America’s very bad dad.

A couple of us went out to dinner Saturday night. It was a very Detroit 2.0 evening, featuring a chic restaurant, a long wait for a table and a cocktail called a Rosemary Burn (featuring a sprig of charred you-know-what). I swear, I’ve had more cocktails featuring rosemary in the last year than I’ve had potatoes or lamb or any other rosemary-friendly food. Maybe it was a Rosemary Char. Something like that. Can’t recall.

Anyway, we were sitting there working through our small-plates selection when the subject of Bill Cosby came up. We marveled at the parade of women now coming forward, most without the shroud of anonymity, many of them now senior citizens; their stories and the timeline suggest Cosby’s alleged strategy of mickey-slipping went on for decades.

That’s what makes this WashPost story published today so damning; it hears out the known accusers in chronological order, starting with the young comedy writer (who said she was drugged and assaulted in 1965) to the Temple University staffer (ditto, 2004). It’s an interesting structure, because you can see in its detail how we came to understand rape and sex crimes in that nearly 40-year span of time. The first victim didn’t go to the police because who would believe her word against a famous man? The last one brooded for a while, then called a lawyer, not the police, after a belated visit to police, and negotiated a cash settlement. (Please understand I am not criticizing her for doing so; absent a strong criminal case with solid physical evidence, Cosby likely wouldn’t have spent a day behind bars. That she chose to hit him in the wallet was a valid alternative choice.)

It’s also interesting because, after every victim’s story, the writers reproduce the comment of Cosby’s legal team. It’s almost hilarious:

One of Cosby’s attorneys, John Schmitt, issued a statement this past week saying that repeating old allegations “does not make them true.”

…Singer, Cosby’s attorney, called Traitz “the latest example of people coming out of the woodwork with unsubstantiated or fabricated stories about my client.”

…When contacted by The Post about Valentino’s allegations, Cosby’s attorney responded by issuing the broad denial to the recent accusations.

…Another Cosby attorney, Walter M. Phillips Jr., called Green’s allegations “absolutely false.”

Well, to their credit, no one said, “Another one? Where are all these crazy bitches coming from?”

He’s toast. Of course, Mitch Albom says he needs a little more time to study on the subject, and in the meantime, was it really necessary to pull reruns of “The Cosby Show” from TVLand? I mean, talk about a rush to judgment.

In case you’re wondering, the Rosemary Burn/Char was a twist on a whiskey sour, and featured bourbon, orange-blossom honey, lemon and salt. “The bourbon was infused with pine nuts,” Alan reminds me. Noted.

It must take so long to make a drink like that, you don’t have to worry about having too many.

Thanksgiving week! And so it begins. I will try to post what and when I can, but as always: Holidays. Etc.

Posted at 1:18 pm in Current events, Detroit life | 14 Comments
 

Mike Nichols, RIP.

So sorry to hear about Mike Nichols. It’s the sorriest Mike Nichols news since he married Diane Sawyer, in fact, but there’s no accounting for taste. (You just hate to see artists you genuinely admire fall for former Nixon staffers with a fondness for those steamed-shower-door soft lenses.) Anyway, rest in peace, Mr. Nichols, and thanks for Mrs. Robinson.

I know Mrs. Robinson was a creation of many people, including Charles Webb, who wrote the novel “The Graduate” is based on; Buck Henry, who wrote the screenplay; Anne Bancroft, who played her; and Nichols, who directed her performance. Like Roger Ebert, I saw “The Graduate” when I was young and thought it was about one thing, and then watched it years later and realized it’s all about another thing, i.e., Mrs. Robinson.

I recommend clicking through this not-too-long slideshow at New York magazine, an appreciation of Mrs. Robinson’s “scary chic.” I was ashamed that I never noticed all her leopard prints until now. Nothing happens on a movie set by accident, so I have to assume it was deliberate, to underline either a) her sexiness (the writer correctly points out that was pretty much the only choice for mid-’60s lingerie that needed to telegraph that message), her wild-animal spirit (she’s a very, very bored lioness), or maybe something else. The term “cougar” to describe a sexually aggressive older woman hadn’t been coined yet. Maybe Nichols was ahead of his time that way.

(Oh, and as to the “older” thing: Bancroft was 36 when she played the part, and the character was probably about 40-42 — she got pregnant in college and has a college-age daughter. Ebert explains she was aged with shadows and makeup, but wowsa, that’s one sexy broad.) Ebert:

“The Graduate,” released in 1967, contains no flower children, no hippies, no dope, no rock music, no political manifestos and no danger. It is a movie about a tiresome bore and his well-meaning parents. The only character in the movie who is alive–who can see through situations, understand motives, and dare to seek her own happiness–is Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft). Seen today, “The Graduate” is a movie about a young man of limited interest, who gets a chance to sleep with the ranking babe in his neighborhood, and throws it away in order to marry her dorky daughter.

Yep.

Roy has a little more on his theatrical career, as well as his glorious early days with Elaine May.

I also loved “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and …most of the rest of his work. You just knew he was going to bring it.

Have a great weekend, all. I’ll be…working.

Posted at 7:00 pm in Movies | 68 Comments
 

You just don’t hear Li’l Kim much these days.

I’ve been absent a couple of days, yes. (Insert the usual excuses.) And I would have posted something last night, but I went out on a rare Tuesday night to see Doggy Style, which I guess you’d call a gay bar popup in an otherwise straight bar. It’s very informal; sometime after 9:15 you look around, and everyone’s a handsome man. The bar TV system switches to a mix of campy old videos, including a montage of Joan Collins-Linda Evans catfights from “Dynasty,” Vanity 6, Li’l Kim, the Scissors Sisters and miscellaneous Euro-popsters from the ’80s with Flock of Seagulls hairdos.

But it was a warm place on a cold night, so there it is. And I worked at home all day, so it was nice to get out.

Meanwhile, thanks to Roy, who for some reason tracks right-wing bloggers, for finding this National Review appreciation of Glen Larson, recently deceased creator of a lot of bad ’70s/’80s television, including “Quincy, ME.” (The ME stood for medical examiner, as we all know from watching CSI, right?)

The writer singles out “Next Stop Nowhere,” a landmark Quincy investigation into the dangers of punk rock. It’s amusing because I know someone whose parents dumped his punk records (“including a few 7-inches that are worth something now”) into the trash compactor after viewing this alarming episode. Today, it looks as ludicrous as it would have to most people who weren’t your parents back then. But the National Review, god bless ‘em, doubles down:

Made long after social causes of the week and Klugman’s penchant for soppy lecturing had begun to capsize the series, the fabled punk rock episode serves as an ironic touchstone for aging hipsters keen to remember when they were all scary and hilarious. On a fresh viewing, however, “Next Stop Nowhere” paints a fully true picture of punk rockers as they really were: deceitful social predators who wouldn’t think twice about framing you for murder and forcing you into a codeine overdose.

Forced into a codeine overdose! So that’s what really killed Sid and Nancy.

What kind of echo chamber do people live in to write this stuff?

Two inches of snow allegedly arriving today. I know that’s nothing to you guys in Buffalo, but here? It’s 18 degrees and I’m not looking forward to the solstice, still a month away.

A good day to all.

On edit: I can’t let today pass without noting it’s the 10-year anniversary of this hilarious event:

Alan had just accepted his job here, and we were preparing to move. We laughed maniacally over this event, and hoped our new home would always be this exciting. It hasn’t let us down yet. Detroit! This is why I love you! You’re never, ever boring.

Posted at 8:58 am in Popculch, Same ol' same ol' | 64 Comments
 

Happy birthday to us.

I’m telling you, when Columbus gets five inches of snow in mid-November — it is still mid-November, right? — and Detroit only an inch, well…I don’t know what that means. Probably that weather varies widely and isn’t necessarily north = more.

Still. Brr. We’re supposed to get strong winds, too, so I expect a week of misery.

It was birthday weekend around here — Kate’s 18th, Alan’s (mumble). The former got a fuzz pedal for her bass and a pair of Doc Martens, perhaps my least-favorite shoe for girls in the universe, but the thing about gifts is, they’re for the recipient, not the giver. And if you’re legally an adult, you can decide what you want to wear on your feet. Especially if you’re already hanging out in bars:

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That was Friday night. The crowd was sparse, the other acts pretty pallid, and the bartender indifferent, but when your lineup isn’t bringing in the sales, what can you expect? Which is to say, Alan had to buy four bottled waters for the girls so they wouldn’t get parched under that dazzling neon.

Saturday went along with it, sorta; we watched “Only Lovers Left Alive,” which may be my favorite Detroit-shot movie since “Out of Sight.” It’s not great, but it’s a wonderful look at the crazy city and its charms, which is especially well-suited to the story of two vampires making their way through the modern world. Googling around at the reviews, I notice a couple critics mention their house “on the outskirts of Detroit.” Ha! That house is in the heart of Detroit, and while some of the shots are angled to cut out the surroundings and emphasize its solitude, well, it pretty much nails the fabulous, ruined area of Brush Park. We don’t have nearly that many coyotes — at least not in town. They’d have to fight the stray pit bulls, and I don’t think they’re that tough.

A little bloggage from the weekend:

Something I learned from Neil Steinberg’s great column (reprinted from 2008) on “Porgy and Bess:”

The bottom line is that African-American artists embraced the work. Both Paul Robeson and Sidney Poitier — neither a cream-puff — sang Porgy. The entire cast is black, as required by the Gershwin estate — in reaction, the story goes, to the horror of Al Jolson pushing to cast himself as a blackface Porgy.

When Mitch Albom starts a column with the words “In the old days,” you know what you should do, right? Yes: Don’t read the rest. But if you want to, be my guest, and consider: This is one of the most successful writers in the U.S.A. No wonder the vampires are worried.

A corporate sponsor dials back support for a sport (rock climbing) where risk-taking may be getting out of hand:

Among those whose contracts were withdrawn were Alex Honnold and Dean Potter, each widely credited with pushing the boundaries of the sport in recent years. They had large roles in the film, mainly showing them climbing precarious routes barehanded and without ropes, a technique called free soloing. Potter also was shown highlining, walking across a rope suspended between towering rock formations.

Other climbers who lost their Clif Bar contracts were Timmy O’Neill and Steph Davis, who spends much of her time BASE jumping (parachuting from a fixed object, like a building, an antenna, a span or earth) and wing-suit flying. Last year, her husband, Mario Richard, was killed when he crashed in a wing suit.

I’ve seen wing suit videos, and for the life of me, I don’t understand how a suit that turns you into a flying squirrel can overcome the weight of the human body. But then, I’m no daredevil.

We in this part of the country may all have to be daredevils tomorrow. I hope your commute is not too slippery.

Posted at 5:57 pm in Current events, Detroit life, Movies | 34 Comments
 

It’s always those people.

With no intent to insult the veterans in the audience, let me just say that it my TV listings showed something on premium cable called “The Concert for Valor” on channel 300, I’d immediately start looking for something at least 200 channels away. That’s how much I despise most televised concerts and especially Very Special TV events aimed at veterans.

So I was a half-step behind hearing the kerfuffle over Bruce Springsteen’s choice of “Fortunate Son” for his setlist. Although once you hear the details — once anyone hears that a writer for the Weekly Standard, and the usual idiots at Fox News, were upset over this “anti-American” song — you can pretty much fill in the blanks. Oh oh oh, it wasn’t “God Bless the USA,” so this has to be worth yelling about! and so on.

Roy has a great roundup of links. And Charles Pierce adds a photographic element.

I hate to be in and outta here again, but it turns out the week after the election has been as busy as the week before, and the week of, the election. But it should slow down soon — I hope.

Posted at 9:49 pm in Current events | 66 Comments
 

A visit to the firehouse.

We had a staff development day, which turned into sort of a field trip. Among the stops was a Detroit firehouse, squad 3 to be exact. You walk in, and you get the immediate whiff of burning house. It’s coming from the equipment room:

firehouse1

It was a nice visit; firefighters are cool guys. Although this one refused to sell me his shirt, even when I offered him $50 for it, but seriously, wouldn’t you? This might be the best t-shirt ever:

firehouse2

They showed us the brand-new jaws of life, the pictures on the walls, the memorial for the last firefighter to die in the line of duty, killed when a roof fell on him in a burning abandoned house. If you want to know more about Detroit firefighters, I can highly recommend “Burn,” a documentary floating around the Netflix orbits these days.

I think I may go back and increase my bid for that shirt.

Posted at 9:44 pm in Detroit life | 68 Comments
 

The end of the tunnel.

I’m kind of surprised the Detroit bankruptcy news of Friday didn’t make a bigger splash, news-wise. I checked the usual aggregation sites and found most were still dithering over election results, but trust me: This is huge. On Friday, the judge presiding over the case approved the city’s plan of adjustment, i.e., their blueprint for shedding debt, satisfying creditors and setting the city up for what all hope will be a clear path forward.

It’s pretty complicated, and not easy to sum up for civilians, but here are the bullet points: The city discharges about $7 billion in debt, most pensioners take a 4.5 percent cut (and forego future COLA and health-care increases), the noisiest creditors settled for mostly real estate and the Detroit Institute of Arts’ collection is preserved.

I have to agree with Laura Berman here: It was nothing short of miraculous:

The city’s Chapter 9 had begun in shame. But somehow the legal process provided enough incentives and framework for everyone involved to get things done. If (Judge Steven) Rhodes saw it as “all about shared sacrifice,” it was also about high stakes, huge dollars, and the whole world watching — all combined to enable a group of people to focus on solutions rather than acrimony.

Detroit, a city that’s been hard-pressed to get anything done for decades, was suddenly a place where deals got done. Problems that had been insoluble — think Detroit Water and Sewer Department — were resolved by mutual consent of parties that wouldn’t even communicate previously.

“We had a 40 year dispute solved — and it was like a footnote,” (Emergency Manager Kevyn) Orr said of the water department compromise, which created a regional authority.

The bankruptcy enabled a series of voluntary settlements that left little room for appeal: Not a long, litigious nightmare but a framework to quickly and creatively fix a broken city.

This NYT piece gives you a good overview of the so-called “grand bargain” that preserved the art and bolstered pensions.

It’s an imperfect solution, but what would be perfect? And this is very close to perfect for a situation that looked so, so dire only a year ago. I told someone the other day that walking around downtown reminds me of the opening scenes of “Atlantic City.” Woodward Avenue is torn up for the installation of a light-rail line. (Not a very good one, but a start.) Scaffolding rises up half the buildings, which are being converted, restored, condo-ized. Everyone’s complaining about how high rents are, and if you want to buy, you better have cash, because no one wants to wait on the banks to figure out appraisals in a market this crazy.

Of course the stubborn problem of the blossoming core and the withering outer neighborhoods remains unsolved. But streetlights are slowly being replaced, a new auction program to basically give away housing to people willing to bring it back is thriving, and if no one knows what the city will look like in a decade, there is cause for optimism. For the first time in a long while.

I’m just waiting for the pundit class to catch on, and it will be interesting to see what they have to say. Virginia Postrel will surely be disappointed that the art isn’t going to be redistributed to cities where it will be more appreciated — like the one she lives in — but just knowing she will have to live with this charming passage around her neck for the rest of her life…

(G)reat artworks shouldn’t be held hostage by a relatively unpopular museum in a declining region. The cause of art would be better served if they were sold to institutions in growing cities where museum attendance is more substantial and the visual arts are more appreciated than they’ve ever been in Detroit. Art lovers should stop equating the public good with the status quo.

…will be good enough for me. (Just an aside here: Where does a woman with the title of “culture columnist” get off writing that the art “should be sold to institutions,” ignoring the fact nearly all museums don’t buy much of anything, relying on wealthy donors to die and leave them stuff. There are some exceptions; I believe the Getty, in Los Angeles, still shops. I also believe Postrel lives in Los Angeles. What a coincidence. But even the Getty could hardly pick up the best of the DIA’s collection. Van Gogh’s self-portrait would end up in fucking Dubai or Moscow.)

OK, then. So it was a weekend for toasts. Also, another movie — “Whiplash,” which I highly recommend. It’s the story about what happens when a talented musician gets the wrong teacher, an abusive, screaming, hitting, mind-fucking asshole who just might be exactly what he needs. J.K. Simmons plays the teacher, well enough that the ticket-seller actually trigger-warned us: “It’s a very intense movie, and you need to understand that. We’ve had complaints.” Oh, for fuck’s sake.

So, bloggage? There’s this, a Bob Herbert column in Politico, on Bill Gates, education reformer:

There used to be a running joke in the sports world about breaking up the Yankees because they were so good. Gates felt obliged to break up America’s high schools because they were so bad. Smaller schools were supposed to attack the problems of low student achievement and high dropout rates by placing students in a more personal, easier-to-manage environment. Students, teachers and administrators would be more familiar with one another. Acts of violence and other criminal behavior would diminish as everybody got to know everybody else. Academic achievement would soar.

That was Bill Gates’s grand idea. From 2000 to 2009, he spent $2 billion and disrupted 8 percent of the nation’s public high schools before acknowledging that his experiment was a flop. The size of a high school proved to have little or no effect on the achievement of its students. At the same time, fewer students made it more difficult to field athletic teams. Extracurricular activities withered. And the number of electives offered dwindled.

Gates said it himself in the fall of 2008, “Simply breaking up existing schools into smaller units often did not generate the gains we were hoping for.”

Really? You don’t say.

And with that, we start off another action-packed week. I hope yours goes well.

Posted at 9:04 pm in Current events, Detroit life | 20 Comments
 

Saturday afternoon market.

IMG_1619-0.JPG

Because it’s cold and drizzly outside, that’s why.

Posted at 1:06 pm in Detroit life, iPhone | 17 Comments
 

The mop-up.

Well, this is how I spent Wednesday. And this is how my colleague Ron spent the day. I encourage you to scroll down, in Ron’s story, to the subhead on the electoral college. If the legislature takes up that one during lame duck, I might disappear like Coozledad. That fight will make Right to Work look like a picnic.

Some bloggage, before I get back to work:

Hank on “The Comeback,” which I am anticipating like a big slice of cake.

…and that’s it. I’m so election-full, I’m electioned out. Back to more civilized content tomorrow, I think.

Posted at 11:29 am in Current events | 43 Comments
 

Thank you, ma’am. Ma’am, thank you.

I could probably check this, but it was right around a year ago that Comcast, my cable company, tried to make good a fairly minor mistake on their part by dumping a bunch of premium channels on me, “free” for a year. It’s how we got Showtime and Starz and Cinemax and a couple others, most of which we don’t watch, although OK, yes, Showtime’s series have gotten much better in recent months.

But then the cable bill arrived, and it was $70 above normal, so I got back on the phone to express outrage and demand a lower bill. It was so silly; I knew and the operator knew that I was going to get my bill knocked back down to what it was, that the “introductory period” would be extended another year, that my cable service wouldn’t change and all I would have to pay was the $70 overage I just paid.

The “customer service representative,” a phrase that cries out for ironic quotes, was offshore. That’s all she would say, offshore, but I would peg her accent as Filipino, so there you are. She read from her script with varying degrees of success at sounding authentic — “this is your lucky day for today only I am authorized to offer you this exciting introductory rate on the package you are interested in” — and her most annoying tic was inserting “ma’am” every five words. So really it was more like ma’am this is your lucky day ma’am for today only ma’am I am authorized to offer you, ma’am, this exciting introductory rate on the package you are interested in ma’am. And no, I’m not exaggerating.

I really miss customer service when it wasn’t an oxymoron. My mother worked her whole career at the phone company as a customer-service rep, and dammit, she served. She was also in a union. I’m sure her job, if it remains in any way shape or form, is now being done in a dingy call center in Manila.

And while I grant you that this is sort of a Peggy Noonan sort of problem, it seemed to go hand-in-glove with what read, to my eyes, as a better-than-average scene-setter for today’s election in the NYT today:

The uncertainty about the outcome is a fitting match for the mood of the nation. A slowly but steadily improving economy — with six months of strong growth, gasoline below $3 a gallon for the first time in four years and substantial deficit reduction — has not translated into broader optimism. Voters are more inclined toward blame than credit. Instead, they are seemingly worn down by economic struggles and late waves of panic, chiefly about the threats posed by the Islamic State and the possible spread of Ebola.

Polls show voter interest in the election substantially lower than four years ago. The real intensity has been generated by the prodigious spending of outside groups who have aired more than 1.5 million televised campaign ads.

And candidates in both parties have done little to inspire the electorate. Unlike midterms in 1994 and 2006, when the party out of power made strong gains, Republican candidates did not carry a defined platform into this election, nor did they campaign on many policy specifics. Democrats spent months playing down if not denying their support for the president’s agenda.

True dat. I think things are settling in for a lot of people: You will probably earn less next year, even if you get a paltry raise, because your health-insurance rates will gobble up the difference and then some. Your kids’ student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, so borrow wisely and don’t have too many kids in the first place. Anyway, they won’t be buying a house for a good long while, so don’t count on the value of your own going up the way it used to. This grim little ad, which the Truth Squad whistled as a flagrant foul, seems to get at the mood lately:

Here’s another one. It doesn’t really get at the voters’ mood, but it’s pretty damn brutal. How’d you like to have been at this casting session?

I step into the voting booth, and my hope springs eternal, most years. This year I’ll do my best.

Happy Election Day. See you when I’m done working it.

Posted at 11:17 am in Current events | 88 Comments