Leftover mashed potatoes.

One of those days today. It was our family Thanksgiving/birthday dinner. Alan is working on the holiday itself, and we have no guests to invite to an evening feast, and with Kate now a vegetarian, it seems silly to make a turkey for two people. So it’ll likely be grilled cheese sandwiches and a couple of movies on Thursday. As the sole cook and baker, I can tell you it was a real shitshow. Every pot boiled over. I neglected to add baking soda to the cake, and the resulting pair of rock-like layers had to be pitched. The ensuing mess was epic — I think I did dishes five times — but it finally wobbled from the kitchen to the table. Fat roast chicken, mashed potatoes, Asian green beans and a big side of mac and cheese (for the vegetarian). And a lopsided, but homemade, birthday cake.

Plus a bottle of champagne. You really can’t wreck a dinner utterly and completely if there’s champagne. That might be the only smart call I made.

And now it’s Sunday night. The president-elect was up at 6 a.m., tweeting about “Hamilton” and “Saturday Night Live.”

I’m so far past the can’t-even stage, I don’t know what to say. Except maybe this: When Axl Rose is a voice of reason? I can’t even can’t even:

And now I’m kind of depressed, but it might be the end of the champagne talking. Or it might be that I just realized how long four years really is.

Posted at 8:31 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 64 Comments
 

Media string.

We’ve now lived more than a week in Trump’s America, and I’m considering the limits of constant outrage.

One of the most dispiriting aspects of this election, for me, was how ineffective conventional journalism was at warning voters what they were buying with a vote for Trump. Say what you want about NPR, but the NYT and WashPost did spectacular work digging into the president-elect’s shady business practices, his failure to pay income taxes, his fake charity, his pussy-grabbing, all of it. If you didn’t know these things about the man before you pulled the lever for him, you simply weren’t paying attention.

If it made any difference, it didn’t make enough to keep him out of the White House. And so now we confront the most bizarre presidential transition in recent memory, and the stories are falling into our laps like ripe fruit. Top-secret clearances for the Trump kids, check. Press release on Ivanka’s bracelet, check. The man who won the White House and now doesn’t seem to want to actually live there, check. (I could look up links for all these, but I’m not. You can easily find them yourself. That’s sort of my point.) The new president has made it very clear: He will be running a kleptocracy, even feels he has a mandate to do so.

And with the exception of some demonstrations here and there, the country seems pretty fine with that.

So the question might be: Where do we go from here? Is this information so utterly irrelevant to millions of voters that journalists will simply stop gathering and presenting it? Or do we keep it up, at the very real risk that every bit of it can be used by the Trump camp as evidence of the terrible, terrible “bias” he labors under? And with the additional risk that with such a firehose of information in their faces day after day, most readers will simply go numb and tune out?

I’m not going to keep you in suspense. Of course we’re still going to do it. The job seeks an audience, but it doesn’t require one. But I worry about the numbness factor, and many other things, as well, including the whipsaw effect I feel almost every day. I think, OK, it’s going to be bad, but we can handle it, and then two hours later a surrogate floats the idea of registering Muslim immigrants, y’know, like they did with the Japanese in World War II, and my brain explodes.

I worry about pretty much everything these days. We haven’t had a literally shameless person in such high office before, not for years upon years. It’s terrifying.

But the right tone has to be struck. And it’s hard to sound an alarm with any nuance. It’s either ringing or it’s not. A few weeks ago I stood at a Detroit bus stop for 40 minutes or so, while a tired alarm at a long-closed business nearby wailed and wailed. “Do you take this bus every day?” I asked a woman. She nodded.

“How long has that alarm been ringing?”

“What alarm?”

So you see what we’re up against. How long before we become that alarm?

Something to think about.

A reader asked me, earlier this week, if I would make good on my pledge to offer some advice on how to tell the difference between real and fake news sites. As in so many things, it turns out that if you wait long enough, the internet solves the problem for you. Here’s a helpful Google doc, updated regularly, full of fake, distorted or clickbait-crap news from both the left and right. Earlier today, it had a list, but the list appears to be gone, but not permanently — it’s being updated, the author writes. In the meantime, it has some practical advice about common tells, including one that nearly tripped me up a while back, the “.com.co” suffix on URLs.

But here’s one from earlier this week. The site was called TheRightists.com. I’m not linking because hitting these sites, even to browse, feels risky to me; it always explodes a million pop-under windows and sets the laptop fans to whirring. But note the screenshot:

storyscreenshot

David Brooks, really? Assassination? So harsh. I read the story. There’s a paragraph from a recent Brooks column (I think. Anyway, it sounds like him.), followed by one where Brooks says, “dude.” I can more imagine my dead grandmother calling someone dude than Mr. Bobo Himself. This sent me to the About Us tab, which exploded more pop-unders and revealed this:

hybridnews

Oh, OK.

Note the ads. So many ads. The worse the ads, the less reliable the site. This is simply a given:

onlineads

Meanwhile, for pure slow-burn irritation, you can’t beat these Silicon Valley d-bags, can you? These pieces, one from the Nieman Lab, one from MTV.com, illuminate our brave new world quite well.

It’s not enough that these people ruined my business. Then they ruined what replaced it, such as it was.

I think I better go to bed. Thanksgiving week ahead! We have so much to be thankful for, don’t we? Have a great weekend.

Posted at 5:45 am in Current events | 164 Comments
 

One long day.

My workday today was precisely, I mean to the minute, 12 hours long. I rolled down the driveway at 5:50 a.m. and back up at 5:50 p.m. To be sure, I made a short detour to Ann Arbor to drop an amp off to a bassist I know there, but the rest of it was talking and driving.

This was the way west:

sunandmoon

Super moonset through the windshield, sunrise in the rearview.

As you can imagine, I was off the internet pretty much all day, and I’m exhausted. But I think it’s important to share this, and share it widely:

On Monday, November 14, six days after Donald Trump’s election as the next president of the United States, and on the day that Trump had selected Steve Bannon to be his strategic adviser, I came home to a letter addressed to me personally, at my home.

The envelope contained four pages’ worth of anti-Semitic propaganda printed on three sheets of paper.

Here we go. Again.

Posted at 7:41 pm in Current events | 131 Comments
 

A little bit of nature.

Tomorrow I have a full day of reporting, complete with five hours in the car, and I have a couple decks of PowerPoint slides to get through beforehand, and… oh yeah — I have to leave at 6 a.m.

To reward myself in advance, I went on a kayaking jaunt Monday afternoon, to watch the sun set and the moon rise. The supermoon, in fact. It did not disappoint, but didn’t last long — we got maybe five or 10 minutes of a huge orange grapefruit before it slipped behind cloud cover and we paddled home. It’s difficult to photograph the moon with an iPhone, so here’s the sunset:

novemberkayaking

And that’s it for me, today. The week will unclench after Wednesday, I hope. I could use a break. We all could.

Posted at 8:40 pm in Uncategorized | 42 Comments
 

What comes next.

OK, I’m back. Thanks for keeping the conversation going in my absence, although my eyes were starting to glaze over there toward the end of the comment thread. But that goes with what I’d like to say, and it’s this:

No more memes, lefty America. Memes are a cheap, easy way to defer actual thought. When you see one, nod and think “I’m just going to hit this Share button,” don’t. In fact, I won’t say “no more,” but maybe “far less” social media in general. It’s a great way to catch up with old friends, to reach a lot of people quickly and cheaply, to just fritter away a lunch hour if you don’t have a magazine. But it’s a piss-poor way to stay informed, and its crack-like effect on our brains is something we should be deeply suspicious of.

And look at what social media has begotten: Slacktivism, the sort of feel-good, do-nothing gestures that help no one but ourselves. Change your profile picture to “support” the victims of the Paris attacks, or “raise awareness” of this or that. Check in to Standing Rock to throw the FBI off the scent of the protestors who are there. And so on. Fuck that shit. Use it if you must to see what people are talking about, but learn to tell the difference between original sources of news and the aggregators and rewriters who attach themselves to real journalists like agenda-bearing lampreys. Sites that have and pay actual reporters to knock on doors and make phone calls might not always tell you what you want to hear, but that’s going to be far more useful information than what the lampreys give you, spun and crafted to match all your prejudices. You have enough of those. If you have trouble telling which sites are which, I can offer some tips.

No more open letters. For the love of God, will someone put a sock in Aaron Sorkin’s mouth? Open letters are the original concern trolling, a way to direct a high-minded lecture, ostensibly to one person but really to everybody else in the room, to polish your own halo because you are so, so worried. Just stop it.

No more disruptions. Go ahead and protest — it’s the American way — but be advised that every time you shut down a light-rail line or plug a freeway, you are providing a useful video clip to Breitbart or InfoWars or whatever other shitbag propagandist is interested. And you are inconveniencing people who just need to get to work, where they may be doing something very important, like delivering babies or cleaning bathrooms. Fuck your agenda, whatever it is; respect people’s time. The same goes for vandalism, window-smashing and whatever other bad business a mob can get up to. It’s the very definition of counterproductivity.

No more hoax hate crimes. I know, I know — there have been dozens since last Wednesday, but take it from me as a journalist and as a human being with a working brain who has been around for several summers that at least some of them will be proven hoaxes. Humans crave attention, and some crave it enough to try to stage these things. We all had no problem seeing through the woman who, in 2008, claimed she’d been assaulted by supporters of Barack Obama, who wrote “B” and “O” on her cheeks, only backward, you know, like you’d see it in a mirror? Be suspicious of the ones that don’t pass the smell test, like the ones that went up on social-media sites (see above) before police were called, if they were called at all. Like the ones where there were cameras and witnesses all around, but somehow none captured or saw the incident. Like the ones where someone’s car is “vandalized” with conveniently non-damaging soap on the windows. I stress: Some of these attacks are real. Yes. Real. But some are not, and every one that isn’t undermines 10 that actually happened.

No more fear. Many of you may be members of groups that have very good reason to fear the coming presidency, but screw your courage to the sticking place and be brave. Find others in the same boat, organize, tend your networks. But the more you quake in fear and tell the world how fearful you are, the more time you waste, time that could be spent making progress. Remember the popular vote. They have the power stick right now, but if they start using it to club people, others are going to speak up. This isn’t Nazi Germany, for god’s sake, and even if it were, don’t you want to go down fighting? I do. I remember reading a story about Meyer Lansky, the Jewish mobster, and his lawyer said that if the Jews produced more men like him, there wouldn’t have been a Holocaust. You can argue that, certainly, but I take his point.

As for me, I’m going to do my job. If the people of rural Michigan voted for Trump because they thought he would make their lives better, well then I’m going to be monitoring the progress. I’m going to keep an eye on our Muslim population here, and see if anyone’s stirring the shit to harass or assault people there. I’m going to keep my eyes open, my powder dry and my bullshit detector turned up to 11. Useful skills for the coming era include an open mind, a fair and just heart and a willingness to confront one’s own assumptions — all of them. I’m not giving anyone a pass, but I’m done feeling sorry for myself.

Remember “Gone With the Wind?” I often call it the best bad novel in the English language, and I’ve read it several times. The scene in the movie that ends the first half — “as God as my witness, I’ll never be hungry again” — plays differently in the book. Scarlett has just arrived at Tara, after the terrifying trip from burning Atlanta, only to find her home ruined, her father enfeebled, her mother dead. She walks to a neighboring plantation in search of food and finds a row of radishes in the garden, about the only thing left, eagerly unearths one and eats it, only to throw it back up almost immediately. She collapses in the garden and swoons for a long while. And then she pulls herself together:

When she arose at last and saw again the black ruins of Twelve Oaks, her head was raised high and something that was youth and beauty and potential tenderness had gone out of her face forever. What was past was past. Those who were dead were dead. The lazy luxury of the old days was gone, never to return. And, as Scarlett settled the heavy basket across her arm, she had settled her own mind and her own life.

There was no going back and she was going forward.

Throughout the South for fifty years there would be bitter-eyed women who looked backward, to dead times, to dead men, evoking memories that hurt and were futile, bearing poverty with bitter pride because they had those memories. But Scarlett was never to look back.

That’s way too dramatic for what we’re talking about here, absolutely granted. But that’s kind of how I feel now. Time to settle the heavy basket over our arm and go forward. We’re going to need everyone to help.

Posted at 3:47 pm in Current events | 94 Comments
 

Well, refilling.

Still not ready to form coherent thoughts yet, so here, have a bunch of links.

I read this Jeb Lund piece Tuesday, marveling at the pungency of its language…

Why rail against the latest Donald Trump atrocity when simply waiting a day or two would see two or three more spatter across the collective consciousness like a goose shitting off a balcony? Donald Trump lies every other breath, with the mechanical dependency of a barfly sucking a Doral to offset the flavor of $2 well drinks.

…and thinking that whatever else this candidacy was good for, it was good for some pretty good writing. I read it early enough in the day that polls were still open. Well. Four more years of this, I guess.

So we got that going for us.

Little else, though. Lately I’m thinking of Ivanka, a woman whose acreage I want to see sown with salt, and all her works cursed. Maybe because I live among her minions.

Finally, I’ve been thinking about the young men who support Trump. I’m not sure where I’m going with that. We’ll see.

Posted at 9:33 pm in Current events | 310 Comments
 

Honestly…

…I felt less sad and upset after 9/11. Everything gets more difficult for us (meaning me and mine) from here on out — work, finances, everything. I hope this isn’t going-on-2 a.m. drama, but we’re now in uncharted waters, and there be many, many monsters about.

I HAVE to get some sleep, because it’ll be battle stations at work tomorrow and god knows what thereafter. Talk amongst yourselves, and I’ll be back when the well refills.

Posted at 1:25 am in Uncategorized | 137 Comments
 

Today’s the day.

You know what you have to do today, if you haven’t already. I’m grateful to have an employer whose collective managers call us a “citizenship company,” so if I have to wait in a long line to do my duty, well, so be it. Many people don’t have that, and the lines are long this year, especially in Detroit, which is not helped by having 64 (for realz) souls on the school-board ballot.

But I’ll be in and out fast, once I get through the line, if there is one. I’m-a vote so hard that tabulating machine gonna feel it.

Apparently someone decided in the past few days that Michigan is in play. I don’t think it is, but it hasn’t stopped the candidates and their surrogates from coming through like buses. Barack Obama was in Ann Arbor yesterday, Sarah Palin in Detroit Sunday night. (She stopped in at a bar near my old office. Called the Town Pump. Snicker.) Ivanka dropped in to Hudsonville, over by Grand Rapids. Hillary was here last Friday, her husband the day before — a surprise! The waitresses at the coney island where I have my Saturday breakfast were all showing off their iPhone photos of him posing with the gang. This douchenozzle was here on Sunday, too. Trump himself is ending his campaign with a stop in Grand Rapids.

Michigan is not in play, and if Hillary doesn’t win by at least three points here, I’ll buy you all a beer.

So, to leave the thread open today, or what?

Duh. Open thread. Nail-biting all the way.

Posted at 12:17 am in Current events | 77 Comments
 

Men in dresses.

It was an Old Detroit kind of weekend, when it all wrapped up. Saturday night at the Players Club Invitational, a guest of my friend Michael. This is a different Players Club than the one on 8 Mile, a strip club. This is a more than 100-year-old men’s club in the tradition of Hasty Pudding, and those men’s theatrical clubs of a bygone era.

“Men joined this club to get away from their wives,” Michael said. Very Babbitt, actually. They do a production every month or so (I think), for members only, no ladies allowed. But twice a year, in spring and fall, there’s an invitational, when XX chromosomes attend, but only to watch. All parts are played by men, just like in ol’ Bill Shakespeare’s time. And so you get a slamming-doors farce like “Boeing, Boeing,” where Gloria, the American flight attendant, looks just a little…tall:

playersclub

I mean, even in kitten heels.

Michael said he’d been in one production so far, an episode of “Gilligan’s Island.” It so happens he bears a strong resemblance to Brian Dennehy, and I assumed he’d been cast as the Skipper. No, he said.

“A rather stout Mary Ann.”

Now that I’d have liked to see.

Anyway, a very enjoyable evening. Seating is dinner-theater style, and guests bring picnic baskets of food and drink. It was a stitch.

Sunday was ladies day at the Schvitz. It was a perfect day for being outdoors, riding a bike, raking leaves or otherwise being under the sun. I considered all this and went to the dank, steamy Schvitz. I’ve been feeling a little, how you say, tense. And one of the other schvitzers said she was inviting a massage therapist, a stronger lure than any sunshine.

“I think this election is driving me insane,” I said to the woman who invited her.

“You’re telling me,” she said. “I’ve been dreaming about people chasing me around, telling me who to vote for.”

We both got massages. The therapist said my back felt pretty knotted. You’re telling me.

She also told me I needed an adjustment. But I’m not much of a believer in chiropractic, so I said nothing. The few times I had it, nothing much seemed to change, and the doc gave me a big anti-vax pitch toward the end of our course of treatment. Ugh.

Hope the rest of you had a pleasant weekend. Adrianne saw this ad during a football game yesterday and was appalled. Juuuuust a wee bit anti-Semitic.

But of course, this is the big news of the weekend – Hillary’s emails, cleared. Who is scripting this ridiculous movie, anyway?

Posted at 9:33 pm in Current events, Detroit life | 64 Comments
 

Our best friends.

I think it was last week, when I was running around lower Ferndale on this and that errand, that I started thinking about how we treat our dogs. There’s a small hobo encampment under an overpass, and not far away, a pet boutique on Woodward called Fur Babies or something, a term I’m always struck by.

I coo and baby-talk to Wendy as much as anyone, but I never call her a fur baby, although I refer to myself as her mom, Alan as dad and Kate as sissy, so I can’t really talk. The biggest gift you can give an animal in your care is to simply try to understand them, to the best of your ability, knowing you’ll never get it all the way right. And while they show their devotion to us in many ways, our relationship is not parental. At all.

I think back on the way we treated my first dog, which we got when I was in junior high school, and want to cringe. Housebreaking was done by rubbing their nose in their accidents. You corrected chewing and other slights with a rolled-up newspaper across the nose. Crate-training was unheard-of; while you might confine a dog to the kitchen or another room with a baby gate or something, for the most part, when you left the house the dog was simply left to its own devices and expected to figure things out. If they didn’t, if they chewed up a sofa pillow or magazine or something, we applied the rolled-up newspaper. This was a commonly accepted training practice; everybody did it.

Don’t get me started on spaying and neutering. OK, go ahead. Only female dogs were ever sterilized, but often only after a litter or two — people spoke of “letting” their dog have puppies first, as though reproduction was a matter of personal happiness for the animal. Males were never neutered, because it was an understanding that no male would willingly inflict castration on another, even in a different species. And so lots of mutts happened, because here was the other thing: Dogs were generally free to roam. Not every dog; some were confined to a yard or tied out on a long line. But an amazing number were simply let out in the morning and did their dog thing in the great outdoors all day, at least in good weather.

Alan’s dad had a pair of Irish setters that lived in the garage, year-round. The cat stayed out all night long. Sometimes she brought home a frog.

Some exceptions: Cats were routinely neutered, because tomcats spray, but the females were more often left to go in and out of heat. But cats were hardly ever confined to a house.

There were consequences to this, of course. Dogs getting run over by cars was a thing that happened, a lot. Stepping in poop was another thing that happened, often, because no one carried bags on walks. Dogs and cats defecated where they wanted and it was left to the property owner to clean up or step in. Oh, and lots of dogs ran away and were never seen again.

This was just pet culture.

When did it change? Hard to know; I went through a long pet-free phase, but when we got Spriggy, everything was different. He was my birthday present in 1991, and Alan bought a book by the Monks of New Skete, who are known for their beautifully bred and trained German Shepherds. From them, and others, we learned just how wrong we’d been doing it. Housebreaking was learned through routine and reward, with messes cleaned up quickly and without incident. We used a crate. He was neutered promptly at six months and needless to say, never roamed free. When we walked him, we carried poop bags. The world was different.

Things seem to have shifted a gear again. I can’t tell you how many people I know who share their beds with their dogs, and not little dogs, either. Sometimes multiple dogs. Those cushy dog beds Orvis sells — my first dog slept on an old blanket on a concrete floor, in the basement — are only for when the family, “the pack,” isn’t sleeping together in the king-size. It’s routine for people to expect to take their dogs everywhere, on vacation, out to the bar, even to work. I’ve known people who get insulted when told their dogs aren’t welcome at a particular place, because of allergies or whatever reason, including because it’s a dog. People do DNA tests on their dogs, expensive surgeries for conditions that would have suggested euthanasia just 15 or 20 years ago. Aging dogs get assistive devices, slings to help big ones up and down stairs, even diapers.

You can see why I think of dogs when I see homeless camps. Most middle-class dogs live better, eat better and certainly sleep more comfortably than a great many humans.

It’s not just household pets, either. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are way out there on the fringe, but the fringe has a way of working its way to the center. Today I saw this ridiculous PETA video about what normal people call selective breeding and PETA calls “rape.” Yes, rape. Of animals. “I am you, only different,” one woman says, holding up a photo of a cow.

No. Sorry, but you’re not. This is what I mean about understanding animals, about their essential nature. What are they about? In many ways, the dogs of my childhood, turned out to sniff and poop and hang out at the bitch-in-heat’s house, may have had a better life than the pampered, bed-sleeping ones of today, provided they could avoid getting hit by cars. I don’t believe dogs want to necessarily live like humans. I think they want to be dogs, if a dog can be said to want anything so abstract as the experience of being themselves.

Here’s Wendy, not minding the floor one bit:

wendyinthesun

And woo, looky here — another whole politics-free post to take us into the weekend.

One piece of bloggage: Farhad Manjoo states the obvious, that we’re living in a fact-free world, and in posting it I’m dedicating it to everyone who clogged my social media with the “news” that the Chicago Tribune was calling on Hillary Clinton to step down, when in fact it was one Tribune columnist, and the jerk one at that.

Happy weekending, all. Not much longer now.

Posted at 9:48 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 84 Comments