Monday, November 30, 2009

The Curious Case of Cobo

Lucked upon this article over the weekend in The Free Press (I'm not sure how I would possibly have anything to write about without this fine publication combining freedom and presses). The piece focuses on what, specifically, should happen to Cobo Hall with the planned $280 million dollar expansion. I found it particularly interesting because for some reason I always assumed that this expansion would include "bigger, grayer, with an extra dose of even more dreariness and a slightly bigger opportunity to rip on Cobo."'

I imagine most of the money will be used on some of the critical updates like trying to keep the rain from falling inside of the building. That is always a good goal with a building and one that Cobo has failed at over the past few years. It also wouldn't be a bad idea to do away with the carpet on the main floor of the building. I don't really need a whole bunch of patterned squares, each reminding me that I'm in COBO.

Some of the ideas mentioned in the article along with some of the corresponding mock-ups do seem like pretty fantastic variations of the most auto show-holdingest convention center in the land. The included pictures of the Boston, New York, and San Diego centers go quite a long way to really help me understand the opportunities that exist if we could get Cobo Hall right, or even closer to right. The article also mentions that the building is on the Riverfront, and yet does nothing to take advantage of this prime water frontage. There is so much that I assumed about this location, this building, and Detroit's general inability to make a legitimate splash, I completely closed my mind to some of the prospects that could make for a very cool building and another foundational block on which to slowly rebuild the prime areas of the city.

This post isn't intended to be funny or even all that clever. I just find it amazing that two days after reading ideas about Cobo, I'm still surprised by how my limited mind was not even capable of conceiving of something different for Detroit. What I'm saying is that even I am surprised by how short-sighted I can be.

Friday, November 27, 2009

3 Thanksgivings

Do you remember that movie from last year where those two Hollywood actors had their Christmas vacation flight canceled and they had to go to celebrate FOUR WHOLE CHRISTMASES? That's OK, no one saw or remembers it but it does exist. What an insane premise. How did those two Hollywood actors survive FOUR WHOLE CHRISTMASES?

This Thanksgiving marked our first holiday as a married couple and we hit the dinner-littered road with enthusiasm and excitement. This first married Thanksgiving consisted of three gigantic meals that began and finished over the course of 6 hours, and three sides of the extended family. The food hasn't yet started to work its way out of my system, but I coordinated my Google Calendar with Maureen and I have the majority of tomorrow blocked off just in case. I'm pretty sure that the rest of my life is going to be like the movie Four Christmases Minus One except Maureen will not be married to Vince Vaughn and the people at the family gatherings will actually be funny and interesting. We are very lucky to have family with whom we actually like to and look forward to spending time. I am really not a fan of "Things I'm Thankful for" declarations on and around the Thanksgiving time of year, but I must this year be the most traditional and cliche of all to again reflect on how grateful and undeserving I feel to have an old family I love and a new family I love. We are also fortunate that most of these people either live relatively nearby in Michigan or make the effort to return home for the holidays. The multiple meals and family events also gave us the opportunity to take in a pretty good portion of southeast Michigan, as our route is roughly outlined below (with names and addresses changed slightly to protect the innocent so that no one actually has to admit that they know me or spend the holidays with me). Here's to a long life of family, friends, and at least three holiday meals per holiday.

View Larger Map

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Return of My Pet Peeve

For as long as man as spent time in the great outdoors, idiots have refused to quarantine their domesticated dogs. The explanation for this is simple and with no nuance - these people are idiots and most of them should be maimed by other dogs on the loose.

Today on my neighborhood walk I was charged by no less than three dogs who were outside of their homes with minimal supervision and attached to no type of dog-holding rope-like device. Fortunately the sum total of the weight of these dogs was roughly equivalent to my left leg, but that does not mean that any one of these dogs did not have the capability to puncture one or both of my testicles. And I need those.

My mother, sister, and I have been charged by dogs a sum total of probably 150+ times over the last 5 years, and every single time the dog owner is near the charging dog they say the exact same god damn thing "my dog has never done that before. Oh I'm so surprised." Every single god damn person. My sister was mauled by her own puppy when she lifted it up to protect it from a rottweiler that was attacking her and her dog. My parents have one super dummy neighbor who I'm pretty sure does not read my blog who had a dog killed by a car because the dog ran into the street and the man refused to leash his dog, and this dummy still does not leash his dogs and they continue to run into the street after us whenever we pass by on a walk or run. It is devastating to lose a pet, and equally devastating to kill someone else's pet because they are too freaking stubborn to leash their god damn dogs. The reason this is so maddening is because I am not exaggerating when I say that every single person reacts the exact same way and says the exact same things when they realize that their dogs are not actually humans and do not behave with rational thought. Add that on to the fact that three dogs tried to beat me up today and it makes for a frustrating reminder of why I sometimes hate people so very much.

My message is simple - your dogs are not as smart, trained, or controlled as you think; therefore, LEASH YOUR GOD DAMN DOG YOU ASSHOLES.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fine By Me

After people, pets, and TV, nothing is more important to me than dessert. As far as dessert goes, my hierarchy (why I may have written about before) goes:

ice cream > cake > cookies > brownies > cupcakes (a lesser version of cake) > donuts > cheesecake > sweet breads > puddings (including bread pudding) > souffles > fruit > pies > tarts > anything savory you dare try to serve me for dessert

I call this my controversial "almost everything is better than pie and tarts" theory of dessert, wherein I enjoy most all kinds of dessert more than pie and tarts. It's self-explanatory, sure. If you are lucky enough to have me over for a dinner party, don't think I will shun whatever pie or tart you put before me for dessert (though I will spit up on you if you try to give me something savory), it's just that almost everything is better than pies and tarts.

That is why I am not very concerned about this - America is about to undergo the most serious canned pumpkin shortage since America started canning pumpkin. The article says that markets are well stocked with pumpkin right now, but if this is of concern to you, FOR GOD SAKE MAN GO BUY PUMPKIN! The one area that this is of more significant concern is for this recipe. It's like what pumpkin pie should taste like if it wasn't originally invented by people with no tongues and appreciation for dessert. The upside to this recipe is that if pumpkin is unavailable, you could do peanut butter, chocolate, and pineapple - all of which have been greatly enjoyed by my family at one time or another. Another reason I'm not overly concerned about canned pumpkin shortage? Here is my pie hierarchy:

Pecan > Boston Creme > Blueberry > Oreo > Apple > Chocolate Creme > Key Lime > Cherry > Peach > Lemon Meringue > Banana Creme > Coconut Creme > Sweet Potato > Pumpkin > Rhubarb > Mince Meat (chicken pot pie rules all but does not count in this comparison)

The only way to convince me I'm wrong is to make and serve me the pie of your choosing. Go ahead, I dare you.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ever so modest Improvement

For this first time as long as I have been alive (untrue), Michigan's unemployment rate fell between September and October from 15.3% to 15.1%. That's the kind of massive improvement we can all get behind!

In other news that is still bad but slightly better than you originally thought:

The Detroit Lions, worst team ever, have a legitimate chance to defeat the Cleveland Browns but will still probably lose.

The city of Pontiac finally has the Silverdome likely off of its books, but at the fire sale price of around $500K. I did not know that I could have been a legitimate bidder for the Silverdome. Why did no one tell me? Can you imagine the kind of things someone could do with an arena this massive at the age of 27? You got it, laser tag.

Michigan football will probably have several scholarships removed and remain impotent in collegiate football for years, but it's OK because Rich Rod quickly filed the missing practice logs.

Kwame Kilpatrick remains the worst person ever born but may be forced to pay his restitution to the city. I hate you Kwame. Hate is when you actually wish damage and suffering upon a person, and I can say that I legitimately wish damage and suffering upon Kwame; therefore, I hate him.

GM is almost certainly still going to move many of its employees out of the RenCen (boooo) but will probably retain a "significant" presence in the building thanks to the almighty tax credit.

The Tigers suffered one of the worst collapses in baseball history this year but will freeze ticket prices for 2010, so you still won't be able to afford to go to a game but next year you won't unafford it any more than this year.

Your mother left not because of you, but because it turned out she was a lesbian.

Your mother's new girlfriend left your mother for your dad because it turned out she was a heterosexual.

I don't know if my concept held throughout the post, but it's close and I don't care. I'm going out to celebrate a 0.2% employment improvement.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

MSC and U of M

Or Mary Sue Coleman, as those of us who are close buddies call her (close buddies referring to people who have never been closer than sitting somewhere in the Big House during commencement) was named the 3rd best university president in Los Estados Unidos. I apologize that I have become somewhat list focused over the past few months. What makes the matter even worse is that they're not even lists that I'm inventing. It's more like I'm list-reference intensive of late. Is it a sign of laziness or lack of creativity? I would like to think not, it's just that I have come across lots and lots of Michigan-related lists over the past couple months.

The write up of MSC focuses on her fund raising prowess, specifically her leadership in guiding and mostly finishing a massive fund raising campaign for U of M prior to the economic crisis in Michigan and the rest of the states. Mary Sue and company raised approximately $3.2B to fund university activities between 2000 and 2008. That's a lot of cashola (that looks like another inappropriate word) and an impressive feat to be sure, so maybe she deserves her very high ranking in the world of university presidents (painfully, the guy from Ohio State was declared #1).

The one thing that kind of bugs me near the end of the article is this quote:

Coleman also wants to help prop up nearby Detroit, where the school has just launched a "semester abroad" for students. "We have a responsibility," she says, "to use our strengths and our economic muscle to help with Detroit's recovery and resurgence."

This, too, is a good sentiment, but from my experiences at U of M, it really feels like too little, maybe too late. Feel free to disagree with me on this subject and I would like to hear your thoughts if you do, but I can only speak from my own experiences and feelings on this subject. Michigan was a great school and I will forever fondly remember my experiences there, but it always seemed like U of M collectively felt better, separated, and above the rest of the state and Detroit in particular. Sure, the school would annually sponsor some sort of "Project: Detroit" day where people would go and paint depressing walls in Detroit with less depressing colors, but aside from individually or other group-motivated service projects, U of M stood alone in the economically and socially isolated pseudo utopia of Ann Arbor.

There are likely many reasons for this - Michigan has a very broad national and international draw beyond some of the other state schools so students from elsewhere go back to elsewhere when they are done, local students who go to Michigan seem to have more wanderlust than other local students (again, my feeling) and therefore care less about the long-term viability of Michigan and Detroit, or people in and around Ann Arbor believe that Ann Arbor can remain infinitely successful independent of what is happening around them. That's the joy of the university economic system, right? To get a good job, people have to get college degrees, so colleges can, in lock step, continue to increase their tuition, and students have no choice but to pay whatever is required for their education. Universities can continue to grow and fund research because students have to keep paying and paying and paying, and university towns can theoretically flourish indefinitely, so who cares about the neighbors?

In all of the time I spent in and around the various Michigan campuses, I heard many speeches about social responsibility, but I never felt like the University of Michigan felt like it was part of the state of Michigan and had any responsibility to the well-being of its home state. There were no "we give you a scholarship, you try to find a job here or pay us back" programs, though I do know several people who had their educations paid for by the state or the University and felt no obligation to even consider sticking around. Much of this is on the individuals, but the University has an obligation to at least try to make a case. I also would disagree with the argument "well, look at the local job market. Why would anyone agree to look for a job here." Right now, sure, but there was a time not very long ago when Michigan had the lowest unemployment rate in the nation and was top 10 in average personal income. If some of the brains had stuck around or even been encouraged to stick around, just maybe efforts would have already been in place to moderate the bad times before the bad times were upon us; intelligent people working on creating new businesses, industries, whatever creates and maintains jobs.

Maybe I'm wrong and U of M has always cared deeply about Detroit and Michigan, or maybe now U of M realizes the error of insufficient local concern and will use its intellectual and financial muscle to craft a new future. Maybe (somewhat) publicly funded universities have no responsibility to the public funding them and my entire thinking here is out of whack. It seems that Mary Sue agrees, now, that U of M does have a broader responsibility, but it is upsetting that historically, one place that I love seemed to care so little about another place that I love.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

It's Happening and I'm Missing It

Big news, fans of crappy television. A collection of stars from Days of Our Lives are spending a part of this week in the greater Detroit area. Part of the week is for charity, and part of the week (Friday and Saturday) there is some sort of talent competition to get a part on the soap. This part is likely even less than a walk-on role, but I am crushed that I was not made aware of this earlier so that I could have better planned my life around participating in the talent competition. The number of talents that I have is genuinely amazing. I did it all in grade school - 3 weeks of yo-yo here, 2 months of magic there, pogs for a few seconds, a dalliance with juggling, an enduring appreciation for the piano and saxophone, and an encyclopedic knowledge of television.

In the past, I have made no secret of my appreciation for Days. I know that it is terrible, and yet I have seen at least 95% of the episodes over the last four years. In today's new media economy, it is increasingly difficult for soaps to make a profit for their networks so I may have to soon face the devastating day where Days of Our Lives is yanked from the air.

Instead of waiting in line to participate in the contest to earn a role in this great show, I'll be going to the stupid Bruce Springsteen concert followed up by the terrible open-bar auction for my Time Magazine featured high school. The only upside to this is that when I won the contest and the role, I would most certainly be elevated to cast regular and, soon, #1 fan favorite. I don't think it would be as easy for me to perform my exercise routine to the show while I am simultaneously fathering 3 children to 2 women - one of whom is in a coma and the other of whom put the first one in that coma. Life is complicated.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Biden Knows the Score

You know what's weird? When I type into Google "Joe Biden Coney Lafayette Freep" no where near the top of the search results is the link from The Free Press about the story I wanted to write about right now. Technology is fantastic, but sometimes even Google fails me. This one in particular is kind of crazy because I know EXACTLY what I'm searching for and even the website I am looking at, but still no luck. I don't want to go through the hassle of some of the power user searches like "inurl: Joe Biden Coney" - my basic search should be sufficient so don't think I'm unaware of the tricks of the trade. The point of all this is thanks again to John on the West Coast for sending me the link in Facebook, otherwise I wouldn't be able to find my precise search.

Two days ago on Tuesday, Vice President Joseph Biden made a stop in Detroit to participate in a couple of fundraisers in Detroit for Gary Peters and Mark Schauer. After those, he joined our governor lady Jennifer Granholm for a Coney Dog at Lafayette Coney Island. Joe Biden's presence at the fundraisers isn't that big of a deal, but what does matter is that he made the right choice in Lafayette Coney Island.

Pretty much every show that in any way profiles the city of Detroit spends some time on the fabled Lafayette Coney Island vs. American Coney Island rivalry. They are two locations of hot dog selling attached in the middle and they have stood that way for decades. Most people who have eaten at these places always return to the same restaurant and refuse to even consider the other location. I'm a Lafayette guy, and it's good to see that Joe Biden agrees. I wish no ill will on American, but in the event of a tragic Barack Obama circumstance, Lafayette Coney Island would become the default coney dog of the United States of America.

Having refused to ever enter American, I did not really know the difference in the two dogs until just last week when the show Man vs. Food hit the Motor City. The host, lovable eater and general guy-next-door look-a-like Adam, ate at both places and spent a minute explaining the differences between the coneys. As it turns out, American uses a "greek spiced" Chili that is less meaty, and also uses sweet Vidalia onions. Lafayette, on the other hand, uses a "meatier, more traditional" chili and spicier Spanish onions. I got to say, I prefer Vidalia onions, but on a coney, noting is more important than the chili. Lafayette has the more traditional and meatier chili, so I'm confident that my blind preference has been upheld by Man vs. Food and Joe Biden.

Futhermore, Lafayette is where I had my non-encounter with Jerome Bettis, so that is another point for the grey lady (that's the name I invented for Lafayette Coney Island and nothing else in the world uses, thus enforcing my creativity).

While on the subject of unformed meat product, Steve told me yesterday that in parts of upstate New York (and maybe elsewhere), Sloppy Joes are called "Michiganders." I am not sure if this is true, but Steve hasn't intentionally lied to me before, so if I get sued for this controversial fact, I can plead ignorance. Actually I can't because ignorance isn't a viable legal defense, but whoever would sue me over Sloppy Joes would be a total jerk. What are you, the father of the Sloppy Joe?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Thoughts on Bob Dylan

Far be it for me, Bob Dylan ignoramus, to attempt to review the concert that I saw on Friday, but the fans (my aunt-in-law) have been clamoring, CLAMORING, for my thoughts, so here they are.

1) A whole bunch of people yelling "How does it feel" is way cooler when Bob Dylan is actually on stage than a bunch of drunken morons at the bar. I like the drunken morons at the bar, but it's still cooler with the writer of the song performing the song on stage.

2) I'm pretty sure the lead guitarist for the band would be able to house me at Guitar Hero if he ever played Guitar Hero. I'm pretty good at that game, but this guy seemed like the kind of person who would really be able to shred the plastic axe.

3) I'm convinced that 50% of the time, Bob Dylan was often not even attempting to generate entire words. What was coming out of his mouth resembled words, but they seemed to lack the correct order of consonants and vowels.

4) My whole concert-going group was surprised at the sheer intensity of most of the music. All the songs were a very hard blues verging and encroaching into full-on Rock and Roll. I think we were expecting an old guy playing a jug and waxing poetic about folk music in spoken word. This was not at all the case and it was a bit surprising.

5) Finishing with All Along the Watchtower made me wish that Battlestar Galactica had 4 more years on the air. Congratulations to all those who know what I'm talking about. You are way cooler than everyone has told you throughout your life.

6) Way less guitar playing from Bob D. than I would have anticipated. I heard that he is suffering from some bad arthritis, so he played keyboard and harmonica for much of the show. Actually, only one guitar song from him. I guess arthritis is inevitable if you're 68.

7) People seemed very in love (with each other) at the show. Quite an abundance of hugging, kissing, rubbing, touching, etc. I had no idea that people reacted with so very much love to the music of Bob Dylan.

8) I need a powder blue suit coat and matching wide-brimmed hat

If you don't have a specific aversion to the guy, even if you don't know the music well at all, I would recommend a Bob Dylan concert to you with 3 "How does it feels" out of 4. If I could have understood more of the words, it would probably have reached the coveted 4 "said the beggar to the thieves" out of 4.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A New Approach

Tonight, I'm going with my family and Maureen to see the Bob Dylan concert at the Fox Theater downtown. Jealous? Yeah I'm not sure if you should be.

The thing is, I don't really know all that much about Bob Dylan and if pressed, I could probably name about 5 Dylan songs on a good day. I can tell you that he looks like a ghost come to life and that his voice has a...unique quality to it. Maureen and I saw a very, very old video of him and I was shocked to see that he was actually somewhat handsome once upon a time but his voice even at this young age sounded like a wheezy fart. Someone I regularly work with said this is a typical Bob D. lyric:

"I dhhht knaa wahh yuuve bee toll .... do yooo? Yoo uss to tal ou loaa ...." That sounds about right to me.

Tonight marks the start of a new approach to my life. If I have the opportunity, privilege, and means to see or do something, why not? It's not so much carpe diem as much as I need to stop sitting around in my sleep pants when I'm not working. I've tested the limits of the phrase "you can only watch so much TV" and I disagree with it, but I do think there are more things out there in which to participate. Today, then, marks the first big test of my new life approach - going to see a musician in a live show who has a specific appeal and I may not fall in that specific group and his shows are known for being fairly hit-or-miss. But hey, it's Dylan and I'm alive, so why not?

Here's a cartoon. My apologies for the Priceline commercial at the beginning. I'm trying to decide if the obviousness of the concept outweighs the humor.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

In Case You Were Wondering

Statistics are a very tricky thing. Anyone who has taken basic or advanced statistics is immediately introduced to the concept of a sample vs. a population, and how to properly account for a population using a sample. Sometimes you have to put an additional symbol over your mu, sometimes you have to put a straight line over your x or a hat above your p - most all of these things are an attempt to say "we don't really know for 100% certain but this is a good approximation." This is all I learned from essentially three years of statistics related classes. I also learned about all kinds of new symbols that can be added to the standard alphabet.

Because statistics are a tricky thing, it is difficult to say whether 7,000 people are enough to indicate anything other than the specific statistics of these 7,000 people. There are all kinds of rules and methods to try to use a representative sample, and then additional rules and methods to calculate whether this sample is close enough to representative and what type of resampling may be required to keep working on the sample size. And so on.

For all these reasons, what I'm about to tell you doesn't really mean anything, but I do find it somewhat interesting that this study of 7,000 people tells us that about 10% of people between the ages of 25 and 45 are virgins. Men who attend church weekly are five times more likely to be virginal and women are 3.9 times more likely than those who are having sex instead of going to church. What does this mean? Nothing. Nothing at all. Why do I waste your time with this information? It gave me an opportunity to show off my vast knowledge of statistics. Most importantly, I just made approximately 10% of you feel a little bit better about life.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The World is Over is Over

Yup the good times are here again. Yesterday, Ford reported a profit for Q3 2009 of just under 1 billion dollars and today Ford and GM reported sales increases month-over-month comparing last October to this October. I think these two things are evidence enough to allow Michigan to return to its wasteful and uni-industry oriented ways. Long live the motorized carriage!

I guess the question now is how stupid are we really, as a state? I fear there are more than some who believe that the cyclical nature of industry will suffice to pull Michigan out of our economic swine flu and that if we just continue to trust in the almighty auto industry prosperity is bound to follow forever! One small (and by small I mean major) piece of evidence that we are still idiots is that the UAW rejected their proposed new contract with Ford that would make Ford a much more cost competitive firm. There are many UAW Ford workers who work outside of Michigan so it's not all our fault, but if bankruptcy isn't evidence of an unsustainable business model, I don't know what is. While Ford didn't technically declare bankruptcy, they did borrow $30B before the credit market died and this is the sole reason that Ford didn't have to declare super duper bankruptcy. It would be just plain stupid for anyone to think that everything was and is OK with that company and that the existing contracts are good for Ford and "the people". It's hard to defend unions, even for a fan of the working man, when the people somehow believe that they can get paid if their company doesn't exist. The logic just doesn't work. I will always love you Michigan, but sometimes you are as dumb as Dude, Where's My Car? (which I paid to see in the movie theaters. I also paid to see Pootie Tang)