Break coming up.

First a little light housekeeping: Light-to-nonexistent posting next week, as it is time for the Derringers to lay down their scythes and head into the cool north woods for a few days. It’s one step up from a staycation, but the price is right and a river runs through it. Alan will take his fishing gear, I will take a stack of books and other non-work reading, and we will both eat a lot of tavern cheeseburgers while I avoid cooking.

I might do a little yoga on the deck, but nothing more strenuous.

There might be some photo posts along the way. It depends on how picture-perfect things are. And how robust the cellular network is, and whether the WordPress mobile app is still a pain in the butt to work with.

Funny to think about these things. Kate is off in the great American west with intermittent cell service, and I just have to get used to her being out of range for a while. That’s what life used to be, and not that long ago.

I’ll do what I can.

Meanwhile, it remains hot here, although a line of thunderstorms yesterday blew out the humidity, if not the heat. It’s a little Los Angeles-y today, hot and dry and blindingly sunny. This I can live with, even as it makes me feel a little like a kid stuck in school, having to work when all this gloriousness is going on outside. But that’s what next week will be about.

I’m ready to take a news break, frankly. Donald Trump, lion killers, the construction outside my front door — it’s time to unplug.

That said, this isn’t a terrible take on Trump, and by a Republican, no less.

Capturing people who don’t collect their dogs’ poop with? What else — DNA.

Finally, Jon Stewart comes clean about his relationship with POTUS.

As for the rest of the weekend, I think Connie said it best:

Hope yours is good.

Posted at 12:03 am in Current events, Housekeeping | 50 Comments
 

Spilled.

I mentioned a while back that I gave blood? And they gave me a $10 Kroger gift card, up from the old $5 Target cards? Today, a new wrinkle:

blood

It’s like an open adoption, isn’t it? They tell you where your blood went. As it turns out, the sides of the triangle formed by St. John Hospital, the gym where I donated and my house are no longer than half a mile. Now that’s some locally sourced blood. That’s blood a blood snob would be proud to infuse.

They must really need blood. Probably you should give some, if you’re able.

A mixed bag today. The heat wave continues. Kate’s leaving tomorrow on yet another trip, a straight vacation this time with friends, so there were some errands and I made a big pile of granola. (They’re going backpacking.) And I worked, simultaneously thinking I wish I were in an office with people and thank God I don’t have to get dressed so I can be around people. Of course the social-media story of the day was the lion killer, which I see you have already started tearing apart in the previous post’s comments. The local paper seems to be on top of things, and I don’t know what to add — it’s just a terrible story. The hunter sounds terrible. The situation sounds terrible. The whole idea of traveling to Africa to hunt heads – terrible. That this guy is a cosmetic dentist – terrible.

Which seems like a segue into yet another NYT piece on the outlaw seas, more of the Ian Urbina package on the astounding lawlessness on the high seas and yet another argument for the human race as not much of an improvement on primordial slime. The piece does have a hero, the environmental group that pursued an outlaw fishing vessel for more than three months, only to see it almost certainly deliberately scuttled to hide evidence of its crew’s crimes. But a good read just the same.

Finally, you may have read about the unveiling of the Satanist statue in Detroit. This is the real story. You’re being trolled, America.

In spite of the heat, I took a little bike ride. And I took a little picture:

originalprimitive

It’s the original. Accept no substitutes.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 56 Comments
 

God bless the Jumbotron.

No blogging today, alas. I accepted a friend’s invitation to see Elvis Costello and Steely Dan last night at the venue once and forever known as Pine Knob. It was a hot night and only got hotter when the main act came on. A woman seated in the row ahead of us barfed all over the floor — I honestly don’t think she was drunk, as she seemed to be ralphing mainly gouts of clear liquid. The crew got it cleaned up between acts and a different couple sat down in the adjacent seats. Dustin and I looked at each other and said? Nothing, of course.

The barfer and her husband returned, the barfer’s hair tied up in a ponytail. Maybe she was just overheated.

Anyway, the acts were in good voice and Donald Fagen is still one of my favorite lyricists in pop music. Fortunately, there were visual enhancements:

steelydan

I’m told the kids don’t like Steely Dan, and in fact consider the band the absolute epitome of boomer narcissism, all jazzy pretentiousness and grad-school navel-gazing. Their fans are assholes, they play “music to put your sleazy moves on a drunk woman in a ski lodge to,” they’re for snobs only.

OK. Whatever. I have very specific and generational memories linked to most of their hits, and as for “Aja,” well, let’s just call it a foundational text in my pop-music memory. So the hell with you haters. We all know what you gotta do.

So not much bloggage today, except for this, my old colleague Dave Jones on the poisoning of youth sports. By their parents, of course:

As Hall of Fame acceptance speeches go, John Smoltz’s was not terribly entertaining. He was too careful to mention each and every person who affected his life, growing up as the son of accordion teachers in Michigan, to reach any sort of real connection with the audience during a rather lengthy half-hour.

Until, that is, the last five minutes. The loudest and longest ovation Smoltz received was for the most passionate point he made near the end of his time on the podium at Cooperstown on Sunday.

It was when he tried to talk some sense into all the parents who are relentlessly driving their kids through the nonstop treadmill that is travel baseball. He was speaking of all the kids whose arms are worn out and even damaged by their mid-teens. Whose passion for the game has long since been replaced by a hollow expression, whose onetime thrill in competition has dissolved into some vague sense of duty to their parents’ commitment.

‘Til Tuesday, and beyond.

Posted at 8:59 am in Detroit life, Popculch | 46 Comments
 

The title is the review, sorta.

“Trainwreck,” the Amy Schumer movie that opened earlier this month, plays like a third-draft script (six were probably needed), made by people who simply don’t care about such things. It’s too long. Individual scenes go on forever and some don’t end so much as they run out of gas. There are weird tonal shifts. I kept hearing the voice of my screenwriting teacher in my ear, saying, “But how does this raise the stakes? What’s the point of this action?” As a reinvention of the rom-com, I give it a B-minus — tries hard, chickens out in the end. In other words, as much Judd Apatow as Schumer. Oh, well.

And yet, I laughed throughout and am glad I saw it. I wanted 30 percent more Tilda Swinton, 25 percent more LeBron James, 8 percent less Hollywood sex, i.e., the kind actors have in movies when they have contractually agreed not to show their nude bodies. You see it on premium cable a lot; I call it bra sex because actresses on HBO — at least the ones famous enough to have their names in the credits — are the only women who keep their bras on during the act. There’s one scene — again, too long and sorta pointless — where Schumer seems to be having sex entirely clothed, while her boyfriend, the pro wrestler John Cena, is entirely naked.

I’d like to have seen 15 percent more John Cena, too. Cena is sort of delightful, even with his clothes on, as is James. In fact, all the pro athletes in this mess are pretty great playing themselves, with the exception of poor Chris Evert, who reads two or three lines like a hostage statement, but then again — the scene she was in is terrible and makes no sense. See above.

Someday we’ll look back and realize that while “Saturday Night Live” gave a lot of promising actors a good start, it was mainly a waste of time, comedically. Improv and riffing can be wonderful things, but in a movie, it better sing. And a lot of “Trainwreck” is, in comparison, humming.

That said, the funny stuff is really funny. There’s an opening-scene flashback to her father’s explanation of why her parents are divorcing, a long speech about cheating and dolls, that’s hysterical. If it had stayed that funny and sharp throughout, it’d be perfect. Alas.

That was Saturday night. Friday night was a free Bootsy Collins show at Campus Martius park. It’s always interesting to attend events in the central business district that more accurately reflect the racial mix of the city as a whole. It was a hot night, hotter in the crowd, so after a while we extracted ourselves from the press and wandered over to the Hard Rock Cafe for a drink and some more remote listening. These folks were all around:

lightson1

lightson2

I see bikes tricked out like this every so often, first at the Dlectricity festival nighttime bike parade. I actually looked into adding some really flashy LEDs to my own ride, just for the sake of visibility. It added up real fast, and required battery packs and other foofraw I didn’t want to mess with. Glad to see someone’s getting creative.

Links? Maybe.

Reading this story, about the strangeness of digital memories after the corporeal has passed — i.e, death — inspired me to write a letter, including all my social-media account logins and passwords, and seal it in an envelope with “J.C. Burns” written on the outside. It’s going in with my estate documents. I’m putting him in charge of my digital archive; he can have all the blog content to do with as he sees fit, and I’m asking him to seek out and destroy my Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts, as well as whatever else piles up in the interim. I’ve known a few people on those platforms who’ve died, and it absolutely kills me to get notifications of their birthdays, or to go to their pages and see people leaving miss-you messages months or years later. When I’m gone, I want to be gone.

If you had asked me last week what I wanted to read about the Lingerie Football League, I’d answer, “Um, nothing?” I was wrong. This was interesting:

A primer: Yes, they play football while wearing next to nothing; and yes, the spirals and tackles and playbooks are real. No, most players are not aspiring models or actresses; and no, they do not get paid. “If we paid a dime to a player, we wouldn’t sustain a season of play,” says Mitchell Mortaza, the league’s founder and chairman.

They practice seven to eight months a year, often three times a week. They show up in tank tops to sports bars and tailgates, where they sell tickets and promote the league. When they walk into the arena, they are transformed. “There is nothing,” says one former player, “like stepping onto that field and getting ready to knock a bitch out.” Although their sport can be a source of intense joy, it also creates acute pain. Bones break. Ligaments tear. Medical bills mount, and often, no support arrives. For some, hopelessness sets in: Are my skills really worth nothing? Few complain about the lingerie. They’re bothered more by what their uniforms seem to represent: that they are replaceable bodies, each no more valuable than the last.

“No one is here to watch you play football,” players say Mortaza has told them.

Raising children is hard. Raising children in public in the age of the smartphone is harder.

And with that, we march forth to face Monday.

Posted at 12:30 am in Housekeeping, Movies | 46 Comments
 

Scraps of notes.

Another late night without much inspiration. So here’s the last night of the Deadly Vipers’ tour. It was posted at way past their bedtime last night; I don’t expect them home early:

A bunch of opossums in St. Louis

A photo posted by The Deadly Vipers (@deadlyvipers.detroit) on

They seem to be making friends.

Here’s another Neil Steinberg blog to contemplate, about a 1915 disaster I’d never heard of until today. More than 800 people drowned when a ship capsized at the dock on the Chicago River. They were close enough to shore to easily swim, but that was when swimming was a rare skill. Eight hundred forty-four dead, and the ship was still tied up. Mind-boggling.

I swam this morning. Couldn’t find my rhythm, felt off the whole time. Maybe I’m being haunted by the ghosts of the Eastland, drowned 100 years ago today.

I see there was another mass shooting last night. Today, I swear, CNN was tweeting a piece about “movie-theater safety.” No words. And Bobby Jindal informed the world he was rushing to the scene, inspiring Twitter to yell at his exhaust plume, Make sure you tell ’em how much you like guns, Bobby! Awright.

OK, to work and to the weekend. Enjoy yours.

Posted at 9:19 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 70 Comments
 

Bullies.

I think every job has people who are attracted to it for the wrong reasons. We are no longer surprised to learn that pedophiles seek out positions that put them in contact with young people. Some journalists are, yes, showboating dicks (although I’ve found they are more likely to be concentrated in television). And some cops are, let’s face it, bullies.

You know that law enforcement has been having a bad year or two. Many of them blame rabble-rousers; I credit the smartphone. But as incident after incident piles up, the evidence becomes more galling. The ranks of police, or “LEOs” in the current parlance (that’s law enforcement officers) are well-stocked with jerks who will take any opportunity to grind a boot in your face just because he can. I’ve seen it myself, and before we go any further, I’ll stipulate that yes, many are heroes and many more enter the force with noble intentions but are worn down by the constant barrage of human cruelty they see on a near-daily basis. There are support systems for those LEOs, but I’m sure few if any are perfect. I’m equally sure that cops may have a spoken or unspoken cultural bias against asking for help, for the usual reasons. But that’s not what I want to talk about here.

I saw the tape of the Sandra Bland arrest — the original is nearly an hour long, and this story contains a fair distillation of around 7 minutes — and it’s pretty clear we’re dealing with a bad apple here. The cop comes up behind Bland, she moves to the right to let him pass, and he stops her for failing to signal a lane change. Bland does not hide her displeasure. He tells her she seems irritated; she says she is. “Are you done?” he asks, with that me-cop-you-not condescension some of them like to deploy, and it’s all downhill from there. Bland does not go quietly, and swears lustily, and at this point I don’t care if she called upon all the souls in hell to help her. She was right to be pissed; it was a bullshit stop. She wasn’t operating erratically. Traffic was light, she didn’t cause a near-miss collision. She didn’t turn on her signal, a crime committed approximately 90 zillion times a day all over the country (often by police). If this guy came to Detroit he would get all the action he wanted on that offense without going half a mile from the station.

I don’t dislike police, really I don’t. But I’m wondering why, when these things happen, the thin blue line rarely speaks up. If these incidents have taught us anything, it’s that an officer has to be caught red-handed by someone with a phone, a good camera angle and the smarts to get away clean for them to face any sort of discipline in these cases. How often are prosecutors willing to come down hard on police, upon whom they depend for the convictions that keep them in their jobs? The evidence has to be overwhelming. And even when it is, the rule of law essentially says we understand how hard it is to do this job, and sometimes mistakes are made. Eric Garner, choked to death, no charge. They have latitude, and lots of it, to make decisions under duress, and they’re rarely held to serious account when things go wrong.

But just once, I want an officer to be able to hand over a ticket to a pissed-off black woman, or any other person, without demanding all that yes-sir-officer crap in the bargain. Any stop by the police pretty much ruins your day; a ticket can ruin your spending-money budget for a month or more. Bland knew this was b.s., took the bait and her life circled the drain. Three days later she’d be dead. I’m thoroughly, thoroughly sick of this shit. I want police to police themselves.

What Gin & Tacos said.

One more item, and then I’m out: Are you ready for your car to be hacked? You better be.

Posted at 12:23 am in Current events | 78 Comments
 

Food over outrage.

Sorry no blogging last night. I decided to make a nice dinner instead, and by the time it was served and cleaned up, I was sorta done. We had grilled halibut, roasted cauliflower with coconut curry sauce and a lovely snap pea salad with green onion, ginger, lime and sesame seeds. Yum.

I was trying to duplicate the flavors of this lovely lunch of a few days back. Came close.

So all I have is a little nosegay of links. Theme: Outrage. Or at least righteous indignation. (Maybe a nice meal would calm everyone down.)

Every magazine gets letters to the editor from outright racists. Few sign their names. This editor ran the letter.

Neil Sternberg says Donald Trump is the punishment we all deserve. Discuss.

How the wheel do turn, Gawker, Reddit, et al. Welcome to adulthood.

Posted at 9:19 am in Media | 52 Comments
 

Summer slowness.

Monday might be my least-favorite blogging day of the week. Nothing ever happens to me on a Monday. Usually I go to the downtown office, so that’s something. But usually nothing interesting happens there, either. You see movies about journalists, and you think it’s all running around to fires and stuff, and there’s some of that, or used to be. For me and my colleagues, it’s mostly talking on the phone and staring at a computer screen.

I once had lunch with an editor who worked in the same office complex, or cluster, or whatever, as the Wall Street Journal editorial page. He could walk by and see them at work. What did he observe, you might wonder? Spells being cast, raucous staff meetings, Nerf basketball?

“Emails,” he said. “Lots and lots of emails.” That’s journalism today.

And since I brown-bagged it, I didn’t even get the fun of going out onto the sweaty streets to see what’s up. Except at the bus stop, which was pretty quiet. I think the whole world goes on vacation in July and August.

I did get a road report from the Deadly Vipers: The three shows so far have been in small spaces that were tightly packed with sweaty, moshing, toilet paper roll-throwing celebrants. They’ve been called back for encores all three shows, and “we’re selling a lot of tapes.” Yes, tapes, because some guy in Brooklyn is releasing their music on cassette. As I recall, the last time I was there people were gathering under a tent at a street festival to take a turn working on that wacky wayback machine known as a typewriter.

The rest of you can check out two tracks from the four-track EP via Soundcloud.

I know Americans have hardly covered themselves with glory abroad. I know idiots have scratched Ryan + Amber 4Ever on the Stonehenge monuments, touched stuff they were told not to and otherwise stumbled and bumbled their way through the world’s glories — don’t even get me started on that stupid locks-on-the-bridge thing in Paris — but honestly, there’s something about the lead of this story that makes me want to drop a bomb on France, just to get this guy:

Andre Saraiva is an internationally known graffiti artist. He owns nightclubs in Paris and New York, works as a top editor of the men’s fashion magazine L’Officiel Hommes and has appeared in countless glossy magazines as a tastemaker and bon vivant.

Two months ago he showed up on the decidedly un-fashionista website Modern Hiker, along with a photo of a boulder he tagged in Joshua Tree National Park. Since then, Saraiva, who lives in France and is known by his fans as Mr. Andre and Mr. A., has been scorned by American nature lovers and thrust into a highly charged debate.

Saraiva is of a new generation of graffiti artists who regard nature — not just the built environment — as their canvas. They tag national parks, then post photos of their work on the Internet.

The next bomb goes on the front office of the magazine whose editor offered this priceless observation:

“This is a very complex issue,” said Casey Schreiner, editor of Modern Hiker. “How different is graffiti in national parks than street art? If street art is OK, is this OK? Is there a correlation?”

Answers, in order: Very, no, no. Next question.

This is an interesting piece to consider, as demographics and trends move the wheel around. Remember the anonymous suburban office park in “Office Space?” Remember how you thought, “God, there are a million of those in my city alone?” Well, there are. And they’re falling out of favor:

The building in North Bethesda has eight floors. It is 98.7 percent vacant. There is one life form within its nearly 210,000 square feet — not counting the lobby fern on life support — and she wears a security uniform, sits at the front desk and listens to the muffled whine of a faulty alarm for hours at a time, every day between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m.

“It’s quite annoying,” say Lum Tumentang, the guard. The building engineer sometimes stops by and turns it off, but it inevitably trips again. There’s one or two IT people who do IT stuff one flight up, but they’re not here right now. The building was built in 1989, and it shows: a mountain of tinted glass and beige concrete in commercial dullsville. Over the past decade, its value dropped by 64 percent. The largest tenant, the National Institutes of Health and its contractors, started packing up two years ago as leases expired. By 2014, the owner reported cash-flow problems, foreclosure arrived this past January, and that was it for 6116 Executive Blvd.

That’s in D.C. Your town is likely not far behind.

So, then, Monday is in the books and Tuesday lies ahead. Enjoy whatever it holds for you.

Posted at 12:20 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 47 Comments
 

The horn section.

The Detroit “scene” — yes, air quotes are definitely called for here — has been growing so quickly that it’s sometimes hard to tell the New Detroit weekend activities from the earlier, more organic and fun variety. One year you’re going on a group bike ride and it’s just a good time, two years later you have thousands of fellow riders and corporate/foundation sponsorship and all the rest of it.

So lately, when I hear that something’s going on somewhere in the central part of town, I’m less likely to think hey, fun and more likely to think parking’s gonna be a four-legged bitch, no doubt.

It was a pleasant surprise to drop by the second annual Crash Detroit festival in its waning hours Saturday and see it was still fun. This is a brass-band gathering, very much in the New Orleans tradition of fun and partying and spontaneity, and we arrived for the last act, the hometown Detroit Party Marching Band:

partymarchingband

A little dark, I know, but I wanted you to get the idea of how they work — no stage, just gather up and start playing. And they play hard. The trombonist nearest to me shed his jacket halfway through the show, but I bet he wished he could shed more. Most of these folks play hard, and it was hot.

Still, in the depths of summer, a good news Sunday. There’s the Bill Cosby story, so much ick in one package:

He was not above seducing a young model by showing interest in her father’s cancer. He promised other women his mentorship and career advice before pushing them for sex acts. And he tried to use financial sleight of hand to keep his wife from finding out about his serial philandering.

Bill Cosby admitted to all of this and more over four days of intense questioning 10 years ago at a Philadelphia hotel, where he defended himself in a deposition for a lawsuit filed by a young woman who accused him of drugging and molesting her.

Even as Mr. Cosby denied he was a sexual predator who assaulted many women, he presented himself in the deposition as an unapologetic, cavalier playboy, someone who used a combination of fame, apparent concern and powerful sedatives in a calculated pursuit of young women — a profile at odds with the popular image he so long enjoyed, that of father figure and public moralist.

Man, I’m not one for idolizing celebrities (with some exceptions), and this is not Monday-morning hindsight, but there was always something off-putting about his Doctor Cosby, American Dad act I found off-putting. I should trust my instinct more often.

Brian Dickerson, my No. 1 reason for reading the Sunday Free Press, had a thoughtful column about the pressures on liberal arts educations these days. I think he nails it — business is trying to outsource its training onto higher ed — and have been saddened at the idea that studying something other than finance, marketing, math and business is somehow worthless. I’ve known many liberal-arts majors who are brilliant business people; knowing Iago’s motivation might be a useful skill in business, in my opinion, but what do I know.

A long read, but absolutely worth it: A long NYT project on crime on the high seas, Pulitzer-worthy, that reminds me to read William Langewiesche’s book on the same subject. A sobering reminder of the cost of civilization, a connection I probably drew from my liberal-arts education.

Oh, and also, this weekend? There was a pie:

cherry

I’m-a eat a piece. Right now. Enjoy the upcoming week.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Detroit life, Same ol' same ol' | 30 Comments
 

Not what you think it is.

My comments on “Go Set a Watchman” come from a place of near-total ignorance of the text itself. I read the reviews and the first chapter online, and that’s it. So that’s your serving of salt grains with this, and here goes:

The only reason to read this book is as a case study in the power of a good editor. It’s not a lesson every reader wants to learn, or even cares about. Of all the movie fans in the world, how many want to learn about depth of field, how different lenses and film stocks work, the director’s art, or the color timer’s? They just want to enjoy the story unfolding in the dark. But in the case of these two books, all the evidence points to a single truth: This publication is an object lesson in the need for rock-solid estate planning and the need to appoint trustworthy guardians who will carry out your wishes, wishes you express when you still have the vigor to do so.

So when I hear Jeff say that lots of older people grow rigid and crabbed in their beliefs, and this is not a ridiculous turn of events for Atticus Finch, it makes me sad. Of course it’s true. But the Atticus of Watchman is not the same man of Mockingbird, for a very good reason: He’s a fictional character, and in her rewrite, Lee essentially crumpled up the paper she was sketching him on and started from scratch. Just because he has the same name doesn’t make him the same person, because he isn’t a person at all.

Although I will admit chuckling over a tweet I saw earlier today (and didn’t note the provenance of, sorry) something about of course Atticus is a bitter old racist 20 years after Mockingbird, because he’s been watching Fox News.

Speaking of estate planning… or rather, not speaking of it, because this story has nothing to do with it. Rather, it’s one of those stories we should all read from time to time, because it drives home just what real poverty is, how many poor families live in Detroit. And everywhere:

Oscar Edwards was born mentally disabled. He’s gentle, speaks only to his family and has the mind of a child.

For his whole life, the 68-year-old has had relatives taking care of him — feeding him, bathing him, keeping him company. And for most of that life he’s lived in an old house on Petoskey Street on the city’s west side; first with his parents, who died long ago, then with his two brothers, who both passed away recently.

Now, the house is falling apart. The warm air inside reeks of mold. The ceiling in his bedroom collapsed. The repair estimates are skyrocketing. And nobody in the family has any money to fix any of it.

So the family set up a GoFundMe site, hoping to raise enough money to make the repairs. It included a video of the interior of the house. Which is not pretty:

Evans was invited on an AM talk radio show, where the host called her a scammer and urged listeners to report the family to the state. A local TV station did a couple of stories about Uncle Oscar, and viewers posted comments online accusing the family of being negligent. A racist website stumbled on the fund-raising page and posted an unflattering photo of Uncle Oscar and mocked him and the family.

“They called us ‘silverbacks’ and ‘gorillas,’ things like that,” Evans said.

The family sought $30,000 in donations. In three months only $2,787 came in.

Another great, nuanced look by John Carlisle.

Now, back to reading the scariest article I’ve read in a long damn while. I bid farewell to our readers in Seattle, Portland and other places in the Pacific Northwest, should the big one, or the really big one, hit before we speak again.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Popculch | 85 Comments