The state of the union is chill.

Not quite midway through the week, and I’m on my second glass of wine, watching my second state-of-the-something speech of the night. Michigan’s was a 7 p.m. — pre-empting “Jeopardy!,” I ask you — and now it’s Barry and his beautiful wife Shelley and her fabulous suit. I am going to miss her like crazy, because no one in the White House is going to look that good after the 2017 inauguration.

Oh, well. How was your MLK day? I worked. I’ll be doing some traveling next week, for work, and may have some photo posts then, but the groundwork must be laid this week, and so no holiday for this girl. I hear Dinesh D’Souza trolled the internet Monday, just doing his part; Vox put together this explainer for those who haven’t heard his schtick before. I knew almost every single incident and comment, but somehow, reading them all together was uniquely appalling. Like Agema, D’Souza prefers ever-louder dog whistles, and I’m told his Obama documentary features a scene where he travels to Africa to call on the president’s relations there, bringing a gift of goats. Really. As one blogger noted, it’s as though he feared the gift of fire would frighten them. I almost feel like I have to see this thing.

You know it’s bad when even Mean Girl Megyn can’t keep her mouth shut.

Boy, does Boehner look uncomfortable. I’m thinking he’s going to reach for the Nicorette in 3, 2, 1.

So. I’m prepping to go up north next week for some reporting, and will likely not be very present here. I’m sure there will be some photo posts here and there, and you’ll have to carry on your chatter there. I’m hoping I can peel off to the new dark-sky park up there, if only to look around a little. They have a guest house that sleeps 20 that you can rent for $250/night. ROAD TRIP.

The SOTU is deep into its 50th minute, and Boehner definitely looks like he’s having a major discomfort moment. But Obama is his usual cool self, just loose and groovin’. How long will he go? We’ll see…

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

Alternate reality.

I was out and about in the car today, and heard a Washington Post reporter on an NPR show, talking about the resurgent campaign of Mitt Romney. Tanned, rested and ready! What’s more, she said, he intends to run to the right of Jeb Bush, because he is so clearly, clearly a conservative.

I was reminded of last Monday, when I was on the radio, and one of the journalist panelists said Jeb would be a darling with conservatives, his credentials being totally solid.

“Really?” I asked, because every conservative website or blog I see delivers the usual litany of blah blah Common Core blah blah immigration blah blah BUSH complaints. And now we have Mitt Romney counting on the entire GOP having collective amnesia about the 2012 campaign.

As the saying goes, everyone is entitled to their own point of view, but not their own facts. Although “our own facts” is sort of our birthright these days, isn’t it? Otherwise Snopes would go out of business, and Birmingham would be a Sharia zone.

So, then.

One of the things that makes life interesting is how new technology is adapted in ways its developers never envisioned. I read somewhere that the inventor of the birth-control pill thought it would be used exclusively by women in their late 30s and 40s who had completed their families but were still fertile. Ha ha ha. I wonder what we thought cell-phone video would be used for. This might be the next video looped on the evening news: Two Grosse Pointe Park officers beating and kicking a handcuffed carjacking suspect in Detroit. The beatdown was captured by a woman shooting through her front door. As you can imagine, the commenting score is now 5 katrillion to 7 in favor of the cops. I won’t say more about it; just watch it and see what you think. The action is in the first two minutes.

Today, I get to visit Flint, city of light, city of magic. Many years ago, the city of Hamilton, Ohio, briefly added an exclamation point to its name, i.e. Hamilton! I think Flint might try that: Flint! Or maybe consider changing a consonant, too: Fling! Or add some vowels: Flaunt. Whatever. Tomorrow, it’s Flint, in the single-digit cold and under sunny skies. I’ll tell you all about it later.

Have a good Wednesday, all.

Posted at 9:19 pm in Current events | 73 Comments
 

Catch up.

A busy couple of days. Please forgive the absence. Plus — whine, whine — it’s so cold. It just saps my energy. The Parka of Tribulation has emerged from its closet, and I’ve filled the pockets with all my crap, because I cannot carry a purse with the Parka of Tribulation. It would be like carrying a purse on an Everest expedition.

Life feels like an Everest expedition. By the weekend, we’ll be down to base camp. I hope.

I did clip a few things, however. During the immediate aftermath of the Paris attacks, I looked at some of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. They didn’t do much for me, but then, I allow for cultural differences in humor, the hardest thing to push over those lines. (I recall an excruciating interlude in Argentina when I was a j-fellow, being squired around a newspaper office to look at the framed editorial cartoons on the wall with the artist. Nothing is more perishable than an editorial cartoon. Trust me on this.)

To wit:

But then I remembered what you have to at times like this: That it isn’t about stuff you like, but stuff you don’t like. Larry Flynt understood that; most pornographers do. That said, you wonder if men like this know how they’re going to die someday. I don’t expect they know how awful it’s going to be.

For those of you who think this is all about Islam, you might find this editorial in the Arab American News interesting:

Regardless of the identity and motives of the perpetrators, this barbaric crime is despicable and we should condemn it collectively as a community. At The Arab American News, we feel painful sympathy for the victims, most of whom practiced our craft.

If the attack was a response to publishing the offensive cartoons, as most media outlets are claiming, then it is a crime against all Muslims, especially in the West and the Prophet Mohamad himself, who preached tolerance and urged his followers to refrain from the revenge mentality.

The attackers do not represent Islam.

Clear and noted.

Finally, the NYT takes on another overrated restaurant. It’s sort of a joy to read.

Limping into the weekend, I wish you a good one.

Posted at 9:30 pm in Current events | 60 Comments
 

12 dead in Paris.

Well, this is not going to end well, at all. A developing story to discuss as we head into Wednesday.

And whatever else you’d like to talk about, of course.

Posted at 8:34 am in Current events | 58 Comments
 

Cozy evenings.

You know a) you’ve been married a long time, and b) it’s January when, coming home on a frigid Monday when your spouse took a sick day, the thing you think when you pull into the driveway is, “We can watch ‘Jeopardy!’ together, and won’t that be nice.”

And that’s what we did. I don’t feel old, though; that will come when I think the same thing about “Wheel of Fortune.”

Man, it’s cold, though, and will be for the rest of the week. Plus, snow. Oh, well. This is the latitude we have chosen.

The week started with a radio appearance, one of those get-journalists-around-the-table-and-discuss-the-news deals. One panelist said, “Barack Obama has dragged the Democratic party far to the left.” Always good to start Monday on a high note, eh?

I have little bloggage, I fear. I imagine the big troll bait of the day will be the do-as-I-say, not-as-I-whine Harvard faculty story:

For years, Harvard’s experts on health economics and policy have advised presidents and Congress on how to provide health benefits to the nation at a reasonable cost. But those remedies will now be applied to the Harvard faculty, and the professors are in an uproar.

Members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the heart of the 378-year-old university, voted overwhelmingly in November to oppose changes that would require them and thousands of other Harvard employees to pay more for health care. The university says the increases are in part a result of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act, which many Harvard professors championed.

Raise your hand if your insurance plan is worse than this:

The university is adopting standard features of most employer-sponsored health plans: Employees will now pay deductibles and a share of the costs, known as coinsurance, for hospitalization, surgery and certain advanced diagnostic tests. The plan has an annual deductible of $250 per individual and $750 for a family. For a doctor’s office visit, the charge is $20. For most other services, patients will pay 10 percent of the cost until they reach the out-of-pocket limit of $1,500 for an individual and $4,500 for a family.

That’s what I thought.

We lost our local gourmet cupcake shop a few weeks ago. I’m not sure what the lesson is here. Maybe that a franchise based on a baked-goods trend is a bad bet. How’s your cupcake shop doing?

When one crazy man in New York City shot two cops in cold blood, the police threw a fit, and their union leader said the mayor had blood on his hands. When this man shot two Pennsylvania state troopers in cold blood to “wake people up” and “get us back to the liberties we once had” — crickets.

Happy Tuesday, all.

Posted at 8:46 am in Current events, Media, Same ol' same ol' | 48 Comments
 

Domesticated.

In the glorious indolence of the holidays, the Derringers went out as one to see “Wild” yesterday. (Football? What football?) I told Kate afterward that when I was her age, such a film was unthinkable — or only thinkable if the hero was a man, and what was waiting at the end wasn’t the last stop on a long journey, but a girl in a dress, backlit by the sun. The thought of the main character being a difficult woman, and an unapologetic one at that, would really be too much to expect.

That said, Reese Witherspoon’s woeful lack of preparation for her thousand-mile journey reminded me of our own backpacking adventure on Isle Royale around the same time. We were far better prepared — had done quite a bit of research on packing, load distribution, smart gear and the like — and there’s still no feeling like the first time you hoist your pack, buckle it on and think, dear God what have I gotten myself into? To this day, I read about the 50- or 60-pound packs humped around the Middle East by our soldiers — in 100-degree heat, no less — and wonder how in the world they do it, even being young, strong and male.

Actually, Witherspoon’s character wasn’t really unprepared. She just did the thing everyone does: She overpacked. You think you’ll need all this crap that you don’t need, and by the end of day one, you start making the ruthless choices: We’re eating Rice-a-Roni tonight, because it’s heavier than the dehydrated stuff, for instance.

But the rewards of such outings are considerable. Ten days in the backcountry really has a way of scrubbing your brain, and when you come out? The first meal of fresh food is a banquet set by God himself. (I’m talking about a salad made with iceberg lettuce and the customary pink tomato here.) A shower, ditto. And to shave your legs and put on clean, nice clothes again? A queen dressing for coronation never felt so grand. Picking up a newspaper and catching up on what you missed is similarly surreal, as you feel equal parts I-can’t-believe-I-missed-this-important-news and why-did-I-ever-pay-attention-to-this-crap-in-the-first-place. And then you get on the boat, it pulls out of Rock Harbor, and slowly, slowly, you return to the world.

I liked that both the book and movie spent very little time on what the landscape looked like; there are few lessons on botany and fauna, and a lot of POV shots of boots trudging forward, one step at a time. That’s what backpacking is. You’re a mule, and you see the world from a mule’s perspective. Sight-seeing is reserved for water breaks and rest stops. You look, you think that’s nice, and you put the pack back on, drop your head, and return to trudging.

In other news at this hour, I understand some sporting competitions were held yesterday, and the outcomes were pleasing to many in this and former neighborhoods of mine.

Also, the scolds at Lake Superior State U. got their customary coverage for their silly word list. Here’s some more. I wonder if this list is taught in marketing classes; it should be.

Chapter a zillion in the perils of social-media commentary.

I haven’t seen a story yet that compares with this explanation of how a 2-year-old came to fatally shoot his mother with her own gun at an Idaho Walmart. (She was carrying a loaded handgun in a new purse with a “special zippered pocket” for a weapon. And while it’s unwise to judge people on the things they say in the throes of terrible grief, this takes some sort of cake:

(The woman’s father-in-law) isn’t just sad — he’s angry. Not at his grandson. Nor at his dead daughter-in-law, “who didn’t have a malicious fiber in her body,” he said. He’s angry at the observers already using the accident as an excuse to grandstand on gun rights.

“They are painting Veronica as irresponsible, and that is not the case,” he said. “… I brought my son up around guns, and he has extensive experience shooting it. And Veronica had had hand gun classes; they’re both licensed to carry, and this wasn’t just some purse she had thrown her gun into.”

For an antidote, I suggest this Neil Steinberg blog on the same subject.

Happy weekend to all. See you back here after it’s gone.

Posted at 9:36 am in Current events, Movies | 62 Comments
 

Needled.

With Christmas comes winter, and it appears to have arrived late, but today it was 15 degrees on our morning dog walk. Wore the flannel-lined pants and it was pleasant — cold mornings frequently are, as long as there’s no wind. Wendy disagreed, and was pulling for home fairly early. When we got there, she stood in front of a heat vent, turning first one way, then the other, so both sides were toasted. And yet, she refuses to learn Down. This dog.

But it looks like it’ll be a beautiful, chilly day. Maybe I’ll put her jacket on and tramp around Belle Isle or something. I cleaned the basement yesterday, and earned some fresh air.

So. Yesterday we (Bridge, that is) ran an op-ed by an MSU professor who has made vaccines an area of study. Michigan has one of the laxest refusal laws in the country, and is starting to pay the price — a measles outbreak in Traverse City shut down a school for a week last month, and pertussis is coming back here and there. I imagine most of us here are pretty pro-science and don’t have to be persuaded of the efficacy of modern medicine, but even I’m sort of amazed by how strong vaccine refusal has become in this country, and no, I don’t think it’s because of Jenny McCarthy — the woman is a twit, and simply doesn’t have the following many imagine. But there are probably thousands who believe in organic this and natural that who don’t necessarily believe the autism link, but just “feel,” somehow, that the schedule is wrong or their little baby is too sensitive, or whatever. I see the same objections popping up in social media and on comment sites: What if you have an egg allergy? (The amount of egg protein in vaccines is infinitesimal, but if you’re so worried, have them done in a hospital, and how widespread are egg allergies, anyway?) Why are there so many vaccines, anyway? We didn’t get this many when we were kids! (Because there are more diseases that can be prevented this way — good news!) What if my child has a reaction? (They may well — my daughter did. She ran a 100 degree-ish fever for a couple hours, which I treated, bad mother that I am, with Tylenol. My point being, most vaccine reactions are very mild.)

We saw “Whiplash” a few weeks ago, and there’s an extended tight closeup of a young actress during one scene. All I could see was the chickenpox scar between her eyebrows. She’s young enough she could have gotten the vaccine; I wonder if her mother was a refuser, or took her to a chickenpox party, believing the immunity bestowed by actually getting the disease is somehow better than a shot. Well, she has a lifelong reminder that she got it the old-fashioned way.

Anyway, about the op-ed piece. This was fascinating:

Research shows that vaccine noncompliance is more common among better educated parents and among parents of higher socioeconomic status. Over the last decade their numbers have been growing. Today, nearly 40 percent of parents of young children report they have refused or delayed a vaccine that their children’s physicians have recommended, and more than 12 percent have refused or delayed one of the state-mandated vaccines. In Michigan, some of the lowest vaccination rates are found in the state’s most expensive and elite private schools.

“Education” as a remedy for parents who refuse to fully vaccinate their children is based on the belief that noncompliance is the result of misinformation or simple ignorance on the part of the parents. The best research on the subject shows that the mythbusting approach to increasing vaccine compliance often backfires.

In this month’s journal Vaccine, researchers reported that about 43 percent of Americans incorrectly believe the flu vaccine can give you the flu. After educating them to correct their misunderstanding, researchers found a significant reduction in acceptance of the myth. However, paradoxically, they found that their education campaign also significantly reduced participants’ willingness to get the flu vaccine. These findings are in line with other studies that have similarly demonstrated that correcting myths about vaccines is often not an effective approach for promoting immunization.

Teach them, and they’re less likely to get the flu shot than they were before? What’s going on here?

I think it’s a combination of things. I think, as contemporary modern life has shown us over and over that institutions, whether under threat or not, will always seek to protect themselves first — sort of an immune reaction, kind of a vaccine thing — individuals are reacting accordingly. We know big pharma, like all corporations, put profits first; why shouldn’t even a sane parent believe it’s not a factor in vaccine policy? We know the Catholic church protected pedophiles for decades; why not assume every priest is a threat until proven otherwise? And the government! Hoo-boy, once you’ve internalized the belief that the president is a pretender and your senator is a crook and all that by-the-people stuff is nonsense, can they possibly have the public good in mind when it comes to health care?

It’s an overall erosion of trust in more or less everything. Unfortunately, it will have consequences at the doctor’s office. And outside it — measles is one of the most contagious diseases known to man.

One bit of bloggage, on a similar theme: The Tragedy of the American Military, a sharp essay by James Fallows. Sample:

At the end of World War II, nearly 10 percent of the entire U.S. population was on active military duty—which meant most able-bodied men of a certain age (plus the small number of women allowed to serve). Through the decade after World War II, when so many American families had at least one member in uniform, political and journalistic references were admiring but not awestruck. Most Americans were familiar enough with the military to respect it while being sharply aware of its shortcomings, as they were with the school system, their religion, and other important and fallible institutions.

Now the American military is exotic territory to most of the American public. As a comparison: A handful of Americans live on farms, but there are many more of them than serve in all branches of the military. (Well over 4 million people live on the country’s 2.1 million farms. The U.S. military has about 1.4 million people on active duty and another 850,000 in the reserves.) The other 310 million–plus Americans “honor” their stalwart farmers, but generally don’t know them. So too with the military. Many more young Americans will study abroad this year than will enlist in the military—nearly 300,000 students overseas, versus well under 200,000 new recruits. As a country, America has been at war nonstop for the past 13 years. As a public, it has not. A total of about 2.5 million Americans, roughly three-quarters of 1 percent, served in Iraq or Afghanistan at any point in the post-9/11 years, many of them more than once.

So, the sun is blazing and I’m thinking it’s time to get a few chores out of the way, then go enjoy it. Enjoy your day, too.

Posted at 9:58 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 33 Comments
 

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' | 162 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 | 113 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