Muskegon County Commission Debates Use Of Lansing-Based Medical Examiner

(Originally written for 103.7 “The Beat” WUVS-LP)

The Muskegon County Commission’s appointment of the County Medical Examiner at Tuesday’s meeting drew both minor controversy and positive testimony.

The issue: Joyce DeJong, DO, who currently holds the position, operates in Lansing and the county’s contract includes the use of Sparrow Hospital.  The reappointment on Tuesday’s agenda will last through February of 2014.

Outgoing commissioner John Snider immediately raised concerns about the cost of transporting bodies needing examination to Lansing, instead of hiring someone locally to do the job.

“I’ve had quite a number of people contact me about the cost of transportation,” said Snider. “The use of someone local would cost substantially less.”

“I would request that an RFP [request for proposals] be issued to provide those services locally.”

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Watch Out, NFL: After Mid-Season, the Refs May Have The Leg Up On You

To boo the replacement refs, or to not boo the replacement refs?

We’re three-weeks-going-on-four into the 2012-2013 NFL season, and there appears to be no end in sight for the NFL referee lockout.

My opinion on this was a little harder to come to than you’d think.  I wanted to give the guys the benefit of the doubt.  They’ve been thrust into the spotlight, and NFL coaches and players give even the most seasoned refs a hard time. But in a career where precision and making the right call all the time is an imperative, not an option, the replacement refs are like that coworker who gets the “hey, do better next time” from the boss while you get the closed-door howler for the same exact screw-up.

What interests me more than even the replacement refs is the bosses in that bad coworker metaphor.  Why the lockout has gone on this long is anyone’s guess, but one theory posits that the NFL is holding out so they can look tough. NFL owners and commissioner can’t look weak in a dispute with the refs, lest future negotiations with the players’ union be affected.  While that’s cynical, it also probably has a level of truth to it.

What the NFL is missing is that public opinions can shift, and even in a professional sports juggernaut like the NFL (which arguably is second only to God in claiming a whole day of the week to its self), there will be a point in the second half of the season where the general public will subtly shift its perception of the league from solid to shaky.

It’s a take on the Law of Big Numbers idea – if you piss off a few groups of fans for a few weeks, people will get over it. But if you pile more and more of these, effectively multiplying one slight here and one slight there by hundreds and hundreds, those pockets of fans will be offended multiple times, and their annoyance will harden. Those never-ending mistakes will eventually hit all groups of fans, diehard or casual, across all 32 teams.  And at that point, you aren’t starving out the refs’ bargaining unit; you are starving out your fans. Your strategy of leaving the guys who are actually good at their jobs out in the cold will make you out to be a Scroogeish landlord.

In any other realm (like the Chicago Public Schools), a week of striking would be enough. Aside from not playing 5 days a week, he NFL is so beloved that it has a bit more leeway to play tough. But I’ll say it now – if this goes to week 10, 11 or beyond, the NFL will be the enemy.

Fans like good football. If good football is happening, bad calls get in the way. If bad football is happening, well… we’re sorry to all the Bills fans out there. (As a Jets fan, I say that with humor and the knowledge that the dual QB experiment and Revis gone will not likely a playoff run make.)

The only solace to having a full season of replacement refs would be to find 2013 in the footnotes of a future football coffee table book. Like cheers for the 0-16 Lions season of only a few years ago, it’s got some novelty to it.  And I will admit I like quirks and trivia.  But footnotes belong in the footnotes, not on a football field.

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Alexa and Jorge Narvaez on America’s Got Talent!

The cuteness train keeps rolling with Jorge and Alexa Narvaez, who I fell in love with with their viral video cover of “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.  Here’s their appearance on America’s Got Talent this week!

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(Green) Arrow TV Series Picked Up – My High School Geek Reappears

I’m back from the dead! And so is Oliver Queen.

When I rediscovered superhero literature/media in high school a few years before Batman Begins, I knew the big names – Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Green Lantern. But one character always intrigued me, and grew to be one of my favorites of all time.

Oliver Queen, a.k.a. Green Arrow.  Frequently considered to be somewhere between a B- and C-list hero by popular media, but somewhere between B- and A-list for serious DC fans because of his frequent presence in the Justice League, his ability to piss off Hawkman, and most importantly, his acclaimed, political co-run with Green Lantern in the Bronze Age of the 1970s.

When Smallville featured Green Arrow as another hero in the show’s universe, it took me little time to figure out why him and not some bigger name: A Robin Hood-esque guy with a bow that has an odd, if sort of endearingly similar backstory to Bruce Wayne/Batman, having precision skills of the noble pursuit of archery.  He hits the Dark Knight notes while looking cool in his own way, some social justice angles available for use long term, all keeping the special effects budget down. (Imagine if the Aquaman pilot got picked up… $!$!$! to make that one!)
Being a huge Ollie fan (he even made spicy chili that everyone groaned about, like me!), this. was. AWESOME. Green Arrow beat so many other heroes to TV!

Well, Smallville eventually ended and I thought that’s the last I’d see of Ollie (though I never gave up on the excellent, if radio-silent idea of Supermax – and I still won’t. Superhero films aren’t going away any time soon).

However, at the beginning of 2012… things started happening.  And now, thanks to the Upfronts this week… we now have the first footage of Arrow, a take on the character that’s a bit remixed but still seems to hit on most of the major beats of the character’s history.

This is not the Justin Hartley Green Arrow from Smallville, instead a new take on Ollie that just calls himself “Arrow”.  Wondering if he’ll adopt the full moniker over time…

From the footage so far, it feels like Green Arrow: Year One hits Longbow Hunters.  I’m cautiously optimistic, and just hope that the CW doesn’t ruin it by being the CW.  I’m hoping for more Smallville and less Birds of Prey.

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NYU’s Interactive Communications Program: Metrocard Compost = Donated Dollars. BRILLIANT!

Admit it. If you’ve ridden any MTA service in New York City, you’ve probably held onto a MetroCard with a balance less than the standard $2.25 fare (or if you left town, one that has more just in case you came back).

If you’re on top of things, you refill the card a bunch of times until it wears out, gets lost, or you eventually work the math right and completely zero out the card (those mini “bonus” amounts the MTA gives you when you add money are proportioned to make this really hard).  What can you do with that little bit of surplus you will almost always have, aside from paying it forward toward another fare?

Some students in NYU’s Interactive Communications Program are looking to glean those $0.60, $1.85, $0.15, etc. bits and turn them into charity funds. Called MetroChange, the current plan is to collect people’s balances at special kiosks and donate to a new charity at the end of the month.

[Full story here]

I can attest that in my periodic trips to New York, I always get home and realize I have a MetroCard with a few cents/dollars left on it, unless I was using an unlimited ride card.  I counted 5 cards in a pile this morning… It’s just easier to get a new one than sort through the old and reload them, so if each of those had an average of $1.00 left over… BAM! $5 to charity. Multiply me by a few thousand New Yorkers who care enough to donate, and some organization gets a nice infusion.

Small potatoes become big numbers when you think of how many people use the MTA – an estimated $52 million in card value goes unused every year due to these little balances, lost cards, tourists who leave and never come back, etc. BIG IDEA: Place these at airports and Amtrak stations and lots of tourists will probably gladly throw their extra few cents toward whatever cause is up that month.

I really hope this succeeds. Great idea!

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Christmas Songs Without Bing, Carey, etc.

I wish those who celebrate a happy Christmas this year.  To celebrate, I’ve included some Christmas songs from the playlist I’ve been running the past few days.  There’s a heavy Sufjan Stevens quotient, which I don’t see as a bad thing because he’s done well to make his Christmas covers/original compositions interesting.

 

1. What Child Is This, Anyway?  – Sufjan Stevens

Taking a song rarely covered in popular music and actually doing something with it.

 

2. Christmas Lights – Coldplay

Love them or hate them, you can’t help but sing along with the chorus.  (In my weird mind, I can even imagine a bunch of burly men with big frosty beer mugs in hand, arms around each other, swaying to the tune. In an alternate universe of course!)

 

3. Happy Christmas (War Is Over) – The Polyphonic Spree

This song was made for the Spree to cover.  If you’ve never seen them live (and assuming they do ever tour again), find tickets and go see them. It’s a sight (and sound) to behold.

 

4. I Believe In Father Christmas – U2

Most famously done by Greg Lake of King Crimson, this U2 cover has its tradeoffs with the original (a little less warm) but reminds me why I like The Edge.

 

5. Frosty The Red Nosed Snowman – Aqua Teen Hunger Force

Can’t be too serious on Christmas.  The rest of their album can range anywhere from obscure to borderline offensive to the unseasoned ATHF fan, this is a song the whole family can find humor in.  Useful to diffusing awkward situations – sweep in and announce you have something fun for them to listen to and BAM — no more fuming or drunken ramblings!

 

Enjoy the day, folks!

BONUS: I Saw Three Ships -  Sufjan Stevens

 

BONUS 2: Bring A Torch Jeanette, Isabella – Sufjan Stevens

 

BONUS 3: Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth – David Bowie/Bing Crosby

(But wait! Didn’t I say “Christmas Song Without Bing…”?  Well, this one’s harmonies and story are too good to pass up!)

 

Ok… now really go enjoy the day!

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The New NFL Broadcast Deal: Will Smaller-Market Teams Be a Victim of Increased Flex Options?

“No other franchise delivers ratings the way an NFL game does.” – CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves.

That’s true. and this is because in the day of DVR, professional sports are probably where the most people still watch (and not skip over) commercials in real time — an astute observation by Matt Yoder of what is quickly becoming one of my favorite sports blogs, Awful Announcing.

[Read Yoder's Full Breakdown Here]

Yoder’s analysis of the new NFL TV deal signed last Wednesday with every major broadcast network + NFL Network generally trends positive, as does my personal take on it.

CBS and FOX, long holders of primarily AFC and NFC conference games, respectively, will now blur those lines and show more games from their non-native conferences.  Flex scheduling will be part of this for those networks; NBC will benefit from this as well, whose Sunday night package of Football Night in America + usually convincing me to stay around and watch the actual match-up even if it’s two teams off my radar.  This may not guarantee a consistent kickoff time for fans in the seats at the stadium, but allows more prime games to be seen in more markets.  ABC, who gets into the NFL mix through ESPN, holds onto Monday Night football but gets chances at critical matches, including Wild Card games.

Looking at this from my own fan perspective instead of a network revenue perspective, I am both thrilled and wary:

  • Having the Jets as my primary team but being out-of-market, this deal excites me.  Seeing Jets games more is a possibility no matter where I am, but
  • Having the Packers as my second team (hey, Jets are AFC, Pack is NFC – this is only a problem maybe 1x every few seasons + the unlikely chance of a Super Bowl meeting), this presents a problem.  Living in Michigan = Detroit Lions play = NFC North = Packers get a good showing on my local FOX affiliate station

What I see from my two-team rooting (other than 1) I like football enough to follow two teams and 2) I like to have my cake and eat it too) is that maybe this deal isn’t as perfect as a lot of people are saying.  I think it comes down to implementation; more chance for the networks to option certain teams could leave some fans happy and some unhappy.

  • Will bigger-market teams with decent records get even more airtime than they already do? (How many times do I need to see Dallas on Sunday or Monday night?)
  • Will midsize market teams with similar records keep getting the shaft because the big market always trumps them (sans rivalry weekends?)

The networks’ interest is advertising revenue, as it always has been.  With more flexibility, one might wonder if a Seattle Seahawk or a Tennessee Titan might need to start looking for other ways to get into their games (I do appreciate Sirius/XM’s nearly-universal NFL broadcast coverage…)

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The Descendants: What Passes On With Death, And What Is Left Behind

Last night I got to enjoy an incredibly satisfying film: The Descendants, by Alexander Payne (About Schmidt, Sideways, Paris, Je T’aime)

For those unaware of this film’s premise: George Clooney plays Matt King, a lawyer and life-long Hawaii resident, whose roots trace back to a marriage between white settlers and the daughter of King Kamehameha, and have left him in control of a lot of land across the island nation.  Matt describes himself as the “back-up parent” to Elizabeth, who we see in a coma from the start of the movie after a boating accident that punctuates a long life of thrills and excess, which took a toll on her marriage with Matt.  Matt is left to raise two troubled daughters, Alex, age 17 and Scottie, age 10.  The film focuses on a few-week window of time when a deal for his family’s last remaining pristine land parcel and Elizabeth’s deteriorating condition both come to a head, and how Matt and his two daughters cope with the situations after being somewhat detached.

Clooney is the primary name on this film, but the other leads take what they are given and run with it.  Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller have excellent performances here as the two daughters, and character actors abound with appearances by Beau Bridges, Matthew Lillard and Nick Krause, who plays the alternately annoying and later endearing Sid, Alex’s semi-live-in male companion.

I remarked to my companion that there were aspects of The Descendents that reminded me of a Wes Anderson movie, but with a decidedly less quirky tone.  Catching my drift immediately, she quickly responded “It’s Wes Anderson movie that’s not being quirky for the sake of it.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. Anderson’s films all deal with family situations as complex, unsavory and inherently offbeat as the one seen in The Descendents, but I feel his films have been uneven when it comes to deciding if the quirk or the plot should be the real attraction.  The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic leave me lukewarm to this day; however, I find The Darjeeling Limited (though some consider the film to be less rich and therefore a minor work) to strike the perfect balance.

Yes, The Descendents has some offbeat moments, but at its core is a serious movie.  The comic moments are less punchlines than they are thin layers of varnish spread across the meaty points of angst and grief, hitting at just the right times.

Which brings me to my favorite scene in the movie, the game-changer for the film.  Matt and Sid maintain an adversarial relationship until partway into the second act of the film, when a late-night talk between the two of them changes their perceptions of each other. For me, this scene changes the game for the movie, especially for Matt’s character.  I won’t spoil it more than that, but Matt flips from “things affecting me” to “I will affect things” and the film moves toward its eventual, touching (if slightly open-ended) concluding shot.

I’ve been impressed with this year’s holiday batch of films thus far: The Muppets, Hugo (a must-see in 3D), plus anxiously awaiting The Adventures of Tintin.  The Descendants is this year’s “Up In The Air”, and not just because it is another highly-enjoyable Clooney film.  The themes of family, legacy and what exactly death can upend in the lives of those left behind to grieve are universal, so everyone can take something from this film.

Despite the premise, it’s not a sobfest. Bring a tissue or two just in case. Save the rest of the box for War Horse!

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Health-in-a-Pot: Hearty Three Sisters Soup, Highly Recommended

It’s getting cold here in the upper Midwest.  With that comes sweaters, heavy coats and soup… LOTS of soup.  Last night’s batch of split pea & ham soup is still in-process, but wanted to share a favorite that I make a huge pot of at least once a year and eat off for weeks: Three Sisters Soup.

“Three sisters” comes from the Iroquois’ three main foods: potatoes, beans and squash.

Major plugs go to Lisha Arino for getting me hooked on this soup over a year ago!  Allrecipes has a good, standard take on the recipe.  I’ve taken a few liberties with it & give a few tips below.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups canned white or yellow hominy, drained (Trading in frozen corn for this produces a sweeter, more soup-like state.  If you’re looking to stretch the pot, just add both!)
  • 2 cups fresh green beans, trimmed and snapped (frozen does the job but don’t try canned… mush city)
  • 2 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash (For the uninitated, how to cube this odd-shaped squash can be found here)
  • 1 1/2 cups diced peeled potatoes (don’t overdo the potatoes. Balance with other ingredients)
  • 5 cups water (start with 5, but then adjust as needed. Hominy and potatoes can mess with this proportion from pot-to-pot I’ve found)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chicken bouillon granules
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
Optional: I also recommend adding any of the following spice combinations for a more savory or unique experience. Pull a small bowl and add a dash to preview the taste – you may enjoy them, you may not!  Blend these in with the flour/butter mixture before adding to the pot.  With the recipe above, just 1/8 of a teaspoon gives you the flavor base without overdoing it.  Start lightly and add to your liking.

  • Cumin + garlic + cinnamon – chili lovers might warm up to this
  • Cinnamon + nutmeg – sounds like dessert but plays nicely off the sweetness of the squash and the starch of the potatoes and hominy (and if you add it, the sweetness of the corn).
  • Garlic + Sage – A flavor profile that doesn’t seem to match the ingredients well but I’ve done it once and was a good start. Tweak it to your liking.

Directions

  1. Place the hominy, green beans, squash, and potatoes into a pot, and pour in water and chicken bouillon. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, and simmer until vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.
  2. Blend flour into the butter, then stir into the soup.
  3. Increase heat to medium, and cook for 5 more minutes, or until soup thickens. Season with pepper, and serve.

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To paraphrase Campbell’s, this is a soup that eats like a meal. However, small bowls of it act as a great side dish if you’re having a salad or meat.  I wouldn’t serve it with more carbs though; it’s pretty heavy in that department.  Where I find its true benefit is on those sickly or “meh, I don’t want to do anything because I’m tired” kind of days.  Trade a bowl of this for a midday caffeine jolt and I think you’ll appreciate the results.

Squash is just finishing up its season right now.  Get some, try it out and let me know your experiences!

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“Aww” Alert: Alexa & Jorge Narvaez of Edward Sharpe “Home” Cover Fame Warm My Soul With Hyundai Commercial

You may or may not have seen this father-and-daughter duet covering Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes’ “Home”.

If you didn’t get hit with this feel-good follow-up during Thanksgiving weekend’s football games, enjoy:

When I first learned of Jorge and Alexa a few months ago, I didn’t realize he’s a single dad with not one, but two daughters (Alexa, age 6 and Eliana, age 3).

—-

Bonus: How I first found this song = NFL’s 2010 tickets advertisement.  This song’s going to live on in commercials for a long, long time.  Every few years, someone will dig it up, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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