Spring is risen.

Well, finally it is spring, real spring. (Seemingly, anyway.) After a totally sucktastic Friday and Saturday (40s, rain), Easter was sunny and mild, a true miracle of resurrection. It might not last. It probably won’t last. I took the rosemary plant outside and put it on the back steps, and I will not be bringing it back in. If it dies, it dies. I’m tired of looking at it in the kitchen.

Winter is over by the decree of Nance. So let it be written, so let it be done.

And now it’s Sunday night, the forecast for the rest of the week looks well above freezing, and I might take my winter coat to the dry cleaner. Been smashing those little tasks on my to-do list the last few days. The secret: Actually putting them on the to-do list in the first place. Yes, that sounds like a no-brainer, but over these last few months of old-lady Swiss-cheese winter-depression brain, putting stuff on the list in the first place has seemed like a huge hurdle. My thoughts run like this, most days:

Yeah I need to do that thing before Tuesday and oh look this article on Twitter looks interesting I’ll put it on my reading list with the 9 million other things I’m going to read anyway I really should read this novel because remember I had that short-story idea that I wanted to get done by March? And now it’s April? Oh shit there’s that other thing, and the bathroom is dirty and did I feed Wendy? Did I pay the phone bill? Am I going to get high-speed fiber internet and knock $60 off that bill? Did I remember to eat today? Dumb question. I never forget to eat. This tab has been open on my browser for four hours, and the story that looked really interesting four hours ago looks considerably less so now. I’m going to close it. No! Don’t close it! You won’t be a well-informed person if you do.

How on earth do people keep their minds cruel and simple? With to-do lists, that’s how.

One story that did stay open on the browser long enough for me to read was this one, about Pete Buttigieg’s blight-eradication program in South Bend. It’s from BuzzFeed. (Sigh.) The mayor set an ambitious goal of tearing down or rehabbing 1,000 homes in 1,000 days. This, BF notes, “smacked of gentrification,” which made me stare off into space for a minute.

Gentrification. In a city with a population of 100,000. In Indiana.

Maybe the problem is, no one can actually define what gentrification is. My working understanding is this: The rapid transformation of a neighborhood, where the pace of change is so fast that rents and taxes rise precipitously and has the effect of driving out long-term, lower-income residents. Owners sell, cashing in on the rising-price market. Renters are less lucky, finding their rents rising out of reach. This often includes businesses, because who needs a dry cleaner when you can have a wood-fired pizzeria/bistro in the same space, paying triple?

It’s a real problem. Maybe it happened in South Bend. But I seriously doubt it.

Eradicating blight is not gentrification. It’s improvement. The problems come when people want to stay in their houses but can’t afford to improve them (or pay their taxes), but Buttigieg’s plan wasn’t just to demolish; it also supported rehab. The main oppositional sources in this story aren’t even that opposed, if passages like this are to be believed:

“I’m not sure we got that completely right,” Buttigieg told the Christian Science Monitor last week, specifically with regard to aggressive code enforcement.

The mayor did not respond directly to questions from BuzzFeed News. His campaign manager, Mike Schmuhl, said in a telephone interview that a recent internal poll by Buttigieg’s mayoral committee found that 86% of respondents believed South Bend was on the right track. Schmuhl also noted that Buttigieg won his second term with more than 75% of the vote in both the Democratic primary and general election.

No one says that Buttigieg was guided by racial or sinister motives. (The mayor recently found himself explaining his 2015 declaration that “all lives matter” — a phrase that’s been used as a retort to the Black Lives Matter social justice movement.) But they also don’t buy his simplistic narrative, the story in which he’s the hero of a model program that could save cities like South Bend.

“Everyone wants to find a villain,” Williams-Preston said. “This is just how economic development happens. And I’m just constantly telling the administration: If we do what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always gotten. And what we have always gotten in cities all across the country is displacement of poor people and people of color.”

I am by no means sold on Mayor Pete (although I like him more than Bernie. Sue me.), but I hope the national news organizations covering him make an effort to fully understand the problems of Rust Belt cities with the sort of depopulation South Bend (and Detroit) have faced over the decades. They ain’t New York. Or even Chicago.

OK, it’s Game of Thrones time. In the week ahead, a visit from J.C., en route to the U.P. So that’ll be fun.

Hope yours is pretty great, too.

Posted at 8:59 pm in Media | 30 Comments
 

Inferno.

I guess the talk today was about Notre Dame, about which I have this to say: Very sad news. I really don’t know what else to add, but maybe this: What sort of people look at an event like this an immediately try to warp it into their paranoid world view, in which the Mooslims are responsible? I mean, have they ever read the police and fire briefs in their local paper? “Firefighters believe the blaze began in the roof space, likely started by a spark from a worker’s blowtorch” — that’s a sentence I have read approximately nine million times. As Neil Steinberg noted today: The roofers did it. The roofers always did it. Writing about another church fire, years ago in Chicago, he notes:

It’s ALWAYS the roofers. Do you realize how many public buildings burn during roof work? Two years ago, the Billy Graham Center in Wheaton caught fire. In 2002, we almost lost another Louis Sullivan building, the magnificent Carson, Pirie Scott Building downtown, when roofers set the place on fire, and exploding propane tanks sent burning debris showering onto State Street. In 1999, it was another black church, St. Stephen AME Church, one of the oldest African-American churches in the city, that was burned, destroying the roof and charring the walls. I’m telling you, roofers are worse than the Klan.

OK, that’s a bit extreme. It isn’t always the roofers. Countless roofers are reading this now, with their coffee and doughnuts, waiting for the supervisor to show up, and if there were ever a group that could tar and feather a guy, it’s roofers. So we should recognize that other trades also torch the places they’re supposed to be fixing. In 1998, the 120-year-old Barrington United Methodist Church burned to the ground when workers repairing a window burned a hole through the wall. Old churches are generally tinderboxes that could be set on fire with an ice cube.

That said, roofing is a particularly nasty, smelly, extra-dangerous business involving open flames and hot tar, which burns like napalm.

Fires are scarce these days, relatively speaking; you can credit GFCI plugs and outlets, as well as smoke detectors. Where I live, we don’t have full-time firefighters. We have “triple-trained” “public safety” officers, i.e. cops with firefighting gear in the trunk. They handle EMS, too. We have the trucks and all, and a staffing system so the garage is covered and they’re ready to roll, but fire is, blessedly, less of a concern than it once was. But Steinberg is right — old churches, and lots of old buildings, are just waiting to erupt into flames. Add cutting torches, and it’s only a matter of time.

You just hope it never happens at a place like the Notre Dame cathedral. And then it does. And you watch these crabbed, broken, twisted, awful people try to fundraise off it. Not to rebuild the church, but to stoke the fires of paranoia. It’s so repellant. If I ever have to peddle fear to make a living, just shoot me in the head.

And in just about 24 hours, I don’t want to hear any more about fires. Especially Notre Dame. I’ve looked at all your vacation photos on social media. I’m full.

Someone asked why Michigan has the highest auto-insurance rates in the nation. A few mentioned no-fault, but that’s not it. No-fault insurance is like no-fault divorce: Better. Instead of “you got hit, let’s figure out who’s at fault and recover from him/her,” it’s “you got hit, let’s fix it.” Michigan does have an unusual wild card — our catastrophic-care law, which decrees that if you are injured in a motor-vehicle collision, you can get the care you need, with no cap. A good thing! But under the law, health-care providers can charge whatever they like for that care, and the catastrophic-care fund must pay. There’s no negotiation, no agreed-upon prices. So an MRI related to an auto accident may well be billed at three times what it would be in a hospital. It’s lunacy.

So it’s not the service that’s provided, but the way it’s provided, that causes the problem. It wasn’t implemented well, and it’s quite difficult to change.

I think of cases like this when I read about all the vital functions of government that conservatives want to delegate “to the states.” Clarence Thomas wrote in one recent opinion that the states could figure out their own libel laws. Um, have you ever been to a state, Clarence Thomas? Visited the legislature? You might be surprised.

Let’s just call this Mueller Report II Eve and be done with it. It’s going on Wednesday. Hump Day, and I’m going to bed.

Posted at 10:00 pm in Current events | 89 Comments
 

Rendering unto Caesar.

I’ve been following the talk in the comments about the price of car insurance wherever everybody is. People? In the words of Jame Gumb, you don’t know what pain is. Michigan has the highest-priced auto insurance in the nation, and Detroit has the highest in Michigan. We’re not in Detroit proper, but we are in the same county, and man, do we pay.

My no-collision-coverage premium on the old-ass Volvo is double what an entire year’s worth of coverage was on my brand-new VW back in Indiana. Most younger people around here pay for their coverage monthly, because a couple thousand in a six-month premium is too much for a lot of people to handle. A monthly insurance premium that costs more than a car payment is very common around here; in fact, I think I just read about a guy who surrendered his lease on a new Cadillac (payment: $540/month) because his premium was something like $560 a month — FOR INSURANCE — and he couldn’t swing it anymore.

Our premiums are due in August and March, and I DREAD August and March. Now that Kate has a car, it’s…about $2,500 extra in those months.

And Alan wonders why I want to give up my car entirely.

Oh, well. Another weekend in the books. I just paid our taxes, and I’m about to make a cherry clafoutis for the “Game of Thrones” watch party we’re attending tonight. There was actually quite a bit of discussion about how the menu should be structured — medieval-ish, with a touch of dragon fire? At one point I was committed to individual savory hand pies, because it seemed very Kingsroad Inn and Hot Pie, but finally the host decided he’d smoke a pork shoulder, so that’s the plan. I’ve never seen a pig on “Game of Thrones,” but the cruel boys at the Wall called Samwell Tarly a pig when he arrived at Castle Black, so…

Wait, you’re not into it? Don’t know what I’m talking about? That’s fine. You don’t have to be in on the fun. I don’t even think this is the greatest TV show of all time, but it does have actual dragons, and I’m totally there for that. Also, it is SUCH an improvement on the books, it’s in the ‘Godfather’ Hall of Fame for Adaptations That Transcend Their Source Material, and that’s a plus. Five or six more books I won’t have to read.

I’m really — as in really, really, really — hoping next week is an improvement on the last, which sucked. It was a stung-by-gnats thing, mainly, just a thousand things piling up and conspiring to make me crazy and late and under-rested. All this is balanced by the fact we have some milestones coming up soon, too, and happy ones. Kate graduates from Michigan in just about two weeks, huzzah. We have two separate ceremonies to attend, one for her school (she’s up for an award) and the one for the whole university, in the Big House the following day. I was hoping they’d get Michelle Obama for a speaker, but it’s the governor, and I guess I’m fine with that. I hope her speech is a good one.

Friday was the open house for the senior theses, and we went to that. Kate’s thesis project was an album-length recording of her new band, recorded, mixed and mastered by her. (Here’s their Bandcamp page, with only two tracks on it, both recorded by someone else.) Her boyfriend had a show, too, featuring a dancer with sensors stuck all over her body. The sensors were tracked by cameras that triggered music, so she was essentially dancing to music her body was composing in real time. That was pretty cool, even though one of the sensors flew off in the final frenzied minutes of the performance, and landed at my feet. It was the one on her forehead; when we first saw her, Alan whispered, “What a weird piercing.”

So. On to the clafoutis. In the meantime?

“Fox brain” is a thing, and it has victims. I have many friends whose parents went from nice moderates to angry, fearful racists in a matter of months. I’m sure you do, too.

Ivanka! Everybody’s favorite Trump, discussed here. This is what a person with cotton where their brains should be does:

When she ran her multimillion-dollar lifestyle brand, she worked relentlessly at “cultivating authenticity,” as she put it. She dreamed up a world full of serendipitous moments and marvelous coincidences, with the pastel-hued bags and shoes to match. Ivanka told W magazine, at age 22, “There are very few things we can control in life, but how we project ourselves is one of them.” That discipline has meant, as her brother Don Jr. told me, that “you can put Ivanka in virtually any environment and she’ll thrive.” In the White House, she has projected herself as a cosmopolitan peacemaker, dedicating her efforts largely to issues such as women’s economic empowerment, workforce development, and the fight against human trafficking. She is not a conservative, she enjoys telling people. She is a “pragmatist.”

Has anyone told her that cultivating authenticity is an oxymoron? Guess not.

Finally, I’m finding Bernie tiresome in the extreme. That is all. Talk soon.

Posted at 5:41 pm in Detroit life, Same ol' same ol' | 85 Comments
 

What’s for dinner? Nothing.

I don’t know how many more weeks like this I can take. One big thing after another big thing and here it is Thursday night and a pretty big weekend awaits. So I’m going to fold into bed pretty soon, but here I am for now.

I have a bookmark that’s been on my browser forever, called Wind Map. It shows the direction and velocity of prevailing winds all over the country at any given moment. I checked it Wednesday. You don’t get the motion effect here, but mercy, that’s a vortex:

The lighter the line, the faster the wind. Poor Colorado.

So let’s hop to the bloggage:

Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, describes his eating habits:

Twitter founder Jack Dorsey gave an interview revealing that he typically fasted on weekends and ate only one meal on weekdays, and that the single meal typically consisted of, “fish, chicken, or some steak,” plus arugula, spinach or “sometimes asparagus or Brussels sprouts” and finally, “I have mixed berries as a dessert.”

If a female CEO described the exact same eating habits, there’d be a volcano of armchair psychologists making diagnoses: She has an eating disorder! What a bad role model! But in Dorsey’s interview with CNBC, this was described as “biohacking.” So thank goddess for Monica Hesse to point out what bullshit this is:

I don’t know why we’re so reverential of the eating behaviors of Silicon Valley executives, except I sort of think I know why. These men completely revolutionized the way we took photographs, paid for services, connected with relatives and moved through the world. There’s something tantalizing in the idea that they also hold the key to revolutionizing our bodies.

And so we get articles in the Guardian about a group of male CEOs who call themselves “Fast Club” and participate in a “5:2” eating plan, in which they eat virtually nothing for two days a week. “The first day I felt so hungry I was going to die,” one was quoted as saying, while simultaneously insisting that this wasn’t a dangerous result, this was just biohacking.

It just never stops, does it?

With that, I’m going to keep watching “Paris is Burning” on Netflix and continue to be amazed at how we all follow poor gay people but aren’t even aware of it.

Posted at 9:51 pm in Popculch, Same ol' same ol' | 46 Comments
 

Paint by numbers, but not bad.

I am absolutely not a fan of Steven Spielberg’s work, although I did like “Munich,” but that was probably because Eric Bana wore pants cut ’70s-style (with those big belt buckles that only emphasize his hard flat lower abdomen and swoon…). Also Daniel Craig and also that Irish guy, Ciarán Hinds. It started with his wildly successful early work, all those children’s faces turned up in a golden-lit closeup, blah. Work out your boring childhood neglect somewhere else, dude. But even his later, “mature” work left me barely more than lukewarm; I’m thinking about “Lincoln” here. Spielberg paints in primary colors, leads his audiences along well-trod paths with a big orange RIGHT THIS WAY FOLKS flag in hand.

I further acknowledge I am in the minority here, and that’s fine. I might not have watched “The Post” if I’d known it was a Spielberg deal; for some reason I thought Ron Howard directed it. And while it had the usual problems I mentioned, along with a few more, I liked it pretty well, even though I fell asleep for a few minutes along the way.

The story of how the New York Times and Washington Post competed to publish the Pentagon Papers in 1971 is established history, and is the capsule plot description, which is maybe why I avoided it – journalism movies leave me cold for the most part. It should have been called “How Katharine Graham Got Her Groove Back,” which is closer to what the story is about, just as “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “E.T.” should have been bundled as the Steven’s Parents Were Cold and Neglectful Collection.

What saves it is the cast. Which is, as it was in “Lincoln,” stellar to the last man and woman. Forget Hanks and Streep. There’s also Matthew Rhys, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Carrie Coon, Bruce Greenwood (in a hilarious Robert McNamara ‘do), Jesse Plemons, Sarah Paulson, OMG it was a delight. Some of these folks got one or two scenes, but they all held their own against the megastars at the top of the bill, and even though you knew how it would end and the script was pretty much paint-by-numbers, it was still fun to watch. I may not like Spielberg, but he knows how to wrangle a cast, evidently.

:::pause:::

I wrote all of the above thinking “The Post” came out for Oscar season in 2018, and just discovered no, it was the year previous. So forgive me. I did my taxes this weekend and some work today, so it wasn’t much of a weekend. We have to pay this year, so I’m particularly happy about that, as you can imagine. America just feels greater and greater to me these days.

Starting this week, I will not be concerned with silly movies, anyway. Rather, I will be speaking in a British accent, which is actually a Westerosi accent, with occasional lapses into High Valyrian. Yes, “Game of Thrones” kicks off next Sunday, and I will be So There. If you don’t watch and don’t care, keep your yap shut, because I’m into it. And I’ve been waiting a long time for this final season.

Some bloggage to consider:

Rick Reilly on presidential cheating at golf:

And it’s not just the cheating. It’s the way he plays the game—with all the golf etiquette of an elephant on Red Bull. Trump promised to Make America Great Again. He’s definitely Made Golf Gross Again.

He drives his golf cart on greens. He drives it on tee boxes. He never, ever walks, even on the courses he owns that have banned carts (Trump Turnberry.)

…It stinks because we were finally getting somewhere with golf. It used to be an elitist game, until the 1960s, when a public-school hunk named Arnold Palmer brought it to the mailmen and the manicurists. Then an Army vet’s kid named Tiger Woods brought it to people of color all over the world. We had ultracool golfers like Woods, Rickie Fowler, and Rory McIlroy, and pants that don’t look like somebody shot your couch, and we’d gotten the average round of golf down to $35, according to the National Golf Foundation.

We were finally making the game cool and healthy and welcoming, and along comes Trump, elbowing his way into the front of every camera and hurling my sport backwards 50 years to its snobby roots.

I’ve been indifferent to golf my whole life, having been raised in Jack Nicklaus’ hometown, and can at times be hostile to it — the overbuilding of courses near ecologically sensitive rivers in northern Michigan, to name but one burr under my saddle — so I don’t give a shit whether Trump is ruining it. But this is a good read.

My editor at Deadline Detroit was raised by Yiddish-speaking parents, so it’s safe to say that in a few months I feel I’ve picked up enough of the allegedly dead language to move into a 19th-century shtetl and at least be able to indicate that I’m a meshuggeneh shiksa from the future and would maybe enjoy a little schmaltz on a piece of rye bread, thanks so much. Anyway, I know what he’d say if he could see the photo accompanying this story: A shanda.

The animals take their revenge. In Africa.

OK, let’s get the week ahead moving, shall we?

Posted at 5:15 pm in Current events, Movies | 57 Comments
 

A dry spell.

Here’s something I found really interesting lately:

The share of U.S. adults reporting no sex in the past year reached an all-time high in 2018, underscoring a three-decade trend line marked by an aging population and higher numbers of unattached people.

At first glance, it looks like simple demography; in an aging country, aged people simply have less sex, for the usual reasons. Here’s the interesting part:

But changes at the other end of the age spectrum may be playing an even bigger role. The portion of Americans 18 to 29 reporting no sex in the past year more than doubled between 2008 and 2018, to 23 percent.

It’s because they’re not partnered:

For most of the past three decades, 20-something men and women reported similar rates of sexlessness. But that has changed in recent years. Since 2008, the share of men younger than 30 reporting no sex has nearly tripled, to 28 percent. That’s a much steeper increase than the 8 percentage point increase reported among their female peers.

There are several potential explanations for this, Twenge said. Labor force participation among young men has fallen, particularly in the aftermath of the last recession. Researchers also see a “connection between labor force participation and stable relationships,” she said.

I don’t know about you, but I find this worrisome. Not only for economic reasons, but because sexually frustrated young men are dangerous. Men with no prospects, sexual or otherwise, have been the engine of social upheaval throughout human history. Times change, people don’t. A man who can’t find a human partner is not going to be happy with masturbation forever.

It’s an interesting story. I recommend it.

Have you been following the great Leggings War? I know the Notre Dame skirmish was a topic here last week, but this is nothing new. Ruth Graham explains in Slate:

It’s fitting that Maryann White’s jeremiad against the troublesome trousers sprang from an encounter in a church. The leggings debate takes on a special urgency in Christian circles, where the stakes are not just which pants are flattering, but which pants are godly. Modesty is a virtue named in the New Testament, and lust is a sin. But the Bible unhelpfully does not include original illustrations. Does modesty require covered shoulders? Long skirts? Or just a spirit of not “trying so very hard to look good in all the ways that are so relatively unimportant,” while also, of course, looking traditionally feminine? Meanwhile, huge swaths of mainstream Christian culture are almost indistinguishable aesthetically with mainstream American culture, and even take pains to imitate it. The result is that many young Christian women feel perfectly comfortable wearing leggings, while others see them as not just unflattering but immoral.

The result is seemingly endless cycles of debates within the Christian community about the communal ethics of spandex, a hothouse version of the broader cultural debate. “Modesty, Yoga Pants and 5 Myths You Need to Know”; “To the Christian Men and Women Debating Yoga Pants”; “Yoga Pants and What the Bible Really Says About Modesty”; “Should Christian Women Wear Leggings?”; “Why I Chose to No Longer Wear Leggings”; and my personal favorite, “Leggings: A Catholic Man’s Perspective.” For what it’s worth, America is doing pretty well right now by traditional measures of Christian morality: Teen abstinence is up; teen pregnancy is down; divorce is down. The visible-butt revolution has not ruined us yet.

That second graf, in the original, is full of links. Follow a few; this is a topic some people are simply obsessed with. From the Catholic man’s perspective:

Many of my brothers struggle with pornography and are trying to rewire their brains to be clean from all the horrible things they’ve seen in porn. When a woman in real life walks by in an immodest outfit – say, a crop top, something low-cut, something sheer, or something very tight (like leggings), the visual of those body parts can recall images from porn to the front of their brains. It’s extremely hard to purify the brain, and we desperately need your help.

My goal is to get men to treat you more respectfully, and I’m simply asking you to treat us that way, too. Not only does dressing modestly help protect you, it helps protect us, too.

Got that? You must dress “modestly,” whatever that is, because your butt might recall images from porn.

Here’s what I don’t get: Why are leggings bad, but jeans, almost all of which are tight, are not? Don’t they both trace the curve of one’s bum?

Everybody is crazy.

It’s a great midweek blog, isn’t it? Mostly others’ work. But we have the demise of World Net Daily to celebrate, so that’s a good thing.

Posted at 9:17 pm in Current events | 75 Comments
 

Sunday again.

Oh, hello Sunday. I was just thinking, in one of those weirdly linked slide shows that happen in our brains, the following:

The Spanky and Our Gang song, “Sunday Will Never be the Same,” 52 years old this year. When it was released in 1967, a 50-year-old song was…Googling…“Over There,” which tells you something. “Sunday Will Never be the Same” was licensed for a commercial in the mid-’80s, for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. I remember seeing it at the time, when I was visiting a friend there. It was beautifully shot, promoting the new and improved Sunday edition, showing Clevelanders waking up, starting the coffee, retrieving the big fat paper from the porch, enjoying it with their pancakes and eggs. When I got back to Fort Wayne, I saw that my paper, too, had a new commercial. It used a public-domain recording of “The Blue Danube Waltz” and bargain-basement production – a series of overhead shots of anonymous hands tearing coupons, articles, etc., out of the paper, scored to the dat-dat, doot-doot rhythms of the music. The tagline: “Worth tearing into.” How wonderful to be one of those Clevelanders, able to smile and relax and find enjoyable things in the paper, instead of opening it to read about human shitstain Alex Jones, and how he fueled the paranoid fantasies of a Sandy Hook truther, who fixated in particular on Avielle Richman, one of the dead students. Avielle’s father committed suicide recently, of course. The truther is named Wolfgang Halbig, and dig this, peeps:

Another parent, Leonard Pozner, whose son Noah died in the same classroom as Ana, reported the abuse, and after six years of appeals, Twitter suspended Mr. Halbig’s account last month. Mr. Pozner founded the HONR Network, a nonprofit combating online hate, after Noah was targeted by the conspiracy theorists.

The boldface is mine, of course. It only took six years of a certified lunatic clamoring for autopsy photos and receipts for crime-scene cleanup for Twitter, that temple of free speech, to do something about it. How honorable. Meanwhile, Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, came to Detroit last week for something-or-other, and either he or his staff posted a couple pix of themselves, one in front of the Motown Museum, and every single person in the pictures is white. Give ’em six more years, and maybe they can find some staffers of color.

Anyway, I guess what I’m thinking is: Sunday will never be the same. I used to like Sunday. Brunch! Friends! Sunday Funday! Now, too often, it’s just another work day, starting with the morning paper.

Oh well. Truth be told, there were some great reads this weekend:

This Frank Bruni column is getting a lot of shares, for good reason. It’s about why we are less enamored of trendy restaurants as we age:

I was once under 50. I’m now over that mark. And it’s not just sex and sleep that change as you age. It’s supper.

I’d advance a side argument: It’s restaurants, and what they’ve become, too. I’m an adventurous eater, and never mind trying something new. But I hate many new restaurants, not for the food, but the atmosphere, mainly the noise. If this is a sign of aging, so be it, but man — the cacophony in many of these places is simply off the charts. You can Google up a dozen stories about why that is, but I find it really off-putting to have to lean in and yell at your tablemates, which only makes the problem worse.

And while we’re on the subject of restaurants, you might enjoy this column from the Detroit News, about a century-old columnist for the Jewish News here in Detroit. Danny Raskin wears an obvious toupee, and has so much joie de vivre, you understand why he’s still kicking at 100. Even if centenarians don’t interest you, read until you get to the Purple Gang story.

Finally, many thanks to LA Mary for finding this. I let my New Yorker subscription expire, so I’m stingy with my clicks, and this one is worth it, about the strange story of Shen Yun. If you live in a city of any size, you’ve likely seen the Shen Yun billboards, which are utterly ubiquitous in Detroit, or were, before the Chinese dance troupe performed here earlier this month. I didn’t know what it was other than “something Chinese and dance-y,” and neither did the New Yorker writer. But it’s something…more.

With that, it’s on to cleaning up what I didn’t get done last week and compiling an unreasonable to-do list for next week. Sunday Funday!

Posted at 11:33 am in Current events, Popculch, Same ol' same ol' | 47 Comments
 

Amazing grace.

I wish I could say I were surprised by stuff like Betsy Devos’ budget proposal for the Department of Education, the one that zeroes out funding to the Special Olympics, but who could be surprised at this point? And yes, it’s just a budget proposal; it won’t pass any more than zeroing out support for the Great Lakes ecosystem will.

But it says something. Doesn’t it?

I wish I could shut out what’s happening to the country, but that can only happen for brief snatches of time. So I was fortunate to get a couple of tickets to “Amazing Grace,” the long-delayed — like, 40-some years delayed — film of the sessions that produced Aretha Franklin’s album of the same name. It was her gospel album, made after years of pop hits. A return to her roots, two nights of performance at a Los Angeles church with James Cleveland guiding the session and Sydney Pollack filming it all.

Needless to say, the songs are great. The film is imperfect — lots of ’70s technique, which is to say, cut to out-of-focus shot and several-second delay while camera finds focus; grainy film stock; lots of cuts because cinema verité, dude — but imperfect in a great way. Aretha sweats through her makeup, along with everyone else, because gospel music is hard work. There’s a spectacular choir backing her up, and an even more spectacular choir director with the amusing name of Alexander Hamilton.

The film was shelved because Aretha didn’t like it, probably because of all the sweating. She doesn’t look glamorous, but she looks about as taken by the spirit as it’s possible to be. And now she’s dead, and her estate is not so picky, so here we are.

My favorite number was this one, “How I Got Over.” Mainly because of the choir.

It was screened at the Detroit Institute of Arts, the second night of a two-night run. The first night, the Franklin family threw things off by putting a few close friends on the guest list — a few hundred, which meant there weren’t enough seats, which meant a second night was added. We were lucky to get the seats, but it was worth it.

This was actually a Plan B. We were originally going to Extreme Midget Wrestling at some bar. Next time, maybe. You have to leave your Tuesday nights open from time to time, for stuff like this.

So, bloggage:

Actually, I don’t have any. You can look up Betsy Devos if you like. It’s not going to be a good week for her.

Posted at 10:12 pm in Movies, Uncategorized | 55 Comments
 

‘Us.’ And them.

The Mueller story is breaking as I write this, and I’m treating it like a mass shooting; I’m not paying attention until more facts are on the ground. Besides, I want to talk about “Us.”

We saw Jordan Peele’s new film Saturday night. I was fearing a sophomore slump, after “Get Out.” I thought I might want to see it, and avoided reading too deeply into the early reviews. A couple had headlines that suggested it was OK, but not quite as good as “Get Out.”

People? I found those reviews…wrong.

I loved “Us.” I spent most of Sunday cleaning the house, and thought about it much of that time. I kept putting it through new unified theories, thinking of new metaphors you could tease out of it. Horror is my least-favorite genre. I find most repulsively violent, and even the well-reviewed ones like “A Silent Place” I mostly avoid. But if Jordan Peele keeps making horror movies, I am entirely down. He uses everything in his head – his deep knowledge of film history, his fondness for pop culture, his insistence that the audience rise to meet him, rather than stooping to the horror-fan level – to make scary movies like no other.

“Us” is about a family of four on vacation at their summer home, when a strangely dressed family appears at the foot of the driveway. As they come closer, something strange is evident: They’re them, the same family, played by the same actors, only…off, somehow. Only the mother (Lupita N’yongo) speaks clearly enough to understand, and she lays out what these doppelgängers want: What the other family has.

“We’re Americans,” she croaks.

Unfortunately, they’re all carrying a pair of golden shears, and they’re not there to make paper dolls. (Well, one is, but not for many, many minutes.)

It’s a violent movie, but not stomach-turningly so. I was too busy, as all this was unfolding, trying to think if this was about…slavery? Trumpism? Class? The answer is all of the above, and then some more. A lot more. There are Easter eggs galore, a veritable basket full of them, with unexpected laughs. Just one: A character under attack gasps to her smart speaker, “Call the police.” The speaker responds by blasting NWA’s “Fuck Tha Police.” Mis-hearing smart speakers may well be the new no-signal plot device, but this one is genuinely funny.

Also, there’s a Hands Across America plot line. Seriously, this is a very original movie. I loved it.

What else happened this weekend? The aforementioned house-cleaning, and Alan handled the yard, which is ready for spring. I got my bike tuned up, along with a new, better-padded seat, so I’m ready when it finally gets warm for good. We had some nice weather, but there was too much work to do to enjoy it.

We did get to the dog park for a bit. Too soon — it was a muddy mess.

Wendy worked that hole all last summer. It was the first thing she headed to this year.

Forecast tomorrow? A high of 40. Oh, well. It is coming.

Posted at 7:00 pm in Movies | 39 Comments
 

Some thoughts at week’s end.

OK, then! Back-to-back 12-hour days, my legs are sore, I feel fat as hell and now, god help me, I’m taking advantage of the next hour or so by watching a Tyler Perry movie on Amazon.

I don’t think I’ve ever watched a Tyler Perry movie. Some people I kinda-sorta knew when the film tax credits were going strong in Michigan now work a lot in Georgia, and they work in Perry’s film factory quite a bit. And a factory it is, pumping out morality plays, but what the hell, it’s a living. The people I know who work on films have a different measure of whether one is any good. Do the checks clear? Then it’s good. Good enough, anyway.

Boy, does this movie suck. Have you ever heard of a simple car accident not bad enough to crinkle a bumper giving a woman “ruptured ovaries?” Yeah, me neither. “Acrimony” — look it up. Even Taraji P. Henson can’t save it.

So now the weekend is approaching. It feels like breaking a tape, but mainly it’s just a matter of making lists of things to do, then doing them, then starting it all again next week.

I hope there will be some reading.

Some things you might be able to read:

I know you’re sick of Roseanne Barr — so am I. Worth reading, anyway.

A friend posted this on her Facebook, and the first comment was, “Nikki Haley can go fuck herself.” Headline: What it’s like living in a country where giving birth costs $60. Second graf:

It started when presidential candidate and longtime Medicare for All advocate Bernie Sanders tweeted that it costs an average of $12,000 to have a baby in the United States, compared to just $60 in Finland — at which point former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley decided to weigh in. “Alright @BernieSanders, you’re not the woman having the baby so I wouldn’t be out there talking about skimping on a woman when it comes to childbirth. Trust me! Nice try though,” she replied, adding, “Health care costs are too high that is true but comparing us to Finland is ridiculous. Ask them how their health care is. You won’t like their answer.”

You know how it went, right? Finnish maternity care is superior in every way, going well beyond the famous baby box. I’m so sick of this bullshit. Nikki Haley can absolutely go fuck herself.

Here’s something I wrote the other day, about a Detroit R&B oddity who died Sunday. Deadline Detroit appreciates the clicks.

(All of the above was written Thursday night. Friday morning addendum below.)

Neil Steinberg, most definitely a top-five blogger, wrote something the other day that kinda chilled me. After a discussion of how things end, with some elegant snatches of poetry, he dropped this:

Honestly, I read the poem and, inspired, thought of posting it here and quitting the blog cold after five years. Here, figure this out, good-bye. Because whatever the world wants, this obviously is not it. Five years is plenty.

Spoiler alert: He decides to go on. But every January I pass the anniversary of this blog, which has been going on since 2001. Not every goddamn day, but most goddamn days until recently, when I shortened it to three days a week and lately it’s coming in at two. Honestly, this has been a tough winter for me, and there have been days, many of them, when I just want to pack it in. This makes me worry that I’m losing some essential edge, some drive; doesn’t a writer write because they have to? I mean, because it’s an urge, not an obligation? If I’m dry, then this is it, right? Retirement, a rocking chair, Social Security and a final wave en route to the grave? My friends are starting to retire, and an amazing number of them (which is to say, two or three) have expressed a desire to never, ever do what they did all their careers. No hobby journalism for them. They’re out, and happy to be out.

It has to end sometime. Steinberg’s been doing this five years, I’ve been at it for 18. Eighteen years when I should have been writing books, right? But so many of the people I know who write books don’t have an audience at all — they’ve dropped their work into a well of sorts, all that work for one or two respectful reviews and then, nothing. At least here I have feedback. And it’s a discipline, and that is very important for writers. Laura Lippman does 1,000 words a day. You can fritter away a lifetime intending to write, but not doing it. It’s a muscle. It needs exercise.

But man, am I tired. And it’s snowing.

I’m not quitting. And I’m not fishing for encouragement. I’m just giving you an update on why I’ve been scarce here. The blog will go on, but one day it won’t. (I’ve actually added a short letter to our estate paperwork, bequeathing the contents of this blog, all XX years of blather, comments, links, dustups, changes, all of it – to J.C. Burns, who can do with it whatever he likes. That’s assuming he outlives me. I hope he does.)

What a merry ending, eh? I am off to the gym, to re-sore my legs. Have a great weekend, all. I will be back. Promise.

Posted at 9:33 am in Current events, Housekeeping | 36 Comments