Some people.

When Alan was features editor in Fort Wayne, he had an intern one summer with a shall-we-say-foundational problem. She had no real instinct for a story.

One in particular sticks in my memory. A new freeway bypass was being constructed at the time, and of course it included many overpasses. When those are built, the ‘dozers pile up a lot of earth, leaving holes in the ground that become stormwater retention ponds. You’ve driven past approximately a million of these in your lifetime. In this case, one of the property owners whose land abutted this project had a dream, and worked out a deal with the highway department to make the retention pond near him just a little bit bigger, big enough to be the minimum size required to accommodate that dream: To host sanctioned water-skiing competitions. In that very pond.

I believe he had landed his first event, nothing Cypress Gardens-level, but still: A sanctioned water-skiing competition! In a freeway retention pond, the boats tracing extremely tight triangular patterns, with the traffic screaming by! Now there’s a story.

The intern could not be convinced. “It’s just a guy with a pond in his back yard,” she argued. “So he’s going to run a boat around on it. Big deal.”

I don’t think Alan won that one, and didn’t try to — any story written by any reporter who couldn’t see the humor and absurdity in that situation would be stillborn. But I thought about her when I read the comments on a short aggregation/rewrite I did for Deadline, of a charming story written for the Freep by my ottering friend Bill. He freelances a regular feature called Free Press Flashback, which is pretty self-explanatory. Sunday’s was on the time the city police department rolled out the red carpet for a Hollywood movie production, and the ensuing film, “Detroit 9000,” turned out to be a piece of crap:

A Black congressman from Detroit announces his run for Michigan governor in the ballroom of the Book Cadillac Hotel. After he collects $400,000 for his campaign in money and jewels from Black supporters, a group of masked robbers cleverly steals the loot.

That bold caper is the opening scene in “Detroit 9000,” the low-budget tire squealer that made big headlines in 1973. Hyped as the first locally filmed feature movie, it ended up embarrassing city officials and local celebrities who had fallen hard for Hollywood’s promise to splash the glories of Detroit across the silver screen.

After allowing filmmakers to use police assets from headquarters to horses, Mayor Roman Gribbs blasted the production team as “a garbage organization that produced a garbage movie.”

The police commissioner got a bit part, for which he will win no acting awards. Local celebrities got similar roles and walk-ons. And were rewarded with a film whose marketing line called their city “the murder capital of the world” — “where honkies are the minority race.”

It’s a funny story. Here are a few of the Facebook reactions:

So why bring it up?

Ya I know all about it. Do we really need to re live every one of these moments?? Certainly things are different now?

So.. Michigan is doomed, if all our media sources keep bringing up past filth and horrors. We’ve got to get past these garbage racist viewpoints. It’s too decisive and all it does is make this place slow and miserable.

Sigh. It must be terrible to go through life without a sense of humor. Like not being able to smell. Although I have to say, I’ve known reporters like that. Give them the job of writing about “Detroit 9000,” and they’d spend six paragraphs noting that a $400,000 fundraiser, in 1973, would be the equivalent of $2.6 million today, and that’s totally unrealistic for a single state-level function, plus it would be against the law to accept jewelry in lieu of cash.

I’m reading “The Bluest Eye,” by Toni Morrison, because some state senator concerned about Dirty Books is hooked up with some people who want it out of school libraries. It’s a Morrison novel I had not yet read, so I thought I might see what the fuss is about. The problem is a scene depicting the incestuous rape of an 11-year-old. It made me recall my high-school English teacher assigning Maya Angelou’s memoir “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” in which the 8-year-old Maya is also raped. My teacher was a very prim and proper old-school sort, but she did not shrink from the horror of those passages, and we had a very serious classroom discussion about them.

Perhaps this is why I grew up to be a Democrat. I was forced to read dirty books.

“The Bluest Eye” is a masterpiece, step one on Morrison’s path to the Nobel Prize. I pity the idiots who see it solely as obscenity. I wonder what they read for recreation, if they read at all. I guess the Left Behind novels had to sell to someone.

Hope all had a good weekend, with lots of recreational reading.

One of the things I read, not for recreation, was the New York Times’ Haiti project:

(F)or generations after independence, Haitians were forced to pay the descendants of their former slave masters, including the Empress of Brazil; the son-in-law of the Russian Emperor Nicholas I; Germany’s last imperial chancellor; and Gaston de Galliffet, the French general known as the “butcher of the Commune” for crushing an insurrection in Paris in 1871.

The burdens continued well into the 20th century. The wealth Ms. Present’s ancestors coaxed from the ground brought wild profits for a French bank that helped finance the Eiffel Tower, Crédit Industriel et Commercial, and its investors. They controlled Haiti’s treasury from Paris for decades, and the bank eventually became part of one of Europe’s largest financial conglomerates.

…How is it possible, many ask, that Haiti shares an island with the Dominican Republic, with its underground subway system, health care coverage, public schools, teeming resorts and impressive stretches of economic growth?

Corruption is the usual explanation, and not without reason: Haiti’s leaders have historically ransacked the country for their own gain, legislators have spoken openly on the radio about accepting bribes and oligarchs sit atop lucrative monopolies, paying few taxes. Transparency International ranks it among the most corrupt nations in the world.

But another story is rarely taught or acknowledged: The first people in the modern world to free themselves from slavery and create their own nation were forced to pay for their freedom yet again — in cash.

I knew nothing of this history, and I found the whole package fascinating. I checked Twitter for the reaction and found it to be, shall we say, derisive:

OK, fine. Sorry I brought it up. Man, people are so damn touchy.

I guess that’s all. Do yourself a favor and read a dirty book today.

Posted at 5:02 pm in Media, Same ol' same ol' | 21 Comments
 

Weekend things.

Something else my friend wrote me the other day, about the hard-right lunatic of our mutual acquaintance:

As for how to move on in a nation nearly half-filled with people who would vote for Donald Trump, I think it’s back to the basics of organizing: If you and your neighbor disagree on 10 vital questions but agree on two, there’s the start of a coalition on two issues.

I hear that a lot. It’s Counseling 101: Find the things you agree on, however slight, and work from there. I worry that I’m past that. That requires me to assume that the other side is dealing in good faith, and I no longer do, even as I realize the reason they aren’t, and can’t, is that they’ve brainwashed themselves. They’ve locked themselves into an information bubble so thick and impenetrable I’m not sure it can be breached. Something has to happen to make them unlock it from the inside and come out into the sunlight of facts.

And that’s where my thoughts are on what is, for 2022 anyway, a reasonably nice spring day. The sun is out, it’s chilly but not intolerably so, and I have something in my chest that is making me cough like a tubercular wino. No other real symptoms despite Despair Over This Dog, so I haven’t repeated my Covid test. Maybe I should. We’ll see how things develop.

The dog: Today Kate came over to print a couple of documents for her European trip (they leave tomorrow night). Kevin growled and barked at the printer as though it was an invading predator. He’s also doing it, still, when Alan comes to bed, which is usually an hour or two after I turn in (morning person / night owl). He cries non-stop in the car, and I’m talking about from the end of the driveway to destination, no matter how long or short the trip. Every day this week I open my eyes and think: Fuck. Kevin. What will today be like? No wonder I’m grumpy.

Ah, well. Neutering is bright and early tomorrow. We’ll see how it goes from here. My vet: “It’s the start.”

I joined a Facebook group for former employees of the Columbus Dispatch. This photo was shared today:

The copy desk was outsourced to some other place – maybe Texas – a while back, and I guess the workload is starting to strain capacity, eh? Either that, or someone started the Saturday-night party a bit early.

Finally, in what is turning out to be a mixed Sunday bag: I’ve been reading the reactions to the verdict Friday, the one that acquitted two defendants in the Whitmer kidnap plot and deadlocked on the other two. Of course this is being spun in MAGAville as COMPLETE EXONERATION, as though two other defendants weren’t so convinced they’d be going up the river for a long time that they didn’t plead to six years in return for their testimony. Ah well. The best thing I’ve read so far is this column by Brian Dickerson at the Freep. It’s paywalled so you can’t read it, but here’s the gist:

In her star-crossed 2016 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton famously consigned half of Donald Trump’s supporters to a “basket of deplorables” that included “the racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it.” Trump pounced on her indiscretion, insisting that Clinton had slandered every Republican voter in the land. MAGA devotees responded by donning shirts and hats that proudly proclaimed their “deplorable” status.

But Clinton was giving voice to what has since become an article of faith among millions of Americans (including many Republicans): the conviction that, far from being a fringe minority, the paranoiac “deplorables” she spoke of have become a significant presence in thousands of communities.

And even before they began deploying their theory that Whitmer’s accused kidnappers had been snared in an entrapment scheme masterminded by FBI provocateurs, defense attorneys set out to convince the public that their clients were no more sinister or dangerous than the deplorables we encounter everyday at our workplaces, grocery stores and family reunions.

And:

In his closing argument, defendant Adam Fox’s lawyer sought to convince jurors his client posed no greater threat than the garden-variety deplorables in their own lives. “He isn’t a leader,” defense attorney Christopher Gibbons insisted. “He doesn’t have the equipment. He doesn’t have the skills.”

Gibbons was being diplomatic, but his subliminal message to jurors was unmistakable:

Look, Adam Fox and his friends are idiots. When Hillary Clinton spoke of those pathetic souls you’d cross the street to avoid passing on the sidewalk, she was talking about my client.

But hey, you all know people like my client. And if we allow the government to lock up all the Adam Foxes in the country, how long before your own neighbors and crazy uncles find themselves behind bars?

Sorry for the longer-than-usual snip, but: Paywalled.

Personally, I think the jury, freighted with Up North Michiganians, just couldn’t face their neighbors back home if they didn’t acquit at least some of them. So they did.

OK, then. Time to make Sunday dinner and maybe a cocktail. God knows I need it.

Posted at 5:48 pm in Current events, Media, Same ol' same ol' | 51 Comments
 

Double-secret probation.

Kevin is still on probation. After a nipping incident Monday morning, I was ready to surrender him to a shelter, but a very nice trainer saw my Facebook post on it, dropped everything and came right over. She worked with him a while and taught us some tricks to get some manners into his head. Her assessment: A very smart dog, but stubborn, and virtually untrained. We’re working on Sit/Stay, and he’s doing pretty well. Still to come: Down, Shut Up and No Goddamn Dogs on the Bed. But I have faith in the little bastard, who has many good traits besides cuteness — a prancing walk that’s fun to watch, 99 percent housebroken, walks well on the leash for a lunatic and a lotta personality.

Fingers crossed for Kevin, who may yet need a good lawyer.

Sometimes my morning rambles take me past the Indiana Policy Review, the right-wing organization in the Hoosier state, which the editorial-page editor of my former employer departed to found and run sometime in the late 80s/early 90s, can’t remember. They exist to spread ideas, etc., because there’s a real shortage of those in Indiana. Some of you have mentioned that the Kendallville papers run the column they offer by my former colleague Leo. Does anything else they offer ever see eyeballs other than in their magazine/website? Because I gotta say: This shit is whack.

The founder, who signs his pieces “tcl” but otherwise goes by T. Craig Ladwig, devoted the home page today to an attack on, get this, the Indiana Daily Student, the student newspaper. For an opinion piece. About the right’s favorite pinup girl, Ann Coulter.

Craig, like lots of newspaper editorial writers, considered himself something of an oracle. He didn’t mix much, but when he did he’d say things like “the problem with journalism today is a lack of adult supervision,” which I never quite understood but he seems to think quite witty, because it’s a phrase that turns up often in his work. It seems to be the driving force of this column about the IDS, anyway. He starts by complaining that the speech wasn’t covered by any other media, “for posterity,” although a quick Google turned up a video of part of the speech and a fairly perfunctory report from the local public-media stations. The speech was billed as, “Conservatism. Let’s Review the Evidence with Ann Coulter,” but the news seemed to be that Coulter abruptly left the stage, claiming she had a plane to catch and had already stayed longer than she’d agreed to. (She’d make a good prostitute. Admirable time management.)

It doesn’t sound like she was shouted down or otherwise abused, although she complained about the final question (about her religion) before leaving. What I found weird? In that video I posted above? Look at all that male-pattern baldness on the heads watching. Doesn’t look like a student crowd.

Maybe Craig hasn’t figured out Google yet.

But I don’t want to go deep on the Indiana Policy Review, an outfit that essentially hung another co-founder, Mike Pence, out to dry after January 6 — he wasn’t asked to do anything other than give us a little more time to investigate was the argument, as I recall. For years now, it’s essentially functioned as a sinecure for Ladwig and maybe a couple of others.

A sinecure. That would be nice, except for the putting-your-balls-in-escrow part.

What an exhausting week, and it’s only Tuesday. I feel like Josef Stalin, and all I’ve done in the last three days is yell NO and grab this dog out of one form of mischief or another. Let’s get over the hump and see what the downslope offers. Please behave, Kevin.

Posted at 8:42 pm in Media, Same ol' same ol' | 40 Comments
 

Help wanted: Editors.

Joe Rogan is in the news these days. This is a development that leaves me feeling so utterly out of it, I feel like taking up knitting, mainly because I only recently learned who Joe Rogan is. I didn’t watch the show he hosted (“Fear Factor”), because it sounded boring and ridiculous, and I don’t pay attention to mixed martial arts, his other big claim to fame, and so when you tell me this guy has millions of listeners to his podcast, I think: Huh. OK.

While I don’t doubt the people who claim he’s racist and sexist, podcasts can be cherrypicked and words taken out of context, so I thought I might check him out and see for myself. (I retain my Spotify subscription. For now.)

I should tell you my prejudices about podcasts up front: I think most of them are too long. It kills me that so many pods are produced by people who have undeniable assets but no radio experience, and make shows where the opening small talk between hosts takes 15 minutes. I’m glad people get along, there’s nothing wrong with showing your on-air chemistry, but holy shitballs start the damn show already. And learn how to edit, to take out the irrelevant guest tangent. And most of all, stop assuming people have nothing else to do but listen to you.

Granted, everyone listens differently. And maybe I’m too old to understand the appeal of this or that host chatting with his/her co-host like you are the third person at the table, or maybe the small talk isn’t for me, but I still firmly believe Podcast Bloat is a thing, and I far prefer pods that can get in and out of my ears in either 30 or no more than 60 minutes.

All this by way of noting that two hours is a short Joe Rogan podcast. Two and a half seems to be standard, and some go far, far longer. Jordan Peterson, the Canadian weirdo, talks to Rogan for FOUR! HOURS! (And 13 minutes.) People used to say, “You can’t judge Rush Limbaugh by some single thing he said. You have to listen for a month, then decide if he’s an asshole bigot.” Sorry, pals, I ain’t got time to dedicate a month of the only life I have to divining the essence of Rush Limbaugh, and ditto Rogan. But I did cue up half a dozen of his pods this week, just to see how or if they grabbed me.

Readers? They did not.

Rogan is, as his fans say, undeniably curious on a wide variety of issues (concentrating on bro-y stuff like fitness, stand-up comedy, showbiz and the like), so I’ll give him that. Unfortunately, he employs the Larry King Tabula Rasa strategy of interviewing, which is to say, he doesn’t seem to really prepare for anything. People say stupid shit and it’s not challenged. Rogan says stupid shit and it’s even less challenged; one trainer advocated a particular move that goes directly against every rule about how to treat your knees, and while Rogan noted the contradiction, he didn’t ask the why question.

In other words, while Rogan has the foundation of being a decent journalist (curiosity), he lacks the discipline to know how to craft it in service of others. Not that he won’t chime in when he feels like it. When one guest mentioned omicron, he said, “Oh, yeah, the cold.” And in the exchange that followed, he insisted omicron was no more serious than that, and the only people dying of it were basically fucked to begin with anyway, so. The “no big loss” was left unspoken, but hung in the air.

I guess it’s easy to talk to someone for two hours, especially if you’re on drugs – Rogan is said to be a big fan of those – but far harder to do it responsibly. There’s a clip of Rogan talking to a Holocaust denier that will curl your hair. He just sits there and nods.

So. Other big news of the moment: The Canadian Truckers 4 Freedumb have landed close to home. The privately owned Ambassador Bridge has been closed most of the day, with most of the action on the Canadian side. I was down there today for lunch and didn’t see much – a few trucks pulled over on the freeway with a state police officer talking to one, that sort of thing. But it’s big news, I guess. I’ll keep you posted if a shooting war breaks out.

Posted at 7:45 pm in Current events, Media | 64 Comments
 

Turn the page.

It’s Monday, which is allegedly a day off for me. It rarely works out that way — I always end up doing something work-related — but I have no deadline bearing down, I spent yesterday dusting and vacuuming, there’s food in the pantry and we’re supposed to get two to four inches of snow today, so I’m clearing the decks and declaring this a Real Day Off. I’m going to read my old friend David Heath’s new book about the development of the Covid vaccine and maybe even take a nap.

But first, a few words for you lovely people.

I read Neil Steinberg’s year-old blog about John Kass this morning, and it reminded me of a truth about newspapers, or what’s left of them: Not everything in it is for you. Or for me. A newspaper is what used to be known as a generalist publication, meaning there had to be something in it for everyone in the whole family. Horoscopes, puzzles, comics, sports scores, stock prices, etc. When we arrived in town, the News and Free Press would even include a few paragraphs of shipping news, i.e., which vessels would be passing up and down Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River, in case you were curious about what the Arthur M. Anderson was carrying, and where she was heading.

If I had read Neil’s blog before I read yesterday’s Page One weeper in the Freep, I might have found the strength to avert my eyes before they started rolling back in my head. It’s paywalled, so I’ll summarize: A registered nurse, a father of seven young children, is recently widowed. The headline: While ER nurse was saving wounded Oxford kids, his wife was dying from COVID-19. He was working the ER, his usual post, when the school shooting happened last November. The story is pitched as a tribute to #OxfordStrong, as the inevitable hashtag goes, because even though he has lost his wife and has all these kids and a demanding job, his church and neighbors are rising to the challenge, etc.

This is not the sort of story I generally find compelling. I’ve read too many of them through the years, and that people are capable of great good and generous grace is not news to me. I’m glad the guy is getting by with a lot of help from his friends. I’m ready to leave the rest of it unread when, record scratch:

As Holt prepared for Elizabeth’s funeral, he Googled her name, trying to find her obituary for some details, and he came across a website that mocked Elizabeth’s illness and death. John and Elizabeth Fowler held strong anti-vaccination views and were attacked on social media.

“I stumbled upon that website,” Holt said. “You know what? I’m OK if you want to be anti-vax or pro-vax. But I’m not OK when you’re anti-people. The problem with politics and vaccinations and religion, and all of that, is that people get caught up in the concept, or they get caught up in the construct of it, rather than the people.”

This wasn’t a debate about an issue. This was an attack, almost a gleeful celebration that she had died.

I bet I know which website he might have found — there’s one whose URL I can’t remember, which lists the deaths of outspoken antivaxxers, and then there’s the Reddit sub called Herman Cain Awards. Probably one of those two. I’ve seen them, but don’t participate; I haven’t the emotional bandwidth, and the older I get, I figure, why bother, it won’t do any good.

That said, this nurse is full of shit. His late wife was a nurse, too, I should mention that. So these two nurses, health-care professionals, he with a master’s degree with “an emphasis on public health,” are/were not only anti-Covid vaccine, they appear to be anti-all vaccines, if this passage is any indication:

“I don’t trust the vaccine companies,” he says. “Because there’s no control. They can make a product that the FDA or whoever CDC says it’s safe. But then if your kid is affected, you cannot do anything to them about it. They’re completely protected by the government.”

He says that McLaren Oakland allows medical and religions exemptions to a vaccine mandate.

“I have a master’s in nursing with an emphasis on public health,” he said. “So I’m not uneducated, right. It’s just, I, I’ve told my kids I said, ‘hey, when you get older, and if you want to pursue college, I’m perfectly OK with you when your immune systems are stronger. If you do a slow course of the different vaccines you need to forward your education, I’m OK with that.’ I just didn’t want to do it when they’re young.”

“Do you regret that you and your wife were not vaccinated?” I ask.

“No,” he says.

Just once, just once!!! I want to hear one of these people say, “Y’know, we were wrong about that. Elizabeth should have gotten the vaccine. All of our now-motherless children should be vaccinated against the vaccine-preventable childhood diseases. And of course I, a nurse who works in an emergency room during a pandemic, will be getting my Covid vaccine a.s.a.p.”

I mean, he’s a NURSE. He works in a HOSPITAL. He has a MASTER’S DEGREE. He studied PUBLIC HEALTH. And somehow he got that degree without learning about vaccines. Or the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, for that matter. I wouldn’t set foot in that fucking hospital.

I shouldn’t have read that story. It wasn’t for me.

OK, then. The snow is coming down, but in flakes so fine you have to look for it out the window. Time to crack that book. Happy Monday, if that’s possible.

Posted at 10:35 am in Current events, Media | 72 Comments
 

Pants on fire.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…the liberal media:

Want more? OK, here ya go:

All of the above is a lie. The people Trump is endorsing in Michigan aren’t making “election administration and investigating last year’s vote central to their platforms,” they’re Stop the Steal lunatics who have stated, baldly, that Trump Won, and that if they’re elected, they’re going to do their best to make sure he never loses again.

The election has been litigated, recounted, audited and investigated, and none of their claims have been found to have any basis in fact.

But this is NBC News here, and to write that Trump “narrowly” lost Michigan is also fiction. He lost Michigan by 154,000 votes. That is not a narrow victory. And these people are not interested in improving elections. This is the “liberal,” mainstream media promoting this fucking garbage. I can’t stand it.

But OK, it’s the long weekend. I got most of my shopping done (online), picked up a couple stocking stuffers from local businesses, and even scored a white shirt I’ve been looking for forEVER from a local business, and a black-owned one at that. So I’m counting this as a win, Chuck Todd or not.

My birthday was very nice, even if I spent much of it cooking, at least it was pretty easy. Thanksgiving is basically a matter of chopping and timing; with enough advance work, you really don’t have to spend all day in the kitchen. We had the usual for our small tribe of four, and it was very fine, topped with two desserts, for Team Cake and Team Pie. The last of the turkey went into tonight’s tetrazzini, and that puts the holiday to bed. With the worst of the chores handled, I intend to spend the rest of December doing January organizing and maybe making some gingerbread. The hell with the holidays; maybe we can enjoy the season for once. See the lights, go to some parties, all of it.

And it was very nice to watch Michigan beat the shit out of Ohio State, the first in a decade:

So the week begins. Enjoy it.

Posted at 7:53 pm in Media | 24 Comments
 

Monday morning.

We discovered a new cocktail in France: the negroni sbagliato. A negroni, as fans of Stanley Tucci know, is very easy to make — equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari, shaken with ice, garnished with an orange slice. Very refreshing. In a negroni sbagliato, you substitute sparkling wine for the gin, which lessens the alcohol content and makes it super-refreshing. (“Sbagliato” means “mistake” in Italian, and the legend goes it was invented when a busy bartender reached for the wrong bottle, but you know about legends.)

Alan bought a bottle of prosecco the other day, but it hasn’t exactly been refreshing-cocktail weather lately. Dreary rain and chill. (Also, you don’t want to open a bottle of sparkling wine if you’re not going to finish it, and so it’s best for when you have friends over.) I made the first soup of the season last night, if you don’t count last week’s chili. Cream of broccoli, because Vegetables. Probably should have served a hot toddy in the cold rain, but we just drank the remainder of the white wine after I added a cup or so to the soup.

And now I think I’m going to take the week off drinking. Got a little too accustomed to the 50cl bottle at lunch, and more at dinner, etc. Of course, in a country where McDonald’s and Haagen-Dazs both have alcoholic choices on the menu, you’re just going with the flow. Back home, you should stop drinking so much, you ol’ sot.

I’ve been reading a fair amount about Facebook lately. I said on my own page that I was ready to pull the plug on that hellsite, that once I stopped working for good and didn’t have to post stories for work, I’d be happy to step back and never post again. Maybe keep the account active for the Marketplace and because some people simply refuse to communicate any way other than via Messenger, but otherwise? Pfft. And I must say, the site is making this easy. My news feed is now disproportionately what’s known as “like farming,” i.e. stupid posts that encourage engagement. “Who remembers when the national anthem was played at the end of the broadcast day,” maybe, or “Come on – who here hasn’t gotten a DUI?” The idea is to get people agitated enough to interact with it, which boosts its position, which boosts the poster’s other material, etc. If this is Facebook, fuck ’em. If I want content like this, I can wander down to a local oil-change place and look at the 25th-generation Xeroxes on the break-room bulletin board.

But I realize I’m in the minority, that the site still has way more active users than detractors, and that it’s continuing on its path to destabilize western democracy, just the same. Social media in general doesn’t appear to be good for anyone, but as a Twitter addict I will say I enjoy the kitty videos, and Cats With Jobs (@CatWorkers) always pleases me. Anyway, back to FB, here’s the NYT today:

Apart from the Like button, Facebook has scrutinized its share button, which lets users instantly spread content posted by other people; its groups feature, which is used to form digital communities; and other tools that define how more than 3.5 billion people behave and interact online. The research, laid out in thousands of pages of internal documents, underlines how the company has repeatedly grappled with what it has created.

What researchers found was often far from positive. Time and again, they determined that people misused key features or that those features amplified toxic content, among other effects. In an August 2019 internal memo, several researchers said it was Facebook’s “core product mechanics” — meaning the basics of how the product functioned — that had let misinformation and hate speech flourish on the site.

“The mechanics of our platform are not neutral,” they concluded.

You don’t say. Elsewhere in the same edition, Ben Smith has a column on Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower. It mentions the platform’s role in fomenting sectarian violence overseas. Getta loada this shit:

Dozens of religious extremists burst into a Pentecostal church outside New Delhi in June, claiming it was built atop a Hindu temple. The group installed a Hindu idol in protest, and a pastor says he was punched in the head by attackers.

Members of a Hindu nationalist organization known as Bajrang Dal claimed responsibility in a video describing the incursion that has been viewed almost 250,000 times on Facebook. The social-media company’s safety team earlier this year concluded that Bajrang Dal supported violence against minorities across India and likely qualified as a “dangerous organization” that should be banned from the platform, according to people familiar with the matter.

Facebook Inc. balked at removing the group following warnings in a report from its security team that cracking down on Bajrang Dal might endanger both the company’s business prospects and its staff in India, the people said. Besides risking infuriating India’s ruling Hindu nationalist politicians, banning Bajrang Dal might precipitate physical attacks against Facebook personnel or facilities, the report warned.

Look on your works, Mark Zuckerberg, and despair. Have I mentioned how very very tired I am of “move fast and break things.” It’s given us piles of shit-tastic technology, and an overwhelming culture of shrugging and back-to-the-ol’-drawing-board and hey-don’t-blame-us-we’re-just-a-platform. It’s maddening.

Anyway. That’s Monday morning. How’s yours?

Finally, I think I’m going to drop some random France pictures in here until I – or you guys – get tired of it. Less-traveled Metro station, here. Love that tile:

Posted at 9:53 am in Media, Same ol' same ol' | 45 Comments
 

Twenty years gone.

I guess, since Saturday is the 20th anniversary of you-know-what, I should write something about that today.

But I don’t know that I want to. I grew up with “where were you when you heard the president had been shot,” and it’s been replaced by this tragedy, and few of the answers are all that interesting. I was in school. I was at work. I was in the subway. I was there. We all carry a little bit of that day in our hearts, and we all have our stories. Like most of daily life, they’re quotidian for the most part.

I remember the after-times. I once said that I forgive everyone in the world anything crazy they said from that date until…January 1. Bomb Afghanistan to glass? You said that? Fine with me. You said you were glad George Bush was in charge that day and not Al Gore? Sure, that’s OK, as long as you admit history has shall we say proven you wrong. And so on. After 9/11 came anthrax, remember. We saw news anchors flipping out on live TV. Maureen Dowd was howling for Cipro. It was a strange, scary time. You were permitted to be afraid.

All I want to remember this weekend is my own personal slideshow of moments. Like…we had digital cable installed that day, which necessitated turning the TV off for about half an hour while the guy worked on the pole outside. I could hardly stand it. When it came back on, I said THANK GOD or some such, and this incredibly mellow and chill cable guy glanced at the TV, shrugged and said, “Yeah. Crazy.” Like I’d been watching roller derby.

I remember the stupidity, the witless public statements, that no one was embarrassed to say out loud. A woman ahead of me in the Target checkout line went on and on about 9/11 and 911 as an emergency number, and wasn’t it obvious the attackers had chosen that day for that reason? The endless rumors, such transparent bullshit, repeated by people who should know better. Did you hear about the six firefighters who were found safe in the basement because they’d been in a sturdy full-size SUV that somehow stood up to having a building fall on it? Remember the photo of the guy standing on the World Trade Center observation deck while the plane zoomed in behind him? Professional debunkers had to take that one apart like the Zapruder film. The “speech made by the pilot on the first flight afterward” story? The advice to travelers? Pack a can of Spam in your carry-on, and throw chunks of it at the hijackers. Evidently they’d be repelled, like Kryptonite. And this was before social media. If Facebook had existed then, we’d still have our thumbs up our big dumb asses.

And the wars, oh my god. The marketing names alone. First it was Operation Infinite Justice, because we can’t just call a war a war anymore, but that was rejected because Muslims were offended or something, and so it became Operation Enduring Freedom. How’d that work out, everyone? Are the Afghans free? Is it enduring? How about us? In my brief period as a copy editor, I took sadistic pleasure in changing every reference in copy from the marketing name to “the Gulf war,” “the second Gulf war,” “the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan,” etc. Over the years, however, I’ve found it’s a pretty good marker for the sort of person I’m talking to/reading. “When I was deployed in Operation Enduring Freedom…” is a signifier that you are not dealing with a straight shooter. Anyway, there have been so many Operation Windy Adjective Patriotic Nouns of late, it’s hard to remember which is which.

The fear. I remember that, too. Sitting in earshot of the police reporter on Friday afterward, listening to the calls on the scanner, one after another, all of which boiled down to: Swarthy Man spotted on my street. Maybe he was walking with another Swarthy Man. These calls were especially prevalent around the east-side neighborhood in Fort Wayne that contained a technical college favored by South Asians. Who are swarthy, by and large.

The newspapers and websites are full of tell-us-your-story stories, already. There are some pretty good ones, but most are about Plucky People Who Never Gave Up Hope, because that’s what we like, I guess. I think of the stories I’d like to read, and I think of …maybe this WashPost piece on the summer before that September. My current editor worked there then. He was on the Chandra Levy story, for weeks on end. Spent two weeks in Modesto, Calif., knocking on doors. What an amazing indulgence that would never, ever happen today. I would like to read a story aimed at young people, telling them all the things we now take for granted that we owe to 9/11: Surveillance cameras everywhere. Taking off your shoes to go through airport security. That sort of thing.

I think I’ll try to tune out as much as possible this weekend. I don’t need to relive it, I don’t want to relive it. The local firefighters will hang a big flag from a fully extended ladder truck over the main avenue through town, and I’ll probably pass under it in the course of my usual Saturday grind. I’ll keep my eyes front. These guys, by and large, weren’t there. Some of them were still in diapers. I hate sentimentality. Everything changed that day, and most of it wasn’t good. I see no need to get emotional about it.

So. Happy weekend to you? Last weekend before we leave (still assuming we leave, which is not at all certain). Weather’s supposed to be nice. I hope yours is good.

Posted at 8:59 pm in Current events, Media | 62 Comments
 

Not so malicious.

Made some time to watch “Malice at the Palace,” a short (about an hour) documentary about the infamous brawl between the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers. It was Nov. 19, 2003, and I remember it mainly because Alan had a job interview in Detroit that day, and they’d made him an offer. We were moving to Detroit. Then I came downstairs that Saturday morning, turned on the TV and found it looping on almost every channel.

We laughed and laughed – hey, it’s our new home! What a crazy place! And beyond the usual anniversary pieces, the tiresome Albomesque chin-scratching about Our Violent Society and Won’t Someone Think of the Children, I haven’t thought much about it since.

So I’m glad I watched. And I came away feeling bad for laughing. I hadn’t thought enough about what it meant to the players who were suspended, losing millions of dollars and being derailed for an entire season. And I certainly hadn’t given enough consideration to the jerkoff fans who started the thing, in particular the guy who threw the cup that set things off. His name is John Green and while he expressed regret, I can’t say I felt much of it coming through the screen.

The players, though – that was rough. Ron Artest, who appeared to have a few mental health issues. Jermaine O’Neal, all sweetness and regret. Stephen Jackson, still pissed. And so on.

Of the woefully unprepared security team, we will say little, other than to echo O’Neal’s contempt that one of the cops didn’t recognize Reggie Miller and came close to giving him a mace facial. True, he wasn’t dressed in his uniform – he had a broken finger – but he was in a very nice suit and trying to break things up; you’d think even a suburban cop would realize a 6-foot-7-inch black man in a suit with courtside access was not just another rioter.

(I once stumbled across a stray piece of video from a couple years back. Miller, who has moved on to sports broadcasting, was walking across a court in an empty arena, hours before a NCAA championship game was to start. A few balls are scattered around the floor. Miller is, again, in a nicely tailored suit. He picks up a ball, dribbles twice, shoots and drains it, from well into the three-point zone. Does it again, does it again, does it five times, each time nothing but net, outside the line. All of this is captured by a photographer he doesn’t see. After he’s shot all the balls within reach, he walks off to wherever he was headed. It’s such a pleasure to watch someone who is that good at what he does, doing what he does. And I’m not even a sports fan.)

The worst offenders, of course, are the media. The word “thug” comes up again and again in the coverage, while people in suits sit in front of cameras and opine straight out their asses. Having been an out-the-ass opiner myself, I know the job often requires you to have opinions about shit you know little to nothing about. Still. Man, I’m glad I don’t have that job anymore.

Anyway, it’s on Netflix, and well worth an hour of your time, sports fan or not.

And with that, we await the weekend. The sunrise was lovely this morning, but it’s gonna be a hot one. Stay cool.

Posted at 9:26 am in Detroit life, Media | 40 Comments
 

Oh, shut up.

The longer you watch the Olympics, the more the suckitude intrudes. Why is golf an Olympic sport? Why are zillionaire American pros permitted to play Olympic tennis? Why can’t any of these color commentators just shut the hell up once in a while?

And of course, why do idiots keep weighing in on Simone Biles’ “mental health?” I put it in quotes because the way some of them talk, you’d think she’s hallucinating demons perched on the uneven bars, when it seems pretty clear what is happening: She’s had enough, and she’s done, and she’s not going to risk breaking her neck for the entertainment of a bunch of fat-asses in Barcaloungers, and that’s that.

With all we’ve learned about women’s gymnastics in recent years, isn’t it time for us to shut up and listen to them? I think so. I also think it’s grimly hilarious that the people who are saying but-but-but-Kerri-Strug and but-but-but-the-Magnificent-Seven can now hear directly from Strug and, oh, Dominique Moceanu, and they and others who have been in Biles’ shoes are all saying, girl, you did the right thing. Also, Rachael Denhollander:

And many, many more.

Even Mitch Albom got up off his cash-stuffed bed and phoned in some piece of shit I won’t link to because it’s paywalled and also, it sucks. But here’s one passage:

“At the end of the day, we’re human, too,” she told the media. ”We have to protect our mind and our body, rather than go out there and do what the world wants us to do.”

It’s hard to argue with that sentence. It’s just weird to hear it at the Olympics — in a sport that is defined by Olympic performances. It’d be one thing if Tom Brady stepped away from Game 15 of the regular season, saying he was burned out or needed a break. It’d be another thing if he did it after the first snap of the Super Bowl.

As many have pointed out: When Tom Brady has a bad day at work, he throws interceptions. When Simone Biles does, she can end up in a wheelchair.

Of course, only idiots still read Albom. Meanwhile, in the Washington Post, Sally Jenkins wrote one outstanding column about her and USA Gymnastics, may that outfit rot in hell, today. She had another really good one on the utter idiocy of the debates over what female athletes should wear in their performances two days ago.

But both of those are paywalled, and this one isn’t, by my old colleague Dave Jones, about the malign influence of one ambitious NBC executive on the Olympics and, by extension, every American who watched or competed:

The outgoing network showcased the athletes of the world and told us their stories. It could be Ethiopian marathoner Abebe Bikila or Kenyan 1,500- and 5,000-meter specialist Kip Keino or Russian gymnast Olga Korbut or Russian weightlifter Vasily Alekseyev or Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci – as well as the great American champions such as swimmer Mark Spitz, skaters Peggy Fleming and Dorothy Hamill, decathlete Bruce Jenner and gymnast Mary Lou Retton and diver Greg Louganis. Whatever and whoever the great stories were, ABC found them, regardless of nationality. Which is, after all the ideal of the Olympics.

Under Ebersol’s command at NBC, all that changed. Obsession with Americans and only Americans, to the point of almost jingoism, was the theme. Nobody else was worth personalizing. Foreigners were essentially made adversaries. The nightly medal count became paramount.

Ebersol was the man who gave us schlockmeister John Tesh as a preeminent event host, complete with his… what would you call them – illustrated lyrical narratives? – before the ’92 Barcelona Games women’s gymnastics sessions. If a Celine Dion ballad of the era could have been whipped for 90 seconds in a Cuisinart with a tablespoon of orchid nectar, it would have emerged as a John Tesh NBC Olympics essay.

And it’s a fun read, too.

Finally, Danny Raskin died this week. He was 102. You probably don’t know who that is. A columnist for the Jewish News here in Detroit for no fewer than 80 years, he wrote a restaurant/around town column called “Best of Everything.” This was the best obit, and the kicker is hilarious:

Scott Raskin said his father was wearing his customary suit and tie when they went to lunch at the Stage Deli in West Bloomfield shortly before the onset of COVID-19.

Mr. Raskin, then 101, spoke briefly to another diner there, a bent and aged-looking woman Scott Raskin guessed to be around 80.

Then “he turned to me,” he said, “and told me, ‘I dated her mother. She was a looker.'”

And with that? Another storm is coming, high winds, so better get this posted in case the power goes out.

Posted at 8:18 pm in Current events, Media | 33 Comments