“I thought it would be easier.”

Of all the baffling, cringeworthy, infuriating things that Trump has said over these past 99 days in office, I think this is the one that will stick with him to the end. What makes it so striking, I think, is its incredible simplicity and uncharacteristic truthfulness. In an age so full of lies, and so rife with complex conspiracy theories, this, I think, is the kind of quote that will reverberate. When all is said and done, this is what it is. This gets to the very heart of it. We elected a man who, by his own admission, had no appreciation for just how difficult a task it was to run a country. And now we’re dealing with the consequences. All of the other stuff, as terrible as it might be, I think, is secondary to this. He may be a liar. He may be a conman. He may even be a foreign agent. But, when you peal everything away, he’s just a man who came to power by assuring us that there were easy answers to problems that he didn’t even remotely understand.

[The above quote comes from an interview with Trump posted earlier today by Reuters.]

And because I can’t stop thinking about the phrase, “This is more work than in my previous life,” which was also said during the course of this interview.

Posted in Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Today in fashion… buying the perception of of having done a hard day’s work

In about ’91, as an American Studies undergrad at the University of Michigan, I had the occasion to take a class at with professor Robert Berkhofer, the author of The White Man’s Indian: Images of the American Indian from Columbus to the Present. While I don’t remember a great deal about what we covered in the class, as it was over a quarter of a century ago now, I have a very vivid memory of an offhand comment Berkhofer made one morning about the trajectory of American fashion. He predicted that, one day, as the division between classes in America grew, upscale shops would begin selling the tattered clothing worn by prisoners at Chinese and Russian forced labor camps.

Well, it looks like we’ve taken yet one more step in that direction.

Thank you, Nordstrom, for these “heavily distressed medium-blue denim jeans in a comfortable straight-leg fit (that) embody rugged, Americana workwear that’s seen some hard-working action with a crackled, caked-on muddy coating that shows you’re not afraid to get down and dirty.” You’ve not only picked up Peter Buchanan-Smith’s gauntlet of ridiculousness, but you’ve run with it.

Posted in History, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

Richard Florida visits Ann Arbor, advocates for affordable housing, warns “When places get boring, even the rich leave”

Richard Florida, the man credited with popularizing the belief that the so-called “creative class” is the primary driver of urban redevelopment, was in Ann Arbor yesterday to address a regional economic forum hosted by Ann Arbor Spark. As I didn’t take very good notes, and don’t have the time this evening to provide anything even remotely approaching comprehensive coverage, I know I should probably just keep quiet on the subject, but, as I thought it might be of interest to a few of you, and since I haven’t seen anyone else post about it, I figured I’d pass along a few brief notes. Here, in no particular order, are my somewhat jumbled thoughts.

1. The Ann Arbor stop was just one of many for Florida, who is touring the country in support of his new book, The New Urban Crisis: How Our Cities Are Increasing Inequality, Deepening Segregation, and Failing the Middle Class—and What We Can Do About It. Florida said he’d pretty much finished writing the book this past fall, but rewrote it in the wake of this past November’s election, when it became clear to him that Trump won because of the growing divide between the haves and have-nots, which, according to Florida, is largely geographic in nature, as those with resources are gravitating toward cities, while those without resources are being driven out. Maybe it was just the table I was at, but my sense was that his anti-Trump sentiments weren’t shared by many in the audience. He did, however, get some applause when he told the crowd that his wife is from Birmingham, and that, every Thanksgiving, they come down from Toronto to watch the Lions play in Detroit. It wasn’t clear, but it sounded like Florida chose to move to Toronto, where he’s the head of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto, at least in part due to a desire on his part to pick up the mantle of urban research pioneer Jane Jacobs, the author of 1961’s groundbreaking The Death and Life of Great American Cities, who lived there until her death in 2006. Speaking of Jacobs, Florida said he asked her once what she thought her greatest contribution was to society. According to Florida, she said it was the idea that economic growth didn’t come from companies, but from people, who become something greater than themselves when they come together in cities. When you bring together large numbers of people with ambition and knowledge, Florida says, you create something powerful, an engine for change. But, he says, they also carve deep divides. And, it was at this point, he started talking about the poplulist backlash that gave us Trump and Brexit.

2. It’s probably worth noting that not everyone loves Florida’s work. He has his critics, many of whom, it would appear, see him as more of a self-promoter than a legitimate heir to Jacobs. But his influence over the urban planning field is undeniable, as a generation of city planners have made their careers echoing his mantra that our urban centers, if we’re to see them revitalized, need to be more tolerant of, and welcoming to, creative types. And, for what it’s worth, Florida now acknowledges at least some of the criticism that’s been directed his way. Recently, while in Houston, Florida said the following. “I got wrong that the creative class could magically restore our cities, become a new middle class like my father’s, and we were going to live happily forever after,” he said. “I could not have anticipated among all this urban growth and revival that there was a dark side to the urban creative revolution, a very deep dark side.” And that, it seems, is the narrative that drives the new book, which, by the way, I’ve yet to read. Here’s a clip from the Houston Chronicle.

…Through books and magazine cover stories, pricey speeches and consultations, the TED-talking University of Toronto professor popularized the early-aughts idea that faded cities could revitalize themselves by attracting the talented, intellectual types who made up what he called the “creative class.” Lure some hip coffeeshops, create an “arts district,” play up your gay friendliness, and watch the laptopping masses pour in.

Sixteen years after Florida published his first book, “The Rise of the Creative Class,” that theory has proved half true. For many small, post-industrial cities without assets like big tech companies and universities, no amount of creative-class marketing would turn things around. Elmira, N.Y., for example, saw little return on its investment in the Florida program, as a 2009 story in the American Prospect detailed

But it wasn’t just that the creative class wasn’t the silver bullet for struggling cities that he said it would be. There was also the “dark side” Florida alluded to earlier… “The urban pessimists have a point,” Florida went on to tell the Houston Chronicle. “We neglected their point, which is that cities are gentrifying, people are being priced out, displaced from their homes. I think we need a new vision for cities that combines an optimistic viewpoint with an understanding of the challenges that re-urbanization brings.”

So, he preached to the masses that our salvation lay in luring artists and the like back to our cities, but, in doing so, he let the gentrification genie out of the bottle. And this new book, it seems, is his attempt to make amends (while, of course, selling even more books).

3. I was waiting for Florida to claim some of Michael Shuman’s territory, and start talking about the importance of small, locally owned businesses and cooperatives, but he never quite got there. He did, however, share a few ideas about how we might achieve what he called “inclusive urbanism.” We have to build affordable housing, especially affordable rental housing, in our cities, he said. We have to invest in mass transit, so that the people on the periphery, who have been forced out of our cities, are still able to participate. And, we have to “upgrade” service jobs, the same way we did with manufacturing jobs after the great depression. We need to make it possible for people working service jobs to actually make a living wage that allows them to exist within in our cities, he said.

4. If we do nothing to address these issues, he said, we risk losing our cities. And it was at this point that Florida made his most profound statement. “When places get boring,” he said, “even the rich leave.”

5. Regardless of what you think about Florida, I think you’ll probably agree that it’s a good message for the people of Ann Arbor to hear. With the prices of homes in the city rising 6.3% in the last year alone, and the median price of a single-family unit reaching $334,800, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that, according to Florida, ours is the 8th most economically segregated community in the United States, with fewer and fewer places for our non-wealthy citizens to live. And it certainly isn’t helped by the fact that no one seems to have the political will to follow through on the findings of the County’s Affordable Housing & Economic Equity Analysis report and build new affordable housing in Ann Arbor… I don’t know to what extent Florida’s speech might have sunk in, but I know I’ll be repeating the phrase, “When places get boring, even the rich leave,” in my head for a while. [Will someone remind me to create a Maynard Boring Index for American cities?]

6. Florida said that this rift we’re seeing in America, the one that resulted in Trump being elected, is the biggest one we’ve seen since the Civil War. Not only, he said, do we have to contend with the people who have been left behind, who are susceptible to the populist propaganda, but, he added, we have a “new urban luddism” on the left, with people fighting against growth and change. And he seems to think that things are going to get worse before they get better, especially for those of us at universities, who, in his opinion, are going to get the brunt of the anti-intellectualism, anti-creative class, anti-growth attack. “The Backlash to the universities,” he warned, “will be enormous.”

7. For what it’s worth, he added that he knew, when Rob Ford, the crack smoking mayor of Toronto, was elected, that bad things were likely going to start happening elsewhere.

8. We need to stop looking to the federal government for answers, Florida said in conclusion. Under Trump, he said, the federal government won’t fix anything. And they likely wouldn’t have come to our rescue under Clinton either, he added. He then ended his keynote by saying that he hopes two mayors, a Democrat and a Republican, run together on a ticket for the Oval Office in 2020 with a message of “inclusive prosperity,” promising to return control to local communities.

[If you were in the audience for Florida’s keynote, and I either missed something significant, or got something wrong, please leave a comment. I’d appreciate it.]

Posted in Ann Arbor, Art and Culture, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 29 Comments

A rooftop visit from Patrick Elkins, announcing the opening of Totally Awesome season

Every year, in late April, a free, all-ages, multi-venue festival of weirdness called Totally Awesome Fest descends upon the sleepy little midwestern hamlet of Ypsilanti. There’s no escape from it. No one is immune. Like it or not, you will experience beauty and magic. It permeates every element of village life. Walking through town, one might encounter anything, from a magical cart appearing out of nowhere to dispense fee hot dogs, to an inter-species basketball game at a local park. And bands, it seems, are playing in every backyard. Weirdness lurks around every corner.

And, every year, at about this time, like the groundhog who comes out of his hole to see whether or not he can see his own shadow each spring, Patrick Elkins, the director of Ypsilanti’s Totally Awesome Fest, emerges from hibernation with a majestic beard and calls a press conference to announce the coming festivities. And, every year, invariably, I’m the only member of the professional press to show up. This year, however, I couldn’t make it. So apparently Patrick came to me.

It all started with a noise complaint, filed by a tenant at Landline Creative Labs… Here’s the video.

The man playing the urban shofar in the above video is Craig Johnson. According to Elkins, who did all the talking, Johnson calls this one-man project of his, Master Plumber.

Has your curiosity been piqued?

If so, this year’s festivities are scheduled to get underway at 5:00 PM this Friday behind the VG Kids screen printing shop, on the banks of the Huron River, at 884 Railroad Street.

The entire lineup can be found on Facebook, but here’s what to expect this first weekend. [As Elkins explains in the video above, this year’s festival actually stretches from April to August, in an ambitious first.]

Friday: 4/28/17

poetry: Amber Fellows
5:00 PM Sweet Demon
5:30 Christian James
6:00 Stephen Mage
6:30 Human Skull
7:00 Yonic Chill
7:30 Stellar Clouds
8:00 PM Little Traps

DJ: Hee Haw
9:30 PM circument
10:15 Dragon Drop
11:00 Paper Rockets
11:45 Platonic Boyfriends
12:30 Milo Scarcetti
1:00 Exhumed Corpse
1:30 AM Witchboi

Saturday: 4/29/17

poetry: Leah Xue, Devin Leatherman
11:00-12:00 PM Basket Ball at Prospect Park
1:00 Anna Vitale / Rob Halpern
1:30 Antonia
2:00 Peach Lavender
2:30 Legalize Quad
3:00 Heaven
3:45 Craig Johnson
4:30 Flwr.Chld
5:00 PM Wraiths

DJ: Silas Green
7:45 PM RV Mendoza
8:30 CJ Rene
9:15 Honey Monsoon
10:00 Ambit
10:45 TBA
11:30 Duane The Jet Black Eel
12:00 Shells
12:30 Blizzard Babies
1:00 Klayton Dawson
1:30 AM Gruesome Twosome

Sunday 4/30/17

12:00 Allye Gaietto
12:30 Jen Whaley
1:00 Best Exes
1:30 Marisa Dluge
2:00 The Krill
2:45 Heidi Haire
3:30 River Spirit
4:00 Nausea Family
4:30 Eliza Godfrey
5:00 Tanager
5:30 Child Sleep
6:00 p.m. Mixed Feelings

8:00 p.m. Electric Blanket
8:30 Fat Angry Hens
9:15 Squirrel University
10:00 Oedipussy
10:45 Rotokiller
11:30 p.m. Battery Acid

For those who are curious to know more about the history of Totally Awesome Fest, I’d encourage you to check out a few of Patrick’s press conferences from previous years… like the one right before Totaly Awesome Fest 10, which took place at the back of an AATA bus, or the one for Totally Awesome Fest 8, which was hosted by Eastern Michigan University, or the one from two years ago, which took place amid a sea of skateboarders on the steps of Ypsilanti’s Thompson Block, or the one last year, which involved a hijacked the karaoke machine at Powell’s Bar.

And, if you’re still not sold, check out these video highlights from last year.

Oh, and it’s just a rumor that Kelley Deal will be playing in every band this year.

Posted in Art and Culture, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

A desperate Trump assembles the Mount Rushmore of know-nothing America

This happened yesterday. In the White House. In the very office where great men like Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt once fought to hold our nation together and protect its people.

The man on the left is Michigan’s own Ted Nugget, who, as you may recall, not too long ago called for both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to be hanged. One would think that our President would want to keep his distance from a draft dodging, child molesting, racist like Nugent, but maybe, after 100 days in office, he’s finally given up on trying to maintain the illusion of being a legitimate president. Maybe, with impeachment looming, and the right wing media in chaos [more on that in just a minute], this is all he’s got left… a desperate appeal to his angry, white, male base… the people who still see it as delightfully refreshing when a man like Nugent calls Hillary Clinton a “toxic cunt,” or Barack Obama a “subhuman mongrel”… to stick with him in spite of everything that’s happening.

The iceberg that Trump is standing on appears to be rapidly melting beneath his fleshy pink feet. Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly are out at Fox News, having been shown the door after the costs associated with their decades of reprehensible behavior toward female subordinates finally became too much to tolerate. Far right agitator Milo Yiannopoulos has not only been forced out at Breitbart, in the wake of making comments defending pedophilia, but he’s also been banned for life from Twitter, after having instigated a campaign of online racist attacks against actress Leslie Jones. And Tomi Lauren, commonly referred to as “White Power Barbie,” has been fired from The Blaze by Glenn Beck, who, by the way, came to the conclusion during the presidential campaign that Trump is “dangerously unhinged”. Oh, and, just a few days ago, the news broke that, in a Texas custody case, the attorney representing Infowars host Alex Jones informed the judge presiding over the hearing that his client was merely a “performance artist”, manipulating his rabid, conspiracy theory-believing fans for fame and profit… While I’m sure all of these influential Trump supporters will resurface in the future, it’s remarkable that, at least right now, their stars all seem to be on the decline. And, what’s more, this is happening at a time when, inside the White House, the talking heads aren’t fairing much better, with Kellyanne Conway having been sidelined and Sean Spicer increasingly being seen as a joke by the American people.

And it’s not just the talking heads on the far right that are flaming out. Everyone in Trump’s orbit seems to be moving rapidly along the “crash and burn” continuum.

Not only are Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Carter Page and Roger Stone all being investigated for the roles they may have played on behalf the Russians to influence the outcome of the last election in Trump’s favor, but news just broke yesterday that Congressman Jason Chafettz, who recently came to Trump’s defense by claiming falsely that evidence existed backing up the President’s claim that he’d been spied on by Obama, wouldn’t be seeking reelection. And, not just that, but he said today that he might not even finish out his current term.

And all of this is having an impact. A Gallop poll release earlier this week showed that Americans – even ones that voted for him – are increasingly seeing Trump as a liar who can’t be trusted. As of right now, according to the Gallop poll, only 45 percent of Americans think that Trump keeps his promises. And that’s down from 62 percent in February. That’s a 17 point drop in less than three months.

So, yeah, I suspect Trump may be shoring up the 20% of Americans that care more about Kid Rock, Sarah Palin and Ted Nugent than they do about the fact that their President apparently doesn’t know who the leader of North Korea is or or in which direction our armada is heading.

The popular theory has been that Trump couldn’t afford to dump his white nationalist strategist Steve Bannon because he held the keys to the so-called alt-right. The thinking was that Trump, as long as he had Bannon (and thus Breitbart) by his side, couldn’t drop below a 35% favorability rating, allowing him to stay in office. Now that the floor is dropping, though, and the base is starting to erode, it looks as though Trump is fighting to find a new way forward. Word is that he’s considering the possibility of firing Bannon, and relying more on his family members to run the government. And it looks as though he may be trying to establish new lines of communication with the so-called alt-right, and form new alliances. [Word is that he just recently had dinner with the Koch brothers.]

Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I just can’t help but think that hosting photo shoots like this in the White House is a sign that the wagons are starting to circle in advance of a final conflict. I mean even Trump’s friend Tom Brady decided to skip a visit to the White House yesterday. That tells me the center is rapidly slipping away… And I think that explains the desperate appeal to the Triumvirate of Stupidity pictured in these photos.

[Trump should have let Nugent take the photo on the lawn of the White House for target practice.]

For what it’s worth, and I don’t think I’ve ever shared this with you before, I think it’s possible that, in the long run, we’ll look back and say we were lucky that Trump won the White House. This, of course, is assuming that we can get him out of office relatively quickly, before too much more damage can be done. Had Clinton won, I think it’s likely that the far right movement would have grown even more aggressive, with the prodding of Bannon and Trump, who would have, without question, accused Clinton of having stolen the election in some way, likely involving undocumented people of color casting millions and millions of illegal ballots. At least, the way it is now, we’ve been given the opportunity to see Trump, and this entire movement, for the hollow monstrosity it truly is. It’s been hell, and I know it will likely get worse before it gets better, but at least the American people are getting to see the extent to which they’ve been lied to. At least, now, people are beginning to understand that Trump didn’t really have a plan to defeat ISIS, or a way to give everyone insurance, or anything else that he promised. Sure, we might not do anything with that knowledge, but at least we know, and have that opportunity. As of right now, there’s no one to blame but ourselves.

Posted in Michigan, Politics, Rants, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments


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