Exploring the links between Nazism and the theory of evolution at Michigan State University

    The Science Insider is reporting that an anti-evolution group will be hosting what they’re calling an “Origin Summit” on the campus of Michigan State University this weekend, in part in response to ongoing research being conducted at the University that further substantiates the theory of evolution. According to the website of the Oklahoma-based Christian group behind the event, the symposium will include eight workshops, one of which will focus on how evolutionary theory informed the worldview of Adolf Hitler. That session, in case you’re interested, will be run by Dr. Gerald Bergman, who, depending on which source you choose to believe, is either a distinguished academic or a raving lunatic who has only published in the likes of the Creation Research Society Quarterly since being denied tenure at Bowling Green State University in ’79 and fired the year after… Given that Bergman has said publicly that Darwin’s main goal was not to increase human understanding relative to the origin of life, but to “murder” God, my sense is that the latter is probably a more accurate reflection, but I’ll let you be the judge.

    hitler-and-the-nazi-darwinian-worldviewI’d had plans to tell you about my recent near death experience in Georgia tonight, but instead I find myself frantically flipping back and forth between Bergman’s Facebook page, where he discusses his upcoming book, “Hitler and the Nazi Darwinian Worldview,” and the court case he brought against Bowling Green for wrongful termination. And now I’m wondering if there’s any way I might be able to get to MSU this weekend to see for myself just how far Bergman is willing to go to demonize our old friend Darwin.

    Here, by way of background, is a clip from the Science Insider.

    …News of the event caught MSU’s scientific community largely by surprise. Creation Summit secured a room at the university’s business school through a student religious group, but the student group did not learn about the details of the program—or the sometimes provocative talk titles—until later, says MSU zoologist Fred Dyer. The talk titles led Dyer to suspect that the student group was not involved in planning the conference, he says, prompting him to look into its origins.

    Creation Summit sought to hold the event at MSU because “four of our Board members live there in Michigan,” wrote Mike Smith, the group’s executive director, in an e-mail to Science Insider. “We hope to have conferences on campuses throughout the country, but ya gotta start somewhere.”

    Creation Summit is “not overtly evangelistic,” Smith wrote. But “we hope to pave the way for evangelism (for the other campus ministries) by presenting the scientific evidence for intelligent design. Once students realize they’re created beings, and not the product of natural selection, they’re much more open to the Gospel, to the message of God’s love & forgiveness.”

    MSU has a prominent community of evolutionary biologists. In addition to Lenski, it is the home campus of biologist Robert Pennock, who provided high-profile testimony in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, a 2005 federal court case that produced a ruling against the teaching of intelligent design in public schools. MSU is also the lead partner in the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action, a multiuniversity effort funded by the National Science Foundation that pursues a wide range of evolution-related research and education efforts.

    Some leaders of MSU’s evolutionary biology community are urging their colleagues to simply ignore the event, predicting that any engagement and debate will be fruitless. “In my opinion, this event will be just another forgettable blip in the long history of antiscience, antievolution screeds,” Lenski says…

    For what it’s worth, I don’t deny that Hitler was likely influenced by Darwin. That, of course, isn’t the same as saying that Darwin is somehow complicit in the killing of millions Hitler saw as inferior, as Bergman is suggesting. For those interested in delving deeper on the subject, I’d suggest Dan McMillan’s recent piece at Salon.com, pulled from his book How Could This Happen: Explaining the Holocaust. As McMillan says, “The evolution theorist couldn’t have known that people like Hitler would exploit his ideas in such horrifying ways.” But that, I suspect, was probably already obvious to all of us capable of rational thought.

    While the provocateur in me appreciates Bergman’s attempt to popularize the phrase “Nazi Darwinian Worldview” in hopes of furthering his political objectives, it just doesn’t stand up to even the slightest scrutiny. I mean, I get where he’s coming from. I get that he’d like to suggest that mass-extermination, school shootings and the like are what you’re sure to get if you question the infallible word of God as conveyed through the Bible, but there isn’t really any evidence of that. Sure, Hitler may have deluded himself that what he was doing wasn’t evil based upon his understanding of Darwin’s theories, but that doesn’t mean that Darwin is responsible for the extermination of millions any more than the Beatles are responsible for the crimes of the Manson Family or J.D. Salinger for the murder of John Lennon. Millions and millions of people accept the fact that life evolved on this planet, and they’ve done so without calling for the extermination of religious minorities. Not just that, but many of them actually profess to be deeply religious. Take, for example, Pope Francis, who just made his feelings on evolution known this past weekend when he said, When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so.” This isn’t about good versus evil. This is about truth versus fear. And Gerald Bergman is on the wrong side of history.

    One last thing… As our friend Doug Skinner just reminded me, “Hitler never mentioned Darwin. He did, however, call Henry Ford his ‘inspiration’.”

    Posted in Religious Extremism, Science, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

    An anonymous text warns that a portal to Hell is going to be opened in Ypsilanti on Sunday. Please plan accordingly.

    I just received the following text from a number that I don’t recognize, and I’m not sure what to make of it.


    Should I take this seriously? Should I report it to someone?

    [I'm not certain, but I suspect it might have something to do with the gateway between dimensions that was first discovered back in 2011.]

    Posted in Art and Culture, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , | 15 Comments

      Ypsilanti Immigration Interview: Emily and Isaac Wingfield

      Still trying to unravel the mystery of why people would choose, of their own free will, to move to Ypsilanti, I reached out to new residents Isaac and Emily Wingfield, and demanded that they submit to a formal Ypsilanti Immigration Interview. Here are the results.


      MARK: Isaac, I understand that you just recently took a position at the University of Michigan and decided to settle down in Ypsilanti. Why Ypsi? Was it strictly a financial decision, or did other things factor into it?

      ISAAC: On paper it was largely a financial decision… researching places to live from 350 miles away, we didn’t have a lot to go on. There were other things that definitely factored in as well, like good public transportation and being reasonably bicycle friendly. (Since I’m either biking or riding the bus to work, these were both essential.) That said, when we visited to look at our options, we really liked that Ypsi felt like its own place. I was also drawn to the touch of grittiness Ypsi has.

      MARK: It’s a discussion we have here quite a bit. There are some in Ypsi, I think, who would see a downtown Starbucks, for instance, as a good thing… a sign that we’d somehow made it as a community. I’m in the other camp. I think, in the long run, authenticity is more important. In a world where everything is beginning to look the same, I value places that are able to maintain their unique identities, and I suspect that those of us who feel this way are growing in number. Fortunately, we haven’t really had to have that fight here yet, as Ypsi isn’t exactly on the radar of corporate America, but I suspect that it’ll happen. Hopefully, by the time it does, we’ll have learned a lesson or two from our neighbor to the west, where chains making more significant inroads.

      EMILY: I don’t want a Starbucks…

      ISAAC: I’d agree. I think having more independent places gives you a much more intimate sense of place than somewhere like Starbucks, which are the same everywhere in the country.

      EMILY: But, we need people to start and run businesses. Do you think Ypsilanti has entrepreneurs like that?

      MARK: We’ve got a few, but we could always use more. My hope is that, with the success of places like the Corner Brewery, Beezy’s and the Wurst Bar, that others begin to realize that there’s real opportunity here. I suspect that food and beer is where it will start, but one hopes that it expands from there. We have the Rocket, which is great, but I’d like to see other retail businesses open. And, ultimately, I’d like to see us bringing in a few tech companies from Ann Arbor, the employees of which, I suspect, would rather be in a real downtown environment than in an office park a few miles from a shopping mall. But, yeah, I think we can do it.

      ISAAC: Yeah, that sounds great, and I would love to see that kind of innovation and entrepreneurship in Ypsi. We don’t have plans to open a business, but we try to be intentional about supporting local companies by giving them our business.

      MARK: And what is it that you’ll be teaching, Isaac?

      ISAAC: I’m teaching photography in the Residential College (RC). I’m excited about the RC because of the interdisciplinary approach. It’s a great community to be joining. I’m also fortunate to be stewarding the only darkroom left on campus, since I love traditional film-based photography.

      MARK: So there’s not a dark room in the entire art school? I get that technology is shifting rapidly, and that things like 3D printing labs are probably of more interest to incoming students than darkrooms, but I still find it amazing that there’s now only one on campus.

      ISAAC: I’d agree, but it’s happening all over; programs are tearing out darkrooms to put in digital labs. I think it reflects a changing perception of the importance of craft. I think, however, that the hands-on experience a darkroom offers has some staying power that sitting in front of a computer doesn’t offer.

      MARK: And what do you do, Emily?

      EMILY: I’m a contracted textile designer for the John Ritzenthaler Company in Pennsylvania. I design kitchen textiles for retailers.

      MARK: I don’t think I’ve ever talked with a kitchen textile designer. What can you tell me about the industry, and the way things are headed?

      EMILY: Well, it was only the nineties when things were mostly being made here in the United States. Everything was also more hands-on. My first boss started out hand-painting the repeat patterns, and going to the factory to make sure the screens were properly made. Now everything is manufactured overseas, and the design work is all digital, and that’s how I work. I don’t think this will change anytime soon. There are some niche markets for more locally-made and sustainable production. I have a friend in Providence who is doing this, and I admire it… I’d like to see more of that.

      MARK: Where had you both been living just prior to this?

      ISAAC: We were living in Houghton, New York. Allegany County is the poorest in the state, and has a population of just under 50,000. Our new neighborhood, here in Ypsi, is a bit different. We can’t walk down the street to visit the sheep out to pasture anymore.

      MARK: There was talk for a while of putting goats on Water Street, which I think would have been nice.

      EMILY: I like goats, but I have a lot of questions… Like why? And who would take care of them?

      ISAAC: You’re so practical about it, Emily…

      EMILY: It’s because I’d really like to see it happen. Let’s cover the logistics!

      ISAAC: I love the idea of more urban agriculture. I’m not sure the point of goats, unless it’s a dairy operation, or they’re just weed control. But I’m sure there’s some way that the City could move forward on that in a way that benefits everyone, keeps the open space, and provides more local food production.

      MARK: We’ve got at least one person in town with a small scale goat operation. If I understand correctly, he sells both milk and cheese. My sense is that others would like to do the same, if they had room to do so, and if the City were more receptive to it. As for why some of us had thought about it for Water Street, it was a combination of things. Primarily, we had this big 38-acre parcel in the middle of town that had been sitting vacant for over a decade, so we thought, “Why not put it to use?” And, as you mention, we thought that the goats would help with weed control. It would also give passersby something interesting to look at. And, I thought, we could easily find a local person interested in urban agriculture to jump at the opportunity. But, instead, some of us got together and planted a native prairie along Michigan Avenue.

      ISAAC: The prairie is a start. The struggle with urban farms is that property value in the City tends to work against the space typically used for agriculture, even of the small-scale urban style. The best thing is probably to develop a culture that supports a kind of pop-up farming, where underused property (vacant lots like the Water Street property, but there a plenty of other examples, just on a smaller scale), can be used on a shorter term for small livestock or farming. Short term farming is tough though—farming requires such an investment in the soil, and that takes some time.

      MARK: And how have you found Ypsi thus far? Are you experiencing any culture shock?

      EMILY: Ypsi feels very comfortable. I love how we are in close proximity to neighbors, and live in a neighborhood where people desire to be in community with each other. I also love that we can walk downtown and to the parks. It’s a very walkable city, which I hope only grows in that way. It’s a small town that has potential to grow and offer a lot, but keep the small town charm.

      MARK: When you say that people in Ypsi “desire to be in community with each other,” do you mean that there’s more of a communal feel here that there was in New York State? Were people there more private, closed-off, etc?

      EMILY: I wasn’t thinking necessarily in contrast to New York, but, in other cities where I’ve lived, you sometimes get a sense that people don’t really want anything to do with you. Our neighborhood is very friendly.

      ISAAC: It also doesn’t feel like the kind of place where you have to live forever to be considered a local. Everyone welcomes you in.

      MARK: That’s one of the things that kept bringing us back to Ypsi. (We’ve left twice. Once for Atlanta, and once for Los Angeles. And, in both instances, we came back.) We felt that we could contribute here in a substantive way, and that our efforts would be appreciated. There wasn’t really an entrenched infrastructure standing in the way of us doing things. It was more of a meritocracy. Or at least that was our sense…. that this was a place where young people would be welcomed and valued.

      EMILY: Oh, interesting. I didn’t realize you guys have lived in so many places and have returned. You need a nickname or something – the boomerangs. It’s encouraging to hear that effort is appreciated.

      MARK: You also lived in Providence for a while, right?

      EMILY: Yes, we were there for three years.

      ISAAC: We lived in Federal Hill, which was supposedly the neighborhood that ran New England during the heyday of the mob.

      MARK: It seems as though there’s recently been an influx of people from Providence. In addition to you both, we now also have Sara Meyer and Seth Gruenwald. I know that, technically, they’re living in Ann Arbor right now, in U-M’s family housing, but I get the sense that they’re more well suited for Ypsi.

      ISAAC: I think there’s some similarities between the two places, being post-industrial.

      EMILY: There’s something about them both that’s down-home. There are still a good amount of locals who are Ypsi through and through, but then you have the transient folks as well. We just went to a block party in our neighborhood and got a real feel for this mixture. It’s diverse, inviting, and beautiful. And, I think Providence is similar.

      ISAAC: Definitely. They both feel like places that have maintained their distinct culture, and have a mixture of hard-working salt-of-the-earth folks who are locals, born and raised, just living life. They also both have people who come and go.

      MARK: Generally speaking, what do you miss most about Providence? And, more specifically, what do you miss about the Providence art scene?

      EMILY: I miss the good, cheap eats. There was super authentic food of all kinds: Guatemalan, Thai, Italian, seafood, Indian, farm to table, and gourmet, if you felt like splurging. And it was all so good. I also miss the water and geography. Specifically, I miss the art scene in Providence. I miss having a good music venue. We enjoyed going to see plays. They had the PPAC which showed Broadway plays, but also a couple independent type places whch would put on more progressive contemporary plays, or community folks putting on plays at AS220. AS220 is a cool organization and so is New Urban Arts. Both attract artists, and those who appreciate art, and help them use their skills to give back to the community. Those were gems in Providence, for sure. The people just do what they love to do, and sharing that with the community makes the world a better place. Yeah, I miss that. I miss the people. Lots of creativity overflowing from individuals, and lots of parties and potlucks and hanging out inspiring each other.

      ISAAC: It seems odd, but one thing that’s been a big adjustment being in the Midwest is how the city is laid out. Because Providence is on the East Coast, it’s about 200 years older, and it shows when you walk around the city. Many neighborhoods were built with houses right up on the sidewalk because they needed to make the most of the space they had. With that in mind, it feels strange to be in our clearly urban Ypsilanti neighborhood, where every house has a sizable front yard, not to mention a back yard. I miss that kind of compactness. I think it also reflects the limited impact the automobile had on the structure of the city.

      When it comes to the art scene, I do think there are a lot of similarities between Providence and Ypsilanti. Because they’re both places where industry was, but has largely moved out, they’re very affordable, which makes both great places for the arts. Artists have a lot more freedom to operate under the radar because they can afford to create a lot more, so you see more art being made, and more organizations popping up.

      That said, because of the difference in scale, Providence has a lot more in the way of resources that really enrich the arts community. The RISD Museum is an amazing resource for the community, and RISD as a whole definitely spills over into the local arts community, with lots of graduates staying around afterwards. There’s also a number of fantastic community arts organizations that are doing great stuff in Providence, like Emily already mentioned. New Urban Arts is particularly close to my heart after being involved there for several years.

      MARK: What did you do at New Urban Arts?

      ISAAC: I started out as an artist mentor, spending several hours a week working with high schoolers who came to their drop-in hours. It’s pretty unique in that it’s very unstructured, but there are a lot of very committed, involved students. It’s very egalitarian, mentors making things alongside students, rather than teachers instructing, and it creates a great community with some fantastic results.

      MARK: Where are you both from originally?

      EMILY: I lived in Delaware until middle school, and then my family moved to Eastern North Carolina. Both are original for me as in I feel Northern and Southern at the same time. My parent’s roots are in North Carolina.

      ISAAC: I grew up in Asheville, North Carolina. It’s definitely a place that is still in my blood, with all its complexity.

      MARK: What kind of response do you get from people in Ann Arbor when you tell them that you’re Appalachian State grads?

      ISAAC: There hasn’t been much of a response I’ve found. Occasionally the football game from 2007 comes up, but I suspect that was a bigger deal for Appalachian to win than it was for Michigan to lose, or at least of the sort people want to remember.

      EMILY: It’s mixed. Some people have never heard of it, and then some are like “Oh yeah… I know that school.” Then it comes out that it’s only because of the football game 5 years ago.

      MARK: I know this is probably coming somewhat from left field, but I’m curious to know your thoughts on rural poverty in Appalachia. (I think my interest stems from the fact that I was born in Kentucky on the day Robert Kennedy started his ”poverty tour” of Appalachia, but it’s a subject I keep coming back to on this blog.)

      EMILY: I don’t have too much knowledge here, and don’t know if you’re looking for a particular thought. But, for me, living in places with rural poverty, I’ve learned not to judge. There are stereotypes, but not everyone fulfills those. I’ve also learned to love life with little, and that rich culture comes from relationships between generations. Someone might choose to stay in the place they grew up, even though they won’t have a steady income or a promise of the “American dream.” They may have a different kind of wealth than someone like me, who has moved around a lot — strong roots and ties to a familiar place.

      There’s not an easy fix to rural poverty, or any poverty. When it comes to these kind of issues, I take wisdom from Michael Jackson, “If you want to make the world a better place take a look at yourself and make a change.” For me, on this topic, that means befriending people who aren’t in the same social and economic class that I am, understanding hardships they face, and helping when I can. Simply put, I try to love my neighbor, or friend, how I would love myself.

      ISAAC: I would definitely agree; it’s easy to come into situations (or just look in from a distance, as an outsider) where rural poverty is prevalent and bring a lot of assumptions and stereotypes. Like Emily said, spending time in the place, and getting to know people makes a big difference in how you think about it. I would also say that rural Appalachian poverty is definitely distinct within rural poverty. It’s certainly present in my mind given the poverty in Allegany County, where we lived prior to Ypsilanti. It’s rural poverty, and it’s just on the edge of Appalachia. Both our time there, and my time in Western North Carolina, have given me a glimpse into that world. There is a long history of poverty in Appalachia, as the allusion to Robert Kennedy suggests, and that history makes it all too easy for people to make assumptions about “poor people” in Appalachia that often loses sense of the actual people who are living in poverty. There is certainly difficulty in a life of rural poverty, and education and exposure to new and different things is probably one of the most difficult. Urban poverty is somewhat different because living in a city exposes you to a broader swath of life. In a city it is much more difficult to live without bumping into people who don’t look like you, don’t live like you, don’t think like you on a regular basis just because there are more people. As a well educated academic, I am keenly aware of the things I miss out on that rural communities filled with poverty still have, often because they don’t have a choice, primarily the sense of rootedness in both relationships/family and place. I try to keep up with a podcast called Inside Appalachia, and the coal industry, and the struggle in parts of Appalachia to move beyond it, are often featured in one way or another. Because of the rootedness of those communities, folks who have only ever known that place and those people, it’s hard to envision leaving the family, the friends, and the landscape behind. Not necessarily because they can’t, so much as it is unappealing to leave those things behind which mean so much to them. So they tend to struggle on.

      MARK: What’s the role of photography in social change?

      ISAAC: That’s a reasonable question, but I’m not sure I best know how to answer it. I am probably of the school that believes photography, at least on its own, has a hard time generating social change. There is a relationship between the two, and it can help create a groundswell, but I think that most often happens when there’s already a movement afoot, and photography just helps bring it into the limelight. At the same time, I would like to think, as a photographer, that my work makes some kind of impact on the world (though I’m not sure if that’s the same thing as “social change”). However, not working in the photojournalism or documentary photography tradition makes this issue feel slightly less urgent to resolve for myself. Did Lewis Hine’s images of children working in mills and factories instigate changes in child labor laws, or was he just showing up at the right time in the slowly changing perspective on children in the workforce? Were Ansel Adam’s images of the West instrumental in the formation of national parks, or were the national parks already on their way, and he was just one more voice to support the cause? It’s hard to say.

      MARK: What would you like to accomplish while you’re here in Ypsi?

      EMILY: I would like to get connected and help create community. We are starting with our immediate neighborhood by going to our neighborhood association meetings and jumping in where we are able.

      ISAAC: It’s hard to say, since we’re still learning about Ypsi. Definitely getting to know folks, getting to know more about the community, the history, and eventually finding some way to get plugged in and serve the community that uses our skills and abilities. I’d also love to get into a community garden.

      [Still wondering why people want to make Ypsilanti their home? Check out the rest of our Ypsilanti Immigration Interviews.]

      Posted in Art and Culture, Special Projects, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

      Mark Maynard: folding his arms in front of the artwork of others



      I have an idea for a spinoff site. It would just be images of me, either folding my arms in front of, or leaning against, the artwork of others. What do you think? Is that the kind of site that you can imagine yourself going back to again and again, week after week?

      “I wonder what Mark’s leaning against today?”

      Maybe I could even interview the artists whose stuff I’m leaning against.

      The above shots, by the way, were taken a few days ago at the Water Street Sculpture Garden by the very talented Doug Coombe, who had been sent out by Concentrate to take photos of Ben Connor-Barrie and me.

      This is Ben. He publishes the blog Damn Arbor.

      He’s the smiley one.


      I think they wanted to shoot me with Ben as, next to him, I look significantly bigger, older and less happy than I do on my own.

      In addition to me and Ben, the Concentrate article, titled “Five Local Blogs You Need To Be Reading,” also focuses on Juan Cole from Informed Comment, Barbara Wylan Sefton from SLICE Ann Arbor, and Megan Halvorson from Meg Goes Nom Nom. I’d like to think my inclusion is some reflection on the work that I put in here, but I suspect it has more to do with the fact that I’ve outlived much of my competition, as most everyone else has come to realize that blogging is a colossal waste of time and energy that’s only likely to make you enemies.

      For those of you who are interested, here’s the part of the article, written by Patrick Dunn, dealing with this site.

      Site visits: 35,000 per month
      Established: 2002

      Why you should be reading it: Because founder Mark Maynard is one of Arbor-Ypsi’s OG blogging bad-asses. Maynard published the notable ‘90s zine Crimewave USA, and the fierce punk rock spirit of the zine world pervades his online presence. He’s an outspoken political commentator, particularly when it comes to defending his city of residence, Ypsilanti (although he’s certainly not afraid to call out city government for lame-brained moves). He’s a decidedly left-of-center voice on state and national issues as well, and he’s got his finger on the pulse enough to scoop local news outlets from time to time.

      The blog isn’t all Maynard’s opinion, though. Maynard is an excellent and extremely inquisitive interviewer, and his Q&As with local business owners and artists (and his ongoing “Exit Interview” series with outbound area residents) are always fascinating. But most importantly, Maynard is a skillful moderator, fostering intelligent and respectful discussions in the comments on even his most provocative posts. A vital community resource, a virtual back fence, and an outlet for Maynard’s admittedly obsessive-compulsive tendencies, MarkMaynard.com embodies everything a great local blog should aspire to be.

      Posted in Site Admin, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

      Raja Rani to close its doors at the end of the month as a result of rising rents in Ann Arbor

      At the risk of further infuriating those who see these reports of mine about long-time downtown Ann Arbor businesses going belly-up as “tired tirades,” I feel compelled to share that yet another Ann Arbor staple will soon be closing its doors as a result of rising downtown rents. According to my source, the owners of Raji Rani, which has been a part of the Ann Arbor landscape since the 70′s, have told their employees that they will be shutting down the storied Indian restaurant for good at the end of this month. So, if you’d like to hit the buffet one last time, you’d better go soon.


      I’m sure some will say that, if they were more savvy, and provided better value, they would have been able to adjust to the rising rents. And maybe there’s some truth to that. I’m sure others will point to the fact that other good Indian restaurants exist in Ann Arbor, and seem to be doing well. And that’s true too. It’s also true that, for cities to remain healthy, they need to change, adapt and evolve. I get that. As we’ve discussed in the past, though, I do think it’s likely, if we don’t intervene in some substantive way, that there may come a time when local entrepreneurs can no longer afford to exist alongside the new upscale housing developments and chain restaurant that are so rapidly expanding through downtown.

      I know I should’t complain, as this is likely good for Ypsilanti… The less unique and interesting Ann Arbor becomes, the more people will seek out authenticity elsewhere. I understand that, and I can see it happening already. (When Middle Earth announced their closing a month or so ago, my first thought was that it would be good for The Rocket.) At the same time, however, I can’t help but feel bad for Ann Arbor. It’s like when your once really interesting friend decides in middle school to start bleaching his hair, turning up his collar, and running around with a bunch of douche bags. It’s not that I don’t want Ann Arbor to change. It’s just that I feel as though authenticity is being sacrificed in return for slickness. And, I believe, in the long term, Ann Arbor will suffer for it. Yes, people can drive out on Plymouth Road and enjoy the food at Cardamom, where, admittedly, they’ve got a better handle on complex flavors, but I think we lose something when that old white house on Division goes away, only to be replaced by something like Ruth’s Chris Steak House. And it’s not just an issue of local versus non-local. It’s also slickness versus authenticity. While I think Babo is great, for instance, it’s just not the old Village Corner. It’s clean. It’s beautiful. And it could be anywhere. It’s rootless… Again, I know it’s a complex issue. I just want for us to be able to have an open, honest discussion about it.

      As for the “tired tirades” quote at the top of the page, it comes from my friend Dug Song, in response to the last thing I posted here about long-standing Ann Arbor businesses calling it quits. Here are a few of his comments, followed by my responses. If you find our exchange at all interesting, I’d suggest checking out that post, and all of the comments that followed it. It covers a lot of ground.


      Old hippie tschochke shops barely floating by closes up, owners retire, this all seem very normal and completely appropriate to me. Did any of you actually patronize these businesses in years? Do you feel as strongly about the cultural significance of the decrepit head shops that have been around for decades (vs. the new “vape” e-cig etc. ones that moved in)? Can we agree that the Wall of Bongs was actually not that impressive? Can we agree that some stuff should just fucking die, and it’s the natural order of things? Who wants to live in some antiques roadshow?

      We’ve got new Asian tschotchke shops to replace them (you know, prayer flags and bowls and other incense) and tons of new, locally-owned restaurants/cafes/bars started by young (20-something!) Asian entrepreneurs in town (Lab, Tomukun Noodle Bar, Tomukun BBQ, Songbird Cafe, Belly Deli, No Thai, etc.), or young women (Iorio’s, Babo and Aventura, etc.), or young men (Last Word, the Bar at Braun Ct., Espresso Bar, etc.) – is none of that significant? You’re going to cry over some new age books and fountains? I mean, there’s even a new, legit stoner burrito joint on campus (Menna’s – “ROLL ME A FATTY”)! New skateboard companies (Flophouse!), and expanding skate shops (Launch, now also off Stadium!).

      Nostalgia is fucking boring. I’m happy to see successful new businesses here, led by new, young founders. We could use more retail diversity, but what we really need are better businesses that can actually be successful competing downtown against restaurants for rent, and/or landlords who actually give a damn (kudos to Al Berriz for keeping blocks of Liberty St. local businesses, when Tim Horton’s and crap came calling). For instance, the Vault of Fucking Midnite!!! who are taking their brand of awesome-as-fuck to GR, Lansing, Detroit, etc.

      Successful businesses that aren’t restaurants, cafes, or bars are certainly hard to do with these downtown rents, and retail is generally suffering everywhere (DK’s “give me convenience or give me death” might as well be Amazon’s slogan). If we actually BUILT UP, tech companies would pay ridiculous downtown rents on upper floors to subsidize everyone fighting for ground-floor white box retail.

      Sucks about Woodruffs, but why can’t another Green Room happen? Ypsi’s got some creative, weird shit going on, and it’s awesome (even the nominally boring library shit in Ypsi is awesome, as I can attest to, having lined up after Mark for pony rides and soap carving). There’s a ton of opportunity, great properties available for handy and ambitious and people to try to do something. But is there enough vision? Will? Talent? Capital? People who care?

      My next great hope (cos we got our skatepark DONE) is that Maynard Battery turns into our version of AS220 (like a legit, non-hovel Tech Center), and not some extension of the arts-and-crafts Art Center. Free culture for all. There are still some freaks in this town. We can shut down the streets with a circuit bending noisecore parade. Actually, that is a great idea, even if Leif Ritchie and Joe Bay and Nautical Almanac did it decades ago. Where’s our inspiration if not each other?

      We just can’t be scared, and we have to want it, and we have to work for it. Old ones (due respect) had their time. But as Nas said, the world is yours.


      Great points, Dug. And I agree with a lot of what you say. I’m not crying over Falling Water closing, and I actually think it may be a good thing that Middle Earth is closing as it might drive more business east of 23, to The Rocket. My point wasn’t that we should lock everything down in amber, and resist change. My point was that the environment in Ann Arbor is changing and smaller businesses are being forced out due to rising rents. As Curtis Sullivan told us here not too long ago, the reason Vault of Midnight can stay downtown is that their building’s owner believes in them, and didn’t push them out make room for the next 7-Eleven or Starbucks. I think that you can lose the sense of a place. I think that’s a very real danger. I don’t disagree that some interesting things are happening around the fringe, but I’d argue that the bigger trend is toward homogenization. Ann Arbor is losing its sense of place. Yeah, there’s a skateboard park a few miles out of town, which is awesome, and some stoners are selling burritos, but you can’t deny that market rates are pushing the unique out in favor of chains.


      You apparently, literally, don’t think anything of the local entrepreneurs that indeed started all of these businesses in the last 5 years, at escalating market rates, successfully competing against chains like Tim Horton’s and Big Boy trying to come in (often supported by landlords taking the long view). They are an existence proof against your tired tirade. There have been more new local successes than chain-based franchises. And there have always been franchises, including local ones.

      It’s hard, yes, and only some of them are good enough to succeed, but all of them are brave enough to try. Where chains like Big Boy’s @burger failed, Tomukun has flourished. You’d be more correct in calling out homogenization of Asian restaurants and cafes than local vs. chains. We lost some franchise record stores, but support the local ones (including Ypsi graduates Underground Sounds). We got new head shops bookstores, sex shops, tattoo parlors, clothing stores, etc. May not be what you want or care about, but they all happened in downtown Ann Arbor.

      I have a lot more concerns about the loss of any live music venue in Ypsi, and the increasingly.limited options in Ann Arbor. That sucks, and for some crappy Mexican food is just insult to injury. What are you guys doing over there???


      “You apparently, literally, don’t think anything of the local entrepreneurs that indeed started all of these businesses in the last 5 years, at escalating market rates.”

      Not true. I think quite highly of them. And, in fact, I interview them often on this site. (You should read through the archive sometime, Dug.) To name a few, over the past few years I’ve interviewed Curtis Sullivan (Vault of Midnight), Lisa Waud (Pot & Box), Helen Harding (Eat), Bill Brinkhoffer (Argus Farm Stop), Phillis Engelbert (Lunch Room), Paul Saginaw (Zingerman’s) and Tanya Veilleux (Safety Girl) at length. And there are numerous people that I’ve reached out to over the years who I’d like to interview, but the stars just haven’t aligned.

      So, with all due respect, when you say that I “don’t think anything” of the local entrepreneurs doing things right now, you’re wrong. I love you. But you’re wrong.

      Also, as I’ve said before, I don’t want to see Ann Arbor trapped in amber. I like change. I like evolution. So please stop telling me that I suffer from nostalgia, and that I’m just upset because some of my favorite stores are closing. That’s not it at all. I never shopped at Falling Water and I never bought a guitar at Herb David. This has nothing to do with nostalgia, or the fact that I don’t like development. So do me a favor and stop trying to lump me in with those old hippies who don’t want density in Ann Arbor. Density is good. But it comes as a cost. And all I’m suggesting is that we have an open, honest conversation about the change that’s happening, and possible solutions that would make it easier for locally-owned, independent businesses to have a presence downtown. The rates are rising, the small local players are getting squeezed, and it’s having an effect on the personality of the city. It just is. Your locally-owned startup can’t pay the $60 a square foot that Pot Belly does. It’s just math.

      And I’m sorry if you find this a “tired tirade,” but I find it worth discussing. And, based on the response that this post continues to get after over a year, others do too.

      My point is really simple. Ann Arbor is getting to be too expensive for small, not-tech entrepreneurs. And before you submit another list of successful businesses, I’ll agree with you that some folks are still making it. Yes, there are examples of local businesses that can make it in this environment. I never argued that there weren’t. What I argued was that things are trending in a dangerous direction. Sure, people will push back, and some will be successful. But the trend is still toward homogeneity, where there’s less and less room for the weird, the unusual and the quirky. Sure, one day a year we can bring our giant puppets out, and shut down a few streets, but it doesn’t change the fact that Ann Arbor is becoming a less unique city, one in which the poor and the creative are being pushed out. (Over the past month I’ve had conversations with two downtown Ann Arbor business owners who anticipate that, within the year, they’ll be priced out of the City.)

      But, yes, it’s awesome that food carts are making inroads. It’s awesome that Pot and Box opened. It’s awesome that Vault of Midnight exists. That doesn’t demonstrate a trend, though. If anything, it helps make my point. The food carts are happening in response to the fact that restaurants can’t be opened. Vault of Midnight exists in part because they found a building owned by good people who wanted to see a bookstore there. And Pot and Box isn’t technically in downtown. Sure, bright people will find a way. It’s just getting harder. And we need to realize that.

      I agree with you about Woodruff’s, though. We desperately need another live music venue. And I’ve been trying, to the best of my ability, to coerce Hassan into making it happen.

      Now let’s see if we can lure Raja Rani to downtown Ypsi.

      Posted in Ann Arbor, Local Business, Locally Owned Business, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 67 Comments


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