Empathy Be-Damned, Just Find Your Foxhole and Someone to Blame

When a tragic event happens, we’ve changed from a nation of mourners to a nation of soldiers in foxholes.  We’re stunned by the first noise then dive for cover and peek above the rim and fire away, perhaps taking aim.  Hurry!  Which hole will be yours–the gorilla’s, the parent’s or the zookeeper’s? Gorillas don’t kill people, the zoo does!  Do the same people in favor of shooting the Cincinnati Zoo’s gorilla support banning AR-15s?  After all, neither is by default a man-killer, but, in the wrong circumstances they can be as deadly as a seven year-old driving your minivan. If you’re in favor of keeping zoo patrons safe from the tigers, why should a semi-automatic weapon be able to be purchased legally by someone investigated by the FBI? Again, pick a foxhole! Sunday morning America woke to the news of the deadliest massacre in US history.  If you took to Facebook like I did and expressed your sorrow… Read More…

Solar Power In Bizarro World

Look, just because this is being written from a parallel universe, you’d be wrong to think that everyone over here is so totally freaky that you couldn’t possibly carry on a conversation with any of us without a cheat sheet in your breast coat pocket. “There’s more that unites us than divides us.” Isn’t that what the bumper sticker makers say?  Well, I’ve always put my faith in their deep wisdom and I think you should do the same. I’ll give you a ‘for instance’ because over here, just like over there, a quality ‘for instance’ makes everything so much easier to understand.  For instance, don’t assume that we on our side of the wormhole don’t damn well love to see John Wayne punch a hippy in his shaggy face, so we can hear the hairy dude whimper “not cool man” as he collapses like a house of cards onto the Duke’s unswept… Read More…

Defining the American Masses: The Common Man or Third-Graders without a Chaperone?

“You’ve reached group-sales for the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  How may I help you?” “Hi there!  Our third-graders are touring Manhattan and we thought we could bring them by tomorrow.” “Certainly.” “That’s great.  This chaperoning is wearing us down so thought we’d drop them off in the morning, catch a show and a few beers and pick them up around 5 or so, if that’s okay” “Umm….Well, we need to have the kids chaperoned…because, you know, there’s a lot of priceless items…” “Thanks so much.  We’ll be by at 10!” There aren’t too many teachers or directors of any respected institution that would permit this scenario.  After all, it’s hard to take a selfie of you and Van Gogh if there’s some kid drawing horns sticking out of the straw hat.  But lately, we’re okay with our other famously innovative institution being taken over by the kids—namely our country. Perhaps… Read More…

The $10 Voter-Apathy Tax: Avoiding Lead-Poisoning & Raising $1 Billion for Michigan

My first job was supposed to be as a dishwasher–until my buddy heard me mention I was applying for the job and got there an hour before me.  I ended up becoming the kitchen slopboy/custodian–mopping the basement and scraping out the grease under the prep table after the health department again threatened to shut down the swanky Pagoda. Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen. Place your bets… The place is long-gone but I still have that first green pay-stub reflecting my 9 hours that July 1979–for $3 an hour.  I remember looking at the top right and seeing $27.00 “gross pay” (pretty accurate considering the nasty work).  Then at the bottom was “net pay” for six bucks less.  It was my first non-paper route payday so after I cashed the check, I asked my dad who had ripped me off. “Well,” he said pointing out the little boxes, “that’s the federal tax, that’s the state tax… Read More…

The Right to Bear Left: 2nd Amendment Mad-Libs, Replacing Cars for Guns

What if, under an old desk in James Madison’s study,  the following were found scribbled on the back-side of the Second Amendment–the words in bold written into blank spots like a Mad Libs page… Amendment 2.5:  A well-regulated Transportation System, being necessary to the mobility of a free State, the right of the people to keep and conduct Transportation Devices, shall not be infringed. After all, the right to transport yourself is a pretty inalienable right, too, isn’t it? Eisenhower saw the immediate benefit of the German autobahn–allowing quick movement of Hitler’s troops across WWII.  But in addition to Cold War defense, Eisenhower also saw the expressways as a vital route for emergency evacuation–all under strict central government oversight.  After all, you wouldn’t want your best friend deciding how much weight an overpass can bear, would you?  It’s pretty much accepted that some things are better off in the hands of Big Brother. Madison and Jefferson pushed forward… Read More…

“Spotlight” on America’s Conscience: The Church, Jameis Winston & Refugees

“It takes a village to raise them. It takes a village to abuse them. That’s the truth of it.” –Spotlight‘s Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci)    Michael Keaton’s character, Walter “Robbie” Robinson, in the newly-released Spotlight, is seeking Boston Globe confirmation of the Archdiocese cover-up for 70 priests involved in child molestation.  He passes the list to his longtime friend and attorney, “We all knew something was going on.” His friend kicks him out of his house and then follows Robbie into the street and asks him why he didn’t do anything–if he knew something was going on. Robbie pauses and can only say, “I don’t know.” Spotlight’s portrayal of the 2001 investigation by the Globe’s Spotlight unit (Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James) is an excellent snapshot of an entire city looking the other way.  When a representative of a survivor’s group brings his box of evidence to the Globe office… Read More…

Playpens, Curfews and Trust: Our Responsibility to Children

One of the longer hours you can put a teacher through isn’t monitoring lunch or that final 60 minutes before spring conferences are over–it’s at an in-service, the mandatory training that the state, city, superintendent or your principal inflicts upon educators.  Topics can range from the terrors of airborne pathogens to the correct way to open your laptop.  Michigan teachers are required to attend 30 such hours by law and most fall under the same sad irony found in the half-day seminar on the twenty-minute attention span. But somehow, in 1991, I found myself at a training that stays with me to this day.  Its metaphor was the playpen.  Al Dicken, who would later become my administrator when I changed school districts, was the trainer at a drug-awareness session. Al explained that when our kids are tiny, we place them in the playpen (or its transformer version since the late 80s, the… Read More…

New (and Old) Frontiers: Above Detroit with Aerial Photographer Alex MacLean

Alex MacLean has seen Detroit from the sky at various stages since 1980.  The large green-spaces below, for example, were once crowded neighborhoods and business districts in a city’s footprint that is large enough to fit Houston, Boston and Manhattan.  These grassy fields seen from Google Maps might be mistaken for parks. Similar green spaces a few miles north of town generally have bunkers and greens fees. A trained architect, pilot, author and photographer, MacLean lives in Massachusetts but has seen Detroit from above as Ronald Reagan received the Republican presidential nomination, for the 1998 demolition of the landmark Hudson Building and last autumn at  a request from the New York Times.  Each visit is like dropping into a different chapter of the city’s history–urban farms were previously dangerous abandoned homes and lots. From the sky, many travelers have to change planes in the hub of Detroit Metro.  As they glance out the window and see the river and the skyline, are they like… Read More…

The Consolidated States of America

This past summer the kids and I took our annual trip to the beach in North Carolina from Connecticut.  We decided to play the old license plate game along the way.  Of course, the kids added a new media twist to it using an app.  As we ventured down the east coast and tracked our states we started to question why there were so many states.  Why was Rhode Island an actual state?  No offense the Dakotas, you are awfully small. 3 teenagers and a preteen quickly reeducated me in the history of the United States, the colonies and how we came to be.  The capitalist and cost optimizer in me then challenged them with new thinking.  What if you had to start over today in 2014?  Would you have this many states and if so, why, and if not, what would you do.  As we checked the list of… Read More…

New Podcast: Detroit From Above – Alex S. MacLean’s Aerial Photography of Detroit

  Following the December 7, 2014 publication of his New York Times Sunday Review, “Detroit By Air” which examines the city’s dramatic haves and have-nots, photographer Alex MacLean is interviewed by Kevin Walsh and Thomas J. Reed, Jr. of the new website, DiggingDetroit.com. Topics include… Alex’s background, including his fear of flying leading to his pilot’s license Detroit’s past, present and future Regrowing urban communities Alex’s transition from aerial surveyor to gallery artist His favorite audiences Switching to digital, but still loving prints—and those amazing drones!   More information on Alex can be found at his website:  http://alexmaclean.com

An Apology to My Daughters, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan Among Others…

As I was reading a magazine today I turned the page to an article about Congress’s First Black Female Republican and I sat there stunned for a few moments. How could this be? I was honestly struck dumb with the realization that this was a milestone that was just NOW happening in the year 2014? Hadn’t it happened sooner? I had assumed that we had all sorts of women of every color and race populating the corridors in Washington DC. I was truly stunned that this was an event to celebrate in the year 2014. Where have the last 30 years gone? I was raised with the idea that I as a woman could do anything. I sat down in front of the TV back in the 70’s when Bobby Riggs and Billy Jean King battled it out on the tennis courts. I celebrated when Billy Jean smashed the ball… Read More…

When Opponents Weren’t Enemies: Michigan’s Harry Kelly and G. Mennen Williams–Politically Opposed, Mutually Respectful

It was once Armistice Day–in recognition of the end of the Great War, begun 100 years ago with an assassination in Sarajevo and ending with the loss of millions of lives, the restructuring of the world’s balance of power and with heavy reparation requirements on the defeated paving a certain path to another world war 25 years later.   Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and George Marshall refused to let history repeat itself in 1945 and created a plan to rebuild former foes into allies—not the humiliated vanquished whose death we might celebrate.  The GI Bill would create the foundation of a new middle class—turning returning soldiers into college graduates. Today we thank our veterans for their service but do we really follow the lead of “the greatest generation?” Opponents, Not Enemies One week away from our biannual trench warfare of election ads, millions of dollars are spent and hundreds of characters assassinated… Read More…

Ken Burns-on-a-Shoestring: Creating Buzz to Launch Mini-Doc “Digging Detroit”

“The Joe,” the battleship-gray windowless box on the Detroit River, is slated for 2017 demolition, making way for high-rise condos, a hotel and shopping as part of a pay-back to creditors owed $1 billion.  For a few months in-between wrecking-ball and ground-breaking, Detroiters will once again have an unobstructed view of the river at the corner of Fort and 3rd–as if looking back in time and seeing the Purple Gang hijack another bootlegger at the docks, before moving its haul up the street to the speakeasy beside the church. And that same little brick building on the left will probably still be standing when the condos are torn down in 60 years–perhaps making way for the next home for the Wings. When the 1974 picture above was taken, I was probably immersed in Channel 50’s after-school reruns of Get Smart, Gilligan’s Island or deeper in the way-back machine, The Three Stooges and The Little Rascals.  Inevitably I’d have to endure the “Let’s put on a show” moment as Alfalfa or Darla would… Read More…

“If a Tweet Falls in the Forest…” Life without Applause-Signs, Laugh-Tracks & Likes

It’s often not so much what happens in our lives—as what we figure ought to happen.  If no one likes this post, did it fail? I started noticing  camera-angles and how they manipulated the audience far too early in my life–especially for the poor bystanders who were stuck in a living room, basement or movie theater with me. The Cosby Show, for all of its garish sweaters and too-good-to-be-true charm of a doctor/lawyer upper-middle class family, was a breakthrough on many levels—it revitalized the sit-com and finally placed a TV African-American family out of the ghetto—if you bypass George Jefferson moving on up. But what I noticed immediately, from my hero of a dozen scratched LP comedy albums, was the cutaway to Clair—Cliff Huxtable’s long-suffering wife who managed to smile through the monologues.  You’ll see it in every episode, the need for the reaction shot—generally Phylicia Rashad or one of the kids letting… Read More…

Propaganda, Potholes and Pensions: Political Ads & Business Clichés During Election (Hunting) Season

It wasn’t supposed to be this close of a race in Michigan. To get Rick Snyder re-elected governor may take more checks from United Citizens like the Koch brothers to create more subtle ads like the following… [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnPG2iW3cqU] This cringe-worthy moment was a response to Mark Schauer’s surprising “too-close-to-call” campaign—perhaps riding on the bumpy road of last winter’s potholes and angry pensioners whose fixed incomes become less-fixed with Snyder’s new tax on their retirement. Even GOP legislators weren’t happy with this tax… Republican Sen. Rick Jones of Grand Ledge, who introduced the repeal bill on March 20, said he did so in response to constituents in his district who have called his office or approached him in coffee shops to complain about the pension tax as they prepare their returns. “Since it’s tax season, I’ve had a huge amount of calls from my constituents when they find out what their tax liability is,” Jones told… Read More…

Labor Day: Created in Six Days from Collective Guilt and a Stubborn Landlord

This weekend, we’re celebrating the end of summer–the bookend to Memorial Day and a great Monday to have off.  Labor Day was created to supposedly honor the American worker but was  passed in record time in 1887 by a Congress and president with a guilty-conscience. It began with a broken promise–probably one that shouldn’t have been made.  But it was made–and believed to be made for all the right reasons on one side and the more logical reason on the other side–the reason of profit. George Pullman, like any great American businessman, found his niche.  He grew up near the Erie Canal and witnessed the importance of creating luxury transportation and adapted it to the newborn railroad system. After transporting Lincoln’s body through 180 cities and seven states demand for Pullman’s cars grew, in spite of the cost being five times traditional railroad transportation.  (Interestingly, not only did Lincoln’s macabre road-tour change rail-travel it also perfected funeral science… Read More…

Acts of God? Creative Interpretations During Flooding: Unlike a Good Neighbor…

For a follow-up discussion on insurance companies and ethics, listen to our 10/7/14 podcast with attorney Judy Herman. I remember the feeling of helplessness all too well.  And this Monday evening it happened again. Our son was three weeks old and we were camping in northern Michigan when we got the call from my brother-in-law, who just lived around the block from us. “We got a ton of rain, the streets are flooded.  I shined the flashlight down into your basement through the window and the light bounced right back up.” Not a good sign since the carpeting had just been installed three months earlier. We bought the Royal Oak house in 1993, a year into our marriage and waited a couple years before we decided to finish the basement.  The inspector said he didn’t see any signs of water-issues but we wanted to be sure.  Two years of thunderstorms later,… Read More…

Botched Executions And the Murderers Exposed

“My planes, My guns. My money, My soldiers, My blood is on my hands…It’s all my fault.” I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts, X. “It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man.” William Munny (Unforgiven) As a frequent critic of the death penalty, I get one question regularly when I’m asked to explain my position, and it’s a question I wrestle with myself: what about the victim?  I read it again yesterday when I posted on Facebook my outrage at the “botched execution” (already a cliché) of Joseph Wood two days ago.  I pointed out that Wood took two hours to die, and that he was reportedly “gasping and snorting” for a significant portion of that time. A Facebook friend commented on my post, “What did he do to deserve the execution?  Then, I’ll tell you if I have a problem with it.” Joseph Wood What he did was murder his ex-girlfriend and her… Read More…

Perhaps “Compromise” and “Politics” Can Coexist? Candidate Fishman Switches Sides and Hopes So

At first, term limits made sense.  At first, letting the giant wooden horse into the gates of Troy made sense, too.  For many, the possibility of voting for a Democrat who was a Republican nine months ago makes less sense. “We’ve always had term limits; they’re called elections,” joked retiring US Republican Congressman, William S. Broomfield in 1996 to me when he was being inducted into the Royal Oak Dondero High School Hall of Fame.  Michigan had just voted to only allow its state elected officials a few terms under the design that it would eliminate “career politicians.” Instead we have legislative musical chairs with no one staying in one job long enough to make any decisions that have any impact beyond six years.  Like short-lived mayflies, state reps exist just three terms then they move on to the next election—maybe a state senate seat, sheriff, mayoral race or the… Read More…

The Biggest Story Few of us Heard: British Phone-Tapping & American Media Apathy

Ladies and gentlemen, have I got a story for you. Please, take your seats and listen closely. It’s a story about the fall of the mighty and about personal tragedy. It’s a story that involves one of the most powerful men in the world. It features princes and sexual dalliances. It’s a story that speaks to our paranoia and justifies it, like the Snowden revelations and the US government’s wire-tapping program. And most important, ladies and gentlemen, it has murder. It has desperate parents and missing children. A mighty corporation, 168 years in existence, crumbles at our feet. This story has been out there for years.  The question is, why aren’t we paying attention? The British hacking scandal, which led to the end of The News of the World, has one element which likely saps most of our interest: it’s a British story. It happened far away, to people who speak with… Read More…