Always look on the bright side.

Quite an evocative photo from my former workplace, which I stole from a friend’s Facebook page. Behold:


Note: That is not the actual winner of the Positive Attitude Award. That is my friend Emma, who used to work there but doesn’t any longer. I’m told the actual winner of the Positive Attitude Award left the company before the year of primo parking was up, and got a better job. Outstanding.

There are two kinds of bosses in the world, I think: Those who think awards like this are a totally great idea and a swell motivator of the workforce, and all the rest. We could fill a shelf of books with stories of both, but mainly the first kind. I’m frankly amazed why so few sense the weird, Soviet vibe of such a designation, but Fort Wayne Newspapers always had a rich vein of that stuff running through it. So did Knight-Ridder, may it rest in pieces, which once rolled out a chain-wide initiative aimed at customer satisfaction. “We’re obsessed with it!” an editor wrote, suggesting he wasn’t entirely clear on the concept of obsession.

Anyway, it was all for naught. Budget cuts, more budget cuts, still more budget cuts, a sale, even more budget cuts and finally – the Positive Attitude Award. This is how American capitalism ends, folks.

Not that I am bitter!

So, I started a new book this weekend, an impulse buy on the Kindle: “400 Things Cops Know.” I remember picking up a similar book from a free pile years ago, with a similar title, and emerging from a blinking fog hours later. You can dive in and not surface, or just nibble at random, and it taught me a new bit of jargon: You know what you call a perp’s butt crack and/or rectum? A “prison wallet.” I’m sorry, it just makes me giggle.

Other things I learned today: The passing of Cat Fancy magazine tracks with the watershed in feline culture in recent years, from purebred fluffy Persians to internet cat culture of LOLcats and Caturday and Grumpy Cat and my favorite, Henri, le chat noir.

How was all y’all’s weekend? Bill Bonds died here, and as I’ve always said, the mourning over long-running TV personalities is not yours to indulge in when you’re a transplant to a city. I’m sure I already missed the passings of the various TV personalities of my youth. Luci of Luci’s Toyshop, Flippo the Clown, Bob Braun – all gone to the great beyond. But Bonds was special, or so they say. An early version of the Freep mentioned that his career was “derailed” by alcohol, true enough but a hell of a load to put in the first sentence of a man’s obit. He was on TV here for 30 years; surely there was more to him than a dapper drunk.

Hope everyone’s week will be stellar.

Posted at 8:20 pm in Media, Popculch, Same ol' same ol' | 66 Comments

More unraveling.

Not that it matters so much anymore, but the Rolling Stone rape story is unraveling further. Slate picks apart the revelations, and comes to the money shot:

Here’s the most disturbing journalistic detail to emerge from the Post’s reporting: In the Rolling Stone story, Erdely says that she contacted Randall, but he declined to be interviewed, “citing his loyalty to his own frat.” Randall told the Post he was never contacted by Erdely and would have been happy to be interviewed.

That could mean one of two things: Jackie could have given Erdely fake contact information for Randall and then posed as Randall herself, sending the reporter that email in which he supposedly declined to participate in the story. Erdely also could have lied about trying to contact Randall. Rolling Stone might have hinted at this possibility in its “Note to Our Readers” when it referred to a “friend of Jackie’s (who we were told would not speak to Rolling Stone)” but later spoke to the Washington Post. That would take Erdely a big step beyond just being gullible and failing to check her facts, moving this piece in the direction of active wrongdoing.

I take no satisfaction from this, believe me. This has moved from making rape victims look bad to making journalists look even worse. I simply don’t understand how anyone with a shred of skepticism could swallow that story.

However, the day also provided this delightful bit of reading material, at least for film fans and devotees of “Boogie Nights” — an oral history of the very same film. I’m only partway through, and have already learned that Sean Penn was in consideration for the Alfred Molina role. I hope it’s a testament to how well the film worked that I can’t imagine his craggy old face yelling, “Come on, you puppies!” Loved that movie.

Posted at 9:10 am in Media, Movies | 55 Comments

When the facts speak for themselves, let them.

The Rolling Stone with the story about Jackie her gang rape at a University of Virginia frat house there arrived at our house in dead-tree form — yes, we subscribe. (Someone remind me why.) I read it because I was in the midst of trying to get my arms around the sexual-misconduct-on-campus issue for my own stories, here and here. I’m not boasting of anything here other than skepticism when I tell you my BS detector started buzzing almost immediately — when Jackie was pushed down onto a glass-topped table, which broke underneath her, “sharp shards digging into her back.” In the same paragraph, she’s punched hard in the face. In the next, someone says, “Grab its motherfucking leg.” And that’s, the story tell us, “when Jackie knew she was going to be raped.”

The details that followed were lurid — a three-hour gang rape by no fewer than seven men, with two more looking on. One can’t get it up, and is met with jeers (“What, she’s not hot enough for you?”), so he penetrates her with a beer bottle. I will admit I was already doubting this part, even while I acknowledge it’s possible. UVA is an elite school, and while it undeniably has a history of not handling sexual assault on campus well at all, to believe just these few paragraphs I would have to believe the so-called rape culture at UVA was so pervasive, and these men felt so secure in their immunity, that nine of them would risk lengthy prison terms on the assumption that Jackie wouldn’t go to the police and that the university would look the other way. That’s an enormous leap for an informed reader to take.

And the story went on. After three hours of this ongoing attack, Jackie passes out and comes to in the room, alone. Imagine the mess she would have been after three hours of pounding on a bed of broken glass, after a fist to the face, after a bottle. She probably had trouble even walking, but somehow she stumbles unnoticed out of the frat house. It was the point at which she met some friends that we entered Lifetime Original Movie territory: One friend wants her to go to the hospital, but the other two have second thoughts. “She’s gonna be the girl who cried rape and we’ll never be allowed into any frat party again,” one says. A woman says this, we’re told.

I could go on, but you’re getting the idea. This story, presented in vivid detail, was simply too good — or too bad — to be true. I sent a few friends and colleagues my doubts via email that day, and was met with a variety of responses, but most agreed that something doesn’t smell quite right.

An editor named Richard Bradley laid out his own suspicions point by point in a blog, and pretty much parallel my thinking. I was left thinking something probably happened to Jackie, but it wasn’t this, and I’d think anyone with even a half-developed sense of skepticism would have thought to check the story further.

As everyone knows by now, the story has fallen apart. I’d like to talk a little bit about why. Check out this quote from the Washington Post:

“The doubt cast on Jackie’s story has been feeding the myth that we have been combating for 40 years that women lie about rape and I feel that will put women at a disadvantage in coming forward,” Renda said.

Confronted with what’s looking more and more like an outright fabrication, she refers to fabrication as a “myth.”

OK, so she misspoke. She claims earlier that “2 to 8 percent” of all rape claims are fabricated or unfounded, which is more than zero. I have no reason to disbelieve that figure. But when you’re building a story about the pervasiveness of campus rape, and the cold shoulder given victims by administrations, best not to make an untrue account your through-line.

I’m amazed at some of the reaction I read and heard when the story started being picked apart, i.e., the truthiness defense. This essay is typical: It doesn’t matter if her account is untrue because rape goes unpunished on campuses all the time, so it’s OK.

No, it’s not. I don’t know why it’s so hard for people to understand, but building a story like this is like building a house. If the foundation is rotten, the whole thing will collapse, “true enough” or not. And that’s not even beginning to consider the defamation/libel issues. Because here’s the problem: Campus rape is real. Gang rape at the UVA Phi Psi house is real. Sexual assault on other campuses, in other frat houses — also real. Which is why it’s so very very important to tell the truth about it.

Or, as I sometimes say by way of writing advice: When the facts speak for themselves, let them.

Here’s part of my struggle in understanding, and writing, about sexual assault — and what’s now called sexual misconduct — on campus. I’m not talking about women who pass out after a thousand beers and wake up naked in a frat-house bedroom with some sleazebag saying what a good time he had. I’m talking about the cases of miscommunication, misleading and, yes, regret that happen all the time. You don’t turn 16 and immediately know how to drive a car; you have to practice. And you aren’t born knowing how to deal with the opposite sex, or whatever sex you’re attracted to, with confidence and charm. There’s a learning curve. It doesn’t always go well. Add alcohol, and it’s virtually a certainty.

Say I’m an 18-year-old freshman and don’t have a thousand beers. Say I have five or six. I’m buzzed. So is the guy I’m dancing with. Maybe we have sex. Maybe I wake up tomorrow, hung over, and say ugh. The Title IX guidelines explicitly state that a person who has been drinking or taking drugs cannot may not be able to give consent; if I decide to file a complaint about this, I’m on solid ground. (Victims’ advocates insist these second-thoughts cases are rare. It’s hard to tell from the data, which doesn’t contain many details) And maybe the guidelines should state this, because what else are you going to do? Require pocket breathalyzers in every dorm room? And so then you get policies that seem to have taken the whole of human sexual interaction, with all its subtlety, ambiguity, gray areas, pursuit, thrust and parry, and tried to make, well, policy. In its own way, it’s as rigid as abstinence-until-marriage. And I still don’t understand how a generation taught that any alcohol consumption = no consent will deal with the world outside campus, where alcohol accompanies mating dances every night of the week.

So we’re left with the system we have now, and advocates who say things like this:

“The first thing as a friend we must say is, ‘I believe you and I am here to listen,’” says Brian Head, president of UVA’s all-male sexual assault peer education group One in Four. Head and others believe that questioning a victim is a form of betrayal, because it will make her feel judged and all the more reluctant to ever speak about what happened. None of the people we spoke to had asked Jackie who the men were, and in fact none of them had any idea. They did not press her on any details about the incident.

In most cases, this is probably the better approach, because most women won’t put themselves through the wringer — and it is a wringer — if they feel they won’t be supported. Most will take their ugh home and deal with it however they will. But 2 to 8 percent may be women like Jackie. Who is going to share responsibility for setting the whole issue back, significantly. And that’s the damn shame in all of this.

I contrast the Jackie story with this Q-and-A about another UVA frat-house rape, from Jezebel. It’s about a woman who wakes up after a boozy party knowing something bad had happened to her, but remembering nothing. She makes mistakes (a shower), but does other things right, and the story about how her case wound its way through the UVA grievance process existing at that time feels far truer than the literally incredible tale of Jackie. It’s also a defense of the school’s quasi-judicial system — roundly criticized in the Jackie story — because while it couldn’t put her assailant behind bars, at least it gave this woman something. She would have been a better person to carry a narrative for Rolling Stone, but then, it would have raised other questions.

Like alcohol. This woman now realizes she has a drinking problem, and is sober now, but her assault was undoubtedly abetted by drinking that night. Some victims’ advocates get incandescent with anger if you even raise the issue, and I get why: It’s hard to navigate the narrow space between telling women to be careful about their drinking in social settings, but still hold that if things go wrong, it isn’t their fault. It’s a fact that alcohol clouds judgment and represses your self-preservation instincts (“hey er’rybody, watch this”); it is not victim-blaming to point this out. Yes, men will rape in the absence of alcohol or blackout drunkenness. But prudent cautions about drinking and drugs absolutely have to be a part of this.

So that’s what I cogitated on this weekend, watching things unravel for Jackie (whose last name is now out there, a totally predictable turn of events), Rolling Stone and others. I’m haunted about something a younger friend told me, about seeing a nude woman led stumbling through a wild party on a Michigan college campus a few years ago, then taken into a room with two men. Who closed the door. These things happen. I think they happen quite a lot. And thanks to this fiasco, we’ll be that much longer figuring out what to do about it.

Posted at 3:47 pm in Media | 59 Comments

A pour.

Eh, what a rough few days, and what a rough few more lie ahead, but by Jesus’ birthday, I should be free and clear. So bear with me, folks.

I keep wanting to discuss the UVA rape story, but I have my own story on the topic coming out today in Bridge, so I better not, but one 900-pound gorilla in all these discussions of campus rape — it seems to me, anyway — is alcohol. It’s not exactly ignored, but I’m astonished at today’s college drinking culture, and how la-de-da we seem to be about it.

We’ve discussed this before. I’m sure we’ve been through the No. 1 Party School and all our usual baby-boom grumping, but every so often something comes along to suggest nothing is getting better and may, in fact, be getting worse. The other day an Ann Arbor writer published a blog that made a bit of a splash, about a football Saturday spent in the Ann Arbor ER:

Yesterday’s football game, the last home game of the season, was scheduled to begin at 4:30, and, by 2:00, the students were already beginning to make their way in, escorted by EMTs. Given the way my bed was situated, I couldn’t see a great deal, but I did pick up on several distinct conversations, most all of which began with students being asked, “Do you know where you are?” (They rarely did.)

For the purposes of this post, I’d like to just share one example… that of a young woman who came in nearly comatose, having been found covered in vomit in an Ann Arbor alley. Of all the folks I’d hear that day, it was her that I was most worried about.

I could see her come in. The EMTs brought her down the corridor, strapped to a board, telling the hospital staff where she’d been found. Her head was hanging to one side, like her neck couldn’t support the weight of it. One of the nurses, I remember, commented to one of his coworkers that the human head weights 13 pounds, and it takes a lot of muscle control to hold it up. When she first came in, before I realized that her admission was alcohol related, I honestly thought that she had an advanced neuromuscular disease of some kind. As the conversation between nurses continued, though, I put the pieces together… Within a few minutes of arriving, and being told that she was at a hospital, she began vomiting.

Later we find the girl — found in an alley, covered in vomit — is a student, and apparently pledging a sorority. I keep thinking about the found-in-an-alley part. How did she get there? Who were her friends? Did she wander off? This was in November, hardly the best weather for passing out in the great outdoors.

How is this, if not a health crisis, at least a topic of national discussion? Why do so many parents think this sort of thing is simply to be expected? I got plenty hammered when I was in college, but I never ended up passed out in an alley, covered with vomit. A few years back, there was a series in one of the Midwestern papers about a string of mysterious deaths at one of the University of Wisconsin branch campuses, maybe La Crosse? Who was killing the students who disappeared while walking home late at night? No one, actually; they were drowning in the Mississippi River. Which they fell into while drunk.

For all the talk of date-rape drugs and spiked drinks, the truth is, the most common date-rape drug in America, by far, is alcohol. I don’t think it constitutes victim-blaming to tell young women to watch their alcohol consumption, if only to improve their odds of avoiding assault.

But what do I know? Maybe you’ll like this Neil Steinberg blog on the newspaper industry’s tradition of obituaries written in advance.

Me, I’m off to bed.

Posted at 10:06 pm in Current events, Media | 111 Comments

Bad boy.

I don’t know if Detroit’s proximity to Canada predisposes us to like America Jr.’s media offerings or what, but I’ve been a fan of Q, a show hosted by Jian Ghomeshi; it runs on WDET here. I guess, for lack of a better description, you’d call it the Canadian “Fresh Air,” only with more guests in a typical hour. Today the word is flying around that Ghomeshi was fired, with various hints at an ugly scandal lurking in the wings – Ghomeshi was said to have hired a crisis public-relations firm; the network said it had information that precluded it from continuing to employ him, etc.

An hour or so ago, Ghomeshi himself posted a statement on his Facebook that, if you take him at his word, has to be the very definition of a 21st-century nightmare:

About two years ago I started seeing a woman in her late 20s. Our relationship was affectionate, casual and passionate. We saw each other on and off over the period of a year and began engaging in adventurous forms of sex that included role-play, dominance and submission. We discussed our interests at length before engaging in rough sex (forms of BDSM). We talked about using safe words and regularly checked in with each other about our comfort levels. She encouraged our role-play and often was the initiator. We joked about our relations being like a mild form of Fifty Shades of Grey or a story from Lynn Coady’s Giller-Prize winning book last year. I don’t wish to get into any more detail because it is truly not anyone’s business what two consenting adults do. I have never discussed my private life before. Sexual preferences are a human right.

Despite a strong connection between us it became clear to me that our on-and-off dating was unlikely to grow into a larger relationship and I ended things in the beginning of this year. She was upset by this and sent me messages indicating her disappointment that I would not commit to more, and her anger that I was seeing others.

After this, in the early spring there began a campaign of harassment, vengeance and demonization against me that would lead to months of anxiety.

It came to light that a woman had begun anonymously reaching out to people that I had dated (via Facebook) to tell them she had been a victim of abusive relations with me. In other words, someone was reframing what had been an ongoing consensual relationship as something nefarious. I learned – through one of my friends who got in contact with this person – that someone had rifled through my phone on one occasion and taken down the names of any woman I had seemed to have been dating in recent years. This person had begun methodically contacting them to try to build a story against me. Increasingly, female friends and ex-girlfriends of mine told me about these attempts to smear me.

I’m a big girl and know everybody has their own version of a story, and I also know I’m predisposed to believe the guy whose show I like, but still – do you come back from something like this? I’m sure some people do, but I can hardly imagine anything worse. (As expected, there are different versions of Ghomeshi’s private life floating around.) ON EDIT: Alas, it’s looking as though Ghomeshi is a garden-variety creep. Too bad. I did like his show.

So, how was everyone’s weekend? I’m still sick, but Sudafed is making things a lot more tolerable, enough that I ventured out for a bike ride Sunday — the glorious days are still with us, but every one feels like it could be the last for a good long while, so you have to enjoy them. Then it was home, groceries and being creative director on Kate’s senior-picture photo shoot, which I hope wrapped successfully. The rest of the weekend was sort of a fog of cold medicine and beer and Halloween candy pilfered from the giant Costco sack I bought. I wonder if it’ll last until Friday. We shall see.

Some bloggage? The Michigan/Michigan State game was pretty awful, as expected, mainly because of Michigan.

Has anyone ever made tarte tatin? I’m thinking of trying this recipe. I’ll let you know how it works out.

Posted at 9:04 pm in Current events, Media | 42 Comments

Summer snapshots.

I said expect some photo posts this summer, so here you go.

I found this video on my phone, having utterly forgotten it from a couple of weeks ago. It’s from Port Huron, at the start of the Mackinac race. When the boats start to make their way out of the river to the starting line, the Port Huron Yacht Club hosts a troupe of pipers to send them off. Sort of cool. Click here if you want to watch it.

The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad had a big weekend — five gigs in four days, one of them on the University of Michigan student radio station. It was to promote some local-music festival. They made the Metro Times listings:


Look at Justin Timberlake, checkin’ out my girls. Step off, pop star. You can’t handle the DVAS.

The best gig of the weekend was Thursday’s, at the Magic Stick. The theme was Space Jam, so decorations were in order:


They were very energetic. I will say, that after years of dragging Kate around to jazz gigs and other music lessons, six months with this band has done far more for her confidence than all that sophisticated repertoire she played with various ensembles. She’s having a ball, and so a ball she will continue to have.

How was y’all’s weekend? I spent it working on the book, and was rewarded with a strongly ass-smelling Mitch Albom column. The past week included Detroit’s 313th birthday, and if you’ve ever called someone here, you know that’s the city’s area code. So there were a number of parties, festivals, throwdowns and the like going on all week. These included: A “body-positive,” i.e. semi-nude bike ride, a street-band festival, about a million other things. A guy I know who’s involved with the people who own and operate Gon KiRin, aka the dragon art car that shoots actual fire out of her nostrils, got her out and about. They got pulled over by the cops. Let me just set up the punchline by sketching out what this thing offers:

The beast is 22-1/2 feet tall and about 80 feet long, weighing in at 8 tons. It’s an “art car,” built onto the frame of an old Dodge W-300 Power Wagon with a 318 engine. There’s a 1,500-pound second-story DJ booth encased in steel wicker, mounted on a Marine Zodiac attack boat under the monster’s spine. The whole contraption can carry more than a dozen riders, with seats in the mouth and in a party couch on the back, where riders can make the tail sway back and forth.

So guess what the offense was? One of the artists had his 2-year-old son with him, and he wasn’t in a child safety seat. On a dragon.

With all this going on, with this vast buffet of snacks and bonbons to choose from, here’s part of Mitch’s offering on the 313 celebration:

What we are — what we remain — is a place that celebrates things like its 313th birthday. A place that immortalizes an annual car cruise down Woodward Avenue. That treats Opening Day of the baseball season as a religious experience. That considers walking around new cars in tuxedos and black dresses the biggest party of the year.

We are resilient in our traditions. Fiercely proud of own. We act as if Tim Allen still walks down our streets and Bob Seger is releasing a top 10 song this week, as if Motown is a thriving business, not a museum, and Gordie Howe could lace them up and play a few shifts if he wanted to.

Tim Allen. Bob Seger. Motown. The Dream Cruise (which doesn’t come near Detroit). If this guy were any more out of touch, he’d be living in California. All of the above details about the goings-on could have been gleaned from a cursory run through the free weekly’s listings. I can’t stand it.

OK, then. I just sent this David Carr column to my colleagues. It’s about the use of immediate social-media technology to report on breaking news, and the complications and rule-bending it brings with it:

Tyler Hicks, a longtime photographer for The Times, was at a hotel in Gaza City across from the beach where the four Palestinian boys died. He tweeted the news immediately, took a photo that was hard to glance at and then wrote about what it was like to be standing there.

He said that he felt horrified, but that in a clinical sense, he also felt exposed. “If children are being killed, what is there to protect me, or anyone else?”

The act of witness, a foundation of war reporting, has been democratized and disseminated in new ways. The same device that carries photos of your mother’s new puppy or hosts aimless video games also serves up news from the front.

Are you middle-class? Feeling poorer today? There’s a reason.

OK, I’m outta here. Have a great week, everyone. Expect more spotty service.

Posted at 12:30 am in Detroit life, Media, Same ol' same ol' | 40 Comments

Oh, Ann.

Out late seeing the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (which continues to improve; we’re so proud), so no blog today. This Ann Coulter column is making the rounds, but I’m refusing to engage with it. It’s such lazy trolling, and Ed Anger did it better. Feel free if you like, but as for me, eh.

Have a great weekend, all. It’s going to be sunny and hot here.

Posted at 9:05 am in Media | 47 Comments

Difficult women.

I’m pretty much done caring about the Jill Abramson story, but in looking at various photos of her today, I think I recognize something in her — the late-middle-age don’t-give-a-fuck woman. She has three tattoos, she rides in the back of pickup trucks. She’s “brusque.” She obviously hasn’t had any face work done, or seems to pay a great deal of attention to her hair and makeup. She went riding with the Knight-Wallace Fellows, in Argentina. The gauchos take you galloping across the pampas on unreliable horses. It’s a hot, sweaty, dusty experience that leaves you all three of those things, and it’s pretty glorious.

A woman after my own heart.

I’m recognizing this period looming in my life. My daughter is ready to fly the coop; in a year she’ll be a legal adult and she already acts like one. I told people that if the bankruptcy judge allowed a single piece of art to be sold from the Detroit Institute of Art, I would get a detail from “Detroit Industry” tattooed on my back, and dammit, I might do it. I’ve considered, in the last few months: Taking a hip-hop/ballroom/belly dance class, buying a Cadillac or maybe an El Camino, selling the house and getting a loft in a shitty neighborhood, selling my great-aunt’s silver because what the fuck am I doing with it. I’ve stopped trying to perfect the pomegranate martini in favor of two fingers of Bulleit rye, neat. In other words, this may be the last period of my life that resembles youth before old age arrives, so why not? Sooner or later the grave will take us all; do you really want to die never having owned a $170 bra made in France?

The day the bus broke down, I was drawing near my office on my bike and thought, somewhat sheepishly, Dorthea Nall would never, ever do this. On the other hand, Dorthea Nall held a full-time job when the other mothers stayed home. Most of her friends were years younger than she was and even when she was old, she was never old, if you get my meaning. So she may well have ridden a bike to work in Detroit, too. She just didn’t get the chance.

In more other words, I have to say, there’s a lot to recommend being a difficult woman. Abramson will land on her feet, and in the meantime, she can say she never curbed her brusqueness to satisfy a Sulzberger.

And with that, I’m drawing this curtain. Story’s already played.

I just registered Kate for the ACT, her second try. Her first try gave her a very good score, excellent even, but we must try again, because one or two more points might open a magical door to a money source. All I can think, as I hand my credit card over, is this: Education in this country is effed. Totally.

But this is a good problem to have. As we go into the weekend, I leave you with this amusing commencement speech that no one actually gave:

There are so many terrible pop songs out there now that babble on about being true to yourself and loving you for you. And because young people are stupid, they buy into that shit and distort it and come to the misguided notion that having high self-esteem means never acknowledging that you have a shitload to work on. Take it from me. Whenever I get pissed, I usually kick the wall or throw something. And when my wife says that I shouldn’t have to do that, you know what my excuse is? That’s just who I am. That is the shittiest excuse in history, and people use it all the time. Oh hey, I’ll be three hours late to your wedding. SORRY THAT’S JUST WHO I AM. Not only does that mean you suck, it actually romanticizes your sucking. You actually expect people to be charmed by your suckage. That’s a cool trick!

Happy weekend, all. It won’t crack 70 degrees here.

Posted at 12:30 am in Media | 37 Comments

Lean in and be beheaded.

I’ve been reading the Jill Abramson story. That’s the New York Times editor who was abruptly cashiered today, or so the story is shaping up. I read the first news-alert piece today from the NYT, which called the transition “unexpected.” My first thought was, someone has cancer. But now it appears, via Ken Auletta at the link above, that it was a more prosaic reason:

As with any such upheaval, there’s a history behind it. Several weeks ago, I’m told, Abramson discovered that her pay and her pension benefits as both executive editor and, before that, as managing editor were considerably less than the pay and pension benefits of Bill Keller, the male editor whom she replaced in both jobs. “She confronted the top brass,” one close associate said, and this may have fed into the management’s narrative that she was “pushy,” a characterization that, for many, has an inescapably gendered aspect. Sulzberger is known to believe that the Times, as a financially beleaguered newspaper, needed to retreat on some of its generous pay and pension benefits; Abramson had also been at the Times for far fewer years than Keller, having spent much of her career at the Wall Street Journal, accounting for some of the pension disparity. Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Times, said that Jill Abramson’s total compensation as executive editor “was directly comparable to Bill Keller’s”—though it was not actually the same. I was also told by another friend of Abramson’s that the pay gap with Keller was only closed after she complained. But, to women at an institution that was once sued by its female employees for discriminatory practices, the question brings up ugly memories.

Pushy. Well, that’s what leaning in will get you.

Abramson is a big supporter of the Knight-Wallace Fellows, and visited Ann Arbor when I was there. She’s smart and personable and has a truly distinctive voice, this sort of nasal New York drawl, if that makes sense. (You’ve heard of people who have “a face for radio?” Well, she has a voice for print, but she made a joke about it, so she gets points.) She answered every question directly and seemed truly comfortable in her skin. The Times had recently taken some flack about publishing photos from the horrible ambush of American contractors in Iraq in 2004, where the bodies were dragged and burned and hoisted up for public view like charred barbecue. She explained why they made the call they did. Beyond that, I don’t what to say other than she was right to point out the pay discrepancy.

You could make the argument that the NYT had been overpaying for a while, and it was just bad timing that Abramson took the editor’s job when the publisher decided the salary had to return to earth. But she was also underpaid when she was managing editor, and apparently there’s a deputy m.e. who earned more than she did. I have a feeling this is a more-will-be-revealed thing.

So. Many years ago, I made a dismissive remark about cats in a column. I’m not a cat hater, but I’ve never had one of my own, and I guess I fell for the cruel cat stereotype that they’re aloof and would happily watch their masters writhe on the ground in pain, asking only that the hoomin please leave some food out before heading to the hospital. I got a note for a woman who claimed her cat had awakened her — by jumping on her chest and meowing loudly — during a break-in at her house. I forget the cat’s name, but I did a hooray-for-Mr.-Jinxy column and that was that.

Evidently heroism runs in the gene pool. I had no idea.

Not much more to add today, but there’s this: The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad has three songs on Bandcamp, which you may listen to and download, if you’re so inclined. They were produced by my friend Jim Diamond, who did them gratis because he’s a mensch. He said they added some percussion in post, and Kate played the cowbell. “Move closer to the mic, Kate, I need more cowbell,” he said, noting that’s the first time he’s ever spoken those words in his career. It got a big laugh. I expect the DVAS won’t be to everybody’s liking, but I hope Borden digs ‘em, because he knows his girl groups.

As for the lyrics, I have only this to say: Johnny Cash didn’t really shoot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.

Happy Thursday, all.

Posted at 12:31 am in Current events, Media, Same ol' same ol' | 25 Comments

One million stories in the Naked City.

A few little Moments in Detroit ™ have befallen me lately. I should share:

Since the weather turned warm, I’ve been doing some so-called last-mile commuting, which is what urban planners call it when you ride a bike to a transit stop, load it onto the bus or light rail or whatever, then unload it at your destination stop and finish the last leg to your office. It’s great so far; the building manager overruled the security guard who told me I had to leave the bike chained to a parking meter outside, so I take it up to the office. At lunchtime, I’m no longer confined to the Subway and Rub Pub on either side of our building, or even the places farther away — I can ride to the Eastern Market and get a slice of Supino’s pizza or a sandwich from the Russell Street Deli, which has Subway beat by a unit so large, it no longer makes sense to measure it in miles.

Last Friday I was cruisin’ into work on the bus, looking forward to the weekend, when an alarm started beeping in the engine compartment. The driver got on the horn with HQ, then pulled over and told us we’d be waiting for another bus or a repair, whichever came first.

This was the point when I realized just how important last-mile commuting is. I took the bike down from the rack and announced it was time for Plan B. I rode off Jefferson and into a terrible neighborhood, one burned-and-blighted house after another. And then, as though into Emerald City, I was in Indian Village, a stately neighborhood of older homes. A few blocks of this and back into the dodgy districts. Five men walked toward me, spread across the road, and I wondered if it was wise to stay on course. Decided to smile and wave, and they smiled and waved back, just a pod of local rummies getting their morning drink on, it looked like.

Then, huzzah, a bike lane. And a cemetery, final resting place of Sonic Smith. Some deteriorated light industrial, a new high school, this, that, a casino, downtown and my office. Five miles, roughly. I should do this more often. A perfect morning for a little bike ride.

Then today I had to appear on a local radio show, to discuss this story. I walked into the lobby, and who should be there but Sixto Rodriguez, the “Searching for Sugarman” guy. He’d just stopped by to make a cash donation.

“I really like your show, Craig,” he said. I guess he didn’t want to wait for another pledge campaign. A guy I know who used to work at the station says he does it all the time — just swings by from time to time to drop a fifty into the tip jar. Now that’s what I call public-radio support.

Rodriguez gives away a lot of his money. His daughter quotes him as saying once you have the food-clothing-shelter part handled, all the rest is icing. He shares the icing.

So, now I’m watching a few days of 80-degree weather blow out with a thunderstorm, with a 25-degree drop ahead for the next few days. We put the boat in Friday. Balls.

Some good bloggage today. Let’s start with a category called Fiery Oratory. Emily Bazelon reviews Glenn Greenwald’s new book in Slate:

A million jokesters have invited the NSA to listen in on their calls about feeding the cat or picking up the kids, noting that most Americans aren’t doing anything exciting enough to interest the government. You are missing the point if you’re in this camp, Greenwald urges:

Of course, dutiful, loyal supporters of the president and his policies, good citizens who do nothing to attract negative attention from the powerful, have no reason to fear the surveillance state. This is the case in every society: those who pose no challenge are rarely targeted by oppressive measures, and from their perspective, they can then convince themselves that oppression does not really exist. But the true measure of a society’s freedom is how it treats its dissidents and other marginalized groups, not how it treats good loyalists. … We shouldn’t have to be faithful loyalists of the powerful to feel safe from state surveillance. Nor should the price of immunity be refraining from controversial or provocative dissent. We shouldn’t want a society where the message is conveyed that you will be left alone only if you mimic the accommodating behavior and conventional wisdom of a Washington establishment columnist.

…Reading about all the disclosures again, woven together and in context, I couldn’t decide which was worse: the NSA’s massive, grim overreach, in the hands of Director Michael Hayden—or the complicity of almost every other entity involved, private as well as public. “PRISM is a team sport!” trumpeted one NSA memo. Too true: Other memos and slides show Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and Microsoft easing the way toward surveillance of their users. (Twitter was the exception in this case.) When the Guardian and the Washington Post broke that news, the tech companies tried to argue otherwise based on a technicality. But looking back, the documents “give the lie to Silicon Valley’s denials of cooperation,” as Greenwald writes.

I will be reading this, most likely. Eventually. After I read everything else I’m supposed to read. Someone recently recommended “Hellhound on His Trail,” the story of the manhunt for James Earl Ray, describing how great it was, etc., and all I could think was, dammit, another one.

More fiery oratory, from Gene Weingarten, speaking at Joe McGinniss’ memorial service:


When a writer enters into an agreement with a source to tell his story, there is always an accompanying covenant. This will be acknowledged by, you know, every journalist who is not too stupid or full of himself to notice what is going on. In return for fair and objective reporting, the subject is promising to tell the truth. If the subject lies to the writer, all bets are off. The degree to which this principle attaches is directly proportional to the enormity of the lie that was told.

He’s speaking of the teapot tempest that followed a New Yorker piece that was about “Fatal Vision,” called “The Journalist and the Murderer.” The writer, Janet Malcolm, implied that McGinniss had betrayed Jeffrey MacDonald somehow, and… Just read the link.

I was in a group looking at some data regarding Michigan’s charter schools when someone recollected that charters were supposed to be educational trailblazers, and that’s why they were freed from many of the constraints traditional schools have — so they could run ahead and blaze a trail.

Not so much anymore. Not in New York, anyway:

A primary rationale for the creation of charter schools, which are publicly financed and privately run, was to develop test kitchens for practices that could be exported into the traditional schools. President Obama, in recently proclaiming “National Charter Schools Week,” said they “can provide effective approaches for the broader public education system.”

But two decades since the schools began to appear, educators from both systems concede that very little of what has worked for charter schools has found its way into regular classrooms. Testy political battles over space and money, including one that became glaringly public in New York State this spring, have inhibited attempts at collaboration. The sharing of school buildings, which in theory should foster communication, has more frequently led to conflict.

And some charter schools have veered so sharply from the traditional model — with longer school years, armies of nonunion workers and flashy enrichment opportunities like trips to the Galápagos Islands — that their ideas are viewed as unworkable in regular schools.

Finally, I know Christopher Columbus long ago lost his luster with most people, but I was raised in Columbus, Ohio, and I will always read a story about the old Genoan. And this one is pretty interesting; scientists think they might have found the wreckage of the Santa Maria.

A lot for a Wednesday, I know, but hey — eat up.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Detroit life, Media | 22 Comments