Tag Archives: News

The Day After

Like a visitor on an alien planet, I observed Chicagoland residents with keen interest today.

Who are these “Cubs fans”? What is the meaning of this white flag with a blue W? What does it mean, to reverse a curse?

The Chicago Cubs, of course, won the World Series last in a wild Game 7 that went 10 innings and included a rain delay. It was awesome! (I told you it would be.) I was awake at 11:45 when the last out was secured.

I thought I was weird. I’m a Twins fan, after all. And a woman. And who watches baseball nowadays with its relative lack of violence and obscure concepts like double switches and designated hitters?

But as I sat around a table this morning with eight other middle-aged women and a (lucky) man at a cafe known for its brunches, I asked who else stayed up till midnight last night. Every hand went up. Every. Single. One. And then we all toasted the Cubs with glasses of champagne. No kidding. It wasn’t sparkling apple juice, some pretender stuff. One of those middle-aged women brought a bottle of real champagne to our meeting. Because the Cubs winning a baseball game — The Baseball Game — was That Important. That noteworthy.

On the way there, a car ahead of me on the interstate had a license plate that read “CUBEES.” The plate hung on the bumper of a sporty model that probably isn’t normally driven this time of year. But it was driven today.

I stopped at a superstore on the way. Every other person there, bright and early, was wearing Cubbies blue T-shirt. Or sweatshirt. Or a Cubs hat.

In the afternoon, on my way home, I stopped for coffee with a friend who lives a normal, quiet suburban life. Playing on the TV in the restaurant? A recording of last night’s game. The friend? She (yes, SHE) stayed up until 3 a.m. after the game, standing in line and buying World Series merchandise at Dick’s.

What I thought would happen didn’t. There were no riots. No cars overturned and burned. No crazies causing headline-making mayhem. I didn’t even hear anyone trash-talking the poor, poor unfortunate Indians. No zombies. Instead, there was cheering and champagne. There were fireworks, yes (I heard them at midnight, even in my little suburban village, far from Wrigleyville). And there were tears. Oh, the dewy eyes of dreams come true.

What I didn’t expect was the disbelieving gratitude of baseball fans who had never seen their team become champions and who finally let go of the superstitions they held close to ward off disappointment. They finally witnessed the team win it all. For themselves, of course. But also for generations of others who weren’t so lucky.

The day wasn’t filled with belligerence or arrogance or vitriol. It was filled with joy. Pure, blissful joy.

And it was a delight to behold.

Weighty matters

Oh, my gawd, I saw the most compelling news story on the Today show this morning while I was running on the treadmill (thank gawd I was multi-tasking).

Today national investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen revealed that fast food served at major chains like McDonald’s and Subway doesn’t actually look as good as the commercials portray (Fast-food face-offs: Does it look as good in real life as on TV?).

Can you believe that?

No, not that Americans are getting short shrift on their fast food orders. That Jeff Rossen hasn’t ever heard of food styling. Or photography filters.

Is it false advertising that you can’t actually see the ground beef patties in your Big Mac (like on TV)? Or is it false advertising that Rossen passes himself off as an “investigative correspondent”? He spent an afternoon and $20 to develop this 5-minute piece of this enlightening video.

Ugh.

This is what’s wrong with television journalism, I thought as I covered the treadmill miles. So I changed the channel, only to find Good Morning America tackling the troubling trend of skateboarders taking to freeways for their hijinks, complete with the hashtag #FreewayChallenge. This was accompanied by repeating loops of the daredevils falling in the street. I felt like I was watching America’s Funniest Home Videos. So if we have Jackass-inspired video and a hashtag, then it’s news?

No, this is the definition of the word irritainment, which I learned earlier this week from a “news” story in the Star Tribune. Irritainment is defined as “entertainment that is irritating but also so enticing that you can’t stop watching.”

So I quit watching. I turned off the TV news and hit the weights.

1984 memories of Prince

September 1984

Remembering a show: Purple Rain with Prince — wow!

The Dear Diary I kept through high school was created by author Judy Blume. At the end of every month, the pre-printed book prompted me to reflect on the best and worst of the month and to remember a book, a show and a feeling. In September 1984, the show I remembered with a “wow” was Purple Rain.

I saw it with my on-and-off boyfriend whom I’ll call The Dentist’s Son on a Wednesday night, September 5. I was 17.

“Prince is so neat,” I wrote. Ah, the descriptive abilities of a teenager.

We got back together for the umpteenth time after the movie, an event which got more attention in Dear Diary:

I said, “I guess I shouldn’t assume anything. I guess I shouldn’t assume that you’re going to take me back.” We were driving around after the movie, and he screeched to a halt and kissed me. He did want me back!

I wasn’t going to write a tribute to Prince because I wasn’t sure I had all that much to add, and to be truthful, I don’t have much to say about his towering talent other than what I described so succinctly in my diary in 1984: Wow. Still, I have strong feelings of nostalgia for Prince, and his passing makes me sad. The songs from his Purple Rain album never fail to bring me back to memories of high school and The Dentist’s Son so Prince’s impact on my echoic memory is strong.

That’s echoic memory, not erotic memory, but in this case, I probably mean both. Echoic memory, as in echo, is a very brief sensory memory of some auditory stimuli. “When Doves Cry” instantly carries me back to the couch in my parents’ living room where I enjoyed long, mostly first-base make-out sessions with The Dentist’s Son.

(There are songs like that for several of the boys I loved as a teenager.The Church Drummer is “Jack & Diane” by John Cougar (later John Mellencamp). The National Merit Semi-Finalist With the Snake is “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits. The Two-Timing Pianist is “One More Night” by Phil Collins; I wore out Collins’ album No Jacket Required on my Walkman while pining for that guy. But I digress.)

It is Prince’s music that echoes as most sensual to me. Which I’m sure he intended (among other things; Prince was nothing if not deep). Wasn’t that the whole point of “Darling Nikki” (he said “masturbating,” heh, heh, heh)? It took me years to understand the double-entrendres of “Little Red Corvette.” Now I comprehend the musicality of Prince’s work (and the lyrics), but in the ’80s all I understood was the raw eroticism.

Quite a feat for a man who called the Twin Cities home. His last name, Nelson, couldn’t be more quintessentially Minnesotan. But most of us natives would rather choke on a hunk of lutefisk than say “masturbating.” Let alone sing it.

Not Prince. A man who liked wearing ruffles and looked sexy doing it. He was an original. And with his death, I mourn for him. And for my sweet youth.

Latest work based on O.J. Simpson case succeeds in enlightening, entertaining

True confession: My latest guilty pleasure is “American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson.”

Every Tuesday night the past two months after I absorb the fallout from the latest U.S. presidential campaign primaries and caucuses (because nothing creates an opportunity to rubberneck like bunch of politicians in a car accident on CNN), I turn to FX for my fix on the trial of the century.

As much as I resist watching murder stories, as I call my Beloved’s favorite nap time snoozers–the true-life murder documentaries aired by Dateline and others–I can’t get enough of “The People v.” I guess I don’t want to admit to being entertained at the expense of victims of murder. But as described in The New Yorker, “It’s a tasty Proustian cronut that makes you remember the events of not only 1995 but 2015.” (That would be a “brief, vivid, sense memory” of a lighter than air but delectable croissant-doughnut pastry, for those of you outside The New Yorker’s realm.)

Back in 1995 when Simpson was being tried for the murder of his ex-wife and an ill-fated waiter who may or not have been involved with her, I was a daily newspaper copy editor who read nearly every story written about the farcical circus as it came across the wires. I distinctly remember putting a say-nothing story about some minute detail of the trial on the front page one Friday night for publication the next morning because there was no other news. “What a waste of newsprint,” I thought. The world, me included, was glued to the goings-on of the courtroom even when nothing was happening.

I bought the hardcover of prosecutor Christopher Darden’s “In Contempt” when it came out a year later because I was fascinated with the behind-the-scenes dilemmas he described in his memoir.

OJSimpson

The defense team/FX Network

“The People v.” casts light on many elements of the case I hadn’t realized even though I was following it so closely 20 years ago. Like who would have assigned such empathic soul to Simpson friend and attorney Robert Kardashian, played masterfully by David Schwimmer in the TV series? (I love him in this role!) The amount of evidence against Simpson was monumental, yet the defense team deftly overcame it. I witnessed but hadn’t understood the racial strategy they employed that played on the sympathies created with the Rodney King riots. Yesterday, the series explained why the jury all wore black one day in court. And I had forgotten such juicy details as Faye Resnick’s tell-all and the dancing Itos.

There are two episodes left in this “American Crime Story,” and I won’t be missing a single minute. If you haven’t given it a try, check it out.

Flat tax proposal is like winning the lottery — worth dreaming about but not worth much more

“Imagine a 10 percent income tax, with every American filling out his or her taxes on a postcard or iPhone app. And abolishing the IRS as we know it.”

~ Ted Cruz, candidate for U.S. president

OK, let’s imagine a flat tax for a minute.

  • I wouldn’t have to calculate the value of the 10 pairs of men’s jeans I donated to Goodwill (because there wouldn’t be a charitable deduction).
  • I wouldn’t have to track down the three different 1098 forms from last year that calculate the interest paid on my first mortgage, second mortgage and refinanced mortgage (because there wouldn’t be a mortgage deduction).
  • I wouldn’t have to figure out how much we contributed to the 401(k) (because there wouldn’t be a deduction for retirement savings).

That was a pretty nice minute spent imagining. Since I spent several hours tracking down the aforementioned items and about 100 others as I prepared for tax season.

Fun afternoon. Who likes that kind of minutia?

I’m not saying I’m a Cruz supporter (please do not pelt me with wet noodles — I’m just considering one of his proposals), but I really would love a simple flat tax, especially the one Cruz is calling for since it’s nearly half what this household is paying now (in the interest of fairness, I must tell you that Cruz critics say his plan would bankrupt the U.S. government, but I’m looking at my selfish picture here for one minute, not the country’s).

No one can say they love tax time. Not even a tax preparer — maybe they love the paychecks, but the work this time of year is crushing. (They’d all be out of a job if we had a flat tax because who would need help filling out a postcard, right?)

People who get refunds? (What’s a refund?) Do they like tax time? Well, they shouldn’t. A refund only means they gave the government an interest-free loan. If there was a flat tax, there would be no such thing as refunds — because the 10 percent would come out when the money was earned and there would be no quibbling about it.

Imagining a flat tax is fun, but the hard reality is that something as simple as a flat tax will never happen in the United States. Way too many special interests have a stake in deductions of one sort or another or in the tax preparation industry. Abolish the IRS? Ha! The realist in me just doesn’t see it happening.

But it’s nice to dream.

Storyteller appeals to my baser instincts

I’ve come to dread the voice of Keith Morrison.

Even if you don’t know who he is, you probably know who he is.

He’s the voice of murder.

So to speak. Literally. Speaking of murder.

He’s the guy who narrates all the murder recaps for Dateline and other true-life crime documentaries. A profile of Morrison in the Chicago Tribune that caught my eye described his voice as a “deep and expressive baritone that soars and dips.”

Can’t you just hear him say, “But why would there be a half-eaten cherry pie on the windowsill?” “How could broom handle end up in the trunk?”

No? Thank your lucky stars.

My Beloved’s favorite way to relax lately is to watch these Dateline murder re-enactments, and I hate them. I couldn’t care less how some meek housewife in Idaho turned out to be an evil, gun-toting volunteer on the PTA who killed the treasurer or how a conniving salesman in Salem tried to fake his long-suffering wife’s suicide with a bottle of bleach and a toaster oven.

I don’t know these people. I don’t live in their towns. I’m not a PTA member. These murders, while tragic stories, do not affect my life. They already happened; I can’t stop them. Knowing how psychopaths operate doesn’t help me predict future psychopathic behavior.

But they are so compelling (Dateline producers have been writing this stuff for two decades for a reason). As soon as Keith Morrison poses the key question in the case — “How could his daughter travel back in time to bludgeon her father with a stuffed moose head? — I’m hooked. I’ve got to know how she did it. How did the police catch her? What did the jury do? How many years in prison did she get?

These television shows appeal to my baser instincts and I hate myself for it.

The same profile that described Morrison’s voice as mellifluous also described why the journalist has made a career of these types of stories.

“[H]e recalls a ‘big surprise’ early in his career when he was ordered to get a ‘pick up’ for a story about a crossing guard who had been hit by a car and killed. He pulled up to the widow’s house just hours after, feeling ‘like the worst person in the world’ and asked her for a picture of her late husband. And she invited him in, gave him tea and biscuits, and talked for a long time — which is when Morrison realized people want to get their story out. You don’t exploit victims. You facilitate their agenda.”

I get it. I was a reporter once. I was the rookie who was asked to call grieving spouses and parents about the latest accident or murder victims. Some of these people hung up on me or said “no comment” or bitched me out for intruding on their sorrow. I politely left those people alone. I wasn’t the pushy reporter portrayed in Hollywood disaster movies.

But more often than not, bereft mourners were happy to describe their loved one’s life and personality. They were glad for the opportunity to talk about the way the person lived, instead of just leaving the world with an impression of how they died. They wanted to have a say, and I was their megaphone. I believe in storytelling that illuminates the human condition.

I still dread hearing Morrison’s voice because I know it’s just an invitation to waste an hour of my life in front of the boob tube.

But, after learning a bit about Morrison’s personal story, I can appreciate the role he’s fulfilling as a master storyteller.

Flint water crisis is a drop in the sorry bucket of government

The presidential election season tends to bring out all kinds of haters, but especially government haters.

  • I hate government waste.
  • I hate Washington, D.C.
  • I hate federal government mandates.
  • I hate do-nothing politicians.
  • I hate paying for government programs.
  • I hate those bozos in Springfield (this is specific to Illinois haters, but there are probably state government haters in every state).
  • I hate pork (by pork, I don’t mean bacon — even vegetarians don’t hate bacon, they just don’t eat it — I mean pork barrel, that wasteful spending that we all pay for but only benefits one district).
  • I hate Democrats.
  • I hate Republicans.
  • I hate socialists who hate bankers.
  • I hate bankers who back socialists.

You get the picture. So we’re all looking for the candidate who spends less, does more and doesn’t clog up the news with negative advertising. Unfortunately, one man’s government waste and pork is another man’s hope and change.

But can all the haters agree on this? If government doesn’t do anything else, shouldn’t it be responsible for providing clean drinking water?

Even before providing for the common defense or ensuring the blessings of liberty (freedom of religion, speech, press and all that), isn’t potable water, like, the No. 1 way to promote the general welfare? Human beings can’t live for more than three days without water (and it gets downright uncomfortable after just 24 hours). Not to say anything about icy cold beverages, nice hot baths, washing clothes and watering lawns, right?

Water is right up there at the top of the priority list.

So this whole Flint, Mich., debacle makes me sick (not as sick as it’s making Flint residents, I’ll bet, but still, I’m appalled).

Here’s the deal. For the most part, a modern citizen can’t ensure her own potable water (though I once was pretty pleased in the investment of a simple water filter). Sure, 150 years ago, I could have dug my own well and lugged water in buckets I made myself from safely harvested materials, but nowadays, the government sources the water (or permits the well digging), the government treats the water and the government governs the pipes through which the water flows.

Government exists for exactly this sort of job. Most of the time, when it’s being done right, I’m quite happy to leave water delivery to government because the government can take advantage of volume discounts. I’m fine to pay for my share in one way or another, usually through taxes of one sort or another and then by the gallon in usage rates, because then I don’t have to buy own water treatment plant, water tower and pipe delivery system.

Same theory applies to road construction, the fire department, the military and libraries. I can’t afford to do these things for myself so paying for a piece of them ensures I have roadways on which to drive, that firefighters will come to my aid when my house goes up in flames, that fearless soldiers will fight on my behalf and that I can borrow a book for free.

But none of those things matter if I’m dead. And I’m dead if I don’t have a dependable source of safe water.

Effective governance requires knowledgeable personnel, active oversight, safe equipment and, I’m sorry to admit, tax-hungry entities like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food & Drug Administration.

Somewhere along the line, effectiveness in Flint’s water system got flushed.

At some point, we may know who exactly is to blame for Flint’s lead contamination problem, but I suspect the blame lies, in some way, with every level of government — local, state and national. A lot of lazy oversight and buck passing probably will be uncovered.

At worst, it’s just this sort of situation that inspires conspiracy theories (I was once a reporter in a town that refused to have its water fluoridated — because, lower your voice and look around furtively, that’s how the government poisons its citizens). And at best, the crisis in Flint is why so many people hate government. Because if government fails at the most basic and necessary functions, then what hope do we have that government — in any form, with any leader, of any party — can address our bigger, even more complex problems, like poverty, health care and North Korea?

Alas. Not much.