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:

justin

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:

DVASatMagicStick

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:

Listen:

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
 

Downward-facing bore.

A friend of mine started inviting me to this yoga class on Saturdays. And I started going. I have to confess: I’m not much of a yoga girl. I find it impossible to clear my mind, let alone breathe shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip. I plugged my way through some hot yoga a year ago, but everything else has been oh-this-stuff-again.

But you can never step into the same river twice, as some yogi undoubtedly said at some point, and this time, I dunno, it sort of clicked. I couldn’t clear my mind — that is never going to happen, sorry — but the breathing suddenly made sense and I could feel how it’s not just fancy stretchin’ but actual isometric exercise. And then I downloaded Neal Pollack’s book of yoga essays — yep, it’s on the right rail — and long story short, today I ditched Gentle Flow for Power Lunch and oh, I fear I’ve stepped onto a train that is leaving the station and all I can do is hang on and wave until it crashes into Boring Station. It may already be there, in fact. I may be That Person at the party, but if I am, I’d really like to have that incredible posture that person always has. Not there yet.

Yoga is fucking awesome. Let that be the last thing I say about it.

No, this: The other day I was lying in bed, reading, and stretched my leg out at a strange angle, just for the feels, and it not only went there, it went beyond. This is how they hook you, those yoga people.

So, how was everybody’s Tuesday? Mine? Cold and snowy, but I got out in it anyway. The snowfall finally broke the last record and I’ll give it this: It was pretty. But now it should go away. Back in the 60s by Thursday.

One of my neighbors had a pet raccoon. She said the family came down one morning and found the animal had escaped its cage, wrecked the kitchen, and was sitting on its fat ass, legs spread and an open bag of marshmallows between them, dipping them one by one into the canister of sugar. (Not sure if I believe every detail of that.) Anyway, things worked out better for her than it did for this girl. Mauled by a raccoon as a baby, now having her face reconstructed.

Don’t keep raccoons as pets.

I haven’t been watching CNN since the Malaysian plane went down, but apparently they’ve gone mad? New York magazine has a roundup, with video links.

Happy hump day, all. See you tomorrow.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Media, Same ol' same ol' | 49 Comments
 

Immune to reason.

Every so often I have to stop and marvel at the world around me. We predict the future, and the future acts otherwise. Man plans, God laughs. And so on.

I recall a line from a novel, something about how a man should always be willing to get up in the morning, just to see what is going to happen. Fear an unbroken line of days ending at the grave, filled with the same ol’ same ol’? Don’t. It’ll be different. Might be worse, could be better. You just never know.

Which is, I swear, the mindset I try to bring to news that vaccine-preventable diseases are making a comeback, a story you read often these days. How strange to think that a war once considered over could flare up years later. (Sort of like post-polio syndrome, come to think about it.) How horrible to think that the anti-vaxxers will very likely not endanger their own children so much as yours. Check out this magical thinking:

Even so, parents like Ellison, 39, don’t buy it, and he points out that he comes to the issue with some expertise: He has a master’s degree in organic chemistry and used to work in the pharmaceutical industry designing medicines. His children — 6 months old, 8 and 12 — were all born at home. Aside from one visit to an emergency room for a bruised finger, none of them has ever been to a doctor, and they’re all healthy, he says, except for the occasional sore throat or common cold.

“The doctors all have the same script for vaccines,” Ellison says.

He is working to build and support his children’s natural immune system using three healthy meals a day, exercise and sunshine. He says if his kids get sick he would rather rely on emergency care than vaccines.

“It’s much more soothing to trust emergency medicine than a vaccine, which for me is like playing Russian roulette,” he says.

I can see why this guy no longer works for “the pharmaceutical industry.” I wonder what his exit interview was like.

Of course, my kid has been stuck so often she was a virtual pincushion, up to and including the three-shot series for HPV. This is the one I hear about most often now, among parents of teenagers.

“I just don’t feel right about it,” is the usual line. Of course, vaccinating your child against a sexually transmitted disease does feel a little squicky, but if you’re capable of the least amount of distance, you should be able to think it through. But instead, that emotion gets braided up with a certain sort of self-congratulation about being an on-the-job supermom, and then this article, or one of the million versions of it, lands on her Facebook page, and her friends (all of whom use images of their children as profile pictures) chime in with congratulations and seconds: “It’s just not right for our family now,” as though the family, their favorite sacred phrase, should get to weigh in on a teenage girl’s health, today and far into a still unknown future.

I always want to add my voice to the chorus: “Of course your daughter won’t have sex before or outside of marriage, because that’s what you taught her, and children always follow their parents’ advice, in all things. But what about the young man she will marry? How can you be sure he, too, has remained chaste, and will up to the night of his wedding, and forever after? Are you that sure?”

But I don’t. The Reaper is coming for us all, and if cervical cancer doesn’t get you, something else will. And someone will probably blame a vaccine.

How was everyone’s weekend? Mine was very fine, although busy. It’s late Sunday afternoon as I write this, and I’ve already made Alice Waters’ Meyer lemon cake and will shortly whip up a spinach and goat cheese soufflé to go with some grilled salmon, a fine way to finish off two sunny days of not-work. My taxes are filed and a pair of jeans that was tight last month fits a lot better today. Things could be worse. Tomorrow, they very well might be. But I’m enjoying the mild temperatures and all the rest of it today.

Bloggage?

I drove through a corner of Mercer County, Ohio, about a million times when I was living in Fort Wayne and returning to the parental home place in Columbus. So I devoured this typically excellent Monica Hesse WashPost feature on the difficulty one hiring manager has filling jobs at an egg-processing plant he runs in Fort Recovery, Ohio (pop. 1,500 or so). Personally? I wouldn’t live in Fort Recovery for $55,000 a year, but I’m sure there are some people out there who would, although the story suggests there aren’t as many as you’d think. And the ones who are willing don’t always please the guy in charge of hiring. A very readable piece on multiple themes.

Neil Steinberg is that rare writer who gets a better column out of the outrage over an earlier column than the column itself. (Didn’t make sense. Sorry.)

Don’t miss Peter Matthiessen’s NYT obit. Great stuff.

And now it’s nearly time for “Game of Throooones.” So I have to go. A good week to all.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Media | 46 Comments
 

City folk.

A friend sent me this map yesterday, a data illustration of the nation’s population — half of it, anyway, residing in 39 metro areas. Half. I think it’s safe to say none of these areas would be considered Real America ™ as defined by Sarah Palin, and maybe that’s, in a nutshell, the problem with the Republican party, even though many of these metro areas are solidly red. It’s more the idea the country has of itself, with its SUVs that never see so much as a gravel road and its field hand breakfasts for people who haven’t beheld a field since the last time they drove to Cleveland.

We are city people, and have been for a good long while. But we like to think we have one foot in the soil. It’s one reason I’m grateful for Coozledad’s presence on this blog, and his regular dispatches from the soil of his vegetarian farm and petting zoo; he knows things about the way we used to live that the rest of us have conveniently forgotten.

So how is everybody’s week going? Mine is slogging along. Someone sent me this today; what is it about Mitch Albom that even his charity is self-serving? He just got back from the Philippines. Book-touring, but with heart:

“I’m donating 40 boats up there, but more importantly than that, we’re gonna try to reopen some libraries and put books from myself and some of my author friends from America like Stephen King, Amy Tan and John Grisham… My hope is that maybe we can draw some attention to the situation (in Tacloban),” Albom said.

Why don’t people laugh in this little man’s face when he says stuff like that?

So, bloggage?

Dahlia Lithwick says the contraception mandate is likely toast.

That’s all I have tonight. Enjoy Thursday.

Posted at 12:30 am in Media, Same ol' same ol' | 46 Comments
 

Take 2.

I spent an hour or so last night on a rant, but it lost focus and veered off into the weeds, after which I was too beat to start anew and ultimately just went to bed.

So open thread today, with some conversation-starters:

Puppies in Vegas! Imperiled puppies!

A good John Carlisle column, about a man with autism and his obsession with electronics.

So, what do we think of the new FiveThirtyEight?

Posted at 8:30 am in Current events, Media | 34 Comments
 

Jargon overdoses.

I’ve long felt that we should listen to people who have traditionally been shut out of the public conversation. But you don’t have to do what they say. I’m thinking some of the discussion over the “Dallas Buyers Club” Oscars falls into the latter category.

Two pieces on the board today. This one compares Jared Leto’s portrayal of a male-to-female transsexual to Hattie McDaniel’s Mammy in “Gone With the Wind.” And this one scolds the “Dallas Buyers Club” makeup artists (!!!) for acknowledging the “victims of AIDS” instead of the preferred nomenclature of “persons with AIDS.” Hmm. Apparently these two brush-wielding wrongthinkers didn’t get the 31-year-old memo, quoted within:

In 1983, 11 gay men with AIDS who were in Denver for the fifth Annual Gay and Lesbian Health Conference, gathered in a hotel room and composed a manifesto. The document, which became known as the Denver Principles, began:

We condemn attempts to label us as “victims,” a term which implies defeat, and we are only occasionally “patients,” a term which implies passivity, helplessness, and dependence upon the care of others. We are “People With AIDS.”

(And capitalize the W, fuckers! The P, too!)

I recall when this discussion was going on, and my fallback position on nearly all these matters of nomenclature: Call people what they ask to be called. It’s good manners. Frankly, in 1983 there wasn’t a lot of difference between an AIDS victim and someone who simply had the disease, as it was terrifyingly fatal. But as time rolled on and the new drugs emerged, it made sense. Not everyone who had HIV/AIDS was a victim, but someone living with a (fingers crossed) chronic medical condition that could be managed and wasn’t necessarily cause to put your affairs in order immediately. This passage overstates the importance of the language shift, I think –

Policing vocabulary is a tricky business—raising a stink about offensive nouns and incorrect pronouns can make outsiders feel defensive and annoyed—but there are times when it’s absolutely essential, and this was one. A 328-word statement penned by a tiny group of guys on the fringes of a second-tier medical conference saved millions of lives around the globe, even though very few people have ever heard of it. That revolution began when the people at the center of the crisis declared that they were not victims.

– but OK, whatever.

The former piece, about Leto, is more obnoxious.

Not long from now — it surely won’t take decades, given the brisk pace of progress on matters of identity and sexuality these days — Leto’s award-winning performance as the sassy, tragic-yet-silly Rayon will belong in the dishonorable pantheon along with McDaniel’s Mammy. That is, it’ll be another moment when liberals in Hollywood, both in the industry and in the media, showed how little they understood or empathized with the lives of a minority they imagine they and Leto are honoring.

Hmm. OK, so make your case, then. The movie takes liberties with the facts, the writer contends, which makes it like about 99 percent of all fact-based filmed dramas; the plane carrying the Americans out of Tehran was not chased down the runway by Iranian soldiers, as it was in “Argo.” Hollywood requires drama; real life isn’t sufficiently dramatic, most times.

Leto’s character, Rayon, was entirely fictional, likely added (speaking as someone who knows just enough about screenwriting to be almost entirely ignorant about it) to give Matthew McConaughey’s character a foil, and to set up his prickly relationship with the gay community Rayon represents. Screenwriting 101: Conflict = drama. The fact Rayon is silly I flat-out disagree with.

What did the writers of “Dallas Buyers Club” and Leto as her portrayer decide to make Rayon? Why, she’s a sad-sack, clothes-obsessed, constantly flirting transgender drug addict prostitute, of course. There are no stereotypes about transgender women that Leto’s concoction does not tap. She’s an exaggerated, trivialized version of how men who pretend to be women — as opposed to those who feel at their core they are women — behave. And in a very bleak film, she’s the only figure played consistently for comic relief, like the part when fake-Woodruff points a gun at Rayon’s crotch and suggests he give her the sex change she’s been wanting. Hilarious.

Again, everyone’s perspective is their own, but I didn’t find Rayon a sad sack at all, and in fact seemed pretty close to my memory of the drag queens and trans women I knew in that era. It was 1981-ish, after all, and just to have the gonads to live your life that way already put you out on the fringe. Another transsexual I knew at the time was still coming to work in a coat and tie. Needless to say, I didn’t know she was transsexual until years later.

And the earliest victims — that word again — of AIDS in that era were disproportionately addicts and prostitutes, after all. I mean, I guess Rayon could have been a super-together lawyer who preferred navy suits, but let’s be realistic. I love that “men who pretend to be women” contrasted with “men who feel at their core they are women” part. I’m a woman, and right now I’m wearing jeans and a sweater, an outfit I bet most trans women wouldn’t be caught dead in.

I think what bugged me most about that piece was its anger, the same that followed some of the Dr. V’s putter coverage, slinging around terms like “cis privilege,” “transphobia” and other jargon as though everyone knows exactly what we’re talking about. Even the sympathetic may find themselves mystified by this world, which I remind you requires no fewer than seven letters to cover all its iterations — LGBTQIA. That’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer/questioning, intersex and asexual/ally. If you really want to set your head a-spin, check out this video from Stephen Ira Beatty, born Kathlyn, and try to sort out the language. If that’s not too ableist of me.

Sorry, I liked “Dallas Buyers Club” and see it as a step forward, a very human film. I wish people could cool their jets about it.

That said, Lupita Nyong’o was the star of Sunday’s telecast. What a rare beauty, and what a sparkling speech. As Tom & Lorenzo would say: LUH HER.

How do we feel about the Kim Novak presentation? I am mixed. I read a very sympathetic defense of her by a film blogger whose work I admire, but I came away not 100 percent convinced. Novak is 81. I understand the need to feel beautiful, but at some point, isn’t it infantilizing her to blame cruel, cruel Hollywood for driving her to such lengths? The babe ship sailed decades ago; there’s no reason a natural beauty like Novak can’t look at least presentable in her dotage.

I do think this gets it right, though: If you have two X chromosomes in Hollywood, you just can’t win.

A little warmer today, but only a little. Ugh.

Posted at 12:30 am in Media, Movies | 31 Comments