Souvenirs.

Kate returned from Cuba late last night. Her flight didn’t arrive until close to 1 a.m., so her night-owl father did the airport duties. Found this on the kitchen counter this morning:

Well, OK then. Looks like she’s already absorbed the first rule of adulthood: When in doubt, a bottle makes a fine gift. Those ripe bananas may find their way into a round of daiquiris this evening.

Although I kinda hope I got a T-shirt or something, too. Maybe something with Che’s face, so I can remember this week in which the NFL caved to a petty tyrant the very day yet another appalling video emerged of police behaving like thugs toward a professional athlete.

Thuggishness is all the rage these days, of course; security physically hustled a reporter from the Associated Press — the steadiest Eddie in today’s media environment — out of a public hearing. That was Tuesday.

And it’s only Thursday.

Can you tell I’m watching “The Handmaid’s Tale” these days? I am. This week’s episode is the best of the season so far, which is the first to extend the story beyond Margaret Atwood’s novel. It had everything I asked for, after one too many shots of Elisabeth Moss reacting to outrage entirely through her buttoned-up facial expression — serious plot action and flashbacks featuring the previous life of its primary female villain. I won’t go into a lot of detail; if you know “Handmaid’s” you already know them anyway, but I’ll just say that this episode posed a question: Is it abusive to scream FASCIST C*NT at someone who actually advocates fascism and wants to take your rights away?

But that would never happen here, right?

Another show doing interesting things with current events — while not actually about current events — is “Westworld.” I have to admit my fandom is pretty much gone now; I don’t mind challenging television, but this one isn’t my cup of tea. However, in the second season the writers have teased out two plot lines that reflect on today. Westworld, if you didn’t know, is a near-future theme park populated by very advanced robots that are indistinguishable from human beings. They live in a standard Hollywood version of an Old West town, and visitors interact with them. Most of the interaction, as you might expect, is sexual and violent and sometimes both, because when humans are turned loose with “humans” and permitted to do whatever they want, they mainly want to fuck and kill. This season, it’s revealed what makes this park so valuable — the user data, of course. “Where else can you see people being exactly who they are?” one executive, whose name is not Mark Zuckerberg, asks.

The other thread is another Silicon Valley obsession, i.e., whether eternal life might be possible, via downloading one’s brain into one of these better-than-real vessels. It’s not going well, as we see with a particular executive, whose name is not Peter Thiel, who keeps getting rebuilt and rebooted but is still really glitchy.

And now here we are at Memorial Day, almost — the start of the weekend. Less TV, more outdoors. Bring it on. Before you head outside, read this piece from a few days back, advising Democrats on how they might win over Trump voters. Spoiler: THEY CAN’T. So stop trying. Register your voters, then turn them out. It’s the old-fashioned way.

I’ll try to be back here and there over the weekend, but no promises. A lot going on. So let’s leave this thread open until the next one, and have a happy long weekend, all.

Posted at 8:32 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 71 Comments
 

A weekend of wonders.

Hey, everyone! I finally saw “Black Panther.” And…well. I didn’t dislike it. In fact, I found a lot to like about it. The costumes were fantastic, production design ditto. Can’t complain about the acting, certainly, and the script was pretty good, too. It’s taken this long, but now I can state with confidence: I just don’t like comic-book movies.

I felt the same way about the equally praised “Wonder Woman.” Every story is the same hero’s quest, every outcome predetermined. The fight scenes go on and on and ON, and ever since Chinese kung-fu movies decided human beings could run straight up walls, what’s left for superheroes to do? Apparently Black Panther’s suit “absorbs kinetic energy” and allows him to dish it back out in equal measure. So you shoot at him, and he only gets stronger. Wow, how exciting.

The most interesting character in the story is the bad guy. (And — spoiler alert — he dies in the end.)

Why is this so hard for writers to understand? People’s flaws are as important as their strengths, maybe more so. They’re the shadow that makes the light more defined. The worst thing you could say about T’Challa, i.e., Black Panther, is that he’s too good. Bor-ing.

Good thing the outfits were so fab. And T’Challa was hilarious on “Black Jeopardy.” But the people talking about this being a Best Picture nominee are full of it.

That was the second cultural event we took in Saturday. The first was the Tom of Finland show at the local contemporary-art museum. For those not up on Tom of Finland: He was to leather daddies what Alberto Vargas was to pin-up girls. Google if you dare, but much of it is porn, with comically outsized dicks. This pretty tame piece gives you the idea, though:

Well, hello sailor. At the Tom of Finland 🇫🇮 show.

A post shared by nderringer (@nderringer) on

I still chuckle whenever I see a bunch of kids dancing to “YMCA.” Gay culture seeped in under the door, and hardly anyone noticed.

And then, because last week was our 25th anniversary, we went out to dinner on Sunday night, a rare event for us. It was great, at a pop-up space in Hazel Park run by a photographer I worked with once when I was a freelancer. Four courses with twin themes of Thai and Springtime, which meant fiddlehead ferns in chili oil with something called a 63-degree egg, which is, I learned via Professor Google, a thing. It was amazing — almost an egg pudding. The menu was full of wonders, including soft-shell crabs and avocado ice cream. The photographer seated us at the table closest to the action, so we could watch the cooking and the plating and all of it. Quite a night. I woke up with a food hangover today, but pushed through. I don’t expect to be hungry again for two days.

More Instagram? Sure why not:

What else happened this weekend? Oh, right: Two people in England got married. Don’t tell me your problems with the dress, because I’m not hearing them. That dress was perfect for a 36-year-old divorcee marrying into a royal family in front of 1 billion eyeballs. Of course, there were 2 billion photos, but for my money, I love the official ones released by the palace, if only because it captures the royal family in all its weirdness. I know Phil and Betty are now in their 90s, but man, he looks like a cadaver these days. I expect he won’t truck with having a little concealer dabbed around those sunken black eyes. The kids are adorable, of course. All these pictures needed was a corgi or two.

And with that, I’m out and offline. I need to sleep off 2,000 calories, still.

Posted at 8:00 pm in Detroit life, Movies | 53 Comments
 

Volcanos everywhere.

By request: A new post to replace the one about barf at the top of the page. Also by request:

It’s one of those days when I kinda want my browser to crash, if only to dispense with the three windows and 2,000 tabs I have open between them, because people, I am exhausted and it would help clear the decks. Been reading all the Trump news, periodically going to the window to see if a mob with torches and pitchforks has gathered for the long march to Washington, or even to the corner, to express howling disapproval. Zilch. This is a familiar feeling. I remember during the financial meltdown, closing my laptop in sheer panic and wondering why people weren’t out on my lawn screaming or setting their houses on fire or whatever. But life goes on in its petty-pace details of making coffee and taking showers and letting the dog out to pee. It just does.

Thursday, I went to Lansing. A lovely, lovely day. There was a crowd gathered on the Capitol lawn for some reason I would have liked to investigate, but I was headed the other way, for a lunchtime panel on workforce development. Michigan is not doing well at this, because our schools are underfunded and the population is still residually shellshocked by the reality that a high-school diploma isn’t enough anymore, unless you want to sell french fries in a paper hat. At the Q&A, my boss summed up the panelists’ big theme — that if we want more people in post-secondary education, we need to remake secondary education. Hear, hear. I’ve thought this for a while, and yet, the hold high school has on American life is strong. I’ve known many homeschoolers who stopped at 9th grade, not because they couldn’t go on but because their children wanted a high-school experience, and not the education but the rest of it — proms, football games, swim meets, all-night graduation parties, the opposite sex violating dress codes, all that stuff.

Also, with per-pupil funding the norm in most states, every kid who bails out of Everytown High a year early for early/community college takes their backpack full of cash with them, so schools have no incentive to encourage it. But the fact remains, the student body of almost every school is becoming more diverse in every sense — learning dis/abilities, income, family background, all of it. One size doesn’t fit all in anything other than caftans.

Common Core was supposed to address this. People forget CC was born in the business community, so personnel managers knew that a high-school diploma in Arkansas knew roughly the same as one in California. Alas, it was shortly revealed as a Satanic plot, so pfft on that.

And now I am tired and about to order a pizza, so have some fun with this bloggage:

Thanks to whoever posted this ultimate yanny/laurel explainer in the comments on the previous thread. I had to go almost all the way left to hear laurel. Team Yanny all the way here.

Great photos of the volcano erupting in Hawaii. It’s times like this I don’t mind Michigan at. All. Five months of winter, yes, but no wildfires (not around here, anyway) or volcanos, and the earthquakes are just li’l ol’ things.

Face it, the only thing worse than the current presidency would be the likely next presidency. Shudder.

Let’s start that damn weekend, shall we?

Posted at 7:23 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 77 Comments
 

A few words about vomit.

Don’t run away, reader! I’m not here to gross you out. I’m simply struck by how often barfing, the act itself, has crossed my radar lately, without actually having done so myself in…well, it’s been a while.

I started limiting my drinking when hangovers progressed from a nuisance headache to a half day in bed, to a whole day in bed to a whole day in bed with one or two next-day technicolor yawns thrown in for fun. I didn’t want to find out what might come after, because I really hate to throw up. It’s one thing to be legitimately sick, but when you’re barfing because of your own bad life choices, well, that’s another thing entirely.

There’s a seasonal concert venue here in southeast Michigan, corporately branded DTE Energy Amphitheater, but before that it was known as Pine Knob, and everybody still mostly calls it that. I’ve been three times, always with my friend Dustin, who is young enough to be my son but loves — fiercely — the music of my youth. The summer-touring nostalgia acts all stop there, if they can still put that many butts in the seats, and together we’ve seen Steely Dan, Jimmy Buffet and Alice Cooper, along with multiple opening acts. None of these musicians are still putting out records, but people my age are happy to save their money for tickets, spread blankets on the grass and feel like they’re 17 again. They also drink like they’re 17, and two out of the three times I’ve been there, someone has barfed in my vicinity. (Not at the Jimmy Buffet show, in case you’re wondering — those people practice all year, and know their limits.) The first time, it was the row in front of me, and the lady didn’t even make it past the Elvis Costello opener. It smelled abominable, but a staffer came in with a cleaning kit of absorbent something-or-other and made short work of it. I got the feeling it happens a lot.

The second time was during the encore for Alice Cooper, and I stepped in it. Needless to say, this ruined the remainder of the evening for me; I considered an emergency amputation of my left foot, because of course I was wearing sandals. The cleaner didn’t arrive until the show was over. I considered throwing my sandal into the bin on my way out, but saved them with a deep clean the next day.

I recently ran across this in a local newsletter, about a downtown development — the AV is “Asian Village” — that didn’t endure:

Of course I’ve had some embarrassing barfs in my life, times when I didn’t make it to the bathroom in time. (You know it’s love when your boyfriend is willing to get a mop and bucket and swab the dorm hallway of your half-digested pepperoni pizza and one million Little Kings, even though he’s pretty hammered himself.) But it hasn’t happened in a very long time, maybe not since that incident, freshman year. Of all the places I might choose in a pinch, a fountain would be my very last choice, after the floor or a potted ficus. But I’m bougie that way; I don’t like to see furnishings or atmospheric amenities like waterfalls ruined.

I sometimes wonder if people are throwing up more these days, and what might be to blame for it. (Yes, I should find better things to think about.) Four Loko, sure. Red Bull as a universal mixer? Yep. The general juice-boxification of the American intoxicants market? Oh my yes. But there’s also the general amping up of drinking in general, the puke-and-rally culture of the frat house that endures well into adulthood. A man in his 40s confessed his hangover to me a while back, blaming the shots he’d been doing the night before. Shots! No one older than 25 should ever do shots. I have been known to pour them into potted plants while everyone else’s head was thrown back. A woman I know described offloading a bellyful of vodka-and-cranberry juice in a snowdrift outside her back door, and having to explain to her daughter the next day that no, it wasn’t blood. Vodka and cranberry is a brunch drink, people. Limit two.

Of course, not all vomiting is due to overindulgence. Alan had a spell of food poisoning a few weeks back, and had to rid himself of whatever it was that caused it. It was agony, the worst, he said, since the unfortunate Reuben Sandwich Incident that put him off Reubens for nearly 20 years.

If nothing else, I have vomiting to credit for my love affair with Atul Gawande, the author and New Yorker medical writer. If you have a subscription, I highly recommend “A Queasy Feeling,” which was the first thing of his I read, and fell in love with. The throughline in that piece is hyperemesis of pregnancy, i.e., the all-day sickness that Kate Middleton has endured through three of them. This explains everything about why I do not drink gin and likely never will again:

Break a leg on a ski slope and – as bad as traumatic pain can be – once you can, you’ll ski again. After one unfortunate experience with a bottle of gin or an oyster, by contrast, people won’t go near the culprit for years.

I doubt Alan will ever eat again at the hamburger restaurant he blames for his 48 hours of misery.

And now, like a good barf, I believe I’ve said everything I ever wanted to say about throwing up, and I invite you to share your stories. Please, not too gross.

Posted at 10:52 am in Same ol' same ol', Uncategorized | 90 Comments
 

Deplorables.

Alan came home from work one day last week and reported his employer was about to drop a break-the-internet story, and a few hours later, it did, with the publication of this piece about Matt Patricia, the new head coach for the Detroit Lions. It turns out that 22 years ago, while a college student on spring break on South Padre Island, he and another young man were charged with raping a woman. He was arrested, charged and indicted by a grand jury, but the case never went to trial because the alleged victim decided she didn’t think she could handle the stress of a trial and declined to testify. Charges were dropped.

This is the nut of the story, to my mind:

Although both men have gone on to successful careers, the relevance of even old and untried charges raises questions for the Lions at the height of the “Me Too” movement, which has brought new scrutiny to sexual misconduct allegations.

The indictment remained an untold part of Patricia’s past during his rise in the coaching ranks, and the Lions said it eluded them during a background check that only searched for criminal convictions.

When approached by The Detroit News, team president Rod Wood initially said “I don’t know anything about this” — but hours later said his review of the situation only reinforced the team’s decision to hire Patricia.

The NFL prides itself on its towering moral superiority — witness how lovingly they look after the reputations of its cheerleading teams, for instance — but somehow no one knew this. Patricia’s record was literally part of his Nexis profile, available to anyone with an account and the dexterity to punch his name into a search field. You can argue whether a dismissed 22-year-old case should matter today, and whether it should be brought up in the news media, and I will listen respectfully. But virtually no one in the Lions fan base is doing that, preferring to leave steaming turds in the comment section of, well, this follow-up piece from the weekend, detailing that, contrary to Patricia’s lawyer’s description of the case, this was not a he-said/she-said scenario, but one with medical evidence. Here’s one:

Ok, let me point something out for Snell. Let’s take each witness on their own merit.
1) Detective = took statement
2) Roommate = heard roomate talk about sex with two football players including DP.
3) Nurse = found semen in slut
4) Doctor = confirmed semen in slut
5) Slut = slut. Enough said

And this:

Without dna evidence tying these two guys to the sex, you have a bunch of witnesses who can testified that the accuser had sex, maybe aggressive sex. Now think about all the possibilities on south padre island during spring break.

And this:

Us older Americans think if the “#” system as the pound sign. So guess what we we’re thinking when we saw #MeToo.

I know, I know: Never read the comments, especially on a sports story. But I did, because I’m stupid.

Happy mothers’ day, if you read this while it’s still going on. I’m spending it with my feet up, at least for a while, until I have to make dinner. The only person who qualifies me as a mother — besides Wendy, of course — is not in a place where wifi is easy to get to, so she’s forgiven.

In other news at this hour, the grifting goes on. But enough current events.

After having my heart dug out of my chest by last week’s Saturday-night couch movie, “Call Me By Your Name,” we opted for simpler fare this week, “Dr. No,” the first Sean Connery Bond movie, produced in 1962. A different time, you’d say. Two characters who are supposed to be Asian, or half-Asian, are played by white actors, including Dr. No himself. I know makeup artists back then used to try to Asia-fy white eyes with tape, and it looked like something similar was going on with Joseph Wiseman and Zena Marshall, who played The Girl, or A Girl, or more accurately, A Girl Bond Screws Before the Real Girl shows up, and that was, of course, Ursula Andress in her white bikini and knife belt. I thought she played the Bond girl who shot a guy with a pair of guns hidden in her pasties; as I recall, she was doing a sexy striptease or something, and gave him the old one-two with a couple of shoulder shrugs. Cherchez la femme, Bond actors! Which one was that? You guys can dig up any information, but all the googling I’ve done so far is fruitless.

And if there’s a bra available with shoulder-activated firearms built in, I’d like to know where I can buy one, because you never know when you’re going to overhear someone bitching about the Matt Patricia story, right?

Kate just called. Said she’s having a blast, working very hard, and they will soon be learning Santeria dances of the various orishas. Good. I may need her to summon Chango when she gets home, just in case we have to deal with some pissed-off Lions fans.

Great week ahead, all. I’m going to read something fun and non-Twitter-adjacent.

Posted at 4:46 pm in Media, Movies, Same ol' same ol' | 57 Comments
 

Yankee dollars.

I was amused by the turn the comments took on the subject of Ign’ernt Kids These Days. It was ever thus — even the best education has its blank spots — and a useful reminder that schooling only takes you so far. You have to be curious to fill the gaps. Curiosity is such a key element of intelligence, I don’t know why we don’t do more to encourage it.

Even my own child has her moments. As I mentioned a few days back, she’s in Cuba for most of May. No ATMs there, so you have to take cash. As I handed over a fat wad of Canadian dollars, she said, “So, I change this to Cuban, and then change back what I didn’t spend before I leave?” After I spluttered nooooo for a few seconds, we had a discussion about what constitutes “hard currency,” and why it’s wise to not only exchange only a little at a time, it’s probably equally wise to ask a civilian, rather than a bank, what the rate is on any given day.

I told that kid she should have majored in economics. On the other hand, if she had, she’d probably be doing her study-abroad term in someplace like Geneva and not watching Santeria ceremonies, nor sending home pix like this:

I know nothing about this image, if you have any questions, other than that the kneeling man and the woman in the head wrap are natives, members of a hip-hop group, and the rest are either students or instructors.

She’s having a good time, she said. Listening to a lot of drumming.

So. I heard the phrase “immunity by means of Congressional majority” the other day, and man, isn’t that true. Why isn’t the Michael Cohen story causing the roof to blow off Congress? Do you even have to ask? We’re all getting a little outrage-weary, and I’m wondering if it isn’t a smarter coping strategy to simply keep our ironic distance from this stuff and direct our energies elsewhere. There’s only one thing that will stop what’s going on, and that’s removing the key element of the immunity deal. I’m not reading about any more Trump-country safaris, at least not until the top of my skull is reattached after reading this:

Glazier spoke of the political divisions that had been building for some years. “I hate the fact that” — he paused. “I’m sorry, my parents raised me not to use the word ‘hate,’” he said before continuing. “I very much dislike the fact that a lot of people stereotype Republican individuals, Republican people, that were racists. I think that is further from the truth.”

He called the 2016 election ugly, but not the first where political differences shattered friendships. “I lost a longtime friend in the election of 2014 because he was gay and he was Democrat and he supported the Democratic candidate and I was supporting the Republican candidate, and he has nothing to do with me anymore just because of that. And his father passed away not too long ago and I didn’t know how to get a hold of him.”

Glazier was not a fan of Obama as president, but he praised the Affordable Care Act. He talked about the working-class values of many Republicans in the area. “I’m a union guy,” he said. “We want to see our country again back to the way it was. Will it be? We don’t know. That’s still a mystery that remains to be seen. I’ll be very frank. It could be a great ride these next four years. Or it could be a rough ride.”

Asked what the people in Whiteside County who had voted for Trump expected of him as Inauguration Day neared, Glazier said, “To make America great again.”

Hey, I don’t like to be stereotyped, either. If this guy would even hint that he understands that, in this case, both sides really do do it, I might not be rolling my eyes back in my head right now. But you know me — just a snowflaky, easily triggered, virtue-signaling SJW! Fuck my feelings, yes.

And now the weekend awaits us all. My week went fast, and I hope yours did, too, but a good kind of fast.

Posted at 11:43 am in Same ol' same ol' | 44 Comments
 

Slipping away.

I could tell you I was totally busy early this week, which would be the truth, but the truthier truth is, sometimes you gotta lay your burden down, and sometimes it’s just nice to get out in the sunshine, and sometimes you have to do it without your laptop. And that’s what I did Sunday: Went for a longish bike ride with an old friend, followed by some Little Kings at a bar, and as Detroit Sundays go, that’s a pretty good one.

We went down to Delray, one of the most shat-upon neighborhoods in the city, for a variety of reasons I don’t want to explain here. (It often smells literally so, thanks to the sewage treatment plant there.) But we went mainly because things are changing fast there; the new bridge to Canada will begin construction eventually, and the customs plaza and various other infrastructure will be there, so I wanted to see how the land clearing was going. In a word: Apace. We rode past a building my friend was always curious about, and lo, the door was open, so we stopped. Inside was an old man who told us many stories about the place, about his life, about Delray, and about the building, which was once a bar.

“There’s a tunnel that runs under the road and comes out in the building over there,” he said. “The Purple Gang used to use it.”

Now. If you laid out all the Purple Gang-used-to-hang-here stories in Detroit end to end, there wouldn’t be a building left for a legit business. But in this case, I think it might be true. The bar is smack on the Rouge River, near where it flows into the Detroit River, and there’s a boat slip/house and dock out back, with not one but two basements. It would be a perfect place to offload liquor in the middle of the night, in the middle of Prohibition, and the neighborhood was never really known for its saintliness. We saw one basement but not the other, because it’s flooded, and that’s where the tunnel would have been. Meanwhile, the old man told story after story after story, some of them surely apocryphal, but maybe not. He was old and a little raggedy, and the bar had been closed for years. He said he was aiming to get his liquor license back, something I doubt will ever happen. But it was a nice interlude on a warm day.

This was the building. The garage just out of the frame on the left is now a pile of rubble. Here’s one man’s story about taking liquor deliveries to the bar. A boy who could ferry a boat over from Canada could make $5 per trip, big money in the 1920s. All soon to be gone, gone, gone. The new bridge will have a bike lane, we have been promised, so maybe someday, an international crossing for me on my two-wheeler.

Monday and Tuesday passed at a gallop, though. Gallops are good; they make the days fly. We’re whoa-ing to a trot Wednesday and Thursday, and may amble into the weekend at a relaxed walk. Time will tell.

Time will tell about a lot of things. The Iran deal cancellation, for one, although I think the time has already told: What a bonehead move. Our genius negotiator-in-chief.

The weekend’s WashPost story about the president’s real-estate financing during the before-he-was-president era is very interesting, too. It doesn’t actually say m – – – – l – – – – – – ing, but it’s certainly an unavoidable conclusion a thinking person might draw from the facts at hand. Some of you smarter people will have to explain how Deutsche Bank plays in all of this. I’m listening.

Oh, and this story is breaking as we speak:

A shell company that Michael D. Cohen used to pay hush money to a pornographic film actress received payments totaling more than $1 million from an American company linked to a Russian oligarch and several corporations with business before the Trump administration, according to documents and interviews.

And this was the big overnight read:

To many in Albany, New York’s attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, seemed staid and somewhat standoffish: a teetotaler who favored coffee shops over bars, liked yoga and health food and preferred high-minded intellectual and legal debate to the hand-to-hand combat of New York’s political arena.

But that carefully cultivated image of a caring, progressive Renaissance man came crashing down on Monday night after the publication of an expose by The New Yorker, detailing allegations of a sordid and stomach-turning double life, including Mr. Schneiderman’s physical and psychological abuse of four women with whom he had been romantically involved. The attorney general’s behavior, the article said, had been exacerbated by alcohol abuse and punctuated by insults of the very liberal voters and activists who had held him up as a champion willing to deliver a fearless counterpunch to President Trump.

Well, OK then.

Charge on into the week, guys. For the millionth time, I miss the olden days, don’t you?

Posted at 7:51 pm in Current events, Detroit life | 64 Comments
 

Two links and a snap for the weekend.

I promised myself no more two-post weeks, so here goes, because I’m a woman who only breaks promises to herself three, maybe four times a day, and today I’m going for only two. Overslept my alarm and arrived late to the pool, but I got in a solid 50 minutes, so that promise? Kept! Let’s see how this one goes.

Let’s start with a couple of good reads from Politico today.

You might have heard that Michael Cohen’s legal alma mater, Cooley, is routinely branded the worst law school in America by the legal profession itself. It’s a well-known Michigan business, so I’m pretty familiar with this rep. I wasn’t, however, familiar with some of these key details, laid out in a not-too-long, very readable Politico piece:

Recent, publicly available tax records show that the school’s president, Don P. DeLuc was paid $432,000 in 2016. His daughter Laura is one of the school’s associate deans. (The school would not provide the current salary figures for either President DeLuc or his daughter, nor make either of them available for interviews.) The recent tax records show that school’s 88-year-old founder, Thomas Brennan, a former Michigan state Supreme Court justice who stepped down as Cooley’s president in 2002, has continued to be paid more than $329,000 a year as an emeritus professor even though he works only five hours a week. An audit released last year revealed that under his contract, Brennan is entitled to receive a salary “based on two times the salary of a Michigan Supreme Court Justice, plus certain other benefits, until his death.”

The school said Brennan was also unavailable for an interview. He has continued to speak out publicly, however, through his “Old Judge Says” blog, in which he offers commentary that might easily be perceived as anti-Islamic, homophobic and radically insensitive. In a 2016 post, he remembered with affection the blackface minstrel shows of his youth. He recalled how he and his brother performed in local minstrel shows in the Detroit area, “our faces blacked to the teeth.”

“In these days of political correctness, the whole idea of minstrelsy seems preposterous,” he wrote. “But the truth is that minstrelsy was fun.”

Holy shitballs. How did I not know this?

Also in Politico today is a profile of James O’Keefe, the Project Veritas guy. He’s feeling whiny:

Aboard a cramped commuter train heading north, O’Keefe bemoans what he believes is a double standard. Critics consider him a villain for “allegedly” making misleading edits to videos, he says, but why hasn’t Katie Couric been branded with a scarlet letter for the deceptive editing in her 2016 documentary about guns? People still read Rolling Stone, O’Keefe complains, even though it published a 9,000-word account of a campus rape that never occurred. People trust the Post, he notes, but it was forced to print a correction after its ACORN coverage initially stated that O’Keefe had targeted the group because it helped African-Americans and Latinos. “Yet because I selectively edit,” O’Keefe says, using air quotes, “I am the most despicable person on the planet.”

This argument would elicit more sympathy if the critics were wrong about O’Keefe’s editing—it has, at times, been misleading—and if O’Keefe weren’t nurturing a double standard of his own. As our stop nears, he shakes his head and shows me a CNN story on his iPhone. Reporters have contacted advertisers for Alex Jones, the demagogic and conspiracy-minded radio host who is best known for claiming that the children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 were faking their deaths as part of a government hoax. “Speaking of accuracy,” I say, glancing up. “Haven’t you been on his show?” O’Keefe stiffens. “Yes,” he replies. “And I’m not going to say a negative word about Alex Jones.”

Yummy yummy yummy. I’d also add that when Rolling Stone knew its rape story was false, they asked none other than Columbia Journalism School to investigate its processes, then published its report. Has O’Keefe ever done anything like that? Is that crickets I hear? OK, then.

(You know what has always bugged me about the Rolling Stone story? Even after it was determined that its fake victim, “Jackie,” was lying, almost all media sources continue to refer to her by her first name only, as rape victims are traditionally ID’d by media in these cases. Only the Breitbartian right has called her by her full name, Jackie Coakley. She’s not a mental patient or otherwise worthy of protection, is she? I don’t get it.)

I don’t have much more to report, but this and that:

Heard from Kate, who appears to be having herself a great time in Havana. She texted us a picture. I think my dad use to drive that Ford Chevy in the background. Maybe the same one:

“It’s so colorful,” she otherwise reports. After the five-month slog of a Michigan winter, I bet it is.

And with that, I’m outta here. Have a great weekend, all.

Late edit: Also read this NYT story on the courting of the Obama voter who flipped for Trump, if only because its through line is in Medina County, childhood home of Jeff Borden.

Posted at 10:47 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 79 Comments
 

All wet.

“Flint still doesn’t have clean water” was how Michelle Wolf closed her now-notorious set at the White House correspondents’ dinner Saturday. I hear that a lot. The other day I saw a Facebook post featuring the brother of a friend, who lives in Indiana, thanking him for contributing to some church’s bottled-water drive, “for the people of Flint, who still don’t have clean water.”

As someone who lives about an hour away from Flint, this puzzles me. Flint has been receiving clean, treated Detroit water since shortly after the lead-poisoning scandal was fully revealed; the source was switched back from the Flint River. Of course, the damage had already been done, but in case you’re not up on all the deets, here’s what happened, in a nutshell:

The city, under emergency financial management, made the decision to make the switch from expensive treated Detroit water to the far-cheaper local source in 2014, restarting a riverfront treatment plant that had been mothballed for decades. This was done to save money and bide time until another source, a separate and brand-new water authority drawing from Lake Huron, came online. However, the people in charge of making the switch and running the utility didn’t properly treat the Flint River water.

We have known that corrosive water can eat away at lead pipes and leach the neurotoxin into drinking water for decades. Did we dig up every lead pipe in the country as a result? No. We started treating water with corrosion-control chemicals that, over time, build up a protective layer on the inside of pipes. When all this started, I had Alan check our service line, installed in the 1940s when the house was built. As far as we can tell, it’s lead, so we had the water tested. Lead levels were undetectable; Detroit water is treated properly. (Thanks, beb!) But in Flint, the plant had been out of service so long it didn’t even have the equipment necessary to inject these chemicals. They made the switch anyway. To save money.

And the rest, as Mitch Albom might say, using a cliche in a one-sentence paragraph, is history.

This is about as far as even a well-informed non-Michigan-residing American’s knowledge likely goes. But here’s some more: Besides making the switch back, the city began providing free water filters and bottled water to all residents. Experts advised letting the treated Detroit water flow freely, so the pipes could begin to “heal,” so to speak. As you can imagine, the residents of Flint had, shall we say, lost faith in expert opinion and most other forms of civic authority. Some stopped paying their bills. The public consensus was screw healing these pipes, tear them out and put in new ones. Cases of bottled water sat stacked on porches all over the city. The forces began to muster to start the slow process of pipe replacement.

When I went over there about 18 months ago, it was to watch a typical replacement process for one house and describe why it’s taking so long to accomplish. You can read the story I wrote then, or accept this summation: Because it’s amazingly complicated.

Flint is an old city fallen on hard times, and it has many of the same problems Detroit does with blight and abandonment. So when people elsewhere use “Flint doesn’t have clean water yet” as some sort of virtue-signaling catch phrase, I get a little peevish. Because before anyone turns one shovelful of dirt, about a million questions have to be answered: How do we prioritize? Who goes first? Who’s the owner of this property? (Often a difficult question to answer with so many rentals.) And so on. And that’s before money even enters the picture.

I don’t like to quote my own work, but I liked this passage:

It turns out that digging a hole in the ground in an older city like Flint is a lot like doing surgery in the 19th century. You never really know what you’re going to find in there.

What sounds simple – dig a hole, find the line, replace the line, fill the hole – rarely is. Once lines are laid, few clues on the surface hint at what might be underneath. People plant trees, gardens, live their lives in the houses above. Years pass, decades. The trees stretch their branches to the sun and roots deep into the earth. The city prospers and grows, falters and contracts. Residents move in and out.

And then, one day maybe 90 years after 1410 Ida and its neighbors were new, a bunch of guys in hardhats, mud on their boots, stand staring into a hole at the curb.

And this part:

Every pipe replacement starts with paperwork, because the city isn’t just replacing the lead service lines that run from the water main to the curb, i.e., the part of the line that is city owned. Because the entire system was damaged, they’re replacing the private portion as well, the lines that run from the curb to each house, and that requires written permission from homeowners, who may be absentee.

The houses on Ida Avenue were built in the 1920s. Part of the street is brick, laid in a herringbone pattern. Old street bricks are valuable, and must be preserved at the request of the city’s street department. Sometimes a sidewalk has to be destroyed to get to the line, and that requires repair, as does the street where the hole is dug.

But the main problem is, this is an old neighborhood in an old city. And the city did things differently decades ago.

Oh, and another complication: Winter, which regular readers know lasts for-goddamn-ever in Michigan. Asphalt can only be laid in warmer weather, and the holes created by this process are not suitable for the emergency winter pothole filler known as cold patch.

So you can see why “Flint still doesn’t have clean water” is a little glib. There is no magic wand, no hurry-up process, to replace thousands of service lines. In the meantime, state officials say (and I believe them) that a house with a properly installed water filter has safe drinking water. Again, you can’t blame residents for being suspicious, but chemistry is chemistry. Between the treated source water, filters and bottled water, even a poor resident of Flint in a lead-service-pipe house should be OK. (The state recently announced it was suspending free bottled water for Flint residents, in a move that should be in a dumbass-PR textbook eventually. But that’s a side issue.)

Meanwhile, lead levels are rising among children in? Anyone? Yes, Detroit. Why? The usual suspects — paint, mostly — but in a new delivery system: Dust. Demolitions of the city’s infamous oversupply of vacant and blighted housing have picked up in recent years, and even with a firehose spraying over the wreckage as it comes down, a certain amount of lead is aerated, and kids living within 200 feet of these demos are at risk.

Basically, it sucks to be poor. Or, put another way, they don’t call it “poor health” for nothing.

Man, I am running slow this morning. Barely slept last night, thinking about the approaching 4:30 a.m. alarm. I had to take Kate to the airport, where she left for three weeks of study abroad in Havana. I’m so envious, as I’d hoped to go to Cuba sometime this year, before the door slammed shut again. (I know, it’s possible. It’s just more of a pain.) She’ll be exploring the roots of native music and dance for two credit hours before commencing the rest of her summer break. I tried to shove all the knowledge I have of travel in places that aren’t modern Western democracies into her head; we’ll see if it takes. I just want her to have a good time and learn the rumba.

But now she’s laying over in Ft. Lauderdale, and will be officially overseas by mid afternoon. She’s carrying my vintage Nikon SLR, and I hope to see it again, but who knows. Alan packed her off with saxophone reeds and guitar strings as gifts for the native musicians they’ll be encountering; I expect new ones are hard to come by. She’s also carrying little Dove chocolates and Twizzlers to share with kids. I expect she’ll make some new friends.

Me, I gotta get some chores done.

Posted at 10:32 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 61 Comments
 

Terrible people, terrible enablers.

Guys, I had this mostly written and thisclose to being ready to post on Friday, then Friday slithered out of my grasp. Yeah, I know. Excuses, excuses.

Remember when we all first discovered the internet? Whether you came aboard in the Compuserve era, or with America Online, or after that, or before, we probably all had our aha moment, when we realized this vast network of souls connected by keyboards meant we are not alone.

For years, I felt like the only Warren Zevon fan in the world. Of course I wasn’t the only one at the shows, but the fellow Warren fans I actually knew were few, far between, and could mainly be counted on one or two hands. Then I went on AOL and found…a community! Warren Himself sometimes came into the chat room, or the bulletin board, or whatever it was, and would say a few words. It was thrilling. It was amazing. The world felt smaller, and in an entirely good way.

Of course, sooner or later I realized that not everyone looking for a community wanted to celebrate the work of an underappreciated singer-songwriter. I recall a letter to Dan Savage, a guy confessing a terrible secret lust for pornography featuring women in snow-white Keds sneakers. Where can I find my tribe, he asked. Savage’s reply: Duh. The internet. When I turned 40, I told Alan he was permitted to buy me an Hermes scarf for the next significant gift-giving occasion, and went online to see what I might find under the tree. It turns out Hermes-scarf bondage porn is a thing, too, and I’m sorry to say that I am so bougie about these expensive accessories that the thought of some dude ruining one forever made me shut down my browser in horror. Shudder.

We all know how it went from there. The internet makes social movements easier to organize. It helped spread the early word about Barack Obama. It’s given us YouTube stars, and journalism stars, and generally freshened things up by elevating and amplifying new, interesting voices.

But because there is literally nothing we can’t fuck up, things took a turn. We once thought television would bring a university into every living room, and we got “The Apprentice” instead. And so the same internet that brought me together with new nursing mothers and Zevon fans also now provides you-are-not-alone cover to pedophiles, anti-vaccine lunatics and, we now know, so-called incels, or “involuntary celibates,” colloquially known as guys who can’t get laid.

You know all this, but here’s what bugs me: You know how newspapers are always on about their ethics, which invariably leads someone to roll their eyes and say, whoa, there’s an oxymoron? Well, it’s not. Journalists — traditional-source journalists, anyway, and most of the others — do have certain ethical standards, and most of them are based on a single principle: You are responsible for what you publish.

This is another idea that the internet’s creative destruction has done away with. Facebook isn’t responsible for allowing Russians to sow lies and confusion. Google isn’t responsible for its blogging platforms. Hey, don’t look at us! To them, they’re Goss, the company that makes printing presses, not publishers. Meanwhile, it’s hard to get them to even shut down websites that turn a mass murderer into a hero. What? You don’t like free speech?

A former state representative I once wrote about now spends significant chunks of time online, posting tinfoil-hat stories about crisis actors and chemtrails and government schools. He believes the UK’s National Health Service killed that sick little kid in cold blood. He is carrying on. He is nuts.

Here’s an article about the founder of 4chan, one of the most notorious sites for the sort of content that seeks to wound, to spread lies, to foment violence. The reporter describes it as “controversial.” The story is about this guy joining Google, where presumably he isn’t regularly pelted with rotten fruit, as he deserves.

The world is an awful place sometimes, and the worst among us are celebrated.

While you can read about incels at dozens and dozens of places, this skimmable piece from a fashion site does offer a helpful graphic. This more serious piece — HT to Sherri — is good, too.

On to the White House correspondents dinner, of which I have only this to say: If people don’t want a comedian to make jokes, don’t hire one. I actually saw one tweet that claimed this evening is about showcasing “decency and purpose.” O rly? Coulda fooled me. I thought it was a mutual-congratulation schmoozefest with a comedy routine thrown in. I watched Michelle Wolf’s set, and I dunno, maybe I watch too many comedy specials on Netflix, but it didn’t seem that bad to me. From the advance whining, I thought she’d called Sarah Sanders something horrible. She called her “Aunt Lydia,” a Handmaids Tale joke, and said something about her eye shadow. BFD.

OK, enough.

How Trump trickles down to the local level, in Michigan. Both the candidate featured here and the opponent he’s attacking are polling way, way below other candidates in their respective primaries, making this fight something else entirely, i.e., a sort of far-right virtue signaling to the base.

And with that, I’m wrapping and getting outside, because it’s a beautiful day. A bit chilly, but nothing terrible. A fine week ahead to all.

Posted at 12:39 pm in Current events, Media | 81 Comments