End of the line.

And so this is new year’s, and what have you done? (To mangle a little John Lennon there.) I’m not much for end-of-year wrap-ups — I had plenty in my newspaper years — and I’m a big believer that the future arrives every day, every minute and every second right on schedule, so if you want to make a resolution, why wait for January 1? Even our calendars are electronic now, so we don’t get much of a charge from starting a new one.

Me, I stepped on a scale today, to come to terms with the holiday damage. The result? Three pounds, which for me counts as “no damage.” Yay me. I did have to say goodbye to a dream this December, after I went running — once! — and paid for it in knee pain for days and days and days. Friends? I will never be a triathlete. Give my space in the June event to someone with better joints.

2014 wasn’t the best year, but it was a long way from the worst. Hello, 2015.

On the off chance you’re short of reading material, this is the time of year when lots of media outlets/great writers publish their best-of reading lists, and I guarantee you’ll find a lot you missed the first time around. So here are a few suggestions:

The 20 most popular recipes of 2014, from the NYT. A lot of these look great. Bookmarked. (By the way, I’d be interested in reading a story about the evolution of food photography. When I started at the Dispatch, the paper had its own kitchen, where the food writers worked. Photo shoots were serious business, with large-format cameras and perfect, and I mean perfect, presentation. Lazarus, a local department store, loaned tableware and accessories. Then we moved into another era, with extremely shallow depth of field, where a plate might be photographed from the side with the biscuit in the foreground in sharp focus and the sweet potatoes on the other side of the plate out of focus. Now we see plates that look like someone’s already been eating from them, complete with dirty silverware. Any photogs in the house? Discuss.)

Longform.org’s best-of list, packed with goodies. We already went through “The Case for Reparations” back when it was published, and I know I mentioned “The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie,” too, but I bet it was less-read than Ta-Nehisi Coates’ epic. Those are Nos. 1 and 2. The list goes on and on from there. Refill your drink before you settle in.

A bunch of Nieman Fellows (the Harvard competitor to the Michigan program I did) and high-profile journos pick their best-ofs. Some duplication with other lists, but lots of new stuff, too.

Another list, by Gawker writers. Not as bad as you’d expect. In fact, some good stuff here.

To Michigan football fans, Congratulations on the purchase of your new Harbaugh!

Finally, not a list, but a shortish piece by Charles Pierce on something we should all never forget, especially as it pertains to Steve Scalise, GOP majority whip.

With that, I wish you all the best possible 2015 and the best possible last year of 2014. I’m going to take a shower and go buy some salmon for dinner.

Posted at 10:32 am in Media, Same ol' same ol' | 77 Comments
 

Needled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crumpled wrapping paper.

And just like that, Christmas is in the rear-view. As always, I break the tape with a mixture of gratitude and relief. We front-load this holiday with so much bullshit we’re astonished when the day turns out well. And it did. I got a new pair of flannel-lined pants for cold-weather dog-walkin’. And some jewelry, the new George Clinton memoir, and a pair of shearling-lined flip-flops. (I plan to use the latter for collecting envious glances at yoga studios.)

And we all saw family. Which we don’t do often enough.

It was strange to visit Ohio and drive on the Buckeye state’s smooth, smooth roads. Michigan’s are now among the worst in the nation, and boy, do you notice it when you cross a border. The legislature has an answer to this — it’s been on the governor’s to-do list, and the electorate’s, forever. Their answer? Make the voters decide, and even the Republican editorial page in Detroit isn’t pleased. We’ll see how it goes.

I’ve spent the last few days trying to disengage a bit — reading ink-on-paper novels, staying offline for hours at a time, the usual. But I have a little bit of bloggage if you like it.

Laura Lippman’s father died a few days back, and her husband did a wonderful appreciation of his career on his own blog.

Childish fun, but fun just the same: The year’s best TV-news bloopers.

“Sperm diplomacy” — a charming detail of the Cuban negotiations.

More regular posting returns this week, but not before I follow Wendy’s example and take a few more naps.

sleepywendy

Posted at 9:13 pm in Same ol' same ol' | 59 Comments
 

The blur commences.

blighthouse

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

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

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

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

Posted at 1:09 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 162 Comments
 

Always look on the bright side.

Quite an evocative photo from my former workplace, which I stole from a friend’s Facebook page. Behold:

positive

Note: That is not the actual winner of the Positive Attitude Award. That is my friend Emma, who used to work there but doesn’t any longer. I’m told the actual winner of the Positive Attitude Award left the company before the year of primo parking was up, and got a better job. Outstanding.

There are two kinds of bosses in the world, I think: Those who think awards like this are a totally great idea and a swell motivator of the workforce, and all the rest. We could fill a shelf of books with stories of both, but mainly the first kind. I’m frankly amazed why so few sense the weird, Soviet vibe of such a designation, but Fort Wayne Newspapers always had a rich vein of that stuff running through it. So did Knight-Ridder, may it rest in pieces, which once rolled out a chain-wide initiative aimed at customer satisfaction. “We’re obsessed with it!” an editor wrote, suggesting he wasn’t entirely clear on the concept of obsession.

Anyway, it was all for naught. Budget cuts, more budget cuts, still more budget cuts, a sale, even more budget cuts and finally – the Positive Attitude Award. This is how American capitalism ends, folks.

Not that I am bitter!

So, I started a new book this weekend, an impulse buy on the Kindle: “400 Things Cops Know.” I remember picking up a similar book from a free pile years ago, with a similar title, and emerging from a blinking fog hours later. You can dive in and not surface, or just nibble at random, and it taught me a new bit of jargon: You know what you call a perp’s butt crack and/or rectum? A “prison wallet.” I’m sorry, it just makes me giggle.

Other things I learned today: The passing of Cat Fancy magazine tracks with the watershed in feline culture in recent years, from purebred fluffy Persians to internet cat culture of LOLcats and Caturday and Grumpy Cat and my favorite, Henri, le chat noir.

How was all y’all’s weekend? Bill Bonds died here, and as I’ve always said, the mourning over long-running TV personalities is not yours to indulge in when you’re a transplant to a city. I’m sure I already missed the passings of the various TV personalities of my youth. Luci of Luci’s Toyshop, Flippo the Clown, Bob Braun – all gone to the great beyond. But Bonds was special, or so they say. An early version of the Freep mentioned that his career was “derailed” by alcohol, true enough but a hell of a load to put in the first sentence of a man’s obit. He was on TV here for 30 years; surely there was more to him than a dapper drunk.

Hope everyone’s week will be stellar.

Posted at 8:20 pm in Media, Popculch, Same ol' same ol' | 66 Comments
 

Leftover turkey.

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

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

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

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

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

In the meantime, I offer you riches of bloggage:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You just don’t hear Li’l Kim much these days.

I’ve been absent a couple of days, yes. (Insert the usual excuses.) And I would have posted something last night, but I went out on a rare Tuesday night to see Doggy Style, which I guess you’d call a gay bar popup in an otherwise straight bar. It’s very informal; sometime after 9:15 you look around, and everyone’s a handsome man. The bar TV system switches to a mix of campy old videos, including a montage of Joan Collins-Linda Evans catfights from “Dynasty,” Vanity 6, Li’l Kim, the Scissors Sisters and miscellaneous Euro-popsters from the ’80s with Flock of Seagulls hairdos.

But it was a warm place on a cold night, so there it is. And I worked at home all day, so it was nice to get out.

Meanwhile, thanks to Roy, who for some reason tracks right-wing bloggers, for finding this National Review appreciation of Glen Larson, recently deceased creator of a lot of bad ’70s/’80s television, including “Quincy, ME.” (The ME stood for medical examiner, as we all know from watching CSI, right?)

The writer singles out “Next Stop Nowhere,” a landmark Quincy investigation into the dangers of punk rock. It’s amusing because I know someone whose parents dumped his punk records (“including a few 7-inches that are worth something now”) into the trash compactor after viewing this alarming episode. Today, it looks as ludicrous as it would have to most people who weren’t your parents back then. But the National Review, god bless ‘em, doubles down:

Made long after social causes of the week and Klugman’s penchant for soppy lecturing had begun to capsize the series, the fabled punk rock episode serves as an ironic touchstone for aging hipsters keen to remember when they were all scary and hilarious. On a fresh viewing, however, “Next Stop Nowhere” paints a fully true picture of punk rockers as they really were: deceitful social predators who wouldn’t think twice about framing you for murder and forcing you into a codeine overdose.

Forced into a codeine overdose! So that’s what really killed Sid and Nancy.

What kind of echo chamber do people live in to write this stuff?

Two inches of snow allegedly arriving today. I know that’s nothing to you guys in Buffalo, but here? It’s 18 degrees and I’m not looking forward to the solstice, still a month away.

A good day to all.

On edit: I can’t let today pass without noting it’s the 10-year anniversary of this hilarious event:

Alan had just accepted his job here, and we were preparing to move. We laughed maniacally over this event, and hoped our new home would always be this exciting. It hasn’t let us down yet. Detroit! This is why I love you! You’re never, ever boring.

Posted at 8:58 am in Popculch, Same ol' same ol' | 64 Comments
 

Snack time.

Visiting one’s child’s school can be so…educational:

vending

This was a vending machine inside Kate’s high school, which would appear to be one of the new, post-Michelle Obama and her TYRANNICAL RULES OF HEALTH machines. If I make the picture big enough, I can see there is no shortage of salty snicky-snacky things, although they mostly appear to be made of popcorn. Baked mac and cheese puffs? OK, whatever. Dried fruit. The sweets are covered by granola bars, which I’ve always thought of as cookies with texture. As for the drinks, if someone can explain the totalitarian nature of Gatorade to me, please do so.

We all know the right wing hates the Obamas, and they especially hate the Obamas eating all their fancy city foods, but this one has always baffled me. To hear some people talk, school-cafeteria food used to be wonderful, delectable food with, yes, maybe a touch too much cheese or sugar, but what’s the harm with growing bodies? Do any of these people have children? Have they looked at a school menu lately? Have they ever heard of mystery meat? Kate’s school in Ann Arbor used to feature cheese-filled breadsticks with garlic dipping sauce. As an entree. (I always attributed this to Domino’s being a hometown brand.) I once arrived at a school in Fort Wayne for the free breakfast, which was a sweet roll the size of a softball. That was the status quo before Mrs. Obama tried to improve things. This is what they’re defending.

There was a story in the paper about the cookies at Kate’s high school — how popular they were, how they can’t be served anymore during the school day, and that’s a shame. But I do not miss the cheese-filled breadsticks, and if a few kids learn that black beans and rice won’t kill them, I really don’t see what the problem is.

Do I have some bloggage? Eh. I’ve been thinking about elections for so long I don’t think I can think about anything else.

Can you? Please do.

Posted at 9:55 pm in Same ol' same ol' | 56 Comments
 

Counting it down.

Elections are a week away, and the day cannot come too soon. Between the Truth Squad and the public events and all the rest of it, it’s kinda like: Enough yakking, let’s light this candle. Although I will say, I’m usually impressed by the questions people ask at events like Issues & Ale and the Ballot Bash we did a few days back. I only wish the advertising that’s spewing from the firehose was a match for it.

I guess it could always be worse. Charlotte, tell us what you know about Matt Rosedale.

I think I’m recovering from my cold, but I’m still going to bed early. The rest of you, enjoy this outtake from Kate’s senior-picture session. The photographer, Bobby, has a soft spot for street dudes and they flocked to us that night. It was, to be fair, the night of the Tigers’ final loss and exit from the postseason. This was across the street from the ballpark, and though the game had been over for at least an hour or so by this point, the bums and drunks were thick on the sidewalks. This guy just had a sense of humor:

photobomb

Great lighting under that marquee, I will say that.

Have a good Tuesday, all.

Posted at 10:00 pm in Same ol' same ol' | 62 Comments
 

The inevitable.

As always, no matter how good you feel, you’re never going to feel that way forever. And so the entirely predictable fall event of a cold has descended upon my head, the reason for my enervating tiredness of late. I felt the first stirrings on a bike ride last Sunday, when every pedal revolution felt a little harder than it should have been. This was the day we got back from Stratford, so?

BLAME CANADA.

Although, it would seem, we are not blaming Canada for anything these days, but rather, celebrating their Parliament’s sergeant-at-arms for bringing down the terrorist who was bound and determined to shoot up the chamber on Wednesday. I assume he was wearing his ceremonial garb when he did it, prompting Josh Marshall to call him Lord High Badass of Canada, and I think that fits. If only he’d hit the guy with his ceremonial mace, too. Now that would retire the badass title for life.

So I’ve been laying low, taking care of myself, eating vegetables, but right now I’m thinking I’d like to do some damage on a pizza, just so I don’t have to cook. Alan’s off this week, and we’ve had our fill of family dinners, with and without Kate. She has a new job and is arriving home late for dinner the nights she works. The other night she texted and asked me to save her some chow. On a night when we had sausage, beans and kale? Not bloody likely. I think she made do with a PB&J, and counted her blessings.

So, is there bloggage? Oh yes there is.

Holy shit, is this ever excruciating: MarthaStewart.com advises you on how to throw a punk-rock party. Every paragraph is a groan-worthy gem, but I think this one takes the prize:

A full-on “nosh pit” is just what this punk party calls for. Offer a plate of Spinach Ricotta Skulls (a classically punk motif) alongside a bowl of Spinach, Bacon, and Onion Dip (for “noshing”). Lastly, mix a punch bowl of dark and delicious Spiced (and Spiked) Concord Grape Punch (sans vodka for the kids).

A nosh pit, get it? GET IT?

I have generally given up making fun of Mitch Albom here, but I took a second look at his Sunday column, a phoned-in argument against teen sexting, and realized his lede is so all-purpose it could serve for almost all of them. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

This will make me sound old, but I’m going to say it.

Really? I really think this is so perfect, we ought to just leave it at that.

For those of you worried about Coozledad, fear not! I spotted him in the comments over at Roy’s, and, y’know, he’s doing election work down in the Carolinas. He’ll be back.

So now I think I’m gonna take myself out for a gourmet grilled-cheese sandwich and tomato soup and wish you folks a good weekend. See you Monday, feeling better, I hope.

Posted at 6:30 pm in Same ol' same ol' | 36 Comments