Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

It’s Memorial Day as I write this, and while I have largely kept my resolution to minimize screen time this weekend, even a reduced schedule of check-ins reveals the patriots are out in full force, demanding I give thanks for my freedom, purchased with the blood of brave soldiers.

Which is why I was struck by a final post, by a veteran, positing that we haven’t fought a war for our freedom since 1945. Korea, Vietnam, Gulf Wars I and II and the many skirmishes in between — Grenada, anyone? — were mainly foreign-policy blunders for which we are still paying, in one form or another, while their architects go about unpunished.

A bold statement. And yet, one with which I largely agree.

Grenada, man. Haven’t thought of that one for a while. I sat next to a Grenada vet at a dinner party once, who had me in stitches describing the ambitious officers who swarmed all over the island during that brief war-with-umbrella-drinks, getting their campaign ribbons so as to continue their career climbs unimpeded by a failure to “see combat.”

“And what did you do there?” I asked.

“Maintained a radio beacon for aircraft,” he said. “It was on the beach. I had to check it every 30 minutes, which was good, because it reminded me to turn over and tan the other side.”

And yet, still, about 20 American lives were lost, 6,000 troops were sent, to protect 1,000 American civilians in residence, most of them medical students. I wonder how those dead soldiers’ loved ones feel about their sacrifice.

Ah well. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

The long weekend was much-appreciated, even if it was fairly formless. The heat descended like a sledgehammer, and I spent much of Monday indoors, reading lazily and trying to avoid the outdoors. Had a long bike ride early, just to shake off the laziness, before it got too steamy. Saw an old friend, met a new one — Icarus, one of our commenting community. We sat in a nearly deserted air-conditioned bar and had a couple of beers, chatting about Grosse Pointe and Chicago. Sunday was a long day, starting at 5 a.m., when I went to a sunrise party, one of the many, many unofficial events connected to the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, or Movement. It was held at an art park run by a merry chap, and a certain happy anarchy presides over the place. Note the spire, a new addition in the last couple of years:

It shoots fire:

Gentrified Detroit is creeping out to him, and I wonder how long the place can endure. A graffiti artist died there a while back; he fell through a roof. It seems only a matter of time before someone decides such lawlessness can’t be tolerated, especially with flamethrowers. But for now, it rocks on, and I was happy to be there, one of a handful who arrived after a night of sleep. Most appeared to have played through the night.

In between all this lazing about and dawn’s-early-light partying, we watched “All the Money in the World,” a reminder that rich people are often some of the absolute worst ones in it. And I read the news, paying attention to the repeal-the-8th vote in Ireland, and the conservative keening about it stateside. I wish they’d spend less time worrying about culture war and more studying politics. A friend told me that a four-point win or above in any race qualifies as decisive, and this one, with 66 percent in favor, is a legit landslide, without qualification. That speaks to a deep dissatisfaction among the people who had to live with this law, the humiliation it heaped on women who had to go abroad to get abortions, the real harm done to those with medical complications related to pregnancy (including the worst complication of all), not to mention Ireland’s shameful history with the Magdalene laundries and other mother-and-baby homes. A vote that lopsided speaks to a people trying to right a wrong, and at times like this it’s probably best to keep your mouth shut, if you disagree.

And now, in the waning hours of this lovely long weekend, I’m going to return to my book. A novel. An escape. Let the summer begin.

Posted at 5:51 pm in Current events, Detroit life, Movies | 65 Comments
 

A weekend of wonders.

Hey, everyone! I finally saw “Black Panther.” And…well. I didn’t dislike it. In fact, I found a lot to like about it. The costumes were fantastic, production design ditto. Can’t complain about the acting, certainly, and the script was pretty good, too. It’s taken this long, but now I can state with confidence: I just don’t like comic-book movies.

I felt the same way about the equally praised “Wonder Woman.” Every story is the same hero’s quest, every outcome predetermined. The fight scenes go on and on and ON, and ever since Chinese kung-fu movies decided human beings could run straight up walls, what’s left for superheroes to do? Apparently Black Panther’s suit “absorbs kinetic energy” and allows him to dish it back out in equal measure. So you shoot at him, and he only gets stronger. Wow, how exciting.

The most interesting character in the story is the bad guy. (And — spoiler alert — he dies in the end.)

Why is this so hard for writers to understand? People’s flaws are as important as their strengths, maybe more so. They’re the shadow that makes the light more defined. The worst thing you could say about T’Challa, i.e., Black Panther, is that he’s too good. Bor-ing.

Good thing the outfits were so fab. And T’Challa was hilarious on “Black Jeopardy.” But the people talking about this being a Best Picture nominee are full of it.

That was the second cultural event we took in Saturday. The first was the Tom of Finland show at the local contemporary-art museum. For those not up on Tom of Finland: He was to leather daddies what Alberto Vargas was to pin-up girls. Google if you dare, but much of it is porn, with comically outsized dicks. This pretty tame piece gives you the idea, though:

Well, hello sailor. At the Tom of Finland 🇫🇮 show.

A post shared by nderringer (@nderringer) on

I still chuckle whenever I see a bunch of kids dancing to “YMCA.” Gay culture seeped in under the door, and hardly anyone noticed.

And then, because last week was our 25th anniversary, we went out to dinner on Sunday night, a rare event for us. It was great, at a pop-up space in Hazel Park run by a photographer I worked with once when I was a freelancer. Four courses with twin themes of Thai and Springtime, which meant fiddlehead ferns in chili oil with something called a 63-degree egg, which is, I learned via Professor Google, a thing. It was amazing — almost an egg pudding. The menu was full of wonders, including soft-shell crabs and avocado ice cream. The photographer seated us at the table closest to the action, so we could watch the cooking and the plating and all of it. Quite a night. I woke up with a food hangover today, but pushed through. I don’t expect to be hungry again for two days.

More Instagram? Sure why not:

What else happened this weekend? Oh, right: Two people in England got married. Don’t tell me your problems with the dress, because I’m not hearing them. That dress was perfect for a 36-year-old divorcee marrying into a royal family in front of 1 billion eyeballs. Of course, there were 2 billion photos, but for my money, I love the official ones released by the palace, if only because it captures the royal family in all its weirdness. I know Phil and Betty are now in their 90s, but man, he looks like a cadaver these days. I expect he won’t truck with having a little concealer dabbed around those sunken black eyes. The kids are adorable, of course. All these pictures needed was a corgi or two.

And with that, I’m out and offline. I need to sleep off 2,000 calories, still.

Posted at 8:00 pm in Detroit life, Movies | 53 Comments
 

Deplorables.

Alan came home from work one day last week and reported his employer was about to drop a break-the-internet story, and a few hours later, it did, with the publication of this piece about Matt Patricia, the new head coach for the Detroit Lions. It turns out that 22 years ago, while a college student on spring break on South Padre Island, he and another young man were charged with raping a woman. He was arrested, charged and indicted by a grand jury, but the case never went to trial because the alleged victim decided she didn’t think she could handle the stress of a trial and declined to testify. Charges were dropped.

This is the nut of the story, to my mind:

Although both men have gone on to successful careers, the relevance of even old and untried charges raises questions for the Lions at the height of the “Me Too” movement, which has brought new scrutiny to sexual misconduct allegations.

The indictment remained an untold part of Patricia’s past during his rise in the coaching ranks, and the Lions said it eluded them during a background check that only searched for criminal convictions.

When approached by The Detroit News, team president Rod Wood initially said “I don’t know anything about this” — but hours later said his review of the situation only reinforced the team’s decision to hire Patricia.

The NFL prides itself on its towering moral superiority — witness how lovingly they look after the reputations of its cheerleading teams, for instance — but somehow no one knew this. Patricia’s record was literally part of his Nexis profile, available to anyone with an account and the dexterity to punch his name into a search field. You can argue whether a dismissed 22-year-old case should matter today, and whether it should be brought up in the news media, and I will listen respectfully. But virtually no one in the Lions fan base is doing that, preferring to leave steaming turds in the comment section of, well, this follow-up piece from the weekend, detailing that, contrary to Patricia’s lawyer’s description of the case, this was not a he-said/she-said scenario, but one with medical evidence. Here’s one:

Ok, let me point something out for Snell. Let’s take each witness on their own merit.
1) Detective = took statement
2) Roommate = heard roomate talk about sex with two football players including DP.
3) Nurse = found semen in slut
4) Doctor = confirmed semen in slut
5) Slut = slut. Enough said

And this:

Without dna evidence tying these two guys to the sex, you have a bunch of witnesses who can testified that the accuser had sex, maybe aggressive sex. Now think about all the possibilities on south padre island during spring break.

And this:

Us older Americans think if the “#” system as the pound sign. So guess what we we’re thinking when we saw #MeToo.

I know, I know: Never read the comments, especially on a sports story. But I did, because I’m stupid.

Happy mothers’ day, if you read this while it’s still going on. I’m spending it with my feet up, at least for a while, until I have to make dinner. The only person who qualifies me as a mother — besides Wendy, of course — is not in a place where wifi is easy to get to, so she’s forgiven.

In other news at this hour, the grifting goes on. But enough current events.

After having my heart dug out of my chest by last week’s Saturday-night couch movie, “Call Me By Your Name,” we opted for simpler fare this week, “Dr. No,” the first Sean Connery Bond movie, produced in 1962. A different time, you’d say. Two characters who are supposed to be Asian, or half-Asian, are played by white actors, including Dr. No himself. I know makeup artists back then used to try to Asia-fy white eyes with tape, and it looked like something similar was going on with Joseph Wiseman and Zena Marshall, who played The Girl, or A Girl, or more accurately, A Girl Bond Screws Before the Real Girl shows up, and that was, of course, Ursula Andress in her white bikini and knife belt. I thought she played the Bond girl who shot a guy with a pair of guns hidden in her pasties; as I recall, she was doing a sexy striptease or something, and gave him the old one-two with a couple of shoulder shrugs. Cherchez la femme, Bond actors! Which one was that? You guys can dig up any information, but all the googling I’ve done so far is fruitless.

And if there’s a bra available with shoulder-activated firearms built in, I’d like to know where I can buy one, because you never know when you’re going to overhear someone bitching about the Matt Patricia story, right?

Kate just called. Said she’s having a blast, working very hard, and they will soon be learning Santeria dances of the various orishas. Good. I may need her to summon Chango when she gets home, just in case we have to deal with some pissed-off Lions fans.

Great week ahead, all. I’m going to read something fun and non-Twitter-adjacent.

Posted at 4:46 pm in Media, Movies, Same ol' same ol' | 57 Comments
 

The fashion show.

O hai, guys. I guess I forgot to blog yesterday. I think I just flat ran out of gas and decided to watch the Oscars, and then flat ran out of gas on that, too. This morning I decided to make this an in-the-office day, which wiped out daytime blogging opportunities, but really, who cares about these lame excuses?

My office is in Livonia, another inner-ring suburb that feels like it is a million miles away. Forty minutes in moving traffic, 60 in rush hour. If I had to do this every day, I wouldn’t. All the podcasts in the world can’t make that commute work on the regular. But once or twice a week is tolerable, and today was a very tolerable day. So Monday, nearly in the books, will go down as a not-bad one.

I see you were discussing the Oscars today. I think I saw all of them but “The Post” and “The Shape of Water,” but fortunately, our brethren on the right were at work today to brief us all:

A reader writes to ask if I’m going to do an Oscars post. The answer is no; I didn’t watch the show, or see the movies nominated. He responded by saying that I really ought to write something. “The Academy used to play it safe with controversy, but now it’s moving the Overton window faster than in real life,” he wrote. “Who’d have thought one decade ago that the most prestigious award in the film industry would go to a film about bestiality, and casting it in a positive light?”

He’s talking about The Shape Of Water, a movie in which the female protagonist falls in love with a humanoid amphibian, and has sex with it (“cod coitus,” according to Sonny Bunch).

I can’t even. So I’m not gonna. But imagine how exhausting it must be to filter everything — everything! — through one’s politics, one’s “culture,” one’s whatever-it-is that keeps us from simply enjoying art. I’ll see this film eventually, but I simply refuse to believe that it’s “about bestiality, and casting it in a positive light.”

I’d rather experience the Academy Awards via Tom & Lorenzo, who are almost always how you say spot-on with their assessments. My overall impression: Almost all the hair was ugh, and I simply do not understand why anyone wants to wear a formal dress that blends in with one’s skin. One reason Lupita Nyong’o always looks so damn good is, she uses her skin as a canvas, and paints with color. (Her co-star in that picture painted with paint — on her head.) To be sure, her lean, muscular body doesn’t hurt a bit, but if all she did was dress in coffee-colored clothing, I think I’d be meh on her as I am on the Beige/Blush Girls.

Man, if I looked like Margot Robbie — so beautiful she sucks all the oxygen out of the room — the last thing I’d do is go to the Oscars with hair that looks like I let it air-dry after a shower where I was too lazy to rinse all the conditioner out. And another pale-on-pale color thing, only the detailing looks like Christmas garland.

One exception — because there are always exceptions — has to be Jane Fonda. As T-Lo like to say: BOW DOWN. She’s 80. Years old.

So that was my Oscar night. In bed by 10:30, missed most of the good stuff.

Posted at 7:56 pm in Movies, Popculch | 52 Comments
 

Rotten Apple.

Someday we’re going to look back on this era and…marvel, I guess, although “recoil in horror” may well be an option, too. I think often how long it’s been since I’ve done business with a larger outfit that didn’t make me seethe with anger or sneer with contempt. This weekend it was Apple’s fault.

My iPhone 6 is three years old and going strong, except that the battery is failing. How do I know this? Because the power falls from 75 percent to 20 percent in 10 minutes, that’s how. Sounds like a failing battery to me! Apple recently acknowledged it was slowing down the older model phones accordingly, and, chastened, offered replacement batteries for them for $30. How very convenient, because I need a battery.

I followed all the links, which led me to an appointment at the Genius Bar. I arrived on time: Hello, I need a battery. The nice lady plugged my phone into her iPad and ran all sorts of diagnostics. It turns out? I need a battery. I surpassed my impulse to eye-roll. So let’s get it done. It turned out there were none in stock, but when one arrived, they’d let me know.

So, one trip to the Apple store down.

The email came a few days later, and said, “come anytime.” I headed out in a gathering snowstorm on Friday. The nearest Apple store is about 15 miles away, I should mention. I arrived and handed over my phone. Give us 90 minutes, they said. So I went back out and shopped the clearance sales, got a French press at Nordstrom, then came back to the warm, bustling Apple store. Are those places ever not bustling? Just asking.

The tech greeted me like a mother who’d brought her child to the ER with suspicious bruises. He showed me a photograph of the phone’d innards. “We can see that this phone has had liquids inside it,” he said. Yep, that sounded right — I was caught in a drenching downpour last summer with the phone in my back pocket, ports facing up. I’m sure it got wet then, because the speaker and mic failed for a couple of days. But I dried it out in a bag of rice and it’s worked fine ever since. So fix the battery, OK?

“We can’t do that,” he said. “We don’t work on phones that have been penetrated by liquids.” Options: Buy a reconditioned iPhone 6 – a three-year-old phone, mind you – for three! Hundred! Dollars! Or just do the usual upgrade thing. Hundreds of dollars more. But to fix a “penetrated” phone in fine working order, only in need of a battery? Out of the question.

Well, it was nice to visit Nordstrom. Good coffee. And I got some tights at 40 percent off.

Why do we let tech companies treat us like this? Why do we happily help them run established businesses out of town for a slightly better price, and then scrape to them and beg them for the latest sacred object? I wish I knew.

I’m going to Office Depot. The hell with this.

And I’m sorry about that rant. It’s cold again, and I’m feeling cranky. Plus it’s the auto show this week, and I’m on my own. To whoever asked in the comments, the prom is this coming Friday, and I’ll have my usual report. From what I’m hearing, the tl;dr is: Trucks for days.

While Alan was working at the kitchen table, I took myself down to the DIA and saw “Bombshell,” the documentary about Hedy Lamarr, movie star and frustrated scientist. It’s very fine, and I recommend it. If you didn’t know that this legendary Hollywood beauty also had a restless, problem-solving intellect, then you should know now. The story is both triumph and tragedy, but what I found most interesting was what it had to say about the human imagination, and how ideas can come from anywhere. Engineering ideas don’t always come from engineers; Lamarr’s singular idea – a way to make radio communications secure via switching frequencies – came from who-knows-where, because she wasn’t even college-educated, and the man she worked with was inspired by player-piano scrolls. But their idea was sound, even as the military brass scoffed at it.

They didn’t get paid. (And she could have used the money.) But her reputation has made a comeback.

Tomorrow will be warmer, and it’ll be Monday. And we’ll await what fresh hell might be around the corner from Shithole-gate. Sigh. Bundle up.

Posted at 8:11 pm in Movies, Same ol' same ol' | 70 Comments
 

A ‘Christmas Story’ story.

So, in the recent enthusiasm for what’s inevitably called “the high-wire act of live television,” Fox did a live musical version of “A Christmas Story” the other night. Hank hated it, and I will take his word for it. I, too, have grown weary of “A Christmas Story,” mainly because I’m tired of all its, what’s the term? Brand extensions. So to speak.

That would include, a few years back, stories about the guy who bought the house that played Ralph’s house, in Cleveland, and turned it into a museum. I wrote a column on an entrepreneur in Fort Wayne – surely there are dozens more – who started building and selling leg lamps. (“Of course they come in a big box with FRAGILE stamps all over it,” she enthused.) The where-are-they-now/you-won’t-believe-how-the-actors-look-today junk slideshows turn up in social media for weeks every year. And then there are the wags upon wags who trot out the familiar lines at office mixers, in elevator small talk, and everywhere else from Halloween through New Year’s: You’ll shoot your eye out, kid being only the most familiar.

It hurts. I used to love this movie. It was so sweet and charming. Then NBC sucked up rights to “It’s a Wonderful Life” and turned its annual screening into a national celebration of commercial television. So the thing you used to find in your holiday insomnia, playing on some UHF channel at 2 a.m. when you were likely to be feeling dark and hopeless, like George Bailey was in most of Act II, is now a primetime spectacle clogged with ads and celebrity interstitial moments and GET IN THE SPIRIT, AMERICA admonishments. “A Christmas Story” became a kind of counterprogramming on cable, with the 24-hour repeat broadcast on TBS finally wearing through whatever veneer of goodwill toward men I still have by Dec. 24.

Or, in so many words, “A Christmas Story” is now the TV version of Aretha’s “Respect” – if I never see/hear either again, I’d be perfectly happy.

(Meanwhile, another Frank Capra film from the same era, “Meet John Doe,” with a strong Christmas plot line, is ignored year after year. Go figure.)

And all of this is happening after the death of Jean Shepherd, the humorist whose story “A Christmas Story” is. I think a few years I wrote about the Clinic, which was a tradition at the Columbus Dispatch, where I used to work. The Clinic was our annual all-staff, year-in-review gathering (even though it was held in March), at the publisher’s family’s garishly decorated country retreat, the Wigwam. We’d have a few speakers, and then break for cocktails and dinner, followed by more drinking among the cigar-store Indians and various souvenirs of the family’s considerable influence in Ohio – a framed thank-you letter from Spiro Agnew, who had once been lodged there when a snowstorm cancelled his flight, was a highlight of the many glory walls in the place. The evening was raucous and absolutely drenched in alcohol. Very Mad Men, very Front Page in many ways; it has since been significantly revamped, and is dry, I believe.

My first year, all the young people on staff except me ate marijuana-laced brownies on their way to the Wigwam and I guess they kicked in sometime during the speakers’ portion of the event. As I recall, the keynoter was the president of the Associated Press, and just about as scintillating a public speaker as you’d expect from that outfit. Anyway, he repeatedly pronounced the 50th state Huh-WHY-yuh, with each repetition setting off muffled giggles in the rows around me, which should have been a clue what was going on, but honestly, I had no idea. I only learned of this much later. I suspect the management eventually did, too, because in a subsequent year, one of the brownie-eaters – the film critic – was made chairman of the following year’s Clinic. The naming of next year’s chairman was the climax of the evening, indicating a mix of favor and let’s-test-your-mettle assessment by upper management. He or she had to plan the whole shitshow, with wide latitude, and when the critic’s Clinic rolled around the keynote speaker was Jean Shepherd.

The two had met when the critic had gone to Cleveland to report a story about the making of “A Christmas Story.” I’d never heard of Shepherd, but suffice to say, he could pronounce Hawaii and knew how to hold a room. (He was, in addition to a writer, a successful actor and superb radio personality.) He didn’t talk about journalism at all, but just told wonderful shaggy-dog stories about his childhood. He skillfully wound it all up with the Ovaltine anecdote, and that’s what I remember when I see it in the movie: Shepherd acting out the Little Orphan Annie decoder ring action up there at the podium, building to the punchline, with the historically inaccurate murals of Indians all around. The story, as he told it, had nothing to do with Christmas.

Anyway, I wish he’d lived to see all this. At the very least, he could have used the money.

So, as we skip to the bloggage, let me see a show of hands of those who are watching “The Crown,” or just have an interest in the British upper classes…only a few? Pity. Well, you’ll still want to check out Nicole Cliffe’s Twitter thread about British boarding schools through the years. Or you will after you watch “Paterfamilias,” a positively wrenching episode of “The Crown” dealing with Prince Philip’s insistence that his firstborn son attend the brutal Scottish academy he did. The place was a veritable penal colony, and is said to have been the seed of the father-son estrangement that followed. Anyway, Cliffe’s thread is both funny and fascinating:

I recall, as a child, lapping up stories of English children away at various schools/penal colonies/great houses isolated in hostile countrysides. I loved “The Wolves of Willoughby Chase” best of all.

If you have approximately a week to fall down a YouTube rabbit hole, I suggest Freshout, the series about life in and out of, but mostly in, prison. Fascinating material covering everything from sex to gangs to recipes for a County Taco.

And if you have an interest in Everest, you should enjoy this lavishly presented NYT piece about the removal of corpses from the highest reaches of the mountain. It’s no easy task. And it’s a good story.

As for the rest of the day’s events, well.

Posted at 5:54 pm in Movies, Television | 121 Comments
 

New post, in which I give up.

I’m looking at the post-ette I started day before yesterday. It was about Garrison Keillor. Remember him? Seventy-two hours ago, maybe 48, he was in the news, which now seems like 25 years ago.

At some point in the last few hours, I gave up, and watched “Fifty Shades Darker.” It was on HBO. It’s the second movie in the Fifty Shades franchise, I believe. I’ve never seen the first one, and won’t see the third one, but God help me I watched the second one. And this is my manifesto:

The rule of threes is important in storytelling: Beginning, middle, end. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. Couple meets and does sex stuff, couple breaks up and does more sex stuff, and whatever the third movie is about, I don’t care, because hoo-boy, this second movie. It’s hilarious.

It also follows the contemporary model of girl-centered soft-core porn movies, in that sex is only a fraction of the guy’s appeal. The rest is his money, which is ludicrously abundant. Christian Grey is under 30, has a billion dollars and a million exquisitely decorated houses. Lines like “I have a place there” and “I own that” and “I had it made at my shipyard in Seattle” are repeated so often it’s kind of a joke, and needless to say, all the work we see Mr. Grey doing consists of sitting at the end of a boardroom table, while people make notes on legal pads in leather covers. He also has a closet stocked with designer gowns for his girlfriend Anastasia Steele – these names, right? :::eyeroll::: – all of which fit her perfectly and the ones she wears? Someone manages to speak the name of the designer. (I see you, Monique Lhuillier, and I’m sorry the moment went by so fast I didn’t quite catch the proper pronunciation.) Oh, and a helicopter. I think a plane, too, but that was in the first movie. At one point they go to a party, and travel in a three-vehicle motorcade. Of Audis. Like the president.

They have lots of sex, needless to say, which is very well-lit and free of awkward moments like ow you’re on my hair or move your leg or so forth. And here you’re not going to find me getting on the S&M-is-abusive train, because you don’t even need to have taken Psych 101 to see the appeal, especially for women who are submissive. If your hands are tied to the headboard, no one is going to ask you to fold the laundry, or drive them to soccer practice or even touch someone else’s body parts. You just go OK, sure, happy not to make any decisions here. (I’ve always heard this is popular among CEOs, who are mostly submissives.) But this sex is pretty boring, anyway, although there is some tension in seeing how Dakota Johnson can manage to have so much of it without ever smearing or even touching up her vivid lipsticks.

At one point I noticed that both Marcia Gay Harden (who plays Mr. Grey’s mother) and Dakota Johnson were wearing the exact same shade of cranberry-colored lipstick. That’s how boring this movie is. Of course it ends with a marriage proposal, and then I noticed that Dakota Johnson’s character will be Anastasia Steele Grey. That’s sorta funny.

And of course I did all this because if I didn’t, I’d read another million Twitter threads of other sharp analyses of the day’s events, and honestly, I’d rather think about whether cranberry lipstick is right for me.

The rest of you have a good weekend, OK? And please don’t fight anymore.

Posted at 6:48 pm in Movies | 73 Comments
 

Bad moms.

Wednesday is upon us, and I’m still mulling over last night’s entertainment — with Alan off this week (pulling the boat, putting storms in the doors, that sort of thing), we’re doing weeknight thing we never get to do otherwise. Staycation fun, peeps! Monday night was open-mic comedy night at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, at which we were the only white folks and I heard more N-bombs than in a month of streaming hip-hop. And last night we saw “The Florida Project,” a spectacular micro-budget film about poverty in the Sunshine State. I can recommend it highly, for standout performances and an almost perfect mastery of tone in a story that’s essentially plot-free but still has a lot to say.

What plot there is revolves around Moonee, a six-year-old who lives with her mother Hallee in a dive-y motel near Disney World. Hallee has the emotional maturity of maybe a seven-year-old, so they get along like aces. Moonee is charming and fearless, and her mother is the same way, only in the adult you can see the sociopathy that lies beneath. (I don’t recommend this to Jeff, unless he can fit it in during work hours.) As a journalist, all I could think about were the stories I and my colleagues have been writing for years, calculating how far behind Moonee must be in school by now (even as a first-grader, yes), her behavioral deficits, even the toll her diet – which seems to consist solely of waffles, jelly sandwiches on day-old bread from the food bank, soda and pizza – is taking on her baby teeth. The film takes place over part of a summer, when Moonee and a couple of friends run wild through the motel, and others like it nearby, having charming kid adventures, while her mom tries to avoid work but still make the weekly rent on the $38/night room they share.

Things happen, expected things. But the story still feels like a series of snapshots laid in a row. Both thrilling to watch and deeply unsettling. Find it at an arthouse near you.

I see somehow the comment thread on the last post skated off on a tangent about wind turbines. Michigan is starting to add them here and there, primarily in the Thumb, but the ones we see most often are on the Canadian side of Lake St. Clair, and by “see” I mean that driving home on a dark night when it’s reasonably clear, you can see their red lights blinking way over the water.

A more vivid experience was a few years ago, when we drove to Stratford for a little theatuh, and took the Port Huron route, which is less freeway and more country road than you get by crossing in Detroit. It was a foggy day, and these behemoths were obscured until we were almost upon them, and they’d loom up out of the mist, turning slowly. Very dramatic, like something in a fairy tale. It was almost enough to distract from the unexpected (for an American, and especially a Michigander) pleasure of driving on a well-maintained, non-potholed road.

Canada. They get the job done.

I have yet to see a driverless car on the roads around here, although truth be told, you wouldn’t know one to see it – they still have people sitting in the driver’s seat. There’s a robot bus running around north campus at U-M in Ann Arbor, not sure of the human-override factor on that one, although my guess is, they have one. The technology isn’t advanced enough yet, but it’s getting there, and fast. David Leonhardt wrote a column about testing a driverless Volvo that got to the heart of the adoption problem, I think:

I expect that we will agonize about using them, out of both legitimate caution and irrational fear. Any driverless crashes will be sensationalized, as has already happened, while we ignore tens of thousands of deaths from human crashes. But I still expect that driving will be revolutionized sooner than many people now understand. …Those researchers at Penn and Chicago also studied the circumstances in which people get comfortable with computer control, and found a theme: When the choice isn’t all or nothing — when people have “even a slight amount” of control — they are more open to automation.

That’s where driving is headed. The shift will be gradual, not sudden, as Google’s chief economist, Hal Varian, told me. Cars will handle many tasks, while a human driver will have override power. The combination won’t be perfect, but it can be much better than the status quo.

I suspect he’s right. What he’s describing sounds like the cake-mix problem I read about somewhere. Duncan Hines is fully capable of producing a just-add-water cake mix, but they don’t, because customers prefer to add an egg and half a cup of oil. It makes them feel like they’re baking, not just phoning it in.

It’s funny. I know people who are terrified to fly for fear of crashing, but think nothing of driving every day, when statistically one is leagues safer than the other. But the feeling of control is powerful, no doubt.

I was charmed by the WashPost’s account of David Letterman’s Twain award ceremony. Perhaps you too.

Posted at 10:44 am in Current events, Movies | 135 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