Peeling and pulling.

I’m having one of those late afternoons/early evenings where everything in the world is getting under my skin. Which means it’s time to peel the shrimp I bought earlier and pull the cork on a nice bottle of white.

What’s bugging me? WHAT’S BUGGING ME, YOU ASK? Let me count the ways:

Never have I been so glad to be unconnected from the worst of political noise than when I watch something like this, Trevor Noah’s Daily Show interview with some vile twat named Tomi Lahren. Ten minutes was enough to send me around the bend to Bitchytown.

Statnews is another nonprofit news outlet, like Bridge, concentrating on health-care news. From what I’ve seen, they’re pretty good. This story, about a seemingly warm reception to anti-vaccination activists by the Trump campaign, didn’t give me hope for the future of science, however:

Public health experts said it’s unlikely Trump will pack federal agencies with activists who would change the recommended childhood vaccine schedule or otherwise steer shifts in federal vaccination policy. The evidence that vaccines are safe and effective is so overwhelming, they said, that such a move would prompt a huge outcry from scientists and many politicians on both sides of the aisle.

But experts said there could be a cultural impact of having a doubter in the Oval Office.

Those who seek to undercut trust in vaccines “see in Donald Trump a fellow traveler — someone who, like them, is willing to basically ignore scientific studies and say, ‘This is true. Vaccines cause autism because I believe it’s true,’” said Dr. Paul Offit, the head of the infectious diseases department at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

How comforting.

I was reading a little about the Carrier deal. Seven million over 10 years to Carrier for keeping more jobs in Indiana, which seems like chump change, except for this part:

Mr. Trump, while offering a carrot through the state incentives, also held an implicit stick: the threat of pulling $5 billion to $6 billion in federal contracts from Carrier’s parent, United Technologies. Mr. Trump and his team were well aware that the amount United Technologies stood to lose in those contracts dwarfed the estimated $65 million Carrier sought to save by moving to Monterrey from Indiana.

Man, whoever took that video of the staff meeting where the bad news was announced ought to be generously bonused, because that shit was BANK for this company.

I”m so old (how old are you?) I’m so old I remember when Republicans argued against this sort of micromanagement. I’m so old I remember Indiana politicians and editorial writers howling about the auto-industry bailout. Obama was meddling in the free market! Don’t pick winners and losers! Let the Invisible Hand lift its Terrible Swift Sword and enact Creative Destruction! And so on. Today? Crickets from the more honest ones, outright lying from the real propagandists.

I also remember, when Bill Clinton dared to suggest the American public was getting “two for the price of one” because he had such a smart wife, conservatives howled. They howled about how no one voted for her, and first ladies should stick to their knitting and advocate safe causes like Nature and Education and so forth. This belief was of course suspended when Michele Obama’s cause was childhood obesity, and every cafeteria menu was defended like the national cuisine of Italy, but never mind that. So what do I read in Politico today? Ivanka Trump plans to play a part in daddy’s administration. And not a small one, either:

Ivanka, 35, Trump’s avatar among the moneyed left-wing elite, is now poised to be the first “first daughter” in modern history to play a larger public role than the first lady. And she’s positioning herself exactly as she did that weekend — as a bridge to moderates and liberals disgusted and depressed with the tone and tenor of the new leader of the free world.

And the ambitious daughter, who once plotted her career around international brand domination, is planning to take on an even heavier lift. Ivanka wants to make climate change — which her father has called a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese — one of her signature issues, a source close to her told Politico. The source said Ivanka is in the early stages of exploring how to use her spotlight to speak out on the issue.

You can see, perhaps, why I’m a bit testy. Time to peel the shrimp. Have a nice weekend, all.

Posted at 6:29 pm in Current events | 99 Comments

Soup and nuts.

As I think I’ve mentioned before, we don’t eat canned soup in our house. Alan once spent a summer working the Campbell’s soup factory in Napoleon, Ohio, an experience that put him off canned soup once and for all. (He also worked in a pizza factory for a spell. Don’t get him started.) Because I really like soup, this led to me having to learn how to make it from scratch. The good news is, homemade soup is so much better than the canned variety that the bad news — yes, it takes longer than opening a can and heating it on the stove — is entirely eclipsed. We eat soup throughout fall and winter and into the spring, and I don’t resent any of the time and effort spent to make it myself.

Which brings me back around to Blue Apron, which we chewed over a few weeks back, and something else that bothers me about it.

I poked around on their website for a bit, which is the extent of the research I’m willing to do about it. Here’s a vegetarian offering, for cauliflower “steaks” and farro salad:

This dish highlights the delectable potential of one of autumn’s most abundant vegetables: cauliflower. We’re roasting thick slices until they develop a crisp, golden crust and a tender, sweet interior. Our “steaks” get an elevated topping of juicy grapes, toasty hazelnuts and fresh rosemary quickly cooked in a brown butter sauce, which also lends its incredible flavor to a hearty farro and arugula salad. A pinch of fennel pollen (an intensely aromatic spice with notes of citrus and sweet anise) completes the dish with sophisticated flair.

Sounds delicious. But if Blue Apron and similar services are being used as a crutch, or an intermediate step by young and busy people toward actual kitchen independence, they are going about it all wrong, in my opinion. Fennell pollen is not an ingredient that should be in a beginner’s kitchen, or even, it could be argued, any kitchen.

You want to cook more at home? Start with soup. Easy-peasy. You have the stuff that gives the soup its name (tomatoes, squash, chicken and noodles, whatever) and the stuff it floats in (clear broth, cream/milk), and that’s pretty much it. You can mash up some of the first stuff to make it thicker, but that’s up to you. Play around with it, figure out what you like, and move on from there. No need for fennel pollen.

So, we can discuss cooking today, or we can talk about the business genius involved in throwing a few more millions of taxpayer dollars at a company, so it’ll make a show of staying in Indiana. And all this from the party that said government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers. All bets off.

Posted at 9:47 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 70 Comments

Head case.

I’ve been busy the last couple of days, and I’m sure one of you already posted this, but sometimes I have to skim the comments a little, and maybe I missed it – “Coping with Chaos in the White House,” a psychologist’s guide to understanding a certain narcissist we can all name. It included this passage:

You can influence him by making him feel good. There are already people like Bannon who appear ready to use him for their own ends. The GOP is excited to try. Watch them, not him.

Which is why I’m not taking this bait, no sir:


Everyone knows what trolling is, but this is really ham-handed. Speaking of hands, this is not the one to watch. While he’s jumping up and down about flags, something is going on just outside your field of vision. That’s what you need to keep your eye on.

And I was feeling so good after the long weekend. At the end of four years I’m going to look 70 years old.

Of course, at the end of four years I’ll be 63. So not that far off.

Have some bloggage, while I wait to be inspired to think about something, anything, other than Himself.

An interesting Flint piece, from a new science website. The writer drank Flint water, unfiltered, and gave himself lead poisoning. Still a great deal of work to be done there.

Just 200 lousy words tonight, but I don’t have much more in me. Let’s try tomorrow.

Posted at 9:54 pm in Current events | 46 Comments

Cans to the curb.

Well, that was a much-needed break. Saw some movies, read a novel, celebrated my birthday, had a Thanksgiving dinner of tofu and vegetable stir-fry. And it was a productive one. The end is in sight for the Great Basement Clean-out; we should be mightily slimmed down by Christmas, our most precious basement stuff high off the floor and much old junk taken to the curb on trash day. The precipitating event for this project was a flood in nearby neighborhoods, caused by a heavy autumn thunderstorm. The city claimed it was simply too much rain for the sewers and pumps to handle, so it ended up in people’s basements. While there is a counterargument to be made, it’s undeniable that climate change is giving us more such rain events, so I feel good about being prepared. It’s only a matter of time before our number comes up; this is a low-lying area.

Among the things I unearthed was a pile of 20-year-old News-Sentinels, most with columns of mine somewhere in them — journalists used to save clips like relics. Into the trash they went. One edition puzzled me, until I noticed a story at the bottom of the features front, written by an intern. It was a puff piece on some woman who’d written a book for younger women married to older men. She’d grown up in the Fort and was in town for her high-school reunion and had worked a book signing in there. I suppose I was taken by two passages:


First, that someone born Margaret can become Beliza, and second, the blithe way her marriage is described in the story. I recall a colleague dropping this on my desk with a witty note: “In other words, she broke up a family and now we’re writing about her self-congratulatory book.” Oh, well. They’d been married 25 years at the time the story was written, so it wasn’t an entirely Trumpian match. I wonder more about how Margaret became Beliza. I’m suspicious of first-name changers, like the woman who broke up John Edwards’ marriage, born Lisa Druck and morphed into Reille (pronounced “Reilly”) Hunter. Beliza sounds like it might have been the product of rather determined self-reinvention, but what do I know? Maybe she fell in love in Belize.

Or it’s a mashup, like Elian Gonzalez. I don’t speak Spanish and don’t know the culture of Latin America all that well, and when I first heard the name just figured it was one I didn’t know, but then I read it was one of those late-20th-century one-offs that his mother came up with…why? Why? Yes, to be “unique,” because if there’s one thing every inhabitant of planet earth has a right to, it’s a name like no other. There are only 365 possible birthdays (366 in leap years), but you needn’t share your name, not anymore.

Which brings us to the big story of the weekend, the death of Elian’s patron, Fidel Castro. I made up my mind to read just one major piece about him this weekend and decided on the NYT obit, on the strength of Anthony DePalma’s byline. He spoke to the Knight-Wallace Fellows way back when I was one, and I was impressed at the depth of his understanding of Cuba, and his encyclopedic and unsparing knowledge of Fidel. It’s a very long obit, so I’ll break my three-paragraphs rule for just this marvelous passage:

He dominated his country with strength and symbolism from the day he triumphantly entered Havana on Jan. 8, 1959, and completed his overthrow of Fulgencio Batista by delivering his first major speech in the capital before tens of thousands of admirers at the vanquished dictator’s military headquarters.

A spotlight shone on him as he swaggered and spoke with passion until dawn. Finally, white doves were released to signal Cuba’s new peace. When one landed on Mr. Castro, perching on a shoulder, the crowd erupted, chanting: “Fidel! Fidel!” To the war-weary Cubans gathered there and those watching on television, it was an electrifying sign that their young, bearded guerrilla leader was destined to be their savior.

Most people in the crowd had no idea what Mr. Castro planned for Cuba. A master of image and myth, Mr. Castro believed himself to be the messiah of his fatherland, an indispensable force with authority from on high to control Cuba and its people.

He wielded power like a tyrant, controlling every aspect of the island’s existence. He was Cuba’s “Máximo Lider.” From atop a Cuban Army tank, he directed his country’s defense at the Bay of Pigs. Countless details fell to him, from selecting the color of uniforms that Cuban soldiers wore in Angola to overseeing a program to produce a superbreed of milk cows. He personally set the goals for sugar harvests. He personally sent countless men to prison.

But it was more than repression and fear that kept him and his totalitarian government in power for so long. He had both admirers and detractors in Cuba and around the world. Some saw him as a ruthless despot who trampled rights and freedoms; many others hailed him as the crowds did that first night, as a revolutionary hero for the ages.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a dove land on me before, but maybe that day is coming.

A little googling on Elian turned up this great Gene Weingarten piece from when it was going on, 16 years ago. I bet Weingarten likes his old clips better than I like mine.

Also this weekend I tried to stay…not away, but maybe an arm’s length from the news, just for a while. It helped, although I couldn’t avoid this piece, about magical thinking among some Trump voters:

Dalia Carmeli, who drives a trolley in downtown Miami, voted for Donald J. Trump on Election Day. A week later, she stopped in to see the enrollment counselor who will help her sign up for another year of health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

“I hope it still stays the same,” said Ms. Carmeli, 64, who has Crohn’s disease and relies on her insurance to cover frequent doctor’s appointments and an array of medications.

Yeah, sure, why wouldn’t it? More:

More vulnerable are people like Gerardo Murillo Lovo, 44, a construction worker who never had health insurance before signing up for a marketplace plan in 2014. He pays $15 a month and gets a subsidy of $590 for a plan that covers his wife, as well. When he renewed his coverage last week at the Epilepsy Foundation, he learned that the price would not increase next year.

“I’ve heard that what he wanted to do first is get rid of Obamacare,” Mr. Murillo, a Nicaraguan immigrant who is a citizen but did not vote, said of Mr. Trump. “But my personal opinion is that he will discuss it with other people who will convince him that we can’t get rid of this. I think it’s going to be maintained one way or another, and I’m going to keep it as long as I can.”

Thanks, low-information voters.

OK, then. The week ahead will be the week ahead, and it’s time to take it on. Break’s over, back on your heads.

Posted at 6:06 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 91 Comments

Dry turkey.

As we head into Thanksgiving, and cast about for things to be thankful for in the midst of things we really aren’t, a few words about nothing in particular.

I have felt so tired lately, enough so that I did a little self-inventory. The older you get, the more likely tiredness can be traced to bad living. I’m still eating more or less well, maybe an excess of sugar this week (birthdays), still getting exercise, still sleeping more or less on schedule. It finally occurred to me the problem isn’t tiredness, it’s tension – the constant whipsawing between resigned long-term optimism for the future with the shrieking WE ARE DOOMED voice inside my head. It’s exhausting.

I have to relax. Current events aren’t helping.

Just a few statements of plain fact here: For the city of Detroit to recover, all agree that the woeful state of its public education must be addressed. For years now, the traditional Detroit public schools have been hemorrhaging students, not only due to population loss but also because charter schools have been allowed to grow unrestricted in Michigan, and they are draining students away. The problem is, there is no rhyme or reason to where and when they open (and close); the free market can sort out toothpaste fairly easily, but education of blameless children is another matter, who suffer when there’s market chaos. Forget also whatever you might believe about charters being inherently better than public schools, which is true in some places — where they’re tightly regulated, hmm — but not here. Detroit students in charters score only a little higher on standardized tests than their traditional-schools counterparts. Which is to say, abysmally. So, earlier this year, various city and education advocates came up with a plan to put an education commission in place that would have some braking and veto power on charters, just in the city of Detroit, so that schools could be located where they are most needed, and where the poorest children, in the poorest neighborhoods, the ones most likely to have no other choice, might be spared having to attend this terrible charter school, to cite but one example. Sort of like the certificate-of-need program for health care.

The plan was attached to a bill in Lansing to bail out the failing public system, which has been under state emergency management for 12 years and has, shall we say, failed to thrive. The governor approved, the state Senate approved, and the bill went to the House. The wealthy, powerful DeVos family did not approve, and their various policy operations went to work on it. The House gutted it, excising the commission, sent it back to the Senate, and eventually they caved, too.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet your next Secretary of Education, most likely.

I have to be careful what I write here, but as I said, these are simply facts. The Freep ran a biting column about this situation, and linked at the top is Betsy DeVos’ response, which you can read.

I think I’m going to take the rest of the week off and just read and think and try to relax. There’s no going back, after all. Here are some links you might find useful, if Sherri and Jolene haven’t already posted them all.

The WashPost fact checker offers a helpful guide on spotting fake news.

Michael Kruse visits Trump country in Pennsylvania post-election and asks the winners how they’re feeling:

So this year, as the divisive, repellent 2016 presidential campaign came to a head, Cambria County—whiter, poorer and less educated than the nation as a whole—was ripe for Trump’s blunt, populist message. The most important word in his catchphrase, for people around here, was not make or America or even great. It was again. They changed their party affiliation in droves.

And Charles Pierce, as he is wont to do, takes them apart. Both pieces are worth your while.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Posted at 6:58 pm in Current events | 53 Comments

Here comes the slouching.

My Scarlett O’Hara face is not exactly firm right now. There are moments of groaning and pulling covers over my head. Like when I read something like this:

President-elect Donald Trump on Monday told a group of about 25 television executives and anchors that he wants a “cordial” and “productive” relationship with the media, according to one source in the room, but he still aired some grievances during the off-the-record gathering in Trump Tower.

The source said the meeting started with a typical Trump complaint about the “dishonest media,” and that he specifically singled out CNN and NBC News for example as “the worst.”

He also complained about photos of himself that NBC used that he found unflattering, the source said.

Trump turned to NBC News President Deborah Turness at one point, the source said, and told her the network won’t run a nice picture of him, instead choosing “this picture of me,” as he made a face with a double chin. Turness replied that they had a “very nice” picture of him on their website at the moment.

An infant. A child. Holy shit.

I have a big staff meeting tomorrow and don’t really feel like writing anything other than my end-of-year self-evaluation. Also, I have to see what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born.


Posted at 8:29 pm in Current events | 79 Comments

Leftover mashed potatoes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Media string.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How long has that alarm been ringing?”

“What alarm?”

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

Something to think about.

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

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


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


Oh, OK.

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


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

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

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

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

One long day.

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

This was the way west:


Super moonset through the windshield, sunrise in the rearview.

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

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

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

Here we go. Again.

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

A little bit of nature.

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

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


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

Posted at 8:40 pm in Uncategorized | 42 Comments