(Nearly) done with February.

The cold abated this weekend. It went clear up to the high 20s, which felt like beach weather. We were promised snow, just in case we thought the near-thaw was a prelude to spring, but only a dusting fell, and the forecast is for more subzero cold, arriving today (Monday).

On Saturday I bought a pair of fleece-lined tights, and if you were reading this on a text message, I would insert a thumbs-up emoji right here. Instead I’ll note that today is a prelude to spring, because everything in winter is, in some way. Sunset is a full hour later than it was at Christmastime, and sunrise ditto. Believe me, the early-morning exerciser notices these things. It takes our minds off the fact our hair is freezing.

It hasn’t been a terrible February. We’ve had parties to attend each of the last three weekends, and Saturday’s was at the home of one of the old filmmaking crew’s, so there were lots of jokes about getting the band back together. I doubt we will, but it was fun to catch up. One of our number is a pretty high-level IT guy, and was describing an incident in which some guy nearly crashed the internet for a very large ISP through one mistake. “The more you learn about any complicated system, the more you come away thinking it’s a miracle it works at all,” he said. Amen to that, brother.

Sunday I read this story in the NYT:

On the nights when she has just seven hours between shifts at a Taco Bell in Tampa, Fla., Shetara Brown drops off her three young children with her mother. After work, she catches a bus to her apartment, takes a shower to wash off the grease and sleeps three and a half hours before getting back on the bus to return to her job.

…Employees are literally losing sleep as restaurants, retailers and many other businesses shrink the intervals between shifts and rely on smaller, leaner staffs to shave costs. These scheduling practices can take a toll on employees who have to squeeze commuting, family duties and sleep into fewer hours between shifts. The growing practice of the same workers closing the doors at night and returning to open them in the morning even has its own name: “clopening.”

This is the second story about this phenomenon I’ve seen recently; the other was also in the NYT, and looked at a single mother at a single business – Starbucks, if I recall correctly. The story led to some red-faced corrections on the part of Starbucks, but as this one makes clear, the practice is widespread across fast food, retail and other service businesses. There are some reasons this isn’t 100 percent a human-rights issue…

Some managers say there are workers who don’t mind clopenings — like students who have classes Monday through Friday and want to cram in a lot of weekend work hours to maximize their pay.

Tightly scheduled shifts seem to have become more common for a number of reasons. Many fast-food restaurants and other service businesses have high employee turnover, and as a result they are often left with only a few trusted workers who have the authority and experience to close at night and open in the morning.

…but at the same time, you have to ask yourself: Hmm, why high turnover? Maybe because the money is bad and the hours are torture. What’s the solution? Keep the money low and the hours ditto, and hope a unicorn drops off an application.

Come the revolution, the quants and MBAs who dreamed this stuff up will be the first to the guillotines, and who will cry for them? Maybe their mothers. Meanwhile, our own Jolene passed this along, via her Facebook network:

parttimework

That’s the workaday world these days.

And here’s the workaday week, upon us. Another thumbs-up emoji here for a good one.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 52 Comments
 

Laundry plus links.

For the record, my family knows how to do laundry. I do the laundry because I’m a control freak and I like it done the way I like it done, but friends? That’s going to change. I’m done washing those goddamn towels.

You wouldn’t think laundry would be a high-skill job, but with all the fast-fashion items out there in weird fabrics, and my mania to reduce dry-cleaning bills, it can get a little complicated. Cold-water wash, low-temperature dry — ah, it’s a muddle.

But towels are uncomplicated. Wash, dry, fold, bing-bam-boom.

That was Thursday.

So much good linkage today, let’s just get to it.

This story is basically a shortened, condensed version of the Michael Kruse Politico piece on Jeb Bush and the Terri Schiavo case, spiced up with some obvious point of view. Still, worth reading. I’d forgotten how awful that skirmish in the culture wars was, but you shouldn’t. It also led me to this obviously sympathetic, 10-year-old profile of Michael Schiavo’s new woman, but hey — life is complicated.

How complicated? CLOWNS, THAT’S HOW COMPLICATED.

Finally, Ta’Nehisi Coates’ remembrance of David Carr brought me to tears. We should always have a mentor like this is our lives, but few of us are that lucky.

Oliver Sacks is on his way out. Another sad story.

Have a great weekend, all.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 56 Comments
 

The eagle beagle.

Sorry for the no-show yesterday. I was planning to write an information-dense, four- to five-paragraph press release for Kate’s band’s press kit instead of blogging, then I decided to blog instead, and then I ended up doing neither.

Yeah, I ended up watching the dog show. But I went to bed after the Russells. Didn’t see the beagle win. I don’t worry about missing things on TV anymore, because everything’s on YouTube the following day.

So, a day off.

A little housekeeping before you get bored: The poverty-in-paradise project concludes today, and my part is on how Aspen and Jackson Hole have instituted affordable-housing programs amid spiking real-estate prices. The Jackson Hole portion came with the help of our own MarkH, yay NN.c commentariat. That link won’t work until after 6:05 a.m. EST, mind you. The other two main pieces, on two schools up north and the exodus of young workers, are pretty good, too. There are also some short pieces; you can start here and cycle through.

That out of the way, let’s start a discussion about towels. Dirty towels. Or not-dirty ones.

Lately I feel like all I do is wash towels. Every week, I do four loads of clothing and three of goddamn towels. A while back I stopped using a fresh one every day, because what does a towel do? You step out of the shower, clean, and use it to absorb clean water from your body. Does that require a new towel every time? I think not. But I live with two people who get a fresh one every time, and that adds up to MORE GODDAMN TOWELS in the wash than you can imagine.

I started college during a summer term, one of the steamiest I’ve ever endured, and in un-air conditioned dorms. It was two- or three-shower a day weather, and I quickly ran out of towels. I’d rotate them through, hoping I could find a dry one by the time the next shower rolled around. So I’m not some hotel-dwelling, fresh-towel-every-handwash petunia. Have I underlined this enough? You don’t need a fresh towel every day.

That is all. Now to wash another load of practically clean towels.

Did you all see Neely Tucker’s WashPost piece on how Harper Lee was manipulated into publishing her first draft of what became “To Kill a Mockingbird?” You should. There’s no way I would buy this book, and unlikely I’d even read it.

The president explains why he won’t call ISIS “Islamic extremists,” as the ravening chorus is demanding he do:

“They are not religious leaders; they are terrorists,” Obama said during remarks at a White House event on countering violent extremism. “We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.”

Obama said the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, also known as ISIS or ISIL, is “desperate” to portray itself as a group of holy warriors defending Islam. It counts on that legitimacy, he said, to propagate the idea that Western countries are at war with Islam, which is how it recruits and radicalizes young people.

“We must never accept the premise that they put forward, because it is a lie,” he said.

Of course this won’t work, but it’s nice to hear.

The midweek hump is behind us. Let’s coast to the weekend.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 55 Comments
 

Your dirty uncle.

So, the Dirty Show. It’s been going on since we’ve lived here, but this was our first time going. John Waters was the draw, of course – we’ve both been fans for a while, Alan of his movies and me of his post-Hairspray persona as this cuddly post-smutmeister who keeps telling people what a smutmeister he is.

His one-man show is raw, but also funny, which makes the raw go down easy. “What ever happened to pubic hair? I went to court to show bush. Now no one has one.” He talks about his parents a lot. He talks about assholes (the real ones, the ones we all have). He talks about his projects; when I heard his Hairspray-sequel TV series, currently in development hell, is called “White Lipstick,” I knew he would get it all right. He manages to come across as a perv and your favorite uncle all at the same time.

Afterward, he did a signing that went on for hours and hours. Everybody got a picture. We didn’t participate, as we were busy touring the rest of show, trying to find the pearls among an awful lot of bad oysters. It’s not that I find the human body artless, it’s just that you have to do more with it than just show me a big red dick. And dicks were scarce compared to the seemingly endless parade of tits ‘n’ vulvas. The sideshows were more interesting, including a touring burlesque show featuring a dwarf stripper and a man whose whole act was a hymn to the hot dog. There was also one of those gymnasts who performs aloft suspended and entwined in a long length of cloth, whatever they’re called. At first I thought she was nude, but after she came down I saw she was wearing a flesh-colored bodysuit with the anatomy spray painted on, and quite well.

Really, the only thing left to the imagination was why so many women into baroque lingerie, especially corsetry, are overweight.

I only saw one piece I could take home, a sketch that looked like a bunch of birds of paradise flowers but turned out to be, yes, more vulvas. But it was clever. And alas, it had a red “sold” sticker on it.

The rest of the weekend was half fun, half duty — a wedding, plus FAFSA and related forms. The wedding was at the National Shrine of the Little Flower, better known as Father Coughlin’s old church. Which is spectacular. Fr. Coughlin was the original Rush Limbaugh, and had quite the career until the diocese reined him in. The church has a theater-in-the-round thing going on; the first guests weren’t sure where to sit, but we all figured it out. The bride was beautiful, the groom flubbed some hand-holding instructions and we all went out to face the cold front howling in. Current temperature: 2 below, and the night has only begun.

Let’s hope we get a little relief by the end of the week, but I’m not hopeful.

Posted at 12:30 am in Popculch, Same ol' same ol' | 42 Comments
 

We want it chunky.

A quick one today, sorry. I had a full weekend that stretched into a potluck birthday party Sunday night, my customary blogging time. I was puzzling over what to make – my cooking is in a creative lull; must be the weather – when inspiration appeared in the scowling, ghost-white face of none other than Jack White:

Pallid rocker Jack White is pretty pissed after some enterprising college students leaked a copy of his tour rider containing — amongst other ridiculous parameters — an extremely specific recipe for extra-chunky guacamole. The full contract in all its glory was posted online by the University of Oklahoma student newspaper The Oklahoma Daily just days before White was scheduled to perform at the college on Monday. Though the show went on as scheduled, the college has now been blacklisted by White’s agency.

The answer, then, was obvious:

guacamole

Personally, I think it could use a little more heat and some garlic, but all in all, Jack’s guacamole game is strong. It all got eaten, anyway. Here’s the recipe, if you’d like to try it. The thing about the pits keeping it from browning is b.s., I should add; my newly learned trick is to squirt half a lime over the top and seal it with plastic wrap. When you serve, stir in the puddled lime juice and there you are.

So now the week begins anew, and I’ll see you here tomorrow with a little bit more than this, eh?

Posted at 8:29 am in Detroit life, Same ol' same ol' | 40 Comments
 

Back home again.

Hey, I’m back. That felt like a long trip, and I guess by most standards, it was: I was gone from predawn Tuesday to Friday twilight, and I barely had a minute to myself, although at one point I turned on the TV just for the noise of company and actually watched a few minutes of a Real Housewives episode.

What a wonder! I’ve never beheld this spectacle for more time than it takes to change channels or watch Jon Stewart mock them on “The Daily Show.” I’m not clueless. I know the basic gimmick: An assembly of polished, high-dollar women are followed by camera crews as they go about their days, with various trumped-up activities thrown in to give them something to do. Sometimes they sit around their lavish kitchens and drink wine. Sometimes they go to parties and drink wine. On this particular day, the Beverly Hills flock was arriving at some sort of reception or opening or something similar in one of those southern California restaurant courtyards that makes a Michigander wonder why she doesn’t live there.

Everyone wears a curve-hugging sleeveless sheath dress. Everyone’s hair falls in barrel curls. Everyone’s makeup is perfect, if a bit overdone. (Lots of false eyelashes.) Everyone air-kisses. Everyone drinks wine. And then the “reality” begins, as one character approaches another for a tete-a-tete. I have no idea what they’re talking about, but apparently there’s some bad blood there.

“What do I have to do?” one asks. “Eat your pussy?”

Whoa. This is basic cable now? A scene of comic relief followed, in which all the housewives discuss cunnilingus. (The relief comes from one who hasn’t ever heard the term.) And then suddenly I had a camera-pulls-back moment and realized I was actually watching “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” and turned it off.

I swear, we are going to be cutting the cable cord very soon.

The rest of the trip was very nice. I was reporting a project that will appear in another couple of weeks, concerning conditions at the tip of the mitten. Along the way I met some almost freakishly nice people – it’s true what they say about friendliness around here – and saw a lot of good and bad and beautiful things. Of course, ice covers the water, but ski season is in full swing. One night I peeled off to the dark-sky park up there, the Headlands.

True to Connie’s warning, the stargazing was subpar with a bright, waxing moon in the western sky, but Orion looked close enough to touch and the moon was a veritable spotlight. I was absolutely alone out there, and the weird feeling that started as I pulled in began to build. It was helped along by the various information stations on the road in, which featured life-size human cutouts; I only recognized one (Galileo), so I gather the others were pioneering astronomers, too. But with the single-digit cold, the blazing moon, the snow-covered road and the utter absence of other humans, it all took on a sort of Blair Witch vibe: WHAT IS THAT? WHO IS STANDING IN THE WOODS? Ohit’sjustGalileo. I stopped the car at the very end, got out and looked up. The silence was absolute. There was no wind, so the ice wasn’t shifting out in the Straits of Mackinac. No rustling from the surrounding woods. No owls. Even the cooling car engine seemed to stop ticking in just a minute or two. I strained to hear anything, but the best I could do was the far-far-off laboring of a big engine, probably a logging truck on the Mackinac Bridge.

All this while standing in the clearing, under the moon. I watch “Game of Thrones.” If a White Walker had emerged from the forest on a zombie horse, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

I stood there until the cold penetrated deeply enough to make me uncomfortable, and left. I’m going back this summer, I think. There’s a guest house there you can rent. Alan will love it.

So that was sort of the sublime and ridiculous of the trip. Now to write all these stories.

In the meantime, I have some bloggage, some of which you posted in the comments last week.

A dive into Jeb Bush’s role in the Terri Schiavo catastrophe, reported and written for Politico by the talented Michael Kruse. Long, but well worth your time.

Something you’ve probably heard of, but didn’t know there was a name for: Tip-overs, the hazard that kills a few children every year, and doesn’t need to. If you have little kids at home, be advised.

Finally, a Free Press story simultaneously inspiring and infuriating: A Detroit man walks 21 miles, every single work day, to get to his job. From the timeline I gather he has about four hours in his day when he’s not getting to, or doing, his job. I hope with all my heart that by the time you read this, some kindhearted used-car dealer has gifted him with reliable transportation, and the rest of us have donated money to pay his insurance bill.

And so the week begins. We’re currently in the midst of a snowmageddon, and my poor baby has to work tonight — at the pizza place where she’s been since the fall. A pizza place on Super Bowl Sunday during an 8-inch snowfall? It’ll be a character-builder for sure.

Posted at 12:37 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 22 Comments
 

Last of the week.

Ugh, but I’m heading into yet another ridiculous round of work, so expect the scarcity from here. On the other hand, what is there to do at this time of year? We trudge to work in the dark, come home in the dark. Lately we’ve been watching “The Wire,” now that it’s in HD, and “Girls,” and otherwise wasting away.

Alan is still sick. He went to the doctor today, who said, basically, “You’re sick.” It’s the basic three-week cold that’s been circulating for a while now. We went to a New Year’s party at that same doctor’s, and he was coughing so hard then that I wondered why they didn’t call it off. Today he was still coughing. The affliction, he said, arrived around Christmas.

Friday night is car prom. Yes, pictures are coming.

In the meantime, a big court decision here on same-sex marriage. It’ still going to SCOTUS, and we’ll see what they say. And the governor vetoed a bill that would have made it easier for people with restraining orders against them to obtained concealed-weapons permits.

So, open thread for the weekend? I’ll be your roving correspondent at the car show.

Posted at 9:06 pm in Same ol' same ol' | 79 Comments
 

Cozy evenings.

You know a) you’ve been married a long time, and b) it’s January when, coming home on a frigid Monday when your spouse took a sick day, the thing you think when you pull into the driveway is, “We can watch ‘Jeopardy!’ together, and won’t that be nice.”

And that’s what we did. I don’t feel old, though; that will come when I think the same thing about “Wheel of Fortune.”

Man, it’s cold, though, and will be for the rest of the week. Plus, snow. Oh, well. This is the latitude we have chosen.

The week started with a radio appearance, one of those get-journalists-around-the-table-and-discuss-the-news deals. One panelist said, “Barack Obama has dragged the Democratic party far to the left.” Always good to start Monday on a high note, eh?

I have little bloggage, I fear. I imagine the big troll bait of the day will be the do-as-I-say, not-as-I-whine Harvard faculty story:

For years, Harvard’s experts on health economics and policy have advised presidents and Congress on how to provide health benefits to the nation at a reasonable cost. But those remedies will now be applied to the Harvard faculty, and the professors are in an uproar.

Members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the heart of the 378-year-old university, voted overwhelmingly in November to oppose changes that would require them and thousands of other Harvard employees to pay more for health care. The university says the increases are in part a result of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act, which many Harvard professors championed.

Raise your hand if your insurance plan is worse than this:

The university is adopting standard features of most employer-sponsored health plans: Employees will now pay deductibles and a share of the costs, known as coinsurance, for hospitalization, surgery and certain advanced diagnostic tests. The plan has an annual deductible of $250 per individual and $750 for a family. For a doctor’s office visit, the charge is $20. For most other services, patients will pay 10 percent of the cost until they reach the out-of-pocket limit of $1,500 for an individual and $4,500 for a family.

That’s what I thought.

We lost our local gourmet cupcake shop a few weeks ago. I’m not sure what the lesson is here. Maybe that a franchise based on a baked-goods trend is a bad bet. How’s your cupcake shop doing?

When one crazy man in New York City shot two cops in cold blood, the police threw a fit, and their union leader said the mayor had blood on his hands. When this man shot two Pennsylvania state troopers in cold blood to “wake people up” and “get us back to the liberties we once had” — crickets.

Happy Tuesday, all.

Posted at 8:46 am in Current events, Media, Same ol' same ol' | 48 Comments
 

One-word resolution.

Today in yoga class, my first of the year, we were invited to set an intention for the hour. I normally ignore the woo-woo aspects of yoga, but I’d walked to the studio, and the mild exercise had already gotten me in a more yoga-ish head. All at once it came to me, not just the intention for the class but the one-word New Year’s resolution I’d been looking for: Balance. Verb, not noun. I think that’s going to be the goal.

(Credit where it is due: Laura Lippman came up with the idea of one-word resolutions, and usually announces hers to her social-media networks. I think hers, this year, is Model.)

And with that, the year is off and running. We did a balance exercise in that very same class — tree pose. As usual, I sucked at it. So, I have my work cut out for me.

Not much to report over the last couple of days, but I did find some good stuff to direct you toward, so let’s get to it.

I know we’re well past the death of Mario Cuomo — and on to that of Little Jimmy Dickens — but when Roy recommends something, I pay attention, and when he said Wayne Barrett’s Cuomo obit was the best of the bunch, I read it. And I agree, especially after this lead:

Predictably, Ed Koch beat Mario Cuomo in the New York Times obit contest. Until the Times changed it a day later, the front-page introduction to the Cuomo obit described him as a “prickly personality.” Koch’s 2013 obit branded him “brash, shrewd and colorful” in its headline. Ask anyone who knew both which one was more “prickly.”

And passages like these come only from deep knowledge of your subject:

He became the prison builder to compensate for his staunch opposition to the death penalty, which became the hammer Koch used to beat him in a primary, runoff and general election in 1977, when the Son of Sam, a serial killer who captivated the city with mad murders, was arrested in August. Remarkably, at a time when death was a bipartisan bromide, Mario stood against the wind for 12 years, until the governor who beat him, George Pataki, could gleefully welcome its return. If we are looking for a list of Mario’s accomplishments, start with an end to official revenge killings, a veto of the soul.

Continue on to his Notre Dame speech, when every word was a prayer for tolerance, a careful reconciliation of a church he loved with a constitution he loved at its point of collision, the abortion issue. “We know,” he said to Catholics, “that the price of seeking to force our beliefs on others is that they might try someday to force theirs’ on us.” The convention speech he gave in San Francisco in 1984 was not so much “the tale of two cities” as it was the tale of two Cuomos—the one his soul yearned for, which he could express on a national stage, and the one who governed New York, where every dollar was a decision.

Woo, it’s been a fortnight for death, hasn’t it? And now Stuart Scott, whom I know mainly from watching his silent lips moving on the gym TV, but I’ll take others’ word for it.

I think I’m going to want to read this book:

The book is ambitious — verging on frenetic at times as it hops through the flotsam of our exploded economy and culture — but its central thesis is that the plutocrats of the Internet (the Mark Zuckerbergs and Larry Pages of the world) have availed themselves of an astonishing spectrum of rights while wholly disregarding their responsibilities.

And…

Amazon — which customers rightly love for its efficiency and ease — does not, in fact, want to make the world a better place. Neoliberals would argue that the company enriches our culture by upping access to content and products. But Keen argues that “the reverse is actually true. Amazon, in spite of its undoubted convenience, reliability, and great value, is actually having a disturbingly negative impact on the broader economy.” He points to what he describes as Amazon’s brutally efficient business methodology, which has squeezed jobs out of every sector of retail, according to a 2013 Institute for Local Self-Reliance report that Keen cites. The report says brick-and-mortar retailers employ 47 people for every $10 million in sales, while Amazon employs only 14. Perhaps the question Keen is getting at is this: Are we consumers, or are we citizens? It’s a frustratingly complex inquiry.

Man, I’ll say.

Anyway, I guess it’s back to the grind for those of us lucky enough to have some time off, and back to the week for everyone else. Happy Monday to all.

Posted at 12:01 am in Media, Same ol' same ol' | 46 Comments
 

End of the line.

And so this is new year’s, and what have you done? (To mangle a little John Lennon there.) I’m not much for end-of-year wrap-ups — I had plenty in my newspaper years — and I’m a big believer that the future arrives every day, every minute and every second right on schedule, so if you want to make a resolution, why wait for January 1? Even our calendars are electronic now, so we don’t get much of a charge from starting a new one.

Me, I stepped on a scale today, to come to terms with the holiday damage. The result? Three pounds, which for me counts as “no damage.” Yay me. I did have to say goodbye to a dream this December, after I went running — once! — and paid for it in knee pain for days and days and days. Friends? I will never be a triathlete. Give my space in the June event to someone with better joints.

2014 wasn’t the best year, but it was a long way from the worst. Hello, 2015.

On the off chance you’re short of reading material, this is the time of year when lots of media outlets/great writers publish their best-of reading lists, and I guarantee you’ll find a lot you missed the first time around. So here are a few suggestions:

The 20 most popular recipes of 2014, from the NYT. A lot of these look great. Bookmarked. (By the way, I’d be interested in reading a story about the evolution of food photography. When I started at the Dispatch, the paper had its own kitchen, where the food writers worked. Photo shoots were serious business, with large-format cameras and perfect, and I mean perfect, presentation. Lazarus, a local department store, loaned tableware and accessories. Then we moved into another era, with extremely shallow depth of field, where a plate might be photographed from the side with the biscuit in the foreground in sharp focus and the sweet potatoes on the other side of the plate out of focus. Now we see plates that look like someone’s already been eating from them, complete with dirty silverware. Any photogs in the house? Discuss.)

Longform.org’s best-of list, packed with goodies. We already went through “The Case for Reparations” back when it was published, and I know I mentioned “The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie,” too, but I bet it was less-read than Ta-Nehisi Coates’ epic. Those are Nos. 1 and 2. The list goes on and on from there. Refill your drink before you settle in.

A bunch of Nieman Fellows (the Harvard competitor to the Michigan program I did) and high-profile journos pick their best-ofs. Some duplication with other lists, but lots of new stuff, too.

Another list, by Gawker writers. Not as bad as you’d expect. In fact, some good stuff here.

To Michigan football fans, Congratulations on the purchase of your new Harbaugh!

Finally, not a list, but a shortish piece by Charles Pierce on something we should all never forget, especially as it pertains to Steve Scalise, GOP majority whip.

With that, I wish you all the best possible 2015 and the best possible last year of 2014. I’m going to take a shower and go buy some salmon for dinner.

Posted at 10:32 am in Media, Same ol' same ol' | 77 Comments