The blur commences.

blighthouse

And so we enter the end-of-year zone, eh? Last night Alan and I went out to dinner with friends, then to two parties, one of which featured a silent auction of blighted gingerbread houses, with the money going to buy plywood sheets to board up the worst abandoned homes in the Cornerstone Village neighborhood of Detroit. The party was held in a newly purchased foreclosure, which the new owner wants to turn into her second bed-and-breakfast, or maybe a regular rental, adjacent to her urban duck farm. New name: The Quack House. (You can see, just taking apart that sentence, why I find this place so interesting.) The joke in the out-of-focus photo above is explained here.

Because I shopped like a madwoman all day yesterday, I missed most of the coverage of the cop shooting in New York. I was shocked to hear about the police turning their backs on the mayor. Every instinct in your rational brain tells you this is simply the pain of a fraternity that suffered a terrible loss yesterday. And the rest of your brain says these guys simply don’t get it. I hope this isn’t a portent of more pain ahead.

Finally, great news at this end: Young Katharine has achieved a major goal — being admitted to the college of her parents’ choice, i.e., the University of Michigan. Early decision. We’re all thrilled. She’s still waiting to hear from Oberlin and NYU, and the decision of where to go will be based on finances, but this was all of our first choice, so I’d say that unless NYU rolls out the green carpet, she’ll be going to Ann Arbor next fall. Such a relief as we head into the holidays.

Intermittent posting through New Year’s, but I’ll take lotsa pictures.

Posted at 1:09 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 20 Comments
 

Spring break: Havana.

This may be the single best tweet I saw yesterday as the news about the Cuban situation unfolded:

Of course this is great news. Our Cuban policy has been a disaster, kept in place by a tiny cadre of older Cubans in south Florida. It hasn’t worked on any level, except to cement Castro in place for decades and, of course, propagate itself. If you want Cuba to be free, expose them to the closest free nation where many members of Cuban families have settled. Besides, with money pouring into the place from Europe, and with Raul Castro in the same generation as his ailing brother, it’s only a matter of time before Cubans learn the joys of capitalism, American-style: Ruinous health-insurance premiums, minimum-wage jobs at Walmart and, of course, new parts for all of those old cars.

And the best part of it all? Exploding heads.

Of course now I’m sorry I didn’t go before. I remember telling Alan, when the Soviet Union was falling apart, “Cuba will be next, and we can go there for our honeymoon.” We’ve been married 21 years. Which is sort of the point, isn’t it?

Consolation prize for the exploding heads: Elian Gonzalez can come visit the Miami relatives.

So what else is going on? The terrorists finally win one, and it’s to torpedo a Seth Rogen movie. I know I should disapprove, and I do, but part of me wonders if we can make a similar arrangement for the next Adam Sandler project.

Thanks to Jolene for finding this:

So great. It was originally embedded in a Vanity Fair post, where the writer referred to it as a Motown hit. Sigh. Deep, deep sigh. Kids these days.

Posted at 7:56 pm in Current events | 112 Comments
 

Herd immunity.

One of Bridge’s content partners published a package on vaccination rates in Michigan last week. They are atrocious, in part because the state has one of the nation’s most lenient opt-out policies in the country. You don’t have to prove a religious or medical exemption, only philosophical. It’s as easy as signing a piece of paper, and many parents do.

What’s really surprising is where it’s happening. The more affluent the community, the more likely it is to have a higher-than-necessary opt-out for herd immunity to apply. Grosse Pointe is around 10 percent, similar communities ditto, but the jaw-dropper was Cranbrook. You political junkies may recall that’s where young Mitt Romney was educated. Nearly one-quarter of its kindergarteners are not fully vaccinated when they start school.

To be sure, the rate improves by sixth grade, suggesting many parents are following a more strung-out vaccine schedule, but still.

So it was on my mind when I read a story about a mumps outbreak in the National Hockey League, and reflected: This isn’t going to help.

Most of these players were vaccinated as children, but vaccines lose effectiveness over time:

A more complete explanation of hockey’s mumps conundrum involves something called waning immunity. Put simply, the vaccine loses strength over time. We know this because of some fascinating observational studies from the last major mumps outbreak.

In 2006, thousands of college kids in the Midwest became infected with mumps, despite the fact that most had received the vaccine. This phenomenon is called vaccine failure, and scientists divide it into two categories: primary and secondary. Primary vaccine failure occurs when the body doesn’t produce antibodies in response to the initial immunization, but this is relatively rare with the mumps vaccine. Secondary failure occurs when the body fails to maintain an adequate level of antibodies, despite having an initially strong response to the immunization. This is what we’re seeing in the NHL.

Back in 2006, researchers found that college students who came down with mumps had been immunized more than ten years earlier than roommates who didn’t contract the disease. A subsequent study confirmed this, revealing that protective antibodies were much lower in students who’d been vaccinated fifteen years earlier compared to students who’d been vaccinated just five years earlier. The takeaway here is that the mumps vaccine works, we just don’t know how long it works.

The anti-vaxxers will seize this information and use it to bolster their argument that vaccines don’t work, because see? Me, I’ll just take this as one more piece of evidence that no one trusts anyone anymore, and why would you? Ten years ago, I never would have believed my own government would set up shadowy offshore prisons where inmates were strung up and subjected to Black Sabbath music for days at a time. The sadder but wiser girl is me.

In other news at this hour, a member of the Michigan legislature slipped a bill into the lame-duck session to repeal the state’s no-fault divorce law. It won’t go anywhere, but as I expected, yes, it’s part of a national strategy:

In cooperation with the Family Research Council and the National Organization for Marriage, socially conservative politicians have been quietly trying to make it harder for couples to get divorced. In recent years, lawmakers in more than a dozen states have introduced bills imposing longer waiting periods before a divorce is granted, mandating counseling courses or limiting the reasonsa couple can formally split. States such as Arizona, Louisiana and Utah have already passed such laws, while others such as Oklahoma and Alabama are moving to do so.

The Michigan bill follows the template outlined in the story: No-fault is still available if you don’t have children, but if you do, the grounds are adultery, felony conviction, abandonment, etc. This, social conservatives believe, will help keep couples together, because no-fault divorce is “too easy.”

It so happens I know a number of people who’ve been through the no-fault divorce process, and even the amicable ones were hardly easy. The less-amicable ones were hell, and I can only imagine what they’d be like if one party was legally entitled to dig in his or her heels. When I see things like this, I wonder how many of these social conservatives are really divorce lawyers.

OK, gotta skedaddle. Happy Tuesday, all.

Posted at 8:33 am in Current events | 62 Comments
 

Us at our worst.

Good lord, but the torture report is ghastly. I try not to take these things personally, but the details of what was done in the name of this country is truly sickening – sick being the point when I read about how we pumped hummus up a man’s ass.

I don’t know what the blowback will be overseas on this; in large part, it’s things we already knew, or suspected. But a subtler sort of corrosiveness will be inevitable.

Or, to put it another way, this would be an excellent day to stay away from the comments sections. All of them. (Except this one.)

I have to duck out today, for the usual reasons. You might enjoy this amusing story about how a Brooklyn art-scene fixture has had enough of Brooklyn and its ridiculous rents, and is relocating to? This place, bitches.

Posted at 8:47 pm in Current events | 45 Comments
 

A pour.

Eh, what a rough few days, and what a rough few more lie ahead, but by Jesus’ birthday, I should be free and clear. So bear with me, folks.

I keep wanting to discuss the UVA rape story, but I have my own story on the topic coming out today in Bridge, so I better not, but one 900-pound gorilla in all these discussions of campus rape — it seems to me, anyway — is alcohol. It’s not exactly ignored, but I’m astonished at today’s college drinking culture, and how la-de-da we seem to be about it.

We’ve discussed this before. I’m sure we’ve been through the No. 1 Party School and all our usual baby-boom grumping, but every so often something comes along to suggest nothing is getting better and may, in fact, be getting worse. The other day an Ann Arbor writer published a blog that made a bit of a splash, about a football Saturday spent in the Ann Arbor ER:

Yesterday’s football game, the last home game of the season, was scheduled to begin at 4:30, and, by 2:00, the students were already beginning to make their way in, escorted by EMTs. Given the way my bed was situated, I couldn’t see a great deal, but I did pick up on several distinct conversations, most all of which began with students being asked, “Do you know where you are?” (They rarely did.)

For the purposes of this post, I’d like to just share one example… that of a young woman who came in nearly comatose, having been found covered in vomit in an Ann Arbor alley. Of all the folks I’d hear that day, it was her that I was most worried about.

I could see her come in. The EMTs brought her down the corridor, strapped to a board, telling the hospital staff where she’d been found. Her head was hanging to one side, like her neck couldn’t support the weight of it. One of the nurses, I remember, commented to one of his coworkers that the human head weights 13 pounds, and it takes a lot of muscle control to hold it up. When she first came in, before I realized that her admission was alcohol related, I honestly thought that she had an advanced neuromuscular disease of some kind. As the conversation between nurses continued, though, I put the pieces together… Within a few minutes of arriving, and being told that she was at a hospital, she began vomiting.

Later we find the girl — found in an alley, covered in vomit — is a student, and apparently pledging a sorority. I keep thinking about the found-in-an-alley part. How did she get there? Who were her friends? Did she wander off? This was in November, hardly the best weather for passing out in the great outdoors.

How is this, if not a health crisis, at least a topic of national discussion? Why do so many parents think this sort of thing is simply to be expected? I got plenty hammered when I was in college, but I never ended up passed out in an alley, covered with vomit. A few years back, there was a series in one of the Midwestern papers about a string of mysterious deaths at one of the University of Wisconsin branch campuses, maybe La Crosse? Who was killing the students who disappeared while walking home late at night? No one, actually; they were drowning in the Mississippi River. Which they fell into while drunk.

For all the talk of date-rape drugs and spiked drinks, the truth is, the most common date-rape drug in America, by far, is alcohol. I don’t think it constitutes victim-blaming to tell young women to watch their alcohol consumption, if only to improve their odds of avoiding assault.

But what do I know? Maybe you’ll like this Neil Steinberg blog on the newspaper industry’s tradition of obituaries written in advance.

Me, I’m off to bed.

Posted at 10:06 pm in Current events, Media | 111 Comments
 

You’re wearing that?

Just a quick update before I dash away for the day.

I was thinking about the Elizabeth Lauten story last night, and I expect a few of you were, too. I cannot tell a lie: In a world of sorry-you-were-offended non-apologies, I found her apology about as good as it gets. (This writer disagreed. I disagree with her.) It was probably appropriate that she lost her job, but that was a foregone conclusion once she opened her mouth.

That said, I’m not surprised she made the statement in the first place. I’m assuming Lauten spends a lot of time in the right-wing media bubble, where the Obama girls’ failure to smile and sparkle 24-7 is pretty regularly remarked upon. This story is typical. Based on a few photos of Sasha on a trip to China, moments that literally probably didn’t add up to a single second, the New York Post felt free to tell the world, implicitly, that she’s an ungrateful brat who doesn’t appreciate the taxpayer-financed trip and probably not even the dishes of Starburst candies on Air Force One.

Perhaps the one thing these tribal bubbles are good for is occasionally showing what the other side is chewing on at the moment, currently Sasha and Malia’s expressions and hemlines. As to the latter, I found both their outfits completely appropriate and lovely — if there’s ever a time in your life when you can wear a high hemline, it’s when you have the long, slender stems of a teenager. Of course, some people have different ideas about how children should dress. I wonder how the Roberts kids look these days.

OK, gotta run. Before I do, those of us who lived in Indiana in the ’80s remember the Ryan White story vividly. Here’s an update on his mother, via the News’ excellent Neal Rubin.

Happy Tuesday, all.

Posted at 9:15 am in Current events | 67 Comments
 

Leftover turkey.

It sounds like everyone in the NN.c commentariat got through Thanksgiving OK. I did, anyway. As frequently happens, the day turned on the fulcrum of 11 a.m., when I opened the fridge, beheld the bloody mary mix within, and figured hell no, it’s not too early. Not that I spent the rest of the day in an alcoholic haze, only that there’s something about that warm feeling that the first drink in a semi-stressful situation offers that makes you understand why people turn to it so often. “Cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems,” as Homer Simpson said.

I only had one, then two glasses of wine with our ridiculously early dinner, then a nice nap, because how can you not? I read in my birthday present (“Wild,” Cheryl Strayed; somehow I’m the last American to give it a whirl), watched some Netflix (“Fading Gigolo,” uneven), went to bed.

And every year, I say “never again.” Next year I’m going to the parade, maybe the football game, and screw this country-ass midday Thanksgiving. I expect this time next year, we’ll do it exactly the same.

All your recipes sounded wonderful. I’m thinking it’s turkey tetrazzini for the Derringers tonight.

But first, it’s 55 degrees outside, and that means? A bike ride.

In the meantime, I offer you riches of bloggage:

I didn’t know Trump had a presence in Toronto, but I am not in the least surprised to learn the restaurant within is called America, nor that the food is wonderful the the rest of the experience so ghastly that the Globe and Mail advises readers it’s simply not worth it, starting with the sort of guy you meet in the bar:

Greg has an ex and a kid, he says, but he “got off” paying just $200,000 in yearly support. And anyway, Greg adds, à propos of lord knows what, Greg makes $10-million annually. He’s the sort of patron you’d pay that much to never have to sit beside. At America, the tacky, new-money restaurant on the 31st floor of the Trump International Hotel and Tower Toronto, a guy like Greg no doubt feels right at home.

Every era demands a Trump. You only wish we wouldn’t inflict him on our polite neighbors.

I don’t normally link to BuzzFeed, but I cannot tell a lie: This photo collection (“34 photos that will satisfy all perfectionists”) amused and comforted me. Yes, comforted — I’m a person who cleans toilets when I’m stressed.

I always enjoy Neil Sternberg’s blog, Every Goddamn Day. On Sunday, he considered the world of street-corner fire-and-brimstone types from their perspective. Enjoy, y’self.

This commentary on Black Friday brawl videos doesn’t quite deliver on its premise, but the embedded links within are amazing, especially this one, which gives me a whole new reason to despise Fox News. Effie Trinket couldn’t have done any better.

Posted at 10:07 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 72 Comments
 

The gales of November.

The lesbian couple at the center of the Michigan challenge to its same-sex marriage ban asked the Supremes to consider their case a week or so ago, and today the AG did the same.

“The history of our democracy demonstrates the wisdom of allowing the people to decide important issues at the ballot box, rather than ceding those decisions to unelected judges,” wrote Schuette, who also cited Justice Anthony Kennedy’s prior stance on affirmative action to bolster his argument.

Schuette noted in his filing that in deciding the affirmative action issue, Kennedy discussed the importance of trusting voters to decide significant issues and wrote: “‘It is demeaning to the democratic process to presume that the voters are not capable of deciding an issue of this sensitivity on decent and rational grounds.'”

You all know what I do for a living, so I can’t really express an opinion on this, other than to wonder when this country has left the rights of a minority in the hands of the voters, because if we had, there’d still be legal segregation throughout the south, women wouldn’t be able to vote and people of different races wouldn’t be able to marry, either.

Strange night tonight. The wind is howling at a speed that makes it sound like a continuous low moan, and we’re all waiting for the Ferguson grand-jury decision. Downtown, football fans are wandering around, waiting for the Jets-Bills game to start at Ford Field, i.e., the Lions’ home turf. Maybe you heard — there was some snow in Buffalo last week, so Detroit is bailing them out. The Lions gave the seats away free starting Saturday, and whaddaya know? A sellout. Or maybe a freeout. Whatever, the knots of fans who come in from the ‘burbs were already starting to appear when I left work in the gales. Wind always puts me on edge, and I’m not sure why, although I once read that it’s a contributor to domestic abuse in Livingston, Montana, where it blows constantly. I worry about flying tree limbs, lost power and wrecked hairdos. That’s enough to put anyone on edge.

So let’s skip to some bloggage while I pour a glass of wine and catch up on premium cable and chores:

How did I ever live before I met Tom & Lorenzo? “It looks like she skinned some white girl and turned her into a slutty cocktail dress.” Don’t ever change, J-Lo.

I was not the fan of the UVA rape story that many of you are — I found parts of it almost impossible to believe — but I am a big fan of this UVA rape story, which I found believable in every detail. It’s long, but well worth the read. And on the subject in general, Dahlia Lithwick speaks the truth. As usual.

You know what peeves me about these stories about how much students hate the new, somewhat healthier lunches dictated under new federal rules? The unspoken assumption that what they replaced was something wonderful. When you know it wasn’t. #thanksmichelleobama

Speaking of food, it’s time to start cooking. How about you?

Posted at 7:32 pm in Current events, Detroit life | 107 Comments
 

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 | 41 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:

dvasatpaychecks

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