Fool’s gold.

I try not to be an MSM camp follower here, but the NYT hit one out of the park today, with this look at how easily grifters of all sorts — in this case, gold and silver peddlers — have found a place in MAGA world. It starts like this:

At a conference this month put on by Turning Point Action, a rising conservative activist group, 8,000 people packed into a Detroit convention hall to hear directly from Republicans’ presumptive nominee for president, Donald J. Trump.

But first, there was a word from a sponsor: Alexander Spellane.

Mr. Spellane, who federal regulators say is also known as Alexander Fisher and Alexander Overlie, sells investments in precious metals. Cash, stocks and 401(k)s could plummet in value, he warned from the stage, but he told the throng of Trump supporters that they could protect their money by buying gold and silver from his company, Fisher Capital.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission has been trying to shut down Fisher Capital’s sales for the past 14 months, alleging in a lawsuit that it sold gold and silver coins at such exorbitant, deceptive prices that virtually every customer had suffered “immediate and dramatic losses on their investment.” Fisher Capital has denied the allegations.

You have to scroll down to find a photo of Spellane, and he looks exactly like you’d expect — a greasy-haired young’un in a shiny suit, someone you’d warn your grandparents away from, if you were fortunate enough to meet them before they signed over their retirement savings to him.

Then I came to this passage:

Listening with interest was Jeff Strasser, 57, a former carpenter and truck driver who had traveled more than two hours from Northern Michigan to hear Mr. Trump. Mr. Strasser said he was intrigued by Mr. Spellane’s statement that anyone who stopped by the Fisher Capital booth in the adjoining hall would be eligible for up to $10,000 in free silver.

He came away from the booth thinking a precious metal investment was a slam dunk. “You kind of have to be a fool not to want to do it,” he said, adding “I’m talking about maybe switching my whole 401(k) over to it.”

And while I think I can be empathetic to almost anyone, my heart remains cold when considering the likely economic fate of Strasser. He, too, looks exactly like you’d expect, with his dagger beard and lanyard of TPUSA bling; I’m sure he has a Let’s Go Brandon bumper sticker on his F-150. And if he ends up collecting cans for deposit to buy food in his old age, I doubt my heart will melt.

If my heart were more tender, I’d advise him: Do you see rich people doing this? No? Then why are you doing it?

And the drumbeat of terrible news goes on:

WASHINGTON (AP) — From his home office in small-town Kentucky, a seasoned political operative is quietly investigating scores of federal employees suspected of being hostile to the policies of Republican Donald Trump, a highly unusual and potentially chilling effort that dovetails with broader conservative preparations for a new White House.

Tom Jones and his American Accountability Foundation are digging into the backgrounds, social media posts and commentary of key high-ranking government employees, starting with the Department of Homeland Security. They’re relying in part on tips from his network of conservative contacts, including workers. In a move that alarms some, they’re preparing to publish the findings online.

When you study repressive regimes, you’re supposed to remember the bad stuff as something to avoid, not emulate.

Oh, well. Man, did I sleep badly last night. I should hang it up for the day, maybe take a bike ride to clear the ol’ head. Think I will.

Later. Still grouchy. Let’s hit Publish and hope for a better rest tonight.

Posted at 6:14 pm in Current events | 59 Comments

Strawberry moon.

What is the best thing about summer? Outdoor get-togethers. Friday night we had an impromptu thing atop the Park Shelton downtown. The heat relented as the sun went down, and a full, red moon rose over the skyline around 10 p.m.

Strawberry moon, I read. So named for its proximity to strawberry season, but this year’s went a little extra, as you can see.

The next morning, in the market? Blueberries. My blueberry guy said they’re two weeks early this year. No surprise. Everything is two weeks early this year — the fish flies, the heat wave, all of it. Next year, maybe two and a half weeks. As always, we’ll see. I was thinking about taking us on a little trip, less than a week, to New Orleans in the fall, and was surprised to see the hotel rates in September are way lower than I expected. Then I thought: Prime hurricane season. Miserable weather. Maybe try for November. I think that’s the play.

So how was your weekend? Alan came home from a four-day fishing trip, bringing to a close my staycation of bad TV, girl dinners at hungrytime, not dinnertime — one night I found myself eating sautéed onions and chickpeas with a runny egg on top at 4:45 p.m. — and other pleasures of only having to look after oneself. As I say whenever this happens, I’m happy to see him go, and equally happy when he returns. Too much solitude isn’t good for an extrovert like me.

Then Sunday rolls around, and even though I’m “retired,” it still feels like I’m looking down the tunnel of the work week, planning. I still make a weekly to-do list on Sunday, and love looking at it on Friday and seeing all, or most, of the entries crossed off. And writing that sentence makes me realize I really do not have a goddamn thing to say, and should get to the bloggage, two items today, both from the NYT, both gift links.

First, excellent reporting on the one-man grift machine that is Michael Flynn. Correction: One-family grift machine:

Since leaving the Trump administration under an ethical cloud, Michael Flynn has converted his Trump-world celebrity into a lucrative and sprawling family business. He and his relatives have marketed the retired general as a martyr, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for a legal-defense fund and then pocketing leftover money. Through a network of nonprofit and for-profit ventures, they have sold far-right conspiracy theories, ranging from lies about the 2020 election to warnings, embraced by followers of QAnon, about cabals of pedophiles and child traffickers.

…A New York Times investigation found Flynn family members had made at least $2.2 million monetizing Michael Flynn’s right-wing stardom in recent years, with more than half of that going to Mr. Flynn directly. That total includes several payments not previously reported, but it is still a low estimate, since not all financial records are public. The Times’s reporting also raised questions about whether America’s Future had properly disclosed its payments to Mr. Flynn’s relatives.

Bad people, bad behavior, idiot followers. That’s MAGA in a few words.

And in the magazine, an interview with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, an indication that she’s being taken seriously as a 2028 presidential contender. It’s a pretty flattering interview, but then, she’s competent, so you expect that.

Separate from what happened to you during this period of the pandemic, I do want to ask you about some of the lessons that you may have learned. Michigan’s stay-at-home order did last longer than other states’. You closed all the schools in March 2020, and you didn’t urge them to be reopened until a year later. Now that we have the fullness of hindsight, do you think schools should have reopened earlier?

I have said many times that if I could go back in time with the knowledge we’ve accumulated now, there certainly are things that I would have done differently. I also want to remind everyone that during that period of time, Michigan was so hot compared to the rest of the country. It was New York, Detroit, it was Chicago and it was New Orleans that were having a massive impact from Covid. Our hospitals were at a real brink.

No one really knew how to deal with this. It’s less about what you were facing but more specifically about schools. You’re seeing in Michigan chronic absenteeism, students performing below pre-pandemic levels in reading and math.

I think we have to remember that we were looking at lessons from the Spanish flu, and that particular virus absolutely was devastating to younger people. And as a person taking in as much information as I could from our epidemiologists and our public-health experts, the thought was that we might have a lot of school-age kids that were going to die from this virus. That’s really what motivated our actions and the actions of lots of governors when we stopped kids going to school. It has carried a long, hard price tag with it. We’ve made massive investments in early childhood and in free breakfast and lunch for all 1.4 million Michigan kids, and literacy coaches. So we’re working to help get our kids back on track. But absolutely, if I could go back in time with the knowledge we have now and knowing this virus didn’t disproportionately kill children, would I have done some things differently? Yes.

Finally, I see some of you have caught up with the Rep. Neil Friske (pronounced “frisky”) situation here in Michigan. More will be revealed, and I trust it will be hilarious.

Good week ahead, all. Hope your to-do list is full of scratch-offs by Friday.

Posted at 5:37 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 28 Comments


The Oakland County sheriff here in suburban Detroit has a rep as a publicity hound, and he did not disappoint after the mass shooting over the weekend. He held several news conferences (good), ordered — ordered! — reporters not to contact victims for any reason (very bad), and spent a lot of time repeating “mental health” (eyeroll eyeroll eyeroll).

“Mental health” is the new “thoughts and prayers,” the thing gun people say after a tragedy that sounds like you care, but you really don’t. Because, as you may have noticed, this is never, ever followed up by dedicated policy that would make a meaningful change in this bloody shithole we all live in. In fact, you don’t even have to put the phrase in a sentence; you just say “mental health” and it’s like an incantation.

Left unaddressed / unasked:

** You’re aware, sheriff, that many or even most people with serious mental illness think they’re just fine? (See: West, Kanye.) And certainly most are not violent at all, and if they are, the violence is usually self-directed. And as a lawman, you know that even people with paranoid schizophrenia have civil rights; we can’t just throw them in a cell, shoot them up with meds and hold them until their teeth fall out. Well, we can, but only for three days. So how would you propose we get around this?

** Note I said “cell.” Because that’s pretty much all we have left, psych units having filled up years ago and very few more being built. Anyone remember Michael Golden, who used to read/comment here before he died a few years back? He did business with the California state prison system, but I can’t recall what, exactly. He once casually mentioned that prisons are bulk buyers of psychiatric meds, and everyone paying attention knows that prisons are essentially mental hospitals. Very badly run mental hospitals.

** If mental health is so important to those who want to curb mass shootings, why is every single weak stab at addressing the problem — red-flag laws come to mind — so fiercely opposed by your party, i.e. the Republicans? Have you spoken to any lawmakers about this? Please fill us in.

I could go on. I won’t.

Because the mass shooting was only one terrible thing that happened last weekend. We also had the Turning Point USA conference here, and I’m starting to hear anecdotal amusements about that. A woman in one of the air-travel groups I follow on Facebook complained that her MAGA hat, worn on her flight back to Dallas, caused the stewardess in first class to be very rude! To her! And served her drink last, and with a snotty attitude! Someone else I know was seated next to a table full of TPUSA attendees (they were wearing lanyards), and managed to glare them into at least taking them off. Good. They need to know they’re in hostile territory.

Also, a downtown boutique hotel may or may not have hosted Nick Fuentes, proud racist, over the weekend, and if it turns out they did, they better have a good reason. (Not that anyone is asking them; the mainstream media coverage of this event was pretty thin.)

Finally, hats off to Kellyanne Conway, liar, who went on Fox and claimed Trump spoke to “8,000 people” at a black church in Detroit. Hilarious. One hundred to 200, tops, and most of them were white, but do go on, dear.

And now it’s Thursday. I think the heat is getting to me. I skipped boxing yesterday morning but tried to make it up with a lunchtime swim. It was…disgusting, the water so warm it felt like swimming in human soup. Got 1,500 yards in, got out, went home, turned the A/C down to 75. Sue me, it was 94 degrees at the time.

This continues through the weekend. Sigh. So few weekends in summer, it’s a shame to spend them indoors.

But you all have a good one.

Posted at 8:50 am in Current events | 25 Comments

Still stepping on rakes.

Never change, Indiana:

The Indiana governor’s race should not, under normal circumstances, be remotely competitive. In 2020, Donald Trump won the state by 16 percentage points, and the current Republican governor, Eric Holcomb, won by more than 20. All the state’s leading officials are Republicans, and the party has supermajorities in both legislative chambers.

But after the Republican convention this weekend, the influential conservative lawyer James Bopp Jr. wrote, in a confidential memo obtained by Politico’s Adam Wren, that there’s a “serious threat” to the party’s nominee for governor, Senator Mike Braun.

That threat is Micah Beckwith, a Pentecostal pastor, podcaster and self-described Christian nationalist who was just chosen, despite Braun’s wishes, to be his running mate. Ordinarily, The Indianapolis Star reports, convention delegates rubber-stamp their candidate’s choice of lieutenant. But this year, they rebelled, rejecting Braun’s selection, a state representative named Julie McGuire, for Beckwith, who embodies the combative spiritual fervor ascendant among the party’s grass-roots. As a result, wrote Bopp, “Democrats have a real opportunity to launch a serious campaign in the fall because of Beckwith’s nomination, and it has already begun.”

That’s the top of Michelle Goldberg’s column in today’s NYT, and that sets up the problem nicely: Rather than allow their own nominee to choose his lieutenant, the delegates chose one who has basically promised to oppose him much of the time, who claims God speaks directly to him (and told him January 6 was part of His plan), who… well, you know.

Goldberg connects this to other hand grenades waiting to explode in races all over the country, but she might also have cited Michigan 2022, when the state GOP put up candidates for the three executive positions (governor, attorney general, Secretary of State) who were either ludicrously unqualified (governor) or just plain nuts (the other two). And then, after the rout they suffered, made one of the nuts head of the party. And why did they do that? She had integrity! The other nut conceded his loss after the election, but not her! She went down by 14 points, but with her flag nailed to the staff.

Great job, GOP. Long may your incompetence reign.

BTW, a certain commenting member of this community says Beckwith pings his gaydar, but of course Beckwith is married to a lovely blonde lady who is surely very very happy being married to a religious hysteric who has given her … checking … two children.

Hi from under the heat dome. Current temperature: 90, but the humidity is 55 percent, so: Feels way hotter. This morning it was in the high 70s, humidity at 90 percent, and it was a little difficult to breathe. But I swam anyway, because swimming is one exercise you can do in weather like this and not want to die. I’ve been watching the Olympic trials from Indianapolis and thinking how boring swimming can be to watch, especially from the arena seats. You need multiple camera angles and color commentary to get any sense of it. But I’m still watching, just to marvel at everyone’s upper-back muscles.

Nearly midweek. I’m looking forward to this ending.

Posted at 4:58 pm in Current events | 27 Comments

A bad few days.

Jesus Harold Hughes Christ, what a shit-tastic weekend here in the D.

First, Turning Point Action came to town, to hold a three-day convention at Huntington Place, formerly the TCF Center, formerly Cobo Center, aka the vote-counting venue that all these morons believe was the site of “the steal,” as in Stop The, etc. No, I don’t know why they came to a blue city in a purple state, but I suspect it was to rub the Dems’ noses in their recent alleged gains with young people and black people. Anyway, that’s how it turned out. They picked up endorsements from ex-mayor and federal prisoner Kwame Kilpatrick (given clemency by Trump in the final hours of his presidency), as well as a couple of rappers. They also held a “roundtable discussion” in a black church, although from the photos, there sure are a lot of very light-skinned black people in that church, if you know what I mean.

I’m watching Twitter reports from the final day now. Jack Posobiec brought out a special guest — Alex Jones. I know I may be offending a few of you when I describe Republicans as across-the-board bad people, but when a suppurating infection like Jones gets a big welcome anywhere, there is simply no other way to describe the people cheering. A man that every decent person, of any party, of any political persuasion, should want to see standing on a corner wearing a barrel and holding a sign reading WILL CLEAN TOILETS WITH MY TONGUE FOR FOOD getting a standing O? There’s no other word for people who would clap for him.

But it wasn’t all sweetness and unity downtown. Nick Fuentes, the racist antisemite and blah-blah-blah, tried to hold his own convention, at the Russell Industrial Center in the city’s North End. It…didn’t go well:

The leader of a controversial rightwing group canceled their conference in Detroit, alleging they were kicked out of the Russell Industrial Center in Detroit, where he said they had plans to hold events. The move comes after Detroit police had responded to a dispute involving the group on Friday.

Nicholas Fuentes of the America First Political Action Conference said Saturday on social media that, on Friday, the group was setting up the stage at the industrial center when people with the center told them they would not be allowed to proceed. Fuentes says they had a contract for the venue.

The story has no details on what might have happened, but my guess would be the venue realized too late who had booked their facility and pulled the plug. It’s not a convention center like Huntington/TCF/Cobo — more of a raw post-industrial factory-type vibe — but it is in Detroit, its main users are artists, etc., and if I were one of the paying tenants, I’d be dropping Molotov cocktails into that den of racists. Although it might have been fun to see it play out; a history blogger recently surfaced a quote from a long-dead but not forgotten Detroit city councilman, Ken Cockrel:

Now that would have made the weekend worth saving.

Fuentes went over to the other rats’ nest and did this before he was kicked out:

On Saturday evening, Fuentes was seen on a livestream with a megaphone addressing a crowd below him outside Huntington Place. Fuentes said “this is not a free country any more.” He railed against what he called the “Jewish mafia” and heaped praise on Henry Ford, calling him a visionary who was attacked for his antisemitic views. He again slammed Israel as the crowd chanted “Christ is King” and “Down with Israel.”

OK, then. What could make this worse? Well, Trump showed up, but for once didn’t make much news, because then we had…a mass shooting. At a fucking splash pad.

Nine people were hit. One 8-year-old boy, shot in the face, is fighting for his life, and his mother, 29 weeks pregnant at the time, was hit in the abdomen. The fetus died. Another couple was there with their two children, 2 and 7 months, and both parents were hit. It was a terrible, terrible scene in Rochester Hills, an Oakland County suburb, where people move to get away from the violence in the city. No chance in these United States, sorry about that.

The gunman? Dead, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the trailer where he lived with his mother, who was not home at the time. Paywalled, but the gist:

Shelby Township — The semiautomatic rifle found on the kitchen table of the alleged gunman who shot nine people at a Rochester Hills splash pad Saturday was weighing on the minds of residents in the Dequindre Estates mobile home park as they wondered Sunday if they could have been potentially his next victims.

The gunman was Michael William Nash, 42, Oakland County Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Huber said Sunday.

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said at a late Saturday night press conference that the gunman was a Shelby Township resident who lived in a mobile home park and had a history of mental health issues, but he didn’t identify the suspect. The gunman was found dead by law enforcement with a self-inflicted gunshot less than two miles away from the splash pad, Bouchard said, and had an “AR platform” semiautomatic rifle on the table.

You know this story: “Mental-health challenges,” etc.:

“His mom was super friendly and nice and talkative and kind to everyone she saw,” Roser said. “We never really saw him. He never came out of the house. And when he did, he didn’t even say hi back to us when we would acknowledge him. … We’re a very friendly community. He was just to himself. He was very quiet and didn’t want to be a part of our community.”

But it’s OK. The head of the state GOP said he was praying for everyone involved. I’m sure that will help.

Now we’re looking at a solid week of above-90-degree temperatures. It’s just gonna get better!

Posted at 3:10 pm in Current events, Detroit life | 28 Comments

Let’s clear the wires.

Back when wire-service copy arrived in newsrooms via chugging teletype machines — a great white-noise generator that someone should make a sleep-sound loop for, and probably has — it was the wire editor’s job to gather it all up, read it, sort it, and bring it to the attention of various departments. This practice was known as “clearing the wire,” and that’s what today’s blog is. Stay tuned for wire-service humor at the end.

This story that broke over the weekend probably didn’t travel much beyond the Great Lakes, but it certainly caught my interest: A 700-foot ore freighter, the Michipicoten, reported it “struck something underwater” on Saturday, about 45 miles south of Isle Royale in northern Lake Superior, and began taking on water. Disaster was averted — it was able to pump out enough to mitigate the 15-degree list and limp into port, to use a journalese phrase I’ve been waiting my whole career to deploy. The port was Thunder Bay, Ontario, if you’re interested.

It was the “struck something underwater” that caught my eye, as they were in some of the deepest water in North America at the time, far from any shoals or suchlike. What could an ore carrier possibly collide with to penetrate a steel hull? Short of a submarine or maybe a freshwater Godzilla, hard to imagine. But I did so all weekend.

The investigation is only getting started, but the cause is looking clearer — the hull just cracked, opening a 13-foot-long seam. A stress fracture, basically.

Disappointing. I was hoping for Godzilla.

Nothing truly ground-breaking in this next item, but it caught my eye: Axios reports that is using AI to find old newspaper stories with news about enslaved individuals, and the institution itself, to help black families find their family histories. This is the part that grabbed me:

Charles Nalle, of course. Charles Nall was my father’s name, is my brother’s name. I’m aware that slaves were generally named for the families that held them in bondage, so no, I’m not claiming blackness for myself. A genealogist who found me via this blog, years ago, had traced the entire family tree and said we went back to a single ancestor, whose name was (I think) John Nall, and who immigrated from England to Virginia. Dunno about the Nalle family; could be an entirely different outfit, or a shirttail relation to ours. Still think it’s interesting.

Some of you may recall my friend Nathan Gotsch, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress as an independent in our old district in Indiana year before last. He’s now dedicated to covering local politics on a Substack newsletter, in part because virtually every media outlet in town no longer does. His latest entry, about a religious lunatic in the running to be lieutenant governor, shows that the Hoosier state will never run out of right-wing idiots. Here’s this one, Micah Beckwith, on Covid:

“I wish we would have had a check and balance [on the governor] in 2020,” he told the delegates in Nappanee. “Because I have family members that are dead today because they took their own lives. Because they were locked in their house. And they felt that they could not go out of their house because the government was giving them an unconstitutional order.”

Beckwith later admitted to me that only one family member — a cousin — died, and she did not live in Indiana. Citing privacy concerns, he declined to provide any further details.

Since COVID vaccines became available in 2021, Beckwith told both groups he has written “over 4,500 religious exemptions for people in Indiana” who did not want to get vaccinated.

He also said he was firmly against masking. “The masks were more than just masks. There was the demonic assault trying to cover up both physically and spiritually the voice of God’s people.”

So, another lying sack of shit speaking for God. I’m reminded, again, of Max von Sydow’s line in “Hannah and Her Sisters:” “If Jesus came back and saw what’s going on in his name, he’d never stop throwing up.”

Finally, the jaw-dropper of the week is from The New Yorker, about how Kanye West — or whatever the fuck he’s calling himself these days — bought (for $57 million) a Tadao Ando house in Malibu and destroyed it. Tadao Ando, if you aren’t up on your architecture figures, is a Japanese architect who doesn’t work a lot, but what he does is considered art even before you move your furniture in and tack the “home sweet home” sampler in the foyer. West admired Ando, and coveted a house designed by him. But, the story says, he “didn’t like the interior.” So he destroyed it.

The New Yorker allows for one or two freebies for non-subscribers, but even if you’ve already limited out, you can probably see the drone video of the house at the top of the story (although only on laptop/desktops; my phone didn’t show it). It’s horrifying, and the descriptions of the house before West took possession will break your heart:

Saxon [a construction worker hired to do the early demo work] was let into the Malibu Road house by Bianca Censori, the woman who had texted him; she was in her twenties. The house is a box partially embedded in the continent’s last, low step of land. The structure then stretches over the sand, propped up by four pillars at about the high-tide mark. (The beach here is narrow.) Although the house appears from the street to be two stories, the front door is on the middle of three floors—the main floor. A short corridor leads from the gallery to an open living area where the house delivers its vast, binary view of sky and ocean, through floor-to-ceiling windows.

Censori mentioned that the house, which was empty of furnishings, had a new owner, but she didn’t name him. A few other people were around; they had ladders and tools. One or two were identified as co-workers of Censori’s and, like her, were dressed all in black. Others, like Saxon, had been summoned that day. Walking around, Saxon registered bathroom walls lined in marble—“gorgeous black-and-white marble, like something in a New York hotel in the nineteen-twenties,” he told me—and custom wooden cabinetry that, he estimated, had cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Downstairs, the ceilings were lower than on the main floor. Three rooms, each with a little bathroom, had ocean views. There was also a laundry, and a room where Saxon saw devices that controlled the house’s heating and other systems. On the upper floor, two extravagantly wide staircases—more suggestive of a college library than of a beach house—descended to the main floor. One staircase was inside, one was outside: they ran alongside each other, separated by a wall built partly of glass. At the bottom of the outdoor staircase was a courtyard with a fire pit. At the top was a concrete hot tub. The top floor was mostly terrace, with the primary bedroom opening onto it. [Previous owner] Sachs once kept a sculpture of the Incredible Hulk, by Jeff Koons, midway up the indoor staircase. In this area, Saxon noticed, Censori’s black-clad colleagues were doing something involving large blocks of foam. He remembered being told that they were turning the stairs into a slide.

First he tore out all the custom wooden cabinetry, then the marble baths, then all those glass walls, and on and on it went, all on West’s orders, as the rapper pursued something he seemed to consider the absolute purity of minimalist design, but is more likely the result of West being an unmedicated manic depressive who seems to be mostly manic, most of the time. When the glass and tile and wood was gone, they tore out plumbing, the kitchen, the bathrooms, the HVAC systems and even electricity, all without permits; Saxon tried to hide the porta-potties brought in when the toilets were brought out. In this sense, at the end it resembled a scrapped-out Detroit ‘bando, only one that started out costing $57 million.

After West essentially set fire to his net worth — not with the house, but by being dropped by Adidas for praising Hitler, etc. — he put the destroyed shell on the market for $39 million. And he has married Bianca Censori. When the two go out on the town, she is frequently as nude as public-decency laws allow, or maybe they don’t — the last pic I saw of her she was wearing a tiny G-string and a clear plastic coat, and that’s all.

Now for the wire-service humor: I have told this story before, but the search engine tells me it was in 2006, so let’s roll it out again. On Fridays, when little news was breaking and most Sunday papers were already pretty much done, the wires used to move fillers, the little one-sentence not-stories that used to fill out columns that came up short. The two I remember most vividly were one about a Matisse painting that was mistakenly hung upside-down and the error not discovered for some years. Headline: Matisse hung wrong. Another read, in its entirety: Jaguars are afraid of dogs. Headline: Jaguars fear dogs. Newspapers used to be fun places to work.

OK, then. The heat is coming — supposed to be 90s by this weekend. Summer is fully here.

Posted at 11:57 am in Current events | 73 Comments

All the lonely people.

My high school graduating class has a Facebook page, which I follow. The admin keeps it current by posting birthdays and stupid oh-I’m-so-old memes, and occasionally I’ll stop by to see who’s celebrating, but in a class of roughly 750, it’s comical how few of these people I remember. Even their names don’t ring a bell. But the other day I saw someone who I kinda-sorta maybe sat near in a class once, which prompted me to click on one of our mutuals, whose current profile pic is an upside-down flag.

OK, then.

I waded into that person’s page, and hoo-boy, it’s exactly what you’d expect, but even more disappointing, because I went to an excellent high school and want to assume my classmates are mostly college-educated and not stupid. Reader, they are not. There were reposted memes about how great you-know-who is “because he didn’t take a salary,” etc. (Yep, the best $450,000 investment I ever made, he thought, running a tiny forefinger down the invoices for making the Secret Service stay in his various homes/resorts, paying the rack rate, etc.) Anyway, there was one post that wasn’t about politics, and it indicated a rather piercing personal disappointment, the sort of thing no one wants to deal with at any age, let along ours.

And I mention all this because I read another typically fantastic NYT Eli Saslow piece on our American scene today, this one about the turmoil being inflicted upon the country’s election clerks by MAGA lunatics. This is happening, big-time, in Michigan, but this piece was about Nevada, and here’s a gift link. Well worth your time.

Anyway, the core of it is the conflict between two women, one a MAGA choad, the other her county clerk, and this phrase, a description of the former, caught my eye:

…She was recently retired and widowed, …

OK, let’s read on, about how these two women know one another, and once liked each other, until the 2020 election and its related conspiracies swept one up:

She believed it only because she had experienced many similar revelations during the last few years, ever since she heeded Trump’s warnings about the “corrupt, lying mainstream media” and decided to disconnect her television. Her friends introduced her to far-right media platforms online like Mike Lindell’s Frank Speech and The Elijah List, where each day she listened to a rotation of self-proclaimed patriots, biblical prophets and also sometimes political figures like Lara Trump. They offered Zakas not only conspiratorial ideas but also the promise of a community that extended far beyond the loneliness of her house, with a grandfather clock ticking away in the living room and views out the window of an emptiness that stretched clear into California. Each day, something urgent was happening in the far corners of the internet — something big and dark and secret, and that knowledge fueled her days with both purpose and agency.

She came to believe, along with millions of others, that Covid was a creation of the federal government used to manipulate the public and steal elections; that two doses of the vaccine would make men infertile; that Trump had been anointed to lead a “government cleansing”; that fighting had already begun in underground military tunnels; that Trump’s election in 2024 was preordained by God; that he would return to power with loads of gold collected from other countries that had capitulated to his power; that, during his next term, Americans would have free electricity, zero income tax and “medbeds” powered by a secret technology that could harness natural energy to heal diseases and extend human life; and that the only thing standing in the way of this future was a deep state so malicious and vast that its roots extended all the way into tiny Esmeralda County.

As I’ve said more than once, I am no longer interested in meeting these people in the marketplace of ideas to reason together and find our common ground. I’ve had it. They are leading the country over a cliff in the name of spite and petulance, egged on by some of the most transparent phonies ever to stand before a microphone, and I am done with every last one of them. They are bad people, or at the very least stupid people, dangerously stupid, and the fact this woman can’t understand that she’s grieving and lonely, not the victim of a ludicrous conspiracy, only confirms it. I think my old classmate is entering the last few chapters of her life with the same misery and disappointment, and climbing aboard this bus makes her feel less alone. This doesn’t make me feel any less angry about the movement; it just offers some fresh insights.

There’s an internet one-liner that goes something like this: A photo of a man doing or saying something ridiculous, followed by, “The things men will do instead of therapy.” Add this lady in Nevada, too. All Eleanor Rigby did was pick up the rice in a church where a wedding has been. She didn’t do her best to overthrow democracy.

OK, then. Rant over.

How was everyone’s weekend? Mine was fine, and a lovely day is in progress right now, so I should go outside and leave vacuuming dog hair off the rugs for another day, right? Guess that’s what I’ll do.

Photo from Friday night, seeing Kate play in a still fairly raw Detroit space, quite the palate cleanser after the Michigan Central Station triumph a day earlier. Photo from inside:

Posted at 1:46 pm in Current events | 37 Comments

Our one wild and precious week.

Another day, another email from the wine place:

It needs a few moments of swirling to unlock scents of blueberry pie, cassis, and preserved plums, eventually giving way to a gorgeous perfume of violets, star anise, cedar chest, and iron ore. The medium to full-bodied palate shimmers with bright, fresh black fruit layers, framed by firm, ripe, rounded tannins and Pavie’s signature tension, finishing very long and very fragrant. This is breathtaking!

Something I learned from these missives: There’s this thing called en primeur, which is when you buy wine that hasn’t been bottled yet, based on early impressions from how it’s developing in the barrel. It’s…wine futures. You say, “my guy says this one has great promise” and put your money down for bottles in 2026, say. And you cross your fingers and hope this vintage lives up to your expectations. Like buying a yearling racehorse at the Keeneland sale.

Rich people. What will they think of next.

So. A sultry Wednesday afternoon in the a/c, waiting on a thunderstorm. Quiche for dinner tonight — Swiss chard, bacon, pine nuts, raisins and gouda cheese. Trying to finish a story I was going great guns on yesterday, but ran out of gas for today. Got most of my to-do list crossed off, and just thinking what I want to do with the rest of my one wild and precious life. Or week, anyway.

One thing I won’t be doing: Going to the great reopening of Michigan Central Station, the Ford Motor Company’s project. NYT gift link to a piece aimed at a non-Detroit audience here, a story I did the first edit on, not that I am bragging — always happy to give a first read to a friend. I interviewed the project leader on this undertaking last year, for a story on adaptive reuse, i.e. giving old buildings new life. The scope of the station project was enormous; Ford is said to have spent $900 million all-in, which included rehabbing a couple nearby buildings as well. I said to the guy, “It’s amazing what you’ve been able to do,” and he replied, drolly, “With enough money? You can do anything.” I liked that.

Anyway, tomorrow is the celebration concert on the lawn out front, with Eminem and Jack White and Big Sean and a bunch of other people. Then even dug up Diana Ross to swing back through her hometown and sing a little, although we’ll see how that goes: I don’t think she’s performed in years, and she’s 80 now. It’ll be streamed on Peacock or Paramount or one of those networks I don’t subscribe to, but they’ll show a condensed version free in a few days. I don’t really enjoy going to shows where you have to stand up for two hours, anyway, and this will surely be one.

Oh, and these guys are back:

The return of the fish flies means summer’s here. No, summer’s here! Let’s enjoy it.

Posted at 4:19 pm in Same ol' same ol' | 40 Comments

Guilty, guilty, guilty.

I was minutes into my last shift as a lifeguard (this school year) Thursday when the verdict came in. My phone gets zero service in the pool, which is below ground level and in a generally shitty cell-coverage area to begin with, so I had to wait a couple hours to get any details beyond GUILTY ON ALL COUNTS, MOFOS. We had plans Thursday night and a busy Friday morning, so I just decided to stand in the firehose of reaction for a while before weighing in.

And having done so: I’m allowing myself to be happy about this. I know it won’t change many votes, that MAGA is too far up their own asses to even consider changing their minds, so I’m just going to sit here and enjoy the sight of Rumpelstiltskin stamping his foot into the earth. I know we may well see — probably will see — violence before this is over, but how else are you supposed to respond to good news? This is good news. Enjoy it.

So far in this national nightmare, it’s been the courts that have held the line. I have a feeling SCOTUS will fuck everything up, but voters + courts may actually save democracy. This time. Or they might not.

Which isn’t exactly a stimulating take, I realize. Sometime Sunday morning I realized I was done taking it all in, having made the mistake of reading Maureen Dowd:

I called my Republican sibs Friday to see if hearing the word “guilty” ring out 34 times in a New York courtroom had finally severed them from Trump; they are, after all, children of a police detective.

My sister, Peggy, said she couldn’t sleep all night.

“You decided you can’t vote for a felon?” I asked.

“I wasn’t going to vote for Trump,” she said. “But now I am because I thought this whole thing was a sham.”

My own family is far from perfect and has vexed me on occasion, but at least none of us are this goddamn stupid.

On Saturday, Kate and I saw “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga,” sort of a belated uber-feminist Mother’s Day outing. It was…awesome. Yes, basically two hours plus of chase scenes, but such memorable chases, with stunts I couldn’t wrap my head around and frames — just frames in a movie — that I wanted to freeze so I could examine the costuming, makeup and other details on every character in it. It was too loud, granted, in Dolby BLOW YOUR HAIR BACK sound, but it worked. If you ever get a genetic menu to select from for the children in your future, choose “cupid-bow mouth” and “wide-set eyes.” It’s a killer combination on Anya Taylor-Joy.

Now, off to smear axle grease on my forehead and embrace Monday.

Posted at 7:44 pm in Current events, Movies | 34 Comments

Yesterday’s papers.

An old colleague had a story about a topic we’ve discussed here a time or two, i.e., the decline of local journalism:

CHEBOYGAN — They painted over the Cheboygan Daily Tribune sign last week, the letters loaded into the back of a pickup truck and the dark blue bricks disappearing under a coat of fuchsia. Inside the old Main Street building, where once reporters pecked away on stories about the city council, there’s now a shop selling medieval goods and swords.

…The local newspaper still exists online and residents can grab a thin printed copy at Family Fare Supermarket, but the stories within it often aren’t focused on Cheboygan.

The Daily Tribune employs one sports reporter, but no local news reporters to report on happenings in this Lake Huron community, 15 miles southeast of Mackinaw City, leaving residents to scour Facebook and a weekly shopper publication for information on elections and tax increases.

This is happening…everywhere, but especially in smaller cities and towns. Last week we talked about a would-be mass shooter in Fort Wayne, stopped only by his own incompetence, covered as little more than a routine police story. The great piece about the con artist from a local high school? Nothing. The mayor died a few weeks ago (covered), but the caucus to replace him? Not well covered. And so on, and not to single out Fort Wayne media. This is happening everywhere.

The result? Well, get this, a poll published in The Detroit News on the eve of the Mackinac Policy Conference, where Detroit’s big shots get together, drink and claim to be thisclose to reaching consensus on how the drive the state forward:

A new survey of Michigan voters suggests their trust is declining in the institution of democracy, the value of a college education and the stability of the economy, even among those who say they’re personally doing better than before the COVID pandemic.

The poll also asked about whether the use of force, threats or violence is justified under any circumstances in a democracy, and 35% of poll respondents said they believe it is.

Separately, 5% of Michigan voters said that violence is justified if their preferred candidate for president loses the 2024 election after all votes are counted “fairly.” Ninety percent said there would be no justification for violence in that case.

…”One thing we’re seeing not just in this survey, but in a multitude of surveys, is voters no longer can agree on some basic facts. We are in this era of misinformation,” said pollster Richard Czuba, founder of the Glengariff Group who conducted the survey. “And because we can’t agree on facts, they can’t analyze the basic fundamentals of what they’re seeing in front of them.”

This, more than anything else, is contributing to my Last Good Year mood. Because this, more than anything, shows the end result of not only the hollowing out of local news sources, but the rise of partisan sources as well.

Ignore the democracy questions; just take the college-education piece. There are a lot of things wrong with higher ed, starting with its cost but also including an explosion of what you might call “college,” i.e. for-profit outfits that charge like Harvard for worthless “degrees” that could be gained for a fraction of the cost at a local community college. But for students who attend a four-year school and graduate, the future is brighter than it would be for those with less education; even with all its problems, college grads out-earn those with no degree by hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of a lifetime.

But college is another thing the right-wing media will tell you is wrong, because Woke, because a conservative speaker was booed offstage somewhere. (I always want to ask these people: How about your kids? Are you sending them to an HVAC certification program or, say, Dartmouth, just like mom and dad?)

I bring all this up because the Luckiest Man in Journalism, i.e. James Lileks, who’s been hanging on to a humor / local-whimsy / architecture column in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, has been informed he’ll no longer be a columnist come August, when the paper is relaunching, or something. (This according to his blog, where he tries and fails to not seem self-pitying.) I’m sure some people will miss him, and I’m equally sure a few of his right-wing friends will try a shame-the-Strib campaign, the way they did the last time he was threatened with having to cover an actual meeting or fatal accident or whatever. I can’t get too happy about this; I lost a column once upon a time, too, and it’s a blow to be sure. But we are now in battle-stations mode, and everybody drawing a paycheck needs to be covering news. It’s too important, even though I fear the battle is already mostly lost.

From Ron’s story about Cheboygan:

In those communities, residents sometimes struggle to keep up with local news that impacts their lives far more profoundly than news that’s easy to find on Fox or social media.

“The chronicling of a small town, that historic record-keeping, has faded,” said Jill Josef Greenberg, a former employee at the Cheboygan paper.

“I wonder who will tell the story of these resilient people?”

I don’t know, but we’re about to find out.

Posted at 11:53 am in Media | 90 Comments