Facebook: What’s Not To Like?

confusedI joined Facebook in early 2009, a respectable four years after the social media network gained popularity beyond the American college crowd. No early adopter, I wasn’t a bandwagoner either.

For the past few years, I’ve been immersed in Facebook for my job, and have developed a love/hate relationship with the platform – an occupational hazard. I spend several hours each day befuddled by the behavior of humans, when given the opportunity to comment, share or “like” at will.

I have so many questions.

For starters:

Image result for trump thumbs upSome Facebook users “like” their own posts. Why do they do this? Isn’t their favorable opinion of the content kind of implied, by the decision to post it? Maybe by liking the post they mean to suggest it’s especially worth a read – but I’ve yet to see someone like just SOME of his/her posts. If it’s thumbs up for some, it’s usually a thumbs up for all.

It’s a head scratcher, I tell you.

Next:

2015-04-22-1429736406-280835-Lizlemoneyeroll.gifFacebook offers several ways to reach out to individual friends with personal messages. Remember “poking” just to say hello? Poking still exists, although none of my friends (thankfully) ever embraced the feature. There’s also private messaging, and the Facebook Messenger app.

Nevertheless, posting a one-to-one message on a friend’s wall is puzzlingly popular. It ends up in the feeds of the recipient’s entire network of friends. Does the poster understand this, I wonder?

Posting to a friend’s wall is commonly used to wish him/her a happy birthday. It’s like an online party, and what’s not to like about that? Everyone deserves a birthday party!

Unfortunately, it’s also how the occasional newlywed lets his new bride know how much he missed her today, and that he’ll be home soon for dinner. (*Groan*) Or how a stranger tries to reconnect with an old friend: “It’s been too long! I’ll call you this weekend to schedule cocktails.”

Then there’s the user you don’t even know, who shares to a mutual friend’s wall daily. As a favor, I guess?

The thing is, if John and his friends wanted to receive Webster’s word-of-the-day in our Facebook feeds, we’d sign up for it, wouldn’t we?

Finally:

“Vaguebooking”. I knew it was a thing, but until recently didn’t realize it had a name. It’s essentially Facebook comment bait: “Today my life changed forever!” or “I can’t believe what just happened to me!”

Most of us have done it from time to time – accidentally — in a fit of self-pity after a bad day. In our hangdog state, we assume everyone on Facebook knows what we’re talking about.

But for some users it’s habitual and contrived. A concerned reply to the post is usually rewarded with a mundane, one-percenter-with-a-first-world-problem clarification such as, “Whole Foods ran out of organic vegan pesto.”

Vaguebookers are the reason we can’t have nice things.

I’m (sort of) joking, of course. Facebook is like any community. Most members do their best to co-exist peacefully. When a friend posts seven vacation pics in under five minutes, it pays to remember that the photos are not necessarily intended for me – but for grandma and grandpa who live 2,000 miles away. For grandparents, there is no such thing as too many Disneyland photos.

That said, if you’re a Facebook friend and someone is posting Kim Kardashian’s Daily Word of Wisdom on your wall every morning, might I suggest that you introduce him/her to Facebook Messenger?

Your followers will thank you for it.

In a Cavern, In a Canyon…

thumb_IMG_6165_1024 copyIn April, President Trump ordered the Department of the Interior to review all designations of national monuments greater than 100,000 acres created since 1996.

Luckily, Grand Canyon National Park will escape scrutiny, in part because it achieved National Park status in 1919 — just three years after the National Park Service was founded.

While the Grand Canyon is not in 45’s crosshairs, I’m nonetheless (belatedly) sharing these photos from my March trip there, to celebrate the majesty of the place. It’s hard to appreciate the scale and magnificence of it, unless you see it for yourself — ideally at sunrise or sunset.

Even the best shots in the bunch don’t do the Grand Canyon justice. This one got a lot of likes on Instagram, though…

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I’d guess politicians who favor development in the vicinity of natural wonders like Mojave Trails (California) or Bear Ears (Utah) have never bothered to visit a U.S National Park. Missing out is their loss — I just hope it doesn’t also prove to be America’s loss.

Thanks to my recent trips to Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly National Monument and the Grand Canyon, Utah’s “Mighty Five” (Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce, and Zion) have moved to the top of my bucket list!  I can hardly wait.

A travel tip:  I timed my visit wisely, for an adult with no children in tow. Several inches of snow blanketed the ground, and shooting photos at dawn and sunset was bone chilling — but the crowds were manageable. I could walk along the South Rim in silence and solitude for 5-10 minutes, without encountering another visitor. At times, I could hear the Colorado River rushing, thousands of feet below.

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Imitation of Life

Imitation_of_Life_1959_poster copyI suffer from a condition common among film buffs: classic movie backlog. Weekend binge watching is often my only defense against my DVR purging important stuff to free up space. When that happens, I’m like a hoarder on a reality show who finds an old VHS tape in a skip in my driveway, after an intervention.

“HEY! I WAS GOING TO WATCH THAT SOMEDAY!”

Friday night’s DVR clean out featured Imitation of Life, recorded from Turner Classic Movies back in February. It’s a remake of a 1934 film based on a novel by Fannie Hurst, starring Claudette Colbert. (Full disclosure: I’ve neither seen the original, nor read the book.)

In the 1959 version, Lora Meredith (played by Lana Turner) is a widowed mother who dreams of Broadway stardom. One sunny afternoon at Coney Island, she encounters another single mom – Annie Johnson (played by Juanita Moore), who is African American – and her daughter Sarah Jane.

Sarah Jane has such fair coloring, Lora assumes she’s white and mistakes Annie for her caregiver. Annie isn’t offended. It’s a common assumption, she explains. Sarah Jane’s father was very “light skinned”.

The women commiserate about the challenges of single motherhood, until Annie suggests she and Sarah Jane move in with Lora and her daughter Susie, so that Lora could be free to audition. Lora initially turns her down, because she can’t afford live-in help, then changes her mind when she realizes the two are homeless.

Over the course of the film, Lora’s singular ambition pays off. She becomes the golden girl of Broadway comedy, and later drama. All the while, Annie is her housekeeper, nanny, friend and support system. The women and their daughters upgrade to a beautiful home – where there are no lowly servants’ quarters — and Annie is financially secure for the first time in her life.

Imitation of Life has stuck with me for days. Is it a great film? Probably not, by most measures. Upon its release, a reviewer at the New York Times sniffed, “It is the most shameless tear-jerker in a couple of years.” Still, it got me thinking…

I wondered if the friendship between Lora and Annie was shocking for the time – but a Google search suggests it wasn’t. It would seem that audiences struggled more to relate to single motherhood – uncommon in 1959 — than to interracial friendship.

The aforementioned New York Times reviewer sneered, “There are two mothers in the situation—and no fathers, by the way; no parents of masculine gender to confuse the rich flow of mother love.”

Listen closely and you can almost hear the favorite anti-feminist boo-hoo: “Women think they don’t need men anymore!” (In case you were wondering, David Brooks was NOT the Times film critic in 1959. But that sure sounds like him, doesn’t it?)

An important storyline in Imitation of Life revolves around Sarah Jane’s light complexion, and her relentless determination to “pass”. 

Early in the film, she refuses to play with black dolls – a nod to the Doll Test, conducted by psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark in the 1940s to assess the impact of segregation on the self-esteem of black children. Before long, Sarah Jane is passing. Everyone in her new elementary school class assumes she’s white – and she does nothing to correct this misassumption. Annie is devastated. Being black “is who you are”, she reminds Sarah Jane.

For the rest of the film, the young woman (played by Susan Kohner) stares across America’s racial divide, and longs for a different life. She can have it, if she reinvents herself as a white woman. She runs away, and disowns Annie. The consequences are heartbreaking.

The biggest surprise in the film is its treatment of Lora’s professional aspirations. She balances on the bleeding edge of self-aggrandizement and ambition, without coming across as a selfish shrew.

She sometimes neglects her daughter Susie, leaving her in Annie’s care for long periods – but Lora is generally portrayed as a kind employer and loving mother, and her bond with Susie is unambiguously strong.

Early in the film, she flirts with a Broadway agent to get a part, but draws the line at diving onto his casting couch. Later, she embarks on a long romance with a writer/producer who develops plays that turn her into a Broadway comedy star – then unapologetically breaks off their engagement when she sets her sights on more dramatic parts. She isn’t cruel, but she’s unsentimental and doesn’t shed a tear.

She also strings good-guy Steve along throughout the film. Each time they renew their romance, and she agrees to marry him, she receives a telegram – she’s been offered the role of a lifetime! Suddenly it’s, “Steve? Steve who?” In one instance, the engagement and breakup happen on the same afternoon.

I’m glad Imitation of Life narrowly escaped the dreaded DVR purge. I like a movie that surprises me, and challenges my assumptions about America in the decades before I was born. Most of all, I was intrigued by the film’s portrayal of an ambitious woman who enjoys success after success, without an eventual downfall because she chose her career over Mr. Right.

I can’t help but wonder how the New York Times would review the film today?

What’s more, I keep envisioning a 2017 remake, with the race of the characters flipped. What if an ambitious African-American woman befriended a down-on-her-luck single mom who was white?

That’s a movie I’d pay to see.

Monument Valley: Heaven and Earth

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John Ford’s Point, Monument Valley. The famous director would spend hours in his director’s chair here, developing scenes to shoot later.

I’m not sure why I waited so long to visit Monument Valley. I’ve long been familiar with it, because it serves as the jaw-dropping backdrop for some of director John Ford’s most iconic westerns – Stagecoach, The Searchers, My Darling Clementine, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Rio Grande etc. And it’s a photographer’s dream, especially if you don’t mind early mornings, chilly sunsets and gusty winds blowing fine orange grit into your eyes and mouth. (What’s so bad about that?)

When I decided to go to Arizona for Spring Training in February, I thought I should finally check it out.

The six-hour drive from Scottsdale is straight but hilly, and traffic in the off-season is light. Sparse, in fact. I used cruise control on the highways – a delightful thing for someone from the San Francisco Bay Area, where traffic is always stop-and-start.

Before my trip, I hadn’t realized that Monument Valley Tribal Park is the property of the Navajo Nation. I was shocked to see tribe members’ homes sprinkled at the base of the massive rock formations. I can’t imagine having such stunning views from my kitchen window.

The Valley is a quiet place, with few restaurants, no bars and only a handful of hotels. I stayed at Goulding’s Lodge on the Arizona/Utah border, just a five-minute drive from the Park. It’s surrounded by big rocks that take your breath away, but otherwise looks like a standard motel. It’s clean, and has laundry, a pool, one restaurant (no booze) and even a tiny gym.

thumb_IMG_6017_1024Goulding’s also offers guided tours led by Navajo tribe members. I chose the half-day tour that takes in sections of the Park visitors can’t access on their own. I returned the next day to revisit my favorite, publicly-accessible areas, at my own leisurely pace.

There are two things that really set Goulding’s apart. First is the history of the place, reflected in its Trading Post Museum. It is chock full of Hollywood memorabilia, including hotel registers signed by Henry Fonda, John Wayne, Ward Bond and others. It also celebrates the lives of its founders, Harry and Leone “Mike” Goulding. In the 1930’s they pitched Monument Valley to John Ford as the perfect western movie location… and the rest is Hollywood history.

Even better, Goulding’s shows John Wayne movies shot in Monument Valley every night of the week! Stop by the screening room at 8 p.m., and you’ll be treated to Stagecoach, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon or The Searchers. It’s the perfect place to geek out among like-minded travelers bitten by the Monument Valley bug, who whisper the names of rock formations whenever they make an appearance.

“West Mitten!”

“Elephant Butte!”

“Three Sisters!”

It’s hard to choose favorite photos from my two amazing days in Monument Valley – especially day two, when the light and clouds changed minute to minute.

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I’m also surprisingly fond of these two. They aren’t pretty but they remind me that I nearly didn’t get any photos at all! I somehow, unknowingly shattered my UV filter the night I arrived. The next morning, my first photo was wonky – like the filter was smudged. I pulled out my lens cloth, looked down and…

It took me a few light-headed, heart-pounding minutes to realize my Canon lens – which I pamper like a newborn – was unharmed. Apropos of my environment, I was reminded of old westerns, when a Bible a cowboy is carrying in his pocket stops a bullet from a bad guy’s gun.

Call it frontier luck. Yee-haw.

The next day, on the way to the Grand Canyon, I drove 150 miles out of my way to the only camera store around (in Sedona) to pick up a new filter.

I will NEVER be without a UV filter going forward. EVER. That one saved beloved “Big Barbara” (my lens) — as well as the best photography vacation I’ve ever taken.

Spring Training in Progress

Image of hands holding out baseballs for Cleveland Indians players to sign, before a spring training game in 2017Opening day for Major League Baseball is just a few weeks away, and I’m already off my game. I returned from spring training more than one week ago, and am only now blogging about it.

Scottsdale in late February is even more relaxing and clement than when I normally visit in March. The midday temperature hovered at around 65 degrees. I didn’t wear my ball cap or get sunburned once.

I skipped the Cactus League last spring – investing in an apartment redo instead – and was startled by a few changes this year. For starters, Goodyear Ballpark (home of the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds) has introduced security screening.

In the past, senior citizen volunteers checked tickets without a scanner – they actually read the tickets. There were no wands up and down your inseam, metal detecting machines or bag searches.

Goodyear is an older stadium, and going to a game felt like stepping back in time. Now lines to enter are long, and screening is contracted to millennials wearing uniforms.

I understand the need for tighter security but … Boo, progress.

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The League has also introduced camera lens size limits – a pretty big deal for me. It means 2017 was likely my last for taking photos with my beloved 28-300 lens, affectionately named Big Barbara.

Barbara is now contraband, and was nearly confiscated. I had to sneak her in, dodging security and the dreaded big camera sweep. It was stressful.

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On the upside, I finally got a chance to enjoy (not really) a Cincinnati classic: a Skyline Chili Dog. I wanted to like it. I really did. Every spring training, fans at Goodyear rave about these dogs.

My colleague Erika, who hails from the Queen City, blames the shredded orange substance sprinkled on top. The concession stand called it “cheese” — and it looked legit to me — but Erika cried “imposter”.

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The Great 2017 Skyline Dog Experiment was a #fail, even if I did eat the whole dog.

Since I’m not cut out for a life of crime and deception, my spring training photos going forward (assuming I don’t boycott in protest) will be taken with a lens that is six inches or shorter. Manage your expectations accordingly. Until then, behold my swan song!

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Coming Up Short

This has been a difficult year — an annus horribilis for many, to paraphrase Her Majesty the Queen.

Image result for queen elizabeth canadaI have been thinking about Queen Elizabeth a lot lately. She’s the one I’m told I must swear an oath to, if I flee Donald Trump and seek asylum in Canada. (I’ve already chosen a title for my memoir… “Mounties: my path to citizenship!”)

I celebrated a milestone birthday recently. The big 5-0. Up until now, I have taken birthdays in stride. Forty was no biggie for me, because I didn’t feel or look much different from when I was 30 or 35. Fifty is different.

My hair is graying all over my head – not just in a few places. My hairdresser has gone from delicately applying highlights with a little brush, to slapping color all over my head with a spatula.

My knees are shot, the cartilage long gone. And in the past few years, forgetting to put reading glasses in my purse when I go out has become more than just an inconvenience. It renders me helpless.

While I realize getting older is far better than the alternative, turning 50 within a few weeks of Donald Trump winning the presidential election was like a one-two punch to the gut. I was kind of a wreck.

But on November 9, as journalists began speculating about President-Elect Trump’s first 100 days in office, I had an epiphany. I needed my own 100 day plan. My mood wasn’t going to de-funk itself.

It kicked off December 1, and will finish on February 28. Perfectly timed and tidy!

I’m keeping some aspects of my plan to myself because THE INTERNET IS FOREVER. But it’s a combination of healthier living (teetotaling, more walking), professional soul-searching and more giving. I haven’t chosen a volunteer activity yet, but still have 93 days to figure it out.

Another goal is to be braver, so last weekend I asked my hairdresser to chop off my hair. It was something I’d wanted to do for a long time, but I hadn’t thought I had the chin or cheekbones to carry if off. Also, men supposedly prefer longer hair. You’ll recall that Faith Hill fans FREAKED OUT when she went pixie a year or so ago.

And remember Felicity, and the “haircut incident”? A shorter ‘do may have cost the Felicity the love of Ben, and Keri Russell her very first TV series. With the risk of such backlash, I’m surprised any woman ever goes shorter than a “lob”.

 

Younger women worry so much about whether the rest of the world likes their hair and clothes and bodies. It’s exhausting to watch. Now that I’m 50, I don’t care as much. (Luckily, I don’t have a network TV show to possibly lose.)

Long hair is lovely, and if you have it and like it…more power to you, sister! If you need me I’ll be over here, rubbing the stubble on the back of my well-coiffed head, and channeling the great Amy Poehler:

“Good for her! Not for me.”

Stay tuned. You’ll be hearing that expression a lot more from me in the next half century.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to learn French by watching videos of Justin Trudeau.

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Psych! Not me. But this is the photo that started it all.

Prepare For Takeoff

The Blue Angels of the United States Navy fly over San Francisco, CA as part of 2016's Fleet Week. (October 2016)

Goose: “No. No, Mav, this is not a good idea.”

Maverick: “Sorry, Goose, but it’s time to buzz the tower.”

(“Top Gun”)

I am a bit remiss in posting these photos from San Francisco’s Fleet Week in October. (Veterans Day guilt finally kicked me into gear.)

Taken over four glorious days, all three air shows (plus one practice) went off without a single fog-out. (We cut things pretty close with Sunday’s final performance, though.)

While the Blue Angels could never be described as “boring”, the crowd on our rooftop was happy to see some new choreography this year.

Several maneuvers induced unfortunate 9/11 flashbacks for some — the United Airlines jet flying low over the Bay was terrifying — but on the upside, panic is a great way to boost your cardio without even moving your feet!  Just look up, and enjoy the fun.

With the Blue Angels, you are in excellent hands…

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Stuck in an Elevator: a saga in verse

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I set off on my work commute
Along my normal daily route
My nextdoor neighbor followed suit
Into our elevator.

That was when disaster struck
The worst of days! Of all the luck!
In between floors, the thing got stuck
A go-nowhere DUMBwaiter.

Time passed, the damned thing didn’t shift
And no one came to our assist
In this death trap of a lift
I prepared to meet my maker.

We punched the buttons for each floor
Jumped up and down, yanked on the door
My neighbor starting calling for
Someone to come and help her.

Her pleas attracted some attention
Repairmen ended our suspension
And we commenced with our descension
We took the stairs – they’re safer.

LeBron James: He Likes Us! He Really Likes Us!

I considered writing a new poem about the NBA finals, but I’m still kind of partial to this one from 2014. My first ever re-blog. #Believeland

In Write Field

LeBron James Nike "We Are All Witnesses" billboard hanging from a building in Cleveland, Ohio

Four years ago
We were sucker punched, so
You can understand why I’ve been skeptical.
My hometown was spurned
Our allegiances turned
And our hero was yanked from his pedestal.

His burning ambition
Lay behind “The Decision”
To join forces with Bosh, and with Wade.
Fans shouted obscenities
And burned him in effigy
Any time the Cavs and Heat played.

But feelings evolved
And Cleveland resolved
To lure King James back in free agency.
They flattered, they fawned
They slept on his lawn
Would he come home, or turn us down gracefully?

Never say never
Knock me down with a feather
The optimists were not mistaken.
Chock full of forgiveness
And ready to WITNESS
This time fans have not been forsaken.

A conclusion forgone:
We’ll win with LeBron
And great things are going to happen!
The Q will sell out
And there’s really no doubt
That the Cavs will be NBA…

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“Weiner”: What’s in a name?

 

Anthony Weiner Huma Abedine 2013

Anthony Weiner: the name that launched 10,000 puns.

If you’re like me, you haven’t heard or thought much about the disgraced former congressman recently. He sort of disappeared from political conversation after his shellacking in New York City’s 2013 democratic mayoral primary.

But fear not, rubberneckers! Anthony Weiner — aka Carlos Danger – is making a return, of sorts, in a documentary directed and produced by Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman.

Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedine, People Magazine, 2012Weiner was originally intended to record the potential comeback of a one-time political pariah, and late-night punchline. Filming began in spring 2013, when Weiner announced his candidacy for mayor — and one year after a lengthy People magazine interview, in which he and wife Huma Abedin shared how their marriage had withstood his 2011 sexting scandal, and subsequent resignation from Congress.

The documentary crew had unprecedented behind-the-scenes access to the candidate, his staff and his family. Remarkably, this continued even after a new batch of more explicit Weiner “selfies” — taken around the time of the People interview – came to light.

Weiner is riveting, like a crime scene or train wreck, if you don’t focus on the human toll. It follows a delusional career politician who revises history and weaves elaborate lies about the present, unwilling to acknowledge that violating public trust is a legitimate campaign issue. I felt a strong urge to shower by the end of it.

Two scenes in particular sent chills down my spine:

  • First, Weiner is riding with his campaign communications director. She’s reading questions from the media aloud, diplomatically asking her boss to be sure he’s comfortable with his answers, so that she isn’t forced to revise or contradict herself later. (She doesn’t specifically ask for candor, but I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. It’s probably pretty hard to come right out, and ask your boss not to lie.)

There’s a saying about lying – that the hardest part is keeping all the lies straight, and not tripping up. Anthony Weiner does not have that problem. It’s like he has a Rolodex in his head, containing every detail he’s provided to the media on the subject of his inappropriate behavior. (A Rolodex is a non-digital piece of office equipment, millennial readers. Stick with me.)

Weiner formulates his answers by whizzing through this mental Rolodex, deciding how many women he’s sexted based on what he’s previously told the New York Times vs. the New York Post vs. TV interviewers — but doesn’t search his memory for what ACTUALLY happened. He never once references the need (or intention) to be truthful. It’s disturbing.

  • Next, near the end of the film, Abedin declines to accompany Weiner to the polls on primary day. So, he weaves an implausible, easily disproved yarn about his polling place losing his name, thus creating a delay and forcing Huma to vote on her own later. Weiner races down the street, dictating the story rapid-fire to his staff, like someone in the throes of a manic episode – oblivious to the fact that his stream-of-consciousness lying is being observed and recorded. He later (sheepishly) tells the story to reporters, who seem unconvinced

I thought I’d have more sympathy for Abedin. By all accounts, she prefers to exercise her considerable power behind the scenes, while her husband stands out in front seeking public adulation. As the documentary progresses, she’s the voice of reason while he goes off the rails. Eventually she physically and emotionally distances herself from him, rolling her eyes or glaring but rarely speaking.

Even so, her mask occasionally slips. In one scene, Weiner meets with his dejected campaign team in his home, to help soothe their sense of betrayal. Several staffers point out that the communications director is being followed and harassed by the media everywhere she goes. Abedin shows little concern, and reminds the woman that the cameras will still be outside when she leaves.

Abedin asks, “You’ll look happy, right?” Then, realizing how unfeeling that sounded she adds, “I mean, I’m asking for YOU because I’m worried about YOU.” Sure you are.

Weiner’s most regrettable impact is 15 more minutes of fame for the candidate’s 23-year-old sexting partner Sydney Leathers (campaign codename: Pineapple). She’s a guest on Howard Stern. She makes a sex tape. She stalks Weiner around New York, tabloid photographers in tow. Watching her chase him through a Manhattan McDonalds, on his way to his concession speech, is a definite low point.

In the final weeks of his campaign, Weiner makes an appearance on MSNBC where he is smug, combative and high strung. Lawrence O’Donnell mocks his decision-making by asking, “What’s WRONG with you?”

It is a cheap gotcha question, meant to entertain the lowest common denominator. Yet once the film credits started rolling, I had the same question. What is wrong with Anthony Weiner?

I’m still not sure, but it’s something.

 

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