The toolkit.

I was reading Mitch Albom’s stupid column today, and —

But why do you read Mitch Albom’s stupid column, Nance? you’re asking. Because I enjoy picking scabs and scratching the patch of eczema on my left palm that won’t go away, mainly because I keep clawing at it, that’s why.

So anyway. I was reading Mitch Albom’s stupid column today, and it occurred to me that I should make a list of Columnist Tropes, that toolbox of pundit tricks that can be reliably deployed in service of getting something filed by deadline. The Open Letter, the Notes From My Vacation, that sort of thing.

I’m calling Mitch’s today the Buck Up, Buttercup, in which he deploys his hard-won wisdom to tell his readers not to be so naive. The topic is the college cheating scandal, which Mitch pronounces old news, using another crowbar from the Trope Toolbox, the “Casablanca” lead:

There’s a famous scene in “Casablanca” where the corrupt police chief played by Claude Rains shuts down Humphrey Bogart’s casino.

“I’m shocked — shocked — to find that gambling is going on in here!” Rains deadpans.

A croupier then hands him a wad of cash. “Your winnings, sir.”

“Oh, thank you,” Rains says.

You can tell what an effortless and instinctive word-count-padder Mitch is by that “famous.” I used to tell my students, if an expression, quote or what-have-you is truly famous, you don’t have to say “so-and-so famously said.” And then to explain the whole joke, as though there might be a single person in the readership who doesn’t know that scene — that’s champion-level padding, right there.

He goes on:

Are we really shocked — shocked! — to learn that a small group of very rich people paid stupid money to make their kids look smart? The college scandal dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues” has been a huge story this past week, but are we really that stunned that 33 parents are accused paying a con artist named Rick Singer to hire a phony test taker or bribe college coaches in order to open “side doors’” for their kids’ admission?

Um, yeah?

To judge by the headlines — and the breathless class-warfare commentaries — you’d think this was the first time someone tried to improperly get into a college. Try that idea on any veteran sportswriter. You’ll get a laugh.

Then on to the well-known college-athlete recruitment scandals, then on to this just-asking-questions riff:

Has every applicant written his or her own essay? Or did they get help?

Has every applicant only gotten letters of recommendation from people who truly knew them or employed them — or did family friends and connections earn them more impressive endorsements?

Has every applicant truly done the stellar community service they claim on their form? Or did they exaggerate with someone’s blessing? Did they only join certain clubs or associations for the illusion of being well-rounded?

And this, of course, simply proves that the entire process is so, so wrong, that outrage is “simply disingenuous.” I guess as takes go, this one is maybe slightly above room temperature, but on second thought, maybe not.

I shouldn’t let this stuff bug me, and generally I don’t. But I just finally, finally found the courage to start doing our taxes, only to find the SSN on one of my W-2s is incorrect. On the one hand, got to shut down TurboTax and start this blog. On the other? Another chore to handle in the next month.

Hope everyone’s weekend and St. Patrick’s Day was good. I repotted an orchid, got some reading done, and had the right impulse on our taxes, at least. Also, I made Nigella’s chocolate Guinness cake. Haven’t tucked into it yet, but I expect it’ll be delicious, because duh, chocolate cake. I also started doing some very preliminary research into our next big vacation, which I hope will be next fall — to Morocco. Anybody with experience in that part of the world, chime in.

I also spent some time on Twitter, and saw this:

These people. Sigh.

Good week ahead, all. I’m hoping for some peace and quiet. But right now I’m-a make some chicken pot pie with a homemade biscuit crust.

Posted at 5:54 pm in Media | 70 Comments
 

With the swamp-drainers.

You guys. What a week. I’m beginning to wonder if it’s even possible to have two half-time jobs, but I like both of them, so I guess I’m just going to have to figure it out. But my world is a series of spinning plates. This week, it culminated with this event, which I covered, and you can read the story here, and I’d appreciate it if you did.

But if you’re rushed: It was the We Build the Wall Town Hall, a traveling grift-a-palooza that stopped in Detroit last night. A sad event. It was originally scheduled for a church in Warren, which for you out-of-towners is most definitely MAGA country, but was relocated to Detroit when they outgrew the space. The organizers claimed they had more than a thousand people registered; maybe 300 showed up. They were dwarfed by one of Cobo’s zillion-square-foot halls, but what the heck, the energy was about as high as a crowd with a median age of maybe 52 could drum up. I thought what I’ve thought many times in crowds like this: This issue is resolving itself, one funeral at a time. So many gray heads, so many canes, so many of those rolling walkers. The Bikers for Trump looked like the crowd at last summer’s Steppenwolf concert, with a titanium hip for every Harley-Davidson.

Maybe the rest were scared off by having to come to Detroit, who knows.

I went because Bannon was on the bill. I originally figured he’d be a no-show, “called away by vital business,” but there he was. You’d think he’d elevate such an event, but not really, not when he’s up there with as grifty a bunch as this. Here’s the scenario: This “We Build the Wall” GoFundMe has already raised $20.6 million. People are being given the chance to back out, but — they say — few have. But let’s say have $10 million to spend. For this sum, they intend to put up parts of a wall, on private property. How easy would it be to slip away with a big chunk of that? I say not very.

Bannon is independently wealthy; he doesn’t need to hustle old people for $5 contributions. He still considers himself a person of ideas and vision. What is he doing up there with Sheriff Clarke? Just organizing? Someone with a more devious political mind, chime in. I’m really interested.

One of the books I’m reading these days is Michael Lewis’ “The Fifth Risk,” about the Trump administration’s abandonment of a critical job — staffing the parts of the government people don’t think about until they fail. It’s terrifying. Lewis concentrates on one department — Energy — but I thought of the FAA when I read this headline: Trump wanted his personal pilot to head the FAA. The critical job is still vacant amid Boeing fallout.

Lewis makes the case that not only do these departments do what everybody hates, OMG REGULATION, but play critical roles interacting with private industry in guiding that which they oversee. Running a major federal agency is not the same as flying a plane, but I guess that’s too hard to see.

Man, what a week. I’m outta here. Have a great weekend, and back on Sunday/Monday.

Posted at 12:29 pm in Current events, Detroit life | 32 Comments
 

Radio sucks.

Continuing a theme of recent weeks, I once again find myself ashamed of this stupid country. That Tucker Carlson is a pig surprises me not in the least. That he, ostensibly a serious person, appears on a radio show with someone named Bubba the Love Sponge simply depresses me.

The NPR station in Fort Wayne wasn’t running the usual news shows when I first moved there, and so for a while I contented myself with the usual morning-zoo numbnuts. This being Fort Wayne, they weren’t particularly racy, just boring dudes in baseball caps who wouldn’t have made it on the open-mic standup circuit. Lots of them were overweight. Most of them were Republicans. (They didn’t do politics, but you could just smell it on them.) Hardly any of them were even a little bit funny; a song parody was about the best they were capable of.

Every so often I’ll station-surf past one now. They’re all racy now. Crude, actually. I think there’s one team around here who make callers say “penis balls” in the course of their interactions. I try to imagine the sort of person who finds this sort of thing amusing, and come up blank. Silence, Spotify, the CBC — there are so many options around here.

I know smart people who think Howard Stern is great. I am not one of them. I flirted briefly with Don Imus, then dropped him when it became evident what a schmuck he is.

(You wouldn’t believe how much money some of these guys — and they’re all guys, with the occasional Girl Sidekick — earn, too. Imus at his peak was in the $7-million-a-year range. Bob & Tom, in Indianapolis, were around $1 million. I guess “talent” is rare, and advertisers like them, but holy shit.)

So much radio sucks. When I briefly toiled at WOWO, I was astounded at the stuff that was posted on the employee bulletin board. The don’t ask/don’t tell policy was in the news at the time, and the anti-gay stuff alone was horrible. When I mentioned something to the station manager, she said, “Well, we don’t have any gay employees.”

I still listen to public radio, and NPR, every day. I still get a little frustrated when they do those long, earnest pieces on something I can’t even muster a whisker of a care about — and I’m an empathetic person. But now I just switch to a podcast.

How’s everyone’s week going? Sorry for no Sunday. I’m trying to save my sanity by reading more for pleasure this month, and opted for self-care. Enjoying a little Scott Turow (“Testimony”) after years of not reading him. He’s the Grisham-who-can-write, for those unfamiliar.

OK, off to the showers, huge week ahead. Stay well, all.

Posted at 7:45 am in Current events | 90 Comments
 

And now, the shadow.

A big local-news talker dropped Friday morning, and bear with me, because I’m going to try to make my comments about it universal. So here goes, the first five grafs:

Former Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell had a Hall of Fame career and a marriage to match.

Friends and strangers alike marveled at the love he and his wife, Lulu, shared for almost 70 years.

But their fairy-tale family included a large dose of heartache, most of it unseen and much of it unseemly.

Oakland County court records show that for years, the couple’s four children have been beset by infighting and impatience for their inheritance from parents often unable to say no.

The children point fingers at family lawyers. The lawyers point back with allegations of unpaid bills, missing money and alleged mistreatment of Lulu, who battled dementia for years before dying March 1 at age 99. She was more or less broke.

It’s hard to overstate what a beloved figure Harwell was in Detroit. Mitch Albom, no stranger to lavish print-smooching, can hardly restrain himself when he writes about him. Of course, like another dead old man, Harwell has been good for Mitch’s bottom line — he wrote a play, “Ernie,” that runs every year through baseball season at a theater across the street from the ballpark. I saw it a few years back; it’s not terrible, but Mitch only paints in primary colors, and only pretty-pretty ones. The play works for what it is, a nostalgia-wallow that makes everyone cry, then time for a beer before the first pitch. (Almost everyone cries, that is; this was me.)

To give you a taste of how he handles all things Harwell: His column upon Lulu’s death earlier this month may out-Mitch even Mitch.

And like I said, Harwell was beloved.

He had a Georgia drawl and an easy patter, plus a bottomless well of folksy expressions he could summon at the crack of a bat. (No, I’m not going to look them up for you; that’s what the internet is for.) Plus he did seem, from all accounts, to be genuine and modest and charming. He was one of those personalities made for a time when baseball was coming out of the transistor radio on the back steps as you washed the car.

But even though he is routinely called a saint, no mortal actually is a saint. Everyone has flaws. Everyone. What’s more, our flaws are what make us interesting — the tension between light and dark, how we reconcile the two. If I were teaching feature writing, I’d do a whole unit on how to balance the good stuff with the less-good stuff, how to ask about it, that sort of thing. How to add, with words, what the Italians call chiaroscuro, the shadows that give the light dimension.

Conversely, this is also something to remember when considering straight-news stories, especially those about people who have suffered a misfortune: There are no perfect victims, either. When you find yourself detaching from the plight of a person screwed over by a corrupt system because she worked as a stripper or smoked weed or whatever, you’re forgetting what the greater sin is.

The Harwell marriage, so recently aired in Lulu’s obituary, was close and loving and long-lived. Assuming this story is correct, it also gave the world what seem to be four terrible children, or at least three. While Ernie left a tidy estate, it was hardly substantial, and he devoutly wanted his widow cared for after his death. That was expensive, and ate the money one bite at a time. But his children? One nickel-and-dimed his elderly mom to cover his own financial failings. One billed her conservator for “caregiving,” 24 hours a day, whenever he traveled to Michigan to visit her. Another was emotionally abusive. The fourth seems a cut above the rest, but who knows.

From the tweeting around this, I get the feeling this was an open secret among sports journalists. And yet, this appears to be the first reporting on it. That’s…not good. But also not surprising.

The weekend is nearly upon us, but I still have some work to do, so best get to it.

So much to blog about, but who has the time? Manafort, Fox News, all of it. Let’s stick with this, headlined, “Melania chooses spaghetti.” In which we learn a Fox host referred to FLOTUS as “Lady M” throughout their interview, a very strange thing.

Supposed to rise well above freezing Saturday. Here’s hoping. Have a good weekend, all.

Posted at 2:01 pm in Detroit life, Media | 78 Comments
 

An earlier Lent.

Well, at least I know now why I was feeling so listless on Sunday. I woke up a few hours later with a mild fever, and spent the next 24 hours feeling thisclose to barfing and swinging between that little fever and waking up in a sweaty tangle of sheets.

I’m better today, but still semi-queasy. It’s paçzki day in Detroit, and I haven’t felt even a whiff of a craving.

Paçzki are, of course, the jelly donuts that Polish folks around here — and everybody else, for that matter — eat on Shrove Tuesday. And I don’t care how many worthless stories are written about them every year, they’re fucking jelly donuts, and you can buy them at Dunkin’ all year long. So I’ll start a Lenten deprivation a little early.

I’ll be back at work tomorrow. I was “at work” Monday and today, but in a diminished fashion. But here I am, getting ready to watch the State of the City address, even though I’d rather watch almost anything else.

(Watching it now. Yep, anything else. No offense to the mayor, it’s just that these things are all the same.)

So, summing up my complaints in a bumper sticker? It just hasn’t been my year. Fortunately, it’s still young. And as my husband points out, it’s not like I have cancer or nothin’. All true.

Man, though, that Michael Jackson documentary? Chilling. Awful. Even worse is the braying from the hashtag-innocent crowd, who are simply rabid. And by rabid, I mean “diseased and crazed.” “There’s no evidence!” they cry. As though direct testimony, voluminous photos, faxes and other ephemera and classic behavior patterns somehow aren’t evidence. I think the squicky feeling I got watching it was not just my brewing stomach bug, but the feeling of…complicity, somehow. How easily the world swallowed that bullshit about the real-life Peter Pan who simply enjoyed the company of children, because he never had a proper childhood himself. Seeing shot after shot of MJ running from a hotel to a limousine, screaming fans an arm’s length away, while a little kid runs a few feet ahead of him — it was so familiar. How often did we see that in the ’80s and ’90s?

Vile.

The governor unveiled her budget proposal today, too. This happens every year. It’s usually big news when a new gov is doing it for the first time, because there are always tricks up the ol’ sleeve. Without going into the details, which aren’t all that interesting to anyone who doesn’t live there, be advised there’s a big per-gallon gas tax on the table, because our roads are in Third World condition and getting worse. There’s simply no way to finance what it would take to get them to fair — fair! — condition without more revenue. You can already see how the rest of this debate is going to go: Find the waste! No new taxes! As though $2.2 billion dollars, per year, is just sitting around, going to waste. For professional reasons, I can’t say much more, but still: Please.

For once, though, prominent conservatives are saying, essentially, we gotta do it. And if you think there’s so much waste in the system, point it out. I doubt the hashtag warriors will get far this year. But they’ll make her pay in four years. More will be revealed.

So, any bloggage? Is there anything new on the Trump Outrage beat? Well, it’s Tuesday. What do you think?

Time to go see how Ray Donovan’s going to get out of his latest fix. I’m enjoying Showtime for as long as I have it – I think it’ll expire with Kate’s graduation – and it beats Jacko’s abuse narrative.

Carry on, all. It’s Wednesday.

Posted at 8:02 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 83 Comments
 

Jacko.

Do you ever get depressed around this time of year? Look out the window, watch yet another glaze of snow gently falling from the sky, consider you should be cleaning the bathroom but decide you’d rather read this Scott Turow book you picked up in New York, and then sigh deeply and wonder what’s the use, what’s the damn use? This stupid country is so screwed, what’s the damn use?

No? OK, then, carry on.

I shouldn’t be watching this Michael Jackson documentary. It’s not sitting well with what I read this morning about the president’s two-hour standup act at CPAC Saturday. Sort of like eating something bad, followed by something even worse. It’s not helping my mood.

So let’s hop to some good bloggage, shall we?

I’ve been interested for some time in pet culture — the way we treat our dogs and cats and so forth. It’s simultaneously fascinating and appalling. I know grown women who are happy to share their beds with 80-pound pit bulls. I know people who think of their dogs and cats as children. Truth be told, I think of my dog as a child, although not really. You have to respect an animal’s essential nature, which is not the same as ours. But there’s little doubt that a dog or cat in a middle-class home lives better than lots of human beings in lousier neighborhoods.

So this CityLab piece on dog parks and gentrification was interesting:

Parks and recreation departments face tremendous pressure today to dedicate more and greater space for the nation’s fur-babies, even in cities where there aren’t enough local parks for actual children. The rise of dog parks—up 40 percent over the last decade—has consequences for neighborhoods that have them as well as those that don’t. More than half of the nation’s parks departments now boast a dog park.

Back in the day, “a dog park wasn’t a thing” says Kathryn Ott Lovell, commissioner of Philadelphia Parks & Recreation. “You walked your dog around the neighborhood. You took your dog around the block. Standards and expectations for dog owners have shifted. The culture of dog ownership has changed.”

The fancy-town dog park in the early designs for Lincoln Yards might be among the least-divisive features of this project, which closed in on as much as $1.3 billion in public funding (through a tax-increment financing scheme) last week. But it is nevertheless a small marker of disparity in the city—one that can be found all over. It’s a pattern whose consequences range from worrisome sign of neighborhood gentrification to outright structural inequality.

From the Cohen hearing fallout, more of the Best People ™:

…Lynne Patton, a longtime Trump family aide turned federal housing bureaucrat, has long reveled in the limelight and has asked permission to star in a reality-TV show while serving as a HUD official.

Oh, but of course she did.

Finally, a bizarre story about the fake-credentialed sex doctor who buffaloed many smart people into believing him.

Back to Michael Jackson. It’s like bad medicine I have to take.

Posted at 9:43 pm in Current events | 37 Comments
 

The bottom below the last bottom.

Well, that was an interesting day, wasn’t it?

I took 30 minutes for lunch today. I was going to get a sandwich and bring it back to the office, but decided fuck it, I’m going to sit at this table, eat and scroll Twitter. I’m in a group chat with a couple of friends, and one of them noted that while we’re all watching Michael Cohen, India and Pakistan are on the brink of war, and both have nukes.

And damn, it’s true.

Today may have been one of those days when my brain broke, a little. Four different people in the office were watching the hearing, on four different feeds, so there was a weird echo effect, punctuated by the occasional guffaw or that’s not true or who is this clown. I was trying to get a job done that generally takes one to two hours, but today took three going on four, and finally I just turned the whole thing off. What have we done to this country? How can we recover from this? What is this going to lead to? How can we go back?

We’re so screwed. We should liquidate all our savings and just light out for the territories, spend the remainder of our time traveling from Bangkok to Vladivostok to Istanbul to Paris until this is over, then travel for a few more years until climate change really kicks in, then I don’t know what we’ll do. Volunteer at the next mega wildfire in California, maybe. Anything to blot out the knowledge we elected a president who set up a straw buyer to bid up a shitty portrait of himself, so it would get the highest price, then paid for it out of a charitable foundation.

Over the last three years, I’ve been baffled, outraged, grimly amused, frustrated – pretty much the whole gamut. But today I feel ashamed of this whole stupid country.

All of this may be exacerbated by today’s bus ride home. I got off at my stop and realized my ass was wet, because apparently I sat in something. I stripped off my clothes 30 seconds after I walked through the door and took a sniff. It might have been coffee, or it could have been anonymous transit-rider pee. So I ran a bath and sat there and the water needed to be hotter, which may be because the hot-water heater is elderly and overdue to fail. Maybe it’ll fail this week! Wouldn’t that be the cherry on top?

Also, it snowed overnight.

But just in case you think I have entirely lost my sense of humor, I have not. I don’t believe I’ve ever been to Alabama, but I wish I’d been there to see this:

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) — Alabama police say a dispute over crab legs at a dinner buffet ended in a brawl that left two people facing misdemeanor charges.

Huntsville police officer Gerald Johnson …tells WHNT-TV that diners were using service tongs like fencing swords and plates were shattering, and a woman was beating a man. Johnson says diners had been waiting in line for crab legs for more than 10 minutes, and they lost their tempers once the food came out.

Right now, I think I’ll do a crossword. Have a nice evening.

Posted at 8:01 pm in Current events | 65 Comments
 

Blustery day, eh?

I can feel the wind coming in gusts that seem to have lost at least some of their earlier fury, but we’re by no means done with this bluster yet. And with a computer that no longer has a functional battery, it seems I better get moving on this thing unless I want to be

::zzt. blink::

Kidding. We’re now at 20K without power in southeast Michigan, and we could easily be the next. Alan already pushed a limb off a line in the back yard, and the big oak back there had a bad year. For now? Soldier on!

I’m looking forward to the week, the last of the month and — I devoutly hope — a fairly quiet one. I spent much of last week house/dogsitting for vacationing friends, and I’m happy to be back in my own bed, where there are only three pillows — one for the two heads that lay there, and one for me to hug, because I’m a pillow-hugger and have been for years.

By contrast, the bed in my friend’s house — king-sized, excellent firm mattress and otherwise a very nice place to sleep — has 10 pillows. Ten! I counted them. There’s a base layer of three, three more on top of that, another three, and then a smaller decorative one that sits in front of the whole crew, like a drum major.

“I’m the pillow queen,” my friend said when I mentioned this. We were in the company of other affluent women of the same demographic, and I learned that over-pillowing is definitely a Thing among them. I knew it was with hotels; whenever we stay in one, Alan bats them away like a peevish bear, growling too many fuckin’ pillows. I select my hugger from the pile on the floor, and we go to bed.

I wonder if over-pillowing is a way to build a bulwark against your spouse, even in a loving relationship. Even in a big bed, some people will always claim your part of it, but it’s way harder to do when there’s a dyke of pillows keeping you in your lane, so to speak.

I really don’t know. But three suits our queen-size just fine.

And with that, I need to go start a pot of chili. Back in a minute.

I’m back! Yes, that was fast. I’ve found that chili goes better in our house if I handle the initial meat-browning, onion-chopping, can-opening assembly chores, etc., and then leave the seasoning to Alan, who, like many men, has complicated opinions on various chili seasonings that I do not share.

So, anyway. Been thinking about the Robert Kraft case this weekend, and what I said earlier about trafficking stories. If the facts the police have presented so far hold up, this is about as clear-cut a case as you could find — young women from another country compelled to sexually service an endless line of men. I was struck by the detail that did them in: A health inspector noted suitcases and bedding, an unusual amount of food for a workplace that its employees would leave behind at the end of the day.

It so happens that was one thing that a trafficking expert — a real trafficking expert, not the self-elevated ones you hear so much from these days — said should be a tipoff when I wrote about this subject a while back. She mentioned it in the context of nail salons, not storefront rub parlors, but one thing you learn when you start investigating human trafficking is this: For many people, even advocates, all they want to talk about is sex trafficking, mainly because that’s what the media, especially the electronic media, talks about. But labor trafficking is very real, too. It’s much harder to illustrate during a sweeps-month “investigation.” You can’t use shadowy silhouettes of a young woman leaning into a car, or perhaps weeping into her hands while rolls of money pile up on the bed behind her.

That’s one reason I regard so much of this issue with suspicion. So little data, so much tape over mouths. Cheesy titillation rubs me the wrong way.

Human trafficking has only been part of UCR data — that’s Uniform Crime Reporting, for your civilians — since 2013. We are still groping in the dark toward a fuller understanding of it.

As for why a billionaire would patronize a storefront rub parlor in Florida, when he could presumably order up a Miss America runner-up in a thong to come directly to his hotel suite? You’d have to ask him. But it’s been my experience that the richer a man is, the more likely he is to be cheap in truly cringeworthy ways:

In the case of the Orchids of Asia parlor in Jupiter, where services were listed for $59 for half an hour or $79 for an hour, an arrest affidavit for the women managing the spa detailed a similar investigative approach. Police watched men going into the spa for 30 to 45 minutes at a time.

OK, a little bloggage:

My friends had a copy of Michelle Obama’s book, “Becoming,” in the house, and I read a little of it. It was pretty great and amazingly well-written. No ghost is credited, and Obama does acknowledge collaborators, so I can’t say how much of it is her own prose style. But it’s a much more pleasant read than I expected. Neil Steinberg agrees:

“Becoming” is perfect for our perilous national moment, reminding us of when our country had a thoughtful, decent man as president. Donald Trump emerges like a monster in a horror movie, glimpsed first in flashes far off, then rearing up behind us. Obama casts him as the latest in a line of bullies she’s battled.

“Bullies were scared people hiding inside scary people,” she writes.

Have you ever heard it put so well?

Speaking of reading books, this was a sobering read. I think I’m going to take a certain amount of it to heart. I still love Twitter, like/loathe aspects of Facebook and enjoy being up on things, but I really need to get a handle on my book reading again. It starts with breaking up with one’s phone, or at least renegotiating the terms of the relationship.

We’re having wind downstate, but upstate — as in, northern Michigan and the UP — they’re having a goddamn blizzard. The photos piling up in my social media feeds are one reason I can’t quite quit Twitter just yet.

Have a good week, all.

Posted at 5:29 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 86 Comments
 

Dirty.

In my haste to be a big smartypants about Jussie Smollett, I forgot to tell you about the Dirty Show. It’s an art show that runs over two weekends and is, surprise surprise, dirty. Erotic, I guess you’d call it, although dirty probably fits better.

About 15 percent of the art was decent, most was campy/mediocre/whatever and the rest was porn, but artistic. I guess this would fall in the first category:

But you don’t go to the Dirty Show to look at the art on the walls, scratch your chin and say hmm, interesting. You go to see the other stuff, and to people-watch. It rarely disappoints in that area; half the burlesque dancers in the Midwest show up, and the crowd tries to keep up. When I was getting dressed for the evening, I thought, what the hell, let’s do something fun, so I picked a crimson bra out of the drawer and, first, thought to wear it alone under a blazer, ’70s-supermodel style. But it was cold, and I chickened out, and added a rather sheer top. I felt scandalous leaving the house, but within five minutes of scanning the crowd, realized I was wearing the Dirty Show equivalent of a navy polo shirt and mom jeans. As I often say after Theatre Bizarre: “I had no idea so many women in Detroit own corsets.” Corsets galore, as well as pasties, bare-ass thongs with fishnets, all that stuff. A guy led a woman in a wheelchair around with a leash. A woman led a man around on a leash. I waited in line for the restroom behind a woman in bondage gear and a nun’s wimple.

It was quite the crowd. No John Waters this year, but a good time just the same.

So.

Not long after I wrote Monday’s entry about spotting bullshit, it occurred to me where I’ve read quite a few unbelievable stories in recent years: Accounts of human trafficking. I read a piece about a sex trafficking victim, who described her ordeal: Kidnapped at 15, thrown into an attic with two other women, chained by the ankle, and forced to stay there, sleeping on a pallet and using a bucket for elimination, for a year. A year. No baths, no breaks, “15 to 40 men a day,” just brought in one after another to rape the girls on their pallets. It’s possible. But it doesn’t pass the smell test, and I’ve heard verified stories about chained women. A year? It’s hard to believe that not one guy wouldn’t feel a pang of post-coital remorse and drop a dime to the police, that word wouldn’t spread.

And how often these stories are detail-free, so none can be verified with family or law enforcement, everyone mysteriously dead or gone somehow. And how often these stories are published by Christian presses, and feature redemption/conversion narratives late in the story. And how often these stories are only about sex trafficking, when we know that labor trafficking is just as big a problem, but somehow it’s all white girls forced into prostitution, never brown girls forced into agricultural labor, or domestic servitude.

I’ll repeat what I’ve said often: Human trafficking is real, and a serious problem. But it can’t be addressed without good data about the extent of the problem. And we’re nowhere close to understanding it.

OK, all. More snow expected overnight, followed by ice, followed by rain. Just another day in paradise. Stay warm.

Posted at 9:17 pm in Detroit life, Popculch | 102 Comments
 

Pants, afire.

For the record, I doubted the Jussie Smollett story from the beginning. I didn’t say so at the time, so you can take that with however much salt you need, but I don’t talk about every thought that pops into my head, even if it seems that way.

I doubted the Rolling Stone rape-on-campus story in 2014, too. Actually, I didn’t believe a word of it.

There was a lawsuit filed in the Larry Nassar case a few months ago, regrettably described as a “bombshell” in the news at the time. A woman claimed that as a young athlete at MSU years ago, Nassar drugged her, raped her, taped the assault (with a cameraman), and this evidence was somehow ignored by the athletic director, who confiscated the tape and made everything go away, even though she got pregnant, later miscarried and got HPV in the bargain. I doubted it as soon as I heard the details. Not sure what the status is now, but an AG’s investigation found “no credible evidence” of any of its claims, so if it hasn’t gone away yet, I expect it will soon.

I offer this not to brag that my bullshit detector is better than anyone else’s, only that I have one. You have one, too, and should use it. I wish more people would. But if you’re wondering what it is about these cases that made me doubt them, well, here we go:

All three rely on what you might call the Too Much Evil plot line or perhaps what I call And Syndrome. In the Smollett case, we were expected to believe that a couple of MAGA chuds were out roaming Chicago with bleach and a rope/noose, looking for someone to attack. Which allegedly went like this:

According to TMZ, the attack happened at around 2 a.m. when Smollett went out to get a sandwich, after which someone yelled, “Aren’t you that f***ot ‘Empire’ n*****?” The outlet reports that the the two offenders — who allegedly are white and wore ski masks — beat Smollett badly enough to fracture a rib, then tied a rope around his neck and poured bleach on him.

“This is MAGA country,” TMZ reports the offenders yelled as they fled after the assault.

So first they yell, then they beat him up, then they pour bleach on him, and then they wrap a rope around his neck, yelling “this is MAGA country” as they run off. Any one of these things would be terrible to have happen to you, but pile them up, and it’s national news.

In the Rolling Stone rape case, we were asked to believe that first “Jackie” was given a spiked drink, then pushed into a room at a frat party, then thrown onto a glass-topped coffee table, which shattered underneath her. Upon this bed of broken glass, she said, she was raped by no fewer than seven men, while two others watched and commented. After which, she somehow managed to get dressed again and found her way outside, where she told some friends what had happened, and asked for help. Imagine what a woman who’s just undergone this punishment must have looked like — her back must have resembled hamburger. I’m surprised she could walk. But her friends — her friends, mind you — say nah, they won’t help because then they might not get into the frats they were rushing.

The Nassar story details I already mentioned. Nassar would have been a medical student at the time, but the AD supposedly took ownership of a videotape depicting a violent rape and…let the med student remain in his job, and later take even bigger ones at the same university.

So. In the first case we have two dudes walking around Chicago — not Birmingham or Salt Lake City or Fargo — carrying bleach and a rope to clear fags from “MAGA country.” And they’re wearing ski masks. In the Rolling Stone story, it’s a drugged drink and broken glass and seven guys and horrible friends. At MSU, it’s a raping med student (all of whose sexual assaults, we now know, were variations on sticking fingers into vaginas and anuses, with masturbation in one case) and a video and a cameraman and a pregnancy and HPV and an evil AD.

And Syndrome.

Smollett’s case would have been more believable if he’d been out that night and admitted to running across his attacker somehow, finding him cute, maybe flirting with him, maybe touching him, which caused the man to flip out and retaliate with violence. Jackie’s rape would have been more believable without the broken glass and two men, instead of seven. The MSU athlete? At least pick the same M.O. Nassar used in every other assault.

But all of these would have been less dramatic, and/or made the victim less sympathetic. If Smollett said he came on to a guy who beat him up, lots of people would think it was his fault. Rolling Stone Jackie somehow needed that horror-movie scenario — seven guys so crazed by lust and violence that they didn’t notice they were kneeling on broken glass — to buffalo a reporter who should have known better. I don’t know about the MSU student, but I would not be surprised to hear that she is not a stranger to mental illness.

I’ve never been a full-time police reporter, but in years in newsrooms, I’ve been amazed at the randomness and weirdness of the crime that appears in the police reports. It so rarely follows the scripts we see on TV. A woman cuts off a man in traffic, he fires a gun into her car, killing a child in the back seat. (This happened in Detroit recently.) Fistfights tend to end after one or maybe two punches, with one guy yelling OW MY NOSE and the other OW MY HAND. The people who throw chemicals, or hot water, on others? Often women, maybe because they know where the bleach is (laundry) and because they’re not as strong as men. And even terrible people have enough self-awareness to know that a gang rape of a young woman at an elite university is not a good idea, and would at least leave the room, rather than watch and participate.

I’ve been lied to, and fallen for lies. My BS detector is certainly not perfect. I want to believe people are basically honest and tell the truth. But many are not, and we should apply simple skepticism, or at least hold our fire until more is revealed. Because more almost always is. \

OK, then! Weekend wrapped. We had surprise Saturday houseguests — Alex and his partner Harry, who came north on the spur of the moment to eat chicken paprikash at a divey little bar under I-75. We ended up at D’Mongo’s, drank too much and sent them off to Ikea to shop for storage solutions. Me, I had a lazy day today, and I regret not a moment of it.

Now it’s snowing. At this time of year, it seems it will snow forever.

Posted at 8:10 pm in Current events | 46 Comments