Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Revolution will be televised

"Summer's coming."

Just like its opposite warning about impending winter on Game of Thrones, this one needs to be taken as a looming reality just as ominous. Because "unrest" starts easier when it's hot.

Summer will bring revolution. Maybe not this summer, but a summer. A Baltimore City Council member explained that the "unrest" in Maryland right now isn't just about one more Black life that didn't matter to police. It's about... everything.

Shit pay. Shit jobs. Shit schools. Shit politicians. No jobs. No chances.

Or, as a fellow blogger puts it:

When the free market, real estate, the elected government, the legal system have all shown you they are not going to protect you—in fact, that they are the sources of the greatest violence you face—then political action becomes about stopping the machine that is trying to kill you, even if only for a moment, getting the boot off your neck, even if it only allows you a second of air.

The boot is getting heavier and heavier. Right now, enough Americans still believe in the idea of America, and the promise of democracy, to mask the truths that both concepts are dead, their empty husks sold to the highest bidder. But the blindness will only last until reality affects the blind firsthand. America is a wonderful place until it breaks you into pieces and rips your guts out.

Then you get angry. Then you want justice.

For yourself and everyone like you.

But if you're young, you know that acting on your anger will label and dismiss your entire generation. (Think of Occupy, those na├»ve little hippy kids thinking they could change the world by camping in city parks.) If you're Black, you know it will reinforce one of the root problems needing to be eliminated. And the problem will push back by wanting to eliminate you. (Just read the web comments.)  If you're a patriot disgusted by the corruption and decay of your once-proud nation, then you're either deranged and dangerous or stupid and socialist.

So you wait. And wait...

But summer's coming.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

At a Loss for Words

Lewis Black, The Rant is Due Tour
Fox Theater, Detroit
April 25, 2015

The index finger writhing like a snake. The blub blub blub sound of lips sliding back and forth on a head shaking in fury or frustration. The sudden vocal change from quiet narration to deranged sandpaper shouting. The word "fuck" peppering sentences like buckshot.

All were present at Lewis Black's show at the Fox Theater in Detroit—performed just a few steps away from another theater where Dave Chapelle was giving Lew a run for his money with a simultaneously scheduled show at the Fillmore. And the competition for limited leisure budgets showed, with the rear third of Fox main floor seating going unfilled. (David Sedaris was also in town, a few blocks over.)

As always, Lewis's friend, traveling companion, warmup act, and Michigan native John Bowman was funny and profane, and then the thundering opening riff of the Black Keys' "Lonely Boy" assaulted audience eardrums as the main act walked out on stage.

It was a bad sign when the opening jokes were general paint-by-numbers rants about shitty weather. Things improved a bit after that, but then the second half of Black's 90-minute performance began to fizzle into a mildly amusing ode to Tahiti followed by a quiet and disturbingly unfunny non-rant about current politics. It's not that Black was lecturing the audience; he just wasn't turning the material into anything close to its potential. Current politics: government is accomplishing nothing. Yeah, Lew, we knew that. Now how about going off on the specific lunatics holding the country hostage? You know, ranting? The amount of idiocy our "leaders" provide daily could be gold in the hands of a sarcasm-and-bombast master like Black, but he went nowhere with it.

The show closed with some audience-submitted questions read from an iPad and then given spontaneous and mostly unfunny answers. Why do hipsters like Pabst Blue Ribbon? I don't know, because it tastes like crap!

By now, the only thing working in Black's comedy was the index finger writhing like a snake, the blub blub blub sound of lips sliding back and forth on a head shaking in fury or frustration, the sudden vocal change from quiet narration to deranged sandpaper shouting, and the word "fuck" peppering sentences like buckshot. (And sometimes that last didn't even work, as at one point Black just tripped and stumbled over non-sentences that went nowhere before uttering "Well, what can you say?" As punch lines go, that was certainly unique.)

Those still got laughs from the part of the audience that wasn't already leaving to get to its cars before the show let out. But two buildings over, Dave Chapelle was probably relying on jokes instead of body movement and voice inflection for his comedy. By the end of the night, we sort of wished we could've been over there instead.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Go Fund Ourselves

So this kid kisses a cottonmouth snake on the head and the snake bites the kid in the face. The story goes viral, because this kind of thing is always news. Plus, the kid's a shirtless hat-wearing rebel flag-waving version of Miley Cyrus with his tongue hanging out in every photo. So, he's easy to ridicule.

That gets boring quickly, though, so we had just a tiny peek at the comments after one of the versions of the story and saw this:  

"Don't tell me: someone's already made a GoFundMe for him."

Compassion fatigue.

Is it because of the kid who duped 7,000 donors into giving him $55,500 to make a potato salad?

The black woman asking for $135,000 to "buy some White Privilege"?  (330 people gave her $6,000 for it—enough to make a down payment, at least.)

Or because the son of a man beaten nearly to death went on a strip club bender that may or may not have been paid for by the 4,600 donors who raised $189,000 for his dad's medical expenses?

Or the 44,000 donors who gave $4 million so that Super Troopers 2 could become a film instead of a sad fantasy?

The beekeepers who asked for $70,000 on Kickstarter and ended up with $12 million instead? Their invention is very, very cool—and anything that helps bees and beekeepers is just fine with us. But after the $12 mil came in, they stopped taking orders?

The "Walking Man" from Detroit whose $25,000 campaign to buy a decent car netted him a free car (donated by a dealer) and $350,000 instead? Whereupon his girlfriend immediately tried to shake him down for "her share" of the money and became so threatening that he had to move out of the city?

Compassion fatigue doesn't create itself. It's created by crowdfunding stories that are weird, stupid, alarming, that create jealousy and judgment, that take on a "celebrity" status of their own and show up over and over and over and over in our newsfeeds.

But here's the thing: Steve Utash, the man beaten nearly to death after stopping to see if a kid he'd hit with his truck was okay, and had no insurance, and got nearly $200,000 to pay for his hospital bill, said this when he went back to work:

"Everything about what happened to me was worth it, to feel the love of mankind in its purist form."

We shouldn't hate the crowdfunding game; we should hate gullible funders. And not be one of them. But not let them make us so weary of crowdfunding that we miss the key part of what the Man Beaten Nearly to Death said: Everything about what happened to me was worth it.

Let the love rain down like dollars.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Emergency Workers Selling National Parks to Poisoned Children!


So, this meme showed up in our newsfeed again today. "Again" because it's been floating around for a while, and came back because of the Indiana religious blah blah bill that exploded the country's collective head because the governor signed a bill that was pretty much an echo of a federal law passed some time ago, and the signing was a big act of symbolism and solidarity with bigots, and boy did the governor get blowback from the rest of us who aren't bigoted.

Michigan actually didn't do what the meme says and hasn't done it, but you can't blame the meme — here is what CBS News said about the situation:

Except that it wouldn't. As one patient reader/commenter pointed out after the story, "the objector would have to have a specific religious objection to the requirement that they treat the patient, not a general objection with the patient."

In other words: if you're an EMT, your job is to respond to emergencies and save lives. You would need to object to this requirement because it might include the possibility that some of the lives needing saving could be LGBT lives. So you use religion as a basis for challenging the basic job requirement. You want the job to grant you discretion and autonomy in choosing what to respond to, who to save.

And, you lose. Because that's not the job.

We've already talked about clickbait here, and now we're talking about Web headlines and news coverage, period. For example, Is Germany Going to Charge George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as War Criminals?

As this analysis calmly points out, no. That headline is based on wishful thinking and ultra-liberal fantasy, and it comes from taking a few basic facts, putting them in a blender, and laying them all together on a baking sheet to blob together afterwards. And when that happens, the analysts explain, then liberal/progressive "news" sites are no better than their nemesis, Fox News.

Okay then, what about THIS headline?

Yeah, no. While the bill is written by horrible people who belong to a horrible political party, it actually says that it's about "initiatives to sell or transfer to, or exchange with, a State or local government any Federal land that is NOT within the boundaries of a National Preserve or National Monument..." (emphasis ours).

Note that it also is about the federal government making deals with state governments. No "Private Industry" to be found — unless, of course, the state chooses to involve Private Industry afterwards. And since a lot of states are governed by horrible people belonging to a horrible political party, that might actually happen.

But this headline, above, did not happen.

One last example:

This is about a boy in Michigan, whose parents said that there were no more signs of his cancer, so he was cured and there was no more need for him to stay on the maintenance chemo that his doctors prescribed. In fact, the doctors said, without that maintenance chemo, the boy had a 70% chance of the cancer recurring, and him dying of it. So the state got involved.

And look at how it involved itself! Forcing the poor parents to poison their child! Committing "medical terrorism" with this family as the victims! And who cares what evidence the state's case was built on, after all that!

And then this happened:

And the family explained its response to the cancer's return this way:

That's spin, of course; but who can blame them for wanting to avoid national embarrassment? The doctors and the state said the cancer would return, and it did, and the parents and their lawyer had been wrong, but what mattered now was saving the boy's life. And everyone got busy doing that. Last we checked, he's still doing great.


And since we know now that about half of online readers don't read the whole story (hell, we've probably lost half of you who started to read this post), or don't even click the headline to read the story at all, the headline is the story. Making it a thousand times more imperative that the "news" organizations online get out of the click-scare bait & switch business and put some facts into those headlines.

Factuality can be boring as hell, but it's necessary beyond belief. Otherwise we're just standing ready with pitchforks and torches at our keyboards, waiting for the first person to scream a false accusation that we can share and re-tweet and help make viral to the point where it becomes a fact.

And if you're gay, remember: No medical personnel in Michigan have to help you if you get beaten up for slander. A new bill says so. We read it on the Internet.


Friday, April 17, 2015

Records from the little guys

It's true that music is a mess now. Albums gave way to CDs which lost to digital downloads that are losing to streaming. Ownership isn't the goal, just listening is. Music has become the ultimate disposable commodity, and the era of filthy rich musicians, songwriters, music label execs, everyone—appears to be history.

Whatever. For millions of other music fans, complete collections are still desirable, and not just as words on iPod screens. Physical music. Discs. Vinyl albums, even. (WB thinks the whole "vinyl sounds warmer" argument is BS, since we've had plenty of experience with the eventual snap, crackle, and pop of "warm" vinyl. But we also validate the fact that recent mixes of digital music have been much like concerts are now—all top end, no bass.)

And for those people, as well as those who've never experienced what it's like to physically discover physical music by holding it in your hands, not just reading it on a screen, tomorrow is a great day for a road trip to any of the small independent surviving record stores participating in Record Store Day.

Some good music is coming out by some very good artists, too, to mark the date and occasion.

Go, be part of the celebration, the event, the cause. Lift up the little guys. And feel the music—in your hands as well as your soul.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Seven years later, they are still the anti-Christs.

As we go through the old posts and update their tags, we're finding that some of them are just as relevant in 2015 as they were "back in the aughts," as the old-timers like to say. Here's an example. Hurricane Gustav was bearing down on New Orleans, 2008, and Republican fundamentalists were asking God to drown the city again, because sin. Instead, the storm turned course and threatened to drown the Republican Convention going on in Florida. Our story picks up there:

We're gonna run through this one more time: God is not a member of the Republican Party or affiliated with the conservative movement. In His earthly form as Jesus of Nazareth, these were some of the extremely anti-Republican sentiments He expressed:

"Blessed are the peacemakers.... love your enemies, bless those that curse you, do good to them that hate you." This would refer to Barack Obama's plans, ridiculed by Republicans, to meet with world leaders on the "enemies of the U.S." list, talk with them, and listen to them in the interests of creating peace.

"In the same way you judge, so will you be judged in equal measure." Those who are obsessed with enforcing select passages from the third book of the Torah while overlooking the third book of the New Testament — "Guard against all kinds of greed; a person's life does not consist of the abundance of possessions" — should be extremely careful here. Somewhere along the line, Republicanism and conservatism became about protecting corporations while condemning everyone and everything else. God doesn't appreciate having His name associated with that. He's going to be one very Annoyed Almighty when judgment comes.

"Sell what you have and give to the poor.... When you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind." Here, the Lord was referring to basic health care for all of His people, which is what's been threatened with termination for years now by a wall of Republican social Darwinists who paraphrase Ebenezer Scrooge in discussing the poor and uninsured: Let them die and decrease the surplus population. That's not Christian, it's Satanic.

"When you pray, do not pray as the hypocrites do: for they love to pray standing in public, where they may be seen by others.... When you pray, shut your door and do it in private." This one might resonate with the Misery Megachurch crowds who like to squint their eyes earnestly in front of TV cameras and entreat the Almighty to smite Democrats for letting homosexuality and abortions cause any large-scale destruction and desolation that comes along.

An excellent open letter to conservative Christians by Rev. Gary Vance, written in 2004, bears repeating here. In it, Rev. Vance points out that there is a "long history of liberals who have labored for the betterment of society and the furthering of God’s Kingdom.... No average American would have a fair wage today if it weren’t for liberal Christians and labor activists. Liberal Christians and civil rights activists fought and still fight against conservative America for racial equality. Child labor laws were enacted because liberals fought for them. Medicare and Social Security exist today because of Liberalism. 'Bleeding heart liberals' have long advocated for the homeless, the hungry, the less fortunate, and the disenfranchised...."

WB senior staff have parochial-school educations in their pasts, and can cite Scripture with the best of them. And we are damned well certain that not a line of it calls for leaving the least of God's children to fend for themselves. As Rev. Vance politely sums up, while Democrats and liberals have been taking on a wide range of highly Christian issues, Republicans and conservatives focus myopically on exactly two: gay rights and abortion. For a while, gay rights attention eased up when a  Republican ultra-conservative Vice President of the United States [Dick Cheney] turned out to have a lesbian daughter, but now it's back in full force as the Supreme Court prepares to rule on gay marriage rights. As for abortion, the pattern is clear: the unaborted are born and then left uninsured, untreated, uneducated, underpaid, unemployed—and condemned for being drains on decent, hard-working society.

Which brings the American Taliban fanatics in Washington to a third focus in their Holy Trinity of causes: killing the poor. 

As Jesus himself pointed out in that verse about not being able to serve both God and man: You can't have it both ways at once. Sometimes, when praying (privately and quietly) for deliverance from evil, it's good to realize that the evil is much closer than those devils and sinners parading for sinful rights on national TV.

The evil is in the mirror.


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Cute Hybrid-Celebrity Name Eludes Journalists Everywhere

By now we all know that Barry Manilow has married his manager, Garry Kief.

Which is great. But there's a problem.

Kim Kardashian + Kanye West = Kimye

Brad Pitt + Angelina Jolie = Brangelina

Tom Cruise + Katie Holmes = TomKat (and then TomDivorcedAgainBecauseOfScientology)

Bill + Hillary Clinton, in a hybrid that's sure to come back any minute now as Ms. Clinton hits the campaign trail, = Billary.


Barry + Garry = um...


Friday, April 10, 2015

Nothing can possibly go wrong with this plan

Small story on Wired today about Amazon drones moving low (400 feet) and relatively slow (no faster than 100mph) and getting FAA clearance to fly.

The future has arrived.

What's most awesome is that there's a zero percent chance of any criminals blasting the drones out of the air with their own criminal drones, or their shotguns, and absconding with the contents of the Amazon Drone Bin™.

Because we live in a utopia where wealth is equal and there's no temptation to steal anyone else's shit, Amazon will be able to zoom its little delivery squadron around in peace, making all of our lives better one undisturbed stop at a time and helping to do to the UPS/FedEx/USPS delivery services what it's done to brick-and-mortar stores.

We can't wait to order a new WB Parrot drone from Amazon and then wait to have it delivered by another drone. Multivalent dronage!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Detroit Agonistes, Part Three: Money Men


Meet the Three Horsemen of the Post-Apocalypse in Detroit. The guys with the big money that does (from left) lots of good things, no good things, and some good things.

Dan Gilbert (left) has been buying downtown as a hobby and keeps a scale model of it in his office so that when he buys another skyscraper, the model of it lights up. He owns Quicken Loans and the Cleveland Cavs and will probably own the Detroit Pistons too when they're up for sale, because it makes more sense to own the hometown team than one in Ohio, which to southeast Michigan residents is enemy territory.

But here's the thing: when he buys a new building, he gets busy cleaning it up, or restoring it, or remodeling it, and then getting it on the active market so that businesses, including his own, can come in and occupy it. And bring employees back to Detroit from the stupidly far-away suburbs where they've exiled themselves. He also brought the first construction cranes in years downtown to build an actual new building, and then hired artists to make it a unique building, too.

This is a different business model from Matty Moroun's (center), who likes to buy gigantic structures like train stations and book depositories and international bridges and then let them either rot (train station and book warehouse) or become such a pain in Michigan's and Canada's asses (bridge) that those two parties decide to just build a new bridge of their own. He has enough money to turn Michigan Central Station into something bold and beautiful, but he doesn't have any leadership or vision, so the place sits adding one window every six months or so to its 1,000 broken-window holes.

The windows were intact when he bought the place. He didn't bother securing the building or its grounds, so now he and the city have one of the world's most notorious modern architectural ruins. And much as the state and Canada are building their bridge around him, the Corktown area of Detroit is reviving itself at lightning speed around that hulking wreck.

In Moroun, Detroiters have their own version of Dr. Seuss's two Zaxes, standing still and arguing while the rest of the world moves on without them. Except that they didn't erect a giant bombed-out temple of neglect as a monument to their uselessness.

So that leaves Mike Ilitch (right), owner of Little Caesar's Pizza and the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers. He did a good thing by bringing the baseball team downtown to a new stadium. A really good thing by restoring the Fox Theater downtown and turning it into his company headquarters. But then he did a shitty thing by announcing he'd make the city tear down a perfectly good downtown hockey arena and make it pay most of the cost for a new downtown hockey arena, built on land that his family quietly bought up for years and then left empty and undeveloped, giant patches of blight for the city but jewels of "future development" for Ilitch.

No doubt the new hockey arena, thanks to the Ilitches, will be a huge improvement and bring massive energy to an area that, thanks to the Ilitches, has been an echoing patchwork of tumbleweed lots for decades. But Mike could have built it without extorting funds from a city fresh from bankruptcy and still struggling to get a decent fire department put back together before too much of the non-downtown area burns to the ground.

Of the three Big Money Barons, it's clear that Dan Gilbert is the main mover, shaker, and evangelist for the city. And while that's awesome, it's also terrifying, for a reason that should be painfully obvious: When so much for one city is done by one man—one mortal human being whose health could break or whose car could crash tomorrow—how fucked will we be if anything bad happens to him? Those who love Detroit pray for Dan Gilbert's safety and drink to his health several times daily.

But there are other, lesser Barons in Detroit, too. Kid Rock, although he's a colossal assbag and Ted Nugent wannabe now, comes to town regularly and plays for working fans who pay minimal ticket prices for the shows. (He also buys lots of hats for himself and his band/entourage at downtown's Henry the Hatter, supplier of fedoras for some of WB's staff, too.) Jack White bailed the Masonic Temple performance venue out of financial hurt over back taxes. Teams of wealthy business owners kept the Detroit Institute of Arts out of the hands of idiot politicians who wanted to sell the DIA's holdings, and quiet donors helped settle the musicians' union strike at the Detroit Symphony. Monied power brokers made it possible for light rail to start getting built down Woodward Avenue, the main Downtown-Midtown artery. And massive credit goes to every small-business entrepreneur who decides to trust the Big Rebound enough to set up shop in the Big City, not its outlying cookie-cutter 'burbs.

It's kind of like the ending of It's a Wonderful Life, which may be WB's favorite all-time central metaphor for community involvement. Moroun played the part of Potter the evil banker, but other pro-Detroit people got together and said Hey Mitt Romney, watch this, we're going bankrupt just like you said—but not how you meant.

The city's still in trouble. The city has always been in trouble. The city will never not be in trouble of some kind. It's the Motor Motherfuckin' City, after all.

But trouble has stopped being the main headline. And that's more than good enough for the moment.

Now this:


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Detroit Agonistes, Part Two: Raising the Dead in the "Skyscraper Graveyard"

 With our newsfeeds filled with almost daily updates of new restaurants and businesses coming online in Detroit's Downtown, Midtown, New Center, Corktown, and now even Southwest neighborhoods, it's hard to remember how empty, how cold, how... hopeless things felt in the years between Wall Street's 2008 implosion and the end of the Great Bankruptcy Drama.

But not all the way through those years. Remember, we're a resilient people who don't know how to wave a white surrender flag. So stuff kept happening around the edges of the cold empty hopelessness. A soon-to-be-famous barbecue joint opened on a dismal block near a giant empty lot that used to have a baseball stadium on it. A crazy Venezuelan businessman bought the Packard Plant, and almost immediately started actually cleaning it up. ABC came to town to film a series called Detroit 1-8-7, featuring an episode in which two detectives go searching for a bullet casing from a street shooting and find dozens of other casings too, because hey, it's Detroit. Also, the lead female cop, played by Natalie Martinez, was smokin' hot.

And the media coverage continued. The Los Angeles Times encouraged its readers to move to Detroit because it was "America's Great Comeback City." In Berlin, another wealthy crazy man talked of restoring another abandoned auto factory and turning it into a giant techno dance hall. (In his defense, the Motor City does host a pretty good world-class annual EDM festival, so the clientele is there.) AMC, confident it could do better than ABC, not only set a new cop drama, Low Winter Sun, in Detroit, but also pinned the network's hopes on that show to become a hit as huge as Breaking Bad, which was wrapping up, and to bring BB's audience along with it. Didn't happen, but the showrunners did demonstrate how to tell a story with Detroit as a main character, rather than a backdrop as it had been on 1-8-7. Also, the lead female cop, played by Athena Karkanis, was smokin' hot.

And we converted this:

Into this:

And the Broderick Tower, an empty 34-story embarrassment that loomed over the new Tiger Stadium baseball field downtown, stopped being empty and was converted to residential apartments that sold out as soon as they were done. The Broderick is smack in the center of downtown, and on national television during Tigers games, so it's about as good as a symbol of rising from ashes can get.

And we turned this:

Into this:

Because every major city should have a castle as one of its prominent downtown features.

And all of that resurrection, restoration, rebirth is awesome. But there are some specific markers to watch before the "Great Comeback City" label bestowed by the LA Times will be 100% accurate.  There's the east-side Vanity Ballroom and its fadingly-famous west side sister, the Grande Ballroom, which used to be the legendary site of rock shows by an amazing roster of artists and is beautifully documented here. In Midtown there's the Lee Plaza, once an upscale residence for upscale residents but now a see-through hulk. And downtown, there's the Book Tower, as ugly and weird as a tower can be, in desperate need of power washing (the porous limestone facade has sucked up decades worth of dirt, turning the building from its original hue to an unpleasant shade of fecal brown), and with a hideous exterior fire escape that no other major skyscraper around it has. The Book will take several tons of work.

But the #1 indicator of Coming Back is the giant Symbol of Ruin sitting on Michigan Avenue in Corktown, owned by an eccentric billionaire who's in no hurry to do much more than offer promises about planning to rehabilitate it. Assurances of new windows resulted first in sheets of plywood on the ground floor that were painted to look like windows (we can't make this stuff up), and then in at least 8 actual glass windows appearing among the 1,000 window holes needing to be filled. Like we said: eccentric.

Yes, the world's most notorious train station.

But look: if we can bring back the Wurlitzer Building downtown, a little tower notorious for pelting pedestrians with bricks from its crumbling facade, and if the toxic Metropolitan Building—a former jewelers' enclave where hazmat jewel-processing materials once flowed like wine—can join the Wurlitzer in rebirth, then The Train Station From Hell can come back, too.

When that happens, the agony of Detroit Agonistes will officially end. So we're making this call: the buildings heralding the beginning of the end of The End will re-rise in this order: Book, Lee, Vanity & Grande, Michigan Central. (Keep in mind that if the Lee, Vanity, and Grande are just flattened as part of the great Blight Removal campaign, we're gonna consider that a good sign, too.)

And then Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus (We Hope for Better Things - It Shall Rise From the Ashes)—

—will change to Nos Retro, Iniucundum Populus (We're Back, Bitches!).

Coming in Part Three: The Barons