Shopping for knowledge.

I feel like I’ve been half-here for a while, but there you are. Sometimes life intercedes. Tonight was the annual college fair for the two Grosse Pointe high schools, always an event. We picked up flyers for the obvious bigs — OSU, MSU, UM-Ann Arbor, Wisconsin — and a few long shots — UVA, Kenyon, Wash U., Vanderbilt — and went to the presentation by Michigan, everybody’s first choice. Today the potential student’s major of choice is music production; at Tulane it was astronomy. In other words, pretty typical 17-year-old and that? IS FINE. There are kids who know who they are from toddlerhood, but not in this house. And that’s good.

Which is why I’m advising a big school with a comprehensive menu of course offerings. It’s nice to be able to change your major without having to change your school.

My orthopedist and his son were sitting in the Michigan presentation. The man who spent parts of not one but two office visits complaining about Obamacare. To me. Yeah, that guy — my former orthopedist. For the record, I didn’t decide not to go back simply because he harangued me twice about Obamacare, nor because his head physical therapist had Fox News blaring in the therapy room, where he and some old fart were loudly discussing the shortcomings of the Kenyan BENGHAZI pretender BENGHAZI in front of several other patients, all African-American. No, it was because he suggested that we could lower health-care costs with tort reform. I replied that I thought that question had been settled by medical economists years ago, and that all the fuss over medical malpractice is really over, what? One percent a year? Maybe? At least some of which is caused by truly incompetent doctors?

That earned me a mini-speech about the artificial-joint companies being sued unjustly, and I thought, man, life is too damn short for this. No wonder this guy wants to replace my knees.

And then we went out to dinner. Nothing like contemplating college to raise a powerful thirst for chianti.

So once again I have little to report. My mind is taken with local matters. Except for Dogeweather, of course, which makes me feel equal parts delighted and a moron. Today I was working with Wendy sitting next to me, and she became bothered by something outside. She stood up and looked out the window for a while, hackles raised. All I could think was so hackles and much fierce, in Comic Sans, in color. Yes, I spend too much time online.

Happy Wednesday, all.

Posted at 12:30 am in Same ol' same ol' | 70 Comments

Take 2.

I spent an hour or so last night on a rant, but it lost focus and veered off into the weeds, after which I was too beat to start anew and ultimately just went to bed.

So open thread today, with some conversation-starters:

Puppies in Vegas! Imperiled puppies!

A good John Carlisle column, about a man with autism and his obsession with electronics.

So, what do we think of the new FiveThirtyEight?

Posted at 8:30 am in Current events, Media | 34 Comments

St. Frozen’s Day.

Sunday was the St. Patrick’s Day parade here in Detroit. It would have been nice to go. but parades have to have at least a minimal festive atmosphere, and it was 9 degrees when I got up and barely nudged above 20 the rest of the day. So much for the parade, then. Maybe next year.

Kate and I went bike-shopping for her; my favorite used-bike shop had a lovely aluminum-frame Trek road bike, like new, on sale for a killer price, and I wanted her to check it out sooner rather than later. She took it around the block and said, upon returning, that it was a nice bike and also that she couldn’t feel her ears: “Not the outside part, the inside.”

We bought the bike. I asked them to install a second set of brake levers on it, and the guy said it might take a few days. Take your time, son; this spring is still a ways down the road.

And that was about as exciting as the weekend got, although it was lovely and restful and included dinner with friends and a trip to the market and the usual activities. The week ahead will be busy and, if all goes well, should fly. I could use a flying week. Also a warm one.

A few bits of bloggage today, starting with the obvious troll bait: The impending death of Fred Phelps. He may well be gone by the time you read this, and I hope it’s a reflection of my state of mind regarding the relative importance of Fred Phelps that I seriously couldn’t care less. I guess the Westboro Baptist Church was remarkable at one point, but they managed to alienate pretty much the entire world, both right-wing warmongers and left-wing gay sympathizers (and left-wing warmongers and right-wing gay sympathizers), and everyone in between. In the end, the Westboro Baptist Church consisted of Phelps and his extended family, and not even that — the news of his health problems was communicated by one estranged son and confirmed by a second estranged son, with the added detail that Phelps himself had been kicked out of his own tiny church sometime last year. So, mission accomplished! You went looking for rancor and found it, and will now die alone with only hospice nurses attending. May this be the last bit of attention paid to them.

More interesting, in terms of high-profile deaths, is Gene Weingarten’s brief appreciation of Joe McGinniss. It is lean and honest and absolutely correct that McGinniss was unfairly maligned by Janet Malcolm in a lengthy New Yorker profile. It also gives credit where it is due, for “Fatal Vision,” McGinniss’ famous, and infamous, examination of the Jeffrey MacDonald murder case. I’ve always said that a writer’s first duty is to tell the truth, and sometime during what was supposed to be a sympathetic examination of the wrongly convicted MacDonald, the writer became convinced otherwise. And so, as Weingarten writes, what was he to do?

What was McGinniss supposed to have done when he realized, midway through the reporting, that the man he was writing about had lied to everyone? That he had killed his wife and older daughter in a rage — and then calmly, methodically hacked to death his sleeping two-year old, stabbing her 33 times with a knife and ice pick, just to strengthen his alibi? Was McGinniss required to dutifully inform the murderer that he now believed him guilty, and invite him to withdraw his cooperation if he wished, possibly killing the book outright, but certainly killing it as a meaningful, enlightening, powerful examination of the mind of a monster?

There is an implicit covenant between a writer and a subject; in return for whatever agreement you might make for the telling of the story, the subject must tell you the truth. If he lies, all deals are off. It is impossible for a subject to be less truthful than Jeffrey MacDonald was with Joe McGinniss: he misrepresented the central fact of his story, his own guilt.


And while we’re tangentially on the subject of God’s feelings about fags, I also recommend this piece about Scott Lively, the American evangelical minister behind Uganda’s draconian anti-gay laws:

Lively is not the only US evangelical who has fanned the flames of anti-gay sentiment in Uganda. As they lose ground at home, where public opinion and law are rapidly shifting in favor of gay equality, religious conservatives have increasingly turned their attention to Africa. And Uganda, with its large Christian population, has been particularly fertile ground for their crusade.

His influence in Uganda is bad enough, but this is the clown behind this charming bit of amateur historical research:

Opponents likened Lively and his colleagues to Nazis and lobbed bricks wrapped in swastika flags through the windows of businesses supporting the measure. OCA’s aggressive campaign, likening gays to pedophiles, was also blamed for a steep uptick in gay hate crimes. In the end, Measure 9 was defeated by a 13-point margin. Undeterred, OCA began promoting measures barring special protections for homosexuals on the city and county levels. Lively, who bristled at the Nazi comparisons, also threw himself into studying the Third Reich and eventually grew convinced that gay men—some of whom occupied senior posts in the Nazi regime—were the driving force behind the Holocaust. “Everything that we think about when we think about Nazis actually comes from the minds and perverted ideas of homosexuals,” he told an Oregon public access television station in 1994.

Surely a closet case himself.

Finally, where is the plane? Where is the plane? And happy St. Patrick’s Day. Hope it’s a little warmer where you are.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 60 Comments

Saturday morning market.

There’s a place in the meat mall that has the world’s prettiest corned beef. Here’s the line. Everybody’s Irish on St. Patrick’s day.


Posted at 11:17 am in Uncategorized | 15 Comments


I don’t think it’s any secret that most people who write for a living eventually want to write books. At least one, anyway. There’s something about that ISDN ISBN number that says: Ah, immortality.

But alas, it seems your best shot at author-hood these days is to be a troll. From Amy Chua to the Princeton Mom, the path to success is: Needle the shit out of people. Chua:

The “triple package” is touted as the combination of magic ingredients that enable certain ethnic groups to achieve extraordinary success in modern America. Chua and Rubenfeld identify three key qualities: a superiority complex, a sense of insecurity and “impulse control”.

It should not surprise you to learn that both Chua and her husband, who is Jewish, both come from certain ethnic groups that achieve extraordinary success in modern America. They just want to help! As to the Princeton Mom, aka Susan Patton, well, she’s a real piece of work:

“Marry Smart” (which Patton plans to follow with Parent Smart and Work Smart) advocates starting the husband-search during the college years. Its advice ranges from practical (“plan for your personal happiness with the same commitment and dedication that you plan for your professional success”) to old-fashioned (“it’s the lonely cow that gives away free milk”) to charmingly kooky (an ode to her “lifelong imaginary friend” Caroline Kennedy) to shockingly offensive (a chapter entitled “Birds of a Feather” denounces interracial and interfaith relationships). She also questions the legitimacy of date rape. “‘Date rape’ is like ‘politically correct,’” Patton tells me, as she holds out a bone for Lucille. “Either something is correct or it isn’t. Saying something is ‘politically correct’ is like saying you ‘almost won.’ You ‘almost won’? That means you lost.”

What helpful advice for young women. What a penetrating, forward-thinking insight for a rapidly diversifying culture. What crap.

Oh, but why start the weekend off on a sour note? My workplace officially moves to the D today, it’s Pi Day, and there’s no reason not to spend some time thinking about, oh, the missing Malaysian 777, for instance, which now could be en route to Mars, for all the rest of us know.

The search for a missing Malaysian jetliner with 239 people on board could expand west into the Indian Ocean based on information that the plane may have flown for four more hours after it dropped from radar, U.S. officials said Thursday.

A senior American official said the information came from a data stream sent directly by engines aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. If the two engines on the Boeing 777 functioned for up to four additional hours, that could strengthen concern that a rogue pilot or hijacker took control of the plane early Saturday over the Gulf of Thailand.

The sea is so, so big. Who knows where the thing is?

As to the Ban Bossy movement, I have nothing profound to say, only that any writer who voluntarily gives up standard language ought to get their card pulled. What a waste of time. Maybe that’s Sheryl Sandberg’s next book.

Finally, I bid you all a great weekend. I think I will…pine for spring.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Popculch | 71 Comments

Phoned in.

Not much tonight, I fear. Everything got pushed back today because of the snow — Kate’s bass lesson, dinner, the usual. So I don’t have much time tonight before bed will beckon.

Tonight’s low? 1 degree. Fuck me running, as Ashley Morris liked to say. But I’m still swimming tomorrow morning if it kills me. And it may well.

So, linkage:

The economics of the sex industry. Shame on you, Atlanta! You too, Dallas.

Here’s a picture of Kate in New Orleans that I just found on my phone. The ghost of the record store:


And that’s it. Back tomorrow.

Posted at 12:30 am in Same ol' same ol' | 49 Comments

Here we go again.

OK, OK, I know: Too much bitching about winter this year. But now that we’ve finally had a few days of thaw, when all of the season’s accumulated trash and dog crap and uncollected leaves are daring to emerge — let’s call it The Season of Muddy Paws — guess what’s in store for tonight?


At this point, I’m too numb to complain. And I’m not entirely convinced this will even arrive; seven inches just feels like garden-variety sky-is-falling weather terrorism at this point, but who knows? I’ve been getting up early to exercise the last couple of weeks, and I’m setting the alarm. Swim today, spin tomorrow. It’s good to start your day knowing you already got the physical jerks out of the way. (EDIT: I turned off the alarm and slept another hour. Not sorry I did, either.)

Yes, it’s another of my occasional flirtations with the pool. It’ll be the best thing ever until it isn’t anymore, but I’m paid up at Kate’s old middle school to swim twice a week for half an hour through the middle of June. Gotta get my money’s worth.

So. The internet exploded yesterday when the video of the president meeting with Zach Galifianakis dropped. You can watch it here if you weren’t one of the 7 million who watched it yesterday. I will cop to laughing, mainly because I’m a longtime fan of public-access television, and “Between Two Ferns” is a better parody than “Wayne’s World” by a long shot. I thought the only thing that could have made it funnier was a piece of freestanding lattice with a light aimed at it, casting shadows on the seamless paper behind them, because Depth. My earliest instruction in television, at WARL, my high school’s closed-circuit station, included lessons in how to add depth to the set, and if ferns weren’t involved, ficus trees were, and yes, there was a lattice. So already I’m giggling, and then the pixelated graphics came up, and without the president opening his mouth, I’m pretty much in his pocket.

Of course, not everyone was. According to Wonkette, Jim Avila of ABC News asked this question at the daily White House press briefing:

“How much discussion was there in the White House about the dignity of the office and whether or not, in order to reach these people who don’t watch us at 6:30, or who don’t watch this briefing … how much the dignity of the office might be lost? This is an interview like no other probably ever done by a president.”

When all else fails, invoke the Dignity of the Office, yes. Because Bill Clinton never played sax with Arsenio Hall, and George Bush didn’t walk an aircraft carrier flight deck in a jumpsuit– or should I say junksuit? And never mind the nominees — Bob Dole in a Viagra commercial and all the rest of it. Yes, by all means, sitting down with a comedian is leagues different from sitting down with Jay Leno, because he’s practically like David Frost, right?

I liked the plaintive little line about “these people who don’t watch us at 6:30,” too. I haven’t watched network TV news in probably decades. It’s not just the kids, Jim.

That Wonkette post includes a great visual punchline, which I encourage you to check out.

OK, so what else? I see a few of you picked up on Neil Steinberg’s excellent blog yesterday, but if you don’t read the comments, you missed it, so click. It’s a second-day column on the reader reactions to his first-day column about guns. Word:

This is, at bottom, a religious issue, if not religious, then certainly a matter of faith. Their faith is not in law, not in God, not in society, but in guns. There is certainly a religious fanaticism to all this. It’s a passion, almost sexual in nature. No wonder they don’t want anyone drawing attention to it. They are like onanists caught in the act, blustering through their embarrassment, hurt and humiliation, shouting at the intruder. Go away. So faith and a kind of twisted psycho-sexual fixation. Guns give comfort and security to people who obviously sorely lack both. You can’t argue that. Guns are owned by people who feel they need guns. I know gun owners on my block. Lots of guns. Yet we live in the same peaceful place. We’ve talked about it. Nobody is going to yank that blankie from them. One reader wrote to me that Obama was to blame for the sale of 100 million guns, and I wrote back asking why, given that he has done absolutely nothing to restrict gun sales and no rational person believes he ever will.

And the reader said, not realizing how right he is: yes, but they were afraid he might.

My favorite silly blog, Animals Talking in All Caps, took a months-long break a while back, while its proprietor moved to Scotland and began a new life there, but it appears to be back, oh it’s back and it’s so, so wonderful.

One for you cat lovers.

Also, don’t miss Ta-Nehisi Coates on the singular gall of Condi Rice and especially — especially — Emily Bazelon, who read the briefs in support the Hobby Lobby birth-control case so the rest of us don’t have to. These people are out there, folks:

The Beverly LaHaye Institute, the research arm of Concerned Women for America, drives home this point, arguing that the government should have considered:

the documented negative effects the widespread availability of contraceptives has on women’s ability to enter into and maintain desired marital relationships. This in turn leads to decreased emotional wellbeing and economic stability (out-of-wedlock childbearing being a chief predictor of female poverty), as well as deleterious physical health consequences arising from, inter alia, sexually transmitted infections and domestic violence.

And so, as the AFLC argues, contraceptives of all kinds aren’t medical or related to health care at all. They are “procedures involving gravely immoral practices.” Protected sex demeans women by making men disrespect them. (Just as Pope Paul VI did decades ago, the AFLC presents this as true inside marriage as well as out.) By separating sex from childbearing, birth control is to blame for the erosion of marriage, for the economic difficulties of single motherhood, and even for the rotten behavior of men who beat their girlfriends and wives. Birth control is the original sin of modernity. Its widespread availability changed everything, for the worse.

Whew. I’ve known some anti-birth control activists in my life. An amazing number had fertility problems in their own marriages. Not too Psych 101 there at all.

The week is at its midpoint! The snow? We shall see..

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 43 Comments

The worst story ever.

Oh, how awful it is to read the interview with Peter Lanza, Adam’s father. Heaven help the parent of the oddball kid who runs this far off the rails:

All parenting involves choosing between the day (why have another argument at dinner?) and the years (the child must learn to eat vegetables). Nancy’s error seems to have been that she always focussed on the day, in a ceaseless quest to keep peace in the home she shared with the hypersensitive, controlling, increasingly hostile stranger who was her son. She thought that she could keep the years at bay by making each day as good as possible, but her willingness to indulge his isolation may well have exacerbated the problems it was intended to ameliorate.


Peter has offered to meet with the victims’ families, and two have taken up his offer. “It’s gut-wrenching,” he said. “A victim’s family member told me that they forgave Adam after we spent three hours talking. I didn’t even know how to respond. A person that lost their son, their only son.” The only reason Peter was talking to anyone, including me, was to share information that might help the families or prevent another such event. “I need to get some good from this. And there’s no place else to find any good. If I could generate something to help them, it doesn’t replace, it doesn’t—” He struggled to find the words. “But I would trade places with them in a heartbeat if that could help.”

I wish we knew better how to deal with people like Adam Lanza. I wish we didn’t live in this fucked-up world where a woman living on a $325,000 annual alimony payment in one of the safest cities in the country still feels so endangered she has to fill her house with weaponry.

Yeah, you can tell it was a Monday. A beautiful Monday, though — it almost hit 50 degrees. Wendy and I went for a walk, splashing through the puddles. They won’t be puddles long, though, because we’re getting another warm day tomorrow and then, Tuesday night? Four more inches of snow!!!!!!

Let’s cut this short, then.

The woman at the center of an anti-Obamacare ad running here has been knocked around pretty bad; it turns out the facts in the Americans for Prosperity were, well, not factual. Now, it’s getting worse, as it’s turning out…well, let the newspaper tell it:

A Dexter cancer patient featured in a conservative group’s TV ad campaign denouncing her new health care coverage as “unaffordable” will save more than $1,000 this year under the plan, The Detroit News has learned.

Julie Boonstra, 49, starred last month in an emotional television ad sponsored by Americans for Prosperity that implied Democratic U.S. Rep. Gary Peters’ vote for the Affordable Care Act made her medication so “unaffordable” she could die. Peters of Bloomfield Township is running for an open U.S. Senate seat against Republican Terri Lynn Land.

Boonstra said Monday her new plan she dislikes is the Blue Cross Premier Gold health care plan, which caps patient responsibility for out-of-pocket costs at $5,100 a year, lower than the federal law’s maximum of $6,350 a year. It means the new plan will save her at least $1,200 compared with her former insurance plan she preferred that was ended under Obamacare’s coverage requirements.

Oh, well, whatever. The new AFP ads will feature actors, according to Stephen Colbert, and I think he’s actually correct.

Bad news for Rails to Trails. SCOTUS says when the railroad loses its easement, the property has to revert to the owners of the parcels they were carved from. Fuck yeah, freedom! Go ride your bike somewhere else, hippie.

If you can make any sense of this Stephen Breyer quote at all, do clue us all in, though:

“I certainly think bicycle paths are a good idea,” he said, but “for all I know, there is some right-of-way that goes through people’s houses, you know, and all of a sudden they are going to be living in their house, and suddenly a bicycle will run through it.”

The week is officially underway.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events | 46 Comments

Here’s looking at you.

It’s difficult to write about not being beautiful. It’s so easy to sound envious. Or self-pitying. People want to leap to your defense: Yes, you are! You’re a beautiful person! That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking physical beauty, the kind that gets you voted Hot rather than Not, the mathematic formulas that make up the perfect proportions of your body parts. I’m not talking about making the best of what you’ve got. I’m talking gorgeousness that comes from being kissed by the angels.

I’ve probably told this story before: Sometime in maybe week three of the Princess Diana Worldwide Mourning Tour, I wrote a column suggesting maybe, just maybe, the world had gone a little nuts and it might be a good time to step back and ask ourselves what, exactly, we were so upset about. A reader responded in a letter: “I wonder if you wrote that because you are envious of the attention Princess Diana is getting, because you are so plain.” This is what people think un-beauty is worth: That it makes you envy the dead. The beautiful dead, anyway.

Another story I’ve probably told before: Once, many years ago, I attended a horse show with a friend at the time, one blessed with the whole package — tall, slim, lovely,  great eyes. The show was at a hunt club in Snootyville, and I was happily surprised to find people were anything but. It was a gray, chilly, drizzly day, and we were watching one class at ringside, next to a large pickup truck parked at the rail. The door opened. “Would you ladies like a warmer seat?” the man inside said, inviting us in. My friend took the front seat and I slid into the back. It was a minute before I realized the man behind the wheel, now paying a great deal of attention to my friend, was judging the class. In the middle of doing a job he was being paid for, he’d taken the time to offer aid to the leggy beauty out in the rain. Her, and her less-attractive friend.

It was like that all day — merchants gave us close, helpful attention in the sales tents, the waiter at the restaurant where we ate lunch performed outstanding service with a smile. It took hours before I realized Snootyville was so welcoming not because we were wrong about the place, but because one of us had the sort of face and body that just makes people…nicer.

Over the years, I’ve seen great-looking women get extra everything — attention, praise, career advancement, and as to this last, I stand firm. I’ve seen it happen so many times I simply won’t argue it anymore. It happens, and it happens a lot.

If Princess Diana had led the exact same life she did, but looked like Princess Anne, would the world have collapsed in mourning her death? Would Sarah Palin be known outside Alaska if her looks hadn’t bewitched Bill Kristol? Do we even have to ask these questions?

Being born beautiful is like being born with a great deal of money. Like money, beauty comes with its own problems, but they’re problems anyone with the opposite set of problems would trade for. A gorgeous woman may complain that she never really knows if a man likes her for her, or for her face and body. The next time someone says this, suggest she go to a plastic surgeon and have some lumps of fat added to her thighs, or a bump to her nose, or maybe she could just shave her head or put on 35 pounds. Ha ha! Will never happen. You probably couldn’t even find a doctor who’d do such a thing.

Which brings me to Kim Novak, again. As much as I liked Farran Smith Nehme’s excellent take on the pathetic sight of Novak, now 81, showing up at the Oscars with her wrecked face, a tiny part of me was not kind. Poor pretty lady isn’t pretty anymore and can’t stand it, boo fucking hoo. If you’re invited to the Oscars at 81, you show up in a nice dress and you read from the cards, because if you can’t get over yourself by 81, what’s the use of anything?

But then I read Laura Lippman’s equally excellent take on Novak, on faces of both genders, on the way we see and don’t see ourselves.

I am generally unhappy with all photographs of myself these days. I look older, fatter, messier than I am in my head. When I pick up my iPad or iPhone, the reflection I see in those devices makes me shudder.

…Yes, beauty isn’t exactly my stock in trade and I am only a semi-public person. I am ridiculous. So all I could think was, God love you, Kim Novak. We criticize women for aging. We criticize women for not aging. We criticize women’s bodies. We criticize women for bad plastic surgery.

You know who doesn’t get criticized? People who look great and pretend they’ve never had surgery. Come on, someone must be getting terrific results or no one would do this. I wish that every person who walks a red carpet was annotated or wore a label, detailing exactly how much work they’ve had done. Not to shame them, quite the opposite. We need to stop lying about how people age. We need to own our Botox, our fillers, our nose jobs, our liposuction. Remember that crazy alibi in Legally Blonde, when the fitness guru accused of murder was getting liposuction and would rather go to jail than admit it? That happens in real life. Not the alibi, but the lipo.

I’m with Laura that we should probably all ease up on ourselves, starting with Kim Novak. But I’d like to reserve the right to be a little judgey about those of you were were kissed by the angels. I’d like you to come out and say, Yep, I’m very lucky, and I got that promotion because I batted my baby blues at my boss and he liked the shape of my ass. You probably deserved that job. Sorry-not-sorry. The friend who went with me to the horse show? She married her way richer boss. I found her on Facebook a while ago, a little wrinkled, a touch of gray, but with the same killer cheekbones. Lucky.

So, some bloggage:

What’s it like to walk across eight miles of Lake Michigan ice to North Manitou Island? It’s like this. Great photos.

What I said the other day about appreciating fashion as art? One aspect is how it relates to the times in which it is made. A good piece on the fashions of the 1930s.

Finally, Charles Pierce on Sarah Palin. A gas.

A long entry for what promises to be a long week. Expect scantiness later. We shall see, but onward we go.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Popculch | 54 Comments

The old man.

For some reason I found myself reading the cover story in the current issue of Rolling Stone, about Justin Bieber. I managed to avoid Bieber more or less entirely; he either fell just outside of Kate’s teen-idol sweet spot, or she never had one at all. (I suspect the latter; smart girl.)

Anyway, he’s really terra incognita, so I read nearly all of this stupid story (no link; firewall), pegged to his recent screwups. And it was sort of fascinating, with many rich details of what you might call Graceland Life, that zone that rich entertainers and sports stars can afford to live in, surrounded by yes-men and layers of lawyers, managers, fixers and others who make unpleasantness go away. I learned that Bieber carried $75,000 in small bills, packed in two duffel bags — carried by underlings — to distribute to strippers’ G-strings at a Miami club. A photo array in the article featured a devastating headline: “The Wolf of Sesame Street.”

And I learned that many trace this arrested infant’s current spiral to the re-entry of his once-estranged father into his life. Pa Bieber, a brawler, recovering addict and all-around swell guy, has taken his place in the charmed circle.

And that reminded me of something I read over the weekend, a book excerpt about Lance Armstrong. A chunk of it concerned J.T. Neal, Armstrong’s first real mentor, who served as guess-what to him in the early days of his career:

Neal’s first impression was that the kid’s ego exceeded his talent. Armstrong was brash and ill-mannered, in desperate need of refinement. But the more he learned of Armstrong’s home life, the sorrier Neal began to feel for him. He was a boy without a reliable father. Linda Armstrong wrote in her 2005 autobiography that she was pleased that her son had found a responsible male role model, and that Neal had lent a sympathetic ear to her while she dealt with the rocky transition between marriages.

Neal soon recognized that Armstrong’s insecurities and anger were products of his broken family: He felt abandoned by his biological father and mistreated by his adoptive one.

Neal, ironically, was diagnosed with cancer around the same time Armstrong was. But he didn’t survive. And that reminded me of Pete Dexter’s several stories about Cus D’Amato, the boxing trainer, who made Mike Tyson into a profoundly dangerous heavyweight fighter, and then died, leaving the 19-year-old bereft and at the top of a very fast ride straight down. A father figure who left before the job was done.

Fathers. They’re so important. I bet Jeff could write a few million words about that one.

Yesterday we were talking a bit about music, yes? Their albums — especially “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now” — were part of the soundtrack of the ’70s, but I haven’t given Little Feat much thought, so I read this Slate piece on the band with some interest. I don’t know if I’m down with the first sentence; “the most underrated band of the ’70s,” really? But what the hell, it’s just pop music.

I wasn’t entirely convinced, but there were some good memories in those video links. “Willin’,” I told someone the other day, is the trucker song America was too stupid, and too busy making “Convoy” a smash hit, to appreciate.

And while it may seem the long way around, I followed a link in the piece to a Rolling Stone reader poll on the best live albums of all time. Just to see what the other nine were. And when I saw that “Frampton Comes Alive” was included by not the J. Geils Band’s “Full House,” well, that’s when I knew what a Rolling Stone reader poll is worth: NOTHING.

Some people I knew in Indiana would have an annual party in honor of Lloyd Lowell George, Little Feat’s founder, who died young. While Peter Frampton yet lives. I ask you.

And now we come to the end of the week. I’m headed out tonight to see a friend and former student play in his new band at the Lager House, one of those Detroit institutions. The band is called Clevinger, named for the character in “Catch-22.” It’s been so long since I’ve read the book I can’t remember, so I asked Wikipedia to tell me about Clevinger:

“A highly principled, highly educated man who acts as Yossarian’s foil within the story. His optimistic view of the world causes Yossarian to consider him to be a ‘dope,’ and he and Yossarian each believe the other is crazy.”

One piece of bloggage: If the Detroit Tigers can replace an entire goddamn baseball field’s worth of grass in the depths of this winter, why can’t we send a manned mission to Mars? Surely it can’t be that hard.

Posted at 12:30 am in Detroit life, Popculch | 50 Comments