Monday, November 28, 2011

The Unremarkable Seminal Vesicle


I wasn’t particularly happy.

It was Thanksgiving.  A time you’re supposed to spend with your family, at home, wherever that may be.  I was told, long ago, that that would not be the case.  I had things to do.  Such is the job, and such is the life.  If there’s anybody who understands that life owes you nothing, that plans can be dashed at a moment’s notice,  it’s me.  That, I can live with.

But it was also time.  One year after I had wrapped up my large-scale cancer treatment, it was time for a significant checkup. 

I use the term “significant” loosely.  Aside from the “having cancer” part of it, having a rabidly aggressive form of cancer is both good and bad: it is often more treatable by chemotherapy drugs that target fast growing cells, but it is often tough to detect during routine screening – the cancer often grows so fast that it’s tough to catch during annual or semi-annual screenings.  It’s a fun game that isn’t any fun at all. 

I tried to get this done last week.  I had an appointment scheduled up at Hopkins on November 18th, but things got…gacked up.  Long story short, half my tests were authorized – I was able to get an abdomen and pelvis CT, but not a chest CT.  Things got screwed up between the hospital, the doctor, and the insurance company, so I wasn’t able to do what I needed to do.  I left Hopkins last week in a fit of rage – tempered, of course, since a cancer clinic is no place for rage.  But damn – taking a day off of work to go fiddle around and do nothing in Baltimore is not my idea of a fun time.  The only saving grace was that the following Friday was the day after Thanksgiving – no traffic, car available, and Emily around to mitigate my boredom. 

Oh, and this – the opportunity to beat both cancer and Ohio in 48 hours.  0-2 might literally kill me.  1-1 wouldn’t be much better.  It had been 483 days since I was diagnosed with cancer. It had been 2,925 days since Michigan last beat Ohio.  The sick poetic gods who had dictated my fate over the past year and a half would have it no other way – two days, two enemies.  Destroy, or be destroyed. 


Sometimes, I wonder why we care so much.  How stupid it all is.  Why, on Thursday night, I couldn’t really figure out if I was more nervous for Friday or Saturday. I can’t put it much better than Brian at MGoBlog did, in the aftermath of Bo’s death in 2006:

Intelligent people do not spend a goodly swath of their life pouring emotion and precious time into a contest that affects no one and changes nothing except some inky scribbles in media guides.

You wonder why. It occurs that at some point the Michigan program acquired the traits you hold dear -- loyalty, honesty, tradition, victory. And you wonder: if you were a different person who valued other things would you care so much? It occurs that at some point the Michigan program acquired other traits you share but do not hold particularly dear -- cantankerousness, stubbornness, an inability to suffer fools gladly. And you wonder: do I like Michigan because of the way I am, or am I the way I am because I like Michigan?

I’ve discussed the eerie similarities between my battle with cancer and Michigan Football.  Yes, it’s weird.  Yes, I think it’s true.  And yes, I damn near freaked out over this two day stretch.


I awoke Friday morning without the slightest worry though.  The good and horrible thing about my type of cancer is that it’s overwhelmingly likely that I’m going to catch it first – that I’m going to find a lump, feel something, recognize something is out of wack, etc.  It’s not the type of cancer that boils slowly below the surface for a long time before a scan catches it.  It’s very aggressive.  Six-month scans are not terribly effective at catching these things early. 

And I felt fine.  Emily had made a fantabulous Thanksgiving dinner.  I didn’t have an astronomical amount of work to do so I was able to take Thursday completely off.  I watched the Lions, got irritated, ate good food, and stayed up late since I’ve been a little sick and sleep time has not been great to me or my cough. 

For a guy who has a history of horrible Friday experiences, getting your annual scan on “Black Friday” was an insanely reckless decision.  But hell, I wanted this out of the way, and traffic would be light, so this was the plan.  I walked into a mostly-empty Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, I wanted nothing more than the experience to be over. 


One chest X-ray, one abdominal and pelvis CT, and some blood work later, it was over.  The seminal vesicles, they were unremarkable:


Read that if you care, but dawg, my insides are totally uninteresting to people who look for interesting things amongst your insides.  That is a win.  My chest was equally uninteresting, aside from my overexuberant inhalation:




It was so long ago.  I remember the day perfectly but vaguely, meaning I remember everything that happened but don’t really remember why.  We had several friends in town. We inexplicably tried to stay up all night.  Our dorm room phone – yes, I was a Freshman resident of Mary Markley Hall then - was inexplicably ripped out of the wall at some point during the evening, leaving a couple Ann Arbor-bound friends stranded.  But the game, I remember.  I also remember not rushing the field.  For starters, beating Ohio wasn’t out of the ordinary back then.  And besides, I would have plenty of chances to do that in the future.

You could have told me two things on that sunny day back in November 2003: 1) The next time you beat Ohio will be eight years from now; 2) The day before the next time you beat Ohio will find you in a Baltimore cancer center as a patient.  I would have had a hard time picking the crazier one. 

Fast forward 2,296 days.  I had acquired two degrees, a girl, a job, a dog, a new home, and a malignant tumor in my chest.  Forget days.  We hadn’t beaten Ohio in a lifetime.


Dr. Ambinder is an odd guy.  Undeniably smart, friendly, and good at what he does.  But a man of subtle quirks.  Reminds me of me.  I like him.

Biggest deal with Dr. Ambinder: He is impossible to read.  I’m convinced he could deliver news of a clinical cure or a terminal illness in the exact same manner.  He’s like a quieter version of Dr. Hartman.  The moments between his entry into a room and the delivery of substantive test results are sheer agony.  It kills me. 

This time, Dr. Ambinder led with the mundane.  Apparently, insurance companies and health care providers have become wary of spewing radiation into patients’ chest cavities in recent years, especially when folks have disease sites that are easily examinable by a doctor during a physical exam (like mine). So instead of a CT scan, x-rays and physical exams will do. So that’s what we did.

When we finally got into the details though, there wasn’t much there: I’m fine.  I pretty much knew I was fine.  It is still no less reassuring to hear that from a doctor.

The most significant thing is that I’m just over a year out of treatment for a disease that tends to recur quickly and aggressively if it is going to recur.  There are no guarantees in this business.  I’m very aware of that.  But as Dr. Ambinder put it, “all the odds are in your favor.” 

It has been a very long time since that was the case. 



It had also been a very long time since the odds were in Michigan’s favor.  I didn’t know what I wanted to do.  I wanted to watch it with people.  I wanted to watch alone.  At the bar. At home.  By Saturday morning, I was absolutely apoplectic that I wasn’t in Ann Arbor, but absolutely sure that, if we suffered another soul stab, I might not survive if I was.  I wasn’t sure if I had paid my dues and should bring my reformed fortune back to Michigan Stadium, a la Notre Dame, or if I should keep my karmic stench as far from Ann Arbor as humanly possible. 

But it was all irrelevant.  Just win.  That was all.  The energy was palpable all week.  You could feel the game. 

The records didn’t matter.  The rankings didn’t matter.  They never do.  Maybe you think it’s stupid or overblown.  Maybe it is.  Maybe you have to live the rivalry to understand it.  None of that mattered.  From a guy who is in a position to compare the two, the same rule that applied to cancer applied to that game: Just win.  Win, and the aguish and pain and pent up frustration becomes tolerable, almost worth it, and, most importantly, a part of the past. 

Whether football program or man, when you fall and skim rock bottom, there is no stronger desire than the desire to get back.  Sometimes that journey is hell.  But those who stay…



“Well, it looks like I’m going to graduate you,” said Dr. Ambinder as he finished his physical exam.  For the first time in a long time, it became real.  I have been very, very careful not to declare Mission Accomplished, doing so only in a post in which I made the claim ironically amidst an explanation of why achieving remission was no big deal to me.  I don’t celebrate until the clock reads 00:00 and everybody has left the field.  The problem with cancer, though, is that you’re never quite sure when that happens.

But “graduate"…that was a powerful word choice.  This is contrary to some of the information I’ve posted previously, but disease recurrences of my particular type of cancer become rarer with each passing month, especially after the first year.  The bad thing about having a rabidly aggressive form of cancer is that it can come back in a hurry before it gets picked up during a scan.  The trade-off is that the chance of that occurring decreases over time.  It’s a pretty terrible roulette wheel. 

But after my conversation with Dr. Ambinder, it finally – finally – felt like I was free to start moving on. I will never dance on a grave.  But I won’t have to.  Moving on, closing a horrible chapter, exercising the demons, making all this bullshit occupy the past instead of the present or the future…well, that’s all I needed. 



The ball floated into the air, finally landing in Courtney Avery’s arms.  Seconds later, Denard Robinson took a knee, Dave Pasch welcomed Michigan back to “national relevance,” and the celebration was on.  Ohio State fans were quick to remind everybody about their underdog status or depleted lineup.  Michigan State fans mocked the enthusiasm over beating a 6-5 team.  Other fans scoffed at Michigan fans rushing the field after beating an unranked opponent.  As if any of that mattered in the least. 

None of it mattered.  Because for the first time in a long time, those snide comments were coming after a 10-2 season and a win over our most hated rival.  It was a testament to all we had endured.  Finally, all the pain and disappointment of the last few years was worth it. 

I remember sitting at Scorekeepers in September of 2007, watching ESPN replay a blocked field goal over and over again, dubbing that day’s game the “upset of the century.”  I sauntered into the Toledo game late back in 2008, only to see a game-tying field goal sail wide right.  I sat through losses to Purdue at home, Northwestern in rain so cold that I think it was biologically impossible for it not to be snow, and sipped terrible Four Loko as a bald, beaten cancer patient as the rest of the room fell asleep during last year’s Ohio game.  True fans – the ones who stayed – endured all of that.  This was vindication.  Other fans can make all the snide comments they want.  All I heard was other fans talking about Michigan again. 


And as Dr. Ambinder told me it was time to graduate, I remembered sitting in that chair, downing 11 drugs in 7 hours.  The pills, the needles, the feeling of having the life slowly drained from your body.  Literally not being able to stand for almost a month, and constantly wondering when it’s going to get better.  Or worse, if it’s going to get better. 

It did:



I don’t know what the future holds.  There’s nobody more cautious about that subject than me.  But I do know that the future is a bit more certain and certainly brighter than it has been in a long time.  Implicit in the jubilance in the aftermath of Saturday’s game was a message: Michigan is back.

And so am I.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I think I took the Detroit City Council with me when I moved to DC

A couple months ago, I blogged about DC Mayor Vincent Grey’s threat to Walmart – specifically, “if you want to open stores here, you will open them where I tell you to.” 

“They’re interested in developing four stores,” the mayor said in an interview after the meeting. “All of us said, ‘What about a fifth store?’ They hemmed and hawed, and it ultimately came down to — you have a choice. You can do five stores or you can do no stores.”

The Grey administration demanded that Walmart become the anchor tenant at Skyland, a redevelopment project east of the Anacostia River here in DC.  That has sat vacant – like so many “redevelopment” projects – since roughly 2006.

Turns out the arm-twisting worked:

Wal-Mart will announce Wednesday that it intends to open six stores in the District, two more than it originally planned, and broaden its reach east of the Anacostia River, an area grappling with unemployment and a lack of retail amenities, city officials said…

It also will consummate a dogged effort by Mayor Vincent C. Gray and D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) to persuade Wal-Mart to open at Skyland Town Center, a long-neglected Southeast shopping center that has been mired in land disputes. Most recently, Gray (D) personally called Bill Simon, president and chief executive of Wal-Mart U.S., to ask what the city could do to get the company to expedite a store at Skyland.

The Washington Post has an interesting definition of “persuade.”

Anyway, this paragraph in the latest Post article caught my eye:

In May, Gray and Hoskins met with Wal-Mart representatives at the annual convention of the International Council of Shopping Centers in Las Vegas. Gray told the company he would like to see the chain open a store at Skyland, which D.C. officials envision as a mixed-use town center by developers the Rappaport Cos. and William C. Smith & Co. The city has already approved a $40 million subsidy and spent an additional $12.2 million settling eminent domain cases to gain control of the site. Some cases remain open, but Hoskins hopes to fully control Skyland by 2013.

It’s the same old story: government officials gleefully touting a “redevelopment” project – supported by plenty of tax dollars – in an impoverished area with high unemployment.  But it’s worth taking a look at how we got to this point.  Skyland has some interesting history.  From the Washington Post in 2006:

A powerful group of affluent Hillcrest residents has succeeded in getting the city to declare eminent domain at Skyland-- a controversial move seen in no other commercial land deal in the District except the new baseball stadium. Skyland will be demolished, under the plan, and a higher-quality shopping center built in its place. Target may be its anchor. There could even be a white-tablecloth restaurant.

The Hillcrest activists say they are sick and tired of Skyland's downtrodden look, its lack of what they call quality products, its old discount stores and liquor stores and sidewalk vendors and assorted illegal or undesirable activity. The folks of Hillcrest say both they and the broader community, prosperous and poor alike, deserve far better…

So we have affluent residents using their political power to, well, get rid of something they just plain don’t like.  Why?  Because they think they have better plans.  But they can’t steal it outright.  So they need the government to take it for them.  Sound familiar?

On the other side of the battle in 2006: property owners:

Franco and other Skyland merchants and landowners say they are operating viable businesses that have a large and loyal customer base. Sure, Skyland could use a renovation, they say, but that doesn't mean existing businesses should be forced out.

So they are battling the D.C. Council and the quasi-independent National Capital Revitalization Corp. (NCRC). In the D.C. Court of Appeals, they are arguing that the D.C. Council's declaration of eminent domain violated their property rights in favor of private political and financial interests -- not for the public good, as the U.S. Supreme Court says must be the basis for eminent domain. Other aspects of the land seizure are being contested in U.S. District Court and D.C. Superior Court….

But Skyland has been fully occupied for years. There have been no boarded-up shops. Business has been brisk.

Fast forward five years, to September 2011.  The Washington City Journal gives us an update on these big plans:

In reality, Skyland Town Center is only breathtaking in its barrenness. A run-down Murry’s grocery store and CVS are pushed to the edges of a vast parking lot, which is divided further by an empty post office and liquor store. The shops along Alabama Avenue have seen much better days, and only half are open. Business trickles into a nail salon, beauty shop, two chicken places, dry cleaners, and a discount mart.

WCJ adds:

According to settled eminent domain case law, in order for a government to take private land and give it to another private owner, it must demonstrate that the land is blighted, and that the new owner’s plan would serve the public better. But as the District itself has argued, it never has to prove that the plan will actually work.

You don’t say. 

Anyway, Ladies and gentlemen, your DC City Government!  Which appears to have done the following:

  1. Took private property from poor people
  2. Used money taken from other people (tax dollars) to settle lawsuits from angry landowners who had their stuff stolen
  3. Demolished part of the development and let the rest decay for half a decade
  4. “Promised to deliver” the land stolen from poor people to a development corporation
  5. Threatened a private company – who wasn’t asking for incentives or tax breaks – into building a store on stolen land in a development financed with tax breaks
  6. Approved giving another $40 million in other people’s money to the development corporation and the private company

This would never happen if we could just get those damn Republicans out of office.  Wait, what?

The DC government just forced a private company that was asking for nothing to accept land and money it stole from other people.  Those Occupy kids are going to be livid about this.  You know, once they stop blocking streets because we won’t pay for the loans they took out to study pupppetry.

I can’t imagine much that should inflame people of all political stripes, it should be this.  The big evil government (Republicans!) steals private property (Libertarians!) from poor people (Democrats!) and gives federal tax dollars (Republicans!) to a development corporation and Walmart (Democrats!).  The administration even managed to turn its back on the “community groups”:

“The mayor had really given the impression that there would be a community benefits agreement before the four initial stores moved forward,” said Mackenzie Baris, lead organizer for DC Jobs With Justice, which has coordinated with unions to protest Wal-Mart’s expansion. “And now there are additional stores . . . I don’t know how the communities around the existing store sites wouldn’t feel betrayed.”

And Mayor Grey now?  The guy who was willing to tell Walmart to go to hell if they didn’t open a store where he wanted one had this to say:

"Frankly, I'm unabashedly an advocate for them having to come to this part of the city as well, because while I can't call it a food desert, I recognize that there is demand the exceeds supply," Gray said, adding that city officials estimate that at least $1 billion a year in retail sales escapes the District because of a lack of shopping opportunities.

Is there anybody who shouldn’t be pissed off by the way this went down? 

Of course, very few will actually be.  Because few people notice these things beyond, “Ooooo, there’s a shiny new Walmart!”  But it’s worth keeping in mind how these things happen.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

This post is not about Joe Paterno

The old man passes along an article from Joe Posnanski at SI.  An extended excerpt:

The last week has torn me up emotionally. This doesn’t matter, of course. All that matters are the victims of the horrible crimes allegedly committed by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. I cannot say that enough times. Sometimes, I feel like the last week or so there has been a desperate race among commentators and others to prove that they are MORE against child molesting than anyone else. That makes me sick. We’re all sickened. We’re all heartbroken. We’re all beyond angry, in a place of rage where nothing seems real. The other day, I called it “howling.” I meant that in the purest sense of the word — crying in pain.

So, two points to get out of the way:

1. I think Joe Paterno had the responsibility as a leader and a man to stop the horrific rapes allegedly committed by Jerry Sandusky, and I believe he will have regrets about this for the rest of his life.

2. Because of this, Joe Paterno could no longer coach at Penn State University.

Beyond these two points, though, I said I wasn’t going to write about this because I feel like there’s still a lot of darkness around. I don’t know what Joe Paterno knew. I don’t know how he handled it. I don’t know if he followed up. I don’t know anything about Paterno’s role in this except for what little was said about that in the horrifying and stomach-turning grand jury findings. People have jumped to many conclusions about Paterno’s role and his negligence, and they might be right. I’ll say it again: They might be right. But they might be wrong, too.

Read the entire thing, even if it’s 15% disclaimers.

Posnanski is right: All that matters are the victims.  This statement is obviously true – everything else pales in comparison to the plight of the alleged victims here.   

But it’s also obviously false – a point underscored by the countless editorials, columns, and blog posts I’ve stumbled across or had pumped across my Facebook or twitter news feeds.  Here’s a truth: If nothing matters – not Joe Paterno, not Penn State, not anything else – besides the victims, then what the hell are you writing about in your 1,500 word column?  And if, like many of these columns point out, this abuse is far more prevalent than we care to believe, why don’t all these horrific events get the same treatment? 

So that’s why this paragraph from Posnanski struck me the most:

3. We are in a top-you world where everyone is not only trying to report something faster but is also trying to report something ANGRIER. One guy wants Joe Paterno to resign, the next wants him to be fired, the next wants him to be fired this minute, the next wants him to be fired and arrested, the next wants him to be fired, arrested and jailed, on and on, until we’ve lost sight of who actually committed the crimes here.

Take a brief glance at the last week in the Detroit Free Press:  Mitch Albom tells us that Paterno’s legacy is not the issue, in an actually sorta-reasonable column. The uber-intellectual Drew Sharp says that Paterno should be fired if he “pleads ignorance.”  When Penn State does just that, Sharp says they should forfeit Saturday’s game as well. Then Rochelle Riley leaps into the pile, farting out these two paragraphs :

Firing isn't enough. Joe Paterno and every official at Penn State who knew of the allegations should be arrested and investigated as accessories to the alleged crimes.

It is imperative to know what they knew and when, what they did and when, what they did not do and why not.

Got that? Paterno should be arrested and then investigated. But he should be charged anyway.  Because, you know, children.  Also, I’ll move to Columbus if Riley so much as Googled the legal definition of “accessory” before typing that crap.  [For an actual analysis of the legal issues here, try this].

And for the finale, Albom, who must have been dying this week because he couldn't join the fray, opted for the old literary simulation of child rape:

Imagine you were 10 years old. A coach you trusted. A man you liked. A guy with white hair. An "older" person.

Imagine he led you. Imagine you listened. Imagine you didn't want to. Imagine you did what you were told.

Imagine the setting. A bathroom. A shower. Imagine he said it was OK. Imagine his tone. Imagine his eyes.

Remember when I wrote “If Mitch Albom wrote a column opposing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, I would probably hate it and disagree with it”?  Yeah. 


The events detailed in that 23-page grand jury report defy comprehension.  What allegedly happened to the victims matters far more than the game of football.  This is not reasonably debatable. 

But that is not what people are debating.  Weaving their way through all these words from all these writers across the interwebs are complicated questions of moral responsibility, legal culpability, and most of all, “why?”

And yes, I said “complicated.”  As much as everybody on the internet has all the answers, they don’t.  Dropping the “children were raped” smokebomb doesn’t give everybody carte blanche to rail away at whatever they like, free from criticism or scrutiny, lest the criticizer or scrutinizer be dubbed an enabler of molestation or a defender of child rapists.  Take, for example, this Grantland piece by Esquire’s Charlie Pierce that got beamed my way about 8 times yesterday.  After a brief reading of scripture, the fourth paragraph begins like this:

The crimes at Penn State are about the raping of children. That is all they are about.

Fair enough.  You want to keep the focus on this kids, fine by me.  Rick Riley pulled this off in a piece last week.

But it quickly devolves into a slaying of strawmen (has anybody seriously mentioned finding “closure” for Penn State?) and hysterical hyperbole (“It no longer even matters if there continues to be a university there at all”).  Here’s the pull-quote from the piece:

It is not a failure of our institutions so much as it is a window into what they have become — soulless, profit-driven monsters, Darwinian predators with precious little humanity left in them. Penn State is only the most recent example. Too much of this country is too big to fail.

Cover your ears, but what in the fuck does that have to do with anything Charlie?  What on earth does this story about a public university tell us about “profit-driven monsters”?  The outrage, save for the angry PSU mob the night Paterno was fired, has been damn near unanimous.  This proves our institutions are “soulless”?  And who did Charles Darwin molest?  Bank bailouts!

Oh and kudos for working in the unemployment rate and workforce unionization percentage along with an obligatory Catholic church rant.  But it’s all about the children, right Charlie?!?

Pierce isn’t alone though.  The venerable Maureen Dowd searches for half a microsecond and, lo and behold, finds the same villains:

Like the Roman Catholic Church, Penn State is an arrogant institution hiding behind its mystique. And sports, as my former fellow sports columnist at The Washington Star, David Israel, says, is “an insular world that protects its own, and operates outside of societal norms as long as victories and cash continue to flow bountifully.” Penn State rakes in $70 million a year from its football program.

It’s the mother of all coincidences – in the search for answers to tough questions complicated by a lack of information, these folks seem to find the same damn boogeymen they’re always finding.  Believe that if you want.  But don’t pretend it’s some profound kernel of “brutal truth,” and not the recycled bullshit it truly is.


Here’s what I can’t reconcile:

1) The number of people who, during my battle with cancer, told me some variation of “I don’t know how you’re handling it as well as you are. I have no idea what I would do in your situation,” and;

2) The number of people who know exactly what they would have done if they were in Mike McQueary’s or Joe Paterno’s shoes.  And, for that matter, the number of people who have all the damn answers about every aspect of this tragedy. 

Andrew Sullivan has the answers.  Megan McArdle isn’t so sure, and concludes:

But categorizing his act as depraved and incomprehensible is unhelpful.  It's unfortunately normal, and entirely comprehensible.  Saying otherwise allows us to write off what happened at Penn State to evil people, or a "culture" full of nasty, macho football lovers.  It allows us to avoid confronting the real problem, which is that people are evolved to form intense bonds that often trump more abstract principles . . . and also, to be very good at coming up with excuses for not doing what they should at great personal cost to themselves.

Of course, I know what we would all like to be true.  I know what I think I would have done.  And, most importantly, none of this excuses anything that allegedly happened.  But the fact that everyone seems to be trying so damn hard to convince everybody else that they would have taken the virtuous course of action seems to indicate the presence of doubt.  Who are we trying to convince?


I probably share your view of Jerry Sandusky.  As for the others, I agree with Posnanski’s two points above.  I think Paterno probably knew enough to do something about these unspeakable crimes, didn’t, and should have lost his job for that reason.  I think he deserves some level of moral scorn.  How much remains to be seen, because there are still a lot of unanswered questions.  The same goes for everyone else involved in what seems to be an incomprehensible failure of responsibility, including the detectives who listened in as an apologetic Sandusky allegedly admitted to showering with a young boy, the prosecutor who declined to prosecute him at that time, the janitors who allegedly witnessed another incident in 2000, and so on.  We’re all working off a 23-page document that leaves many, many unanswered questions.  As those questions are answered, moral and legal culpability will be more clear. 

But I’m also interested in the why and the how.  And no, I’m not interested in your half-assed answers about the “culture of college football” and “arrogance” and “profits” and a desire to “protect a legacy,” all of which have been around for a long time but have never been known for their ability to spawn massive child rape cover-ups.  Answering those questions will take time, but at least they will fill in the gaps here – What happened?  Why and how did it happen?  Who is responsible?  What can we learn?  How can we stop this from happening again?

But the wild rage?  Explaining the inexplicable with the same tired storylines we use for everything else because it saves us the trouble of thinking critically and confronting hard truths?  The posturing.  Trying to out-outrage the last guy.  What does that get us?  Great: you’re opposed to molesting kids.  Thanks for informing the internet. 

I don’t know what the “proper” response is.  There’s not much most people can do to help and show sympathy for the only people here who deserve help and sympathy – the victims.  That’s why giant prayer circles happen.  That’s why the “thoughts and prayers” line – and I’ve heard that one many, many times – roughly translates to “I know there’s nothing I can do but I’m going to do this anyway.”  It meant something to me, of course. But I was never under the impression that it would cure me. 

There’s really nothing good that can come from this.  There’s no response that would be adequate.  No amount of atonement that can repair the damage done.  But if we’re ever to stop this type of thing from happening in the future – and if I am to believe the statistics I’ve heard tossed about over the past week, that’s a critical task – we should do better than randomized rage and premature proselytizing.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

That Michigan bill that gives kids a license to bully does not give kids a license to bully, so please stop saying that it gives kids a license to bully

Michigan is in the national news this week because those really mean Republicans apparently passed a law that gives kids a “license to bully” other kids.  Or something.  Ask ABC News:

LGBT advocates and the father of the boy for whom a Michigan anti-bullying law is named are slamming the state senate, claiming a last-minute First Amendment tweak gives "a major green light" to school bullies.

I have no idea what this law will do, but I will tell you what it does not do:  It does not give “a major green light” to school bullies.  What happened to this gentleman’s son is absolutely tragic; something no parent should endure.  But that tragedy did not make him an expert in legislative interpretation.  And it did not give the media a license to run wild with this story.  This bill does not “protect religious tormenters.”  It does not give anybody a “license to bully.”  It does not “allow bullying.”   So stop saying that. 

This bill is nothing more than a horribly-drafted abomination of an attempt to Dooooooooooooo Something about things politicians just can’t do that much about.  Seriously: try to read the bill.  And if you do read the actual bill – instead of some half-baked screed on Daily Kos or whatever – you’ll realize what this bill actually does prohibit and allow: nothing.  This bill that allegedly sends kids a “frightening message that it’s ok to pick on somebody who doesn’t share your religious views” does absolutely no such thing.  It does not prohibit anything.  It doesn’t allow anything.  Maybe that was the intent.  But it’s such a mess that it’s hard to figure out what this bill does (aside from get everybody riled up). 

So props to the Michigan Messenger for being among the few media outlets pointing this out, whilst consulting an old professor of mine, Douglas Laycock*:

A leading legal scholar says controversial anti-bullying legislation passed last week in the Michigan Senate is vague, confusing and will do little to address the problem of bullying.

“The bill does not prohibit bullying. It does not apply to students. It does not require any student to do anything or to refrain from doing anything. It requires school boards to adopt anti-bullying policies,” Douglas Laycock, Robert E. Scott Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Virginia Law School. “It does not require the school boards to include language protecting First Amendment rights. In fact, subsection 8 appears to be entirely meaningless. It says that this section does not abridge rights under the First Amendment (which it could not do even if it tried), and this section does not prohibit statements of religious belief or moral conviction. But this section doesn’t prohibit any other statements either. It doesn’t prohibit bullying statements.”

The main thing I learned from Douglas Laycock: You listen to Douglas Laycock.  He elaborates:

“It is not reasonably interpreted to mean that one student can bully another as long as the bullier has a sincere religious motivation…When a speaker persists after it becomes clear that the conversation is unwelcome, and persists to the point that he violates the bill’s vague definition of bullying (or a better drafted definition in school policies implementing this bill), then he is bullying despite his religious motivation.”

Elsewhere in the article, reps from the conservative American Family Association of Michigan, the ACLU, and Equality Michigan agree with Laycock.  This is a non-issue.  Please stop making it one. 

Or do this, Washington Post.  And yes, these four paragraphs are consecutive in the actual article:

The Detroit News quoted Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge), the bill’s sponsor, as saying that the bill is intended to push each school district in the state to write their own anti-bullying policy and that he does not see the law as sanctioning the kind of behavior activists are worried about.

“Certainly a child should not be allowed to go up to another child and say he’s going to hell” based on a religious conviction, Jones told the newspaper.

A murder trial in Bethesda, Md. that just resulted in a guilty verdict for the accused highlights the damage that can be done when people who are in some way alerted to the fact that someone else is in danger stand back and do nothing.

People working at an Apple store in Bethesda heard screams and pleas for help from the Lululemon Athletica shop next door one night last March. They heard a woman pleading, “God help me. Please help me,” and the store’s manager even asked an employee to listen at the wall. But none of the people in the Apple store did anything to help. The woman being assaulted sustained 322 wounds from a hammer, knife, wrench, rope and metal bars.



So here’s what happened: Team Red wanted to score political points, so they passed a horribly-drafted bill that won’t really do much of anything.  Some other state legislator from Team Blue wanted to score political points (cough Gretchen Whitmer cough), so she made a big fuss about this bill.  That fuss was largely irrelevant and mostly wrong, but didn’t really matter to members of Team Blue who really hate the guys on Team Red.  Team Red saw the backlash and now they’re planning to remove useless language from a crappy bill.  And everyone is all pissed off over an incorrect interpretation over a bill that wouldn’t do much of anything.

All of this should make everybody question why on earth we should encourage these people to do anything like this. 

But don’t take it from me.  Take it from Kevin Epling*, the gentleman whose son committed suicide in 2002:

“Trying to have a bill that would clearly ‘outlaw’ bullying would be as laughable as the new language. Those thinking that is what this bill will do are off target,” Epling said.

For what it’s worth, the House is likely to drop the controversial language in the bill.  That it went away without much of a fight should tell you how important it was in the first place. 



*[Former MLaw-ers: Laycock is at Virginia now?  What the hell?]

**[For what it’s worth, I tend to roll my eyes at this sort of legislation (indeed, pretty much all legislation) – legislators are never as powerful as they believe, especially when trying to redefine social behavior.  And there are important points about the First Amendment and public schooling (the craptastic nature of which makes every one of these little fights a public trench war) inherent in this dispute.  But I can get on board with Mr. Epling’s broad approach in the Messenger article above – education and awareness, not laws, will be most effective in combatting “bullying.”  And this crap just detracts from that goal].

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Not sure this is the best way to increase employment and revitalize downtown

The Detroit Free Press reports on another encouraging event in the battle for people to sell food from a truck to people who want to eat that food:

[Jeff Aquilina and Justin Kava, owners of Concrete Cuisine] started working to get their license from the Wayne County Health Department -- known for its tough standards -- in the spring.

"It took us three or four months," says Kava, 32, of Livonia. "You had to come up with a plan review, the same as you would with a bricks-and-mortar restaurant. They wanted to see your whole layout. They wanted to know every single piece of equipment -- dimensions, specs, where you're buying it. You have to have a spec sheet for every single thing -- the exact model.

"They wanted to know your food sources and the entire flow of the food. ... We had to say we were getting the chicken, for instance, from U.S. Foods. And then it's, 'OK, you buy your chicken frozen. What's your thawing-out process? How do you cook it? How do you hold it? How do you serve it?' We had to go through every single menu item and do the exact food flow."

And those were only a few of the requirements.

"They say you have to do this, this, this and this," says Aquilina, 35, of Plymouth. "So you go back and do that, and keep redoing it. The final step was the lighting. We didn't have a lighting chart. They wanted to know where the lights are going to be and what's covering the lights."

In my various political discussions, I’m often dragged into the “so you don’t think the government should make sure our food is safe.”  That’s a concern pretty far down on my list, but in any event, I’m not exactly sure how the dimensions of a toaster and the placement of a light are relevnt to this concern.  Plus, hasn’t anybody eaten at a friend’s house before?  We had 10 people over for a barbecue on Saturday.  What assurances did those people have that I had cooked the food properly and hadn’t sneezed on it?  If anything, food trucks have a greater incentive to take proper safety precautions – they rely heavily on social media, and poisoning your customers is a pretty bad business strategy, especially when you’re all over the internet. 

And another point:

There are excruciatingly detailed licensing requirements, quirky problems that real restaurants don't have -- like sloping counters when you park on a hill -- and the challenges of staying open in winter.

Just something to keep in mind when restaurants complain that food trucks have all sorts of “advantages” that require new laws designed to protect established eateries.  In Detroit, for example, it’s illegal for a food truck to operate within 100 feet of a restaurant that sells the same goods.  You know – the same “distance restrictions” placed on crack dealers and child molesters in relation to playgrounds. 

And the icing on the cake:

Aquilina and Kava opened in the suburbs because they were denied a permit to work in Detroit.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

People who are doing things

One thing that has consistently impressed me in the post-cancer era: The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  While the Breast Cancer Mafia resorts to figuratively pistol-whipping you to get you to donate every time you watch an NFL game or go to the grocery store or just BOOBS!!!!, LLS has some ingenious methods to get people to support cancer research.  Cases in point:  Team in Training and the Light the Night walk.  Team in Training allows participants to train for some sort of insane thing that I will never do but that I respect others for doing – marathons, triathlon, hike up Everest, who knows, while the Light the Night walk provides an option for the less insane, but still allows participants to raise awareness and money for a disease at a tasteful, coordinated event without completely ruining an entire color for everybody else. 

Several of my friends are either walking or running very long distances to help raise money for Lymphoma research.  Personal policy is not to ask others to donate to causes, but I at least want to recognize some people who are doing some pretty outstanding things and raising money for, as you know, a very worthy cause.  If you choose to throw a couple dollas their way, I’m sure they would appreciate it.  You may donate in any way you choose – strenuousness of event, height, physical attractiveness, hair color, you name it. 

Click on the names if you wish to donate.  The folks:

David Riddle
Light the Night Walk, Woodland Hills, CA


Dave and I e-met (sounds creepier than it is) through a mutual friend in the most unfortunate of circumstances: we were both diagnosed with lymphoma (his of the Hodgkin’s variety) in the summer of 2010 and underwent treatment at about the same time.  Certainly not ideal to know that somebody else you know is going through something horrible, but also moderately reassuring to know that no, you aren’t the only one, even though it feels that way. 

Dave will be walking in the Light the Night walk out in Cali (you try training for a marathon post-chemo) this Saturday.  Ship a little chedda his way. 

Brief background on Dave's story is here.  Journal is here.  Fortunately, Dave is currently in remission, and, like me, planning to stay there.

Dan McGraw
Marine Corps Marathon, Washington, DC


Yes, that’s blood.

Dan and I have known each other since roughly the third grade.  We were also freshman year roommates at beautiful Mary Markley Hall in Ann Arbor, and senior year roommates at 436 S. Division.  Living in those two structures, it was pretty much inevitable that one of us would come down with some sort of malignancy.  Guess I chose the more asbestos-y side of the dorm room.  Rats.

Anyway, Dan is participating in the Marine Corps Marathon here in DC on October 30.  He destroyed his original fundraising goal, so he set a new, higher goal (he did have an internship at the Treasury once, so this makes perfect sense).  Help him reach that one too. 

Kathy/Katie/Kate/Kathryn Novaria
Marine Corps Marathon, Washington, DC


Do you have any idea how hard it is to run 26.32 miles in a catsuit?

Katie and I have known each other since senior year spring break on a Carnival cruise ship (also sounds creepier than it is).  Actually, we met well before that, but I couldn’t tell her apart from a couple of her roommates for roughly six months, so I just tired to avoid addressing them by name.  True story.

Also true story: Her real name is Katie (I think).  We started calling her Kathy on that Carnival cruise ship for reasons I forget, but that name stuck.  She sometimes refers to herself as Kate.  And professionally, she is Kathryn (not that type of professional – she works on the Hill.  I know – same difference).  But since several of us use those names interchangeably here in DC, people who meet Kate have no idea what to call her.  Fun times.

Third true story: She is nuts, having already competed in the Walt Disney World Half Marathon last year, she is attempting to finish both the Marine Corps and Disney Marathons this year.  Because of this, she’s closing in on $5,000 total raised for LLS.  That’s big money.  If she hits 5 G’s, we’ll promise to address Katie by a name of her choosing. 

Rachel Lombardi
New York City Marathon


Rachel and my sister with an Armenian giraffe who I hear likes to show up at high school birthday parties with hard liquor in brown paper bags. 

Rachel is my longtime friend and my sister’s former roommate/co-worker.  She’s also roughly 4’ 10” (see above), which means that over the course of a marathon, she will have to run 12,486 more steps than the average Kenyan.  That is a completely made up number, but I bet it’s close.  Rachel and I have known each other since early high school.  In fact, they once let us take care of very young children together back when we worked at a daycamp.  That’s right: They let me take care of young kids.  Comforting, isn’t it.

Rachel is housing fools on the fundraising trail, pulling in over $4,000 in about five months of training, and sporting donations from individuals of great notoriety, such as Antoine Dodson and Miss Cleo (no joke – look at the donation list). 

Steve Schrage
Light the Night, New York City


Fun fact: Steve is the one who took the photo that adorns the upper-right corner of this page in the “About Me” section.  I probably wasn’t happy with the photo at the time, but I certainly am now.  Or else what would I have put up on my cancer blog, you know?

Fresh off a stint in Canada as Matt Foley, motivational speaker, Steve is now living in New York.  He watched game 2 of the Tigers-Yankees series alone…in the center field bleachers of Yankee Stadium.  He then made it down to DC for game 5 where I met up with him, for the first time in well over a year, to watch the Tigs take down the Yanks in the deciding game.  That’s bang for your buck.

Unfortunate news for Steve: he was also a resident of that fateful 1st floor Reeves hallway in Markley (the year after me) and a frequent visitor at 436 S. Division.  It’s like we’re some creepy government test case.  I’d like to poll the other residents of that carcinogenic hellhole and see how many have odd things growing in odd places. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

State of the Nick

I’ve been asked…oh, more than a few “health” questions at the roughly 27 weddings I’ve attended since August.  One friend in particular demanded a health update of sorts, and I figured that was a good idea.  Sort of a “state of the Nick” address or something.  Because shit got real there for a bit.  So I think it’s worth reviewing what happened, where I am now, and what lies before me in the future. 

Currently, I am in remission.  That’s good news.  I have been in remission since November or December of 2010, depending on who you ask and what test you believe.  “Partial remission” means that cancer signs/symptoms have been reduced.  “Complete remission” means that cancer signs/symptoms have disappeared.  I have been in complete remission since December. 

BUT, “remission” is not “cured.”  There’s a third level of sorts that we all want me to get to, that I hope to get to, and that my doctors think I can get to, and that is “cured.”  “Clinically cured” is the technical term I guess.  Unfortunately, it’s going to take a while to determine whether or not I am clinically cured of cancer.  It’s not terribly difficult to get my particular type of cancer into remission.  It’s a little more difficult to keep it there.  It’s easier when, like I have, you catch the cancer early.  But I’m still deep within the “under the gun” period.

Speaking of that period, I mean this:  The particular type of cancer I have/had tends to recur quickly if it’s going to recur.  Dr. Li put the danger zone at 5-12 months after remission – a danger zone I would begin to exit around December 2011.  Dr. Ambinder says if this junk is to return, it does so almost always within 2 years after remission.  Dr. Al-Katib and the artist formerly known as Dr. Anderson have a little longer time frame, but my whole deal has been so screwed up, I’m not sure of their particular basis (i.e., what particular type of lymphoma they were referring to).   

Speaking of the “type” of lymphoma: That’s really still up for debate.  The National Cancer Institute still has parts of my tumor (I believe) because it's really weird and they want to keep it.  Hopkins is now referring to it as all-out Burkitt’s lymphoma; other doctors refer to it as a hybrid, combination, Burkitt’s-like, or aggressive DLBCL (diffuse large b-cell lymphoma).  It’s still up for debate whether or not this classification makes any difference.  One thing you learn going through all this crap: many, many smart people will disagree on things.  There isn’t always a “right” answer, as much as you would like one. 

So the other thing that is also up for debate: whether or not I received the “right” treatment.  We’ll never really know that.  We can’t even say whether or not I received the “optimal” treatment.  U-M and Hopkins probably would have treated me differently, with more aggressive drugs and in-patient chemo.  Dr. Al-Katib and Dr. Anderson disagreed with that; Dr. Ambinder called my treatment “reasonable” and thinks everything looks good after the intrathecal chemo, which half-murdered me, which Dr. Anderson disagreed with, and which Ambinder believes cut my chances of relapse significantly.  On this stuff, we’ll never know.  If I’m all good from here on out, then Dr. Anderson made a gutsy, damn good call, curing me of cancer while sparing me a bunch of collateral damage from aggressive chemo.  Hell…half the battle in this is accepting the uncertainty. 

Right now: I’m in remission.  My May checkup went well; Dr. Ambinder felt comfortable bumping my checkups to 6 month intervals.  I got checked out in September anyway – things seemed fine then.  My next major checkup is in November.  If things are good then, that’s a really good sign.  Until then, it’s largely the waiting game. 

But until then, I continue to recover.  Chemotherapy takes a lot out of you.  It tears apart virtually every part of your body.  And radiation doesn’t help things.  It takes a while to recover from all that.  I feel like I’m pretty much there, but I definitely have some aches and pains from the whole ordeal.  And after all that, you become hyper-aware of every ache and pain everywhere on your body.  You notice absolutely everything and immediately wonder if it’s something or nothing.  It’s probably nothing, over course, but the post-cancer era is filled with those “what if it isn’t-s.”  It’s a buttload of fun. 

Alas, I just get on with things these days.  I think about all this more than I would like and more than I thought I would, but it never causes me serious trouble.  It’s not like this stuff ever eats me up.  I’ve learned to coexist.  I imagine there will be a time when this stuff eats up less of my available mental space.  That time is still in the future.  But it is closer than it has ever been.

Speaking of treatment…what exactly did I go through:  The entire “cancer hat trick” (I made that term up but I’m trademarking it): Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.  Then we played overtime with some intrathecal chemotherapy.  What did all this stuff do?  Well, hopefully it killed the cancer.  But more specifically:

The surgery removed the original tumor.  This probably wasn’t necessary – the surgery I had was actually an excisional biopsy to obtain more tissue to test.  But it didn’t hurt either.  Chances were the chemo would have shrunk/dissolved the tumor anyway. 

The chemo was primarily targeted at killing the microscopic disease – the little cells floating around other areas of my body.  Chemo will certainly do some damage in the “macroscopic” disease are – my left axilla – but it was mainly targeted at the little bad guys elsewhere.  This was the point of the six cycles – increase the chance of eliminating any residual disease.  I underwent six cycles of what they call “systemic” chemo from August to November last year. 

Then it was on to a month of radiation.  Radiation is geared toward eliminating the macroscopic disease – the actual tumor site and the affected lymph nodes.  Radiation is a bit more risky, and it’s usually only performed on larger tumors (different hospitals have different standards – U-M was on the fence about me; Dr. Anderson and Dr. Kim thought the benefits greatly outweighed the risk).  Radiation was far more tolerable than chemo, although it left my upper left chest/underarm region a veritable dead zone. 

Then we went through a whole fun period where a bunch of doctors and I tried to figure out if I needed any additional treatment.  The issue was this:  My cancerous cells had a weird genetic mutation that made the cells act, as Dr. Al-Katib put it, crazy.  “Crazy” in the sense that they are extremely aggressive and active.  This helps when you have treatments that target aggressive cells.  This is not so good if those cells migrate somewhere where the drugs can’t get them.

That “somewhere” would be the central nervous system.  The chemo drugs I received did not penetrate the blood-brain barrier.  The obvious problem: if the cancer cells got there first, I could have problems down the road. 

The dispute was over the chances this had happened.  Dr. Anderson thought the answer was an almost definite no – I was early stage, in good health otherwise, the tumor was a ways away from Waldeyer’s ring, and so on.  Other doctors weren’t so sure – or at least felt the benefits of additional treatment would outweigh the risks. 

So I punted the decision until my three month checkup in early March.  I got there, Dr. Ambinder was gung-ho about doing intrathecal chemo, so that’s what happened. 

And happen it did.  Intrathecal chemo is like a glorified spinal tap.  A nurse jams a needle into your spinal column, collects fluid for testing, and, while she’s at it, injects chemotherapy drugs directly into the spinal column.  The main purpose is to check the spinal fluid for any cancerous cells.  The thought is, if they’re going to stick a needle in your spine, why not fire some drugs in there while they’re at it? 

That seemed simple enough, but my body disagreed.  As is common with spinal taps (or epidurals), my spinal fluid continued leaking after the original puncture.  This causes changing intracranial pressure and, in turn, headaches.  As is not common, my bout with these headaches was absolutely horrific.  For some reason, things just did not heal right.  I was left with positional headaches – headaches that go away when you lay down, come right back when you stand up – for weeks.  I couldn’t stand, so I couldn’t eat much.  Sometimes, the pain got so bad that it triggered nausea.  Then I would try to take a pain pill, but I was nauseous and had an empty stomach.  This triggered even more nausea.  I’d try to get a nausea pill down, but that was too much and the whole concoction would come back up in a blithering bubbling bile.  Then we had all sorts of dehydration issues, and that’s what led to two ER trips and hospitalization in a week.  Fun times.

But after that, things started getting better.  Dr. Ambinder decided to stop the treatments, in part because all my other signs were looking good and they had found no cancerous cells in my spinal fluid, and in part because the treatments were becoming intolerable.  I slowly began to recover.  I got scanned again in late May.  The scan showed shrinking lymph nodes (always a good sign), but my blood work was a little out of wack.  Subsequent blood work in early September showed much better counts.  That’s where we stand now.

So where do we go from here?  Hopefully nowhere.  As in, no news is always good news when it comes to cancer.  I’m up for another checkup in November.  I’m anxious to get there, largely because the general consensus is that the type of cancer I had, being aggressive and all, tends to recur quickly if it’s going to recur.  I’m right near the middle of the danger zone now; shortly, that danger will begin to wane. 

So that’s my main goal right now: Don’t screw anything up.  I’m obviously quite uneasy – I imagine all cancer patients are in the early-remission era.  I’ve said this before: When you’re going through treatment, that’s your main focus, day in and day out.  But when you’re done with all that, it’s hard to just go on living life as you did before this all happened.  Damn near impossible.  And you take nothing for granted. 

So for now, I sit, hope, watch, wait, pray, whatever.  The November checkup – technically the “one year” checkup – will be significant.  But I won’t make it out to be anything bigger than it is.  Cancer is a humbling experience.  I’ll continue to treat it as such. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Citing lack of murderers, Detroit turns its attention to resident business owners and fathers

It’s a busy week, so light blogging for now.  But here’s a little heartwarming tale to hold you over:

In early September, Sean Harrington was pulling his twin boys on a trailer attached to his bike for a day of fun in downtown Detroit along the river walk.

He was returning home and riding down the sidewalk on Park Street when he pulled onto the street to avoid hitting baseball fans who were blocking his path.

He admits he was going the wrong way down a one way street, but he was about fifty feet from his home.

“It’s a bicycle and it was four car-lengths that I was on the wrong way street,” said Harrington.

Police still stopped him and issued him a ticket.

“I can’t wrap my brain around what the police department thinks at any given time when the most dangerous criminal in the city of Detroit is myself,” said Harrington.

Several days later, he received a letter in the mail, asking him to appear in court in November, facing the possibility of being charged with child endangerment.

Lord knows the cops don’t have anything better to do in that town.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Things have gotten so bad in Detroit, the law of supply and demand no longer applies

I knew that Detroit had a problem with enforcing laws, but I had no idea the laws of economics – chiefly, the law of supply in demand – apparently does not apply in the Motor City.

The Midtown area of Detroit is, as I’ve mentioned before, a very decent area that has shown signs of life in recent years.  And politicians have figured out that it’s a heck of a lot easier to piss “development” money all over Midtown than it is to actually solve the deep-rooted problems in Detroit.  So that’s what they’re doing.  Call it the, “we can’t really help the people who actually live here, so we’ll bribe new people to come here and call it a rebirth” approach. 

Anyway, it seems to be working to some degree – demand in Midtown is surging and far outpacing available supply.  So a new apartment complex – the Auburn – is set for development.  But…uh…this:

Midtown is the area north of downtown Detroit that features major employers including Wayne State University and the Detroit Medical Center. In the past few years, demand has outstripped supply for apartments near WSU and other anchors. Some rental buildings in the vicinity are fully booked.

"We really need these units," said Sue Mosey, president of the nonprofit group Midtown Detroit, one of the partners in the Auburn project.

Mosey and DiRita said such complex financing is still necessary even in Midtown because rents -- and therefore rates of return to investors -- remain low. Apartments in the Auburn will rent for about $1.25 per square foot, while a deal done strictly with market-rate capital might require rental rates of $2.25 per square foot or so.

Well yes, I see that a woman heavily (and laudably) invested in the revitalization of Midtown thinks tax dollars should be shoveled to Midtown, but that’s not terribly surprising.  Or convincing. 

I mean, why don’t you just rent the apartments for $2.25 a square foot (a number that makes DC residents vomit, btw)?  Would those apartments not rent?  If not, why don’t you just build more modest apartments?  Are the subsidies permanent?  If not, what happens when they run out?  Wouldn’t subsidizing one apartment building in the area disadvantage all the others?  Why are we subsidizing housing for “graduate students and young professionals” in a city with 30-50% unemployment and poverty rates?  Anybody?  Reporter?  Bueller? 

Nope.  Just the same story in a different newspaper four days later with the same BS about subsidies reported as fact:

The occupancy rate of residential rentals in the Detroit neighborhood is at 95 percent, according to study done earlier this year by Midtown Detroit. That's the highest level of occupancy in at least a decade, Mosey said. More than 200 additional housing units are planned this year in others projects in Midtown, she said.

Despite the growing popularity in Midtown, it still takes complex deals with multiple lenders, tax credits and foundation help to get major projects done.

That’s some fine detective work right there. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

How racist is it? (with special diverse guest)

Comedian Daniel Tosh has a segment on his show called “Is It Racist?”  That is exactly what it sounds like:  Tosh decides whether or not certain things are racist.  Like this

Meanwhile, I had a couple pieces floating around in the blog queue that weren’t quite full post-able, but deserved some sort of comment.  And they all had a unifying theme: they were all…arguably racist.  I have a real fascination with “code words” – certain words or phrases individuals use when they want to make a point that they really can’t make – especially since I moved to DC.  For example, you can’t say, “I don’t like those dirty (insert ethnic groups) here who run those (whatever…food trucks, taxis, restaurant).”  You have to say something like, “I am concerned with public safety, and that’s why we need to shut that place (frequented by people I don’t like) down.”  Or, “Now that we razed half this neighborhood, put up expensive new condos, and I’m living in one of them, we should designate the rest of the buildings here as ‘historic” to preserve the character of the neighborhood (and to make sure they are really expensive to renovate, and thus, keep out the people I don’t like who might open a barber shop or a liquor store).”  But don’t verbalize the parentheticals.

jane So I decided to run a little different version of “Is it racist?” with the bits I found in various articles.  But since I’m way too white to serve as supreme racial arbiter, I brought in my friend Jane.  Jane is probably the most “diverse” individual I know (based completely on my personal “diversity” matrix, developed after years of intense study in Ann Arbor).  We once discussed a potential career for her as “Diversity.”  Basically, she would show up at corporate “diversity days” looking like Mose with his fear shirt.  Except instead of “fear,” her shirt would say “DIVERSITY.”  Everything else would be the same as that scene from The Office though – there would be music, Jane would try to wrestle you (wrestle with your prejudices!), and then Carol from HR would ask you to get in a coffin.  You know the drill.  So here goes. 


Well if the definition of “crime” is “standing there,” then yes, they are criminals

Our first candidate is a comment over at the Mt. Vernon Triangle Blog.  The post itself mentions a “voluntary agreement” with Chinatown Market, a liquor store here in Chinatown.  This apparently upsets one Mr. Mike Anderson:

Chinatown Market attracts and caters to a crowd of people (vagrants, alcoholics and the like) who bring crime (panhandling, loitering, public drinking, blocking the sidewalk, et cetera) to our neighborhood. I encourage everyone who is concerned with these issues to attend tonight’s meeting and to share their concerns with the Committee. Chinatown Market’s ABL comes up for renewal this fall.

Jane: I really enjoy how this commenter positions his/her opinion as verifiable fact. Chinatown Market attracts vagrants! They bring crime! And apparently, "blocking the sidewalk" constitutes crime! "Everyone who is concerned with these issues?"

Nick:  Here are the things that constitute “crime” in this gentleman’s world:  Standing and asking for money, standing, standing and drinking, standing on the sidewalk, and presumably, other forms of standing when done by “vagrants, alcoholics and the like.”  This might be my favorite bit, since I walk by Chinatown Market multiple times a day, every single day, and I have no clue what this guy is talking about.  I think I’ve been asked for money twice in my seven months here. 

On second thought, that’s not true.  I know exactly what this guy is talking about.  He just plain doesn’t like looking at…those people who hang out by that particular store.  That’s why you do things like prohibit stores that “they” frequent from selling single beers, while exempting stores that you frequent because they sell craft beers you like that come in larger bottles and might not be sold in a six-pack.  I’m not exactly living in a Tea Party stronghold here, but the people around me spend an awful lot of time on these little crusades to eradicate things they just plain don’t like looking at.


This should go about as well as previous attempts to keep out the Irish and Italians

Third candidate is a quote (into the ether, but cached) from Brendan Walsh, a Grosse Pointe Board of Education trustee, on Governor Rick Snyder’s plan to make every district accept out-of-district students.  This scares the bejeezus out of Grosse Pointe since they border a certain city that rhymes with Tree Joit:

"I think there are a lot of details to work out," said Van Beek, who also said he believes that the proposal could make schools better because they'll be forced to compete for students. "Anything that expands options is a good thing."

Walsh said he believes that open enrollment could hurt the district if it is forced to take students who are not committed to academic excellence.

Jane: My freshman year (white, cute) roommate was from Grosse Pointe. She got an MIP when she got drunk off Jack Daniels and Pepsi, believed she was Houdini and could escape from handcuffs, was chased around the Bursley Hall lobby by several police officers, wound up in AAPD lockup, believed she was Tupac and started doing pushups in her cell, and then passed out. I'm assuming that that is the kind of academic excellence that is threatened by roving gangs of out-of-district students. Just say "minorities," people. We know that's what you mean. You know we know that's what you mean. Just say it, and then I can move on.

Nick: Jane, who was your freshman year roommate?  Give her my number.

See, I actually think Walsh did say “minorities” during the interview, but the Free Press Diversity Editors went in and changed the phrase to something…well, just as racist.  Yikes. 

Seriously though.  If you caught of glimpse of me and my friends in high school back in Grosse Pointe, we weren’t so much “committed to academic excellence” as we were “committed to taking Wendy’s five-piece chicken nugget sauces and throwing them at each other.”  “Committed to academic excellence.”  I gotta start working that phrase into my daily lexicon.  “Sorry, I’m just not committed to doc review excellence today!” 


Won’t somebody think of the burritos!

Candidate four has been mentioned here before:  Chipolte’s uphill battle to open a restaurant in Capitol Hill:

The big issue raised was that fast food restaurants are a large contributor to the abundance of trash on that block of Barracks Row.  In addition, the existing national chains have rarely contributed to neighborhood events, joined neighborhood business associations, and have been fairly unresponsive to requests to help improve trash and loitering issues on the block.

Jane: Jesus, is opening a Chipotle in SE like joining a sorority or something? I get concerns about trash, but "fairly unresponsive"? Neighborhood associations here terrify me. I'm worried that at some point, the Shaw community association is going to send some Joe Pesci look-alike to my house to pistol whip me for incorrectly staking my tomatoes. It's a business that wants to open, and it's not even one of the "existing national chains" y'all have been having so much trouble with. And it's Chipotle, for god's sake. Get a burrito and shut the hell up.

Nick:  Unless they strip the burritos down and circle the parts of them that need a little “work,” no, opening a Chipotle in SE is not like joining a sorority.  Although I think fully 60% of the world’s problems could be solved by the phrase, “get a burrito and shut the hell up.” 

I’m with you on the neighborhood associations though.  I never really got to experience the full brunt of these things until I moved to DC, but they’re like giant homeowners associations or condo boards, only slightly more fascist with much less of a mandate.  I guess it’s nice that people take pride in and care about their neighborhoods, but so much of what I see entails eradicating or prohibiting anything and everything that people just plain don’t like. 

The last line gets me every time though.  These people are fighting like hell to prevent other people from purchasing burritos because the restaurant won’t join in your crusade to eradicate the people standing on the street that you don’t want to look at. 

In any event, it appears these folks have lost the fight.  But the funniest part: the “exemption” is limited to Chipotle.  Perhaps the neighborhood association determined the people who “loiter” outside Chipotle are less offensive than the people who loiter outside Chinatown Market.  Who knows.


Three-stereotype crash leaves chicken wings in a coma

The New York Times recently ran a piece on gentrification in DC.  It’s a pretty interesting read, and the intracity racial tension around here reminds me of the intercity racial tension back home.  But this paragraph might take the cake:

Similar anxieties sprung up on H Street last fall, during a failed attempt by the area’s majority-white neighborhood council to ban the sale of chicken wings in a newly opened 7-Eleven (the bones attract rats and choke dogs, they argued). Other restrictions, like leaving hair salons off the list of businesses eligible for future development assistance, strike Ms. Johnson as attempts to erase the traditional character of the neighborhood.

Jane:  You know what attracts rats? Everything. You know what dogs will try to eat? Everything (here's a tip: watch your dog.) It's 7-Eleven. None of their food is fit for consumption by anyone ever. Their chicken wings are the least of anyone's problems. It's tremendously stupid to try to "ban" a food offering at a 7-Eleven, almost as stupid as having a neighborhood council with that kind of power. The old alcoholics who buy coffee at 6:45AM on Wednesdays at the 7-Eleven on 12th and U bother me on the way to yoga, but I'm not leading the charge to ban coffee from 7-Eleven, because I'm not a moron. Again, if you don't want minorities, just say so.

Nick:  I think they pretty much just said it, Jane.  Anyway, that’s gotta be some type of record for racial stereotypes in one paragraph.  It’s like the neighborhood association said, “Your stereotype (chicken wings) is interfering with our stereotype (every single one of us owns a dog).  So we’ll ban yours.”  I’m really fixated on the dog thing because I just received an e-mail from my apartment management company that began like this:

We love our four leg residents but recently some of their owners have been behaving very badly.  Incidents of pet mess in the lobby’s, elevators, and building entrances are occurring frequently.

Two thoughts:  1) White people love dogs so much that we can’t even blame the dogs for pooping in the elevator.  2)  We need somebody to beg us to stop letting animals piss all over the building.  Could you imagine if a homeless guy took a leak in the general vicinity of our entryway?  I just hope the 48 cops that would show after the 196 calls to 911 got there before everybody in the building grabbed their torch and pitchfork.  But we need stern reminders to clean up animal poop in the hallway.  I hate white people.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Cancer patients free to shoot up treatment rooms with silencers and machine guns. But don’t bring pot.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, last seen round these parts sending me pictures of a murder victim in an attempt to buy my vote, is quickly ascending the list of my least-favorite politicians.  His most recent crusade is against medical marijuana, approved by Michigan voters in 2008:

Michigan's medical marijuana law has been abused, exploited and hijacked by pot profiteers and needs fixing, Attorney General Bill Schuette said Wednesday.

Flanked by a dozen legislators, police officers, prosecutors and doctors Wednesday, Schuette announced several bills that will be introduced in the Legislature this fall to close loopholes in a law he says was intended to provide marijuana as pain relief to people with terminal, debilitating and chronic diseases.

I’m not going to get into a long-winded defense of medical marijuana here.  Except to say that, having experienced both cancer and very significant pain, I cannot support any measures that hinder individuals from acquiring and using a drug that alleviates their pain.*  Like, say, a patient who is suffering from a) intense pain, b) horrific nausea, and c) losing weight because a) and b) make eating damn near impossible.  In that case, it might be pretty awesome if there was some sort of drug that could relieve all those symptoms and kick-start your appetite and didn’t have to be ingested orally because you’ll probably just throw that up anyway.  But in that case, Schuette recommends a trip to the ER to get synthetic heroin pumped into your veins and a bottle Oxycontin.  Much safer. 

Oh sorry…that was more winded than I would have liked.  I’ll just say this.

1)  I have sat in an oncologist’s office waiting to hear the results of my PET scan and biopsy to figure out what type of cancer I have and how far it has spread.  And yet nothing terrifies me quite like a Republican Attorney General flanked by a dozen legislators, police officers, and prosecutors. 

2)  As a lawyer, I am unaware of any situation in which “several bills” have served to make anything on earth less confusing. 

Maybe I’m too hard on Schuette since he’s just your typical, cliché, “tough-on-crime!” AG who babbles on about “public safety” when discussing people who choose to light a dead, dried plant on fire and inhale the fumes…

Schuette has argued marijuana is authorized in only very limited circumstances, and medical use doesn't include sales of marijuana. He's called the appeals court ruling a "huge victory for public safety and Michigan communities struggling with an invasion of pot shops near their schools, homes and churches."

As if the link between smoking a joint and randomly murdering everybody is just so damn obvious that it needs no further explanation.  The potheads are gonna get you in your homes! And schools! And churches!  CHILDREN!!!!!  Or something.

Although that doesn’t even hold up empirically – a recent study showed that the surrounding area of a recently closed dispensary actually sees an increase in crime.  Which is counterintuitive if you think about it for two seconds, but reasonable if you think about it for three or more: Why would a business ostensibly full of sick, pacifist hippies make an area more violent?

Anyway, this is just another example of Republicans’ longstanding commitment to “public safety.”  Example, from the Free Press earlier this month:

Michigan law permits gun owners to obtain and use noise suppressors or silencers as long as they first go through a federal permitting process, according to a formal opinion released today by Attorney General Bill Schuette.

The attorney general's opinion parallels one issued four years ago regarding the possession of automatic weapons in Michigan. Then-Attorney General Mike Cox found that machine guns could be legally possessed by Michigan citizens who obtained authorization from the U.S. Department of Justice

Safety first!