalled, and I think it has, y’know, a message that goes beyond my community.

Oh, and the takeaway from at least one of the checkups? “You have the cardiac rhythm of an elite athlete,” my PCP said. This week, I’ll take it.

Later this week, let’s shoot for something longer.

Posted at 11:12 am in Media, Same ol' same ol' | 48 Comments

Say what?

So I see the Nashville mass shooter’s “manifesto,” or parts of it, has been leaked. From what I saw, it’s a bunch of misspelled rage-scribbles in a spiral-bound notebook. I hope the people who have been panting for its release are happy now. Ever since it was revealed that the shooter was transgender, right-wing hysteric Rod Dreher in particular has been baying for it, doubtless hoping it would be full of trans cooties he could point to as evidence he’s not the crazy one, you are for thinking these people are actual human beings.

But no. It’s just horrifying and pathetic:

Dreher pivoted immediately:

(Nashville police) likely suppressed this because Audrey Hale killed those kids on account of their whiteness, with all its “privilege.” The little “faggots.” We can’t know for sure why they suppressed it until they tell us, but I’d bet it’s because of the white angle. If the public saw that the end result of the ruling class’s obsession with condemning “whiteness” is the weaponization of that ideology by a savage tranny, who shot and killed white children — well, maybe, just maybe, white people would understand that we have been systematically set up for racial discrimination, even murder.

For the record, the police and others have been pretty clear about why the document wasn’t released: The parents of the slain children didn’t want that to happen, and police were waiting until the investigation wrapped anyway, and there were lawsuits, etc. But you are perhaps not driven by trans mania like Rod. And anyway, that isn’t what this is about. Rather, it’s one of my regular dead horses: Do words mean anything anymore?

Let’s ask my laptop’s dictionary the definition of “manifesto,” shall we?

a public declaration of policy and aims, especially one issued before an election by a political party or candidate: a manifesto for gay liberation | [as modifier] : manifesto commitments.

That sounds about right. You can find the world’s most famous manifesto, the Communist Manifesto, online. I just spun my way into its middle and captured three paragraphs at random:

Communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society; all that it does is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labour of others by means of such appropriations.

It has been objected that upon the abolition of private property, all work will cease, and universal laziness will overtake us.

According to this, bourgeois society ought long ago to have gone to the dogs through sheer idleness; for those of its members who work, acquire nothing, and those who acquire anything do not work. The whole of this objection is but another expression of the tautology: that there can no longer be any wage-labour when there is no longer any capital.

The Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, had a manifesto, typed out on his manual typewriter in his Montana cabin. It, too, is online. Titled “Industrial Society and its Future,” let’s again just dive in at random and copy/paste:

A technological advance that appears not to threaten freedom often turns out to threaten it very seriously later on. For example, consider motorized transport. A walking man formerly could go where he pleased, go at his own pace without observing any traffic regulations, and was independent of technological support-systems. When motor vehicles were introduced they appeared to increase man’s freedom. They took no freedom away from the walking man, no one had to have an automobile if he didn’t want one, and anyone who did choose to buy an automobile could travel much faster and farther than a walking man. But the introduction of motorized transport soon changed society in such a way as to restrict greatly man’s freedom of locomotion. When automobiles became numerous, it became necessary to regulate their use extensively. In a car, especially in densely populated areas, one cannot just go where one likes at one’s own pace; one’s movement is governed by the flow of traffic and by various traffic laws. One is tied down by various obligations: license requirements, driver test, renewing registration, insurance, maintenance required for safety, monthly payments on purchase price. Moreover, the use of motorized transport is no longer optional.

Not your cup of tea, most likely, but still: An actual manifesto by the definition.

Other manifestos: The Declaration of Independence, MLK’s I Have a Dream speech, The Road to Serfdom.

Not a manifesto: Wanna kill all you crackers!!!! The most accurate term for this might be a “statement,” although “a notebook with writings suggesting the killer’s state of mind” would be better.

That is all.

Happy November 7 to all, and I was reminded, after I posted Sunday/Monday’s blog, that it’s also the anniversary of the Four Seasons Total Landscaping press event, and I can’t believe I forgot to mention that. Because that might have been reason alone to have hope for a brighter future, and also hysterically funny, so.

Happy midweek, too. And remember: Words have meaning. Use them wisely.

Posted at 12:42 pm in Current events, Media | 79 Comments

‘I am not a bear!’

One thing my trip to Columbus did was stir up a bunch of those early-career memories. I recalled, but didn’t mention, the example Gary Kiefer used to teach me the difference between further and farther: “I can drive your car farther down the road, but I drive you further toward the brink of insanity.” I not only remember it, I use it when I have to teach it to someone else.

Then, today, in Axios, came this, about the return of the pandas to China:

I can still see the paper I extracted from my mailbox the day Kirk Arnott schooled me on this distinction after I turned in copy with the phrase “panda bear”: A cartoon panda with a dialogue balloon, saying, “I am not a bear!” Never forgot it.

Someone tell Axios.

Speaking of teaching, I went to see one of my former students play in his band last night, at a dive spot in Hamtramck, the kind of place where I, a 65-year-old grandma-ass looking woman, had to show ID AND open her purse for weapon/smuggled liquor inspection. As soon as their set ended, he came off the stage to see how the Ford-UAW settlement story his bureau was working on ended up. It’s a job that never ends. And that reminded me of the geezers who used to lead newsroom tours in Fort Wayne, who never failed to point out that some reporters might be reading the paper, and “that doesn’t mean they’re goofing off,” but that we were checking to see “how their stories look in print.” Ai-yi-yi.

Wait! :::touches earpiece::: We have this breaking update:

Well, I got that cartoon well before 1985.

Once again, I’m avoiding the news because it never seems to improve. I’m just reading about the mass shooter in Maine, and came across this uh-oh detail:

Lt. Cmdr. Ryan Koroknay of the U.S. Coast Guard said a 29-foot response boat was searching the Kennebec River for Robert Card, the suspect in the Lewiston shooting. A car linked to Card was found at a boat ramp in Lisbon, Maine.

And a boat linked to him is unaccounted for. We all know by now that Maine has virtually zero gun control, which we’re told over and over is the real solution to gun violence. Clearly the answer is, we have to harden our targets. So metal detectors, bag searches and maybe cavity searches in every bowling alley.

Which reminds me, this is something I think about a LOT:

Corporate media seems to lack the vocabulary to accurately describe the modern Republican Party.


But consider how poorly the words they choose describe the reality of the Republican Party and its current leadership.

In their lead stories, Johnson’s political views were summed up with words like “staunch conservative,” (AP) “conservative hardliner” and “religious conservative” (New York Times), and “lesser-known conservative” (Washington Post).

But there is nothing “conservative” about insurrection. That’s radical extremism.

Yep. What’s more:

Johnson, like the party he now represents, is an extremist and a reactionary. By calling him a conservative – a “staunch” one at that – the mainstream media coverage normalizes him. It even glamorizes him.

Exactly. When this country marches itself right off the cliff — the brink of insanity, if you will — it’ll be with the best-intentioned people leading the way.

I should wrap this up. The weekend awaits! Enjoy yours.

Posted at 6:05 pm in Media, Same ol' same ol' | 31 Comments

A break away.

My visit to Columbus was everything I wanted it to be. Warm, fun, a million laughs.

That’s me with Jeff Borden and Dave Jones, two very funny people. We met early before the whole group arrived:

Extras included Jim, Karen, Kirk and Gary, all former Dispatch people. The bar in German Village was one of our old haunts, and looks like it hasn’t changed a thing in 40 years. So it was perfect, really. I didn’t want the night to end (especially since I went home in a driving rain). But I got back to Westerville in one piece, and the following day went out with Julia Keller, another ex-Dispatcher who now writes and teaches. It struck me, going home, that going to see old friends is the best kind of travel. After Western Europe, of course. But way less walking.

So it was a restorative kind of weekend, except I had one glass of wine too many Saturday night with the fam, slept badly and now feel like crap. I’ll be better tomorrow.

Meanwhile, we had a minor media story break over the weekend in Detroit, in which Charlie LeDuff, a downward-spiraling journalist who fancies himself a Jon Stewart/Hunter Thompson mashup and desperate to “go national” tweeted something about the Michigan attorney general:

You see the problem? “See you next Tuesday.” As long as I’ve been a grown-up, I’ve understood that phrase to be another way to say “cunt.” Like “you go to h-e-hockey sticks, you scoundrel!” Even Charlotte York understands what it means.

He was called out by a number of female journalists, then some male ones, and by Saturday night he’d lost his contributing-columnist gig at The Detroit News. His fans, who are disproportionately right wingers because that’s the niche he’s going for in his quest to get his career back on track (Fox News, maybe CNN), keep insisting he never called Dana Nessel a cunt, and Charlie himself actually tried to claim he was only referring to when his next column would post. I call bullshit. Funny how it’s women who understand when they’re being insulted, isn’t it? And how often men try to gaslight us?

Finally, I could build up a big head of steam over this rather startling survey from the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, but I’d rather let you guys take a look at it and tell me what you think. Briefly, it reflects a jarring disconnect between what parents say they want for their children’s independence and what they’re willing to do to further it:

Among parents of a child 9-11 years, 84% agree that children benefit from having free time without adult supervision. Fewer parents report their child does things without an adult present, including staying home for 30-60 minutes (58%), finding an item at the store while the parent is in another aisle (50%), staying in the car while the parent runs a quick errand (44%), walking/biking to a friend’s house (33%) or playing at the park with a friend (29%), or trick-or-treating with friends (15%). The top reason parents cite as preventing them from letting their child 9-11 years have time without adult supervision is worry that someone might scare or follow their child (54%); however, only 17% say their neighborhood is not safe for children to be alone. Some parents think their child isn’t ready (32%) or doesn’t want (28%) to do these things. Some parents believe state or local laws don’t allow children that age to be alone (17%), that someone might call the police (14%), or that others will think they are a bad parent (11%) if their child is not in direct adult supervision.

Note well: Only 15 percent would let their child trick-or-treat with friends, but almost the same percentage thinks their neighborhood isn’t safe to trick-or-treat in. We’re paralyzed by fear.

OK, let’s start the week.

Posted at 7:48 pm in Media, Same ol' same ol' | 54 Comments

Get me rewrite.

One of the stories in journalism these days is about artificial intelligence, and what it’s doing to the industry, as news organizations race to their ultimate goal of having no actual employees (but still lots of readers/viewers).

My alma mater, the Columbus Dispatch, was embarrassed when the AI it was using to write high-school sports stories (thereby confirming the silent opinion of scores of newsroom observers of the sports department, ha ha just kidding not you Kirk but definitely that one guy whose name I forget) glitched so badly it was turning out stuff like:

“The Worthington Christian [[WINNING_TEAM_MASCOT]] defeated the Westerville North [[LOSING_TEAM_MASCOT]] 2-1 in an Ohio boys soccer game on Saturday,” the story reads.

May I just say that I would buy, and wear the shit out of, a T-shirt that reads “Go [[WINNING_TEAM_MASCOT]],” especially if it came in Dri-Fit. Mistakes like that never would have seen the light of day in the olden days, but apparently this one did, because AI not only wrote that sentence, it published it, too. Oopsie.

Today, The Detroit News had a great story about a guy in Port Huron, the sort who would have once been described as a “gadfly,” who has set up an entire local-“news” website written by AI, right down to fake photos of the non-existent reporters whose bylines appear on the stories.

Here’s “Dwight Dixon:”

And here’s “Jurgen Diggler:”

Can’t forget “Stephanie Love:”

I would link to The Detroit News story, but it’s paywalled, because real reporters have to eat and pay rent. But I’ll summarize the best I can: The owner of this site was hard to find, and was traced through the administrators of a Facebook page connected to another publication, which was eventually rebranded as the Blue Water Current, and it sounds as though everyone involved is a real piece of work:

One of the administrators of the Current’s Facebook page is Kevin Lindke, who works at Blue Water Healthy Living. Smith [owner of Blue Water Healthy Living] said he hired Lindke in June because he liked how the self-appointed community watchdog kept tabs on public officials.

Lindke routinely files public records requests and scours government documents and court transcripts. He sometimes breaks news on his popular Facebook page before the local newspaper.

He isn’t above ad hominem attacks, referring to frequent targets as “Twerp,” “Miss Piggy” and “Lying Little Munchkin.” He disparages public officials daily as drunks, philanderers and pedophile sympathizers.

(May I just say? We waste a lot of time talking about whether we’re courting civil war or whatever, but if someone called me or anyone else a pedophile without producing a rap sheet to back it up, I’d be on their doorstep with an axe, not hiring that person. So I’m already inclined to think everyone in this story is not what you’d call quality folks.)

Lindke says his goal is to be a “trusted and respected local news source,” but so far it’s not going well, as the AI is producing copy like this:

“The occurrence of the storm on July 20th, a date forever marked in our collective memory, bore witness to the unwelcomed presence of golf-ball sized hail.”

Also, Lindke referred to his “staff” thusly:

“We’ve assembled a top-tier team of writers,” he wrote on Aug. 4.

Anyway, I don’t want to bite the whole News story. I visited Blue Water Current and found a story about the death of Jimmy Buffett. Here’s the top:

I screenshot it because another thing in the DN story is, this guy pulls down stories without explanation. The rest of it doesn’t improve, but it’s a good reminder that AI only regurgitates what it’s learned by reading human-written prose, and hoo-boy is this a good reminder of how shitty that can be. Besides that “iconic” and dumb alliteration in the lead, I also spotted “outpouring,” “arguably,” and this kicker:

In the wake of his passing, one thing is clear: Jimmy Buffett’s music and spirit will continue to inspire and bring joy to generations to come. So, here’s to Jimmy Buffett, the master of chill. Raise your margarita in his honor.

In other words, we have taught AI all this stuff. And people think great writing doesn’t matter anymore.

Posted at 4:15 pm in Media, Popculch | 24 Comments

Work friends.

A former colleague of mine from Fort Wayne, Leo Morris, died Friday. He was an editorial writer, later the ed-page editor of the News-Sentinel, where I was a columnist; we had another friend in common, so he was one of the first people I got to know when I moved to Indiana, and things went on from there.

We were strictly work friends. We didn’t go to lunch, or out for drinks, but every day I’d mosey down to his glassed-in office and we’d have a chat/download, sometimes when he was eating a disgusting “breakfast” from the downstairs vending machines, or putting peanuts into an RC Cola, a snack he’d grown fond of in his Kentucky childhood. I was fond of the solitaire game on his PC, and I’d play it, or leaf through the many political publications the department subscribed to, while he read page proofs. The editorial page was overstaffed and overpaid when I started, with an editor, two writers and a secretary, a holdover from those days when newspapers enjoyed enormous profit margins. The N-S wasn’t as overstaffed as The Columbus Dispatch, but there was always time for solitaire and talking through column and editorial ideas. Also, Leo kept a candy dish in his office, and I like candy, especially those sour cherry balls and Hershey’s Miniatures.

We shared a foundational belief: That we didn’t know what we really thought about anything until we’d written about it. He liked bluegrass music more than I did, but we both loved Warren Zevon. He was a nice guy, even a sweetheart.

Politically, he was conservative, although he called himself a libertarian. In time, I would come to understand libertarians and their philosophy as…well, you know. We’ve all known a few, and it suited Leo, who’d grown up a bookish boy who liked to hold things at arm’s length, and then write about them. It ensures you’ll never have to be disappointed in your side, because your side is ridiculous and never wins elections. I used to tease him that “Being a libertarian means never having to say ‘so help me God,'” i.e. take an oath of office. Only two issues aroused real passion in him:  SCOTUS’ Kelo decision, which he seemed to consider equivalent to genocide as a moral crime, and the fact Jane Fonda wasn’t doing a life sentence for treason, treason I say. (He was a Vietnam vet. He never, ever, ever forgave her.)

I was long gone from the paper by the time Trump was elected, and the last time I’d talked to Leo was after the Goeglein affair, but if I’d have been there, I’d have teased him that he was cheated out of a Washington Post contributor’s spot. As you recall, the WP’s embarrassing Gary Abernathy, the bard of Hillsboro, Ohio, was picked to be the paper’s ed-page Reasonable MAGA voice, the Buckeye Salena Zito, after the paper he edited was one of two or three in the country to endorse Trump for president. But the N-S endorsed him, too, and Leo wrote the editorial. I know he did because he was the only one left in the department, and I recognized his arm’s-length style in the argument: They – as in, the editorial We, intoning as one – didn’t like Trump very much, but they hated Hillary and Trump would probably get bored and resign or leave office early, and then Mike Pence would be president, and they liked him very much. Maybe that was too weird for the WashPost, but whatever.

I don’t know when I soured on even being work friends with Leo; maybe it was after my year in Ann Arbor, when I was toiling on the copy desk. In my absence, Leo had started a blog on the paper’s website, which was unmistakably modeled on Glenn Reynolds’, whom you people who remember the ol’ blogosphere know as Instapundit. Fresh from nine months of vigorous intellectual discussions with smart people, I’d lost my patience with Iraq-war boosterism, and ironic conservative detachment. But the paper was circling the drain at that point, so if his heart really wasn’t in it anymore, neither was anyone else’s.

Then we moved to Michigan, the paper folded and Leo started writing for the Indiana Policy Review, a “think tank” that does no thinking, but is instead a welfare program funded by a couple of rich right-wing Hoosier families for the benefit of one man, Leo’s old boss at the N-S, Craig Ladwig. It was part of a Heritage Foundation seed-the-hinterlands project when it launched around 1990, and never did much, although Mike Pence was on the board of directors, and it was there that he wrote the pieces that gained him a fair amount of ridicule in the 2016 election, especially the one where he claimed smoking doesn’t kill. Jane Mayer found the receipts for The New Yorker:

In a 2008 speech, Pence described himself as “part of what we called the seed corn Heritage Foundation was spreading around the country in the state think-tank movement.” It isn’t fully clear whose money was behind the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, because think tanks, as nonprofits, don’t have to disclose their donors. But the early funders of the Heritage Foundation included some Fortune 500 companies, in fields such as oil, chemicals, and tobacco, that opposed health, safety, and environmental regulations.

Cecil Bohanon, one of two adjunct scholars at Pence’s think tank, had a history of financial ties to tobacco-company front groups, and in 2000 Pence echoed industry talking points in an essay that argued, “Smoking doesn’t kill. In fact, two out of every three smokers doesn’t die from a smoking-related illness.” A greater “scourge” than cigarettes, he argued, was “big government disguised as do-gooder, healthcare rhetoric.” Bohanon, who still writes for the think tank’s publication, also has ties to the Kochs. Last year, John Hardin, the head of university relations for the Charles Koch Foundation, told an Indiana newspaper that the Kochs had been funding Bohanon’s work as a professor of free-market economics at Ball State University “for years.”

Guess what killed Leo, a lifelong smoker? I guess he was the unlucky one out of three.

Leo’s weekly column, offered free to Hoosier newspapers, was picked up by the smaller ones, so he still had a readership. I would hit the IPR site for a little self-induced exasperation, but I always figured that if somehow we were still under the same office roof, we could shoot the shit and share some Hershey’s Miniatures, but then I read this and thought, sadly, that nope, that could never happen:

President Trump did not, in point of fact, ask Vice President Mike Pence to reject the electoral votes resulting from the November balloting, therefore Banks and the other Trump-supporting nominee (Jim Jordan of Ohio) were not supporting efforts to “overturn the election.”

The Constitution gives states the authority over the selection of electoral votes, based on state legislatures’ duly authorized procedures. In several states, notably ones Trump lost by dubious margins or under suspicious circumstances, governors or election officials ignored those procedures and made up new rules on the fly.

Legislators from some of the states asked – formally, in letters – for more time so they could determine whether the illegal conduct was enough reason to toss the existing certification of electors and submit new slates more accurately reflecting the states’ votes.

There is not a consensus among constitutional scholars over what powers the vice president might or might not have over electoral disputes, so we can have a legitimate and (we can only hope) respectful debate over the issue. But to be clear: He was being asked to give those legislatures more time. He wasn’t being asked to overturn anything.

JFC, even Mike Pence didn’t believe that. And note that leap from “suspicious circumstances” to “illegal conduct,” and how close margins in swing states are now “dubious.”

So there you go: Another relationship sundered by MAGA.

When I heard earlier this week that Leo was ill, I sent him a note wishing him well. I wasn’t aware how sick he was, and I’m sure he didn’t get to read it. But I meant every word. We all have to die sometime, but gasping for breath is a terrible way to go. This Indiana Policy Review’s appreciation of him is OK, but in the unmistakable voice of Craig, who drops eye-popping lines like “It can be said that Morris was the last real journalist left in Indiana” and uh, whu-?

Oh well. They won’t be around much longer, either. None of us will, in the earth’s time. Which reminds me that Leo was a climate-change denier, too, and I just smile sadly. You tell your young friends, though, that working at home has its advantages, but you’ll never have the unique relationships of work friends, who are some of the most memorable people I’ve known in my life, and I treasure them. Even the ones who are wrong.

Posted at 5:00 pm in Media | 56 Comments