By popular demand.

Hello from Montréal. Our flight to Casablanca is late. But I hear the clamor for a fresh thread, and god knows what the Sunday shows will bring. The next time you hear from me, I’ll be across the pond. (I hope.)

Here’s Wendy with her dog sitter. She seems pretty happy:

Hope to be just as happy in about 12 hours.

Posted at 6:21 pm in Uncategorized | 20 Comments

So, so ready.

Alan lurched through the door last evening and pronounced himself ready for vacation, if only to get away from the country in a more or less constant constitutional crisis these days.

Couldn’t agree more.

What else, today? Not much. Just a to-do list a mile long. Why is it so hard to get out of town for a couple weeks? Of course, it doesn’t help that there’s a strike going on, which has blotted out the sun in Alan’s world for a month or so. It’s just hard to slip the surly bonds of earth, even for a little while. But stuff is getting ticked off the list, and one way or another we’re getting on the plane.

As to the constitutional crisis.

I’m so damn tired of all this stuff. The bonkers communications, the horrible family, the idiot enablers, the First Sex Worker, all of it. And this sort of thing, as well:

“Pathay.” Or maybe it’s “pathé.” I guess that’s fancy talk you learn in fancy-talk school.

And now we’re going to be seeing more of Trey Gowdy. Another reason to be so, so glad I gave up cable TV.

You guys can post the links today. Alas, I have to tackle this to-do list.

Posted at 9:23 am in Current events | 37 Comments

The packing begins.

Another weekend, but this one is the last weekend before we leave, so you know how it was spent: I cleaned two bathrooms and started solving the puzzle of my carry-on.

Our plan this trip is to travel as light as possible, which means very careful packing, complicated by the fact we’ll be visiting both the coast (cooler) and the inland (way hotter), and it’s a Muslim country and that means …well, nothing revealing, lots of clothes with vents, and nothing too tight, and not much of them.

Basically, wearing the same thing in lots of pictures, and rinsing stuff out in the room at night. Good thing I’m not an Instagram influencer. They need to change outfits a lot.

How about a couple of pictures? Here’s what was sitting on our backyard fence on Saturday morning.

Perhaps it was admiring the insane coleus, which started off as partners with the impatiens in this pot but started colonizing the area like the damn British empire:

It was that, and watching the country delaminate, of course. A second whistleblower, multiple insane-sundowning-grampa tweetstorms, and in between, I saw some friends.

A weekend, in other words.

Two things of note, one a Monica Hesse column about Hillary:

It would be lovely, just lovely, if instead of being a gutsy woman, Hillary was just a boring president.

It would be lovely if we could look at her as a human instead of a reminder of messy marriages and messy times and the limits of our own forgiveness and the repercussions of letting the perfect be the enemy of the sane.

Every time Hillary Clinton makes another public appearance, she is giving us a gift. The gift is not her mediocre book. The gift is not magnetic wit. The gift is all her complications. The gift is being able to tell her to go away while simultaneously wishing she would never leave.

And this, which was amazingly accurate, in the case of my name, anyway. Nancy is a very fab-’50s name; it’s rare to meet one under 50, unless she’s Asian, because some Asian families love fab-’50s names like Susan and Jane and Wendy.

Time to watch “Succession” and rethink my packing cubes.

Posted at 9:43 pm in Same ol' same ol' | 50 Comments

His brand is chaos.

The other day I said to someone in the office, “You remember when we would say, on Friday, that something happened on Monday and it seemed like six months ago? Now something happens at 9 a.m. and by 3 p.m. something else has happened and it’s like, ‘oh, that’s so 9 a.m.'”

It’s about 9:30 p.m. now, and there are multiple scoops breaking all over Newsville, which makes yesterday’s astonishing press conferences seem like they happened a year ago, but come on, this picture is one for the ages:

I used to work with Chip Somodevilla. Great photographer.

Yeesh, what a week. The last 48 hours have been bananas, necessitating a drive to Goddamn Lansing in which it rained, hard, both ways. Welcome to fall, bitch, every drop seemed to say. I don’t mind an overcast, drizzly day from time to time, but it’s never fun to pass an 18-wheeler in that sort of weather. You just drive into the mist and hope the road is still under your tires as you do so. And it’s worse at night.

But never you mind that. Because anything I write now will be outdated in 15 minutes, some bloggage to take you into the weekend, then.

I read this piece by Gene Weingarten, an excerpt from his upcoming book, the other day, marveling at how well it’s written. It’s likely something you’ve read before, a story about an organ donor and organ recipient on their separate journeys, but it’s just So. Good. You want to know how to write about complex medicine? Watch and learn, kids. Here’s the moment where the donor heart is extracted from the chest:

If you’ve read about open-heart surgery or seen videos, you may have a mental image of what followed: hours of precise, delicate work on gossamer tissue and threadlike vessels, performed by beetle-browed people wearing those eyeglasses with little telescopes in them.

Discard everything but the furrowed foreheads and telescope glasses. Compared with other open-heart procedures in which Lefrak was already expert — say, coronary artery bypass — heart transplantation seems like butchery. The heart as a whole is a large, unsubtle organ, and those vessels feeding it that aren’t the circumference of a D battery are still as fat as thumbs. Edward Lefrak removed Mark Willey’s heart with a single tool: a pair of scissors not all that structurally different from what second-graders use on colored paper. There were no nurses beside him handing him tools or mopping his brow.

First he separated the superior and inferior venae cavae, the two large vessels that return blood from the body into the right atrium, and severed them. Then he lifted the organ with his left hand and cut behind it with his right, one snip on each of the four pulmonary veins that run lung to heart. He lowered it back into the chest. Below the clamp, he cut through the aorta and finally the pulmonary artery, which runs heart to lung. The heart was now in the doctor’s hands, free of the body. It felt cold, even through a latex glove.

All that detail, using both simple and specialized language, in images you can see in your mind’s eye – D batteries, a child’s scissors. And here’s the moment after it’s been attached to the recipient, before it’s brought back to life:

What happened next defied everything most people presume about the human heart. Lefrak lowered Eva’s head, cupped her new heart with his left hand and tilted the bottom of it up so it became the highest point in her body. Then he accepted from Dellinger a long 18-gauge hypodermic needle and stabbed it into the heart’s apex, clean through the muscle to the cavity of the left ventricle. From the plastic collet of the needle came a bloody froth. When that stopped, Lefrak withdrew the needle, then pushed it in again, a few millimeters away. More bubbles.

If a heart is sliced by the thrust of a knife, that is usually fatal. If it is pierced by a bullet, it is nearly always fatal. But the heart is, in the end, a muscle, and as anyone knows who has ever gotten a vaccination in the arm — or anyone familiar with the overdose scene in “Pulp Fiction” — muscles can withstand and survive a needle. They close back up and heal instantly. Lefrak repeated this unnerving stab of the needle more than a dozen times. The goal was to empty the heart of all air bubbles before reconnecting it to its prime source of blood, via the venae cavae. Air bubbles cause embolisms, and embolisms cause brain damage.

Satisfied all the air was gone — no more froth — Lefrak allowed the heart to fill with blood.

The magic phrase there is “anyone knows who has ever gotten a vaccination,” because it makes you understand immediately. Of course you can stab a heart with needles; it’s a muscle.

Alan used to be a medical writer in Fort Wayne, doing disease-of-the-week stories. He was good at this sort of explanation. Not this good.

OK, I’m going to bed. I’m going to nibble a quarter square of an indica edible, swallow a melatonin and go off to dreamland. Let’s hope we survive the weekend.

Posted at 9:59 pm in Current events | 51 Comments

Fridays at church.

I bitch about my job plenty. Non-specifically and vaguely these days, as both my gigs are pretty OK for now, but my irritation with the business in general remains the same. But every so often I look back at a day, week or month and think, “OK, so the money sucks, but just this summer alone I got to go to Jobbie Nooner and see Kanye West sing with a gospel choir, so it beats actuarial sciences.”

Jobbie was in June, Kanye was Friday. I’m not a Kanye fan. Most days, if he passed me on the street, I wouldn’t know who he was. But he’s probably stronger on my radar than most hip-hop artists, and so, when I heard that he was bringing his Sunday Service act to Detroit on about 24 hours notice, I figured, what the hell.

Sunday Service is West’s latest flight of fancy — short shows with a locally hired and hastily trained gospel choir doing both classics, Kanye covers and other pop hits. So it was intriguing.

It turned out to be almost entirely the choir’s show. Kanye sang maybe one verse and left almost everything else up to his director. As choirs go, it was pretty unconventional, with the group surrounding the musicians in a rough circle, unrobed, only casually grouped by voice. This picture should give you an idea:

Can’t find Kanye? Let’s move in closer:

Still lost? OK, visual aids:

I read in the Freep’s review that Kim Kardashian was there, too, but in that crowd, she would have been just another body in a very big crowd. I didn’t pick her out.

It was an interesting show. I love a good gospel choir, singing Kanye songs perhaps less so, but I always respect an artist who’s willing to try something different, and this certainly was that. He held another thing later that night, at the Fox Theater, which turned out to be a listening party for his as-yet-unreleased Sunday Service album. Didn’t go to that one. A little Kanye West goes a long way for me.

And even though Kanye is an infamous MAGAt, it was nice to think of something else, if only for a couple of hours. It was a beautiful day to sit under the big tent of the Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre and not consider the trouble the country is in.

I did more of that avoidance today, as our trip to Morocco is fast approaching. I wrote out a detailed itinerary, put all the Airbnb numbers in one place, so we can find them easily. I hope this trip is everything I need it to be, i.e. two weeks in not-America, paying attention to things that are not-Trump. I hope most the Instagram influencers have cleared out for the season. I hope it’s not terribly hot. I hope there’s lots of tea. I feel certain of the last one there. I also want to do some shopping, because I’m an American idiot and I love all the colors in the souks and OMG LEATHER GIMME GIMME.

Finally, we come to current affairs, and, well, I need a new emoji. One that combines the feelings of sadness, horror, contempt and simple OMG-is-this-really-happening astonishment that I walk through every day.

I also see shit like this:

Why does this woman even have a Twitter account? Why would she post stuff like this? So we can all dunk on her in the comments? Maybe so.

And so it’s nearly time for “Succession,” and certainly time for me to get back to my Frommer’s/Lonely Planet/Rough Guide Morocco texts.

Posted at 8:03 pm in Uncategorized | 70 Comments

Take a deep inhale.

My old Russian teacher called the other day. I hadn’t heard from her in quite a while, so it was nice to catch up. I told her that Alan and I were thinking about traveling to Russia with some friends, maybe next year or the year after. They want to see St. Petersburg, I want to see Lenin laid out in his tomb. So I said I should start watching some Russian movies, get used to hearing the language again. She recommended a show on Netflix called “The Sniffer.” I watched an episode yesterday. It is hilarious.

The premise: A Russian investigator of some sort possesses a superhuman sense of smell. This is established in the first scenes, where he boards a plane. As he settles into his seat, another boarding passenger walks down the aisle, arm in a cast, and he determines that the cast contains plastique and a blasting cap; the passenger is a suicide bomber. So he calls the stewardess and calmly asks for the pilot, who appears reluctantly, hears the story, and asks just how this chill gent knows all this.

The same way I know you had sex with this lovely lady in the cockpit. Thirty minutes ago. Twice, he says. And that’s how we meet the Sniffer — and that’s his character’s name, he doesn’t have a regular one — who solves crimes by smelling them.

It’s plainly influenced by the CSI franchise. When the Sniffer inhales, special effects swirl around him, sometimes taking human form. He is able to take a few deep breaths and sketch out how the crime was committed — by a woman in her 40s, left-handed, who showered this morning, stopped menstruating four days ago, etc. It’s ridiculous, and yet, it’s in Russian, and I can pick up a few words. Two episodes in, and I am totally invested in the Sniffer.

You might ask yourself the obvious question: When you have the sense of smell of a million bloodhounds, how the hell do you keep from gagging around, say, a public toilet? (One reason hounds are hard to train is, their noses are like satellite dishes of smells, and it’s, shall we say, distracting. They have a hard time concentrating on your commands.) The answer? The Sniffer wears a plastic nose piece that presumably blocks the worst of it.

Like I said: Ridiculous. Shot in Ukraine, though, which brings us to the events of today, of which I can only say this: I can’t. I can’t even. I can’t even EVEN.

I feel confident that as I start this sentence, something will happen before the end of it that will upend anything I might write. So I will leave you with this:

I somehow wrangled a media pass to Kanye West’s “Sunday Service” concert, which is popping up in Detroit tomorrow, and which I am attending. Ooh, exciting. I’ll give you a report on Monday. For now, let’s grab our popcorn and watch everything unfold.

Happy Friday, happy weekend, God save the United States of America.

Posted at 9:03 pm in Current events, Television | 39 Comments

And so it begins.

Jeez, what a goddamn news day. What a news week. (And it’s only Tuesday.) What a month, what a year, what…yeesh, I’m tired just reading these stories. I can’t imagine being a reporter based in Washington these days. (Unless, like Hank, I covered TV or pop culture or something. Although that’s pretty busy too, being Peak TV and all. You should read Hank’s appreciation of Ric Ocasek and the Cars. It’s good.)

I guess now the pace and the atmosphere and the rhetoric and all the rest of it, which has been crazy, will be even crazier. The things we should be discussing in the next 14 months — policy and the beer test and whatnot — we will not be discussing. And so, in what might be the final act of this shitshow, we will be discussing Him.

Mission accomplished. This is our penance, I guess. So let’s get on with it.

It’s a little like falling from a high place, isn’t it? You hope there’s a net at the bottom, but you don’t know until you get there. If there’s one for us, let’s hope it’s still strong.

I can’t stand to talk about Him right now, but I will mention a couple little things. Last summer, the News ran a story about the widespread use of facial-recognition software in summer camps. It was a revelation. First, that so many camps employ a full-time photographer to capture every day of the action, and that these photos are made available to parents to look at every day as well. Facial-recognition software is used — with permission, which I gather is readily granted — to single out your own kid’s pictures, so you don’t have to look at a bunch of others if you don’t want to.

The other day I saw, on Facebook, some parents recommending to some other parents a particular app to allow surveillance on their teens. This app, Life360, informs everyone of where everyone else is every minute of the day — this is increasingly seen as reasonable — but also this, for a premium. It’s called Driver Protect:

Unlimited Place notifications: Set up unlimited Place notifications, and get notified when your family members come and go from home, work, school, and any other important locations.

Driving reports: We let you know what happened during each drive with instant, detailed driving reports, showing potentially unsafe behaviors (including phone usage, high speed, hard braking, and rapid acceleration) in the map at the time of occurrence.

Get that, kids? You have your driver’s license, and mom will be getting real-time alerts if you peel out from the light by the malt shop. Don’t you feel safe?

And now, this: Neighborhood watch gets the FBI’s toy box. From Slate:

A new venture called Flock Safety is a good example of the problem. The Atlanta-based company sells a particular vision of security: Residents can track every single car that passes through their neighborhood with the help of the company’s automatic license plate readers. As the Los Angeles Times recently reported, a two-year contract entitles you to the cameras, cloud storage for the data, and, most importantly, software that allows quick identification of license plates—completing a task in seconds that would take a person hours or days. (It’s not necessary for a whole neighborhood to agree to adopt the system, as long as some neighbors agree to pay for it.) If a crime happens within the neighborhood, residents can check and see which cars were captured by the cameras in the area at the time. Imagine being able to produce a detailed map of one car’s whereabouts. Residents can send videos to the police, and the police can presumably request data from residents. Although the data is stored on the company’s servers, residents own the data, according to the company’s website.

In this way, suspicious neighbors are just catching up to the police, repo agents, and property managers, who already have access to license plate readers that can capture data at rates of thousands of plates per minute. Flock essentially tells potential customers: If these are useful tools for safety, shouldn’t individuals and communities have them, too? And like many other surveillance products sold to the police and the public, it promotes surveillance as a service with a for-profit motive. The company begin as a 2017 Y Combinator startup and has since raised millions in venture capital funding from Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, among others. Its website promises to “increase solvability around crime with infrastructure-free [automatic license plate readers] in your community.”

How many times do we have to learn this lesson? All the technology that is supposed to save us will be used in ways we do not anticipate or intend. Sometimes this is, if not a good thing, at least a way to find the truth; I’m sure, if the law enforcement community knew how cell phones would be deployed to reveal racist behavior by police officers, they would have figured out a way to monkey-wrench the iPhone before it was released. This “service” (koff-koff) is being marketed to improve “neighborhood safety,” but my guess is, that’s not the way it’s going to happen.

Why do we stand for this? Because we’re afraid — of everything. I suspect that’s also why we elected Him.

OK, I’m going to read a novel published when He was just a toddler. I hope it’ll calm my nerves. This too shall pass.

Posted at 8:59 pm in Current events | 56 Comments

Worse than manure.

Well, that was a weekend. For once, the news was closer to home. The Michigan GOP held its biannual leadership complex on Mackinac Island. If you know about Mackinac, you know that one of its traditions — one of its laws — is that cars and motor vehicles are forbidden. Bikes and horses are the way you get around, with exceptions made only for emergency vehicles.

Until the leadership conference, and its keynote speaker, Mike Pence.

The Secret Service insisted on a motor vehicle, for security reasons, and what the Secret Service wants, the Secret Service gets. So the vice president rolled in and out of the Grand Hotel in an EIGHT-CAR motorcade.

Seen here:

I don’t really have a strong opinion once way or another. I understand the need for more than a few agents jogging along with a horse-drawn conveyance (although it was good enough for President Ford, admittedly in a simpler time), and I don’t have that long-standing connection with Mackinac that most Michiganians have. But people here went nuts over this. Even Republicans harrumphed over why this had to happen; why couldn’t he make other arrangements, or turn down the gig? Or why couldn’t the service figure another way to keep him safe. And why EIGHT vehicles?

People feel very protective of Mackinac around here. And I think it’s safe to say they don’t like this one little bit. Here’s a roundup.

Eight vehicles. For that empty suit. I ask you.

He made a joke about how Mother wants him to bring home some fudge. Ha ha ha.

Mackinac was supposedly one of the places shopped for next year’s G-7, and didn’t make the cut. Thank God, because that would have been a car shitshow.

The other big thing was this nonprofit I work with, and our second annual House to Home project, wherein we find a woman who owns a house that could use a lot of work, and then do it. (The work, that is.) This year’s was insanely ambitious, and by the end of the weekend, we were exhausted and crabby. It didn’t help that it was about 85 degrees all three days, and the house didn’t have A/C. But we got it cleaned out and painted and redecorated, and the look on her little boy’s face when he saw his new Black Panther-themed room was something to see.

But now I feel like I am running on fumes, and “Succession” starts in four minutes. Guess what I’m going to do.

Posted at 8:58 pm in Current events, Detroit life | 54 Comments

What a nice man.

Tuesday already, and already: What a week. Post-Labor Day is the time to shift into a higher gear, and the tach is definitely climbing. But still manageable. For the millionth time, it’s hard to work two half-time jobs; you have to be good at planning (which I’m not) and boundaries (ditto), as well as willing to bend everything, all the time.

Ah, well. Employed is better than unemployed.

How is everyone at midweek? The news about Cokie Roberts broke late morning, and as I know a lot of public-radio types, the tributes, as they say, poured in. Until late afternoon, when a different sort of reaction hit the porch like a wet load of manure:

“I never met her,” Trump told reporters traveling with him on Air Force One. “She never treated me nicely. But I would like to wish her family well. She was a professional, and I respect professionals. I respect you guys a lot, you people a lot. She was a real professional. Never treated me well, but I certainly respect her as a professional.”

My god, is there anything this idiot can’t ruin?

Truth be told, haven’t been a Roberts fan for a while; she was the high priestess of the conventional-wisdom take for many years, and I’m just done with that. She was also Washington establishment/journalistic royalty, and again: BFD. It did seem that she was a sterling person and a great friend and mentor, so that counts for something. It counts for a lot, actually.

Yesterday, the president of the United States spoke highly of Saudi Arabia as a military partner/client. Because they “pay cash.” I need a vacation so bad I can taste it. A vacation out of the country. One more month.

Not much to blog today, but this is really good. Long, but good. Enjoy. Me, I’m into Netflix tonight.

Posted at 9:16 pm in Current events | 91 Comments

Someone else said it better.

I have been thinking about Jeffrey Epstein and the elites for a few days now, and am not really any closer to a coherent opinion on them. I mistrust my brain when my feelings get too involved, and I can’t be absolutely sure they’re entirely disengaged here.

So lucky for me I found a particular Twitter thread, which is long even for a Twitter thread, but gets very close to what I’ve been thinking. I’m-a let this nice lady lay out her problems with the MIT Media Lab, and just say: Seconded. (Along with a HT to Heather for finding it.)

And I’m glad someone brought up Anand Giridharadas, too. I have his book on reserve at the library.

So. Sunday afternoon and I am home alone. Alan is at work, after working Saturday, too, coordinating coverage of the UAW strike called for midnight. I have already cleaned a bathroom and am now in my gym clothes, trying to summon the motivation to actually go there. Weight work is the most difficult motivation for me, because I do it alone. Also, I’ve skipped enough lately that I know I’m going to be sore as hell tomorrow, but I really should go anyway. Maybe after some food prep, and a banana. And a little power nap. And another chapter of “The Sheltering Sky” and ooh look, gym’s closed.

Has anyone seen the new Linda Ronstadt movie? I was always a fan, if not a superfan, but seeing all these YouTubes that keep popping up is making me wonder if I made a big miscalculation, back in the day. Maybe it’s because my brain has been broken by autotune, but when I hear this, I think, goddamn, now that is a voice. Shoulda gone to more of her shows, but I saw her at the Hollywood Bowl, and once you’ve done that, Vets Memorial in Columbus looks pretty small-time.

And with that, I seem to have run out of things to say. I can’t put it off any longer: Gym. (After maybe a little snack.)

Posted at 1:58 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 56 Comments