Domesticated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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
 

Spring break: Havana.

This may be the single best tweet I saw yesterday as the news about the Cuban situation unfolded:

Of course this is great news. Our Cuban policy has been a disaster, kept in place by a tiny cadre of older Cubans in south Florida. It hasn’t worked on any level, except to cement Castro in place for decades and, of course, propagate itself. If you want Cuba to be free, expose them to the closest free nation where many members of Cuban families have settled. Besides, with money pouring into the place from Europe, and with Raul Castro in the same generation as his ailing brother, it’s only a matter of time before Cubans learn the joys of capitalism, American-style: Ruinous health-insurance premiums, minimum-wage jobs at Walmart and, of course, new parts for all of those old cars.

And the best part of it all? Exploding heads.

Of course now I’m sorry I didn’t go before. I remember telling Alan, when the Soviet Union was falling apart, “Cuba will be next, and we can go there for our honeymoon.” We’ve been married 21 years. Which is sort of the point, isn’t it?

Consolation prize for the exploding heads: Elian Gonzalez can come visit the Miami relatives.

So what else is going on? The terrorists finally win one, and it’s to torpedo a Seth Rogen movie. I know I should disapprove, and I do, but part of me wonders if we can make a similar arrangement for the next Adam Sandler project.

Thanks to Jolene for finding this:

So great. It was originally embedded in a Vanity Fair post, where the writer referred to it as a Motown hit. Sigh. Deep, deep sigh. Kids these days.

Posted at 7:56 pm in Current events | 113 Comments
 

Herd immunity.

One of Bridge’s content partners published a package on vaccination rates in Michigan last week. They are atrocious, in part because the state has one of the nation’s most lenient opt-out policies in the country. You don’t have to prove a religious or medical exemption, only philosophical. It’s as easy as signing a piece of paper, and many parents do.

What’s really surprising is where it’s happening. The more affluent the community, the more likely it is to have a higher-than-necessary opt-out for herd immunity to apply. Grosse Pointe is around 10 percent, similar communities ditto, but the jaw-dropper was Cranbrook. You political junkies may recall that’s where young Mitt Romney was educated. Nearly one-quarter of its kindergarteners are not fully vaccinated when they start school.

To be sure, the rate improves by sixth grade, suggesting many parents are following a more strung-out vaccine schedule, but still.

So it was on my mind when I read a story about a mumps outbreak in the National Hockey League, and reflected: This isn’t going to help.

Most of these players were vaccinated as children, but vaccines lose effectiveness over time:

A more complete explanation of hockey’s mumps conundrum involves something called waning immunity. Put simply, the vaccine loses strength over time. We know this because of some fascinating observational studies from the last major mumps outbreak.

In 2006, thousands of college kids in the Midwest became infected with mumps, despite the fact that most had received the vaccine. This phenomenon is called vaccine failure, and scientists divide it into two categories: primary and secondary. Primary vaccine failure occurs when the body doesn’t produce antibodies in response to the initial immunization, but this is relatively rare with the mumps vaccine. Secondary failure occurs when the body fails to maintain an adequate level of antibodies, despite having an initially strong response to the immunization. This is what we’re seeing in the NHL.

Back in 2006, researchers found that college students who came down with mumps had been immunized more than ten years earlier than roommates who didn’t contract the disease. A subsequent study confirmed this, revealing that protective antibodies were much lower in students who’d been vaccinated fifteen years earlier compared to students who’d been vaccinated just five years earlier. The takeaway here is that the mumps vaccine works, we just don’t know how long it works.

The anti-vaxxers will seize this information and use it to bolster their argument that vaccines don’t work, because see? Me, I’ll just take this as one more piece of evidence that no one trusts anyone anymore, and why would you? Ten years ago, I never would have believed my own government would set up shadowy offshore prisons where inmates were strung up and subjected to Black Sabbath music for days at a time. The sadder but wiser girl is me.

In other news at this hour, a member of the Michigan legislature slipped a bill into the lame-duck session to repeal the state’s no-fault divorce law. It won’t go anywhere, but as I expected, yes, it’s part of a national strategy:

In cooperation with the Family Research Council and the National Organization for Marriage, socially conservative politicians have been quietly trying to make it harder for couples to get divorced. In recent years, lawmakers in more than a dozen states have introduced bills imposing longer waiting periods before a divorce is granted, mandating counseling courses or limiting the reasonsa couple can formally split. States such as Arizona, Louisiana and Utah have already passed such laws, while others such as Oklahoma and Alabama are moving to do so.

The Michigan bill follows the template outlined in the story: No-fault is still available if you don’t have children, but if you do, the grounds are adultery, felony conviction, abandonment, etc. This, social conservatives believe, will help keep couples together, because no-fault divorce is “too easy.”

It so happens I know a number of people who’ve been through the no-fault divorce process, and even the amicable ones were hardly easy. The less-amicable ones were hell, and I can only imagine what they’d be like if one party was legally entitled to dig in his or her heels. When I see things like this, I wonder how many of these social conservatives are really divorce lawyers.

OK, gotta skedaddle. Happy Tuesday, all.

Posted at 8:33 am in Current events | 62 Comments
 

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
 

More unraveling.

Not that it matters so much anymore, but the Rolling Stone rape story is unraveling further. Slate picks apart the revelations, and comes to the money shot:

Here’s the most disturbing journalistic detail to emerge from the Post’s reporting: In the Rolling Stone story, Erdely says that she contacted Randall, but he declined to be interviewed, “citing his loyalty to his own frat.” Randall told the Post he was never contacted by Erdely and would have been happy to be interviewed.

That could mean one of two things: Jackie could have given Erdely fake contact information for Randall and then posed as Randall herself, sending the reporter that email in which he supposedly declined to participate in the story. Erdely also could have lied about trying to contact Randall. Rolling Stone might have hinted at this possibility in its “Note to Our Readers” when it referred to a “friend of Jackie’s (who we were told would not speak to Rolling Stone)” but later spoke to the Washington Post. That would take Erdely a big step beyond just being gullible and failing to check her facts, moving this piece in the direction of active wrongdoing.

I take no satisfaction from this, believe me. This has moved from making rape victims look bad to making journalists look even worse. I simply don’t understand how anyone with a shred of skepticism could swallow that story.

However, the day also provided this delightful bit of reading material, at least for film fans and devotees of “Boogie Nights” — an oral history of the very same film. I’m only partway through, and have already learned that Sean Penn was in consideration for the Alfred Molina role. I hope it’s a testament to how well the film worked that I can’t imagine his craggy old face yelling, “Come on, you puppies!” Loved that movie.

Posted at 9:10 am in Media, Movies | 55 Comments
 

Us at our worst.

Good lord, but the torture report is ghastly. I try not to take these things personally, but the details of what was done in the name of this country is truly sickening – sick being the point when I read about how we pumped hummus up a man’s ass.

I don’t know what the blowback will be overseas on this; in large part, it’s things we already knew, or suspected. But a subtler sort of corrosiveness will be inevitable.

Or, to put it another way, this would be an excellent day to stay away from the comments sections. All of them. (Except this one.)

I have to duck out today, for the usual reasons. You might enjoy this amusing story about how a Brooklyn art-scene fixture has had enough of Brooklyn and its ridiculous rents, and is relocating to? This place, bitches.

Posted at 8:47 pm in Current events | 45 Comments