On having completed another lap around the sun

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I’d intended for this post to be funny. The image at the top of the page, as I’d envisioned it, was going to be of the happy, young me looking at his older, grayer, more beaten-down self and reacting in horror with something like a, “Jesus Christ, you can’t be serious.”

You would have liked it.

As I was working on it, though, I had change of heart… It just didn’t feel right. The truth is, I think the younger me would be both surprised and impressed to discover that I’d not only survived into adulthood, and had a family, but continued, despite the occasional setback, to keep making things. [The younger me, I can tell you for a fact, didn’t think we’d make it very far.] Sure, the grizzled beard and sunken, blood-filled eyes would probably terrify the younger me, but, once the initial shock wore off, I’d like to think that the younger version of me would appreciate how the older me had played the cards we’d been dealt. And I like that idea. I like the possibility that the younger version of myself, if he were thrust into modern times, might give me a little nod in approval, after poking around my house for a bit, meeting Linette and the kids, and asking a few probing questions.

And, yeah, today’s my birthday. It was 48 years ago today that I was pulled from inside of my unconscious mother with forceps, beginning this long, mostly uncomfortable trip through life.

[While I know it’s unlikely that I’ll ever have the chance to have the younger version of myself travel forward in time to validate the decisions I’ve made post puberty, it just occurred to me that might work just as well to find a random pale, fat kid in a windbreaker somewhere, tell him that I’m actually him in grown-up form, and then lay out my entire life, asking whether or not he approves of how I’ve done. Of course, it could totally depress a kid to tell him that he ends up as a blogger in Ypsilanti, but it’s a risk I think I’m willing to take.]

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Should I sign the Snyder recall petition? What are you planning to do?

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In the wake of evidence surfacing that proves the Snyder administration knew of a connection between Flint’s water and a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease a full ten months before they took action, and Snyder’s subsequent refusal to testify before a Congressional committee as to what happened in Flint, it’s not surprising that even the conservative Detroit News is beginning to turn on our “tough nerd” of a governor, using phrases like “cover-up,” and demanding that he step out from behind the FOIA shield and share his correspondences on everything Flint-related.

As bad as is to have played a part in giving dozens of children lead poisoning, apparently it’s worse to have had a hand in the deaths of ten constituents.

So, whereas a week ago it would have shocked me to have heard word coming out of the Michigan Attorney General’s office that their investigation in Flint could lead to manslaughter charges being filed due to “gross negligence” and “breach of duty,” it didn’t really surprise me today. Everyone, it would seem, is beginning to take this seriously… or at least they’re making a concerted effort to give that impression.

So it would seem that things are finally beginning to turn toward the more serious after last week’s decidedly less weighty Cakegate affair… And that’s a good thing.

Now, it looks like we have a decision to make… Do we want Snyder to stay in office and fix the mess he helped to create, or do we want to exert our power and kick him out of office in dramatic fashion? A week or so ago that second option wasn’t on the table. Now, though, thanks to a unanimous vote by the State Board of Canvassers, it is.

Yesterday, the State Board of Canvassers, in a 4-0 vote, approved recall petition language directed against Snyder. Given that both of the Republicans on the board approved it, and that the petition was drafted by a self-described Tea Party conservative, my first thought was that perhaps we might be watching a conservative conspiracy against Snyder beginning to unfold. “Do you think it’s possible that this petition was approved because DeVos, or other important conservatives, have made the decision that Snyder is no longer useful to them?”, I asked a friend of mine in Lansing. “Could it be that they’ve decided that Calley, who would take his place if he were voted out, would be better suited to push forward their agenda?” While I still think it’s possible, this friend of mine, whom I respect, told me it was probably just that the Board of Canvassers, who had voted not to approve about ten other petition drives focused at removing Snyder from office, just couldn’t find justification to keep this particular petition from moving forward. Furthermore, he said, if they really wanted to remove Snyder from office, the would have approved one of the petitions that was more clearly tied to the Flint disaster.

The petition that passed the board, you see, has nothing to do with Snyder’s handling of Flint. It was brought to the Board by Ben Lazarus, a member of the Warren Consolidated Schools Board of Education, and has to do with Snyder’s decision in 2015 to move the state School Reform Office to a department under his control by way of executive order. Lazarus, explained his motivation to the Detroit News as follows. “(Rick Snyder) has a toxic disdain for the rights of local government,” he said.

While Lazarus doesn’t have any kind of infrastructure behind him to meet the demands of an intensive petition drive like this, he suspects that he can find common cause with people and organizations that want Snyder out of office for their own reasons. The following clip comes from the Detroit News.

…Snyder used a March executive order to move the School Reform Office under the Department of Technology, Management and Budget, a move the state Board of Education quickly called “unconstitutional.” Lazarus noted the School Reform Office last week appointed a chief executive officer to run four East Detroit schools.

Lazarus told The News he does not have an established organization capable of running a statewide petition drive but is curious to see what other groups might be interested in partnering with him. He suggested animosity over the Flint water crisis could help the cause even though his recall language is not directly related.

“The next step is really to reach out to those coalition partners,” Lazarus said. “It is a daunting task, but I believe it can be accomplished, particularly in light of all the news in regards to Flint”…

It, by the way, is an incredibly difficult thing to pursue a petition drive such as this in Michigan, in part because of legislation that Snyder himself signed in 2012, which not only added rules about how such petitions had to be worded, but shortened the length of time people had in which to execute such drives. Before 2012, people had 90 days to get the required number of signatures. Now they only have 60. And that’s an incredibly short period in which to get 789,133 valid signatures, even with real, paid staff on every busy street corner, and a brilliant marketing campaign.

So, as I sit here wondering whether or not I’ll sign the petition to fire Rick Snyder, assuming it comes to fruition, there are two questions that come immediately to mind. First, I think we have to ask ourselves, is it in the best interest of the people of Flint who have been poisoned? And, second, I think we need to consider whether or not it leaves us in a better position to move forward as a state, putting the failed, non-democratic experiments of Rick Snyder and his Republican majority behind us?

And I’d love your feedback on this, as I’m torn. On one hand, I love the idea of the men and women of Michigan rising up, locking arms, and forcing the Governor from office for what he’s done. I think it would send a powerful message, and that, in itself, would be hugely impactful. Sending Snyder into retirement a full two and half years before he’s due to be term-limited out of office could mark a real turning point in Michigan. It could bring people together across party lines, create new coalitions, and bring young people to the table in a meaningful way. It could usher in a new era of reform in Michigan. And it might also send a signal to those out there like the Koch brothers, who are bankrolling similar administrations in other states, that the American people have finally had enough, and intend to fight back.

[In Michigan, an individual is limited two four-year terms as Governor, and Snyder’s second term started January 1, 2015. This means that, unless someone removes him from office, he still has roughly two years and 10 months to serve.]

On the other hand, however, if we’re able to collect the required signatures, get his removal from office on the ballot, and successfully vote him out, there’s no promise that things will get better. As stipulated in Michigan law, voting Snyder out would not trigger a new election. It would just mean that Lieutenant Governor of Michigan Brian Calley would assume the office and serve out Snyder’s term. And, Calley, as we know, is even more of an ideologue than Snyder. So I think it’s highly unlikely that we’d see him as an improvement over Snyder. Furthermore, I think it’s fair to assume that Calley would not feel the same responsibility toward the people of Flint that Snyder feels. And by saying that, I don’t mean to suggest that Snyder is hugely motivated to fix what happened in Flint because he cares deeply for the people he’s harmed. I just mean to say that, as the person who was ultimately responsible for the poisoning of FLint’s people, he’s likely more motivated than Calley to set things right, if only to improve the way he’s viewed in history. Furthermore, I suppose it could also be argued that such a petition drive could be a distraction from other work that desperately needs to be done in this state.

So, with all of that said, I’d like to know where you stand. Do you want Snyder out at any cost, even if it means bringing in someone just as bad? Or do you think that we should instead keep the pressure on Snyder, demanding that he set things right in Flint, while, at the same time, fighting to win back the House and working to identify, support and develop a candidate that can successfully run against the likes of Candice Miller, Bill Schuette, and Brian Calley when the time comes?

Posted in Civil Liberties, Michigan, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 35 Comments

Jeff Irwin on renewed movement in the Michigan House to kill Snyder’s Emergency Manager law, Ethan Lowenstein on the value of place-based education, and the witchy music of Spelling… on episode 38 of the Saturday Six Pack

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I know that all anyone wants to talk about these days is our story about the elaborate “fuck Flint I want to go shopping”-themed cake Governor Snyder had made for his wife’s birthday, which has now spread to the likes of Gawker and Wonkette, but, for my own sanity, I’ve got to move on. So, here’s something completely different… my notes on episode 38 of the Saturday Six Pack.

We started the episode, which you can hear below in its entirety, with Ethan Lowenstein, the director of the Eastern Michigan University-based Southeast Michigan Stewardship Coalition (SEMIS Coalition). Lowenstein and I not only discussed the general state of education in Michigan and beyond, but got into quite a bit of detail concerning his organization’s work to better connect young learners with their communities, and the natural world, by facilitating ambitious place-based educational initiatives.

I’d encourage anyone with an interest in either education theory, or just the state of our world, to listen to our entire conversation. With that said, though, here are the two big takeaways I left our incredibly thought-provoking conversation wth…

First, we’re living at a critical point in history, and it’s absolutely imperative that our young people not only feel connected to the places in which they live, but also feel empowered to contribute in significant ways. If we can’t do this, there’s little hoe for society… For generations, Americans have been retreating into the suburbs, and walling themselves off from one another, and we desperately need to change that paradigm if we want to address the very significant issues facing our society. We need to increase participation in the democratic process, and we need to give people the tools they need, and the confidence they require, to take ownership of their communities and make them better. And this is what the SEMIS Coalition is attempting to do on a daily basis by working with young students and helping them develop programs tailored to their surroundings… programs which put them in their communities, learning about things like water quality and pollution, and creating grass-roots initiatives that bring people together to create results-oriented action plans.

Second, we’d likely be better off as a society if, instead of just looking at test results, we looked at other metrics. Lowenstein suggested, for instance, that we track to what extent people have “a deep sense of belonging,” and whether or not they’re “happy.” If we can get our students to a place where they see themselves as important to our society, Lowenstein says, academic success, and everything else, will follow.

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[above: Some of the students involved in a recent SEMIS Coalition project.]

Lowenstein and I discussed the current state of education in Michigan, and how it seems as though this is where the battle over the future of education is being fought. On one hand, we have the work that he and others are doing to think more creatively about education, and empower children to be active participants in their communities, tailoring programs to specific situational needs, and pushing for increased democratization. And, on the other, we have entities like the Governor’s Education Achievement Authority (EAA), which seem to be dedicated to replacing public education with a for-profit system in which public education is no more than the rote memorization of facts overseen by relatively untrained adults reading approved scripts from curriculum binders. Here’s Lowenstein discussing the fluidity of the education landscape today, wherein nothing, in his opinion, is really working… “There is no pure space right now,” he says.

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At some point during this segment, we received a call from one of Lowenstein’s former students, Johnny Lupinacci. [As you might recall, I interviewed Lupinacci just as he was leaving Ypsilanti a few years ago as part of our Ypsi Arbor Exit Interview series.] Lupinacci not only shared his thoughts about place-based education, and told us how he was now making use of some of the same principles in his work, but also talked about how programs such as these are good for teachers, who want to help kids reach their fullest potential as contributing members of society, and not just teach to the test.

During our discussion, Lowenstein shared a number of different projects that were currently being facilitated by his organization, and we discussed the possibility that he might one day he return to the Saturday Six Pack with a group of students, who could tell us firsthand how their relationship with their community, and the natural world, changed as a result of having participated in a SEMIS Coalition project… Here’s one more photo from the SEMIS archive, to give you a sense as to the work they do.

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As to the question of whether or not we have enough time to reimagine education in America, and help our children become both better environmental stewards and members of society before it’s too late, Lowenstein was optimistic. People, he said, know the current models aren’t working. “The veil is coming off,” he said. And people are ready for something else. Furthermore, he said that, when you’re organizing around things like the stewardship of the Great Lakes, as he is, there are opportunities to find common cause with people of differing political persuasions. He also said that he thinks the stories they’re collecting from the kids that they work with will be a powerful tool. People, he said, won’t be able to dismiss these young people once they know them.

[If you would like to listen to episode thirty-eight of The Saturday Six Pack, you can either download it from iTunes or scroll the bottom of the page, where you’ll find the Soundcloud file embedded.]

And, at the 45-minute mark, just after listening to a song written earlier that same morning in Kenya by Dr. Peter Larson titled Nairobi Half Life, we jumped right into things with State Representative Jeff Irwin. Ostensibly Irwin was in the studio to discuss a new push in the Michigan House to roll back Rick Snyder’s illegal Emergency Manager law, but we also got to a lot of other stuff, like what’s being done to keep the Gelman dioxane plume from reaching Ann Arbor’s drinking water supply.

For the most part, tough, we did talk about the pubic health disaster in Flint, where a good number of citizens have been exposed to toxic drinking water, and how it likely would not have happened if not for Michigan’s illegal Emergency Manager system of governance, under which local people have no power or recourse. In illustration of this fact, Irwin reminded us that Flint City Council voted to return to Detroit water relatively early on in the process, only to have their wishes ignored by the Emergency Manager… Emergency Management, said Irwin, is at the heart of what happened in Flint.

Irwin said that this started in earnest in 2011, when the Republicans, having won big across the state, began “wagging their fingers” at largely minority cities in Michigan, like Detroit and Flint, saying that, because they’d been run poorly, they’d to be taken over. As Irwin points out, they didn’t take into consideration that there weren’t easy fixes for the problems these communities were facing, which had been caused by decades of globalization, disinvestment, racism, and white flight, leaving those remaining inhabitants to pick up the bill for debts that had been incurred in the past, like the pensions of public workers… But that didn’t stop Snyder and company from believing that, with a few consultants, they couldn’t cut budgets to the bone and set things right. And now we’re seeing how that worked out. This, according to Irwin, is what happens when you remove all the checks and balances put in place over generations, leaving just the State Treasurer and Governor to sign off on items of such immense importance.

Irwin, for what it’s worth, like many of us, believes that Snyder is still lying about what really happened in Flint, and his role. “Incompetence is one thing,” said Irwin, “but he’s deliberately misleading.” [Speaking of which, did you see today that even the conservative Detroit News is now suggesting that Snyder is being untruthful? “Clearly, there are things the governor isn’t telling Michigan residents,” they said in an editorial today.]

And we haven’t yet seen the worst of it, according to Irwin, who believe’s it’s likely that that hundreds of millions of dollars that will be needed to fix Flint’s infrastructure will come not from a new tax, but from further cuts to both education and Medicare.

There was a lot more, including our conversation about the Gelman plume in Ann Arbor, which appears to be moving toward Superior Township, but I’ll leave you to listen to that yourselves… Oh, and did you know that it’s apparently OK for a corporation to kill people as long as they limit the death toll to 1 in 100,0000?

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[This was Irwin’s second visit to the Saturday Six Pack. If you’re curious, his first visit, where we discussed open carry in our schools and the conditions of Michigan’s roads, among other things, can be heard here.]

And, at the 1:31-mark, we invited Victoria Weeber and Craig Johnson into the studio with their shruti box to play a few songs and tell us about their band, Spelling, which apparently isn’t named after television producer Aaron Spelling, as many of us had been led to believe. Here they are, playing one of their four songs. I don’t think you can see it here, but they recited all of their lyrics out of a large, flesh-bound book.

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We talked about factory work, how they met one another, the people they’d stolen their instruments from, Juggalo tattoos, their fondness for all things witchy, and why, despite their inner darkness, they dress almost exclusively in vibrant pastels and neon. It was a fascinating conversation, and, for me, a much needed reprieve from the seriousness of the previous 90 minutes… Here, if you’ve never seen a stolen shruti box, is what one looks like.

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Thanks, as always, to AM 1700 for hosting the show, Kate de Fuccio for documenting everything with her camera, and Brian Robb for running the board, making sure the bills paid, and insuring that the toilet paper and bleach stays stocked. [All photos above come courtesy of Kate.]

If you like this episode, check out our archive of past shows at iTunes. And do please leave a review if you have the time, OK? It’s nice to know that people are listening, and, unless you call in, that’s pretty much the only way we know.

Now, if you haven’t already, please listen for yourself, and experience the magic firsthand.

[Episode 38 of the Saturday Six Pack was recorded live on January 30, 2016, in historic downtown Ypsilanti, Michigan, in the studies of AM1700 Radio.]

Posted in Art and Culture, Civil Liberties, Education, Politics, The Saturday Six Pack, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Totally Quotable Arlo: Super Bowl edition

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As we didn’t want Arlo to inadvertently see a nipple, we put him to bed before halftime. When I woke him up this morning and told him that the Broncos had won, this was his response… I think a lot of people probably had the exact same thought. Thankfully, though, he didn’t have any money on the game… at least as far as I know.

Speaking of Janet Jackson’t exposed nipple and the controversy it generated in 2004, I’m wondering what kind of academic research may have been done to determine the adverse effect it had on the children in the viewing audience that evening. Do we know, for instance, if there was a spike in early sexual activity among young people that can be attributed to Jackson’s halftime “wardrobe malfunction”? Are there thousands of “nipple babies” out there that we don’t talk about… children born to kids who viewed Jackson’s nipple for that split second and then immediately became sexually active?

[If you’ve got a few extra minutes, be sure to check out our Totally Quotable Arlo archive.]

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Ivan Kral takes us behind the scenes at the birth of New York punk, Anne Brown shares her platform for the State House, and Bee Roll reflects on how being “Ypsilantian of the Year” has changed her life… on this weekend’s Saturday Six Pack

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A month or so ago, we had local entrepreneur Steffan Graf of on the show, talking about his life on the road with Grand Funk Railroad, and how he went from opening for Led Zeppelin to designing residential lighting systems for the likes of Keith Richards. Well, after we turned the off the mics, Graf leaned over, asked me to hand him a beer, and told me that I should ask his friend Ivan to come on the show. “If you really want to know about Iggy Pop and Bowie,” he said, referring back to a question I’d asked during our interview, “Ivan’s the person you need to talk with. He played with Iggy for years.” “Wait,” I said, “you don’t mean Ivan Kral, who used to play with The Patti Smith Group?” “Yeah,” Graf responded, “he lives just down the road.”

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Well, it turns out that Graf wasn’t just fucking with me. Ivan Kral really does live just down the road, and he’s going to be in the studio with us come Saturday night, when I expect we’ll talk about everything from those first few gigs at CBGBs to the time he spend in Berlin with Bowie, which, by the way, he just recently wrote about for the website Dangerous Minds. [The above photo of Bowie, Pop and Kral was taken in Berlin in 1979.]

I should also add, not only is Kral one hell of a musician and songwriter who played an integral part in the birth of punk rock, but he was also one of the few people who, very early in the days of the scene developing around CBGBs, had the foresight to actually document what he saw going on around him on film… Here’s the poster for Kral’s 1976 performance compilation film, The Blank Generation, which, to my knowledge, is the only even remotely comprehensive film documentation that exists from the period.

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So, if you want to hear me rattling off questions about Television, the Ramones and Iggy Pop like a giddy fanboy, be sure to tune in during the 7:00 hour.

Before we’re joined by Kral, though, we’ll have two other awesome guests in the studio.

At 6:00, we’ll be joined by Ypsi City Council’s Anne Brown, who will be discussing her recently announced run for the Michigan House seat being vacated by David Rutledge, who, at the end of this year, will be term-limited out of office. Among other things, we’ll be talking with Brown about her platform, and what she hopes to accomplish in Lansing if elected to represent the 54th district… If you have specific questions that you would like for me to ask, either leave a comment here, or call in between 6:00 and 6:30. [The studio’s number is at the bottom of this post.]

And, at 6:30, we’ll be joined by Bee Roll, the owner of Beezy’s, with whom we’ll be talking about business, politics, food and how she’s managed the responsibility over these past 12 months of being our first official “Ypsilantian of the Year.”

Here, for those of you who don’t recall the ceremony, is Roll receiving her award on our very first episode of the Saturday Six Pack.

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I’m also told that, at some point during the broadcast, my occasional co-host, Jim Cherewick, will be dropping by to say hello and perhaps help provide commentary.

And, here, thanks to AM 1700 senior graphic designer Kate de Fuccio, is this week’s poster, in case any of you want to print copies and distribute them in outside the Governor’s Ann Arbor condo.

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FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE NEVER TUNED IN TO THE SIX PACK BEFORE, HERE ARE THE DETAILS ON HOW TO LISTEN:

Unless you live inside the AM 1700 studio, chances are you won’t be able to pick the show up on your radio. As that’s the case, I’d recommend streaming the show online, which you can do either on the AM1700 website or by way of TuneIn.com.

And for those of you who aren’t yet familiar with the show, and need to get caught up, you can listen to the entire archive on iTunes. If you start right now, and listen to everything at double speed, but you can do it.

One last thing… If you’d like to tell your friends and neighbors about the program, feel free to share the Facebook event listing.

And do call us if you have a chance. We love phone calls. So please scratch this number into the cinder block wall of the recreation room of whichever facility you’ve been assigned to… 734.217.8624… and call us between 6:00 and 8:00 this Saturday evening. The show is nothing without you. Sure, sometimes it’s nothing even with you, that’s true, but usually you make it better.

Posted in Art and Culture, The Saturday Six Pack, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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