She contemplates her domain.

The goal today is to finish two stories by 4 p.m., so have a dog picture instead of thoughtful sentences:

princesswendy

Princess Wendy, captured in a pensive moment. Original watercolor by Coozledad in background.

If you haven’t read this, you should: Pete Wells takes on a Thomas Keller Cafe du Snoot and, well, does what Pete Wells does so well:

The kitchen could improve the bacon-wrapped cylinder of quail simply by not placing it on top of a dismal green pulp of cooked romaine lettuce, crunchy and mushy at once. Draining off the gluey, oily liquid would have helped a mushroom potpie from turning into a swampy mess. I don’t know what could have saved limp, dispiriting yam dumplings, but it definitely wasn’t a lukewarm matsutake mushroom bouillon as murky and appealing as bong water.

Stipulated: I know MichaelG dined recently at Keller’s French Laundry in Napa, spent four figures and pronounced every penny Worth It. But the comments on the review from other disappointed Per Se diners suggest someone is failing at this one. And lest you think Wells is just an effete prick taking down another effete prick, let it further be stipulated that he approaches restaurants the way Roger Ebert approached movies, asking: What is this restaurant trying to be, and how successful is it in execution? Witness his dizzy review of Señor Frog’s, a Times Square tourist trap that nonetheless delivers on its promise.

Bridge took on the spiking death rates among less-educated white males story earlier this week. Interesting.

I think Frank Bruni gets to the heart of it in his column about last night’s GOP debate. Or, as I prefer to think of it, the circular firing squad, slowly reducing itself to a duel.

Back to the keys. Back to the phones. Have a great weekend.

Posted at 9:18 am in Current events, Media | 62 Comments
 

A nation of dummies.

So, in re Friday’s post, I read this over the weekend, the announcement of the final installment of What Was Fake, a Washington Post column devoted to debunking Internet rumors and so forth. It’s not that the author has run out of material, but rather, it’s more she’s run out of hope of ever improving things, mainly because of the rise of fake-news sites.

I try to curate my friend list, and subsequent news feed, so a lot of these things don’t get through. So I was a little surprised to click a link within that story and find this one, about a fake-news entrepreneur who consistently fools credulous readers. This would normally be a reminder that some people simply don’t understand satire, but I found this passage depressing:

Where debunking an Internet fake once involved some research, it’s now often as simple as clicking around for an “about” or “disclaimer” page. And where a willingness to believe hoaxes once seemed to come from a place of honest ignorance or misunderstanding, that’s frequently no longer the case. Headlines like “Casey Anthony found dismembered in truck” go viral via old-fashioned schadenfreude — even hate.

There’s a simple, economic explanation for this shift: If you’re a hoaxer, it’s more profitable. Since early 2014, a series of Internet entrepreneurs have realized that not much drives traffic as effectively as stories that vindicate and/or inflame the biases of their readers. Where many once wrote celebrity death hoaxes or “satires,” they now run entire, successful websites that do nothing but troll convenient minorities or exploit gross stereotypes. Paul Horner, the proprietor of Nbc.com.co and a string of other very profitable fake-news sites, once told me he specifically tries to invent stories that will provoke strong reactions in middle-aged conservatives. They share a lot on Facebook, he explained; they’re the ideal audience.

This is so dispiriting. The country doesn’t need this much ignorance, especially hate-driven ignorance.

So, now that we are officially On Vacation, and in the grip of the holidays, expect nothing much from here, other than an occasional photo, linkage, whatever — I have a lot to do. Cleaned two bedrooms and a bathroom today, which was about as much as I could manage on a mild hangover. It actually made me look forward to my January teetotaling, which I am serious about this year; one dry month with maybe, maybe one night off for the auto-show gala, but maybe not. Stocking up on Pellegrino and lime, and of course, lots of Diet Coke.

So a quick pop to the bloggage, then:

A nice little feature on Jim Harrison, Charlotte’s neighbor, reported just before his wife of 55 years died.

Looking for something to read on your days off? You’ll absolutely find something in Longform’s best of 2015 roundup of very readable journalism.

Any Raffi fans out there? I am, and #notashamed about it at all. A nice piece on the man and his career in New York magazine.

Let Christmas week commence.

Posted at 9:28 pm in Ancient archives, Current events, Media, Popculch | 38 Comments
 

How to read the news.

I’ve been out of school a long time, so what I have to say now will probably come as a shock to some of you young’uns, but here goes:

Once in elementary school, and again in high school, I had lessons on how to read a newspaper.

Seriously. The teacher pinned a few pages to a bulletin board, and ran down what we needed to know, as little would-be news consumers. The grade-school lesson covered stuff like what we call the big type at the top of the front page, with the newspaper’s name (the flag), how to tell who wrote a particular story, and the difference between a straight news story and a feature, and between a feature and a column.

The high school class got into more specialized skills, including how to judge a story on its merits, the difference between a broadsheet and a tabloid, and a tabloid and a “tabloid.” While this was never stated explicitly, there was a strong bias to what’s come to be called the MSM or mainstream media, in part because there was very little alternative media at the time, the exception being the trashy movie magazines my grandmother favored. I would read them at her house with great relish, goggling over the back-of-the-book ads for Frederick’s of Hollywood and the Mark Eden Bust Developer; it was there I learned that “nervous exhaustion” was a synonym for “drunk,” among other things.

Years later, when I was working for a newspaper, I would get angry calls from readers saying, “This thing you wrote? It’s just your opinion.” And I would explain that yes it was, because I was a columnist and that was the job description. Clearly some of these people did not have the same lessons.

Anyway, that’s the long way around to something I see more often than ever these days, and people, it vexes me: Crap news. Crap news from crap sources. Today’s blog is a lesson in how to read news on the internet.

So. Consider a few headlines:

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Every one of these “stories” is, to put it bluntly, bullshit. Each one appeared on a website designed and curated for a particular constituency — in this case, top to bottom, right-to-lifers, organic-food advocates and …Not sure what IfYouOnlyNews.com is about, other than lefty politics and culture. But you knew that, right? Good. That’s the easy part.

Right here is where we talk about the difference between reporting and aggregation. All of the above constitutes aggregation. This blog — most blogs — are aggregation, in the sense that I go out on the web and look at others’ work, then bring it back here and link to it. In my case, I’m looking for two to three stories a day that I think would interest you, presented with and without comment. I think it’s clear that I only write the words around the links, and they’re worth approximately what you paid for them.

Reporting is much harder. It requires getting off your butt (or at least getting on the phone), talking to people, looking stuff up, questioning what you know. Nailing things down. I don’t want to self-aggrandize here, but you get the idea. It’s the difference between going out into the world and bringing home the bacon, and eating the bacon later.

But recent years have seen the rise of aggregation as more Americans’ primary source of news, which is alarming to real journalists. All of the above I found via the social-media accounts of non-insane Americans. The new media model is to Facebook-like or Twitter-follow people who share your basic political outlook or interests, then scroll through your feeds all day and click the stuff that tickles your fancy. It’ll be spun and repackaged to flatter and reinforce your beliefs, which will encourage you to share with your own networks. Viral trumps accuracy, always.

But it’s not just sites with obvious points of view that do this anymore. The Washington Post Morning Mix, which seems to be a rewrite desk aiming to catch the eyes of bored commuters staring at their smartphones, recently had this on their page. I’m giving you a screen grab of how it appeared on a typical Facebook post because I want you get the full effect:

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The sobbing woman, the “state of emergency,” lead in a municipal water supply — how can you not click that? And while every word in the story is accurate, the Washington Post wasn’t in Flint to report it; it’s entirely aggregated from stories written by others, and it lacks the context you need to understand what’s going on. The story of the contamination of Flint’s water is complicated, fraught with idiosyncrasies of Michigan politics and other things that make it difficult to fully understand as a casual reader — like plumbing. The state of emergency the mayor declared is a political move, which she freely admits, if you cared enough to follow the links in the story:

The new mayor asked that the Genesee County Board of Commissioners call a special meeting to take action to support her declaration, that it be forwarded to Gov. Rick Snyder, and potentially President Obama.

The end result of the resolution is not known, but Weaver said the city can’t expect further help from the federal government without it.

“Do we meet the criteria (for a disaster area)? I don’t know,” Weaver said. “I’m going to ask and let them tell us no.”

You might think, reading this headline, that the city is still drinking the Flint River water that led to this slow-motion disaster, and they’re not; they switched back to treated water from Detroit weeks ago. That doesn’t mean the crisis is over, not by a long shot — now the fact-finding and blame assignment begins, as well as the inevitable lawsuits. And there is some concern that the Flint River water may have further corroded pipes, and the water may not be as safe as it was before the initial switch. (The lead in the water comes not from the source, but from leaching from the pipes that carry it, specifically the welds. That’s why some kids got more lead exposure than others — the older the infrastructure serving your house, the more likely you were to have lead in your drinking water.)

Another screen grab:

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That’s Google on Thursday. Note how many outlets picked it up — NPR, the networks, even other aggregators like the Huffington Post. As of late Thursday, it was still on the top-five most-read list on the Post website. All without a visit by any reporter. It’s really something.

You want to know what’s going on in Flint? Here’s a radio documentary. Here’s a newspaper story (Sunday-length). Here’s a column. All from local sources, backed up by lots of reporting.

So when you look at something that’s being presented to you as journalism, look at the whole picture. Ask yourself: Did the person whose name appears at the top of the story actually get out and talk to the people quoted and cited, or is it filled with phrases like “…told the New York Times,” or “according to this other source,” etc. Is this in a publication that regularly tells me everything I believe is right and true? Most important: If this event happened in Tampa or New Orleans or Los Angeles, is the story I’m reading from a local media source, or is it from an advocacy group based hundreds of miles away? Local is good, and not just for vegetables.

Enough lesson-ing for today. Here’s a great story from Bridge today; you’ll like it. It’s about a homeless college student, and beautifully done.

Here’s another good read, about aggregation, by an aggregator, for a source I see cited ALL THE TIME.

I’ve been giggling over this short clip, which says everything I want to say about “Star Wars.”

Enjoy your weekend! I’m off for a while. But I’ll be here, of course.

Posted at 11:29 pm in Media | 61 Comments
 

One long day, one wild night.

What a long day. I woke up at 4 a.m. and never really got back to sleep. I worked out and did a ton of the other kind of work before I headed out for an event put on by one of our nonprofit media partners, a look at Detroit a year after bankruptcy.

Check out the Twitter. Didn’t go well.

I’ll tell you the whole story tomorrow, hopefully with at least a couple photos. For now, I need a break. One of the things that woke me up at 4 was a persistent throbbing in my ear that suggests an infection, and I have to see the doc in the morning.

So, some bloggage to tide you over:

The strangeness of local customs and taboos, in Liberia, regarding ebola. A great read.

Trump nation feeds on your contempt:

On Saturday, Goacher shook Trump’s hand at a Davenport campaign rally. He noticed the smooth texture of Trump’s palm.

“He didn’t have to work as hard as I did with my callused hands,” said Goacher, 56. “If a man can become a billionaire without having to work that hard for it, he’s evidently a pretty smart man, money-wise, and the United States has to be run as a business.”

Look on our works, ye mighty, and despair.

Back tomorrow. Hopefully on antibiotics.

Posted at 11:01 pm in Current events, Media | 45 Comments
 

Bad news on the doorstep.

I see how people get addicted to sleeping pills. It’s one reason i won’t take them. The price I pay is an occasional night of insomnia, followed by a terrible-feeling day, but it’s worth it not to be one of those people who can’t cope without Ambien.

Which is why I didn’t update yesterday. I was staring at my laptop at 8:30, the screen swimming in my vision, the tank utterly empty. And now I find myself overwhelmed by current events, an abundance of material.

Boy, Twitter was something early on in this disaster. I don’t think I’ve seen my own feelings tracked quite so closely without actually joining in. The gist of what I saw boiled down to fuck your thoughts and prayers.

As this story is, as they say, developing, let’s hash it out in comments hours from now, which is when you all will be reading this.

Two days off, and I have a million links, most of them good, to share. So here goes. Tuesday’s health coverage in the NYT led with the startling news that after years of increase, the number of new diabetes cases is finally starting to fall. And why? Well…

There is growing evidence that eating habits, after decades of deterioration, have finally begun to improve. The amount of soda Americans drink has declined by about a quarter since the late 1990s, and the average number of daily calories children and adults consume also has fallen. Physical activity has started to rise, and once-surging rates of obesity, a major driver of Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease, have flattened. Type 1 diabetes, often diagnosed in childhood and adolescence and not usually associated with excess body weight, was also included in the data.

In other words, a problem once seen as well-nigh impossible turned out to be possible after all. It gives me hope for sensible gun laws. Of course, soda taxes of the sort public-health advocates would like is unlikely here, but when Mexico enacted them in 2013, guess what happened?

Preliminary data from the Mexican government and public health researchers in the United States finds that the tax prompted a substantial increase in prices and a resulting drop in the sales of drinks sweetened with sugar, particularly among the country’s poorest consumers. The long-term effects of the policy remain uncertain, but the tax is being heralded by advocates, who say it could translate to the United States.

“It’s exactly what we thought the tax would do,” said Barry Popkin, a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina, whose team conducted the research.

OK, so with the health news out of the way, let’s get into the rest.

Sumner Redstone, head of Viacom and CBS and 92 years old, with some truly alarming cheek implants, is having his competency questioned. I wonder how often the reporters on this story get to write passages like this:

In an excruciating list of details, the petition said Mr. Redstone is incontinent, requires suctioning to remove phlegm up to 20 times a day, “has lately been susceptible to prurient urges and fixations that he is unable to control” and has lost interest in his prized collection of tropical fish.

The petition added that Mr. Redstone was “obsessed with eating steak,” even while on a feeding tube, and “demands, to the extent he can be understood, to engage in sexual activity every day.”

It was the part about the tropical fish that made me laugh out loud.

Remember Miss South Carolina Teen USA and her rambling, brain-farty answer to some pageant question? She was really, really hurt by your reaction. She and nine other internet-famous people – the leave-Britney-alone guy, Charlie who bit his brother’s finger, et al – talk about life these days.

The Upper Peninsula has one strip club. It is deep in the woods, and during deer season, it is jumping.

Here are all the lines spoken by female characters who are not Princess Leia in the first three Star Wars films. Don’t worry, it doesn’t take long to watch.

Ted Williams, one of my favorite outdoors writers, in an interview with Forbes. He’s old-school, a sportsman who hunts and fishes and prizes the outdoors accordingly. Alas, nature itself is like red and blue America:

…it doesn’t follow that most sportsmen are environmentalists. As a group they tend to be politically naïve and easily manipulated by their worst enemies. Because he fished and hunted and whooped it up for gun ownership, sportsmen ensured the election of George W. Bush—the most anti-fish-and-wildlife president we’ve ever had with the possible exception of Ronald Reagan, also propelled into office by sportsmen.

PETA-type purists may love fish and wildlife but not enough to learn about it. That’s why they oppose use of rotenone to save endangered fish from being hybridized and outcompeted off the planet, and that’s why they oppose culling of overpopulated deer and alien wildlife (feral horses, burros, cats, rats, hogs, goats, etc.) that destroy our native ecosystems.

There’s also a great walk-off story about sharing a name with a famous athlete.

Finally, an interview with the great Jon Carroll, who used to be linked all the time here, but hasn’t been since the San Francisco Chronicle put him behind a paywall. He’s still one of my faves. Now retired. The story has a link to a piece he wrote about depression; oh hell, I’ll just put it right here. Worth reading, if you’ve ever had the big D, or know someone who has, which is to say: Everyone.

I’m sure more will be revealed tomorrow about the California shooting. Now it’s looking like it came out of a fight at a holiday party? I can’t stand this. Talk later, all.

Posted at 12:26 am in Current events, Media | 61 Comments
 

Weirdness here.

My battery’s dying and my brain’s empty, but I wanted to share this deeply strange photo of David Letterman, taken this week at his alma mater, Ball State.

I really can’t take my eyes off it.

He does look happy, doesn’t he?

letterman

Happy Tuesday, all.

Posted at 12:20 am in Media | 114 Comments
 

Saved in the nick.

I told you Monday would be a bear and it was, and I screwed up and didn’t blog, but then I woke up at 4:30 a.m., and this mega-Jezebel post of terrible restaurant stories fell into my lap. It is, as the kids say, everything. Enjoy and I’ll be back later.

If you don’t have time, control-F to Santa and just read that one. (Wait, there are multiple Santa stories. Santa trucker is the one you want, but they’re all good.)

Posted at 5:38 am in Media | 25 Comments
 

The pace quickens.

Short week ahead, and I’m hosting Thanksgiving, so much to do. Expect outages ahead, or maybe just a lot of food pictures. I can’t believe how fast the weeks whip by. On Sunday, I scan the week ahead and before I know it, it’s Thursday and I’m pulling myself out of the pool, telling the old lifeguard-coach, “See you next week, Tim.” That’s when my weekend starts, mentally, although two days of work remain at that point. But the attitude is different, no longer a climb but a coast. And then it’s Friday, and I head out to meet pals at a venerable local watering hole. The view across the street:

altercollision

The scenery around here isn’t for everyone, but it grows on you. The Instagram filters help, too.

I was trying to grab the neon, admittedly in hail-Mary fashion, but I like the way it turned out. Just a tetch of Hopper-ness.

The broad-daylight shot:

But Sunday comes along eventually, and only a short week ahead, but Monday will be a bear. So let’s do this thing.

I work with public-radio people fairly regularly, so this story — about the graying of NPR — struck me. It’s a mix of reactions, equally “that’s too bad, because younger people need to be listening” and “it’s their own damn fault.” The latter is mainly due to the fact one of the local public stations is still playing “Car Talk,” years after half the team died. This seems like the public-radio equivalent of classic-rock stations refusing to move on because the Stones still sound so good, right?

This drives me nuts, too:

Some of the other brand-name talent at NPR illustrates the situation: Talk-show host Diane Rehm is 79; senior national correspondent Linda Wertheimer is 72; legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg is 71, and “Weekend Edition Saturday” host Scott Simon is a relative youngster at 63.

I enjoy 25-50 percent of the aforementioned hosts. It’s true, though, that when I go to a book-signing or other event that features a public radio-popular personality, I frequently feel like the youngest person there.

Any other bloggage? If you missed this, which someone posted in the comments last week, don’t. It’s good.

As is this companion piece. They’re both about people voting against their own interests, both absolutely worth your time.

Me, I’m off to tackle Monday.

Posted at 12:08 am in Current events, Detroit life, Media | 75 Comments
 

Worth a listen.

Monday was the birthday twins’ special day, so Kate came home over the weekend to eat cake with her father. We drove her back on Sunday and ate at a fairly awful Chinese restaurant in Ann Arbor before dropping her at her dorm. But! It was a worthwhile experience, because we sat next to a table of athlete/frat bros, and eavesdropped shamelessly on their conversation, which ended up being about women, of course.

What women are 10s? they discussed. The main point of contention seemed to be whether Victoria’s Secret models were 10s by default, having been admitted to the most exalted realm of female pulchritude, or whether there were gradations of heat within the Victoria’s Secret pantheon.

“They’re, like, the primo examples of humanity,” one protested. Another was pickier. Heidi Klum, well past her VS years, was a permanent 10, a hall-of-fame 10, but the rest of them? They would have to apply one by one.

The Derringers sat with ears cocked like cocker spaniels, listening to this. The best entertainment is our fellow human beings.

Which is why today’s bloggage kicks off with examples of humanity at its most confounding, including a man who paid $718,000 to a series of psychics, because he was lonely:

He knew none of it made sense: He was a successful and well-traveled professional, with close to seven figures in the bank, and plans for much more. And then he gave it all away, more than $718,000, in chunks at a time, to two Manhattan psychics.

They vowed to reunite him with the woman he loved. Even after it was discovered that she was dead. There was the 80-mile bridge made of gold, the reincarnation portal.

“I just got sucked in,” the man, Niall Rice, said in a telephone interview last week from Los Angeles. “That’s what people don’t understand. ‘How can you fall for it?’”

This, on the other hand, is a scary-as-hell story about how life and law enforcement works in the Deep Souf’, and how it led to the death of a little boy in the proverbial hail of gunfire.

And with a shift, we pivot to a topic near and dear to my heart: The meeeeedia. Which, it would seem, is getting tired of being a punching bag. In three pieces:

One:

There absolutely is room for debate about the proportionality of coverage of an incident like this compared to something like the Paris attacks that happened on Friday, but to say that the media don’t cover terrorism attacks outside of Europe is a lie.

They do.

But as anyone working in the news will tell you, if you look at your analytics, people don’t read them very much.

Two:

We live in a world now where no one wants to pay for news. Newspapers are struggling, and foreign bureaus have been shuttering for years. Many of the buzzy new media sites don’t have foreign bureaus or even much original reporting from overseas (with a handful of notable exceptions, and good on them). Publications are increasingly dependent on freelancers abroad, who do their work for low pay, with virtually no institutional resources behind them, often at significant personal risk. To suggest that “no one” is reporting on Beirut, on Garissa, on Baghdad is an affront and an insult to the great many professionals who put their lives in jeopardy to do just that.

We complain that we don’t see the reporting we want. But aside from an outraged Facebook status, many of us in the U.S. don’t actually seem to want the kind of reporting we claim to value — we’re overwhelmingly not paying to subscribe to the outlets that do good, in-depth reporting about places around the world. Aside from when tragedy strikes, we’re not sharing articles on Beirut or a city we’ve never heard of in Kenya nearly as often as many of us are sharing pieces about Paris, or even 10 Halloween Costumes for Feminist Cats.

And three:

Since college students are free to vent what they feel about the media, it’s only fair that the media return the favor.

So allow me, based, not on biases absorbed from my parents along with my Maypo, but on actual experience, teaching college courses, including one at Loyola.

College kids don’t know shit. The average college student couldn’t find his ass with both hands and a map. I once taught a journalism course for the State University of New York’s Maritime College. At the end of the final exam, I prefaced the extra credit questions with, “A journalist should have a rough idea of what is going on in the world.” One question was: “With the collapse of the Soviet Union, one Communist super power remains. What is it?” Some students guessed “Cuba.” Others, “Iraq.” Some didn’t even hazard an attempt.

That should give you enough to chew over for a Tuesday. Me, I’m back at work.

Posted at 12:36 am in Current events, Media, Same ol' same ol' | 68 Comments
 

You’re on camera.

The end of the week, and what is there to say? “I’m tired.” True, but not really — had a great swim this morning, stuck to my eating plan, and here it is, the end of Thursday, and these feel like enormous accomplishments. Do doctors have days like this? Repaired a hernia, had a great hair day. #winning One wonders.

I got nothing right now, but I do have this, a profile with an uncooperative subject, i.e., the guy who took the Planned Parenthood sting videos:

Matthew Reeves, the National Abortion Federation’s medical director, also had an encounter with Daleiden, according to the lawsuit. He described Daleiden’s questions as “pushy” and “leading” and noted his “strange face-forward stiffness when speaking.” At the time, Reeves attributed this stiffness “to a personality quirk,” the lawsuit says, but he “now realizes [it] was because Daleiden was most likely carrying equipment and filming or recording the conversation.”

The lawsuit describes two women who attended the conference with Daleiden — actors, it turns out — wearing loose-fitting scarves that may have concealed recording equipment. And it includes photographs of Daleiden in black-framed glasses that he no longer seems to wear. Daleiden declined to say whether that was where he hid the camera.

The lawsuit seeks to have 500 hours of footage shot at two conferences turned over to the abortion federation on grounds that Daleiden signed a confidentiality agreement. A California judge has granted the organization a preliminary injunction, which for now prevents Daleiden from releasing those videos.

We’re coming to a turning point with these videos. Not just the Planned Parenthood ones, all of them. There’s a case working its way through the news cycle in Fort Wayne — can’t find the link now — where an employee of the city clerk taped her badgering employees for political work on behalf of her hand-picked successor. And then there’s the one that started it all, Mitt Romney and his remarks about the 47 percent. Sooner or later we’re going to have to decide whether what we learn from these incidents is worth the squickiness of how we find out. I don’t want to have to go around thinking I’m being taped by my enemies, anyway.

Maybe we can think about this over the weekend. I’m-a clean my house.

EDIT WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP THIS JUST IN: The story about my shop was posted today on the Columbia Journalism Review website. I’m in it. Read if you’re so inclined.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Media | 87 Comments