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
 

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
 

It’s a tragedy, not a comedy.

When you tell people you’re going out of town to see some theater, they inevitably say “Have fun!” Even though it’s pretty much impossible to have fun at a production of “King Lear,” which is what we saw. It was Colm Feore’s Lear at Stratford, and it only underlined what I’ve thought since I saw him in only his third Stratford role in 1986: This Canadian is one of the finest Shakespearean actors in the world.

Some friends and I began making an annual Stratford pilgrimage when we all lived in Fort Wayne, and have gone back periodically since — first annually, but there was a long gap after Kate came into the world, but over the years we’ve seen Feore play Hamlet, Iago, Richard III, Cassius — all the bigs, not to mention the Pirate King in “Pirates of Penzance,” Cyrano de Bergerac, and so on. This review from the Toronto Star gets the production right, by my lights. It really was a good one.

But a little fun was had on a cool and blustery weekend. The fall colors were at their peak for the drive, and when we arrived at dinner, found ourselves seated next to this guy, another company standout. That’s the fun of a repertory company in a small town — you see Macbeth walking to work on a hot day in shorts and a T-shirt.

Tickets are pricey, though, so we only stayed one night. That’s the fun of living so close to the repertory — you can just pop in and out. Although this is the end of the season. But we’ll be back next year.

I had a Caesar at brunch Saturday, a Caesar being a Canadian Bloody Mary; it’s made with clamato juice. Just like so many things with U.S. and Canadian equivalents. Similar, but different.

I’ve been so done with the church of my upbringing for years, but I am SO so done now:

Vatican City — Catholic bishops scrapped their landmark welcome to gays Saturday, showing deep divisions at the end of a two-week meeting sought by Pope Francis to chart a more merciful approach to ministering to Catholic families.

The bishops failed to approve even a watered-down section on ministering to homosexuals that stripped away the welcoming tone of acceptance contained in a draft document earlier in the week.

Rather than considering gays as individuals who had gifts to offer the church, the revised paragraph referred to homosexuality as one of the problems Catholic families have to confront. It said “people with homosexual tendencies must be welcomed with respect and delicacy,” but repeated church teaching that marriage is only between man and woman. The paragraph failed to reach the two-thirds majority needed to pass.

Ohh-kay.

This story about my current home has so much wrong in it, it’s hard to find the right. Good thing it appeared in that obscure rag, the L.A. Times. It’s hard to say what’s the wrongest part; let’s choose a section at random:

In the last year or two, there have been complaints at the suburb’s premier park, which resembles a country club, with yachts listing quietly in the lake, bubbling fountains and an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

“I do sense it from some of the residents. If there’s an African American picnic there, and people are hopping in the pool, I sense a bit of, ‘What are you doing in my park?'” said Paul Wargo, who mans the gates at the park.

“Yachts” list before they capsize; there’s no source for the “complaints,” which I don’t believe are happening, as there’s a well-established African-American population in Grosse Pointe Park; the pool is not Olympic-size; and if you’re going to quote a guardhouse employee saying he “senses” something, it’s reasonable to follow up with “how do you know all this, working in the guardhouse?

But don’t mind me.

I think I’m going to make some chicken salad. Enjoy the week, OK?

Posted at 10:06 pm in Detroit life, Same ol' same ol' | 76 Comments
 

Bows.

bartender

And so it’s farewell to the Comet Bar, a Cass Corridor dive that will soon fall to the relentless march of progress. It closes Wednesday, and as you can gather from the sign behind the bar, the people who work there are stick of answering questions about it. It had the advantage of being located on a desolate enough street that it looked scary from the outside, but it was always warm and friendly inside. You could watch a game or play the jukebox, and as you can also tell from that picture, the state’s smoking laws were, shall we say, not always strictly enforced.

We went Saturday night for karaoke, but astonishingly, the DJ couldn’t find the Andrea True Connection’s “More More More,” which is what I agreed to sing with my young friend Dustin. Oh, well.

I’ve been thinking a lot about gentrification this year, and this is a classic case that looks open-and-shut from a certain perspective, and it’s not necessarily wrong. The area around the arena’s footprint is already flowering, and my guess is it will continue to. You can certainly argue with the financing of this arena, which is the usual privatize-the-profit, socialize-the-risk deal. Detroit needs all the help it can get, and this will help. But. One reason people have started returning to this area has been its mix of — cliché alert ahead — grit and fun and, shall we say, its atmosphere, so unlike the suburbs. I don’t care what anyone says; the number of people who want to live in an area of perfect cleanliness and safety are already living in Seaside, Fla., and are 10,000 years old. Younger people want a little excitement in their lives. I disagree that sports arenas provide it, but they certainly inject oxygen into an area. But the old Cass Corridor, now rechristened Midtown, was never as bad as people in the suburbs feared it was, and the good things about it — the music, the street scene, places like the Comet — were a product of artists, students and others who lived closer to the margins than those who can afford NHL tickets.

They’ll find new neighborhoods; they always do. But in the meantime, it’s worth a final toast to places like the Comet.

So, some bloggage? Two from the NYT today. First, a look at the Dutch pension system. Which works, evidently:

Dutch pensions are scrupulously funded, unlike many United States plans, and are required to tally their liabilities with brutal honesty, using a method that is common in the financial-services industry but rejected by American public pension funds.

The Dutch system rests on the idea that each generation should pay its own costs — and that the costs must be measured accurately if that is to happen.

Vaccine denial culture in New York, as opposed to California.

We had a gubernatorial town-hall thing tonight, so my attention is divided. Let’s all have a good week, eh?

Posted at 9:24 pm in Detroit life | 95 Comments
 

Saturday morning market.

Haven’t done one of these for a while, but how often do you see a turnip as big as your head?

bigturnip

Posted at 9:34 am in Detroit life, iPhone | 20 Comments
 

Our changing language.

The other day one of my co-workers wondered how in the world someone got the great idea of naming a town in Michigan Climax. What were they thinking? Didn’t they know they’d be a butt of jokes forever after, another Intercourse or Blue Ball (both of Pennsylvania).

I pointed out that history takes a long time to arrive until one day it’s here, and it’s within my lifetime that people even started talking about sex out loud, much less using words like climax to describe what happens during it. Fort Wayne had a mayor named Harry Baals; my father went to grade school with a girl named Lucille Buttlicher.

“I wonder if there’s a town somewhere named Money Shot,” he mused. Let’s not go there. It’s a dirty, filthy enough world already.

I forgot to mention one of the fun activities of last weekend: Alan seemed to notice I was glum, and took me out to the fights. Yes, the fights — boxing, at Detroit’s Masonic Temple, in the Jack White Theater. Our seats were lousy, but the place wasn’t that big, and for once, we were in a central-city event where the crowd was a pretty accurate demographic reflection of the city as a whole. Interesting, I thought, that the boxing crowd was more than 80 percent black, and yet mixed martial arts, which has put boxing in its shade, attracts a far whiter audience. For the record, I hate MMA — the first time I saw it I watched a bloody beatdown that looked like first-degree felonious assault, all while the guy on the next barstool told me how much safer it was than boxing. Whatever.

Anyway, it was a fun night. Eight four-round fights ranging from pinweight to heavyweight, and wasn’t that one a revelation — one guy coming in at 240-ish and the other at 300. I thought for sure the lighter fighter would win. It’s really hard to be quick on your feet when you weight 300 pounds, but shows what I know. The bigger guy landed one lucky punch and boom, TKO. It was like something on “Game of Thrones.” The pinweights — that’s under 102 pounds, smaller than my petite daughter — put up a lively contest, too. They both seemed to hail from a part of the world where children grow up on gristle and wild plants. I really don’t know how you can be a grown man, able to train as a boxer, and still weigh less than I did in fifth grade.

One hometown hero was accompanied by his Omega Psi Phi brothers, entering to their theme song, “Atomic Dog.” He won.

We really need to go to the fights more often. Tommy Hearns was sitting ringside, Buster Douglas was training someone. Celebrities.

So, a little bloggage:

Someday we’ll look back at this era of corporate worship and wonder why we didn’t tie these folks to a whipping post: Two assholes argue over whether they can trademark the word “how.”

A good, simple explainer on the significance of the Supreme Court choosing not to engage with same-sex marriage. TL;DR? It’s over.

Happy hump day, all.

Posted at 10:42 pm in Detroit life, Same ol' same ol' | 52 Comments