Category Archives: Uncategorized

Super Tuesday (for Racially Charged Instant Bestsellers)

by Categorized: books, Uncategorized Date:

I would not have guessed, 12 months ago, that race in America would be the compelling subject it has been. Perhaps, as a journalist, I notice it more. I’m doing more shows about race and writing about it more, but I think all of us know we’re living through something unusual — maybe even more unusual (and certainly more disturbing) than 2008 and the election of Barack Obama.

So Tuesday will be an interesting day in publishing. Random House decided (see above) that it would be crazy not to move up the publication of the new Ta-Nahesi Coates book, a meditation on race that so moved Toni Morrison that she anointed Coates as the writer who fills the void left by James Baldwin’s death.

But Tuesday is also the pub date for the new-old Harper Lee novel, which the bookselling industry is attempting to ratchet up into a Harry Potter-type event. Barnes and Nobles will open two hours early on Tuesday, and people will pick up their reserved copies. Will they get in line dressed as Boo Radley?  We do not know.

What makes this an odd convergence — and therefore the thrust of my radio show today — is that the Lee novel is considerably more racially charged than her fans might have expected. Written before “To Kill a Mockingbird,” its rough draft of Atticus Finch is apparently not as the justice-dispensing lovable titan we met in the American classic she eventually wrote. This Atticus is narrow-minded, resistant to change and dismissive of Southern blacks.

For the record, I would argue that this is almost no contradiction at all and that it, in fact, makes Finch the perfect embodiment of a basic contradiction in the American spirit. Our nation was founded on lofty rhetoric about all men being created equal while we kept black men in chains and drove “red” men off their lands. And that’s Atticus. I wish I were the first to notice this, but this Gladwell piece in 2009 notes that Atticus’s vision of justice is mostly close-up and personal. He doesn’t mind taking big risks to avert what he considers a gross miscarriage, but he doesn’t really question the system.

In “Mockingbird,” all’s well that ends well. One senses that the Finch family is ready to return to what Coates calls the white Dream “organized around pot roasts, blueberry pies, fireworks, ice cream sundaes, immaculate bathrooms, and small toy trucks that were loosed in wooded backyards with streams and glens.” To live in the Dream is never to question, he writes, “the scale of theft that enriched them in slavery; the terror that allowed them, for a century, to pilfer the vote; the segregationist policy that gave them their suburbs. They have forgotten, because to remember would tumble them out of the beautiful Dream and force them to live down here with us, down here in the world.”

In a separate way, I’m fascinated by the preemptive freak-out about Atticus. The way people are talking about (what they see as) the inconsistencies raises almost Pirandellian questions about the relationship among literary character, author and audience. The hard-headed part of me says that Atticus does not exist and never existed and that his appearance — in this way or that — on a printed page is a simple authorial act.  But of course, he does exist in the hearts and imaginations of millions of readers, which is why this (alleged) transmutation is so hard on folks.

We’ll talk about both books on the show today. harper coates


The Nose Has Two Front Holes

by Categorized: Uncategorized Date:

I’m tardy in preparing for tomorrow’s Nose culture panel which will feature Theresa Cramer, James Hanley and Irene Papoulis. I’ve had a very busy week, and the panel started batting their own topic choices around.

They got especially revved up about this article objecting to the way people (and by people I mean of course Caitlyn Jenner and Larry Summers) suggest that the brain has either male or female wiring.

“You can’t pick up a brain and say ‘that’s a girl’s brain’ or ‘that’s a boy’s brain,’ ” Gina Rippon, a neuroscientist at Britain’s Aston University, toldThe Telegraph last year. The differences between male and female brains are caused by the “drip, drip, drip” of the gendered environment, she said.

I had a hard time with this article because it kept using “gendered,” a word I hate and am convinced does not really exist. I’m also a little wary of it because last week’s Nose totally got its Caitlyn on.On the other hand, I can see where it goes new places, because vaginas!

Let me get this right: The word “vagina” is exclusionary and offers an extremely narrow perspective on womanhood, so the 3.5 billion of us who have vaginas, along with the trans people who want them, should describe ours with the politically correct terminology trans activists are pushing on us: “front hole” or “internal genitalia”?

Is it just me or is the next Meghan Trainor hit song sitting right there in that sentence?

There have been rebuttals. (I don’t like it when the pieces keep getting longer.) So should we talk about this? Think about it while I watch this.


Ooh, wait. Could I tie Burkett into this piece about why the bros in the “Entourage” movie seem outdated and diorama-worthy?

Like it or not, awareness is in. It’s not that bros have disappeared, but it’s no longer possible to swagger your way to widespread success fueled on testosterone alone. The successful bros—the Chris Pratts, the Channing Tatums, the Zac Efrons—are successful because of their sensitivities, not in spite of them.

Me, I noticed a repeated trope:  “I’m breaking up with my Fitbit/Apple Watch/ Ring of Power.” Google some version of that, and you’ll see what I mean. When people ditch that stuff, they use the phrase “break up.”  (I stole the LOTR reference from this nifty piece of writing.)

That was also when the Fitbit left its role as just a fitness tracker and a Bentham-like device with which we could see who was walking the dog and who wasn’t. It became an eye of Sauron of sorts, if Sauron cared whether your beagle got her daily exercise.

And here’s the Apple Watch version. 

First everyone wanted to know about it. Then they wanted to try it. Then they made certain assumptions about me.

Which, frankly, I would have made about any woman like myself walking around with a big black box on her arm.

She had a lot of other objections, all of which totally convinced me. Anyway, I’m mainly intrigued by the “breaking up” trope.  We have reached the moment of entering into relationships with machines. People never broke up with their TVs.  They stopped watching them.

Now what? Well, ordinarily, I would say the McKinney TX story has dragged on too long to work on the Nose, but I do like breaking off the part of it that is the swimming pool .

Every part of this incident—from the setting of a private pool in a predominantly white suburb to the angry neighbors and eventual violence—is informed by this fraught history of race and swimming. Whether they realize it or not, each participant—from the kids to the residents to the police—was playing an old part in an even older story of anger and confrontation.

It’s why all of our halcyon attachment to summer seems a little class-specific. Summer sucks if you’re poor and if you can’t cool off. It’s also why a high percentage of black Americans don’t learn how to swim. Because there’s Jim Crow and Jim Fish.

For decades, white swimmers feared sharing a beach with black people because they worried about catching disease, yet hired blacks to cook their food or nurse their children. Mr. Thurmond rallied against race mixing and yet, after his death, it was revealed that he had a daughter with a black woman who had worked in his family’s home. There’s a strange intimacy in racism, and water exposes the inevitability of this intimacy. Water touches me, then touches you.

I do think the image of the girl in the bathing suit will be iconic.casebolt-mckinney-arrest





This will not be on the Nose, but I just want to say goodbye to kuru. It was a thing I knew about, and now it is mercifully ending. We’ll always have scrapie. I mean, not me personally. I do not have scrapie.Sheep-scrapie2

I dunno. I feel we’re still a few bricks shy of a Nose. What topics are we missing?



The Brightness Control

by Categorized: Politix, Uncategorized, Year in Review Date:

Annie The Musical, (6626178677)The sun will come up tomorrow, and it will be brighter.

That has been the consistent message of the Malloy administration, starting at least as far back as February.  Some spin doctor told Malloy and his troops: keep saying the “brighter” thing.

At times, it has caused public officials to sound like they were doing a treacly light bulb commercial instead of the people’s business. Here is Malloy spokesman Devon Puglia explaning to WNPR (thanks, Diane) why it’s a good thing to gut the library budget. Because brighter!

And in describing the weekend budget deal, Malloy decided to bring on da poetry. You know, some fresh new imagery!

“A brighter tomorrow will start with this budget today,” Malloy said in a statement.


Please bear in mind: it is not tomorrow yet. We’ll let you know when the brightness starts.

I Paid $62K For 1 Evening And All I Got Was This Bad Human Rights Record

by Categorized: Uncategorized Date:

Do you know what is fun?

Getting mad at rich and famous people for being clueless.

We’re going to do that in just a second, but first a correction. Kirstie Alley did not cause the Fort Lee/GW Bridge mess. Nor has she been indicted for it. We apologize for any confusion.

metgaOK, back to the celebrities. On the Nose today, we may recap the problematic Met Gala.  The dress with the penis on it?  No. We do not judge. The dress that 162 laborers died making and/or carrying? No. We love tourist attractions. The wasteful extravagance of an evening that could easily cost $62,000 to attend and dress for?  No. Although after reading the NYT deep dive on the abuses of the mani-pedi industry, we’re a little jumpy about puttin’ on the ritz, especially for an Asian-themed gala.

Well, if it’s not any of those, what was the problem? Oh, I know! Was is that Clooney’s human rights lawyer wife wore anti-semitic Galliano? No. We’re sure she had her very good reasons! I know! It was all the people who wore poppies, missing their humiliation-laden overtones of Opium War imperialism!. No! You cannot expect J-Law to know things like that. They are not taught in the crappy District !2 schools that Katniss attended.

Was it the cultural appropriation? Well, kinda.

Then what is it? Dummy, it’s the failure of the celebrities to in any way acknowledge  “the ongoing brutal and inhumane crackdown on free speech and human rights going on on the ground in China, one that’s being called the most repressive in 25 years.”

Call it a blind spot.

At least China has not crack
ed down on twerking, which is more than Russia can say.

Oh, wait.

The Nose: Things We Want To Put In Our Mouths

by Categorized: Show ideas, Uncategorized, Year in Review Date:

Another thing we can always do on The Nose is talk about very, very shallow topics. Because, as Einstein said, “Sometimes you get so shallow, it starts to get deep.” Einstein was totally baked when he said this.

But yes! If you told me that Kim Kardashian’s book of her life told in selfies was lying there under the porte cochere, I would run out and get it and look at it even though my grasp of who she is is so vague as to be almost unpatriotic. Still a narcissistic machine understanding its own narcissism.  The Singularity!

Moral questions can be shallow and vice versa. Like: would you have sex with the new Hamburglar? If James Hanley were one of the guests this week, he would gently urge us not to be so soft-headed as to fall for a multinational corporation with sliding sales trying to get you all hot and bothered about an imaginary (but smooth!) criminal. Annie, are you OK? (Sing that 12 times.) Who does he remind you of? Can I tell you my theory? Damien Lewis as Henry VIII.

hamburglar-new.w529.h352 damian-lewis-wolf-hall
There’s something wrong with me, isn’t there?

We can move on now, although it has to be said that if there’s an award for 2015 Hamburglar journalism, the field will be as thick as special sauce. 

What if we don’t want to eat Mickey D’s? What if we want Whole Foods but we are still pretending to be poor with our friend Gwyneth?

This!!!! WF CEO John Mackey interviewed via Skype from his sex-cabana on Mars: “You have to evolve with the marketplace. We may have hit some limit of how much crazy money you can take away from stupid rich people.”* (*Made-up quote.) The Nose may discuss the name of this excellent new place, although panelist Taneisha Duggan sprinted ahead of us with SNAPeas.

Joan Rivers said: “Why cook? So your husband can tell some hooker ‘My wife makes great bread?’ ”

Why cook when there is a “Keurig for food?”  Which is like “an electric chair for waffles.”

UPDATE: We heard from Annie! It turns out she’s OK. She’s having dinner with her cat.

Ripley’s More Probable Than Not!

by Categorized: Show ideas, sports, Uncategorized, Year in Review Date:

It’s late Thursday afternoon, and I’m thinking about the Nose, our Friday culture roundtable.

Did you know it’s a mistake to include content that makes light of domestic violence? Damn, why didn’t WE know about it here at the Cleveland basketball office place? Like eight or nine of us watched the video and we thought it was totally fine, but now we can kind of see what people object to.

We know! We know! Over here at the New York Liberty, a WNBA basketball team, we were putting the finishing touches on our deal to have Isaiah Thomas take over as president, and a guy from the cleaning crew was passing through emptying wastebaskets and he said, “None of my business, but you might have some problems with your women’s fans because of his whole sexual harassment case.”  And we said: What? Is some janitor telling us that Isaiah is not a huge win all around? What? Maybe in Peru where he comes from this is a bigger deal. But we thanked him. And then guess what: it almost seems like he was right!

Sports sports sports! My favorite NFL tradition is when the ref comes in right before the game and measures your balls. Or is that “Dancing With the Stars?” We’re not sure whether, on the Nose, we have anything new, anything meta, anything media-studies-y to say about Deflate-gate. But it’s more probable than not that we do! If nothing else, it should be the catch phrase of this weekend. But even if your spouse screams, “It’s more probable than not that you promised to take me to Chili’s, you @&%$!,” it is still not OK to pick her up and throw her. OK?

Unless you are Floyd Mayweather. It’s kind of amazing that, at the end of the Greatest Fight of the Century If It Had Been Held Five Years Earlier, there is a huge stinking scandal that does not involve Floyd. Instead, it involves Pacman, who decided he could beat Mayweather with one hand tied behind his back but did not tell anybody about this plan except possibly God. And now, he faces lawsuits from decent people who paid good money to see men hit each other much harder in the face.

Enjoy this post while I make a list of our non-sports possible topics.

The Statistic I Cannot Get Through My Head

by Categorized: Uncategorized Date:

One of the refrains from people who don’t like the way the Freddie Gray case has been covered is that all this coverage paints police in an unfair light. A Hartford Courant commenter named John McCommas wrote, in response to one oped: “The clear, unmistakable, indefensible blunt intent of your message on that lousy graffiti rock, ‘Black Lives Matter’, is that the lives of white police officers don’t matter. Not to you anyways.” An email to me from WNPR listener Walter complained that the tone of coverage relating to Gray was accompanied by the message that:  “cops are not ‘real people.’ They are just bigoted murderers.”

I sure don’t feel that way.  I know plenty of cops. They’re real people to me, and I want them to be good at their jobs. Their lives matter to me. I have always assumed that the #blacklivesmatter campaign was a way of saying “We want black lives to matter as much as white lives currently do.”

Anyway, writing back to Walter, I wanted to make the point that we’re not dehumanizing all cops if we acknowledge that there’s a problem in this country with death at the hands of police.

And then I wondered how often it happens per year.

It turns out that record keeping on this subject tends to be a bit makeshift but that 1,000 deaths-by-police is not a crazy number.

1,000. In a year.

I can’t get my mind to ingest that number.

In Great Britain, the usual number, per year, seems to be zero.  Give or take one?

Germany reported 8 deaths by police service weapons in a two-year period.

In Canada, well, I read a  bunch of reports like this one, but I never got a hard number. I think if you said a dozen a year, you wouldn’t get much argument.


I’m in shock. We really have to look at this. To pretend that calling attention to it amounts to some kind of verbal war against police is ridiculous.

Thursday Thoughts: Mr. Bridesmaid

by Categorized: Uncategorized Date:

I seem to have been second best a lot last year. In recent days, I have finished second in these national awards for column writing, finished as second best radio show around these parts, also finished as second best radio personality

I’m Number Two! I’m Number Two!

As I get older, collective efforts seem like more fun, so I’m proud to stand with my colleagues at WNPR as Best Radio Station. Also won Best Blogger. I win every year because I’m the only name everybody knows. I’m a terrible blogger. Give it to someone else. Please.

nbIf you do nothing else for me this week, listen to my interview with Nancy Butler, a wonderful, radiant lady who founded an “inclusive evangelical” (LGBTQ welcome!) church here. Nancy has ALS. You can’t see it the picture but she’s in a high tech wheelchair, still preaching on Sundays. I’ve been attending her church all month. I’ve learned a lot from her. Mostly about joy. (The t-shirt I’m wearing here says “God Listens.” It’s from a Christian radio station.)

We did a yang for the yin of that show the next day with a Betsy Kaplan-produced show about the struggles between religion and science. 

Coming attractions: This event with Danny Glover, Charles Grodin and a cast of thousands. I’ll be moderating a panel. They’d love it if you came. Two days earlier, this great event for the wonderful Institute Library. I’m hosting at Thali, but my part of the event seems to be sold out, Tickets still available to a few of the others. And everybody hangs at the Library at the end.

Here we are talking on WWL about Ammogate:

What else? Today’s “wish I thought of it” image. Emily Nussbaum writing about Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall (the TV series, not the book, Broadway play or fragrance).

Pearls framing her cleavage, eyes narrowed, chin high, she seems eternally aware that she’s being watched, because she’s stuck inside a truly insane system, a reproductive panopticon in which all that matters is the illusion of virginity and the emergence of a male heir, as wombs are traded like unstable derivatives.

Monday Memo

by Categorized: Uncategorized Date:

This guy nails the problem(s) with the White House Correspondents Dinner, a/k/a the Nerd Prom, although I sympathize slightly with attendees who are asked point blank to name their favorite White House Correspondent. A cool answer would have been to go vintage: “The ’74 Dan Rather.” From the current crop, Don Gonyea is always a nice answer. Mark Knoller is a super-wonky answer. And then there’s the  Cheshire Cat.

On our Monday show, The Scramble, we’ve decided to bag that nerd prom and cover a different one.  Maybe a little less nerdy. We’re talking about Kantchella. We’re talking about Nietzschepalooza. We’re talking about Lockestock. We’re talking about Frommaroo. We’re talking about the 62-philosopher smackdown. Here’s our guest for today on that one.

By 9 p.m. John Cage had given way to pounding disco classics from the 1970s in the embassy’s bookstore, Albertine. Over at the Ukrainian Institute, the coffee machine broke down. On the plus side, free charcuterie from D’Artagnan appeared. Speaking in the Ukrainian Institute’s concert hall, Susan Schneider, of the University of Connecticut, speculated about the nature of alien consciousness and cast doubt on whether extraterrestrial beings might be as interested in communicating with us as we are with them. “You don’t spend time reading a book to your goldfish,” she said.

Also on our show today, when it comes to crime and punishment you might thing that the following two things would result in increased punishment (a) a cynical, as opposed to idealistic, motive (b) the betrayal of a position of great trust. You would be wrong, at least when it comes to Gen. David Petraeus. It turns out that the more important you are, the lighter your punishment, even if your crime involved a direct violation of what made you important in the first place.

Looking down the week toward the Nose, we’re already getting interested in the PEN controversy over Charlie Hebdo. And we’re wondering if we can connect it — at least at the level of walk-outs — with the Adam Sandler controversy.  Here’s Garry Trudeau, over the weekend, on Hebdo:



So Does Connecticut Have a RFRA Like Indiana’s?

by Categorized: Uncategorized Date:

1855 Colton Map of Indiana - Geographicus - Indiana-colton-1855
Yes and no. Mostly no.

You’re going to read this often in the commentary about Malloy’s travel ban. It’s in the comments to this article.  And it’s in this disingenuously worded piece of commentary. The argument made is: how can Malloy object to Indiana when Connecticut has essentially the same law?

Believe me, I came to this question with an open mind.  It would have amused me if Connecticut were caught in an act of ahistorical hypocrisy, and I like being amused. In a different way, it would please me to say that our law is not like Indiana’s. I’m happy either way. So let’s look at the facts.

Connecticut’s law is relatively old. It dates back to 1993.  You can read the text here. The law is restricted to interactions between the government and a person, and it says that the government can’t burden the person’s “exercise of religion” except in furtherance of a compelling government interest and even then only when the burden is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest. That’s the whole law. You could say it screams out for court cases that will define terms like “exercise of religion” and “compelling government interest.” You could not say that it goes out of its way to define those terms on one side’s behalf. I was halfway into writing this post when Dan Klau, an actual lawyer, published his own take on it. He gives you some of the 1993 history here. 

The Indiana law — read it here –is, of course, the modern, updated version.  But that does not, in this case, mean “sleek.” The Indiana law is clunked up with new language, and most of that language is based on lawsuits from the intervening years. The purpose of the new language is almost invariably to make it easier for the party claiming religious injury to prove its case. Let’s pull this out of the realm of the abstract. Let us imagine that I am a communicant of the Church of the Giant White Serpent (CGWS). My church believes that blacks are inferior and that physically disabled people bear the mark of Cain. The First Amendment allows me to belong to such a distasteful church, provided I don’t go around inciting wrath. But now I would like to go a little further. I would like to open a lunch counter, and I would like to run it along the lines of my beliefs. What does the new Indiana law do for me?

1. Perhaps the biggest difference between Indiana and Connecticut is that the Indiana law does not restrict itself to state vs. person conflict. Instead it says I may make my argument  “as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding, regardless of whether the state or a political subdivision of the state is a party to the judicial proceeding.”  At my CGWS lunch counter, I make blacks sit separately and I don’t let disabled people in at all. It’s my religion! The Connecticut law deals only with my rights vis a vis the state, but the Indiana law arms me against complaints from private parties. I can kick out the guy in the wheelchair, and I’m on firmer legal ground, even if he sues me. In Connecticut, I don’t really have any spelled out rights until the Attorney General shows up and tells me I have to seat African-Americans and blind people alongside my regular customers.

2.   But wait. There’s more. Indiana’s law affirms that I can assert that my exercise of religion has been burdened “whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief.” So I don’t even have to prove that my intolerance toward blacks and the disabled is a central tenet of the CGWS, just that it’s in the mix somewhere. (So don’t fall for the argument that Indiana’s law has a higher burden of proof because it uses the phrase “substantially burdened” while Connecticut’s does not. The Indiana law is in other respects explicit about how insubstantial the burden can be. Also, see item 3. )

3. What else can Indiana do for me? Well, it can say that I don’t have to prove a burden to seek relief. I can claim I am “likely to be substantially burdened.” What does that mean? I have no idea, but I hope my CGWS attorneys will argue that even the possibility that someone — a government agent or a private party — will show up and claim I’m in the wrong is more than my pretty little white head should have to bear.

4. The Indiana law spells out four forms of relief.  Go ask Klau what that means.  It’s certainly different from the CT law.

5. Is that it, Indiana?  I mean, I’m just a little guy, a lunch counter owner whose religion contains important teachings about the pernicious nature of blacks and disabled people. What chance do I have if the government shows up claiming that it has a compelling interest in making me serve these children of a lesser god?

In Connecticut, that killjoy George Jepsen is probably going to shut down my racist lunch counter with the argument that it is not an exercise of religion. It’s just a damn lunch counter. George would say I’m not exercising my religion when I’m making and selling sandwiches.

But the new Indiana law includes, in its definition of a (possibly burdened) person “a partnership, a limited liability company, a corporation, a company, a firm, a society, a joint-stock company, an unincorporated association, or another entity that: (A) may sue and be sued; and (B) exercises practices that are compelled or limited by a system of religious belief held by: (i) an individual; or (ii) the individuals; who have control and substantial ownership of the entity, regardless of whether the entity is organized and operated for profit or nonprofit purposes.” Whoa!  This is certainly not in the Connecticut statute. I am engaging in protected religious exercises when I’m making and selling (or refusing to sell) liverwurst sandwiches. Who knew?

In conclusion, anybody who tells you Indiana and Connecticut have the same RFRA law is a big fat liar.

Now, if my lunch counter refuses to serve gay couples, yet another difference kicks in which is not contained in the two laws. Connecticut affords specific protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation — oh God, please, don’t make me explain “quasi suspect classification!” — whereas Indiana does not.  I suppose you could say that the new Indiana RFRA strengthens the capacity of business to discriminate against gays, as opposed to creating a whole new capacity. (Klau, any thoughts?)

What you cannot say, however, is that our beloved Porcupine has failed to note the similarities between the Connecticut and Indiana laws. They are not the same laws — in intent or letter.