Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Two Words for the Lions: Pa Thetic

Our biggest problem with the Lions, I think, is that we're getting the worst of all possible worlds: we're getting one of the truly pathetic teams of all times...but without anything redeeming about them to make them loveable.

For a cross-sport comparison, let's contrast our situation with those of our neighbors in Chicago: the Cubs have made a tradition out of failure...but their fans still love them. There is, after all, something unique about rooting for a baseball team that everyone knows will fail in the end. And yet the fact of their inevitable failure draws people together, an exercise in hope as well as human camaraderie.

Here in Detroit, the situation is a source of anger: the Lions are many things...but loveable isn't one of them. There is little endearing about the way they chew up coaches and quarterbacks...and their draft choices have left people scratching their heads for years. They lose not by being adorably bad...but by making ill-timed mistakes and using badly conceived game plans, not dreadful enough to be pitied and cheered, but just untalented enough to be dreadful.

This year, though, they may crossed a line...or, more precisely, pushed their long-suffering fans across a line. But it's not the line from bad to loveable...making losing enough of a time-honored tradition to become the football equivalent of the Cubbies...or the '62 Mets. Rather, they pushed their erstwhile supporters across the line from angry frustration...to indifference.

There is much wrong with the team...and the town it hails from. Indifference isn't going to make either better. But given the chronic indifference shown by the team's management through the years---much like the self-dealing politicians who have driven Motown into the ground---it's a wonder that anyone really cares any more.

The hottest selling Lions apparel consists of T-shirts making fun of the team. Perhaps ridicule can succeed where loyalty and patience failed...but I, for one, am not holding my breath.

Neither, it appears, can some others:
We Are of Michigan

JEFFREY CAMINSKY, a veteran public prosecutor in Detroit, Michigan, specializes in the appellate practice of criminal law and writes on a wide range of topics. His books include the science fiction adventure novel The Star Dancers, the exciting second volume in the Guardians of Peace-tm series, The Sonnets of William Shakespeare, and the acclaimed Referee’s Survival Guide, a book on soccer officiating. All are published by New Alexandria Press, and are available on Amazon, as well as directly from the publisher.

Monday, December 29, 2008


To paraphrase President Gerald Ford...our long municipal nightmare is over.

The Detroit Lions, ever seeking the cutting edge of futility, managed to do the impossible yesterday: in a league which drives all teams toward parity, the Lions managed a uniquely Motown version of perfection, falling to the Green Bay Packers in the season finale...and becoming the first team in NFL history to lose all sixteen of its games in a single season.

There have been pretenders...including the Lions themselves, in previous incarnations. But most of them---including the immortal 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who set the previous low-water mark at 0-14---were expansion teams. The Lions managed the feat after a long and storied tradition...of losing, since the end of the glory days in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Not that it was an easy task: many times, the team seemed on the verge of victory, only to snatch defeat at the last moment. Whether through untimely penalties, misplayed defense, or a quarterback merry-go-round that seemed almost intended to keep the team in a state of flux, the coaches and players pulled together (in different directions, granted; but it was often at the same time...or, at least, within minutes of each other) to keep victory at bay.

And, in the end...perfection.

In a year filled with so much hatred, at least we can appreciate the gift the Lions gave to all of us...the gift of laughter.

Of course...laughter isn't exactly what most football fans look for in a team. But like following politics and current events...following the Lions is not for the faint of heart, and anyone who can't laugh at it all is apt to drive himself crazy.

Laughter is their legacy
Losing is their fame;
Nothing is beyond belief
For Lions and their game.

JEFFREY CAMINSKY, a veteran public prosecutor in Detroit, Michigan, specializes in the appellate practice of criminal law and writes on a wide range of topics. His books include the science fiction adventure novel The Star Dancers, the exciting second volume in the Guardians of Peace-tm series, The Sonnets of William Shakespeare, and the acclaimed Referee’s Survival Guide, a book on soccer officiating. All are published by New Alexandria Press, and are available on Amazon, as well as directly from the publisher.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Our Nation's First Geek-in-Chief?

Amid the turmoil in the world, and catastrophes looming on the economic front, reporters worldwide are leaving no stone unturned to understand the man who will be our next president, Barack Obama. And in an adventure in investigate reporting that could well relegate Woodward & Bernstein to mere footnotes in American Presidential History, a reporter for the Associated Press has uncovered mounting evidence that President-elect Barack Obama is, in fact, a geek.

Citing volumes of circumstantial evidence, a report by Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press notes that the tell-tale signs appear to be unrefutable: the omnipresent blackberry; the youthful comic-book collection; his inspired use of the Internet as a campaign tool. But Borenstein cites two incidents---well-hidden during the campaign, most likely for fear of upsetting campaign plans during a tough, bitterly-fought election campaign---which appear unmistakable and irrefutable:

First, Obama was savy enough to flash the Vulcan "live long and prosper" salute to Leonard Nimoy last year, when the two men met. As most true geeks know, this salute does not occur naturally in nature, and must be practiced to be executed properly.

Even more telling, however, was an incident captured by Newsweek...in which Obama pointed to his wife's belt buckle as possibly containing dilithium crystals---then cracked, "Beam me up, Scotty," while laughing at his own joke. Michelle Obama's reaction---rolling her eyes in exasperation, a well-recognized marker of a mate's habitual geekdom---appears to provide the clinching piece of evidence.

It is unknown at this time just what effect having a "geek-in-chief" will have on American society. Observers will be carefully monitoring upcoming Star Trek conventions, to see whether the development causes unrest among geekdom's less-well-hinged but hitherto quiescent fringe elements.

JEFFREY CAMINSKY, a veteran public prosecutor in Detroit, Michigan, specializes in the appellate practice of criminal law and writes on a wide range of topics. His books include the science fiction adventure novel The Star Dancers, the exciting second volume in the Guardians of Peace-tm series, The Sonnets of William Shakespeare, and the acclaimed Referee’s Survival Guide, a book on soccer officiating. All are published by New Alexandria Press, and are available on Amazon, as well as directly from the publisher.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmases, past and present

The holidays can be stressful as well as a joy...and a time for feeling loss as well as joy.

Being with family and friends lends a warm glow to the day, even as the threat of indigestion from overeating occasionally manifests itself.

And yet the memories of loved ones who are no longer with us---who live only in our memories---makes the season bittersweet as well, lending a taste of just how fleeting life can be (as well as a reason for grasping joy and love while it lingers around us, rather than waiting until the end). It is, perhaps, most keenly felt among those who, in the past, have lost loved ones during the holiday season.

And yet seeing the glee in a child's face on Christmas morning can make anyone feel young again. This, then, is truly the magic of Christmas.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Confusing Politics with Religion

Much is made these days about the threat of "Radical Islam"...and the fact that the Jihadists often seem bent on killing as many Westerners---particularly Americans---as they can. This has led some to adopt a posture of "political protectionism," akin to the trade protectionists we see in some circles, warning of the dangers posed by "radical Muslims" throughout the world. But at the risk of being thought "politically correct" (an epithet I regard as among the worst things you can call anyone who postures as a "thinker"), I think we need to be cautious about confusing politics and religion.

I think that, properly understood, all of the world's great religions speak to the best in us, not the worst. At the same time, all of them suffer from the handicap of human imperfection, and many of the "mystic" religions---those that assume the existence of an all-powerful God, as opposed to philosophy-based creeds, such as Confucianism---seem to have a thread of evangelicalism in them, seeking to "spread the word" and convert everyone to what they suppose is the "one true" path to salvation.

Unfortunately, this latter aspect also appeals to the worst in us---the facet of human nature that divides the world into "us" versus "them," and strives for ways to prove ourselves "superior" in some ways to the rest. It was that aspect of Christianity that took Europe on the Crusades...had otherwise sane people burning accused heretics and witches alive at the stake...and is still echoing around our own culture in some of the more extreme fundamentalist sects. And yet we, ourselves, seem perfectly able to separate out the "nuts" from those who view their religion as a source of peace and strength, and who view the philosophy of Christianity (and Judaism) as one of tolerance and brotherhood.

It seems to me that before we begin lumping all Muslims together, we need to understand the vast differences between them---differences that are every bit as caverous as those between the Unitarians, the Fundamentalists, and the Polygamists in Utah. Properly understood, many of the differences spring not from the teachings of the Christian religion, but from the political views---and, on occasion, the personal lifestyle preferences---of different religious leaders...some of whom are intoxicated by notions of their own self-worth, and all of whom suffer from human imperfections of their own. Similarly, I suspect that much of the mistrust and hatred that spills across cultures stems not from the core values of the various religions, but from the obvious excesses of each religion's particular strains of crackpots---those who pervert or distort those core values for their own particular ends.

To look at a non-religious analogy from American history, we need only examine our dealings with the natives, which any student of history must accept are not shining examples of honesty or integrity. There were many American Indian tribes who were peaceful, wanted nothing except to be left alone, and who agreed to treaty after treaty, trusting that we would live up to our word. There were also many bands of renegade Indians, who were outraged by what all the white settlers were doing, and would attack along the frontier (though never in the numbers we see in the movies). Our reaction was to lump all of them together...and we had an appalling tendency to attack peaceful tribes in retaliation---the attack on Black Kettle's tribe in the Sand Creek Massacre being among among the most appalling examples. (We also had a tendency to violate any treaty we found inconvenient, another aspect of settling the west that history books often ignore).

If we are going to try to get along in this world, I think all people of good will need to be able to recognize and distinguish others of like mind in different cultures from the "crackpots" that inhabit other parts of the world---and, unfortunately, dominate many of the headlines. Whatever the culture, I think that most people (well...at least those who aren't raised in a climate of hate) are well-intentioned and honorable, and are more than willing to enjoy the blessings we share on this planet. Unfortunately, while we can all recognize and dismiss our own culture's lunatics, we aren't always successful at doing so across cultural borders. And this, I think, is the source of much of the mistrust in the world---and the breeding ground for much of the hatred that perpetuates so many of the continuing conflicts that we seem to see around us.

On the other hand...we do have reason for optimism: the advent of the internet does make it possible to communicate directly with people all over the world. If it does nothing but make us realize that there are thinking souls on the other side of the world who are just as eager to help make the world a better place...if not for ourselves, then for our children and grandchildren...then that, I think, may prove to be the biggest step toward true peace the human race has ever taken.

In any event...at this time of year, it's a nice thought to have, even if cold reality returns after the New Year.

Of course, this does not, mean that our current notions of moral relativism, so prevalent among the "politically correct thinkers" of our day, should be mistaken for actual thought, rather than its absence. In my newest novel, The Star Dancers, a non-human diplomat observes that "Whatever the language, the voice of reason sounds much the same." I tend to agree, personally...though I might add the caveat that "reason'" does seem to imply at least a modicum of "thought," as well.

JEFFREY CAMINSKY, a veteran public prosecutor in Detroit, Michigan, specializes in the appellate practice of criminal law and writes on a wide range of topics. His books include the science fiction adventure novel The Star Dancers, the exciting second volume in the Guardians of Peace-tm series, The Sonnets of William Shakespeare, and the acclaimed Referee’s Survival Guide, a book on soccer officiating. All are published by New Alexandria Press, and are available on Amazon, as well as directly from the publisher.

Handel's Messiah

A bit of Christmas magic happened yesterday.

Yesterday, musicians gathered inside a church (a HUGE churche, actually)---some with their instruments, some armed only with voices and song. The work was Handel's Messiah---a work all serious singers perform in bits and pieces, but few get to perform in its intended setting.

We gathered at Ward's Presbyterian Church...along with a huge, appreciative crowd. And after a short rehearsal, we performed---singers, orchestra, and audience, raising voices in the spirit of Christmas.

It was one of the best concerts I've been part of...ever.

And it was done only out of love...whether love of music, love of God, or love of the spirit of Christmas. The venue was great...the singing was great (well, except for me; I think I'm coming down with another cold, and I doubt I sounded very good)...and everyone left with their hearts full of generosity and good cheer.

It was bitter cold outside, but that didn't matter. Everyone felt warm on the inside...and that's what really counts.

One postscript: in addition to Madonna's Dr. Dave, one of the conductors was Dr. Jerry Smith---a past choir director for Ward Church and something of a local legend in music circles around here. He was the music director at Livonia's Bentley High School forty years ago, when I was a teenager; and I remember singing some of our combined concerts with Bentley---and noticing the striking director, with the unique and forceful style. I understand that he's kept in touch with most of his students...and they get together for choir reunions from time to time, held together by shared memories, and their shared love of music and Dr. Smith. After the concert, I went up to talk to him...and told him how much fun it was singing for him again.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Like all great apes, human beings can be cauldrons of bubbling emotions. Our feelings ebb and flow with great and small events in our lives, lending texture and depth to our existence.

As with most things, emotions are a blessing and a curse, bringing us sorrow as well as joy. And as death comes to all living things, we face some of our deepest emotional chasms when we lose a loved one...even if the loved one belongs to an entirely different species.

Callie came to us as a puppy—and for myself, she brought decidedly mixed feelings. We already had one dog—who had just passed out of her own puppyhood—and to me, one dog was plenty. From a new spate of bite marks on assorted bits of furniture, to the recurring wet spots in various places around the house, to the ever-increasing piles of unprocessed fertilizer left to adorn the backyard lawn, it seemed to me that we were now exceeding our doggie quota, and that as a result the Universe was careening into chaos:

Going on vacation? Now we have two dogs to unload on some unsuspecting doggiesitter.

Taking a walk? Now we have two impatient escorts—and their constantly tangling leashes—to deal with.

Mowing the lawn? Now we have twice as much crap to pick up (or mow around...or through, if I’m all by myself and anxious to get back inside to watch the ball game. Or nap, another favorite pastime that is underappreciated by some members of the household).

Yet in many ways, Callie—a golden retriever mix—was the dog I’d always wanted: our other dog—a beagle, like most of the other dogs we've had—was loud and stubborn, and apt to wander off if given half a chance. Callie was big—bigger than any dog I’d had—and loved to play fetch. But more than this, she was loving and attentive and eager to please.

We could walk her around the block...or down a hiking trail in the mountains...and she’d never wander farther than she could see us. And she always looked back to make sure we hadn’t gotten ourselves lost...though if we had, she would have been only too willing to come to our rescue.

She loved the water—at least, once she got over her terror at confronting her first waves. All three inches of them.

And she actually brought back sticks and balls...something no other pet of mine had ever done, no matter how much I tried to teach them. And she did it instinctively, laying it to rest (well, sometimes only after a wrestling match) at our feet, eager to bound out again for the next go-round.

For eleven years she’d been a faithful friend, and a loving member of the family. Never complaining, always eager for attention...and yet happy just to lie at our feet, content to share the ups and downs of our lives—never judging us, her heart filled with nothing but love.

But over the years her steps gradually slowed on her walks, and the fur on her face started showing the gray of age. And sometime this year, her behavior started to change: barely noticeable at first, we came to realize that rather than perking up with joy when someone returned home, she had taken to lying quietly, more and more often. And though mealtime was still the highlight of her day, she had little energy for much of anything—not even the scrapes and fusses she used to cause, whenever someone came too close to her food bowl.

It turned out that Callie had cancer. And slowly, the dog that seemed like she’d been a member of the family forever was beginning to fade.

By Monday night, Callie had grown quiet, and wasn’t moving very much. Nonie, my wife, decided that we needed to take her in the next day, and wanted to spend the night with the dog whose biggest joy in life was being by her side. Not wanting to disturb the fading dog’s routine any more than necessary, she gathered a blanket and her favorite pillow to spend the night downstairs. Her husband, not wanting to see his wife spending such a sad time all by herself, volunteered to sleep on the couch near both of them. (This actually worked quite well—up until Nonie woke me up from a sound sleep at 2 am, with complaints about how hard it was to sleep on the couch. I hadn’t noticed; of course, I take many of my best naps there, so it’s just one of the many things around the house that passes under my radar. We spent the rest of the night back upstairs in bed, with Callie on the floor).

Tuesday, I stayed home from work to be around for support. Callie had an enthusiastic breakfast, and we decided to take her for a last walk around the block. The walk was slow—they’ve been getting slower bit by bit over the last year—but by the time we got back home, the old dog was showing a bit more life. And through it all, we were wondering whether we were doing the right thing...whether we might not have more time with her. But we concluded that we were delaying things more for ourselves than for this fading member of our family, and Nonie called the vet to make an appointment...only to discover that the vet wasn’t in. A family emergency had the doctor out of the office this week. We took it as a sign that death was in no hurry, and decided to wait.

Wednesday, Callie again enjoyed her meals, and though she didn’t show much energy, she seemed content and untroubled for most of the day.

This morning, she greeted breakfast with her usual glee...only to stop, half-way through, no longer interested. For a golden retriever, this wasn’t a good sign.

Unfortunately, Nonie and I both had things to do today: she had family business that needed attention this morning, and I had a big court argument. By the time Nonie returned home, it was obvious that things had taken a turn for the worse; where once the return of a family member was the occasion of joy, this time Callie just moved reluctantly out of the way...and then she lay down on the kitchen floor, and wouldn’t move. That’s when we knew we couldn’t wait any longer.

I returned home, and after some sad goodbyes, we loaded her into the car for her last trip. We took her on a last ride around the neighborhood, along the pathway she traveled many times, ending at the nearby field where she’d often run to her heart’s content. And then we took her for one last drive, to the doctor, gently stroking her ears as we drove, and never stopping until she’d taken her final breath.

It’s hard to lose a family member. It’s especially tough around Christmas; I lost two grandparents at this time of year, and it casts a pall over the entire season. But in the end, the soreness in the heart will fade. It will be the happy times that live in our memories, rather than the sadness that comes with parting.

Still, it’s amazing how many lessons we never learn until it’s too late. But there was one family member, now gone, whose short time on Earth tried to teach us that the greatest joy in life could be greeting someone who’s just come home; that the greatest gift is simply being close by; and that the heart often sings its happiest songs when someone you love notices you...and gives you a scrap or two of attention, amid the clutter of busyness that tends to take up so much of our lives.

It’s a lesson that at least one fallible human being in our family is still trying to learn.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Guest Article: BurgerFest-O-Rama #1 - Bagger Dave's

As a public service, the Management would like to present the first in a series of reprinted articles highlighting Michigan's fine burger establishments, taken from the internet site of an up-and-coming local wit. The writer is Ken Agacinski---noted food critic, ranconteur, and soon-to-be-married son of a prominent Michigan attorney (my friend, Bob...who will probably never forgive his son for understanding computers)---who writes his own blog on various aspects of Michigania. You can read Ken's blog at: We Are Of Michigan.

BurgerFest-O-Rama #1 - Bagger Dave's
by Ken Agacinski

And so begins the most significant and important quest of my lifetime - specifically, eating far more burgers than any reasonable person should intend to eat. During the 3rd quarter of the Michigan/OSU game, I decided that I had enough of watching the destruction of 100+ years of history and Maureen and I determined that today would be a great day to begin my quest to eat as many of the burgers called out in The Detroit Free Press as possible. Maureen lives out in Ann Arbor and the list focuses primarily on metro-Detroit burger spots, but I was able to manipulate the list ever-so-slighty. One of the burgers specified in the "Other Burgers Not To Miss Section" is from a relatively new restaurant on the Michigan scene called Bagger Dave's. The first of their restaurants opened in Berkley in, I don't know, let's say 2006. At the end of August of this year, they opened their second restaurant in Ann Arbor on Eisenhower Parkway. Even though the Berkley location is specified in the Freep's list, I am making up my own rules for my burger eating and felt that the Ann Arbor location would give me an appropriate understanding of their burger quality (or, possibly, lack thereof). Because this was the start of my adventure, Maureen took a photo of me outside of the dining establishment. Because I'm wearing gloves, you may think that I have my two least-appropriate fingers in the air. I assure you that this is not the case, and rather my index fingers are pointing at the sign with nervous and hungry anticipation. I promise.

Bagger Dave's name comes from the fact that they serve all of their burgers in these paper sleeves. The inside of the restaurant was quite clean and pleasant and had an unexpected kind of dark wood feel to it. The only weird thing is that some of the seating booths aren't exactly connected to the ground, so if you are sharing an opposing side of the booth with a person of heft, you may find yourself unexpectedly moving about on occasion. Bagger Dave's also has a functional toy engine train running around the top of the store. We did not see any crashes of the train, so I am pretty sure that they have a no text messaging rule for the train operators. Here's a picture of the train (speeding at a blur of bad photo-taking by me in the top of the frame) with Maureen.

Finally, time for some burgers. Because this is my first burger post, I am going to try to give a quick breakdown of the rating scale that Maureen and I determined with corroboration from my brother, Steve. Because I love even the crappiest of burgers, we have a slightly different scale than most may naturally assume, but I believe it will serve the necessary purpose. The scale is as such:

0 Hamburglars - Edible and enjoyable, but not altogether great burger. Think McDonald's original hamburger as the baseline for 0 Hamburglars.

1 Hamburglar - officially determined as "good" but not life-changing. Again using fast food guide, a 1 is probably closer to a Whopper. I would eat a Whopper any day of the week, but we're working on eating Metro Detroit's "Best Burgers"

2 Hamburglars - "Very good", as in "that was better than a Whopper but I'm sure better is out there"

3 Hamburglars - "Excellent", you would not kill for an excellent burger, but perhaps you would be willing to maim

4 Hamburglars - "The Best", while "the best" normally refers to the one to rule them all, we are going to allow a few of "The Bests" for the purposes of this quest because at a certain point, it becomes impossible to enhance a burger to further greatness. Otherwise, you are eating a burger in heaven.

Maureen ordered a "Create Your Own Legend Burger" with mozzarella, tomatoes, grilled onions, romaine lettuce, and one 3.5 oz beef patty (someone in the kitchen was feeling quite kind and provided her with two 3.5 oz patties, +1 for Bagger Dave's) and a sesame bun with a side of fries. I ordered the "Trainwreck Burger" as the most expensive item on the menu (at $6.99), and a burger I felt most adequately represented what might make Bagger Dave's special. This burger consisted of two beef patties, super sharp cheddar, grilled onions, sauteed mushrooms, iceberg lettuce, mayo, fries, and an egg - all on the burger. All burgers are cooked to medium-well, -1 for Bagger Dave's if you are the kind of person who likes to consume actually red meat.

Pros: Quality meat (never frozen), fantastic buns (I highly recommend the "Plain Bun", it tasted like it came from a bakery), relatively inexpensive for the quality of the meat experience, large circumference straws (highly appreciated by Maureen), good but slightly weird fries (they actually tasted like potato), onions neither under nor over-grilled, filled me up for $7 - and that is hard to do.

Cons: Inconsistent lettuce application - my lettuce pieces were chopped oddly, small, and kept falling out of the burger. Maureen's lettuce piece was under the meat which kind of cooked the lettuce and made it soft and wilted. Mushroom distribution uneven, if I did have cheddar on my burger as promised, I definitely didn't notice it was "super sharp", only five total fries included in the Trainwreck Burger. I imagined them piled high and smashed under the bun in potato-ey/meaty harmony, fries do not come with burger order

Based on the newly-devised Hamburglar scale, we rate Bagger Dave's:

I am very comfortable declaring this a 2 Hamburglar "Best Burger" dining experience. The food was affordable and enjoyable, but lacked the little things (like the lettuce issue) that really push a burger to the next level. Next up, who knows. I guess it depends on when I'm hungry.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Madonna Chorale Christmas Concert---Take Two

We finished off another successful Christmas season today, with our second concert of the season.

Singing at First United Methodist Church in Grosse Pointe Farms--a lovely venue for singing---the group followed up on a very good second dress rehearsal with a very nice concert, before a receptive audience.

Kevin Huntsman, a local financial analyst and friend since our days together at Redford Union High School, was in attendance. So was my son, Jason...who would have been a wonderful addition to the bass section this season.

For a personal family encore...we decorated the Christmas Tree this evening, at Casa Caminsky.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Goodbye, Jimbo

I visited Detroit Police Headquarters at 1300 Beaubien today, after lunch with my friend, Bob Agacinski at the Old Shilellagh---the bar in downtown Detroit where we pay off most of our bets, the ones we use to give us an excuse to go out to lunch. It was the first time I'd been back to the Police Gym since July 1st. I came to clean out my locker...and to say a last goodbye.

Bob and I have been running buddies for almost thirty years, dating from 1980---when I was a new prosecutor and he, having been around for several years before that, was one of the young "old veterans." We've each gone on to a measure of professional and personal success together---Bob as a crackerjack trial prosecutor, me as a somewhat well-regarded appellate lawyer. But somehow, we always seemed to make time to exercise together.

At least, until last July 1st.

There was a third member of our team. Jim Metz was a funny, mischievous, and charming member of the office who, upon rejoining the Office after a stint as a private lawyer, started running with us. We'd try to go every day. )Well, every day we couldn't think up an excuse). And between the three of us, we usually managed one person's worth of gumption...which was enough to guilt all three of us into going. We preferred the police gym for a couple of reasons: it was dirty, which cut down on the crowds, and meant we wouldn't have to share the running track with any real athletes; and it was free. More importantly, it was an excuse to sit around and talk, while trying to work up the ambition to start jogging---about life, love, politics, and anything that happend to pique our interest. And, for nearly twenty years, we managed to keep each other healthy, happy, and reasonably fit.

July 1st started out like any other run: we sat; stretched; talked...and, reluctantly got onto the track to run.

This time, though, the run lasted less than half a mile. Jim collapsed as he rounded a turn in the track, and died as we tried to save him.

Today was the first time I'd returned to the gym since that day. In many respects, I was probably putting it off...knowing that to clean out my locker meant that Jim was really gone, and that we'd simply have to move on. So, I stuffed my gear into three plastic bags and left.

But before leaving, I went back up to the running track, one last time. It looks just the same: the track was still dusty and old; the basketball courts, crinkled and wavy from the water dripping down from the leaking roof, still lay unused. And the stairs still creak when you climb them.

I rounded the track once, pausing at the spot where Jim breathed his last. And then, I left.

Bob and I are planning on resuming our exercise program...at the downtown YMCA, right after the first of the year. It's a lush, well-run facility---without grime, without crystalized drippings from the leaking water pipes, and with a reliable supply of hot water for the showers. Life, after all, must go on.

But, it won't be the same.

The Next Crisis for the Auto Industry?

Congress is now moving toward a proposed solution to the auto industry's woes, though the outcome is far from certain. The House has passed its version of a bailout, while a Republican-led filibuster looms as a possibility in the Senate. I hate to think of what the collapse of the auto industry would mean, not just in Michigan, but across the country. At the same time, we could easily just make things worse, unless we are---in the immortal words of Elmer Fudd---"vewy, vewy ceahful..."

From my perspective, the problem isn't the fact of government backing, it's all the baggage that this kind of "backing" will carry along with it. We've already seen how helpful the government has been to our financial institutions, with the "backing" they gave to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; I suspect that they would offer similar kinds of help to the domestic car industry.

It's said that an elephant is a mouse, designed to government specfications. I shudder to think what a car designed to please Congress, or a Czar answerable to Congress, would look like.

If I recall correctly, the peasants killed the last Czar...or, at least, stood by cheering while thugs promising them paradise did the actual dirty work. I'm not sure things will wind up much differently, in or out of bankruptcy, if we let Congress appoint the next one.

Meanwhile, while Congress dithers, other precincts are starting to report:

A Michigan Perpsective on Senator Shelby

JEFFREY CAMINSKY, a veteran public prosecutor in Detroit, Michigan, specializes in the appellate practice of criminal law and writes on a wide range of topics. His books include the science fiction adventure novel The Star Dancers, the exciting second volume in the Guardians of Peace-tm series, The Sonnets of William Shakespeare, and the acclaimed Referee’s Survival Guide, a book on soccer officiating. All are published by New Alexandria Press, and are available on Amazon, as well as directly from the publisher.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Federal Corruption Probe Nails Illinois Governor

Federal agents arrested the governor of Illinois today, on charges that while the rest of us were busy buying Christmas presents, he was merrily trying to sell the newly vacant Senate seat of President-elect Obama. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat, was charged after a Federal wiretap caught him conspiring to hand the seat to the highest bidder---and also threatening to block assistance to the Chicago Tribune---a newspaper encountering financial difficulties during the current economic meltdown---unless they fired members of the paper's editorial board with whom he was having problems. Among the sweeteners that prospective bidders could offer were handsome salaries and fees for his wife, as well as himself, through various corporate or community enterprises. Among the allegations is that the governor and others were scheming to raise millions of dollars to funnel in the direction of Blagojevich and his wife, before new and more restrictive rules took effect at the end of the year.

Ironically, among Blagojevich's money men was Anthony "Tony" Rezko, a Chicago-area political fundraiser who has, in the past, been linked to Barack Obama, and is now awaiting sentencing on a variety of charges. And Blagojevich is the second straight Illinois governor to encounter legal problems. His predecessor, George Ryan, is currently serving a six-year sentence for fraud and racketeering.

JEFFREY CAMINSKY, a veteran public prosecutor in Detroit, Michigan, specializes in the appellate practice of criminal law and writes on a wide range of topics. His books include the science fiction adventure novel The Star Dancers, the exciting second volume in the Guardians of Peace-tm series, The Sonnets of William Shakespeare, and the acclaimed Referee’s Survival Guide, a book on soccer officiating. All are published by New Alexandria Press, and are available on Amazon, as well as directly from the publisher.

Madonna Chorale Christmas Concert---Take One

It was enough to make us all believe in miracles!!

Following a somewhat less-than-optimal dress rehearsal last week, many of us approached our first concert last Sunday with lots of humility, and not a small dollup of anxiety. We did, however, come through in the clutch...and, by the skin of our teeth, we managed to pull things together, if only in the nick of time. The Britten held together...the Holst rang the rafter...and the Universe edged back into harmony.

This week's concert should go much more smoothly. We have another dress rehearsal today, in Grosse Pointe...and our second concert is Sunday.

The Impending Liberal Reformation

Given all the advantages the Democrats had in this election year, it is astonishing that the election of Barack Obama was so close. An unpopular war abroad, turmoil among our allies, widespread mismanagement of the government by the incumbent, and economic chaos at home, should have made them unbeatable. And yet it was not until the final weeks of the campaign—with a big boost from Wall Street, which collapsed just as the Democrats seemed poised and determined to blow yet another big game—that Obama began to pull away. And his margin of victory was hardly the Rooseveltian margin that we might expect from a party benefitting from Liliputian approval ratings for the party in the White House. But since the approval rating of the Democratically-controlled Congress was even more microscopic, perhaps it is not terribly surprising. When the public is disgusted with both parties, the verdict of an election is unlikely to be a thundering endorsement. It is, rather, going to be a sigh of resignation...and the weary hope that the new crop of fools won’t be any worse than the last batch.

Perhaps the biggest millstone around Obama’s neck was baggage he was forced to carry for his own own party. The Liberal label has fallen into such disrepute that the biggest attraction of the Republican Party for moderates and independents was that it was not the party of Howard Dean, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi. This problem is, of course, entirely self-inflicted—and perhaps begins with the belief that they are so right in what they think, that anyone who disagrees with them is unfit for polite company.

As self-proclaimed saviors go, the Liberal Leadership is relatively benign: Stalin, Hitler, and Mao also viewed themselves as saviors, and littered the ground with the corpses of those who disagreed with them. In our society, we don’t kill dissenters: though we may try to destroy their names, reputations, and livelihoods, we are civilized enough not soil the ground with their blood.. Instead, we’ve seen that shredding reputations, or calling people who voice doubts about the Zeitgeist “intolerant,” is enough to keep most people in line. And since most “right-thinking people” shudder at the thought of being called racist, sexist, or any other kind of -ist that is de rigeur, the result is predicable: a mindless herd following meekly along, while the majority of people stands on the sidelines, shaking their heads and wondering why we’re suddenly overcome with lunatics.

Ironically, in many ways today’s Liberals stand in much the same place that the Troglodyte Right did during the McCarthy era of the 1950s. Then, as now, those who strayed from the “right-thinking” orthodoxy were threatened with personal and professional ruin if they did not conform, at least outwardly, to the prevailing point of view. And today’s array of Looney Lefties finds its counterpoint in the various strains of extremists that plagued the conservative side of the political spectrum in the 1950s: the Birch Society, anti-Floride-in-the-water, bitter anti-Black, anti-Semite, anti-Everything-that-is-not-us mindset that dogged conservatives in the early Cold War years—until the movement, led by conservative intellectuals like William F. Buckley and Brent Bozell, managed to purge itself of its less reputable components. This development not only resurrected conservatism as a respectable political belief, but also paved the way for the modern conservative movement, led by Ronald Reagan, to reclaim both its philosophical soul, and the White House. Unfortunately, in politics as in most things, humans appear unable to refrain from making a hash of things, and recent years have seen hubris and foolishness manage to overtake the conservative movement, much like it overtook the liberals, forty years ago.

Today’s economic and political troubles stem, in some measure, from the self-indulgence of conservatives who grew complacent with their hold on power. Much like the fall of liberalism growing from its own self-indulgence in the 1960s, the failure of modern conservatism to live up to its ideals has led the public to search elsewhere for new hope and a fresh set of ideas. But this does not mean merely a swing of the pendulum to a fresh set of lunatics: as William F. Buckley warned his own conservative movement as liberalism was falling apart in the 1960s, when the leaders of a movement are seen to be consorting with crackpots, the public is apt to bypass “crackpot alley” in favor of what they perceive to be sanity—however misguided it might be—on the other side. For Buckley and the conservatives in the 1960s, their challenge was to separate themselves from the Birchers and other “crackpots” whom the public saw as the public face of the political right. While the public might be willing to punish those who are busy making a hash of things for an election cycle or two, enduring political power will never flow to those who consort with lunatics. And so the later success of the conservative movement in this country—for forty years, from 1968 until the present, they had lost the presidency only twice—depended upon shedding its crackpots, and forging a political alliance based upon solid, understandable principles.

Today, the challenge of modern liberals is similar. Confronting an opposing party in shambles, the Democrats have regained power for just the third time since the end of the Johnson Administration. The narrowness of their margin of victory was supplied by a tide of public discontent and hope for a better future, and by an unusually charismatic candidate. It did not come from any reservoir of public trust of affection, for liberalism today has not outgrown its self-indulgent past. It is being dragged down by claims of many of its fringe groups to entitlement to public moneys, or special favors from a public, now facing an economic crisis, which is sick of the spectacle of special interests feeding at the public treasury. If it succumbs to the demands of its extreme elements, the new administration will simply be a way station on the return to business as usual: once the new fools prove as incapable of sensible action as the old fools, the public will inevitably toss them out, vainly hoping that some other set of fools will somehow manage to get it right.

Liberalism once laid its claim to idealism by trumpeting free trade, low taxes, a strong national defense, and a willingness to use the power of government to help people willing to work to achieve whatever dreams they might have. Liberals squandered the trust of the public by trying to make government the instrument of quotas and entitlements, and by allowing itself to be seized by those demanding favors—and money—from an increasingly powerful central authority.

Perhaps the most critical moment in any democracy is the moment that the public realizes that it can vote itself funds from the revenues of the government. History shows that this realization often ushers in an era in which power devolves to whichever party promises the most to its constituents—and that over the next few generations, this can lead to economic decline, widespread dependency on the generosity of the government, and the slow death of democratic ideals in favor of an increasingly powerful state. Democracy rests perilously on a society which has learned to resort to the public treasury as a source of private wealth. And in our current economic crisis, the temptation will be to use the resources of the federal government to protect us from economic turmoil—resources that came from all of us in the first place, and which inevitably draw the attention of a wide range of special interests, eager to seize a share of the fortunes to be made by plucking riches from the Federal treasury.

But the country needs a fresh infusion of ideals, and a party that stands for something besides the amalgamated claims of a host of special interests. Largely because the movement has been defined by its extremists, it has been years since liberals could run without disguising their true colors. The weight of the accumulated baggage has simply made their “label” politically unpalatable to a large segment of the population. And much of the public is too civic-minded and independent to accept the notion that the source of all wealth and wisdom can be found in the halls of Washington.

It is time for them to stand up to their lunatics and reclaim the rich heritage that was once theirs. Both the country—and their political opponents—would benefit from having two responsible parties competing for the public’s trust.

JEFFREY CAMINSKY, a veteran public prosecutor in Detroit, Michigan, specializes in the appellate practice of criminal law and writes on a wide range of topics. His books include the science fiction adventure novel The Star Dancers, the exciting second volume in the Guardians of Peace-tm series, The Sonnets of William Shakespeare, and the acclaimed Referee’s Survival Guide, a book on soccer officiating. All are published by New Alexandria Press, and are available on Amazon, as well as directly from the publisher.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Songs of the Season

Christmas is fast approaching. For some, this means holiday shopping and frenzied preparations for company of all stripes---friends, relatives, loved ones, barely-tolerated ones...and, in many cases, people you would just as soon avoid, but will try to put up with for the sake of peace in the family.

For musicians, however, Christmas means concerts. (Well...for some it means money as well; holiday church services are always in need of starving musicians to play for the congregation. Well-fed musicians are less likely to show up for a midnight mass or sunrise service). And for most of my life, I've been part of some Christmas concert or other---from Miss Vukmirovich's choruses at Bulman Elementary to the present.

To most people, Christmas concerts mean Christmas music: well-loved carols and songs of the season not only make the season bright, they also warm hearts longing for simpler, happier times. But that's from the perspective of the audience---the people actually paying to sit and listen. For most musicians, Christmas music poses few challenges---and, for some Scrooge impersonators who somehow learned to carry a tune, Christmas music is just oh-so-trite-and-passe.... So, as in many other pursuits, many musical snobs turn up their nose at the familar, and trend toward the unusual or unconventional. Thus...we sometimes have Christmas concerts with little, if any, relation to Christmas, other than a few verses in Latin, and maybe one or two carols thrown in to appease the masses.

This year, I'm singing with the Madonna Chorale, as I have been for the past two years. Last year, I was tapped for solo work; this year, I get to relax. But our director (Dr. Dave Wagner) has managed to pull together a concert that should be able to satisfy the snobs as well as the peasants. We have a few well-known Christmas songs in the mix, as well as some unusual arrangements of old and traditional songs by Benjamin Britten and Gustav Holst. The collection is eclectic, but not "outre," and should provide a little something for all musical tastes.

If, that is, we manage to pull things together: one additional aspect of musicians that often passes unnoticed is that we tend to work to deadlines---the deadline being walk-on time for our concert. And we always seem to find ourselves a week or two short on rehearsals.

I think this is something they teach in conducting classes...and it tends not to be kind to weak stomachs at this time of year. But it does make things exciting.

And it does tend to spice up our dress rehearsals....