Thirteen Years in New York

New York sneaks up on you like a black bear trawling outside your tent at sunrise. As the beast paws through food and ravages the site you staged with immaculate care, you realize that this wily indomitable creature has watched you and known you all along. It is an entity that can never be crushed because another will emerge in its place.

I have now lived in New York longer than any other city. Thirteen years and three months. Which beats my previous record of thirteen years in San Francisco. Not only did the time flit by faster than I ever could have anticipated, but I still very much love this great city and continue to discover so many unanticipated contours and scintillating subcultures. The possibilities and the conversations here remain lively and are rarely dull. There are all sorts of marvelous people stubbornly eking out their dreams and, no matter how many difficulties they face — rats, a rickety traffic grid, a preposterously pompous mayor, gentrification, small-time power grabbers, and assorted human parasites — they can’t be easily crushed. New Yorkers are some of the most resilient people on earth. You have to be tough in order to live here. Nearly everyone is only two paychecks away from sleeping on the streets. And you could be felled by any cosmic force at any time. This may account for why so many marriages are particularly fragile and wildly unstable despite the roseate thump of a New York Times wedding announcement etched in showy affluence and why being single here, much like Minneapolis, is often a steady stream of constantly rotating bodies so that everyone can find a quick fix to survive the natural elements. (Oh well. At least you get to hear a lot of interesting life stories just before you make the morning coffee.) A friend visiting from Europe recently asked me why I still felt some subconscious need to prove myself. I replied, “It’s New York, man. If you aren’t regularly leveling up here, you’re doing it wrong.” (In my friend’s defense, it wasn’t entirely New York. But you see my point.)

I’ll always hold a dear place for the San Francisco that I was lucky enough to live in. I was privileged to live there in the last days of the freaks, when you could actually pay $600 each month to rent your own apartment. I love that city with all my heart. But I’ve been back and it ain’t my town anymore. While it has retained its beauty, San Francisco has become an unaffordable monolithic playground for the rich, more so than even Manhattan. It has chewed up and spat out the weirdness that once made it a remarkable metropolis, surrendering to the lavish obscenity of vanilla techbro millionaires without a sense of history or an intuitive respect for everyday people. Still, I suspect now, with some hindsight, that San Francisco may not have been the right place for me. Or maybe it was a city that didn’t push me as much as I needed it to. If San Francisco helped kick me out of suburban complacency and demanded that I start writing and make radio, it was New York that said, “Buddy, you’d better get moving or I will eat you alive.” I probably needed a city to tell me this much earlier in my life, but, hey, better late than never. This city’s intractable edict, which it whispers into the ear of every New Yorker, helped me to climb out of a very dark and seemingly inescapable abyss and make something of myself. It forced me to find and honor my full and true self. It demanded that I take more chances in my life and my art. It aided me in making my audio drama. New York told me that my existence and ambitions, as crazy as these both were, needed to be pursued. It told me that I needed to look out for others and make sure they were living up. It still demands that I do more — for myself and others — and, of course, I’m constantly learning and I’m regularly humbled.

I’m tremendously grateful to know so many fascinating people, to work with so many talented actors, and to continue to have so many goofy and weird adventures when I’m not toiling long hours on various creative endeavors. It’s possible that I would have stumbled upon this life eventually, but cities often provide those vital murmurs that get you where you need to go. And one should never complain about late timing in life. It’s a churlish pastime that often has one absorbed into some nostalgic ambuscade. Besides, there are always cosmic variables outside your control. Nevertheless, thank you, New York. And thank you to all the kind New Yorkers who kept their faith in me and saw something positive in me and called me on my bullshit and busted my chops. Without them or this city, I wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t be who I am today.

Crime Junkie: How the Most Popular True Crime Podcast Turned to Serial Plagiarism

Ashley Flowers was an Indiana native with big dreams, slick sales savvy, and a fierce determination to be number one. She was in her late twenties. She’d earned a bachelor’s degree at Arizona State University. She’d studied genetics at the University of Norte Dame. But in September 2016, the world wasn’t bending the way she thought it would. Ashley’s biotech background couldn’t land her a steady paycheck. So she worked as a software sales exec and made the best of it. Instead of squinting at genomes, she was poring over revenue reports.

She kept the tech gig because the place was dog-friendly. She could toil while Charlie wagged his tail just next to her. A playful pooch with a big bark. Proudly featured on the company’s Instagram feed. An important part of her life. The first taste of working on her own terms.

She wanted more.

She found some hope in what she had. The Crime Stoppers of Central Indiana, where she volunteered and eventually served on the Board of Directors. An important figure. A respected position. A childhood friend named Brit Prawat who shared the same birthday. A brother named David who knew how to edit or who could, theoretically at least, figure out how to. Important connections. The fond memory of watching “geriatric” mystery shows with her mother. An important formative experience. A weekly morning radio segment on Radio NOW 100.9 called Murder Monday, where she’d get up very early and be at the microphone by 7:30 and join Joe and Alex and talk about murders and missing people and creeps lurking in the night and maybe get a little attention. Important attention.

And she liked that. Both the attention and being on the radio.

But why couldn’t she be bigger? And why couldn’t the segments be longer? And why shouldn’t she make money at this? Ashley figured she could pack away some dough and beat them all her way. By working harder than anyone else. Three hours before work. Late into the night after work. She’d listened to true crime podcasts. All of them. Or so she told everybody. Why couldn’t she do it?

And so she did. The program was Crime Junkie and it had a winning formula. Two friends gossiping over a cold case or a grisly homicide as if they were discussing the right apricot chutney to serve with the duck breasts. But somehow it worked. Brit playing the bewildered pal muttering many wows as Ashley told her the crime story. No ad libbing. All of it tightly scripted. Or as scripted as she could make it. There were only so many hours each day. With David cutting it all together. A family affair. Two childhood friends together on the podcast, even though they were separated by a two and a half hour drive between West Lafayette and South Bend and they only seemed to see each other when they made promotional appearances.

She put up a new thirty minute podcast every Monday. Longer than her radio spots. On her own terms. And it blew up. With cards placed in women’s restrooms. Loads of cards. And marketing. Paid marketing, as Ashley was to tell two Italian dudes who ran a podcast in her hometown. What kind of paid marketing? Well, some have speculated. The numerous five star iTunes reviews — with their repeat use of “love this podcast,” double exclamation marks, and “obsessed” — were fishy, as were the questionable user names, which included such improbable identification choices as “Addyjeannnewcomb1234” and “vgifddssetivdyiogfdgjobvr.” The download stats were wonky. How does a show jump from nine million monthly downloads in March to sixteen million in July? What “paid marketing” cooked these numbers? Again, we can only speculate.

But who really cared? Ashley and Brit were a success. The United Talent Agency came calling. For the right price, you too could blow the entirety of your quarterly budget to have Ashley Flowers fly out and speak to you on one singular but vitally important topic: “A Conversation with Ashley Flowers.” There was a TV deal. A second podcast series. An empire to build. What could go wrong? Ashley and Brit sold out every damn venue on their maiden live show tour. Every show. You can’t argue with results. Multitudinous meetups where the duo had charmed crowds. It is estimated that Crime Junkie now earns somewhere between six figures and seven figures each year. This buys, as the old saying goes, a lot of corn chowder.

There was just one problem. One very serious problem. A math problem. A time management problem. Those twenty-five to thirty hours that Ashley spent each week to write and research the show simply weren’t enough. Ashley had to cut corners. Somewhere. The money was important. The attention was important. The adulation from her fans was important. She squashed any comment that wasn’t a fawning compliment on the Facebook forum like a bug zapper sizzling a pesky insect. Because successful people have to stay successful people. And if they believe in success, then other people will still believe they are successful.

Even when they break the rules.

And so Ashley Flowers decided to become a serial plagiarist. Sometime around the twenty-fifth episode. Continuing to this day. (Crime Junkie has released 95 episodes to date, with a June 24, 2019 episode devoted to Amanda Cope pulled after Flowers got many details wrong. Flowers released a new Episode 87 dedicated to the Sumter County Does on July 1, 2019.) Because it was her show, she had no one to answer to.

Ashley read the words — verbatim sentences or lifted syntax with willowy asides to disguise the outright theft — from Wikipedia, from passionate podcasters who put in unpaid hours doing their own research and who formed their own conclusions, from journalists who spent the day sifting through public records and who toiled for months getting their sources to trust them. Crime journalism is not a field for the timid. But Ashley was not a journalist. Still, the ends justified the means. At least that’s what Ashley kept telling herself.

But then came two vital whistleblowers: (1) The journalist Cathy Frye left a comment on Ashley’s Facebook page on the evening of August 11, 2019, pointing out how her four part series on the 2002 murder of 13-year-old Kacie Woody, “Caught in the Web,” had been severely cannibalized for “entertainment.” Frye noted that she had “spent months” working on the series and that the details that Ashley relied on could only have emerged from her exclusive time-consuming work (as BuzzFeed‘s Stephanie McNeal would report four days later, the project had “sucked a big part of [Frye’s] soul,” with Frye taking months to get Kacie Woody’s father to talk). (To get a full sense of the scale here, this document points out just how thoroughly Frye’s work has been scraped and repurposed without credit.) (2) A cheerful true crime fan by the name of Millicent Tirk who could no longer stand to see the work of her friends stolen and who, on August 13, 2019, called out Crime Junkie on Facebook. The failure to credit hard work and the subsequent outrage whipped up the true crime community, with many unsubscribing from Crime Junkie as articles in Variety and The Week started bubbling up the news feed.

When it finally started to go south for Ashley, when the many shocked listeners discovered more than one hundred instances of plagiarism and who knows how many more (all carefully collected on a Google spreadsheet generated during the course of this investigation and, most glaringly documented on YouTube by Trace Evidence‘s Steven Pacheco), the thefts were appearing nearly every week. But Ashley didn’t care. She would never acknowledge her wrongdoing, a series of transgressions comparable to those that derailed Janet Cooke (forced to return her Pulitzer), Jonah Lehrer, and a magazine that lifted recipes. She deleted episodes that had contained vast swaths of cutting and pasting and reciting, as if the words had emerged wholly from Ashley Flowers herself. Episodes revived from digital extinction with the help of three anonymous listeners — when it became necessary to create a mirror of the entire Crime Junkie archive just in case Ashley decided to delete additional episodes — revealed the plagiarism in glaring detail. When Ashley and Brit released Episode 94 on August 19, 2019, the week after the plagiarism news hit and stunned many, the two did not acknowledge the behavioral pattern that had been exposed the previous week. But there were four bright new lifts from Wikipedia. Ashley and Brit were making money. They had won fame. All Ashley had to do was pluck the work of others and claim it as hers and keep on doing this. Surely nobody would care. And because the numbers hadn’t dipped that much, she believed she could keep this ruse going.

But many previously loyal fans — such as a Reddit user named @spoilersinabox — feel betrayed by Flowers’s failure to acknowledge her wrongdoing. Spoilers, a 27-year-old teacher in the DC area who requested anonymity, became aware of Crime Junkie while awaiting a seven hour flight thanks to an Apple recommendation — a recommendation fueled by the numerous five star reviews — and quickly became a fan. “It was just the tone that Ashley and Brit had as they were talking. There’s something about a soothing voice. I said, ‘I can get behind this.’ It sounded as if they had really researched the crime.” Spoilers wanted to support Flowers in her research. She attended the first live Crime Junkie show in DC. She told her friends and family about it. She then became a Patreon regular, pledging $20 a month, believing that her money was going into “the tools and time to do research.” Spoilers cited a second podcast that initially appeared on the Crime Junkie Patreon page before disappearing without explanation.

When Ashley and Brit issued a statement (pictured right) about the pulled Amanda Cope episode (the original Episode 87), Spoilers respected the thoughtful and “mature response” and was willing to give the two hosts the benefit of the doubt. When I asked Spoilers if she could forgive the two hosts for their plagiarism if they owned up now, she said, “On Thursday and Friday, I might have. At this point, I can’t.” She said that she felt guilt. “My time and my money should have gone to the people who told these stories first.” She remains angered that so many people have not comprehended the full scale of Flowers’s plagiarism. “Kudos to them,” said Spoilers. “They’ve pulled off a really good scam.”

Two other former fans, both of whom requested anonymity because they feared repercussions from the show’s fan base, told me over the phone that they had similar feelings — that they had been initially inclined to extend contrition to Flowers. But like Spoilers, they felt that Flowers’s silence spoke for itself. The moment had sadly passed.

As of this writing, Flowers and Prawat are gearing up to begin a second tour — this time, involving seventeen live shows, all reportedly based on the murder of six-year-old Isabel Celis, with ten of the shows presently sold out. This tour represents a sizable haul for the Crime Junkie crew, but fans who purchased tickets before the plagiarism controversy and who feel uncomfortable about supporting a program that steals content verbatim may not realize that there is no refund or exchange policy for these shows. A representative from the Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida informed me that the January 17, 2020 show was still on. NO REFUNDS OR EXCHANGES. Indianapolis. Show on. NO REFUNDS OR EXCHANGES. Orlando. Show on. NO REFUNDS OR EXCHANGES. Atlanta. Show on. But you can only refund your ticket if you purchased it at the box office. And most people didn’t. NO REFUNDS if you purchased it online. Austin. Show on. No refunds. “The only thing we can do is give the tickets to someone else.” The average seating capacity for these venues is around 800. The ticket prices range from a $31.50 balcony ticket at San Diego’s Balboa Theatre to a VIP Meet & Greet package at $103 at the Chicago Athenaeum Main Stage. If we assume that the average ticket price is $50 and the average seating capacity, this adds up to $680,000 if the shows all sell out. If Flowers and Prawat take home 25% of this, then that’s $170,000. More corn chowder to buy.

Because Crime Junkie has continued to plagiarize in its most recent episode, one must naturally ask whether it will continue to profit greatly from the hard work of others. I looked into the sources of revenue that keeps the show going. I put in calls to AdSense, which provides ads for Crime Junkie, asking what their position was on financing sponsoring content that had been lifted verbatim elsewhere. The firm declined to comment. Presumably, Crime Junkie will hold onto many of the estimated 27,540 fans who support their show (the exact number has been hidden on Patreon) — with varying tier donations of $5 to $20 each month. (At $5/month, this works out to $137,700 per month or $1.6 million each year.) While some have publicly announced that they would no longer be supporting the show on Patreon, Reddit users noticed on Monday that Ashley and Brit may have recently changed the tier rewards without informing their listenership. (Attempts to confirm this through Web Archive proved inconclusive.)

There’s also the question of whether a podcast that cribs content from other people is a legitimate journalistic outlet. Should Crime Junkie be granted exclusive access to vital police records, as is now the case with the duo’s planned second podcast? Flowers’s influence and coziness with local law enforcement led Chris Davis, producer of the 3C Podcast, to be barred from examining records pertaining to the November 17, 1978 Burger Chef murders — an unsolved Indiana case for which he has produced fifteen episodes. Davis told me that Sheriff Bill Dalton of the Indiana State Police declined both his unofficial and official requests to look at the files. (Dalton, who was in the middle of an investigation, was unavailable for comment. But I did speak with someone at the ISP who had worked closely with Dalton and who had been there for thirty years. This person informed me, “We have a tight lane around here. So we don’t allow a lot of people here.” This makes Flowers’s access even more uncommon and more surprising.) The official request took five months to elicit a response. In both cases, Davis was denied because of an investigatory records exemption. But the prohibition also arose because Flowers had cut an exclusive access deal, where the police would have complete control of the finished product. This was a decidedly sketchy journalistic arrangement.

“She was granted access and I have no qualms about her getting access,” said Davis. “At the end of the day, I want this case solved. We started our journey the same way.”

When I asked Davis if he would consider collaborating with Flowers or asking her if he could take a look at the records for his own investigation, he said no. He pointed to an incident in which Flowers posted a picture on social media of the old Burger Chef building with the tagline, “Guess what case I’m working on?” He replied with friendly humor, “Oh, I think I know.” Davis was swiftly blocked by Flowers on all social media immediately after.

While working on this story, I made every effort to contact Ashley Flowers. I really wanted to listen to her and understand why someone would do all this. Because one cannot deny the allure of hearing about a murder in a soothing voice. It’s one of the reasons why I love the podcast Criminal so much. As I listened to multiple Crime Junkie episodes, examining them for plagiarism, I felt increasingly sad and sorry for Ashley Flowers. Because she really was onto something with her format. Take away the speculation about automated iTunes reviews or even the profit and power motives or the errors she has sometimes made and the sonic aesthetic of two besties getting together to discuss crime possesses tremendous appeal. But here’s the thing: Flowers is even more fun and charming when she speaks in her own voice and expresses her own thoughts, as this interview with Espresso clearly reveals. Anyone who reaches people like this deserves great success, but it must be a success predicated upon her own work and her own voice.

Flowers did not return my calls, my emails, and my direct messages through social media. She’s still saying silent. A veritable content outlaw hiding in plain sight. I’ve learned that The New York Times is also working on a Crime Junkie plagiarism story. Will she say no to them?

But that’s not even the important question about Ashley’s serial plagiarism. The real question, the question often put forth to any addict before she admits that she has a problem, is whether Ashley can even stop.

[8/23/2019 UPDATE: The New York Times has reported on the Crime Junkie plagiarism. The only new information here is (a) some quotes from those were plagiarized, (b) Flowers did not responded to the Times (except through the same statement issued to Variety) and (c) Pacheco approached Flowers with a lawyer, sending along transcripts with time marks for seven episodes. As a result of Pacheco’s efforts, Crime Junkie pulled a few episodes.]

We Cannot Become Numb

58 dead in Las Vegas. 49 dead in Orlando. 26 dead in Sutherland Springs. 20 dead in El Paso (with ten more dead in Dayton about twelve hours later — and this was just last weekend). 17 dead in Stoneman Douglas High School. Do these figures even jolt you? Five mass shootings in the last three years. All five ranked within the top ten deadliest gun massacres in United States history. That’s more than the Haymarket Affair (11 dead), the Boston Massacre (5 dead), and the Marais des Cygnes violence (5 Free-Staters dead) that concluded the battle between pro-slavery ruffians and abolitionists just before the Civil War.

Even the Old West didn’t have these numbers, although the gun nuts will probably tell you that we should frame this within the context of weapons technology. Okay. Six miners striking in Colorado for worker’s rights were killed by machine guns on November 21, 1927. The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, a notable mob showdown dramatized in Some Like It Hot, killed seven. Not even Haun’s Mill, the infamous bloodbath in the 1838 Mormon War in Missouri, killed just nineteen.

Just nineteen. I really shouldn’t be saying that because nineteen people died. But “just nineteen” is a phrase you cleave to when you are bombarded nearly every day with another angering report of people at garlic festivals, in movie theaters, in churches and synagogues, in places that any of us could be spending our time having a nice day being murdered by a calculating shooter with an assault rifle and a obscenely prodigious magazine. The shooter often heeds the dog whistle of racism and white supremacy planted into his ears by a presidential administration and a dangerous right-wing party basking in the ghoulish glow of hatred and incitement while doing nothing to curb this needless violence, save for the usual “thoughts and prayers” that are as shallow and as superficial and as offensively belittling as a “Sorry for your loss” uttered to a grieving widow at a funeral. It doesn’t take away the needless absence of a vital figure in our lives. It cheapens the painful snap of a permanently lost human connection. Lives cut down in the distance and buried in the numbers. Human possibilities destroyed. A six year old boy in Gilroy just having a good time. Gone. How might these people have made our world better?

This is now a normal ritual in American life. And it shouldn’t be. The killing must continue to enrage us, sadden us, and spur us into action. The compassionless Republican monsters who sit pretty in seats purchased with NRA lobbying money and who refuse to act upon the cancer that plagues and dehumanizes this nation must be removed from office in the forthcoming elections — starting with the diseased and unpardonable “Moscow” Mitch McConnell, who has refused to allow Senators to vote on gun legislation that would at least represent a start to stopping this shameful epidemic.

But most importantly, we cannot become numb to this. This is not a time for vacuous water cooler talk in which we easily forget the latest shooting until the next one happens. We cannot allow ourselves to escape into the safe illusory womb of the phony American Dream suggesting that the massacres will stop by some divine serendipity. It is clear that the gun violence will continue. It is also clear that we’re likely to see even more devastating attacks as we continue to do nothing. As the people of Dayton mourned the nine people who died on Saturday night, Republican Ohio Governor Mike DeWine was received with the chants of people — Republicans and Democrats alike — shouting “Do something!” But a governor compromised by NRA influence cannot be trusted to ensure that the bare minimum legislation is passed. The Dayton protest demonstrated that gun violence is not a partisan issue, but a human one. The time has come to reject and eject any political figure who refuses to practice empathy, compassion, and measures that will make America a safer nation. They must be hounded and shamed at all times in public. Their voicemails must be flooded with protest calls. Their mailboxes must be dwarfed with epistles. Their offices must be occupied. Their operations must be shut down.

Because making their lives difficult appears to be the only way these people might understand how serious this issue is. We cannot become numb. We’ve fought back before in our long history. We can do it again. Action must begin now.

On the Connections Between Eating Food and Having Vivid Dreams

I woke up a few hours ago at an ungodly hour, furiously scribbling down the details of an extremely vivid dream in which I reluctantly led a group of slackers after a zombie invasion. For some inexplicable reason, I had to conduct a series of tasks, ranging from spray painting certain areas of my neighborhood to signify where the zombies were to releasing benign animals who needed food and companionship, without being bitten by a zombie. The strangest part of the dream was that, if I screwed up and was bitten (and I was gnawed on quite regularly), I had the opportunity to respawn at my “save point” and conduct the series of tasks yet again. Undoubtedly, my dream reflected my worries about the present state of America, as well as the very long days I have been spending editing the second season of my audio drama, in which I have often pushed forward in a zombie-like manner to get closer to the end. After I canvassed my apartment to make sure that there were no zombies around (such are the irrational fears we act upon when we have a particularly alluring and real-seeming dream), I realized that this dream, like many other vivid ones I had, was actually my subconscious trying to tell me that I was working too hard by myself and that I needed to reconnect with the world around me, as well as practice better self-care. But why had my dream been so vivid? Well, before I hit the hay, I did have some rather tasty spaghetti with fresh tomatoes and mushrooms that I had whipped up from scratch, as well as two glasses of red wine. Tomatoes and wine tend to cause me to have extremely vivid dreams. And I had thoughtlessly consumed both. Or was it so thoughtless? Perhaps my appetite subconsciously gravitated towards wine and pasta because it needed to work out something that I was obliviously avoiding. But it did get me thinking about the connections between what we eat and how we dream.

There is surprisingly little research out there on the interesting question of whether eating certain foods results in a snoozer having particularly vivid dreams. The great Winsor McCay — anticipating the Surrealists who arrived twenty years later with their dadaist thoughts — wrote and illustrated a popular newspaper comic called Dream of the Rarebit Fiend — in which various characters would eat a rarebit that would result in a series of ridiculous and dreamy images. The rarebit was an entree that involved melting rich cheese diluted with ale on top of toast, with a bit of mustard and cayenne pepper or paprika stirred in. And the belief that Welsh rarebit had some connection with sleep extended even to an old episode of Gomer Pyle – USMC (specifically “Gomer the Welsh Rarebit Fiend”), in which the rarebit-eating Gomer was discovered sleepwalking.

But a century after McCay’s vivid visuals and commitment to cheese, there did prove to be something to the silly theory. A 2005 study from The British Cheese Board suggested that various types of cheese could produce different types of dreams. Those who ate Blue Stilton over the course of a week tended to have incredibly vivid dreams. Cheddar caused subjects to dream of celebrities. Cheshire caused nice and dreamless sleeps. Red Leicester was more responsible for nostalgia and childhood. Lancashire cheese inspired people to dream about work. Amazingly, nobody has thought to follow up on these experiments. One would think that a deep dive into fromage-fueled phantasmagoria divorced of an organization with a vested interest in getting people to scarf down cheese at all hours of the day might be one of those goofy yet useful experiments that might help us customize our dreams in the same crazed manner that yuppies hold up the line ordering baroquely bespoke beverages at a cafe.

In 2015, a Canadian study conducted by Tore Nielsen and Russell A. Powell, citing Winsor McCay, did find that dairy products were the most likely to inspire disturbing dreams. Sugar and dairy products were closely tied on the bizarre dreams front. However, the two psychologists were careful to suggest that other factors could have inspired these dreams and that further research needed to be done, since the study had been confined to merely bizarre and disturbing dreams. Additionally, the study had been confined to undergraduates rather than an all-ages group. Moreover, those who suffered from PTSD or anxiety were more inclined to stress eat. And this, in turn, could be the true factor behind the vivid and disturbing dreams. (Duly noted, Canadian dream experts! Tomorrow I’m going for a long walk and sticking with salad!)

Writing for Psychology Today, Dr. Michelle Carr suggests that this idea that eating food leads one to dream in a particular way may be a false belief. If we eat a certain food (in my case pasta and red wine; in the case of the Brits behind the cheese experiment, the gloriously stinky Stilton), this may just be one of those fateful habits, not unlike Dumbo clutching his magic feather, that causes the brain to dream bigger under certain gustatory conditions that represent more of a placebo effect. The so-called connection between tryptophan-heavy turkey and dreams, to say nothing of the spicy food connection steeped in common adages, may just be our bodies working harder to digest heavier food, thus interfering with our regular sleep cycles.

So it’s quite likely that food is getting in the way of the real reasons we dream like this. This does suggest that more research, independent of cheese boosters, should be done to determine once and for all how we can hack our dreams and come to greater terms with our subconscious fears. I do know that my dreams have often given me the clues of how I need to live and what I need to write. If we can’t have our flying cars, surely we can figure out better ways to coax out the crazy cinematic experiences inside our head.

Fuck Chuck Todd

I’ve seen a lot of detestable news anchors in my time. I have watched actual adults who claim to uphold the Fourth Estate deracinate their journalistic credibility the minute that they get their own show, failing to push back against the powers that be who steer their “news” programs into crass shouting matches, relentless ego-stroking, and the infernal trap of touchy-feely relatable celebrity. These deplorable and obscenely paid pundits, who we entrust to relay the events of our day and to challenge anyone who answers a question with flagrant lies and willful equivocation, have conducted interviews with their schnozzes smothered in dun and their hubris puffed up by multiyear contracts. They never tender the vital critical inquiries at the right time and often contribute to a dangerous political landscape because they have nothing to lose. Before Trump was even a reality and the Morning Joe train wreck was roundly ridiculed by any self-respecting media follower, I observed Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski whip themselves into a lather over the Koch Brothers, with Scarborough actually stating that these two dangerous billionaires who have systematically funded anti-union egotists like Scott Walker and out-of-touch zombies like Mitt Romney were “like, I think, most Americans.” Now Scarborough prostrates himself before the social media crowd as a penitent turncoat. And ten thousand people retweet him, even though Scarborough himself declared Trump a “centrist Democrat” three years ago and would undoubtedly alter his malleable ideology if it meant bigger ratings. I’ve met used car salesmen who I would trust more than Joe Scarborough.

But there’s actually someone much worse than all of these chickenheads.

Chuck Todd has no redeeming qualities as a human being. He has the mien and manner of a mangy dog who wants you to applaud as he’s playing with his balls, seemingly incapable of comprehending the vulgarity of the masturbatory act. He possesses nothing in the way of grace or humility and behaves on television with all the undeserved pomp and preen of a teenage pop star who can’t hold a tune but is inexplicably beloved by millions. His eyes dart around for attention and amusement. That ridiculous goatee doesn’t disguise the fact that he’s a grown up version of the snotty kid who throws a fit every time he stands in line at the supermarket. You get the sense that Todd would pop open the champagne if a cheap quip landed while thousands were mowed down by machine guns in the streets. He is an unctuous apologist for fascism and a gleeful normalizer of governmental malfeasance and human rights abuses. He is a dangerous dipstick who needs to be fired immediately and banned from and booed out of every newsroom. The combination of arrogance and stupidity is already problematic enough in the White House. Must we endure it on the national news as well?

How far have we fallen? Well, Tim Russert, a previous host of Meet the Press, was not only a highly accomplished interlocutor, but a man who went to law school and who served as chief of staff to Senator Daniel Moynihan. Todd, like many mediocre white men, went to George Washington University for a few years, dropped out, served as an office runner depositing checks for Tom Harkin’s campaign before inexplicably falling upward into the editor-in-chief position at the National Journal, ping-ponging his way over to NBC and into his present position of America’s #1 bullshit merchant.

The great joy I would take in seeing Chuck Todd thoroughly destroyed, the good money I would pay to see Chuck Todd pied in the face every day for the rest of his natural life, significantly outweighs my animosity towards the FOX News people, who are easily recognized as vile creatures who are propping up a far-right government with shameful propaganda and corrupting the minds of Americans. Todd, on the other hand, presents himself as the “sensible” pundit and thus the “reasonable” guy when he’s really just sugarcoating clear evils that the media must not take lightly.

Back in June, Todd earned rightful fury when he attempted to ding Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez after she correctly pointed out that America was running concentration camps on its southern border. Todd, with a twisted sociopathic rapid-fire glee that reveled more in being “right” rather than possessing any empathy or compassion for the lives of undocumented immigrants now suffering and even dying in these detention centers, replied, “Fair enough. But Congresswoman, tens of thousands were also brutalized, tortured, starved, and ultimately died in….concentration camps. Camps like Dachau. If you want to criticize the shameful treatment at our southern border, fine. You’ll have plenty of company. But be careful comparing them to Nazi concentration camps.” Ocasio-Cortez never said “Nazi concentration camps.” She said “concentration camps.” By every known definition of the word, concentration camps are precisely what is now happening in America — in that undocumented immigrants of a minority group are being held, mistreated, and suffering in a facility with armed guards. Todd, not unlike a white supremacist, not only glosses over the number of deaths in Auschwitz, Dachau, Belzec, et al. (believed to be around six million, not merely “tens of thousnads”). He conveniently discounts the disgraceful Japanese internment camps that flourished in America during World War II, where approximately 120,000 people were forcibly removed from their homes thanks to Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. America also erected concentration camps in the Philippines just before the Spanish-American War.

Todd willfully spread misinformation about what concentration camps are, deliberately elided America’s past abuses, and significantly deflated the numbers and the severity of concentration camps throughout human history. He did all this, presumably because he wishes to mimic the strutting peacock of the network where he is now employed.

Chuck Todd, the irredeemable hack and superficial carnival barker, showed his true colors again when he viewed today’s Robert Mueller hearings purely through the haze of “optics” rather than substance. This ridiculous concern for aesthetics rather than substance and due process was swiftly rebuked by Columbia Journalism Review‘s Maria Bustillos, who pointed out that this fit into a pattern in which Todd is more interested in the “entertainment” of political coverage rather than the substance. She dug up a chart pointing out that Todd talked more than all but three of the presidential candidates in the last Democratic debate (and this when Todd had only been partially on stage).

When Meet the Press started on the Mutual radio network back in 1945, it was designed to promote The American Mercury — the same magazine for which the firebrand H.L. Mencken wrote for. Interestingly enough, the first host of Meet the Press — in its radio and television versions — wasn’t an arrogant jackass, but a thoughtful woman named Martha Rountree, who also created the show. It was Rountree’s express mission to ask difficult and provocative questions of major political figures in unrehearsed interviews. “There is nothing so refreshing as unadorned conviction,” said Rountree in a 1946 interview.

There hasn’t been a woman hosting Meet the Press on a regular basis since. I think it’s now time for a woman to take over the reins and steer the show away from its presently unpardonable adornments under Chuck Todd, whose recent interview with Trump is arguably the most embarrassing conversation in the show’s history. Todd let Trump get away with blatant falsehoods and gaslighting. He did not have the conviction or the skills to push back.

Chuck Todd’s gaffes, timidity, and anti-intellectualism can no longer be tolerated. He needs to be fired immediately. Maybe he’ll have a better career managing a nice restaurant, if only because the Yelp reviewers will hold him more accountable for being such a spineless and pusillanimous asshole than NBC ever will.