Here, kitty.

Folks, I don’t know how much more of this I can handle. The campaign, you know. It’s barely started — it hasn’t started, if you consider Labor Day the formal kickoff, a quaint idea we might want to consider reviving — and I don’t think I can drink from this firehose much longer. If Donald Trump’s campaign strategy is going to consist of saying outrageous shit twice a day, my only options will be leaving social media, gouging my eyes out or moving to Sakhalin Island until Thanksgiving.

Keep in mind, it is my job to pay attention to politics, at least at the state level, so add one more layer to the madness. The bright side: We have far fewer Trumps in Michigan, although I’m sure a few will pop up soon. The state’s primary is tomorrow.

I simply lack the capacity to sustain this level of outrage for the duration. So if you pop into this page and see a kitten video here and nothing else, know that I’m rebooting in an attempt to stay sane.

I’m also taking a bit of time off from posting links to election stuff, unless I feel fairly sure it’s something most of you haven’t seen yet. Trying to keep up is too damn distracting from my real work.

Hope everyone had a nice weekend. I worked at home four out of five workdays, so by Friday I was ready to jump the damn fence. We went to a new Chinese-ish place in what used to be Detroit’s Chinatown. I guess there really was one, once upon a time. It was a block or two long. Anyway, this place serves small plates (because every new place does, now), and when I say Chinese-ish I emphasize the -ish. Case in point: The cheeseburger eggroll, which sounds awful but was delicious. We sat by the window, the better to see the obviously poor family on the other side of the street, who had pulled up a couple of strollers to visit, while the kids played on the sidewalk and tree planters. That’s Detroit’s Cass Corridor in one frame, right there.

Saturday was the traditional million errands followed by a fine dinner and movie. Which was? “Midnight Special,” a film I hadn’t even heard of until Saturday night. We’re generally not supernatural-thriller people, but damn if it wasn’t half bad, buoyed by a fantastic cast. Whoever said there are no small parts, only small actors must have been thinking of Sam Shepard, who has one or two brief scenes and makes you want to want to follow him offscreen, just to see what he does next. Add Michael Shannon, Adam Driver, Joel Edgerton and Kirsten Dunst, and you want to follow everybody offscreen. Even the detective from “The Night Of” is in this, and makes a single line resonate.

The story? Meh. But I liked the execution.

And now the week ahead yawns. Not much bloggage (see above, me going around with my hands over my ears), but there was this splendid tale of how the home pregnancy test went from a to-the-trade item only to something in every drugstore. Of course a woman was behind it.

I’m going to think Sunday-evening thoughts now: What’s for dinner, is the laundry done, will this season of “Ray Donovan” turn around. You think your Monday thoughts, and I’ll see you soon.

Posted at 12:09 am in Current events, Movies, Same ol' same ol' | 56 Comments

A fighter.

Thursday was the first night of the Free Press Film Festival here in Detroit, and a few of us went to a screening of “T-Rex,” a documentary about Claressa Shields, the first woman to win a gold medal in women’s Olympic boxing, which she did in 2012. She was just 17 when she won, and is training in hopes of repeating in Rio this year.

Shields hails from Flint, and that’s where most of the film was set. As you can probably guess, she doesn’t come from money. In fact, she comes from some pretty grinding poverty – her mother, seen in only a few scenes, is missing most of her teeth and seems to be a pretty enthusiastic drinker. Her sister is a feral force of nature; in one scene, the sister tells us how she dislikes her mother’s current boyfriend. As if on cue, he steps into the scene and the two exchange insults.

She calls him a pervert. I sighed. How often do we have to learn this lesson? When a teenage girl calls mom’s boyfriend a pervert, pay attention to her, because she is telling you something very important. Sure enough, a little googling and look here:

There frequently wasn’t food much on the table. The family received food stamps, but the food stamps never seemed to turn into actual food.

“I honestly don’t know what happened to the food stamps, but I think she sold them for drugs,” Shields says.

But mostly what Shields remembers from those early years is the men. Her mother had a lot of acquaintances, she said, and every time she turned around, there was another one, it seemed.

Three of them, she said, raped and sexually molested her.

A friend of mine is a therapist, and did a stint in a low-income mental-health facility. She said sexual abuse of her clients was so common that it was easier to just assume they’d all been molested by someone in their lives.

Shields isn’t asked about this in the film; she only revealed it later. But the sister’s exchange with the boyfriend got a big laugh, I guess because she’s so sassy and all.

But the film was good. I’ve seen so many lousy documentaries I wasn’t expecting much, but it was shot well, the story was coherent and reasonably honest and the conflict that so many docs have to trump up was right there – Claressa fighting her way through qualifiers, trying to have a relationship with her sparring partner (a young man, as there were no other girls in her gym to spar with), and the classic athlete’s story of gradually growing away from the first coach who believed in her. The coach and his wife took her into their home, and for that they deserve a medal of their own. But sometimes you can’t go further until you change teachers; it happens, it’s not a tragedy, but it’s sad for the ones left behind.

Oh, and for those who assume an Olympic gold medal is a ticket to riches? She didn’t get one endorsement offer, not a single solitary one. With her strong features and stocky body, and her comments in interviews that she actually enjoys landing punches, I guess corporate America just couldn’t deal. Things seem to be going better this year; some of the rough edges have been sanded off, and of course, the attention paid to Serena Williams in the past year helped the world accept bad-ass black women.

I’m rooting for her, anyway.

And that was why no blog on Friday. Out late Thursday.

The rest of the weekend was spent relaxing. Sunday was ladies’ schvitz brunch, and I took a friend. We killed a bottle of champagne, sweated through a few cycles in the steam, went shopping and found myself a floor-length Tadashi Shoji gown at a vintage pop-up, for $5. The boobal area may need some special foundation wear, but I’m set for the next auto prom.

Eight years ago this blog picked up a few readers when I pointed out some plagiarism by a guest columnist in the paper I used to work for. The following isn’t precisely plagiarism, just extreme aggravated laziness by the editor-in-chief, to fill his always-mediocre Saturday column space. The column is here. The source material, here. He added one quote, from George W. Bush, one that Slate included in its Bushisms collection. Sigh.

Thanks to Deborah for pointing out this outstanding piece on Aretha Franklin, including a quote from the current president, when asked about his reaction to her recent Kennedy Center Honors performance. You might recall it; Obama shed tears.

When I e-mailed President Obama about Aretha Franklin and that night, he wasn’t reticent in his reply. “Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R. & B., rock and roll—the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope,” he wrote back, through his press secretary. “American history wells up when Aretha sings. That’s why, when she sits down at a piano and sings ‘A Natural Woman,’ she can move me to tears—the same way that Ray Charles’s version of ‘America the Beautiful’ will always be in my view the most patriotic piece of music ever performed—because it captures the fullness of the American experience, the view from the bottom as well as the top, the good and the bad, and the possibility of synthesis, reconciliation, transcendence.”

I’d bet a paycheck he wrote that himself, or gave the quote to the press secretary. What do you think?

A trip to Crazytown, with the full transcript of a recent WashPost interview with Donald Trump.

Finally, since y’all like dog pictures, here’s my Friday-morning editor. Wendy likes to suggest changes before I get too deep into the weeds:


Let’s all have a Monday, shall we?

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

Tuesday’s roundup.

I can’t be the only one who saw this picture of the Obamas in Old Havana, and thought of this painting in the Art Institute, can I?

Late update today, sorry. Last night was the inaugural meeting of a new movie club some friends and I are trying to get going, and I didn’t get home until late. The theme was Shot in Detroit, and we watched “Only Lovers Left Alive.” I think I was the only one who really liked it, but then, I’m a sucker for Tilda Swinton in pretty much everything, and my husband is a Jim Jarmusch fan, so I’m predisposed. In the discussion afterward, one guy made an amusing point about scenester vampires and their quest for authentic food. That was funny.

Always nice to see old friends, this being the old filmmaking crew. One of the guys is the poster boy for Michigan’s changing economy, having gone from autoworker to special-effects makeup artist. When the tax incentives were cut, he got way less movie work, but now he’s hooked up with a guy who makes prosthetic limbs, a perfect fit for a guy who used to make prosthetic zombie limbs. He said one of their clients recently tripped a metal detector and when she told the guard she was wearing an artificial leg, he couldn’t tell which one.

So now it is Tuesday, and all is better than it was on Sunday. I think I do need a vacation, but not until June.

The president went to Cuba, and Donald Trump went to Washington. Trump met with the Washington Post editorial board and talked about his hands again. He also dodged a few questions:

RYAN: You [MUFFLED] mentioned a few minutes earlier here that you would knock ISIS. You’ve mentioned it many times. You’ve also mentioned the risk of putting American troop in a danger area. If you could substantially reduce the risk of harm to ground troops, would you use a battlefield nuclear weapon to take out ISIS?

TRUMP: I don’t want to use, I don’t want to start the process of nuclear. Remember the one thing that everybody has said, I’m a counterpuncher. Rubio hit me. Bush hit me. When I said low energy, he’s a low-energy individual, he hit me first. I spent, by the way he spent 18 million dollars’ worth of negative ads on me. That’s putting [MUFFLED]…

RYAN: This is about ISIS. You would not use a tactical nuclear weapon against ISIS?


TRUMP: I’ll tell you one thing, this is a very good looking group of people here. Could I just go around so I know who the hell I’m talking to?

Keep your fingers crossed, America. One lump in Hillary Clinton’s breast, and this guy is your next commander in chief.

We have talked about trolls here before, but this Bloomberg reporter’s troll story is way worse than mine, or Lindy West’s: A vengeful Chinese businessman made her a target for two years, heaping vile abuse upon her head via his “news” website. Her and others, actually:

I wasn’t the first person accused of racism on TheBlot. Before me, there was Michael Emen, a Nasdaq official. In 2011, Nasdaq delisted a Wey client called CleanTech Innovations. (The decision was overturned by the SEC in July 2013 after the company appealed.) A piece labeled “opinion” appeared on TheBlot focusing on Emen’s role, alleging abuse of his powers, discrimination, and racial profiling. “Michael Emen Reveals Racism at Nasdaq” is still at the top of a Google search on his name.

Similar “investigations,” as they were tagged, began to appear regularly on TheBlot. The attacks reflected Wey’s obsession with what he saw as the unfair treatment of Chinese companies by the U.S. media and regulators. TheBlot went after Roddy Boyd, a freelance reporter who’d doggedly analyzed accounting irregularities at U.S.-listed Chinese companies; Jon Carnes, a short seller; Francine McKenna, who wrote about AgFeed on her accounting-focused blog; and a pair of Barron’s reporters who’d covered reverse-merger companies and Wey’s business. The accompanying graphics grew coarser and coarser, including photos of toilet bowls full of feces.

It’s a long piece, but this, THIS is the money quote:

Decades into the Internet Age, there’s no surefire method to get defamatory material taken down if the person responsible for it is ready to put up a fight.

So, so, so true. It’s hard to get stuff taken down even if the person doesn’t fight. Hey, Google is just the messenger, doncha know.

Finally, more bloodshed, this time in Belgium. A developing story, as they say. We’ll see how it develops.

Posted at 9:14 am in Current events, Movies | 82 Comments

The interregnum.

Another Christmas in the books. When Kate was younger, I used to think of the Three Hurdles of Autumn — Halloween, birthdays and the holidays. By this point, with Christmas behind us and only the new year and tree-dismantling ahead, I’d feel like a racehorse halfway down the stretch.

It’s not as grueling anymore, so I’m enjoying these last few days. It helps that I don’t have to work, that the past year was a good one, that 2015 brought only the normal wear and tear to me and mine. Still, I have this pipe dream of organizing the house before 1/1/16. We’ll see if I can at least get a couple of rooms done.

Meanwhile, I hope you all got the presents you wanted, and a few you didn’t know you wanted. We all did just fine here.

With the 30 Days of Abstention ahead, I’m wondering if I should go whole-hog and try a Whole 30 in January, too. A friend of mine posted about it on Facebook, saying it got his pre diabetic blood-sugar numbers down in a shockingly short period of time, but I dunno — a whole month without bread, pasta, rice, sugar, dairy AND alcohol? Talk about a shock to the system. On the other hand, if I’m already going to be booze-free… What’s the harm of trying?

Never mind the self-improvement for now. How about the weekend’s pleasures?

Alan got stuck working Christmas Day, so Kate and I took ourselves to “The Big Short,” which I can’t recommend highly enough. Hide all the weaponry in the house, however, lest you be tempted to go out and knife random investment bankers afterward. It’s very entertaining and does a tremendous job explaining some frankly impenetrable financial instruments, although there were moments when I was at sea. It didn’t matter — the narrative carries you through the rough parts, and the fourth-wall breaking is a stroke of genius. Go. You won’t regret it.

Then we came home and watched “Inside Out” on iTunes, and that was equally fine, although in an entirely different kind of way.

This is pretty much all I want to do on this break — lie on the couch, let entertainment wash over me and clean closets.

A little bloggage to start the week, whether you’re working or not:

The worst and stupidest health claims of the year, kicking off with none other than Gwinnie Paltrow:

Gwyneth Paltrow told women to steam clean their vaginas. Don’t do this.

OK, I won’t!

For you Michiganians, a particularly harsh take on the legislature’s year.

And in the Freep, a lovely farewell from one columnist to another, who happens to be his wife. (And isn’t leaving anything other than her job.)

More laziness in the week ahead. Enjoy yours, eh?

Posted at 8:08 pm in Movies, Same ol' same ol' | 42 Comments

Dry turkey.

I don’t know why, but it seemed this year’s Thanksgiving break was just about perfect, kicking off with my birthday on Wednesday and winding up with family not-thanksgiving today; my sister-in-law came up and we had lasagna, which is traditional, right? Anyway, I’ve been away from the grindstone just long enough, and it’s back to work today.

A few things we did:

** Had a Friendsgiving this year. There were some scheduling changes this year, and so we were freed to have the big banquet in the evening, not at 1 p.m., our usual time. You ask me, I think the candles sparkle brighter on the table after the sun goes down, but I bend to the will of the crowd — I’m just there to cook. But because of the later hour, we had more friends at our table, and it was lovely. The wine was spectacular, I made a stuffed boneless turkey breast and I just ate the last of it in a sandwich. Makes a nice bookend on the weekend.

** Saw “Spotlight,” the film about the Boston Globe’s priest pedophilia investigation. To paraphrase David Simon, for a journalist, it’s like watching porn. Just a really well-done film, admirably underplayed, that doesn’t traffic in shadowy parking-garage meetings or other low-rent cloak-and-dagger stuff. Journalism in stories like this mostly takes place in ugly offices and fluorescent-lit courthouses and other unglamorous places, where everybody dresses badly, in shades of beige, black, navy and oxford-shirt blue. Underdoing it like this gives the brief scenes where someone speaks a raw truth — “And then one day he asks you to jerk him off or give him a blowjob, and now you have another secret” — a great deal of power. The cranks, like the founder of the victims group SNAP, are not de-cranked for narrative purposes, and the strange, twitchy victims, you can immediately see, were chosen by their abusers because they were strange, twitchy kids.

I can’t think of any part of the story that was goosed for dramatic purposes, with the possible exception of one montage scene, where a children’s choir sings and a character comes to terms with the inexorable evil he and his colleagues are confronting. And that was hardly unforgivable, given some of the nonsense I’ve seen in journalism movies over the years.

** Went to the Eastern Market on Saturday. Beheld this:


No comment.

** Started a new book, “Slade House,” which Kate gave me for my birthday. I put aside Margaret Atwood for now, which I now see is worth the very low price I paid for it in Toronto.

** Finally, we cut the cord. The cable cord, that is. Those of you who have dealt with Comcast know what it’s like to deal with Comcast, so I won’t bore you with the details. But we got rid of the digital-cable box, picked up HBO Now and Showtime-via-stream, and Alan picked up a weird-looking antenna, with which we can receive all the local channels, in widescreen HD, and I think that’s going to do us just fine. Net savings: $110 a month. I’ll take it.

And now the holidays start in earnest. I have a jump on my shopping and for once am facing the next month un-frazzled and almost, dare I admit? A little festive. Let’s get into it. And let’s start this week.

Posted at 12:16 am in Movies, Same ol' same ol' | 46 Comments

American what the-?

On the film “American Sniper,” I have no opinion. Had no opinion. Tell me lefty film buffs found it offensive, and I yawn. Tell me Michael Moore said snipers are cowardly sneaks, and I guffaw. Tell me it’s a crappy movie, and I shrug. Tell me it’s a great one, and ditto.

By which I mean, every piece of creative work isn’t for every single person. If liberals get movies that flatter their biases, why shouldn’t conservatives? So Clint Eastwood votes Republican; who cares? Judge his movies on their own merits. And since I really had no interest in seeing the Chris Kyle story dramatized on the big screen, I stayed away, content to savor Bradley Cooper’s Texas accent via the trailer and commercials. I read a few reviews about it. I know the outline of the story, and I figured I’d catch it when it came around on cable. Which it has.

The other day I surfed past “American Sniper” in progress on one of the premium channels and was caught up in the climactic scene, a firefight where Kyle takes a minute to pull out his sat phone under heavy fire and call his wife to tell her he’s ready to come home. Figured there were but 20 minutes or so left, and decided to watch. It unfolded pretty predictably: Chris the civilian is on edge, Chris needs some time to adjust. Chris attacks a family dog roughhousing with his children. Chris sits in a bar. And then, whaddaya know, here comes Chris walking into his kitchen with a revolver in his hand, through the living room where the kids are playing and into the kitchen. Jeez, is he going to shoot his wife? I don’t remember reading about this part. He points it at her and she doesn’t scream. In fact, she smiles. “Drop them drawers,” he says.

It’s a playful love scene! She throws up her hands, and they banter as he spins her around the kitchen, the gun still in one hand. I’m practically gasping at this example of responsible gun ownership in action. What are the pro-gun people always telling us? Relax, we have training. We secure our weapons. They are never anywhere a child could get to them. And so on. Apparently, having a weapon pulled is enough of a thing in the Kyle romantic-move catalog that the Missus doesn’t even blink. I was reminded of Janice Soprano confiding to Carmela that she isn’t worried about her fiancé, Richie Aprile, having a side piece because she’s the only one who would let him hold a gun to her head during sex. Carmela gasps, Janice shrugs and says, “Usually he takes the clip out.”

I went a-Googling to see if anyone else noticed this scene. Gail Collins did, bless her heart:

This is, by virtually any standard, insane behavior. Mike Huckabee, a big “American Sniper” fan, recently published a book called “God, Guns, Grits and Gravy,” which is so wildly opposed to any weapon regulation that Huckabee opens his chapter on modern education by complaining that public schools are anti-gun. Yet he also presents a list of universally accepted gun safety rules, many of which boil down to don’t point it at anybody as a joke.

…“American Sniper” could actually be seen, at least in the final scene, as a good-gun, bad-gun message. The real Chris Kyle did enjoy walking around the house, twirling a pistol. His wife said that as the clouds lifted after his Iraq service, he would playfully point a gun at the television and pretend to shoot down the bad guys.

No wonder we’re separating into two Americas. It’s not red and blue. It’s sane and insane.

So, now that we’ve gone there, another thing that was published a while back that I only saw a couple days ago: A very entertaining exegesis of the men who hate Hillary Clinton, and the, uh, interesting ways they express it:

Let’s begin with Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., author of “Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House,” since if Hillary’s biographer-foes sound like embittered ex-husbands, in Tyrrell, founder and editor-in-chief of the far-right American Spectator, we’re fortunate to have a biographer who’s occasionally mused in print about his actual ex-wife. So who gets it worse—Hillary or the ex? Actually it’s a toss-up. Who would have predicted: coincidentally it turns out that Madame Tyrrell and Madame Hillary share an uncanny number of similar traits. Hillary’s a self-righteous, self-regarding narcissist, “a case study in what psychiatrists call ‘the controlling personality,” and assumes the world will share her conviction that she’s always blameless. Compare with Tyrrell on the soon-to-be-ex, from his political memoir The Conservative Crack-Up: “She resorted to tennis, then religion, and then psychotherapy. Finally she tried divorce—all common American coping mechanisms for navigating middle age.” When Tyrrell worries that suburban women will secretly identify with Hillary’s independence and break from their husbands’ politics in the privacy of the voting booth, clearly suburban women’s late-breaking independence is territory he has cause to know and fear.

Hillary’s disposition is dark, sour, and conspiratorial; she has a paranoid mind, a combative style, is thin-skinned, and “prone to angry outbursts.” Whereas the ex-Mrs. T., we learn, was afflicted with “random wrath”; and as divorce negotiations were in their final stages, threatened to make the proceedings as public and lurid as possible. Hillary has “a prehensile nature,” which makes it sound like she hangs from branches by her feet. (Tyrrell has always fancied himself a latter day Mencken, flashing his big vocabulary around like a thick roll of banknotes.) And while he nowhere actually says that his ex-wife hung from branches by her feet, the reference to protracted divorce negotiations probably indicates that “grasping”—the definition of prehensile (I had to look it up)—is a characterization he wouldn’t argue with. When Tyrrell writes of Bill and Hillary that there was an emotional side to the arrangement, with each fulfilling the other’s idiosyncratic needs, as we see, he’s been there himself.

It gets better:

On the sexual creepiness meter, Klein gets some stiff competition from Carl Limbacher, who writes for the far-right news outlet NewsMax and is the author of “Hillary’s Scheme: Inside the Next Clinton’s Ruthless Agenda to Take the White House.” Here’s another biographer a little too keen to nose out the truth about Hillary’s sexuality: Bill Clinton is a predator, Hillary digs it, and this is the key that unlocks her character. If Hillary didn’t literally hold down the victims while Bill did the deed, she was complicit nonetheless—“a victimizer who actually enabled her husbands predations,” since “a woman with half the intellect of Hillary Clinton would understand that she’s married to a ravenous sexual predator at best—a brutal serial rapist at worst.” At least he compliments her intellect. I’m dying to know what Limbacher imagines Hillary’s wearing when he fantasizes about her in the henchwoman-to-rape role—her Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS outfit or the navy blue pantsuit.

I recall it was said of Bill Clinton that he was fortunate in his enemies. That goes doubly so for Barack Obama, and probably triply so for Hillary. I cringe to imagine what the discourse over President Hillary will be. Just cringe.

OK, then, let’s get to the miscellanea:

Thanks to Jeff for bringing me up to date on the many lavish purchases of Leslie Wexner, Columbus tycoon and probably the richest person I ever interviewed. (He was very polite and sent me a lovely handwritten thank-you note later.) He appears to have bought a Downton Abbey-like house in the Cotswolds, solely to have a nice shooting estate for his wife, who is a trap and skeet enthusiast. They use it two weeks out of the year. I wonder if they use beaters, and whether they carry their own guns.

Chris Christie was kicked out of the quiet car, or, as the NYPost calls it, Amtrak’s “notorious” quiet car. I’ve heard anecdotal quiet-car stories that lead me to… not take a side on this one. No, not even the governor of New Jersey can yell into a cell phone in the quiet car; that’s why the quiet car exists. On the other hand, it seems quiet-car denizens can get upset by the quiet rattle of a keyboard, so there’s that. As someone who lives in a place where commuter rail is essentially non-existent, I’ll be Switzerland here.

And that’s it for the weekend, then. Shall we bite the new week in the ankle? Let’s.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Movies | 52 Comments

And we’re wrapped.

Well, we made it back. You get in the car in the crystalline, low-humidity loveliness of the north woods, and you stop for gas somewhere around Saginaw, where the air is smudgy and your hair immediately plasters itself to your skull like a wet towel.

(“I’m going to miss this place,” I said on our last day. “My hair looks the same in the evening as when I dried it in the morning.” Alan: “I’m not sure what you’re talking about.” Only women notice hair.)

It was a nice time. We didn’t do much, by design. Alan fished every night and some days, and I read “Missoula,” by Jon Krakauer; “The Drop” by Dennis Lehane; and “Between the World and Me,” Ta’Nehisi Coates, as well as some rereading — an old Travis McGee pulper I found in the cottage, and Laura Lippman’s “When She Was Good.” And a kinky romance about a woman with rape fantasies, because I read an interesting story about this market niche somewhere, and wanted to see what it was about. They’re all e-books and as cheap as candy bars. (Noted some details, including this: While women notice hair, when they write erotic fiction, they don’t spend a lot of time describing the women involved, for obvious reasons. The reader is free to imagine herself in the starring role. Sex scenes written by men are the opposite. I gave up on one popular crime novelist 20 pages into my first try, when he described his main character, a woman with the usual high, firm breasts and tight, round ass and long, long legs, etc. The real eye-roller — and book-closer — was her smooth olive skin and violet eyes. I’m like, pick one, dude. You don’t get both in the same gene pool.)

“Missoula” was a rare Krakauer disappointment for me, strong out of the gate and mired around the halfway point with courtroom procedural passages begging for a chainsaw edit. It was also about rape, the real, non-fantasy kind, but it was really about alcohol. And “Between the World and Me” is a heartbreaker, but an absolutely necessary one, and I highly recommend it.

At night, when I wasn’t reading and Alan was fishing, I watched movies. The house we were in didn’t have cable or an antenna, so I couldn’t watch the Republican debate, but it did have a DVD player and an uneven selection of movies. First were the good ones I’d already seen (“Michael Clayton,” “The Departed”) and then some fun crap (“Dirty Harry”), before finishing with ones I’d only heard about and never got around to seeing, like “The Green Mile.” Sixteen years after its release, I offer this review: P-U. (Alan suggested an alternate title: “Mr. Jingles and the Magical Negro.”) Last up was “The Grey,” which I turned off 30 minutes in while contemplating forming a Wolf Anti-Defamation League. Not just bad, offensively so.

And that was about it. We lost power in the big storm for a day and change, popped over to Traverse City for an afternoon and watched Wendy excavate the outside woodpile for two solid hours, trying to get the red squirrel squeaking inside. No cell service, no internet unless we drove through a coverage zone. And we floated a few miles of the Au Sable, and it looked like this:


Pure Michigan.

It looks like y’all had a good week. I still have a few pages to go in the Coates book, mainly because on the way home, as soon as we drove into cell coverage, my phone exploded with this story, about the Tea Party legislator I wrote about in April. Turns out he was sleeping with his legislative ally, and — you can read all the tawdry details at the link. The rumors about them started flying after my story ran, and I wondered whether they might be true, then decided such a hookup would be too Hollywood for words, like Frank Burns and Hot Lips Houlihan getting it on in “M*A*S*H.” It turns out that sometimes reality is just that — Hollywood. I keep looking at my notes, and the story, wondering if it was in front of me all along. Maybe it was:

Just yesterday, Courser posted, on his website and Facebook, a 3,300-word defense of Gamrat, referring to “the forces of tyranny” that are “attempting to silence a huge voice for liberty,” i.e. Gamrat, and calling on Speaker Cotter to reinstate her. He chides Cotter repeatedly and implies the Speaker – the leader of his own party’s caucus – lied about Gamrat to justify her ejection.

New rule: When a man tops 3K words defending a female colleague, look harder.

Anyway, I’m doing a Michigan Radio interview this morning, along with the reporter who broke the story. Should be fun. I’ll pop into the comments with a listen-live link when I get it.

I see you guys kept the bloggage going in my absence, so I don’t have a whole lot to offer, as I’m just catching up myself. This profile of an uncooperative Chelsea Clinton was very good, I thought. I found it via Hank Stuever, who commented on his Facebook that perhaps his parents had taken Jacqueline Onassis’ advice about raising their daughter in the White House to a fault: “When Caroline Kennedy sort of ran for office a few years ago, one single interview with the NYT made it clear that a lifetime of being sheltered from challenging questions had not done her any favors at all. She was in no way ready for real politics or much of anything that wasn’t ceremonial and scripted. Ergo, her current job — ambassador to Japan.” Chelsea is the same, I fear. Much posing and smiling, not much else.

Oh, and Coozledad sent along this wonderful piece from his local alt-weekly. Speaking of atrocious writing.

So the week begins anew, and I’m tanned (a little), rested (mostly) and ready (better be). Hope you are, too.

Posted at 12:06 am in Current events, Movies, Popculch, Same ol' same ol' | 39 Comments

The title is the review, sorta.

“Trainwreck,” the Amy Schumer movie that opened earlier this month, plays like a third-draft script (six were probably needed), made by people who simply don’t care about such things. It’s too long. Individual scenes go on forever and some don’t end so much as they run out of gas. There are weird tonal shifts. I kept hearing the voice of my screenwriting teacher in my ear, saying, “But how does this raise the stakes? What’s the point of this action?” As a reinvention of the rom-com, I give it a B-minus — tries hard, chickens out in the end. In other words, as much Judd Apatow as Schumer. Oh, well.

And yet, I laughed throughout and am glad I saw it. I wanted 30 percent more Tilda Swinton, 25 percent more LeBron James, 8 percent less Hollywood sex, i.e., the kind actors have in movies when they have contractually agreed not to show their nude bodies. You see it on premium cable a lot; I call it bra sex because actresses on HBO — at least the ones famous enough to have their names in the credits — are the only women who keep their bras on during the act. There’s one scene — again, too long and sorta pointless — where Schumer seems to be having sex entirely clothed, while her boyfriend, the pro wrestler John Cena, is entirely naked.

I’d like to have seen 15 percent more John Cena, too. Cena is sort of delightful, even with his clothes on, as is James. In fact, all the pro athletes in this mess are pretty great playing themselves, with the exception of poor Chris Evert, who reads two or three lines like a hostage statement, but then again — the scene she was in is terrible and makes no sense. See above.

Someday we’ll look back and realize that while “Saturday Night Live” gave a lot of promising actors a good start, it was mainly a waste of time, comedically. Improv and riffing can be wonderful things, but in a movie, it better sing. And a lot of “Trainwreck” is, in comparison, humming.

That said, the funny stuff is really funny. There’s an opening-scene flashback to her father’s explanation of why her parents are divorcing, a long speech about cheating and dolls, that’s hysterical. If it had stayed that funny and sharp throughout, it’d be perfect. Alas.

That was Saturday night. Friday night was a free Bootsy Collins show at Campus Martius park. It’s always interesting to attend events in the central business district that more accurately reflect the racial mix of the city as a whole. It was a hot night, hotter in the crowd, so after a while we extracted ourselves from the press and wandered over to the Hard Rock Cafe for a drink and some more remote listening. These folks were all around:



I see bikes tricked out like this every so often, first at the Dlectricity festival nighttime bike parade. I actually looked into adding some really flashy LEDs to my own ride, just for the sake of visibility. It added up real fast, and required battery packs and other foofraw I didn’t want to mess with. Glad to see someone’s getting creative.

Links? Maybe.

Reading this story, about the strangeness of digital memories after the corporeal has passed — i.e, death — inspired me to write a letter, including all my social-media account logins and passwords, and seal it in an envelope with “J.C. Burns” written on the outside. It’s going in with my estate documents. I’m putting him in charge of my digital archive; he can have all the blog content to do with as he sees fit, and I’m asking him to seek out and destroy my Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts, as well as whatever else piles up in the interim. I’ve known a few people on those platforms who’ve died, and it absolutely kills me to get notifications of their birthdays, or to go to their pages and see people leaving miss-you messages months or years later. When I’m gone, I want to be gone.

If you had asked me last week what I wanted to read about the Lingerie Football League, I’d answer, “Um, nothing?” I was wrong. This was interesting:

A primer: Yes, they play football while wearing next to nothing; and yes, the spirals and tackles and playbooks are real. No, most players are not aspiring models or actresses; and no, they do not get paid. “If we paid a dime to a player, we wouldn’t sustain a season of play,” says Mitchell Mortaza, the league’s founder and chairman.

They practice seven to eight months a year, often three times a week. They show up in tank tops to sports bars and tailgates, where they sell tickets and promote the league. When they walk into the arena, they are transformed. “There is nothing,” says one former player, “like stepping onto that field and getting ready to knock a bitch out.” Although their sport can be a source of intense joy, it also creates acute pain. Bones break. Ligaments tear. Medical bills mount, and often, no support arrives. For some, hopelessness sets in: Are my skills really worth nothing? Few complain about the lingerie. They’re bothered more by what their uniforms seem to represent: that they are replaceable bodies, each no more valuable than the last.

“No one is here to watch you play football,” players say Mortaza has told them.

Raising children is hard. Raising children in public in the age of the smartphone is harder.

And with that, we march forth to face Monday.

Posted at 12:30 am in Housekeeping, Movies | 46 Comments

What a lovely day!

So here I am on Memorial Day, staring at a Facebook post that wishes all a “happy” one. Sigh. Every generation that goes by in which it is no longer common to have service members at all levels of society, in most families, and these things are going to keep happening.

For the record: Veterans Day is when we honor all veterans. Memorial Day is when we honor dead ones. It used to be those killed in action, but has expanded to mean those who served and died later — fine with me, as the more we learn about PTSD, the more it seems that even those who came home more or less in one piece may later be considered a casualty of the wars they fought in.

Neither occasion, Veterans or Memorial, strikes me as a happy one. War is hell. You may have read that somewhere.

But as the years pile up between us and our closest serving family member, the more the day just means another long weekend, the official start of summer, a day for barbecues and backyard sprawling, and I suppose that’s fine, too. Free country and all.

My sole connection with the martial was taking Kate to see “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Holy shit, but I could feel my hair being blown back by that one. Of all the genres available at the local cineplex, sci-fi and action are the ones most likely to leave me cold. CGI has taken much of the fun out of watching stunts, and the scripts for dreck like the “Taken” franchise leave me cold. I like my action stories to have at least one foot in reality if they’re set in our world, but Mad Max takes place in an apocalyptic future that makes its own kind of sense. Quite a bit of sense, actually; the imagery was so firehose-like I found myself groping for a remote to stop the action and just examine some of the frames, but no deal — that thing started at a gallop and never really let up. There were nods to the original, sly observations about the present, and on a dark future to come.

Did I mention we saw it in 3-D? Mind-blowing. And then there was this guy. Oh, and these guys. And about a million other guys. Fun fact: The five young women who represent the booty (sorry) at the center of the story include Elvis’ granddaughter and Lenny Kravitz’ daughter.

Other than that, it was a typical weekend with a little extra added on. Cookin’, shoppin’, eatin’, drinkin’. Droppin’ Gs everywhere. You?

I did do something new on Friday, to kick off the weekend — tried a boxing workout at a new place nearby. LOVED IT. But my bad knee HATED IT, which means I now have to figure out a way to float like a butterfly while not actually doing so. The stinging like a bee was easier, and the next day I felt it in my arms in places I didn’t know existed, always the sign of a good workout. It’s a little scary, how good punching feels. I shuffled a mental slideshow of my enemies list on the heavy bag, and did some serious virtual nose-bloodying. Another fun fact: Nearly everyone who works out at this place is female. True, it’s a boxing fitness space and not actual, hit-someone boxing training, but still — you’d think it’d be one place you’d see more men than at a yoga class. Maybe Mad Max is on to something: You want a fierce warrior, pick someone with XX chromosomes.

This weekend also passed without any of us stopping at the Movement electronic music festival at Hart Plaza. Ticket prices this year? $75 for one day, $150 for all three. To watch some guy or guys stand on a stage in front of an Apple laptop? I wish I were kidding.

I don’t think for a minute Jeb Bush is faltering as badly as Charles Pierce thinks he is, but he makes some good points here: He’s whiffing on some very slow pitches.

And as it was a holiday weekend and I mostly stayed away from the internet, that’s what I have today. Short week ahead! Let’s enjoy it.

Posted at 12:31 am in Movies, Same ol' same ol' | 33 Comments

Fifty shades.

The other day I fell into a rabbit hole. It’s easy to do online. You follow one link, then another, then another and soon you’re looking at something like this, amusingly titled “Why Kindles Can Wreck Your Marriage”:

Look, I think sharing “sexy” thoughts with one’s husband, and flirting, and playing together is all pretty great. I am not against sexual play or sexual fun at all. But when we use something outside of marriage to get aroused, we’re transferring our sexual energy from our spouse. And if you then have sex with your spouse after getting aroused some other way, it becomes increasingly difficult to “be present” when you make love. Your mind starts to focus on what you were reading, not on your husband. And that’s not really making love.

This is an argument, I should clarify, against reading romance novels.

I’ve been around certain extremely Christian Christians enough to understand this is their definition of marriage: Two pythons tying themselves into knots, all the while proclaiming the unique strength of their bond, which was after all given by GOD HIMSELF. And in many cases I don’t even think it’s so awful; I think if people paid less attention to their children and more to their marriages, the children would take care of themselves. But at the same time, it makes me understand why they have higher divorce rates than the rest of us, too. A hug can feel like smothering if it goes on too long. And face it, does anyone want to live in a world where you can’t imagine Clive Owen with his pants off from time to time?

What prompted all this is “Fifty Shades of Gray,” a book I haven’t read and a movie I won’t see, at least until it comes around on Netflix and I’m sick with the flu or something. But judging from some of the social-media chatter I’ve seen lately, it appears to have unhinged a segment of the religious among us, who cannot be convinced that the vast majority of BDSM relationships are a) consensual; and b) no big deal. Personally? I don’t want to be spanked as a prelude to sex, but I understand others do, and I don’t think it qualifies as mental illness.

One of those things you inevitably read in any profile of a sex worker who specializes in this stuff is some version of: “Some of my most loyal clients are very powerful men.” It’s like: Duh. You spend all day influencing global exchange rates or lowering the tax bills of multinational corporations or bringing 747s in for a safe landing? Maybe you welcome a safe space where you can lay down that burden, have your hands cuffed to a bed frame and hear some lady in leather tell you what a bad, bad boy you’ve been.

As for women, well, we run the whole damn world, at least the part that involved getting dinner on the table and kids off to school and cookies made for a church bake sale. You don’t have to have aced Psych 101 to see why all those ladies made a bestseller out of a terribly written book that featured a woman who is blindfolded and restrained, so that her lover can fiddle with her: Oh, you mean I don’t have to run this show? Kind, kind sir!

The rougher stuff is a different breed of cat, but hey — as long as everyone’s clear on the boundaries and knows the safe word? Who cares.

Meanwhile, David Edelstein says the movie’s not so bad. And what a surprise:

The movie’s biggest surprise is its powerful affirmation of family values. It’s Jane Eyre with ropes. That this vanilla bean has been denounced by religious decency brigades while female churchgoers pleasure themselves over advance tickets is further proof of America’s insane cultural bifurcation — or trifurcation, if you count the worriers who predict that women’s shelters will have to add more beds to accommodate battered copycats. Are there really people who still think that watching a man tie up a woman and both of them get off is the gateway to hell?

Yeah, that sounds about right. This is Hollywood, after all. Meanwhile, I add this phenomenon to the list of Things I Am Not, Nor Ever Will Be, Into, which includes the “Sex and the City” movies, Uggs and the novels of Nicholas Sparks.

Some bloggage? OK:

This profile of young Scott Walker, college dropout, is essential reading for those who want to know more about him. As Hank said on Facebook, there’s a version of this guy on every college campus.

As we’re closing in on V-Day and I mentioned it above, this Esther Perel TED talk on maintaining desire in a long-term relationship is pretty damn smart, and a phenom all its own. Bonus: If you watch it, you pretty much have the gist of her book.

Back to edits. Have a great Thursday.

Posted at 8:51 am in Movies, Popculch | 36 Comments