Thank you, Shinola

What brand of merchandise wouldn’t want a shout out at the Academy Awards?

“Shinola watches! Unbelievable! They’re saving Detroit!” said “Green Book” director Peter Farrelly as he pointed at his wrist while accepting the award for best original screenplay.

Detroit Free Press

But the reaction of most Detroiters (in our best Deh-twah accent) is
au con·traire . My favorite is from our new Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib.

The marketing department swung into action threading this PR needle.

I would never pay $500 for a watch. When I need to know the time I look at my phone. But I know a number of people who wear Shinola as a proud pro Detroit statement. But many others bristle at appropriated “made in Detroit” cred. Detroit’s Storyteller, Aaron Foley captured the ambiguity in a 2014 article for Forbs Magazine

But it was the “Made in Detroit” ethos Detroiters began to hone in on next. Is it genuine, or co-opting a city narrative to sell a product?
Okay, so, maybe the potatoes shredded up at the Better Made plant might not have been grown here, but Better Made earned its stripes to call their chips a Detroit original. Those respects have been nonexistent with Shinola, as people began to pick apart the little things. The boxes for the watches are made in Minnesota. The parts for the bicycles are made in Wisconsin. The company has a $14.5 million flagship store in New York City! — say it like an incredulous cowboy in one of those old Pace salsa commercials. But what about the tinier Detroit storefront?

It was likewise not lost on many that this declaration of our so called corporate savior came from the director of the “Green Book” another movie about a white savior rescuing a Black man. I also had to chuckle at one of Spike Lee’s comments.

Every time somebody’s driving somebody, I lose.

Was the Green Book better than Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman, Bohemian Rhapsody and The Favourite. As Rashida would probably have said it, “No F*****g Way!”

What Were They Thinking?

I was sharing an older post from this Blog with a friend when I realized I haven’t written anything here since last November. Lack of inspiration? More like lack of simple discipline. Throughout my life I’ve been quite good in practicing the gentle art of procrastination. I’ve stumbled upon this observation by Oliver Burkeman.

Who says you need to wait until you ‘feel like’ doing something in order to start doing it? The problem, from this perspective, isn’t that you don’t feel motivated; it’s that you imagine you need to feel motivated. If you can regard your thoughts and emotions about whatever you’re procrastinating on as passing weather, you’ll realise that your reluctance about working isn’t something that needs to be eradicated or transformed into positivity. You can coexist with it. You can note the procrastinatory feelings and act anyway.”

Indeed. Most prolific artists, writers, and innovators are successful because they have work routines that force them to put in a certain number of hours a day, no matter how uninspired. Burkeman pointed out an observation of the renowned artist Chuck Close; “inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work”

In addition to procrastination I’ve been thinking about self destructive behavior. Any young actor come to mind? What was Jussie Smollett thinking?

One of the podcasts I enjoy is “Stay Tuned With Preet. Preet
Bharara is the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York who Trump famously sacked after saying he was keeping him on the job. Bharara was asked why Paul Manafort would enter into a plea deal and then harm himself so badly by violating its terms? He observed in all of the prosecutions he’s been involved in that’s often an ongoing mystery. Why do Billionaires commit crimes for another million? Why do celebrity movie stars shoplift?

That made me think of Alfred Taubman the billionaire mall developer who was convicted of price fixing and served jail time when he was Chairman of the art auction house Sotheby’s. It’s estimated that Jussie was paid $125,000 for each episode of Empire. I guess it just wasn’t enough.

We are suppose to get a cyclone bomb. Winds as high as 50 miles per hour with anticipated power outages. Went food shopping today and I’m charging my devices and my charger and laying out batteries for my electric lantern. Local television loves to sensationalize the weather. Let’s see if it lives up to its hype.

P.S. From time to time we all do things that causes us to ask “What Was I Thinking?” For 30 years my favorite singer songwriter, Christine Lavin has been writing and rewriting a signature song “What Was I thinking”. Here’s the 2015 version regarding Kim Davis. If you have three more minutes give it a listen. If you like it then buy it.

The Black Dog

“A light seen suddenly in the storm, snow
Coming from all sides, like flakes
Of sleep, and myself
On the road to the dark barn,
Halfway there, a black dog near me.”

– Robert Bly, from “Melancholia” in The Light Around the Body (1967)

Winston Churchill is credited with coining the term Black Dog as a metaphor for Depression.  When is appears it sits on your lap and follows you wherever you go.  Ain’t that the truth.

I’m visited by the Black Dog a couple of times a year.  It’s starts like the far off fire engine siren.  Faint at first. Gradually louder.  It hits the top of the crescendo as it passes by.  Then it just as gradually fades into the distance.

The Black Dog appeared last week.  I can put on a game face at the beginning and the end.   But during its apex I prefer to simply stay home.  I was a no-show for a medical test, the annual meeting of a the Michigan Opera Theater’s Board of Directors and choir practice.   I also cancelled a party I was hosting with fellow filmmakers to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the only know political zombie film, The Cemetery Precincts.  Give it a look.  It’s only 9.5 minutes long and even has a Hillary Clinton joke.

In composing the party’s cancelation notice I tried to come up with a credible excuse.  Then it occured to me if I didn’t tell them the truth I would be joining those who stigmatize depression and all mental health challenges.  And now I’m telling you.

What does depression feel like?  Google it and you will see that people experience depression in a lot of different ways.  For me it’s a consuming sadness.  The phrase “Oh what’s the use” or something similar is on a repetitive loop in my head.  I’m fortunate that the Black Dog rarely stays for more than a week.

One of my favorite podcasters is “Waking Up” author Sam Harris.  Last week’s episode was titled “Addiction, Depression, and a Meaningful Life“.  It was a welcome listen while I was behind closed door.  One takeaway is that being with other people engaged in meaningful activities is as effective in fighting the symptoms of depression as any available drugs.

The holidays can be a difficult time for people prone to depression.  If you find yourself getting depressed don’t hide it or deny it.  Seek out friends or family members.  You are not weak or crazy.  Professional help is available if it won’t go away.

Likewise, let’s be conscious of and available to people in our life with depression.  Don’t tell them to “snap out of it” or the “man up”.  Sometimes misguided attempts to be helpful can make a person feel bad about feeling bad.  Be sympathetic and assuring.  Invite them to join you and others for dinner, a trip to the movies or some other social activity.  Here’s a nifty cartoon called I Had a Black Dog, His Name Was Depression

I try and make an effort to practice gratitude everyday.  I guess that’s what Thanksgiving is all about.  I appreciate everyone’s understanding and wish you all a very happy holiday.

78,840,000 Minutes-How Do You Measure 150 Years?

Graduates of Wayne State University aren’t usually the rah-rah type of alumni.  I’ve never seen a Wayne State flag flying from anyone’s porch.  And it’s not that we haven’t had any NCAA Division I Champions.  It’s just that Fencing doesn’t generate the same passions as that of Football and Basketball.

Wayne has traditionally been a commuter school.  Most of the students pay their own way which means they are working while earning degrees.  That was my experience.  At commencement the temptation is to think – I got this degree in spite of you, Wayne State – not because of you.

That’s changing.

Last Friday I was invited to participate in a gala ceremony in which Wayne State closed out it’s observance of it’s sesquicentennial.  That’s 150 years.  While it’s true that the Detroit Medical College was established in 1868 some purists believe the University didn’t really begin until 1917 when Detroit School Superintendent David Mackenzie founded the Detroit Junior College in the former Central High School Building now know as Old Main.  The Detroit Medical College became part of the university later.  The argument goes; “Imagine that your grandparents came to this country from Italy in 1920.  But then your brother married someone who’s ancestors came on the Mayflower.  Would you start saying your family came over on the Mayflower?”  Older is better, I guess.

I’m certainly not saying I don’t have fond memories of Wayne State.  I attended Monteith College which was a much smaller College within the University much like James Madison on the Michigan State University Campus.  Monteith’s theory was that there is a body of knowledge that every educated person should possess regardless of your major or specialization.  Our first two years consisted of many required courses in social science, natural science and humanities.   They were taught in college wide lectures followed up with small discussion sections.  We had the best of both worlds.  A small college community on a large University campus.

I was also able to extend my formal affiliation with Wayne from four years to twenty.  After graduation I was elected to the University’s Board of Governors and served two eight year terms.

Which is why I was invited to the gala on Wayne’s Campus last Friday.  From time to time the Governors Emeriti  are invited to sit on the stage for events and serve the same decorative purpose as the potted plants.  But I usually accept these invitations.  It’s nice to stay in touch.

I was moved by the photos and personal histories of students and facility.  I was the first in my family to go to college – and higher education would not have been accessible if not for Wayne State University.  That’s the case with hundreds of thousands of others over the past 150 years.

I also discovered Wayne State now has it’s own hand signal.

Go Wayne State Warriors!

The Passion of Dana Nessel

We Will Make History if We Keep Our Eyes on the Prize.

Dana Nessel is running for Attorney General and not for CEO of some corporation.  The stories that float up in the media and that are hyped by her opponents and organizations opposing her about staff turnover in her campaign are nothing more than a distraction.  And it’s a distraction we should ignore between now and the election

Dana is a very passionate trial lawyer. If it was your rights, property or maybe your freedom at risk in a courtroom isn’t that exactly what you’d want, even expect from your lawyer.  We call them “Advocates” after all. It’s no wonder that her Republican opponent is refusing to debate her.  Hell, I’d refuse to debate her.  She’d have him for lunch.  And he’d have to defend some indefensible things like taking contributions from hate groups.

Aren’t those the very qualities we want in the People’s Attorney?

In an attack ad Michigan Republicans attempted to smear Dana because the law firm she was associated with provided legal representation to unpopular and controversial clients.  The “Truth Squad” at Bridge Magazine had this to say about the ad

Misleading images and a blatant disregard for the role of defense attorneys earn the ad a rating of foul

When it comes to standing up for civil rights, protecting the environment, safeguarding senior citizens, or protecting consumer rights Dana is the clear and obvious choice.

The candidates will soon be making their “closing arguments”.  Dana’s will be clear, forceful and, yes, passionate.  Let’s listen and ignore the distractions.

Here’s a new ad.  If you’d like to see on the airways consider making a contribution.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

I bet you thought this is going to be about a movie.  It’s not.

My dear friend Amir Brown recently posted this to Facebook.

Was driving down seven Mile and saw a guy passed out in a flower bed. Looked like someone was talking to him but then they walked away and he was still laying there so I turned around.
Pulled up and the guy roused himself enough to give me his name (Alex) and his father’s phone number. Called the dad to tell him where his son was and then called an ambulance.
While waiting l, Alex made his way over and passed out by my car.
Fire and EMS arrive and we all try to figure out where the wasted white guy in flip flops came from.
Turns out there is a rehab facility down the street.
I called his dad back to tell him they were taking his son to Detroit Receiving Hospital. We had a brief conversation about Alex being in his tenth year of severe alcoholism and how he had just bolted from the rehab center after his dad brought him some cigarettes and money for essentials.
I told him that my family had been through this too and that all we can do is hope that Alex pulls it together before he faces more severe consequences. My uncle lost both his legs and eventually his life because of alcoholism.
I was struck by how sad and resigned his father sounded. How bereft.
Addiction is a hell of a thing.
I hope Alex gets the care he needs.

Coincidentally, a few weeks ago in a some moments of self-reflection I was revisiting the parable of the Good Samaritan.

I realized that at times I’ve been all of the characters from that story except the robbers.

I’ve certainly been the smart-ass lawyer who tries to trick Jesus with the question; “Who is my Neighbor?” I’ve also been the two guys too busy with their own concerns to stop and help.  I’ve experienced being the guy in need.  Last summer during recovery from shoulder surgery I was dependent on the kindness of friends and family because I could not drive for eight weeks.  I learned gratitude and humility.  Gratitude I’m pretty good at.  Humility, not so much.

Not often, but from time to time I’ve been able to be the Samaritan.

Hey Amir, thanks for reminding us who are our neighbors and our duty to be the Samaritans.


Tipping Point?

As the week of the semi-treasonous news conference comes to an end many wonder “is this the tipping point?”  I afraid that’s wishful thinking.  But there has been some hopeful reporting, from of all places – Wired Magazine.

I read Wired from time to time but never for its political content.  That’s changed.  In the article “What Robert Mueller Knows and Nine Areas He’ll Pursue Next” Garrett M. Graff takes a very deep dive exploring the likely sources of trouble for Trump.  He begins with a shout out to Deputy Attorney General Rob Rothstein.

Why would anyone put up with the abuse, vitriol, and daily haranguing from the president’s Twitter account that Rosenstein has endured? Why would Rosenstein seemingly set precedents that undermine the core principles of the Justice Department, an institution that he’s devoted nearly his entire career to serving?

I have a simple theory: In a world of hedgehogs and foxes, Rosenstein today is the ultimate hedgehog.

Rosenstein knows one very big, monumental, history-shaping thing—how Trump’s presidency will end—and he’s wagered that if he can hang on long enough, justice will be done and the good guys, in his eyes, will win. His early actions, around Comey’s firing, will be vindicated by history when seen by the light of his bravery and personal sacrifice and refusal to be bullied into quitting, a move that would almost surely lead to Mueller’s investigation being shut down or circumscribed by whichever Trump appointee takes over supervising it next.

If you play inside political baseball give this article the time it requires.

The Obama Bros of Pod Save America help keep me sane in these times.  Dan Pfeffer observes that though some Republican Senators are finding their voices talk is cheap.  With John McCain on the sidelines the the split is 50-49.  It would only take one Republican to do some serious shit

Subpoena the interpreter in the room?  Now that would be something.

Any of it likely to happen? Naw!

Pfeiffer’s book “Yes we (Still) Can” is on it’s way from Amazon.  I got the hard cover.

Bring on the weekend and savor summer while it’s here.


Stay Off Of My Lawn

I’m a little sad that summer is half over.  I’ve not really done any summer things.  I’m not very good with outdoor chores.  My front lawn shows it as it begins to turn an unpleasant shade of brown.  But I’m smart and I know how to use the internet so I’m on a mission to save it.

The obvious first thing is more water.  There is no in ground sprinkler system so I’ve begun to use an ancient back and forth sprinkler that came with this house.  It squirts but not well.  Looking for something new and first item on a “Ten Best” site for lawn sprinklers is this baby.

It’s the Orbit 6210 Yard Enforcer with day and night motion detection.  Motion detection?   “It sprays and deters unwanted animals without wasting water or energy.”  Yes but it will also spray and deter the neighborhood kids who play ball in the street in front of my house.  I remember “that guy” in the neighborhood I grew up in.  Actually it was an older woman, Mrs. Kramer.  She sat on her porch all day.  God forbid your bike should vere toward the edge of her grass.  Once I actually fell off of my bike onto her grass.  She didn’t say “Are you okay?” It was “Hey you, get off of my grass”.  I’ll give the Orbit 6210 a pass.

Do you listen to the Will Shorts puzzles on NPR’s weekend edition Sunday?  When they are word puzzles that are solved knowing the meaning of words I’m pretty good.  But it it’s an anagrams or crossword I suck.  I’ve never learned to spell.  This week’s challenge is something like this; think of a famous resident of Chicago with the first name of Al.  Substitute the “e” in the last name with an “i” and you get a famous actor also named Al.

For the first time in my life I solved it immediately.  It must be too easy.  How long did it take you?

The world is trying to make sense of the Helski press conference in which Trump sided with the President of Russia instead of our Intelligence community.  People seem much more comfortable with the words “traitor” and “treason”.  Is this a Tipping Point?  I doubt it.

Enjoy hump day.  I’m going to do something summery. 

What Planet Are We On?

Because I can buy and sell stocks and bonds for my clients on my desktop computer I’m required to have a very strong password and I’m required to change it every ninety days.  My memory being what it is requires a mnemonic system for choosing passwords.  So three different characters in the beginning,  four different numbers at the end and a variable word in the middle.  For the first 21 months I used the seven dwarfs.  !@#Dopey1234 is considered a very strong  password and one that I can remember.  When I ran out of the Dwarfs I switched to planets starting with Mercury and moving outward.

The other day I sat down and stared at my computer. I had to ask myself the somewhat cosmic question; What planet am I on?

The past 16 days have been surreal.  My Mother uncharacteristically called my sister complaining of the worst headache ever.  At 87 she was living independently, driving and involved in social activities in the neighborhood.  Her usual response to hardship of any kind is stubborn stoicism.  The CAT scan revealed three brain aneurysms.

She was moved to the larger hospital in Flint.  We were informed that she was a candidate for the non-invasive surgery known as  Neurointerventionalist/neurosurgery.

Depending on the aneurysm’s size, location and shape, it may be treatable from inside the blood vessel. This minimally invasive procedure is similar to the cerebral angiogram. However, in addition to taking pictures, a catheter is directed through the blood vessels into the aneurysm itself. Then, using X-ray guidance, the endovascular surgeon carefully places soft platinum micro-coils into the aneurysm and detaches them. The coils stay within the aneurysm and act as a mechanical barrier to blood flow, thus sealing it off.

The surgeon was able to treat two of the three aneurysms.  The untreated one had not ruptured.

We never were able to have a complete or coherent conversation with Mom thereafter.  She breathed with assistance from a respirator through a tube in her throat.  She answered yes and no questions with nods.  She specifically asked for my Sister in law, Peggy who is a nurse anesthetist.  Peggy leaned in and explained in detail where she was, what had happened and how she was being treated.

Consultations with the doctors over the next few days were wildly inconsistent.  She would make a complete recovery, she wasn’t “out of the woods” yet, we have to wait and see.  We watched her condition deteriorate over the next nine days and knew that the third untreated aneurysm was likely a ticking time bomb.

We came to a unanimous conclusion; time to stop all active treatment.

On June 29 the respirator was removed.  When we came into the room Peggy went to the ICU monitor and started pressing buttons.  “Are you allow to touch that?” I asked.  “I’m turning off the alarms.  We don’t need to hear this thing beeping when any of her vitals go above or below normal.”  We held Mom’s hand, we stroked her forehead and said encouraging, grateful and loving words.  After about ninety minutes she took her last breath.

My take-aways

  • Pick the right Siblings and In-laws.  Mom had six children. We stayed in constant touch with each other and never disagreed.  I know many stories where this was not the case.  This experience has brought us much closer.
  • Have an advance directive in which you designate a Patient Advocate.  You’ve heard me say this before.
  • Talk to your loved ones about your end of life preferences.  When I gave the news to my son I was able to say, “This is exactly what Grandma wanted and, listen closely, this is exactly what I want when the time comes”.
  • Consult with the Doctors but really listen to the Nurses.  The Doctors see their patients for 10 minutes.  The Nurses are with them day and night.

We respected Mom’s instructions not to plan a funeral or memorial service.  On Monday I went back to work.  I shared the news on Social Media from which there came an out- pouring of consolation, support and love.  Five days later I celebrated a birthday and my Facebook page blew up with thoughtful expressions of kindness.

My mother’s legacy includes 10 grandchildren and 9 great grandchildren.  She loved large and was loved in return.



How Much Wood Could a Woodchuck Chuck…

Last Friday I participated in a Frolic.   I’ve thought of frolicking as playful behavior or some kind of fun activity.  But our friends in the Amish community are much more purposeful in their frolicking.

‘Frolic’ describes a social/work event that takes place from time to time in Amish communities.  Neighbor men and boys get together to pitch in for a few hours on a work project.

Think of the barn raising scene in the movie “Witness” with Harrison Ford.

Our frolic took place at Gesu Community Green – a children’s playground that members of my church built a number of years ago on vacant property across the street from our parish school.  Winter takes a toll on the wood chips that soften the ground around the swings, slide and other things that kids climb on and inevitably fall from.  We arrived at the park at about 5:00 p.m. where a mountain of 100 cubic yards of wood chips had been delivered.  Our job – instillation.

At it’s peak I’d estimate we had 50 volunteers of all variety of men women and children.

A convoy of wheel barrows were assembled, filled with wood chips, dispatched around the park, dumped and raked.  My job was simple – dig.  I worked next to a couple of guys from the school’s Dad’s Club filling the wheel barrows and, of course, was determined to keep pace with them shovel for shovel.  But after about two hours my back said to me “you know those Dad’s Club guys are thirty years younger than you”.  I wandered over to the water station and had a leisurely chat with our Pastor Fr. Peter Etzel, S.J. who was happy to give me dispensation.

None of this would have happened without the determined (some say stubborn) leadership of Anita Sevier.

Trained in Urban Planning at Columbia University she was the catalyst in the effort to rescue the vacant property and turn it into a family friendly community space.  She was the field marshal directing everyone to make sure the park was ready for summer.

I like the Amish idea of a frolic.  A purposeful social activity that brings people together with a tangible result.  We are often admonished to leave the planet in better shape than we found it.  Anita has shown us that this is literally possible.  It was nice to be a small part of this effort.

…and I was reminded of the Mother Goose poem

How much wood could a woodchuck chuck
If a woodchuck could chuck wood?
As much wood as a woodchuck could chuck,
If a woodchuck could chuck wood.
Believe it or not, one scientist has actually answered this question.