The YouTube pitch.

One of the smarter pieces of journalism I recall in recent years — maybe “This American Life,” but can’t be sure — was about economic development. Working thesis: There’s no such thing. True economic development requires investment, real investment, in infrastructure, in education, in entrepreneurial ideas, which crash as often as they don’t. No one likes investment anymore, at least not public investment, because that = taxes, and OMG can’t have those.

So what we call economic development is really just a bunch of states and cities trying to lure businesses away from one place to another, like prostitutes cutting the price until the customer settles on one. The Sun Belt’s economic development came at the expense of the Rust Belt, to use only the most obvious example.

Which brings us to Amazon’s search for a second headquarters. Perhaps your city is capering before the retailer of the future, because it seems half the cities in the country are. Detroit certainly is. The bids were due yesterday, I believe. Ours was accompanied by a video. An excellent video, with maybe some confusing shots here and there. Go ahead, spend three minutes on it. It’s very inspiring.

Detroit should really do some economic development in making cool bid videos. The one when Detroit was angling for the X Games is even better. Didn’t get the X Games; Austin won that one. They had a good video, too. But Detroit filmmakers could certainly improve on Washington D.C.’s, or Danbury’s, or Dallas’, or even Philadelphia’s. (Watching these in succession, I’m wondering how long before the swooping drone shot becomes as cliché as walking-in-slo-mo-away-from-the-explosion.)

I doubt we’ll get the Amazon headquarters, because they’re not going to be looking for a nice video. Like the customer looking over the goods on an Amazon dynamic-pricing page, they’re going to want the best price. So all that yammering about restaurants and diversity and prose poetry is going to come down to: How much public money are you willing to cough up?

Meanwhile, back in Realityville, I need to get back to the job hunt. But I wanted to point this out for people who didn’t follow the links on one of Cooze’s comments yesterday. The story is about contenders to be president of the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank. Final paragraph:

J.D. Vance, the best-selling author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” a memoir about his upbringing in Appalachia, was also floated early on in the process as a possible high-profile, younger recruit. He has met in recent months with Stephen Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist who has since returned to his post running Breitbart News, and Bannon has privately expressed a desire to install an ally at the conservative institution.

So much for the moderate populist, the thinker, the son of the soil ready to lead. The hell with that guy, and I’m sorry I bought his stupid book for my brother last Christmas. Is Middletown, Ohio even Appalachia? I don’t think so.

Miscellanea: Making media literacy great again, from Columbia Journalism Review:

More than 10,000 students have taken Stony Brook’s news literacy course, which is constantly updated to help students identify the latest ways bogus news and information are created. For instance, there are dozens of websites that let anyone easily produce counterfeit social media posts, then retweet them, post them on Facebook, or embed them in a news story. But fake tweets seem positively quaint compared to an even newer threat: Using artificial intelligence to make videos of people saying things they didn’t say. Researchers recently made a video of Barack Obama speaking very earnestly about his priorities for the waning days of his administration.

“The single most important thing I can do now,” Obama said, according to the doctored audio track, “is to play golf.”

When Bridge began its Michigan Divided project, one of the participants, a woman about my age, said she “didn’t give a rat’s ass” about the Access Hollywood tape, because she “got hit on all the time in my job in the corporate world.” Meet just one personification of why hazing continues, why sexual harassment continues, why corporal punishment of children continues: I lived through it, and so can you. Here’s another: I was assaulted, but you were just harassed. Stop cheapening my experience. Ahem:

Remember the schoolyard chant, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me?” Words simply aren’t the same as actions. They’re not treated the same — nor should they be — under the law. And their ultimate effects are vastly different.

There’s a spectrum of victimization. At one end is an unwanted advance or comment, and at the other is rape and death. The problem with #MeToo is that it’s almost encouraging people to celebrate that victimization, regardless of where on the spectrum it falls.

I don’t think any woman who #MeToo’d this week is celebrating anything, but you can’t tell that to some people.

The weekend is nearly here. Enjoy yours.

Posted at 12:45 pm in Current events, Detroit life | 39 Comments
 

Too much news.

It wasn’t a great day. Nothing heinous, just the usual job-related crisis of confidence, complicated by one story after another coming out of Washington. I actually found myself feeling vaguely nauseous, but that might have been the spicy peanut stew I ate the night before. Still. As Josh Marshall has said, he’s poison.

So maybe it’s him after all.

A friend just messaged me: You could read for hours about Sessions, dead troops, Manafort, etc. and still not be caught up on today. I’d add: And if you’re trying to find a job at the same time, you could drive yourself crazy.

But now we have a pizza and a bottle of wine, and there are few things that can’t be made better with that.

Another improvement: Around 5 I closed the laptop and took Wendy to the dog park in Detroit. Unlike the one in Grosse Pointe, the admission to which is regulated more strictly than Studio 54, the one in Detroit is open to all. Not only that, people come with six-packs and marijuana and have known each other for years. Good-old-daysing is rampant in Detroit, and these folks reminisce about the time before the park was even fenced in. “You needed a better-behaved dog then,” one guy said. Well, whatever — it was fun to be out on a fine day and not talking about the president. Wendy ran and played, and there was an obese pit bull named Darla. Plus two German shepherds, a boxer and a couple of indeterminate mutts. A happy crew. Dog parks are great; why did it take so long to think of them?

So, then. I subscribe to the Poetry Foundation’s daily email, which is often the most welcome one of the day. Here is the text of “Enough Music” by Dorianne Laux, but I think of it as The Ballad of the Long-Term Couple:

Sometimes, when we’re on a long drive,
and we’ve talked enough and listened
to enough music and stopped twice,
once to eat, once to see the view,
we fall into this rhythm of silence.
It swings back and forth between us
like a rope over a lake.
Maybe it’s what we don’t say
that saves us.

Bloggage? Sure:

Yet another Facebook page created by the Russians, this one called Heart of Texas. Secessionist, of course, and very popular, with 250,000 followers at its peak. Content? Do you even need to ask?

Posts began to follow a perceptibly hard-right course, stressing Texas’s status as a “Christian state,” or touting the Second Amendment as a “symbol of freedom … so we would forever be free from any tyranny.” Some of the page’s contributors talked about the need to “keep Texas Texan,” whatever that meant. There was also a generous dollop of conspiracy theory. There were posts about the allegedly unnatural death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and the supposed federal invasion orders behind the Jade Helm military exercise. Fake Founding Father quotes mingled with anti-Muslim screeds and paeans to Sam Houston. And the number of followers steadily crept into the hundreds of thousands.

Though the site’s authors understood their audience well, there was something off about their writing. The page’s “About” section proclaimed that “Texas’s the land protected by Lord [sic].” Grammatical and spelling glitches were everywhere: “In Love With Texas Shape,” “State Fair of Texas – Has You Already Visited?,” “Always Be Ready for a Texas Size,” “No Hypoclintos in the God Blessed Texas.” (Or take this caption for a photo of country music star George Strait: “Life is not breaths you take, but the moments that take your breth [sic] away.”) Yet the typos never seemed to raise any suspicions in readers’ minds.

The #MeToo posts just keep on coming. Here’s one from Mo Ryan, the Chicago Tribune Variety TV writer.

Back to the grind. Tomorrow, I think I’ll clean two closets.

Posted at 9:19 pm in Current events, Detroit life | 48 Comments
 

A hash of it.

I’m a feminist, but I try not to be too prickly about it. A lot of what younger women get upset about — catcalling, being told by total strangers to smile, having men simply assume they can impose upon my time without permission — simply doesn’t happen to me anymore. And I’m older now, and know that everybody, no matter their age or station in life, is figuring it out day by day. Which is to say: I try to forgive. You never know.

Saturday morning is my gift to myself. Almost every week, I get up early and go to the Eastern Market to drink in the glory of fresh vegetables glowing under the rising sun, or at least do a little people-watching. Then I stash my haul and take myself out for breakfast, at a coney island (non-Detroiters, read: diner).

I almost always sit at the counter rather than tie up a table. I usually order the hippie hash with eggs over easy. I’m in and out in 30 minutes.

On Saturday, seating was tighter than usual. Only two single stools.

As I sat down, the guy next to me started talking. To me.

“Man, I love this place,” he said. “It’s a dying breed. They just don’t make ’em like this anymore.”

Three statements, one an opinion, the other two incorrect. Just smile and nod, said the angel on my shoulder. Set him straight, countered the demon on the other.

“Of course it’s not a dying breed,” I said. “There are probably dozens, no, hundreds of coney islands like this, all over the city.”

He nodded. “Yeah, it’s a great place,” he said.

OK, so maybe we’re dealing with someone not quite all there. He didn’t look homeless or mentally ill, didn’t smell drunk, but you never know. He was wearing a day-glo vest that suggested he had a real job, working near traffic. But the devil had led me into temptation, and now we were having a conversation.

“They just know you, they remember your face,” he enthused. “See? She brought you coffee, the way you like it.”

Too late, I smiled and nodded, then picked up my phone and started scrolling Twitter, the universal symbol for we’re-done-talking.

He wasn’t done talking. “It’s so great here,” he went on. “I love this place. The food is so good.” Kept scrolling. “Excuse me if I’m talking too much,” he said. I smiled and kept scrolling: Oh look, the president is yelling about Puerto Ricans. Someone sat down on the other side of him, a man, and he started in with him, only it was about football. The guy gave him two replies, then picked up his own phone. Back to me.

“They really serve the best corned beef I’ve ever had,” he said. “It’s so…good.”

The angel reappeared on my shoulder. This poor man probably lives by himself and has no one to talk to, she whispered. Can’t you be a good person, just this once?

“I’m not much for corned beef, but I’m sure it’s very good,” I said, still looking at my phone.

“And the hash browns!” he went on. “They’re so great!”

WTF, I’m thinking. This isn’t a conversation, he’s just babbling. His food arrived. Corned beef and eggs. He started to eat, briefly stopping his patter, but not for long.

“Mmm, I just love this,” he said. “Sooo good.”

By now I was staring fixedly at my phone and actually turning my body away, to the extent I could without imposing on the person on the other side.

“Look at that yolk!” he crowed. “Just look at it!”

I turned back to him and snapped, “OK, that’s ENOUGH.”

He went on chortling to himself: “Mmm, these eggs, so good.”

My own food arrived. I bolted it, grabbed the check and left. A stranger, a man, had successfully ruined my breakfast because I lacked the spine to shut him up immediately.

This is my life now. Squabbling with crazy men in diners.

Of course, when you turn to the news, you get this:

Without taking an iota of glory away from first responders, I am increasingly uncomfortable with what happens pretty routinely now after these tragedies – the deflection of horror into generic praise for first responders, who are, after all, doing the jobs they signed up for. Maybe those who do are only looking for something, anything, good to say when confronting oceans of blood. But there comes a point where Mister Rogers’ advice is simply what it is: Comfort extended to children. It’s fine to look for the helpers. But if you can’t, or won’t, look at why the helpers were called in the first place, you’re simply deflecting.

Yep, I’m politicizing this tragedy. Join with me. Let’s politicize the shit out of it. Because it happened due to a failure of policy. Policy is decided through politics. So let’s get to it.

Happy Tuesday, all.

Posted at 9:17 am in Current events, Detroit life | 63 Comments
 

Lucifer.

Man, you can take your let-us-treasure-these-final-warm-days-before-the-snow-flies and stuff it. It’s 88 degrees as I write this, and I think I speak for many here: This weather blows. Two more days and it’s over, and after seeing a Christmas tree at Costco this afternoon, I say bring on the pumpkin spice and all the rest of it.

(I realize the pumpkin spice arrived the day after Labor Day, yes. And we had a few cool days in there before Lucifer arrived. But this shit is miserable.)

This weekend was Dlectricity, a biennial art festival that takes place after dark along Woodward Avenue and a few surrounding blocks. They’re light installations, mostly. There are several such events like this, the other being Noel Night, and last year I told Alan that Noel Night had joined the lengthening list of Things That Used to Be Fun, But Aren’t Anymore. Which is to say, parking is a nightmare, every attraction has a long line, etc. We decided to park about a mile or two away and use the new bike-sharing service to get close to the action, which is what we did, but about that weather? After we arrived, I looked down at my shirt and it was wet, in one of those Vs like you see in the movies when the handsome leading man is interrupted in the middle of his morning run.

However uncomfortable, it was still a good idea. Rode down, docked the bikes, walked around the installations, picked out another couple bikes and rode back to the car. The way home was in the new protected bike lanes, which was awesome.

As for the exhibits, I liked the bunnies best.

Two more days of this, then we drop below 80 for a daytime high. Maybe we can turn off the air conditioning.

Today I made the mistake of looking at some Twitter and Facebook posts about #Takeaknee, and it has dispirited me mightily. I have but this to say: God bless Martha Ford, that raving Marxist. She linked arms with her players while wearing sunglasses. I’m not inclined to tumble for WASPy matrons, but I did this time.

I have nothing blogwise, do I? Maybe:

How Trump bungled what could have been a first down. Why? Because he doesn’t understand football.

The latest heat-n-serve repeal from the GOP kitchen looks to be in peril. We shall see.

I don’t make it a point to watch the first lady’s speeches, so this piece was interesting. Turns out her observations are correct: She did appear to be on the brink of tears throughout. What’s going on in that lady’s head? (Never mind the outfit.)

Happy Monday. I hope wherever you are, it’s not as hot as it is here.

Posted at 6:49 pm in Current events, Detroit life, Same ol' same ol' | 28 Comments
 

The good table.

The Detroit News has an annual event where they recognize the Michiganians of the Year, and this year’s was last night. I went as Alan’s date – a little reluctantly but dutifully, attitudes I shed as the evening went on. The view from atop the Motor City Casino was spectacular even on a drizzly evening, the company was good, the honorees inspiring and how often do you get to go to a party with Kate Upton?

Her uncle Fred, a Republican congressman from southwest Michigan, was being honored, along with Debbie Dingell, in a special bipartisan co-award. Dingell came close to tears describing her friendship with Fred Upton, a scene that good Republicans these days would laugh at scornfully, I suspect. Uncle Fred is said to be maybe retiring, or perhaps will run for the Senate. Dingell is in her second term, and indefatigable. Dunno what Kate’s next project is; I expect she’s concentrating on planning her wedding to Justin Verlander. And no, I never really got closer to her than looking at her blonde updo from a couple tables away, but I glimpsed her from the side at one point, and she has enviably nice legs.

And that’s why I didn’t update last night.

Back at work, and I feel pretty good so far. Yesterday was a bit of a grind, but I kept my nose to the stone and only have a little blood spattered on my blouse to show for it. In between, I caught up with some podcasts, in particular the week-old “What Happened” edition of “Pod Save America,” a 45-minute interview with Hillary Clinton. This WashPost piece concentrates on her comments about Bernie, but what stuck with me was her flinty defense of the necessity of courting big-money donors in an age of Koch, Mercer, Sinclair Broadcasting, et al. These are people who either own media empires or command them as such, and in an era when people are so easily manipulated by utter fucking bullshit, well, you can’t fight fire with kumbaya. I encourage you to click that last link, last week’s NYT magazine piece on the Russian propaganda operation, another piece I’m catching up with. It’s sort of terrifying.

And I’m multitasking with the NYT podcast looking at yesterday’s UN speech by the prez. He’s very fond of unnecessary modifiers, I notice — completely unacceptable, totally destroy, etc. Beyond that, I’ve not had enough coffee to further analyze that one.

So on to the bloggage.

We all know this, but Jamelle Bouie says it again.

Do you follow Will Sommer’s coverage of right-wing media? You should.

There’s a big freeway-restoration project going on in Detroit, the rebuilding of one side of the I-75 bridge over the Rouge River, but not only the Rouge River – it also crosses a landscape of industrial works that looks like the set of a dystopian sci-fi movie. It’s a two-year project and everyone around here knows about it. Except for this guy, who broke through the barriers, did $50,000 worth of damage to the project and nearly fell through the bridge surface. I know this is hard to believe, but police say alcohol may have been involved here.

With that, let’s tackle Wednesday.

Posted at 9:01 am in Current events, Detroit life, Same ol' same ol' | 77 Comments
 

Saturday night, special.

Sunday morning as I write this, a coolish one that reminds us of what lies ahead, but frankly, delightful to enjoy after weeks of swelter. I slept late because I stayed up late last night. The Schvitz, currently undergoing renovation, hosted a fight night party for the McGregor/Mayweather matchup. Ladies admitted free, freewill offering toward the construction fund appreciated.

I went alone, but met friends old and new, including the owner of a marijuana dispensary. The law is in flux here, with a new city ordinance and a state licensing system set to go online later this year. The old dispensary was closed, but a new one is planned. The owner was optimistic and promised it would be something fantastic. I forget the exact language he used, but he implied a Walmart of weed crossed with Nordstrom-level customer service, or something. Should be amusing to see, once it’s finished.

Was the fight worth staying up late for? Meh. Of course the outcome was foreordained, but McGregor delivered, staying upright for 10 rounds and only fouling his opponent with MMA-ish moves about a million times. I wish I could have enjoyed the memory of watching it a little longer, before reading somewhere — can’t recall where, so no link, sorry — that McGregor was the rooting choice of White America, and they’re taking his brave stand as a victory. Well, bully for those rednecks then. I’m feeling a little cranky these days, and I’m blaming it on TAJ, or Trump-adjusted terms, as the new phrase goes. McGregor won in Trump-adjusted terms.

I miss the days when our president didn’t impose himself into my consciousness so often. But that is the world we live in now.

Honestly, Friday’s events left me feeling discouraged and depressed. The more you learn about Joe Arpaio — and I encourage you to follow this Twitter thread, and click the links — the more repulsed, sad and insert-bad-emotion-here I got. And that was only one of the awful things that happened Friday. In an optimistic moment, it’s possible to see this shitshow as the last gasps of a dying corpse. When I’m feeling less so, I think: 60 million people voted for this shit.

Right now I have to get the house in order. We’re having guests for the “Game of Thrones” finale, and I need to do some prep work. In the meantime…

Remember Kirk Jones, the guy who went over Niagara Falls to his death that I wrote about a while back? The Detroit News did a deep dive — so to speak — on him. Nothing about his life is particularly surprising, and he fits the pattern of so many Niagara “daredevils,” who really should be called desperados, in the truest sense of the word. I still owe you guys a story about the Toby Tyler Circus, Jones’ brief employer. One of these days.

A good NYT piece on the best and worst places to be gay in America. I’m not spoiling things to note that most of the best places are in urban America.

Someone was looking for a book recommendation recently, can’t recall who. I can recommend “Mrs. Fletcher,” Tom Perrotta’s new novel over there on the nightstand. It’s funny and seemingly slight, but it has some interesting things to say about contemporary sex and sexuality. I guess I also have to read Joshua Green’s “Devil’s Bargain,” although I don’t want to, but I probably have to. I’ve heard good things. It’s going on the list.

And with that, off to whip up dessert, then do a little more shopping. Enjoy this lovely day, and give thanks you’re not Conor McGregor, who this morning probably feels like he was in a car accident. See you in roughly 48 hours.

Posted at 11:32 am in Current events, Detroit life | 67 Comments
 

Notes from well outside the perimeter.

I guess I picked the wrong weekend to try to stay away from the news, eh? I was happily plowing through an overpriced granola/yogurt breakfast at the Eastern Market when I checked Twitter out of boredom and saw the first reports from Charlottesville, of the tiki-torch march. Had a feeling nothing good would come of it. Was right.

A few thoughts:

James Fields, the young man who was apparently behind the wheel of the car that plowed into the crowd is, as you might expect, yet another young man already in life’s clearance bin. Fatherless, directionless, quiet, “kept to himself,” etc. A lot of these kids find themselves in the Army. As did Fields, until he found himself out of it:

Military records show that Mr. Fields entered the Army on Aug. 18, 2015, around the time his mother wrote on Facebook that he had left for boot camp. Less than four months later, on Dec. 11, his period of active duty concluded. It was not immediately clear why he left the military.

I’ll leave it to you vets to speculate on what might have cut his service short. I saw some Twitter commentary on an interview with his mother, whose own affect seemed a bit flat. She stays out of his politics, she said. No part of this was surprising to me; I have met a thousand versions of this woman, an older, wearier version of her son. They’d been living in Toledo for about a year, in one of those townhouse developments where a person could, if they were so inclined, more or less disappear from the face of the earth. (He had moved out a while ago, however.) The video showed her sitting next to a silver car. You’ve passed a dozen of her on your way into work today. Silver cars blend in. Middle-aged women blend in. Townhouses are pre-blended in housing. Just a reminder you never know. About anyone.

Meanwhile, this oxygen thief (thanks for that one, FDChief!) thinks the whole thing was staged. And some of his oxygen-thievin’ listeners probably believe it.

By the way, if you’re not reading Will Sommer on the various tribes of the right, you’re missing out. Here’s his C’ville report in The Hill. Here’s his Twitter. And here’s a link to his weekly-ish newsletter roundup.

You should also read Roy on this subject, as well.

So. Other than that, how was the weekend? Tiring. I spent most of Saturday cleaning the kitchen, but then cleaned myself up and went out with Alan to celebrate a friend’s birthday. We went to the proverbial chic downtown hotspot, which was crowded and loud and where Alan got the surprise of his life when he ordered a rye manhattan and was charged $19 for it. Yes, $19. For one drink. But that was just for cocktail hour. We went later to a different place for dinner and I’m not sure what manhattans were costing there, but I bet it was less than $19. It was a nice evening. Kathryn Bigelow stayed at the hotel connected to the $19-manhattan place when she was in town last month, but I’m sure the studio was paying.

Sunday was more cleaning, but the house is no longer a Den of Shame and Dust, and we managed a graduation party in the afternoon. The host had a bottle of Grey Goose vodka and was pouring summer refreshments for anyone who wanted more than a beer. “Here you go,” he said to Alan, fortifying his lemonade. “I’ll make it a double and it won’t be $19.”

Have a swell week ahead, all. Let’s hope everybody simmers down.

Posted at 8:36 pm in Current events, Detroit life, Same ol' same ol' | 47 Comments
 

You otter be in the water.

My friend Bill is recently retired, which means he’s in the go-go stage of post-work life. (The other two, of course, are slow-go and no-go.) He’s having a great summer, bombing around the state with “12th & Clairmount,” the documentary film our employer co-produced, and on his travels, he’s developing a new sport. The sport of the future! he says. He calls it ottering – it’s open water swimming in fins and a life jacket. He keeps saying we should go so I can try it out, and Sunday we worked out our schedules and did so.

We drove to St. Clair, Michigan, on the St. Clair river between Lake Huron and Lake St. Clair. There’s a park there, with a long boardwalk and seawall. We put on the gear and jumped off into 68-degree water and spent an hour ottering. It’s fun. The PFD holds you up and the fins allow you to master the current, which runs about 3 miles per hour draining the Great Lakes toward the sea. At least half a dozen ships passed us, and their wakes bobbed us up and down pleasantly as we drifted and floated.

Why is this the sport of the future? Because Bill has been swimming there most of his adult life, and in recent years has developed shoulder pain, enough that he fears one day injuring himself climbing back up the ladder on the seawall. Hence the PFD. The fins just make it easy to move around. So the pitch really should be, Ottering: The sport of the future in an aging America.

Now to monetize it. I told him to write the book and I’d contribute a chapter. He could do a merch run. It could be his gift to the world, a way to bring the joy back to swimming for people who don’t feel confident enough to do it in deep water anymore.

Then we had lunch and a couple of beers. Not a bad way to spend half a Sunday.

It was a pretty FUBAR weekend all around, with Alan suffering drug side effects from his oral surgery. He had hiccups all day Friday. Seriously, all day. Was awakened at 6 a.m. by hiccups, in fact. Turns out they’re a side effect of the steroid he’s on. Then you have the antibiotics and the painkillers and a UAW vote in Mississippi on a Friday night, and there goes half the weekend. I had to finish a story to boot, so there went half of mine. I was able to slip away for a while Friday night, for a house music lineup at a local bar.

House music sounds like this, at least this set did. That link is to a short video. (If it gives you problems or won’t play on your phone or whatever, I don’t want to hear about it.) I like it OK, and that was a nice early-evening groove, not too loud, so a pleasant way to pass a couple hours.

And suddenly, there goes the weekend. August is flying by. Next week is the OABI, the Once Around Belle Isle kayak race, which I’m on the fence about entering, and the weekend after that is Swim to the Moon, my first open-water swimming event (besides ottering). And then another kayak thing and into Labor Day. Stay a little longer, summer.

So, on to the bloggage? Sure.

This German dude is a future otter, commuting to work via swimming the Isar River, through Munich.

Man, the Chinese have this hoax nailed. Down.

Another take on “Detroit,” this one calling the film immoral.

Oh, and finally, perhaps appropriate because we spent all weekend working, we watched “Obit” on Saturday night, a documentary about the NYT obit desk. Very enjoyable, and I recommend. Let’s hope the weekend ahead is the same.

Posted at 12:13 am in Current events, Detroit life, Movies | 44 Comments
 

‘Detroit.’

The events of the last week of July 1967 in Detroit are one of those things everybody knows, and nobody knows, including what to even call what happened. “Riot” is the generally accepted language, although among African Americans, “rebellion” or “uprising” is nearly universal these days. Ever the wishy-washy moderate, I usually opt for “civil unrest,” because the most destructive element of the violence was the widespread looting and arson, which is hard to justify as an act of rebellion, especially considering how many black-owned businesses were destroyed that week.

But never mind that for now. Everybody knows the precipitating event was an early-morning raid on an illegal drinking establishment, known as a blind pig in the local parlance. Detroit still has zillions of these, mainly after-hours bars. I’ve never been to one because I’m a thousand years old, but my young friends all have their favorites. It’s where Detroit’s techno/house music scene took root and continues to thrive. They continue to be busted by the police, too, although I’m not sure if the customers are rousted with quite the vigor the law displayed in the 1967 raid on the establishment on the second floor of a 12th Street print shop. It was the rough handling of the folks being put into paddy wagons, especially the women, that supposedly moved Bill Scott to climb onto a car and exhort the crowd of onlookers:

“Are we going to let these peckerwood motherfuckers come down here any time they want and mess us around?”

The crowd roared back, “Hell, no!” and the bottles and rocks started to fly.

That’s from my colleague Bill McGraw’s excellent story of the family who owned the blind pig, whose own history reverberates with fallout from that night to this day. I’ve posted it before, but it’s worth your time if you didn’t get to it then.

Anyway.

The city was 40 percent black by that point, but its police were still overwhelmingly white and dedicated to keeping the black community in its place — in their neighborhoods, and out of white ones. Unlike most cities its size, Detroit grew horizontally; one reason it has the specific and unique problems it has today is that sprawling footprint, mostly covered with modest working-class housing for the huge labor force that gathered there in the early 20th century. They came from all over the country and all over the world, and working side-by-side in factories didn’t necessarily make them love one another. My friend Michael once drove me around his old neighborhood, where something like four Catholic churches existed in just a few square blocks — one for the Italians, one for the Hungarians, etc., like the punchline of the joke about the two Jews on a desert island.

Anyway. It was with all this knowledge in our heads that we went to see Kathryn Bigelow’s “Detroit,” which will open in a theater near most of you August 4. We got the “now playing in select theaters” early run.

Bigelow is a director I run hot and cold on. Hated “Blue Steel,” found “Point Break” ridiculous, liked “The Hurt Locker,” found “Zero Dark Thirty” troubling but worth seeing. She’s undeniably skilled, with an eye for finding beautiful images in horrific stories. “Detroit” kicks off with the blind pig raid, but quickly gets to the main narrative — the events of one night at the Algiers Motel, a fleabag at Woodward and Virginia Park, stormed by police, National Guard and Army troops after they heard shots fired from the building.

They never found a gun — which was said to be a starter pistol one guest was messing around with — but did find a number of black teenagers, 17-19, some members of The Dramatics, a singing group. Two of the teens were white girls, visiting from Ohio. At the end of the night, three of the young men were dead, and the survivors told of being tortured and terrorized by Detroit police in search of the gun and the shooter. This story didn’t come out immediately, but after an investigation, which led to murder trials for the Detroit officers and acquittals by all-white juries. The facts of what went on that night have never been definitively established — the cops claimed self-defense — but the rough outlines of the narrative have: Three dead teens, no gun found, survivor stories of torture.

That’s what Bigelow and her team were working with. And I’ll give her this: That lady knows torture. The police lined eight men and two women up against a wall in the motel for an hour, and that’s about how much screen time it takes, too. It’s an excruciating hour. Individuals are peeled off and taken into rooms, where police then fired gunshots, coming out to tell the rest that, well, we killed that guy, and would anyone now like to change their story and produce the gun?

There’s little relief in that hour. State police decide not to intervene. A few of the Guard/Army troops commit acts of mercy or stand in judgment of the insanity unfolding at the wall, but no one really intervenes. The baddest of the bad guys is a punk-faced, trigger-happy racist with a penchant for shooting people in the back and the unfortunate gift of making weaker men follow his lead. The other two are nearly as bad. One sneeringly asks one of the girls why she “fucks niggers” and how she can stand the smell of Afro Sheen.

Eventually the incidents at the motel conclude, and the film swings into an awkward third act — trials for the cops, recovery for the victims. You can feel the air go out of the balloon after the blood is mopped up. It really doesn’t feel like Bigelow’s heart is in this part of it, although this is where the greatest injustice happened. No one was ever held responsible. One victim is left with PTSD. Bad police are still abusing black people with impunity, and the president is encouraging them. And a corner that once looked like this now looks like this.

I walked out impressed by Bigelow’s technique but hardly entertained, or even enlightened. I think the critic for Roger Ebert’s site, Angelica Jade Bastien, got it exactly right:

Watching “Detroit,” the latest film directed by Kathryn Bigelow and penned by Mark Boal, I hit a breaking point I didn’t realize I had. I was disturbed so deeply by what I witnessed that I left the theater afterward in tears.

It wasn’t the relentless violence inflicted upon black bodies or the fiery devastation of the riots ripping apart Detroit but the emptiness behind these moments that got under my skin. Watching “Detroit” I realized that I’m not interested in white perceptions of black pain. White filmmakers, of course, have every right to make stories that highlight the real and imagined histories of racism and police brutality that pointedly affect Black America.

…“Detroit” is ultimately a confused film that has an ugliness reflected in its visual craft and narrative. Bigelow is adept at making the sharp crack of an officer’s gun against a black man’s face feel impactful but doesn’t understand the meaning of the emotional scars left behind or how they echo through American history. “Detroit” is a hollow spectacle, displaying rank racism and countless deaths that has nothing to say about race, the justice system, police brutality, or the city that gives it its title.

We saw the film at a multiplex on 8 Mile Road, and were apparently the only white people in the theater. (We were certainly the only ones who sat through the credits to see my boss’ name; he did research for screenwriter Boal, and was listed as a consultant.) “Well, I HATED that,” a woman said, loudly, as she filed out, and I expect that will be a pretty uniform opinion among black folks. To be sure, it’s a terrible story with an unhappy ending. The bad guys got away with it. And they were terrible bad guys.

But in the end, it’s an incredibly bloody film that is ultimately rather bloodless.

One final note: When I was young and ignorant, my boyfriend’s stepfather was a retired prison guard. He’d worked at Riker’s Island, in New York. I asked him what sort of weaponry he carried as a guard, and he quickly corrected me: He never carried a gun, or even a nightstick. Guards can’t take the risk of being disarmed by prisoners.

I thought of him during the riot scenes, which underline how fragile order really is, how thin is the social fabric we all walk around on and under, every day. It doesn’t take much to turn a Saturday-night party into something far more sinister, something police flee from, how quickly even these guardians of order can be overcome. Temperatures rise, tempers flare, a guy stands on a car and shouts encouragement — that’s it. And the correction, the restoration of control, is worse. It leads to harsher policing, more fearful citizens, more guns in nervous, fearful hands.

I hope I don’t live to see something like this happen again, but I fear I will. We always speak of events in incendiary terms, of “powder kegs” and “ticking time bombs” and “lighting the fuse,” etc. But all these things have to have a supply of powder, a bomb, to exist. How about building fewer bombs? Just a thought.

Posted at 12:10 am in Detroit life, Movies | 68 Comments
 

Waiting for a miracle.

All the advice was to see “Dunkirk” in IMAX, so I googled around. Turned out there’s an IMAX screen at a multiplex in Royal Oak that I didn’t know about. Royal Oak is closer than the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, which is where I feared we’d have to go, so this was good news. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a regular theatrical-entertainment film in IMAX, only short science films like they show at museums. Bought tickets online, paid IMAX prices.

After the credit-card sale went through I looked at the tickets. “‘Dunkirk’ in EMAX,” they said. What’s EMAX? I thought, but figured it had to be some version of IMAX.

It wasn’t. It was just a wide screen. The theater is called Emagine, and sure enough, there’s no such thing as EMAX as a film format, it’s just the chain’s name for “PREMIUM LARGE FORMAT, bigger picture & maximum sound.” You can say that again; it was really, really loud. But the screen was nice and wide and oh well, at least for a movie like this you don’t generally have people talking throughout. And if they had, the soundtrack would have drowned them out pretty well.

And I can’t say I missed the IMAX, honestly. “Dunkirk” was an immersive experience in every sense of the word; it’s hard to see people wearing boots and heavy wool uniforms trying to swim in an unforgiving sea. A colleague saw it Thursday and panned its storytelling trick of multiple, non-synchronized timelines, but it worked for me. I imagine service in a war zone is a series of minutes-become-hours, hours-pass-like-seconds episodes, part of what makes it so disorienting.

You can read entire shelves of books about the Dunkirk evacuation, and thousands of words about this telling of the story, so I won’t add to it other than to say I liked the film very much and it made me want to sail our boat across the lake and rescue some Canadians. Or maybe the other way around. And I’ll also stand with David Edelstein, who took a pasting in the comments about his review in New York magazine, for writing that he assumed one chapter/timeline, titled “the Mole,” was about the anonymous soldier at its center, who has a prominent mole on his jaw. I did too! And I subsequently learned that “mole” is another term for a jetty, pier or breakwater, a structure that is very important in this story. I’ve read pretty widely and spent lots of time on or near water and boats, and I’ve never heard this before. Ever.

Before the movie, we visited a local brewhouse/restaurant. On the menu:

Proud to be an American.

I guess the next movie we’ll see in a theater is “Detroit,” about an incident in the ’67 riots, being commemorated this very week. Here’s a tick-tock by my former colleague Bill, roused from retirement to help the Freep staff. Lots of links within to other stuff, and sorry about the goddamn autoplaying videos, but that’s Gannett these days. And here’s the News’ editorial-page editor with the suburban take.

Over my years here, I’ve heard many personal recollections of that week, mostly bad ones. Some were grimly amusing; a guy on a local message board lived in St. Clair Shores, and remembers one of his mother’s friends knocking on the door late one night in a panic. She’d heard that gangs of black men were going house-to-house in Grosse Pointe, raping white women, and could she take shelter with them? He thought it was extra funny that he saw her a year later at a party his parents threw, and her escort was a black man. I always wonder, when I hear stuff like that, if there are people who deliberately start hateful rumors in the wake of chaos, for whatever reason. They were rife after 9/11, none backed by any shred of evidence.

This personal story isn’t funny at all, but it was written by a friend whose father was a Detroit firefighter in 1967, and it’s sad and worth your time.

As for the events from Washington, the Fall of Spicey and the rise of the next guy, Scaramucci, I leave it to the comedians.

Happy week ahead, all.

Posted at 12:10 am in Current events, Detroit life, Movies | 89 Comments