And the sign said…

One of our neighbors put up a Trump yard sign. No biggie there, and not unexpected. In today’s environment, it’s a step up from the QAnon people, whom we also have nearby. I noticed two things about the sign: It’s smaller than most yard signs, and it says only TRUMP. No Pence, not even in smaller type. Not implying anything, just sayin’.

So I step out to walk Wendy the other day, and the sign seems different. We walk closer and it looks like it’s been defaced. Closer, and it seems something has painted another name over Trump’s, but it’s not Biden’s. Looks like…STUART? Maybe it’s a friend, playing a prank?

Closer still, and I can read it. It says SHART.

Hmm. Once again, it doesn’t quite work as a punchline, but again – maybe it’s a friend, with an inside joke about a wet fart. I heard the recently departed Geoffrey Nunberg’s tribute on “Fresh Air” on my drive this weekend; maybe he’d have been able to say something about it: “A portmanteau of two vulgarisms, neither of which is suitable for this program or even public radio…” Or maybe it was just bad graffiti.

So. A whirlwind trip from southeast Michigan to southeast Ohio this weekend, with barely a moment to stop. The drive was pretty fast, and the revelation was the now entirely four-lane high-speed highway between Columbus and Athens. When I was in school, it was four lane/two lane through the whole trip, and you drove through, not past, the city/towns of Lancaster, Logan and Nelsonville. The last of those is an Appalachian town of obvious poverty but also the home of Rocky Boot Co., provider of the red-laced pair of hiking boots worn by, I swear, every single student at Ohio University. I’ve talked about them here before; how they saved my life through two terrible winters. You could see their lug-soled prints all over campus in the snow.

Nelsonville is also the birthplace of Sarah Jessica Parker, if you’re keeping score at home. My brother-in-law calls her Miss Nelsonville.

Anyway, the new four-laner makes the trip from Columbus to Athens about an hour, less if you’re coming from the east side. And I was so very pleased to see that the trip is simply beautiful, especially past Lancaster. The low hills are almost impossibly green, without the bagworms you see on trees in northern Michigan. Just a great drive.

The bagworm in the ointment, however, was rain, which made a walk around campus less than appealing. We couldn’t even find much of a patio dining scene to have lunch, although we finally found a mediocre restaurant that had some umbrella’d picnic tables out back. The hostess wiped them down for us, and we took our chances. It was fine, the food just OK, and for those of you who remember the Athens of my era, get this: It’s the former Mr. Magoo’s.

Mr. Magoo’s was the closest thing to an obnoxious frat bar that Athens had, although it was usually full of Arab exchange students, men, dressed up in disco clothes and hoping to score some American nookie before they had to return to Tehran or Riyadh and find a nice girl. The OPEC oil boom was still ramping up, and the Arab world was sending its students abroad in vast numbers, with generous living allowances. OU had a good intensive-English program, so they’d roll in, spend a year learning English, then transfer out to petroleum-engineering programs elsewhere. The car of choice: A Trans Am with a screaming firebird on the hood. Footwear: Stacked heels. If you’re thinking the Ackroyd/Martin “wild and crazy guys” you’re on the right track.

Anyway, Mr. Magoo’s – pronounced MAH-goose by these young men – advertised “Texas cocktails,” i.e. big ones. I think I went there twice. I preferred the more English-major vibes of the Union, Swanky’s, the Frontier Room and of course the steak sandwich at the Pub. Now MAH-goose is the Pigskin Grill. I had a pulled-pork sandwich that was on the dry side, and the waitress expressed puzzlement when I asked if it came with slaw on top. Ah, well. At least it was outdoors. Kate informed me she hadn’t eaten in a restaurant, period, since March.

But we had a nice time together, talked a bit. Her roommate is a slob, but she still likes him, and anyway he’s moving out, she said. How much so? “He gets up from the table after eating, and he doesn’t even put his dishes in the sink,” she said. I thought of how long it took her to learn that, and felt: My work here, it is done.

I think also, just to drive far out of town was a thrill. I need to travel more. Not just to Morocco and overseas, but to, I dunno, Indiana or Pennsylvania or Toronto, if they ever let Americans in again. I interviewed a Canadian immigration lawyer for a story last week, and it was like talking to a person who’s visiting you in the hospital. They don’t have the fever you have, and they’re so, so disappointed to see you like this.

Of course, is Justin Trudeau trying to sabotage the post office? No? THEN MAYBE YOU SEE WHY I HAVE THIS FEVER.

Bloggage? I’m working my way through this Olivia Nuzzi look at the re-election campaign, and surprise, it’s a shitshow, as we see from the Pennsylvania volunteer effort:

It was 7 p.m. on July 23, and Team Trump had scheduled a training session for campaign volunteers in the area. Before I arrived, I had worried about my exposure to the virus. I imagined a scene that was part local political-party headquarters and part anti-quarantine protest. I imagined a lot of Trump supporters, maskless and seated close together, breathing heavily on a reporter leaning in to record their comments. But the office was quiet. I walked through the arch of books by right-wing personalities (Bill O’Reilly, Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh) and past the portraits (George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan) and maps of Pennsylvania voting precincts. I didn’t see anyone there.

In a blue room in the back, beneath an American flag with the words MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN printed in block letters inside the white stripes, a woman sat alone at the end of a conference table. She wasn’t participating in the volunteer training. She was the volunteer training. There just weren’t any volunteers.

…Fifty miles away, at the GOP headquarters in Lancaster, another event was scheduled for 6 p.m. the next night. When I arrived, the local field director, Jason, was talking to an elderly man. “I appreciate all your support, sir,” he said. “Oh, absolutely. I think this election is more important than 1864. Then, we would’ve lost half the country. This time? We could lose the whole country.” Nick, the Trump-Pence regional field director, asked me if I was there for the food drive — which was part of the campaign’s “Latino outreach effort,” he said — or the volunteer training. The elderly man had made his way out the door, and now there was nobody left in the office besides the two men who worked there. “There’s pretty light turnout,” Nick said. But not to worry, as things were “going really well,” Jason said.

…A few days later, on July 30, the campaign scheduled two voter-contact training sessions at Convive Coffee Roastery on Providence Boulevard in Pittsburgh. The evening session was supposed to start at 7 p.m., but when I arrived, early, at 5:30, the shop had already been closed for half an hour. A girl cleaning up inside came out to talk to me (even when it’s open, like many such establishments, the pandemic rules are takeout only). She said she had no idea that any campaign had scheduled any kind of meeting at the place where she worked for two hours after closing time. But she hadn’t worked the morning shift that day, when the first event was scheduled, so she texted a co-worker who had. He told her a few people came into the shop and asked about a Trump-campaign meetup but that he didn’t know what they were talking about and couldn’t help them. “I don’t know if they figured it out or not,” she said.

And if you’re interested, here’s a decent WashPost explainer on how the president came to fixate on the post office as a font of problems for him.

The week lies ahead, and let’s make it a good one.

Posted at 5:24 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 172 Comments
 

Zingers.

Ladies and gentlemen, the vice president of the United States:

That is…pathetic.

You know, a few days ago Alex mentioned stumbling across Obama’s last Gridiron Dinner speech, in 2016. I mentioned then what I believe to be true, that while obviously that wasn’t a speech the president wrote himself, he had some good help. Obama always had great speechwriters, and he could call on special teams when needed. I believe the Daily Show writers room helped out for comedy events like that.

But then, creatives loved Obama, and still do. Witness all the spectacular entertainers who would crawl over broken glass for an East Room gig. If he needed a funny speech, I’m sure he could get one within 24 hours. A sparkling conversationalist to glam up the head table at a state dinner? An intimate acoustic set on a Wednesday night? Ditto.

Then think: Who has played for the Trumps? Have the Trumps even invited anyone to play for them, or for their guests? We all know the embarrassments. The Rolling Stones have apparently sent multiple cease-and-desists over their songs being used at his rallies. The last July 4 celebration featured a military band of some sort, with some hapless soldier-vocalist plowing through “Uptown Funk” in the same spot the original artist performed it five years ago…for the Obamas. We know about Three Doors Down at the inauguration, the usual Lee Greenwood and contemporary-country B-listers who get booked for these things.

So it figures that they’re not getting the best zinger writers, either. “We’re not going to let Joe Biden and Kamala Harris cut America’s meat” doesn’t even make sense, at least not in the instant way a punchline has to land. Cut consumption? Cut it up with a knife, like Mother does? This is all they have?

Of course, they went after Michelle Obama, one of the most charming and charismatic First Ladies in history, for the crime — the crime, I say! — of trying to improve the diet of American children. They don’t have many legs to stand on here.

OK, then.

On to the weekend. I’m reading about Kamala, the post office, and other stuff. Saturday, I’m driving Kate to Athens, to pick up the band’s Kia, which broke down en route home from a camping trip. It’ll be my first time there since Kate was…in utero. I remember going to a Post reunion and telling everyone I was pregnant. I wonder if anything’s changed.

I guess I should take some pictures.

You all have a good one. Summer is fleeting. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Posted at 10:07 pm in Current events | 61 Comments
 

Hot, dawg.

Current temperature: 90 degrees. Current blog situation: A weak low-pressure front has delayed new posting, because I decided to watch “Perry Mason” last night, then vowed to clean the house today and mostly succeeded, but man. Even air conditioning doesn’t help on a day like this. After sweating through my clothes a third time, I put everything away and vowed to fight another day.

Also: Applied for a job. I’m overqualified and likely won’t get it, but the salary range is right, which tells you how much I’ve been underpaid in the past.

Man, there is something about this weather that just takes it all the way out of you, isn’t there? I walked Wendy this morning when it was 73 and came home with rivulets of sweat running down my forehead. The weather says there’s a derecho bearing down on Chicago – correction, already hit Chicago – which means our weather is likely to change overnight, too.

And with that, I’ve fulfilled the Midwestern Rule of Weather Small Talk, and we can get to the bloggage, which is rather scant today. Actually, it’s abundant, but I don’t have the energy to farm it all. The one story I read this weekend that I found really interesting, most of you won’t, although Heather probably will: Sweatpants Forever, or how the fashion industry collapsed, largely of its own accord. I’m sitting here in shorts and a grungy T-shirt, although I bought a dress recently and have been eyeing a new pair of Frye boots, and occasionally I think, why? Will you ever get dressed up again? I consider these purchases an act of faith in a more stylish tomorrow.

In the meantime, out to the kitchen to figure out dinner. Stay cool, all.

Posted at 6:43 pm in Same ol' same ol' | 114 Comments
 

Two terrible columnists.

I’ve been aware of Salena Zito’s columns for a while now. The Pennsylvania-based writer, previously a nobody, rocketed to stardom after her work in 2016, where she essentially predicted Trump’s election, and came up with the “literally, not seriously / seriously, not literally” line that was quoted so often in the shellshocked days afterward.

I didn’t read many of them, though. I leave that to people like Roy, who carries the duty through life like Jesus’ cross. Someone has to do it; I’m glad it’s him.

Others have pointed out the gaping holes in her work – the jes’ folks sources, salt-of-the-earth Real Americans who turn out to be GOP county officials; the oddly well-constructed and perfect quotes that she just happens to overhear at gas station mini-marts; and so on.

The Detroit News has been carrying her work, and by Thursday, when she most often runs, my week has begun to slow down and I can savor every word. By the time I get to this kicker, the italic line at the end of most columns, I’m usually testy, and this doesn’t help:

Salena Zito is a CNN political analyst, and a staff reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner. She reaches the Everyman and Everywoman through shoe-leather journalism, traveling from Main Street to the beltway and all places in between.

OK, then.

I read the one that ran today. It’s about minor-league baseball, because of course it is: It’s the sport most beloved by Everyman and Everywoman. Zito wore some leather off her shoes and took herself out to the ballgame, where she wrote this memorable scene-setter:

Altoona, Pennsylvania — As the scent of fresh-cut grass delicately fills the air, so do the aromas of hot dogs and hamburgers coming from the grill on the lower deck. Just past right field, there is an amusement park where you can hear the slow clink, clink, clink of the roller coaster as the carriage climbs its ancient wood scaffoldings. The kitschy music found at any ballpark in America echoes throughout.

The pitcher has taken the mound; the catcher is crouched in position; and an eternity passes as glances and signs are exchanged. The pitcher winds up, stretching his left hand behind his back. The ball sails toward home at a smidge over 90 mph, and POP! It lands in the weathered glove of the catcher.

POP! The clichés have really loaded the bases here, haven’t they? The scent of fresh-cut grass, hot dogs and hamburgers. Oh, and you say there’s an amusement park nearby? And can’t forget the sound a pitch makes in the “weathered” glove of the catcher, which in my world is called a mitt, but OK whatever.

I used to tell writing students: Tell me what you see, but learn the difference between meaningless and meaningful detail. If you’re describing something we’ve all seen, strive to describe it in fresh vocabulary. The sights and sounds of the modest, minor-league ballpark are pretty familiar in Zito country; think of something to notice besides the way the grass and hot dogs smell.

But what do I know? Nobody’s asking to put me on CNN.

This passage, describing the people watching from outside the fence, just chapped my ass:

Today, despite the relentless sun and heat, locals steal a peek of the taxi team from the fences located hundreds of yards away, along the parking lots or near the amusement park.

They say they are here just to hear the crack of the bat, or to follow the signals, or to see the game they love, or maybe even to catch a ball knocked out of the park.

I’ll bet my next 50-percent-smaller paycheck that there is no way in goddamn hell she hoofed it out to the cheapest seats to talk to any of those people. True, “they say” is pretty ambiguous in that she doesn’t quote anyone directly, or use quote marks, but if a normal Altoonan said they were there to “hear the crack of a bat” (and aren’t they all aluminum these days?) or ** “see the game I love,” I don’t know Everyman and Everywoman the way Salena Zito does.

Finally, any column about minor-league ball in Pennsylvania that doesn’t shout out Jim Brockmire? I have no use for.

Then there’s Gary Abernathy, the other Luckiest Man in Journalism, whose podunk newspaper’s endorsement of Trump in 2016 won him a contributor’s seat in the Washington goddamn Post, tries his Everyman best to sneer at the Lincoln Project, and ends with this amazing paragraph:

Among Never Trumpers are consultants, officials and pundits who have long been at the center of the Republican world, respected by conservatives who shared their vision and worked to achieve their common goals. But many of them were always somewhat misled, mistaking respect for love. They tell themselves now that Trump has corrupted the GOP. In fact, the GOP has long been the party it is today, just waiting for Trump to come along. That’s the hardest truth of all for the Never Trumpers to accept.

Ooooo-kay then!

I’m out at the tail end of an amazingly stressful week. I’ll debrief you all on the election here – an 18-hour day for yours truly, but a rewarding one – after the weekend. In the meantime, I will ask you: Note that the Republicans are not hesitating to use an unmedicated manic-depressive as a weapon against Joe Biden.

It’s only August! I can’t wait for the October surprise.

** Smarter sports fans have informed me pros don’t use aluminum bats. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Posted at 3:46 pm in Current events, Media | 125 Comments
 

Boomtown.

I was 16 when I first set foot in the state of Michigan, and bypassed the lower peninsula altogether. We headed across the bridge, to my friends’ cottage in the Les Cheneaux Islands, high up in Lake Huron, off the eastern Upper Peninsula coast. Of course we stopped a few times in the nine hours or so it took to drive from Columbus, and we almost always stopped at Gaylord.

“Last chance for gas before the bridge,” someone would say. It’s about 50 miles south of the Mackinac Straits. Even though we’d been in the pine-trees-and-blue-skies north for at least 100 miles, Gaylord was the final turn before the home stretch.

(That the islands, and the cottage, were 45 minutes beyond the bridge didn’t matter. Once you crossed, you were as good as there.)

Gaylord was also the stop, going home, where you filled up and got junk food for the interminable, party’s-over trip home. My friend Paul, the party king, was famous for driving to Gaylord, getting a shoebox full of fries or bag of donuts at some drive-through, turning the wheel over to someone else and crashing for a carb nap in the back seat.

Anyway, while I don’t know Gaylord, I know its two freeway exits pretty well. After Alan and I got together, we started traveling to Grayling, about 15 miles south, and Gaylord faded into my past.

So on Sunday, I’m starting my trip home, hunger is starting to gnaw, and Covid or no Covid, northern Michigan was packed. Long lines at any sit-down restaurant, drive-ins and patios packed, and even McDonald’s in St. Ignace had a drive-through line backed up onto U.S. 2.

I crossed the bridge and tried Mackinaw City. Same story. So I got back in the car and figured, it’s Spike’s Keg o’ Nails in Grayling, then. As I approached Gaylord, I started seeing signs for lots of places to eat. Lots of them. It was a Five Guys sign that caught my eye; Five Guys aren’t exactly confined to Manhattan, but they’re usually located pretty far from little towns up north in Michigan.

So I took the usual fast-food exit and hooooly shit, this town has grown. There was not only fast food, but craft brewers, outdoors shops and lots of touristy stuff, but not overwhelmingly so. And this was just on one strip.

The answer was? Jobs, of course:

McComb said Gaylord is booming because it positioned itself to be ready after the economic downturn of 2007-08. Gaylord reeled when the Georgia-Pacific plant closed in 2006, eliminating 200 jobs.

McComb said the city has been able to attract employers and development because the city made itself attractive.

“We had a thriving community throughout the downtown and had things in place like an industrial park and another new industrial park, and infrastructure that we invested in in the downturn,” she said. “We really are a community where someone looking to invest can find an existing building or land to do it really quickly.”

I’m reminded of something someone said in an interview I did in northern Michigan once upon a time: “You want to change someone’s life up here? Give them a job.”

Other revelations from the trip: Radio has been entirely taken over by religious entities; I couldn’t find NPR to save my life. I did hear an interview with Salena Zito, the Trump whisperer on Relevant Radio, some Catholic network. She declared that Hollywood, New York and Washington are “all one big zip code” who dictate what the rest of us see and hear and…I turned it off. You had your time to cash in, honey. Once Trump is gone, you’ll just be another very low-rent Peggy Noonan, at one-tenth the salary, if that.

But it was a very pleasant trip, and when I got home? I got laid off. From one of my jobs; I remind you, I have two. They said it was for budgetary reasons, not performance, offered the usual letter of recommendation, all that. I’m…fine with it. Seriously. It was never the best fit, but it was important work. Deadline has more of an element of fun, and that’s the one that remains. I’m close enough to the end of my career that I could probably retire now, although I’d rather not do it abruptly. I’ll look for something else, and we shall see. Serenity now.

Tomorrow: Primary election. The day after that: Training for census work. I may not be back until week’s end. Enjoy yours.

Oh, wait. Before I go, I was calculating driving time to my election assignment tomorrow and found the Google Street View of my house. Alan made an appearance:

He was watering the ferns.

Posted at 8:30 pm in Same ol' same ol' | 64 Comments
 

Moonrise.

“Does it bother you when these threads get to 130-some comments,” J.C. just asked me.

“I guess so,” I said. “Probably time for a photo post.”

So…

This was night before last. I’ll have you know that as I was capturing this lovely Upper Peninsula moonrise, a pontoon was about to glide into the frame, playing “Smoke on the Water” with its occupants drunkenly singing along.

J.C. and Sammy’s cottage is notable for its peace and quiet, and this was the first real evidence of more commonplace U.P. summer pursuits going on around us. Which only goes to show that somewhere in the world, it is always 1973, and Deep Purple is playing.

So! New post! I’m heading home today/tomorrow, and on Tuesday will be working the Michigan primary election as a poll worker. That will be 14-plus hours in a mask, and I expect I will be wiped afterward, so this thread may well get to 130-some comments too, but at some point, lo I shall return.

A couple of sandhill cranes just serenaded us. Such a lovely, unearthly sound. Nothing at all like Deep Purple.

The only thing I have to recommend is the Politico piece about Fort Wayne, which I see you’ve already been discussing. Jesus, what a barking moron Jason Arp is.

OK, the sun is out here and raining downstate, which means, alas, mini-vacation is probably about over.

Posted at 10:59 am in Friends and family, Same ol' same ol' | 55 Comments
 

The last words.

Peter Green, a founding member of Fleetwood Mac, died in recent days. If you’re only a casual music fan, and think Fleetwood Mac = “Rumours” + Stevie Nicks + the band where everyone slept with everyone else, I’m not surprised. I used to joke that you were not allowed onto the Ohio University campus unless you could demonstrate, on dorm move-in day, that you owned both “Rumours” and Aerosmith’s “Get Your Wings.” And there were a lot of us.

But before they were that band, they were the sort of band that demonstrates how easily so many English musicians understood American blues guitar, absorbed its lessons and mashed it up with their own influences to make something entirely new. (See also: Led Zeppelin.) Anyway, this is the song I always associate with Fleetwood Mac 1.0; it’s great.

Peter Green left the band when he was felled by mental illness. Schizophrenia, I believe, not helped by the hefty diet of psychedelics he consumed. I think there was also a period with one of the cultier religious cults of the time – the Children of God, I think. And then he disappeared, and recovered a little, and played here and there on this and that, and then he died. He was 73.

But get this:

He outlived the man who wrote his obit. This happens from time to time, because media outlets, newspapers in the main, write obituaries for prominent people before they die. Everyone knows this, or should, although when mistakes happen, when someone presses the Publish button accidentally, a few members of the readership always swoon in horror. How dare you, how morbid, etc. In truth, it’s something of an honor to have your obit written while you’re still walking around, because it means you matter enough that the New York Times, et al wants to do it right.

We had a project like this at the Dispatch; we were all given a few and told to work on them between other things. I can’t even remember who mine were, but I do remember we were told to do new interviews with the people, to not just rely on clips. We were even given a suggested opening gambit: “I’m reporting a comprehensive biographical story about you that you will never read.” Most people got it right away, and most everyone was cool about it. My friend Ted did Gen. Curtis LeMay, a son of Columbus. He was a blood ‘n’ guts general in World War II, Air Force chief of staff during Vietnam and George Wallace’s running mate in 1968. Ted played me the part of the interview where he asked him about one of his most famous statements, that if the enemy in southeast Asia didn’t stand down, we’d “bomb North Vietnam back to the Stone Age.” It was pretty amusing; he said he’d been quoted out of context. But of course.

Anyway, LeMay died in 1990, at 83. I’m sure the paper was able to rustle up a comprehensive, well-written obit p.d.q. Or maybe they relied on wire copy, because all ours were typed on IBM OCR copy paper, and who knows where that stuff ended up.

(I took a tour of the New York Times in the early ’80s, and they showed up the drawers where the prewritten obits were. They were not only written, the pages had been designed and pasted up, so that anyone who died on deadline would get their excellent obit in the paper in mere moments. They didn’t let us linger over them; the content was still considered private. But I saw Jimmy Carter’s on top of the stack. Jimmy Carter just celebrated his 74th wedding anniversary, bless him.)

So, what else? Another beastly hot weekend, or Sunday, at least. Low 90s, and fuck that shit. But on Friday we went swimming in the St. Clair River, and that was great. Now it’s Sunday evening, a short week ahead, and yay that.

Some bloggage:

Cintra Wilson on how the St. Louis McCloskeys besmirched Brooks Brothers in a way bankruptcy couldn’t. Sorry, but I still like their fitted white oxford-cloth shirts. Also, Hawaiian shirts and certain haircuts are ruined, the same way the toothbrush mustache was ruined by Adolf Hitler.

If anyone cares, I found Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ floor speech last week to be outstanding.

Here’s a weird story for you radio people, about a ghost station in Russia:

It is thought to be the headquarters of a radio station, “MDZhB”, that no-one has ever claimed to run. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for the last three-and-a-half decades, it’s been broadcasting a dull, monotonous tone. Every few seconds it’s joined by a second sound, like some ghostly ship sounding its foghorn. Then the drone continues.

Once or twice a week, a man or woman will read out some words in Russian, such as “dinghy” or “farming specialist”. And that’s it. Anyone, anywhere in the world can listen in, simply by tuning a radio to the frequency 4625 kHz.

It’s so enigmatic, it’s as if it was designed with conspiracy theorists in mind. Today the station has an online following numbering in the tens of thousands, who know it affectionately as “the Buzzer”. It joins two similar mystery stations, “the Pip” and the “Squeaky Wheel”. As their fans readily admit themselves, they have absolutely no idea what they are listening to.

It might be a “dead hand” signal, which means “in the event Russia is hit by a nuclear attack, the drone will stop and automatically trigger a retaliation. No questions asked, just total nuclear obliteration on both sides.”

This is the tone. Alan says it’s begging to be sampled. I agree.

So, then, mini-break is getting close. I’ll try to update before I leave, but if I can’t? Top of the week to all of you.

Posted at 7:44 pm in Current events, Media | 139 Comments
 

Road trip ahead.

Housekeeping note: Posting next week will be light, as I’ll be taking off on Wednesday to visit J.C. and Sammy in the U.P., where the cell coverage — with our carrier, anyway — is very very sketchy. As I recall, if you position your phone just so in a particular corner of the cottage, you can maybe conduct a short chat if you don’t mind getting your call dropped.

But that’s fine. I could use a little break. It’s very hot here.

Before I head out, though, I got a COVID test. Just to be sure. I went to the city of Detroit’s drive-through testing center, and besides the setting — the ruins of the state fairgrounds — it was an entirely pleasant experience. The whole thing ran like a Swiss watch.

It was sad to see the fairgrounds, though. I grew up in a state-fair town, and looked forward to it all summer, even as I knew that the arrival of the state fair meant summer was in its final stretch. But what a stretch — it was like the finale of a fireworks show, full of corn on the cob and Tom Thumb donuts and grandstand shows and barns full of blue-ribbon livestock and…so much more. Admittedly, the Michigan state fair was never a match for Ohio’s, but I was an adult by then. I took Kate a few times, and got to go through the Poultry, Rabbits and Pigeons building, among many others.

But the state subsidy was cut off during the financial crisis, and what remains of the state fair now meets in a horrible exurban convention center, while the O.G. fairgrounds slowly decay.

The test was…pretty much as expected. A swab goes a mile up your nose, and just at the point you’re knocking your shoes together and ready to scream, it comes out and you’re on your way. Hope to get the results before I roll north.

So I wish you a good weekend, and maybe you’ll be ready to read this: An oral-history retelling of the first Gathering of the Juggalos, 20 years ago this month. It was quite something, got the band banned from the Novi convention center, and sparked this recollection, among others:

We arrived that morning of the Gathering, our bus pulled in at like 7 or 8 in the morning. And we got down to the venue and the line was already 3.5 miles long. I thought we were going to get there and there would be 300 people, it was a pleasant surprise to see that I wasn’t the only one, and to see that wow, there’s people all over the world that are just like me. As different as we are, we have that common band, and it felt like a family.

It’s not like a family. It is a family. A dysfunctional one, but still.

Posted at 8:51 pm in Current events, Housekeeping | 61 Comments
 

Bottom: Still some distance away.

I was going to mention a story about a staff uprising at the Detroit Institute of Arts, but sorry, this happened:

LONDON — The American ambassador to Britain, Robert Wood Johnson IV, told multiple colleagues in February 2018 that President Trump had asked him to see if the British government could help steer the world-famous and lucrative British Open golf tournament to the Trump Turnberry resort in Scotland, according to three people with knowledge of the episode.

The ambassador’s deputy, Lewis A. Lukens, advised him not to do it, warning that it would be an unethical use of the presidency for private gain, these people said. But Mr. Johnson apparently felt pressured to try. A few weeks later, he raised the idea of Turnberry playing host to the Open with the secretary of state for Scotland, David Mundell.

In a brief interview last week, Mr. Mundell said it was “inappropriate” for him to discuss his dealings with Mr. Johnson and referred to a British government statement that said Mr. Johnson “made no request of Mr. Mundell regarding the British Open or any other sporting event.” The statement did not address whether the ambassador had broached the issue of Turnberry, which Mr. Trump bought in 2014, but none of the next four Opens are scheduled to be played there.

I…I…I…I’m speechless. But of course I’m also not speechless, because this is what we expect, right? This is the world we live in now.

Then there’s this guy:

Ohio’s top state lawmaker conspired to funnel tens of millions of dollars from the state’s electric utility to his political allies in order to consolidate power over the state legislature and shepherd through a $1.5 billion bailout for the utility’s nuclear power plants, federal prosecutors alleged on Tuesday.

The FBI arrested Ohio speaker Larry Householder, a Republican, and four alleged co-conspirators and leveled charges of racketeering and bribery related to the scheme. At a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, U.S. Attorney David DeVillers called it “likely the largest bribery [and] money laundering scheme ever perpetrated against the people of the state of Ohio.”

At the center of the scheme was Householder, who prosecutors say used a nonprofit “dark money” group called Generation Now to funnel money from the utility, First Energy, into state-level political contests. Householder’s goals, DeVillers said, were to pass and preserve a contentious bill to bail out two FirstEnergy nuclear plants, and “to build a power base for Larry Householder.”

Does it ever stop with these guys? I think we all know the answer. Happy hump day. This is the country we live in.

Posted at 8:52 pm in Current events | 65 Comments
 

The omen.

Federal stormtroopers are in Portland rousting protesters. The president has a new pandemic strategy; he’s ignoring it. Not my problem, people! The other day I was riding down a residential street and saw a man outside, taking a smoke break. Above the waist: Oxford-blue shirt and tie. Below the waist: Some sort of shorts so flimsy they may have well been boxers. In one hand, a cigarette, in the other, his phone. His posture said: I am so sick of this shit.

So are we all, my friend. Someone messaged me the other day to tell me her boss had taken a shit during a Zoom call. Carried the laptop into the can with her and took care of business. No one said a word, because: The boss.

“Surely she thought she was on audio only?” I replied. “I mean, otherwise…” What conclusion could you draw from behavior like that? That she has dementia? My correspondent had no explanation. Needless to say, neither do I.

There’s a comet in the sky now, too, which would normally be something to marvel over, and it is, but on top of incompetent governments, played-out American workers and shitting-on-Zoom bosses, it feels like an omen. Like the star of Bethlehem, or the red comet in the Game of Thrones books that announces dragons are in the world again.

Today I spent an inordinate amount of time researching recipes for deep-fried tofu. Kate was coming for dinner, and I wanted to do a fake-chicken sandwich. It turned out OK. Concentrating on one stupid thing like a tofu marinade at least made a certain kind of sense.

So I took a bike ride. I looked at the water:

And I looked at the lighthouse, strictly ornamental:

I imagine there’s some sort of weather-recording equipment up there. All the charming details of seafaring – charts, maps, lighthouses – are now obsolete. GPS changed everything. On the other hand, maybe someday an electromagnetic pulse will take care of GPS, and we’ll be adding bulbs to that thing.

The weekend’s journalism was two versions of the same story, both about how fucked this stupid virus situation is. In the WashPost, and in the NYT. It’s the usual. In the Post:

The fumbling of the virus was not a fluke: The American coronavirus fiasco has exposed the country’s incoherent leadership, self-defeating political polarization, a lack of investment in public health, and persistent socioeconomic and racial inequities that have left millions of people vulnerable to disease and death.

And in the Times:

Over a critical period beginning in mid-April, President Trump and his team convinced themselves that the outbreak was fading, that they had given state governments all the resources they needed to contain its remaining “embers” and that it was time to ease up on the lockdown.

In doing so, he was ignoring warnings that the numbers would continue to drop only if social distancing was kept in place, rushing instead to restart the economy and tend to his battered re-election hopes.

Casting the decision in ideological terms, Mr. Meadows would tell people: “Only in Washington, D.C., do they think that they have the answer for all of America.”

This is the world we live in. Let’s take it on for another week.

Posted at 9:48 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 62 Comments