Thursday, July 28, 2011

Catch Me if You Can

As far as serial rapists/sexual assailants go, the perp in Ann Arbor is moving with amazingly swift virulence.

Within two weeks, there have been six attacks on women, all late at night and all within the city proper. All victims have been between their late teens and early-30s.

And just in time for a new slew of freshmen girls who are arriving on campus in advance of the 2011-12 school year.

As the father of an 18-year-old daughter, I'm not sure what my emotions would be like if I had to drop her off at U-M now, right when these attacks are taking place.

Because one thing is certain: the assaults won't end until the assailant is caught; serial anything doesn't just stop, miraculously. The perp is either caught or dies---or else the crimes will continue.

The only thing preventing more killings than the four children who were sexually assaulted and killed by the Oakland County Child Killer in the mid-1970s was likely the death of the bad guy. That's long been the theory of law enforcement and it's got precedent.

These guys who commit repetitive crimes in serial fashion get too big of a thrill out of it to suddenly cease and desist.

They have to be caught or die in order for the attacks to stop.

But even as far as serial sexual assaults go, what's happening now in Ann Arbor is shocking. The number of reported attacks in the past nine days has been mind-numbing.

Jennifer Smith is an employee at a hoagie shop on South State Street.

"I've completely changed everything I do," she told the Detroit News. "This is probably the first time I've been worried about walking alone here."

The latest attack occurred Tuesday, when a 21-year-0ld woman went to her car on the 700 block of South State Street at 11:30 p.m. to fetch something. A man grabbed her from behind and fondled her before she managed an escape.

Police composite of the alleged suspect in the Ann Arbor attacks

Police aren't 100% certain that the attacks are the work of one man, because in some instances the victims are groped and fondled, and in some they're actually raped.

But if there is more than one person involved, police think they could be working in tandem.

Ann Arbor police chief Barnett Jones thinks the assailant---if it's one person---is a "predator" and "is doing some type of field work, lying and waiting for an opportunity" to strike.

"He knows what he's doing," Jones told the News.

That's always the scary thing about serial criminals; normally they're intelligent and have a game plan. The thrill is almost as much gotten from the prep work as it is from the crime itself.

That, and the satisfaction in the notion that the perp "fooled 'em again."

The power that someone must get from paralyzing an entire city's female population with fear must be very intoxicating.

The good news is that the more bold and brazen the assailant gets, the better chance that the police will catch him.

But how many more women have to be victimized before that happens?

The Ann Arbor serial rapist/sexual assailant will strike again, no question. These guys don't just get bored and stop.

Here's hoping he'll make the wrong move at the wrong time.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Not Going Postal

When I was a child and used to visit my grandparents who lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, one of the things I remember doing was sometimes hopping into the car and grandpa driving several miles into the little town near where they lived---to get the mail.

Every day they made that trip, unless it was winter time---then the mail could wait until the roads were passable.

For most of us, a check of the mail means nothing more than padding to the front door, opening it, and peeking into the box. Being fully clothed isn't even required.

Can you imagine getting into your car and driving 10-15 minutes each way---just to check the freaking mail?

I wonder what will happen to those small, out of the way post offices, in light of the news that the U.S. Postal Service is closing 3,700 offices in order to cut costs.

And they have to do a lot of cutting.

The Postal Service needs to close a $20 billion gap in revenue by 2015.

The 3,700 offices that will close are spread out over all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

"The Postal Service of the future will be smaller, leaner and more competitive and it will continue to drive commerce, serve communities and deliver value," Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said after releasing a list of the offices to be closed.

The closings are in addition to other cost-cutting ideas like a five-day delivery week, which I wrote about in this space back in November 2009.

It's not a big mystery why the Postal Service is bleeding money.

No one uses them anymore.

Well, not literally, but almost.

If it wasn't for junk mail and bills every week, your mailbox would be accumulating spider webs more than mail.

No one writes letters anymore. Fewer and fewer people are paying bills via the mail; they receive bills in the mail, but don't pay them that way. And more and more folks are getting their statements electronically.

When I was 14, I had a pen pal. His name was Michael Maurer and he lived in New Jersey. I think we got matched up via the Baseball Digest. He was a Yankees fan and I was a Tigers fan and we wrote to each other several times over the summer. The excitement was palpable whenever I found a letter from Michael in the mailbox.

I exchanged letters with my grandmother a lot, too, back in the day.

In fiscal year 2010, the Postal Service suffered an $8.5 billion net loss.

Most of the offices to be closed suffer from lack of foot traffic and some only register about $50 in sales a day.

Donahoe says the savings from the closings, which will start in the next four to six months, will be about $200 million.

But of course, these aren't just buildings that are being shuttered. Real people are involved here.

3,000 postmasters, 500 supervisors and 500-1,000 clerks will be out of work, thanks to the closings.

I'm not sure how we got here, despite the reduction of use in services. This didn't happen overnight. The Internet is growing fast, yes, but why do I feel like the Postal Service was slow to head off this kind of financial calamity?

Some post offices in small towns have held meetings to prepare to challenge any decision to close.

But the Postal Service is swimming in red ink. It's unlikely that any decisions to close offices will be reversed.

Once again, the Internet giveth and taketh away.

That's how it goes, with 21st century living.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

No Borders? My Nose Knows

The first thing I notice is the smell.

It's not an odor, it's a scent---tickling the olfactory nerves with its blend of the newly minted, the newly printed. Then there's sometimes a hint of coffee wafting from somewhere in the back.

I love walking into a bookstore.

The used bookstore has its own scents, and that blend is appealing, too.

But today I talk about the new bookstore, where nothing has been pre-owned, and the books have only been read by the patrons sitting in overstuffed chairs or on hardbacks as they sip their lattes.

The big box bookstore is dying a slow, agonizing death. It reminds me of the gradual yet pervasive disappearance of the drive-in movie theaters, "back in the day"---which was less than 20 years ago.

The announcement that Borders is liquidating, severing over 10,000 jobs across the country and over 400 in Ann Arbor alone, is sad beyond the job loss, which this economy hardly needs.

This isn't just a chain closing; it's maybe the harbinger of a piece of our soul being cut out of us.

For now, Barnes and Noble survives, but for how much longer?

It's another instance of how the Internet giveth and can taketh away.

There hasn't been an economic double-edged sword in recent times quite like the Internet.

Jobs have been created, but you get the feeling that more have been eliminated in this digital, e-age. has been blamed, in part, for Borders' demise. More people are doing their browsing online---and not just website surfing. I'm talking actual BROWSING. Remember that?

Remember when you touched and felt the items you were considering for purchase? Remember when buying decisions were made on more than just a thumbnail photo on your computer's monitor?

The convenience of online shopping can't be overlooked. I admit that there's something wicked about "shopping" in your pajamas at 11:00 at night.

But then I walk into a bookstore, as I did last weekend (Barnes and Noble, in fact), and there was that smell again, beckoning me---that come hither scent of books, magazines, games and java.

That's java the coffee, not java the computer programming language.


I don't even have to buy anything at a bookstore in order to enjoy myself. On Sunday I had some time to kill while the ladies in my life had fun at the Ulta makeup store. I spent some 15 minutes standing and crouching in front of the sports section of books, sliding one out on occasion to peruse.

I wandered over to the mystery section, and then the history area. Nearby were some spiritual books, one of which I actually purchased.

I have stabbed my nose into a book for purposes of just smelling it. I admit it. I smell books. Why? Because they smell good. I also love their newness, their crisp pages, their tight binding.

I could spend hours in a bookstore and buy little to nothing. It's the best babysitter for me, and my wife knows it.

There's a Borders near me, in Oakland Mall, though for how much longer, who knows. I was there last weekend, too.

I love the smell of a new bookstore.

You can't get that online.

Not that the cutthroat world of business cares much about that.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Drink Responsibly? HA!

I enjoy a cold beer at the end of the day. In the evening, maybe a martini, or a scotch on the rocks.

That's the extent of my drinking, really.

A far cry from the fuzzy days of my college years, when we'd drink during happy hour, go home and take a nap, and then wake up at 10:00 at night, wondering what we were REALLY going to be doing that night.

I outgrew the alcohol thing by the time I was in my late-20s. That was 20 years ago.

Yet there are still those well into their 30s, or even my age, who still find the whole drink-till-you-drop thing, fun.

I guess I just don't get it.

Even when I was at my drinking best, circa 1982-88, I recognized how awful it could make me feel, whether that same night or the next day. I remember getting hammered at a bachelor party into the wee hours, then having to report to work the next morning to direct TV coverage of a parade.


So now, one beer, one drink, that's it. It's not about the buzz, it's about the flavor. The refreshing aspect of an ice cold beer, the calming warmth of a cocktail or splash of scotch over ice.

That's all I need.

I listen to 97.1 The Ticket quite often---the sports talk station. But they also deviate into non -sports talk, too---but definitely "man talk."

On occasion, one of the hosts there (I won't divulge his name) will talk about drinking and partying. And I know he's in his mid-30s.

Outside of that, I enjoy listening to him and his show. But when he talks about getting "wasted" and so drunk that a hangover is imminent, I am baffled.

I'm like, "Dude, grow UP!"

Besides, it sounds like drinking and driving are part of the "festivities."

I just don't get it.

I got all that stuff out of my system by the time I was 25 years old.

It saddens me that men in their mid-30s and beyond still find all that partying enjoyable.

Eight years ago, my family and I were on a boat ride, with many of my co-workers. It was an evening thing, very enjoyable.

Except that one of the sales people got so drunk, she was baring herself and acting like a lap dancer. And she was someone who had once run for local political office.

Her antics were so embarrassing---and our 10-year-old daughter was in attendance, along with other children---that I truly felt for her.

When I saw her a couple days later at work, I felt even worse for her. But she made her own bed.

I'm not anti-alcohol. I'm not a prude.

But I AM anti-immaturity. And gross irresponsibility.

It's not funny to see someone schnockered in public.

It's sad, and disturbing.

I'm fine with my one beer at the end of the day.

Plus, it doesn't make me feel like crap later.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

First Lady, Indeed

Betty Ford was one of the few First Ladies whose exploits and name recognition were greater than that of her husband's.

If you were going to compile a Top 5 List of All-Time Great First Ladies, you'd better put Mrs. Ford on it.

The caveat is that Betty Ford accomplished the lion's share of her fame after she left the White House. Then again, she was only a resident there for 29 months (August 1974-January 1977).

Betty Ford is being laid to rest today in Palm Desert, California, with several former First Ladies and Michelle Obama in attendance. Mrs. Ford died last week at age 93.

Outside of Eleanor Roosevelt, Betty Ford was the most politically and socially active First Lady in modern times. It started with her raising of awareness of breast cancer, after she underwent a mastectomy in 1974.

She wasn't a favorite among the conservative Republicans, despite her being a member of the GOP herself---along with her husband, Jerry. Her more moderate and sometimes liberal stance on social issues turned the conservative branch of the party off.

Betty Ford was in the White House in the salad days of the women's movement. She was actively in support of the Equal Rights Amendment, pro-choice when it came to abortion, and very vocal on the hot button issues of the day.

Betty Ford was no wallflower.

Then, of course, her most famous mark---the Betty Ford Rehab Center, which became known simply as "Betty Ford," as in, "I heard he checked into Betty Ford because of his addiction."

From Wikipedia:

In 1978, the Ford family staged an
intervention and forced her to confront her alcoholism and an addiction to opioid analgesics that had been prescribed in the early 1960s for a pinched nerve. "I liked alcohol," she wrote in her 1987 memoir. "It made me feel warm. And I loved pills. They took away my tension and my pain."

In 1982, Betty Ford established the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California, for the treatment of chemical dependency.

In 1991, Mrs. Ford was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George H.W. Bush. She received a Congressional Gold Medal in 1999.

Betty Ford: 1918-2011

Betty Ford was a groundbreaker, and a tough old lady who didn't really care all that much about what people thought of her or her ideas. Once she decided to take a stance or some action, that was that. A few presidents could have learned from her.

There's no telling how many people have had their lives literally saved by a stay (or two) at the Betty Ford Center. And there's no telling if the movements that Mrs. Ford lent her voice to would have been as successful, had she not. There's a good chance that they would not have, in retrospect.

Both she and her husband lived to be 93---becoming the first Presidential Couple to both live past their 90th birthdays.

Contrary to belief, Betty Ford wasn't born in Grand Rapids (she was born in Chicago), but she certainly grew up in Michigan's second-largest city.

Her giving ways began when she was still a teenager. She entertained and worked with children with disabilities at the Mary Free Bed Home for Crippled Children in the 1930s. She studied dance and graduated from a dancing school in 1935.

Maybe Betty Ford's affinity for life's underdogs took root when she lost her father at age 16 when he died of carbon monoxide poisoning while working on a car, despite the garage doors being open.

After being married for five years to William Warren, who she had known since age 12, Betty married Gerald Ford in 1948. The wedding was in mid-October, with Jerry a few weeks away from his first election as a Congressional candidate.

The New York Times reported about the timing of the wedding, "Jerry was running for Congress and wasn't sure how voters might feel about his marrying a divorced ex-dancer."

That divorced ex-dancer turned into one of the most adored, revered and respected women of her time, or of any time.

"I've learned a lot about myself," she once said. "Most of it is all right. When I add up the pluses and subtract the minuses, I still come out pretty well. "

Indeed. Rest in peace, Mrs. First Lady.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

For Caylee

Unfortunately, our criminal justice system doesn't allow for verdicts of "probably" or "who else?" or "are you kidding me?"

If so, little Caylee Anthony would have justice today. Her killer and any accomplice(s) would be destined to a life behind bars---until execution, as they do in Florida.

Instead, the jury in the most gripping, emotionally invested trial since that of O.J. Simpson rendered a decision that was a rejection of the prosecution's version of what happened.

This is because the prosecution, in the jury's eyes, failed to portray their version in that "beyond a reasonable doubt" way, which is a great threshold to have in place until it becomes inconvenient.

Perhaps we will never know what happened to Caylee, the precious little toddler who was discarded in a swamp like remnants of a picnic. But that won't protect her mother, the acquitted Casey, who now proceeds to live one of the most intriguing lives in recent memory.

What will happen to Casey? She's under real threat of violence. Hers is now a world where everyone---EVERYONE---will look at her cross-eyed. She may as well sew scarlet letters on all her blouses---"BK" for baby killer.

She may be acquitted, in a verdict that's as easy for the nation to swallow as a gallon of lye, but she's not exonerated. The grisly, tragic death of her daughter will follow her, forever.

Oh, Casey may make some dough off this enterprise. There might be a book, a movie, God knows what else. She's not guilty by law, so it's difficult to legally deny her any profits.

Casey Anthony's haul might be disgusting in its largesse, when all is said and done---and written. But she will forever be poor in character and in conscience. Unless she really is a sociopath, as some suspect.

Caylee Anthony: August 2005-June 2008

But even if she's guiltless in her soul, she's not about to live the life of an innocent person. She's 25 years old but her life might be over, for all intents and purposes. Who will hire her? Who will marry her? Who will have anything to do with her? Besides publishers and producers, that is.

It's little consolation, I know, for those of us aching to give Caylee her justice. But it's better than nothing. You're excused, in my book, if you choose to wish ill on Casey and those who may have helped her cover up Caylee's manner of death.

That's not very Christian, I know, but we aren't perfect people, either. We are prone to letting emotions get the best of us, especially when it comes to animals and kids and the elderly---the most defenseless among us.

You're going to hear it a lot in the next few days---Casey is going to be released from prison on July 13---that maybe her "not guilty" verdict was the worst thing that could happen to her, considering what her life on the outside is going to resemble.

Deep down we really don't believe that, but it is something to hold onto---that Casey Anthony will be a leper among us. Someone who will live a tortuous, lonely life.

It's not nice to wish a pox on another.

And little Caylee Anthony is dead.

So who do we go see about that?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Book of Daniel

The child actor is one of the most volatile of creatures---when he or she stops being a child actor and has to be, simply, an actor----or a person.

The road to Hell is paved not only with good intentions, but also with the souls of cherubic youngsters who had the misfortune of gaining fame before puberty.

No need to drag their names through the mud once more---chances are you know of whom I speak.

But there may be hope that the newest generation of kid actors and entertainers has learned from their predecessors.

Daniel Radcliffe, the bespectacled lead in the "Harry Potter" franchise, told GQ UK that he leaned on alcohol while filming "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince" in 2009.

But Radcliffe kicked the bottle, he says, last August.

"As much as I would love to be a person that goes to parties and has a couple of drinks and has a nice time, that doesn't work for me. I do that very unsuccessfully," Radcliffe told GQ UK. "I'd just rather sit at home and read, or talk to somebody that makes me laugh. There's no shame in enjoying the quiet life. And that's been the realization of the past few years for me."

That, and the love of a good woman---that age-old tonic, has appeared to also be a cure for the sauce.

"I'm actually enjoying the fact that I can have a relationship with my girlfriend where I'm really pleasant and not f--ing up totally all of the time," Radcliffe says.

The revelation of Radcliffe's bout with alcohol comes as the final installment of the franchise, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," approaches. It opens on July 15.

Radcliffe saw trouble brewing with alcohol and kicked it last August

It was another case of celebrity's bright lights and ubiquitous presence threatening to engulf a young performer.

“I became reliant on [alcohol] to enjoy stuff." Radcliffe says. "There were a few years there when I was just so enamored with the idea of living some sort of famous person’s lifestyle that really isn’t suited to me," he adds in the GQ UK interview according to U.K. paper the Telegraph.

Radcliffe considers himself lucky, because “I really got away with (it), because there were so many instances when a paparazzi shot like that could have been taken" while he was consuming heartily.

If this is a case of a professional and personal derailing being nipped in the bud, then it's a grand story, indeed. How many times has a celebrity as young as the 21-year-old Radcliffe been able to reel himself in before any serious damage is done?

Don't forget, Radcliffe has been doing this Harry Potter thing since before he was a teenager, as have his co-stars, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson. None of the three have so much as sniffed controversy off camera.

So maybe there's hope for today's child actor, after all.

It would be a change, I'll tell you that.