A bit busy.

You remember a few days back, when I said my planner has three lines at the bottom of the weekly page? Logging workouts, morning pages and blogs? I just looked at it and realized, oops.

But life has been crazy-busy this week, and this weekend in particular. It ended with us seeing “Oppenheimer,” thus completing the Barbenheimer cinematic diptych of the summer, so: Checked that box, but missed my blogging window.

I didn’t like “Oppenheimer” nearly as much as “Barbie,” but then again, the fact they’re both films is about all they have in common. It certainly has its place in the world, but my viewing suffered from not being a science nerd well-acquainted with every brilliant PhD who worked on the Manhattan Project. I knew about Oppenheimer, knew about Teller, but beyond that? Not much. So a great deal of the sub- and backstory was lost on me. And sorry, but why anyone would think they need to see this in IMAX is baffling — most of the action consists of people talking to one another in medium shots. In fact, my biggest disappointment was that the detonation of the first bomb, the Trinity test, was not really the film’s climax; it goes on for an hour afterward.

Maybe the draw is seeing Florence Pugh’s breasts in IMAX, I dunno.

We settled for a regular old wide-screen movie theater, and it was just fine (breasts and bomb). The explosion was very well-done, and I’m glad Oppy’s famous reaction line from the Bhagavad Gita was underplayed; I get the feeling someone like Spielberg would have dolled it up more. But the performances were very good, the story important, and it left me with lots to think about, including how a person with a brain like Oppenheimer’s interacts with the rest of the world. I certainly don’t understand quantum physics or mechanics, but the fact this achievement was followed by the 20th century equivalent of the MAGA era must have been almost physically painful for people that smart. It certainly made me wince that we only recently had a president who spoke of nuking hurricanes and countries and so on, as though these were special effects to be deployed, not weapons of mass destruction. Speaking of dumb.

Do I have bloggage? Why yes I do:

Neil Steinberg parts with one matchbook he’s been holding on to for 40 years, and has an epiphany: I could get used to this:

I’m at an age when I’m surrounded by great masses of detritus, aka, crap. Files and furniture, notes and boxes, mugs, souvenirs, relics. I hate to include books, which are holy, but hundreds of books, most of which I’ll never read. After I wrote the above, I went to walk the dog, and can’t tell you how good I felt. The mixture of performing a small kindness plus the liberation of divestment was a real boost. Only a little thing, true: an old, used matchbook. But it’s a start of the great give-away that will end with me being put, possessionless, into the ground.

Death-cleaning. It becomes more important the closer you get to, um, death, and damn, but it feels great.

Alan and I used to watch “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” when we first got together, so it has some special significance to me. Losing Paul Reubens last week was tough, but we’re all going to the undiscovered country eventually, so I wasn’t upset. This Hank Stuever appreciation of Pee Wee (gift link) was very good and exactly right, I thought:

There were a lot of ways to both fall in love with Reubens’s character and to also find him annoying, but there was no denying that he, along with other retro acts (the B-52’s come to mind) had harnessed a longing for and a lampooning of a B-movie, mid-century vibe: In the high time of Pee-wee Herman, every fun city had at least one gift store that sold inflatable Godzillas and cat’s-eye sunglasses and chile-pepper Christmas lights along with sardonic, non-Hallmark greeting cards.

And, more important:

Now, in a culture derailed by childish taunts and vicious politics (“I know you are, but what am I — infinity”), fixated on all the wrong kinds of nostalgia, where drag queens and other groovy outliers are publicly pilloried and accused of trying to corrupt children, it is becoming quite clear that things are increasingly less safe for anyone who deigns to be different. Just when the world could use Pee-wee’s keen and welcoming sense of humor, we lost him.


OK then, deeper into August we go.

Posted at 12:36 pm in Movies, Popculch, Television | 85 Comments

Barbie and me.

I try not to march in lockstep with any movement, and I split with mainstream feminism over Barbie. The complaint about how her “impossible body proportions” made little girls feel bad about their own just struck me as silly. I guess you could find one or two women out there who could trace their body dysmorphia to a foot-tall plastic doll they played with as children, but it’s my experience that pretty much every woman alive has something about her body that she doesn’t like, whether they played with Barbies or not. So there.

I had a Barbie. And I had a Francie, who I always thought was Barbie’s friend but Barbie fan sites tell me I’m mistaken: She was Barbie’s “modern cousin” and wore “mod-style clothing.” Whatever. I liked her because she had long blonde hair I could brush, whereas my Barbie was the one with the brunette bubble cut, i.e. the one that terrified Sally Draper in “Mad Men.”

Anyway, I can’t say exactly when they arrived in my toy collection, but my guess is, I was around 8 or 9. I wasn’t thinking about body proportions then. My mother was a talented seamstress, and made her several outfits in addition to the striped swimsuit she came dressed in. Francie’s proportions were the same, so they shared the same clothes. And that is pretty much that, recollection-wise. The massive Barbie brand build-out seemed to trail my interest in the doll, which is to say, by the time the Dream House came onto the market, I had moved on. I had a carrying case that held the two dolls, with space in between for the clothes. The outfits were the splurge.

By the time Kate was born, the thing about Barbie that had changed most was the age period — she came into the house when Kate was very young, maybe 4? Also, the thing wasn’t to get one Barbie and a lot of outfits, but to get a ton of Barbies, period. They were cheap, and there were so many of them, you can see how the collecting mania began. (My neighbor’s in-laws were both deaf, and they all used ASL when they got together. Her mother-in-law gave her granddaughter ASL Barbie, which she was thrilled to have, but immediately told her — in ASL, presumably — that she could never take it out of the box, because it would ruin its value. My neighbor went out the next day and bought another one that the girl could actually play with. In-laws. What are you gonna do?)

Kate’s most memorable was Olympic Swimming Barbie, who came dressed in a swimsuit with a medal around her neck. You wound up a knob on her back and her arms windmilled wildly; she was a bathtub toy. She didn’t age well, and retired from swimming in a film of soap scum. There were others.

Olympic Swimming Barbie wasn’t in Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie,” which the three of us saw the other night. I…loved it. It was zany and funny and heartfelt and spot-on and just felt totally original. I read somewhere that Mattel has something like 18 more movies in the pipeline, based on their best-selling toys. I think they should shut it down now, because it’s all downhill from here. I feel especially bad for Lena Dunham, who’s said to be developing the Polly Pocket movie, which I wouldn’t see at gunpoint. Who cares about Polly Pocket? No one.

But Barbie could become “Barbie” because of all the cultural weight resting on her slender plastic shoulders, and Gerwig and her writing/life partner, Noah Brumbaugh Baumbach, put it all together like Tetris. When I saw Kate McKinnon’s name in the credits, I couldn’t imagine where they’d squeeze her in, but they figured out a way. (She’s Weird Barbie. She smells like basement.) By the time Barbie rolls out of Barbieland in her pink Corvette, singing the Indigo Girls’ “Closer to Fine,” I was utterly under the spell. My only quibble might be Dan Savage’s, who wanted a scene acknowledging all the gay boys who secretly played with Barbie, and didn’t get one. A trans woman plays Doctor Barbie, and that seemed to be the only queer shoutout in the film, unless you count Michael Cera as Allan, Ken’s friend in that stupid striped beach coat. I didn’t.

Yes, there were moments late in the second act that dragged a bit, but who cares? It was a perfect, bubblegum-pink summer movie, and that’s all I want at this point. We were all charmed.

Francie wasn’t in it, though. Midge and Skipper were. I have no memory of breast-growing Skipper at all. Does anyone else?

Anyway, I had to wait a whole week to see this movie, scrolling quickly past think pieces, etc. Why does the “spoiler alert” window close after, what, 36 hours? Not everyone can see something on opening weekend. Which is my way of saying I won’t say any more. Just enjoy it.

And have a good week.

Posted at 4:44 pm in Movies, Popculch | 44 Comments

Oceans are now battlefields.

Until this weekend, I knew…thinking…one (1) person who had seen “Master and Commander,” one of my old KWF fellows in Ann Arbor. I said, “Jay, did you see any movies this weekend?” “Yeah, I checked out ‘Master and Commander.’ “How was it?” “I liked it.”

And with that, I forgot about “Master and Commander” for 20 years or so, when I learned the film, which is technically titled “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World,” is now a Thing, mainly and almost exclusively with young men, who apparently do things like this:

That’s the opening title of the film, directed by Peter Weir and starring his countryman Russell Crowe, based on – here’s another thing I simply didn’t know – what Roger Ebert calls the “beloved” novels of Patrick O’Brian, and there’s a whole series of them.

Clearly, on my own this weekend as Alan went fishing up north, it was time to check out “Master and Commander.” And like Jay, I liked it. Didn’t love it. I’m not a guy. But I liked it.

If you wanted to know what life at sea on a British man-o-war (the HMS Surprise) was like at the beginning of the 19th century (see tattoo above), this is your movie. Craftwise, it’s excellent; the battle scenes are amazing and give the viewer a real sense of what it must be like, to be far offshore on a wooden ship being hit by cannon fire. In between the framing battles that open and close the narrative, it’s kind of episodic. Here’s the scene where we see field medicine performed on deck by the ship’s surgeon. Here’s the scene where the surgeon operates on himself, using a mirror. Here’s the stop in the Galapagos Islands. And so on.

Essentially I’m in agreement with this GQ writer, a woman, who contends:

If you kidnapped a hundred of Hollywood’s top minds and forced them to work around the clock, they could not engineer a more exquisite Dad Movie. Though Master and Commander is ostensibly about the Surprise sailing to intercept a French enemy warship, the battle scenes, exhilarating as they may be, are few and far in between. The bulk of the film—and the heart of its charm—is instead a meticulous rendering of daily life at sea: the monotony of hard labor, the palpable threat of scurvy, the dirty-faced sailors who sleep in close quarters and grin through yellowed teeth. (You know it smells crazy in there.) Even better? All the screen time devoted to close conversations between Aubrey and Maturin, and their two-dude violin and cello jam sessions. You come away with a sense of satisfaction at their accomplishments and camaraderie, and just a bit of longing over a bygone way of life.

That’s just right. Check it out if you find yourself with a couple hours at your disposal and nothing on the teevee.

Otherwise, this weekend was a blur, running from one place to the next, although it was almost all fun. Met up with some friends at an out-of-the-way spot in the post-industrial stretches of Southwest Detroit. We sat on the patio while inside, a DJ mixed pop dance hits with mariachi. At one point I went inside to get another beer and noticed a satellite feed from some Spanish-speaking country, featuring, no shit, bare-knuckle boxing. I guess gloves are for “Master and Commander” fans. Saturday was a whirl of activity until I got home around 3:30 in the afternoon and said, Enough. Time for some Russell Crowe. Today I cleaned until Alan came home. We’ll celebrate Father’s Day tomorrow or later in the week; the Derringers don’t set much store on the Hallmark holidays.

Meanwhile, I read the news:

Sen. Joni Ernst says Iowans want someone who can “pull together” a divided country, and good luck with that, hon.

Yikes. The week lies ahead. Enjoy what’s left of your day, dads.

Posted at 4:48 pm in Current events, Movies | 62 Comments

Donna saved me.

I have friends who have moved…let me count… three or four times in 10 or so years, and honestly, I don’t know how the hell they’ve survived. My brother lived in a small apartment, the heavy stuff was already done by his younger friends, and still, two days of moving his dusty shit from one place to another left me grumpy and wrung out like a worn dishrag. Driving home, I was forced — forced, I say — to put Donna Summer singles on very very loud in my car, just to keep my spirits up for the final push from Toledo to Detroit.

Of course, it would help if he hadn’t lived in one of those hellscape ’70s-era apartment complexes, about a dozen or so units that all look like this:

I mean, every single one. I was trying to find his unit in this ghastly array, talking to my sister on the phone, and said, “I bet even the people who build this shit were depressed afterward.” Of course they weren’t; this was the ’70s, and complexes like these were going up everywhere. The better ones had pools, at least, but this one didn’t. Just these ugly mushroom-capped buildings, garages and… shudder.

But he’s in a better place now, in a better part of town. And I have rested and rehydrated, got some pool time and some non-crap food, and I feel mostly human again.

And I do recommend Donna for slow periods on the road. Especially “Hot Stuff” and any playlist called Disco Forever.

After I got home, I retrieved “Heat 2” from my local library; I had to wait long enough that I’d forgotten I was on the hold list. This is Michael Mann’s novel-as-sequel to his film “Heat,” one of my favorites; one night in France when it was pouring buckets outside, we stayed inside to watch it on Netflix with French subtitles (I thought I might pick up some tips on obscenities). I read the whole 460-page thing in three days, which is to say it’s a page-turner, but oy, it reads like Mann dictated the whole thing into voice memos and left Meg Gardiner, his co-author, to turn it into prose. The action sequences — see, I’m even using film jargon here — are described in the most minute detail, as are the weapons, while the female characters are basically a combination of stock adjectives for hair, skin and body.

However! If you were a fan of the movie, you’ll probably find it worth your while. It’s both a prequel and sequel to the story told in the film, so you get lots of Neil McCauley, Michael Cerrito and Chris Shiherlis, as well as Vincent Hanna. And the female characters are all beautiful, athletic, and move like lionesses. And if you like that stuff, you’ll like this stuff.

Now it’s Monday, and it’s time to get to work. Poached eggs and spinach for breakfast, I’m thinking. I need to start the week like Popeye.

Posted at 8:16 am in Movies, Same ol' same ol' | 40 Comments

Poor Pam.

Did I mention I’m dog-sitting this week? Not at my house, theirs. It’s just a mile or so from my house, so it’s not a huge deal, but I’m sleeping over with the dogs, one of whom is an insulin-dependent diabetic, and the other a cute little shit who thinks his cuteness excuses his in-house shitting. But whatever, they’re not my dogs, I’m just here to take care of them. What else do I have to do?

These friends of mine have all the streaming services, so I’ve been watching a lot of TV. One this week was the Pamela Anderson documentary on Netflix, “Pamela: A Love Story.” I didn’t get all the way through, but I saw enough to gather the gist: This sweet girl was fed into the sex-symbol meat grinder, had a wide range of experiences related to that, and is now telling her story, her face scrubbed of makeup.

This is, I’m sorry to say, an old story. A while back I noticed that single women past the age of 50 have a strong tendency to have lots of pets, and that all these pets sleep in their beds, up to and including 80-pound pitbulls. At the same time I can’t help but notice that when sex symbols worldwide age out of the role, they will inevitably swear off men forever and get heavily into animal charities. Brigitte Bardot, case in point. Anderson is following the same path; she sold her Malibu house for $11 million, bought her childhood home and a lot of surrounding land, and now lives in Vancouver with her parents and, you guessed it, a lot of animals.

Her latest marriage, to a construction worker on her reno project in Vancouver, didn’t last. This is a theme.

Not that I am judging. One thing that becomes clear, watching this heavily documented life play out in archival video, photos and readings from her own detailed journals is, this is a woman in love with love and always willing to take a chance on it. Also, she didn’t manage her money all that well, and from time to time she needed to marry someone with enough to support her.

And here’s the other thing: What happened to her, a process in which she was a willing and sometimes eager participant, was equal parts wild ride and tragedy. You look at old photos of her, from her teen years, and she is unrecognizable as source material for the bleached, pneumatically boobed, polished, waxed, sculpted creation that came later. Here she is at the literal beginning of her modeling career, when she was spotted at a Canadian sporting event by the Labatt’s crowd cam:

So pretty, so wholesome, right? Then Playboy magazine invited her to come down to L.A. and meet Hef, and that was the beginning. Breast implants, natch. Peroxide-blonde hair, but of course. I have no idea how many surgeries and procedures she’s had to maintain it all, but I’d guess plenty. Still pretty, still more or less natural:

Then the upper lip expanded, the eyebrows were tweezed into a high arch, the ridiculous Baywatch swimsuit was glued to her body and pretty soon she was getting married to Tommy Lee on a beach in Cancun. All this time men are staring at her, exposing themselves to her, pawing her, and, needless to say, masturbating frantically to her image. When women say, later, how uncomfortable they were with this level of literal exposure, I always want to ask: What did you think would happen? Had you ever seen a copy of Playboy? Sometimes, anticipating these questions, women will say, “They made me feel beautiful, which had never happened to me before,” and OK, I guess I understand. Anderson’s first sexual experience was a rape, and that does a number on your head. But none of this is a secret, and none of it was a secret when Anderson was drawn into it. She’s absolutely right that the obsession with her breasts was ridiculous, underlined by clip after clip of some late-night talk-show host goggling at them. (You know what that tells me? We need more female late-night talk-show hosts.)

But I can’t go along 100 percent with the “it turns out Pam was a person all along” hype. Everybody is a person, but we sometimes forget it. I’m glad that today’s sex symbols have more of a voice in these things; Emily Ratajkowski is photographed naked and semi-naked all the time, but also published a book of essays called “My Body.” I didn’t read it, but it was pretty respectfully reviewed. She had the advantage of coming along 20 years later.

Once again, we learn that women are human beings, and we should treat them as such, at least until they demonstrate, over and over, that either they consider themselves far, far better than the rest of us, or that their personhood is not something they value all that much, or that they have taken it to places where it’s clear they’re actually inviting the world’s judgment. Hello, Madonna and your latest terrifying face:

That’s her daughter, of course, Kate’s former classmate at U-M. She saw her once on the bus, and remarked, “She sure is pretty.” Careful, Lourdes. That’s what they said about Pam Anderson.

So the week starts. A few more days here, then a Shadow Show gig at the end of it. Should be good.

Posted at 5:36 pm in Movies, Popculch | 59 Comments

What we talk about when we talk about ‘Tar.’

(Before I start talking about “Tar,” the film starring Cate Blanchett as a Leonard Bernstein-level celebrity conductor who gets #MeToo’d, I just want to note that yes, I know the a in her name should have a diacritical mark, but I’ve been dancing with the keyboard option menu for a while now and haven’t figured it out yet, so just be advised: Blanchett’s character is named Lydia Tar, with an acute accent mark over the A, but pfft.)

Anyway. We watched “Tar” Saturday night. Loved, loved, loved it. It was smart and talky and everything I love in a wintertime movie. As someone who finds Marvel movies boring, it’s exactly what I was looking for. But there’s a weird thing that happens about 2/3 of the way through, as the toppling of Tar (this is not a spoiler) really picks up speed, and if you have seen it — only if you’ve seen it — you might want to read this piece in Slate and tell me what you think.

But if you haven’t seen it, it’s absolutely worth your time, if only for the Juilliard master-class scene, in which Tar disposes of a conducting student who blithely dismisses Bach — Bach! — as a “misogynist” that he, as a “BIPOC pansexual” doesn’t have to pay attention to. He pronounces it “buy-pock,” like it’s an identity he picked out of an array on a shelf at some very chic boutique that he can’t give you the address for, and they wouldn’t let you in, anyway.

Those of us old enough to remember Bernstein probably know he was a sexual exploiter without peer, too. A friend of mine was at Indiana University when he did a residency in the music school there, and said Lenny ran through college boys like breath mints. They weren’t boys, of course, but young adults capable to consenting to sex, but as we all know by now, the power dynamic makes any sexual encounter between the two problematic, to say the least. It’s equally true that imbalanced-power-dynamic sexual relationships don’t always end in tears and misery. That needs to be said.

“Tar” is set in the tiny, rarified world of classical music, and the highest levels of even that world. So you get the experience of glimpsing an environment of super-luxe life that doesn’t involve Wall Street assholes, so: Win.

This, I thought, was the review that best reflects my reaction.

The highlight of my otherwise ordinary January weekend. We’re going out of town for a few days, leaving Wednesday, so I hope to have more to report by the end of the week. We’re headed to New York for…just to get away. I can’t afford Broadway anymore, so we’re going to a cabaret show by Salty Brine. We saw him in 2019 at Joe’s Pub, and it was one of the most inventive, imaginative, funny nights of theater I’ve experienced in ages. Other than that, my aim is to find a chopped cheese sandwich. Small goals.

Talk later.

Posted at 3:58 pm in Movies | 88 Comments


I don’t know when it happened, if it was them or me, but I’ve kinda lost my taste for NPR.

It’s been so long since I was a regular listener to commercial radio I can’t even remember — 35 years? Forty? A long time. Obviously nothing should stay frozen in time, especially not a journalism outlet. I don’t miss Bob Edwards, but I miss the personal essays they used to run. I miss the offbeat stories from corners of the world I’ll probably never visit. They’ve been replaced by sometimes painful, flop-sweaty pieces to satisfy someone’s diversity agenda, and what’s worse, they’ve elbowed out actual news.

The other day Alan remarked that one of the January 6 hearings had gotten 30 seconds in the top-of-the-hour news roundup, while a stupid feature on a group called the Lesbian Avengers had gone about eight minutes. What are the Lesbian Avengers? “…An organization that focuses on lesbian issues and visibility through humorous and untraditional activism.” Thanks, Wikipedia. Alan only remembers that they sometimes pass out Hershey’s Kisses with notes attached: “Smile, you’ve been kissed by a lesbian.”

OK, then. Today the story was about Brendan Fraser’s six-minute standing O at the Venice Film Festival, where his latest film debuted. Called “The Whale,” it’s (quoting from the NPR story):

…about a reclusive English teacher (Fraser) who weighs 600 pounds, and as he struggles with his health, tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter. A combination of prosthetics and CGI help Fraser as he portrays this character.

The first half of the story was about how beloved Fraser is, by fans and colleagues alike, and how recent years have been rough on him, for a variety of reasons. He’s had some health challenges, and gained weight, although nowhere near 600 pounds. Maybe 40. He’s no longer Hollywood-slender and matinee idol-handsome. He looks like a Green Bay Packers fan. So what, though. In Darren Aronofsky, he’s probably found the ideal director for his comeback. (Remember what he did for Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler.”) So why does the headline for this story read Why Brendan Fraser’s Hollywood comeback story is both warming hearts and raising ire, hmm?

Because an advocate for fat Americans is miffed, that’s why:

Indeed, critics have turned to social media to say that the movie’s premise is inherently dehumanizing. There’s a question of whether it should have been made at all.

Aubrey Gordon, an author and co-host of the Maintenance Phase, a podcast focused on debunking health fads, took to Twitter to call out the movie’s aim.

“It’s so telling that so many only see fat people as ‘humanized’ in media that shows us doing exactly what they expect: living short, small lives; ‘eating ourselves to death’; feeling sad & regretful. All reminders of how tragic it is to be fat, and how superior it is to be thin,” she wrote.

This kind of media just “reinforces viewers’ anti-fat bias,” she wrote.

Gordon is smart, and I’m with her on the inherent societal bias against obesity. (She’s fat, if you haven’t guessed.) Fat acceptance, sign me up. Different-size models in advertising? Yes, please. Fat doesn’t necessarily mean unhealthy. But 600 pounds? Any way you slice it, that’s pretty damn unhealthy. One of the undone stories of my career, one I wanted to do for Bridge but left before I could put it together, was on super-obesity, those whose weight has passed the quarter-ton stage and suffer mightily as a result. I met a doctor who paid house calls on those patients, and told me what it leads to, i.e., a spiral. The bigger you are, the harder it is to move, the harder it is to move, the less you move. The less you move, the worse you feel. Which leads to more eating, weight gain, etc. Most of his patients that size were virtual shut-ins, afraid to get out much in the world, for all the reasons you can imagine. Needless to say, everything hurt, especially hips and knees.

Tommy Tomlinson is a gifted writer, a former columnist in Charlotte, married to a former colleague of mine in Fort Wayne. At his heaviest, he weighed 460 pounds, and his memoir, “The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man’s Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America,” was full of excruciating detail about the million calculations one has to make when you’re that size: Will that chair hold me? Will any other furniture hold me? If I’m not sure, can I stand without social awkwardness? And so on. I read excerpts and felt not anti-fat bias, but deep empathy – we all have our addictions, our weaknesses, and the idea of seeing an actor as talented as Fraser bring this complicated emotional stew to life sounds pretty great to me.

I’m reminded of the backlash to “Fatal Attraction,” the way feminists hollered over the idea of a crazy spurned lover, that it dehumanized single women, etc. As a sane single woman at the time, I didn’t feel dehumanized.

So while I appreciate that NPR is stretching like Elastoman to include the fat person’s perspective, I think this is fairly ridiculous in this context, and if it weren’t for the musical weekends on WDET, I probably wouldn’t give them another dime. There’s a question of whether it should have been made at all! Mercy.

So, bloggage:

It was a pretty fun long weekend for us. We saw Kate play in both of her bands, at the Hamtramck Labor Day festival, and both performances were pretty great. The second band, the side project, is GiGi, which got a little ink ahead of the fest, and I had NO IDEA it had appeared, which shows where my head’s been of late.

A local theme park, Cedar Point, announced it was retiring one of its very edgy coasters, following the injury of a rider a couple years back. The park was not held responsible, for the record. I always thought there was a book in the development of a modern roller coaster. When I started taking Kate to Cedar Point, I was amazed at how high-tech and insanely scary they are, yet still (mostly) safe. They gave me heart palpitations just to look at them, honestly. But I’d read a book like that. Cedar Point, hire me! I’m a good explainer.

Finally, in the bottomless pit of indignities our former president has visited upon our land, here’s this: He tried to pay a lawyer – a Jones Day lawyer, no less! – with a horse.

That’s a good note to end on. Happy Wednesday.

Posted at 8:37 pm in Current events, Media, Movies | 49 Comments

The never-ending story.

Yesterday all there was to read on the internet were opinions about Will Smith and Chris Rock, whether or not one or both of them should have done what they did, et cetera to the blah-blah. It made me want to poke my eyes out, but instead I just closed the laptop. Went downstairs to make lunch. Alan was putting flies he’d tied into one of the nine million plastic boxes he keeps them in.

“You know what this reminds me of?” I said. “When newspapers had tons of money, and a million columnists, and every single one would write about the same thing, when something like this happened.”

“Such as?”

I told him: The Sports guys would turn it into a crack about some hot-headed coach – “Coach K looked like he was about to go Will Smith on his star player’s ass,” only he wouldn’t say ass because THIS IS A FAMILY NEWSPAPER, so he’d say “butt” and still have to fight for it.

In Features, where the prevailing voices were women, there’d be something about The Pain of Alopecia, or What Sort of Example is Will Smith Setting For His Children. If one of the columnists were black, there might be something bemoaning the legacy of violence between black men.

For Metro, those folks would write about going to a Boys & Girls Club, maybe, to take the temperature of the youth on the issue of the day. Would contain some comic relief: Some kid asking “who’s Willy Smith?,” etc.

The A section, Nation/World, would probably not have anything, unless they have some old-fart windbag who usually writes about Washington. His/Her point would be: What’s The World Coming To When We Spend So Much Time Talking About This Silliness While There’s A War Going On?

And then, on Thursday, the Entertainment pages drop, and those people would have to find a fresh take on a topic that was old on Tuesday morning, but I’m confident they would have come up with something.

I’m so glad not to be in that grind anymore.

As for Chris Rock and his joke, I think this piece, about Joan Rivers, best captures my feelings.

Twitter got better as the day went on:

Moving on, then.

Sometimes I feel like I’m living in an immersive remake of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” This woman worked for CBS News in recent memory:

It wasn’t long ago that Lara Logan was a correspondent for CBS News, which is a little hard to believe considering the types of conspiracy theories she’s been pushing since she left the network. The latest came during an appearance on the right-wing podcast “And We Know,” during which Logan suggested that the theory of evolution is the result of a wealthy Jewish family paying Charles Darwin to devise an explanation for what gave rise to humanity.

“Does anyone know who employed Darwin, where Darwinism comes from?” Logan, now with Fox News’ streaming service Fox Nation, asked. “Look it up: The Rothschilds. It goes back to 10 Downing Street. The same people who employed Darwin, and his theory of evolution and so on and so on. I’m not saying that none of that is true. I’m just saying Darwin was hired by someone to come up with a theory — based on evidence, OK, fine.”

Meanwhile, Actual News is happening elsewhere in our decaying democracy. No, it’s not Trump’s alleged hole in one. It’s this:

Internal White House records from the day of the attack on the U.S. Capitol that were turned over to the House select committee show a gap in President Donald Trump’s phone logs of seven hours and 37 minutes, including the period when the building was being violently assaulted, according to documents obtained by CBS News’ chief election & campaign correspondent Robert Costa and The Washington Post’s associate editor Bob Woodward.

Have a nice day. I’m on to real work.

Posted at 10:25 am in Current events, Movies | 55 Comments

The cats of war.

God, modern war is weird.

I know I’m about 10 years late with this take — the Arab Spring uprisings are generally considered the first social-media wars — but there’s something about this one that hits different. Between the social media AND the propaganda AND the weeks-long buildup AND the real-time video and punditry and all the rest of it, it’s like watching a very strange movie with a participatory element.

I have not added a blue-and-yellow flag to my various avatars. Here’s my contribution: A week or so before this started, I bought four spots at a dining pop-up for us and another couple. The co-chef is a former student of mine and a talented journalist of Ukrainian lineage, who immigrated here as a boy, in fact. The original theme was Russia (I and the other couple are Russophiles, and have been talking about a trip there for a while) but after the invasion, it was changed to a tribute to Ukraine, a couple of courses changed, and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to relief organizations. So now, instead of beef stroganoff for the main course, we’re having chicken Kiev, and if you suspect I am embarrassed to write that sentence, you are correct. We all do our parts. This is mine. And it feels very much of a piece with the strangeness of this war: Admire me, world, for I have posted a meme. Also, what’s your corkage fee?

I found this Twitter thread interesting:

A couple days ago I found a tweet that showed Ukrainian soldiers cuddling cats, allegedly rescued from the streets, wreckage, whatever. Two of the soldiers were women, and both were wearing makeup. Here’s one.

Maybe I don’t understand modern warfare, but I’d think a soldier doesn’t have time to worry about makeup when bombs are falling. Maybe they do. I’m not a veteran; maybe someone could explain.

I also want to talk about “Attica,” which I watched my last night on the road, when I had Showtime on my hotel TV. I checked in around 5 p.m. and by the time I turned out the light, I’d watched three-fourths of the Cosby series and “Attica,” although I was getting woozy toward the end and watched it again last night. Jesus Christ, what a difficult experience, but a searing one. I knew the basic outlines of the story, but not many of the details, and had never seen the photos, which were ghastly. It ain’t a Pixar flick, but if you are interested in racism and justice, it’s essential. Find a way to see it.

OK, then. Here comes Wednesday, and probably more cats-in-wartime photos.

Posted at 8:51 pm in Current events, Movies | 38 Comments

Stop the damn presses.

The January Uncluttering is complicated this year. We’re ripping up carpet, preparing to redo hardwood floors, and of course, still waiting on the Ukrainians to come redo two bathrooms. But it’ll get done. Pandemic time passes slowly, but it still runs one minute at a time. We’ve offloaded one large piece of furniture, with a second going later this week, fingers crossed. And last week I schlepped three boxes and one bag of books to the used bookstore in downtown Detroit, and left with $60 in store credit that I will probably give away because I have a teensy little problem with accumulating books.

The goal for 2022: Reduce. Become more nimble. Accomplish 10 percent of my Death Cleaning, but don’t actually die in the process.

For Christmas, I asked for very little, but I did receive two new books. Ha ha.

It was a newsy weekend hereabouts. Nothing like sitting down to eat on Saturday and learning the University of Michigan has fired — fired! — its president. It’s the usual reason: Improper relationship with an underling. From the looks of the emails released by the Board of Regents to justify the decision, looks like someone fairly close to the office, an assistant or scheduler or something. Once again, I am amazed at how a man smart enough to have a million degrees, a medical scientist earning more than $900K a year running a major university, is too dumb to conduct a fling anywhere other than his work email. I mean, there are literal apps for this. There’s Gmail, for crying out loud. The mind boggles.

Then there was the volcanic explosion in the Pacific, which was just…daaaammmmnn. The time-lapse satellite views made it look like a bomb, which of course it was, albeit a natural one. Nature always wins, a lesson we’ll learn yet again, one day. One of the books I got for Christmas was “Under the Wave at Waimea,” Paul Theroux’s surfing novel, where several chapters take place in weird, impoverished Pacific island nations like Tonga. This won’t help the local economy, but maybe the influx of researchers will.

I woke up this morning, and read about a fight at a local steakhouse, and not a cheap one. An unruly patron pulled a knife and stabbed a security guard, and the security guard pulled a gun and shot him to death. And so you see where we the phrase “don’t bring a knife to a gun fight” comes from.

Detroit. Never a dull moment.

And finally, there was this:

I have no more words. No, I have these: Boy, he really sounds like an old man, doesn’t he?

Entertainment notes: If you have Apple TV, “The Tragedy of Macbeth” is absolutely worth your time, a taut, expertly staged and acted production. Sets, score, costumes, photography, etc., all first-rate, and accomplished in under two hours, hallelujah. If you struggle with Elizabethan dialogue, try turning on closed captions, which did the trick for us.

Is that all? I think so. Supposed to be warmer this week, but gray. So what, I’ll take it.

Posted at 4:25 pm in Current events, Movies | 62 Comments