Oscar Highlights and Lowlights

I wasn’t going to post anything about last night’s Oscar awards, but then my friend Matt wrote to tell me that one of my favorite actors, Patrick McGoohan, hadn’t been included in the In Memoriam section. And, now, I feel obligated to say something, if only to further ingratiate myself to the ghost of the man who gave us The Prisoner… Seriously, how do you leave out one of the greatest actors to have ever spoken the English language? No offense to Rudy Ray Moore, but I can see snubbing Dolemite. How do you leave out Patrick McGoohan, though, especially after he tossed that fancy lad out the castle window Braveheart?

In the defense of the Academy, they did include Vampira in their montage, though, which was great, but it’s hard for me to believe that they could forget someone of McGoohan’s importance.

So as not to leave on a bad note, here are two interesting clips from last night’s ceremony. The first is of Ben Stiller doing an impression of Joaquin Phoenix 3.0. And the second is of Steve Martin and Tina Fey poking fun at Scientology… Which of the two was your favorite?

Posted in Art and Culture | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Ypsilanti Shovelgate

Apparently a lot my friends and neighbors here in Ypsilanti awoke this Saturday to find something special in their mailboxes – hefty bills from the City for snow removal. The following note was left on the site by Oliva this morning, in an open thread:

Did anyone else receive a bill from the Ypsi Building Department declaring that someone had applied de-icer to their sidewalks and are now being charged? We and our neighbor did, and I can testify that not only was there no de-icer ever applied here or next-door, but we are faithful sidewalk clearers and always do it within 24 hours (though we think the requirement is within 48 hrs.). Neither of us ever received a notice saying our sidewalks needed to be cleared, and they didn’t need it because, as I said, we’re faithful and timely shovelers. It was a steep charge too, $83. We’re planning to protest the charge–absolutely unjust and not right–but we’re curious to hear if anybody else got a similar invoice. The frustrating thing is that we and our neighbor would happily pitch in to help Ypsi, but it’s so unfair to be charged for something that wasn’t done and didn’t need to be done. Argh!

After posting this note, her husband and a neighbor went to City Hall to complain. The following update was left by her this afternoon.

So, others may know that city council (everyone but the illustrious and wise Lois Richardson) voted for a new system in which the city relies on a private contractor to see about snowy sidewalks, clear them, and then have the home owners billed. But there are real problems because the law now is that home owners get 48 hours to clear their sidewalks (we thought it was 24 hours and always clear the sidewalks within 24 hours) and are supposed to be warned. We weren’t notified, for one thing, and there’s absolutely no evidence that anyone cleared our walk except for us. Plus, there was never a need for someone else to clear our sidewalks.

My husband and neighbor went to City Hall first thing this morning, and they reported that the phones were ringing off the hook there, so presumably a lot of others also received an invoice and are mad.

There is so much to be mad about. For one thing, as if we don’t know to steer clear of private contractors for so many things–after the Bush years, after the Comcast scams in which private contractors do unnecessary work just to get paid, leaving customers to clean up the mess.

For upset Ypsi residents who received the bogus invoices, the boss at the Building Department said we need to write a letter to contest the invoice. So not only do we get some extra stress and frustration on a much-needed weekend, but it’s up to each of us to prove that the charge is incorrect. Talk about a lousy system.

Pardon my infuriation! But this is the update as of now. (As if it isn’t pain enough to have all this snow in the first place–now we have to deal with fake charges about it. Maddening!)

Oh, it’s hard not to wonder whose brother or uncle the private contractor is. But maybe that cynicism is unwarranted. But this move was obviously a really bad idea and unhelpful in fostering trust and mutual respect between residents and city government. (Thankfully, we know some of the people who work for the city are absolutely valuable and good.)

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention that I too received a bill for $83 dollars ($35 for clean up, and $48 for administrative fees). And, like Oliva and her husband, I was also not notified in advance that my sidewalk was not sufficiently cleared. I’m told that photos were likely taken of our properties both before and after cleanup, and I look forward to seeing the ones taken outside of my home, as I’m quite certain that no one improved on the admittedly half-ass job that I’d done with my broken back… At least I can’t recall returning home from work on the 5th of February and saying, “I wonder which of my terrific neighbors came along and widened the path that I’d cut in the snow.” And, even if there are photos that show some marginal improvement over the shoveling job that I’d done (which wasn’t really all that half-assed), how can they prove that we were issued warnings in advance? Is there a photo somewhere of a man leaving a notice on my door? Or are we just supposed to believe a company that has a monetary incentive not to warn us?

And Oliva wasn’t the only reader to take the matter to City Hall. The following comes from someone calling him or herself Howdryiam:

I went to the building department this morning to contest an unjust ‘failure to clear the sidewalk of snow violation.’ I diligently clean my sidewalk, and was shocked to see this invoice in the mail this past Saturday. While I was standing there for five minutes, there were several phone calls into the office with people complaining about similar unjust invoices. It seems that if you’d like to appeal a bogus fine, you have to write a letter to the attention of Mr. Frank Daniels of the building department. This is what I’m in the process of doing, and I urge anyone else who got tapped with these charges to do the same.

The ordinance is contradictory in language to what appears on the city’s website. The ordinance itself states that snow and ice must be cleared within 48 hours from first accumulation. This is also what was published in the Ann Arbor News. However the city’s website states that sidewalks much be cleared “within 24 hours of a snowfall”. The ambiguity and confusion certainly doesn’t help matter. And what constitutes “cleared” exactly?

Additionally, the city ordinance states that a notice, (either by telephone, mail, in person, or written notice left on the property) will be issued. The ordinance also stipulates that at least 18 hours will be given before any action is taken once the notice is issued. I never received a notice of any manner. So if I’m reading this ordinance correctly, and I’d like to believe I am (but I’m just a ordinary citizen unfamiliar with the byzantine operations of city government) I should have had 66 hours to clear the snow from my sidewalk before I could justly be fined.

Further, it’s maddening how the city government capriciously enforces ordinances on the books. Either enforce them, or don’t. I know that there are many, many dedicated individuals trying to do the right thing in city government, but no matter how ‘business/people friendly’ city hall tries to claim they are, they then go and shoot themselves in the foot with stupid stuff like this. Perception is reality, and the perception is that the city government doesn’t know (or care) what citizens want or need. It’s this disconnect that will keep Ypsilanti from being the diverse, vibrant, cool, and hip city that it could be… Sad, really.

According to Councilman Brian Robb, who also left a comment in the open thread, the group that supposedly did the snow removal is A&M Services. My guess is that we subcontracted to them in the wake of a recent round of cost-cutting, when we let go the people in Public Works who used to do such things. So now we in Ypsilanti are seeing the efficiency of privatization first-hand, and, let me tell you, it’s just as grand as Bush and Cheney told us it would be. The free market has given us an elegant solution to our problems. No more accountable city employees mucking up the process. Now we have our own local version of Haliburton coming in making everything right. No more waste. No more bureaucracy. We just get the bills, take them at their word, and write checks…. And $83 for clearing 25 feet of sidewalk sounds fair, doesn’t it?

Oh, and lest you think everyone believes this new system is bullshit, one comment was left by a defender of the new order. The following comes from a fellow calling himself Citizen Blogger.

As somebody who spends a lot of time walking around town (and who has made a lot of complaints to the city about unshoveled sidewalks!) I for one am glad to see more robust snow enforcement. There were properties around town that had their sidewalks completely unshoveled for a month – just like every other winter, except this time the city got a policy in place to deal with it. (Really important, since this has been officially one of the coldest and snowiest winters ever!)

I’m not going to say that the city implemented it perfectly, and it sounds like there are some kinks to work out. But I am glad to see that something is being done – that the city is taking into account my needs, as a pedestrian, to travel around town safely.

Posted in Rants, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , | 132 Comments

Totally Quotable Clementine: February ’09 edition

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This is something that Clementine said to me tonight, as we were going upstairs to brush our teeth. I love how every time she mentions her friend Mary, she reminds me of the fact that she eats dirt. And I liked the image of giant slice of cheese landing on Albert’s head.

The photo doesn’t really go with the story. It’s just one of about 50 that Clementine took a few days ago. I liked the composition.

And, Clementine had another quote in the running. A few Saturday mornings ago, in order to get a little more sleep, Linette and I told Clementine, who had been yelling at us from her room, that she could come and get into bed with us. After climbing up into bed and settling down between us, we thought that maybe she’d fall asleep, but, after a few minutes, she began thrashing about, landing her head on my stomach. When I asked her what was going on, she said, quite innocently, “I was looking for a fatty place on you.” Linette thought that was a riot.

Posted in Mark's Life, Photographs | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Silicon Valley vs. Detroit

I’m not a huge fan of Thomas Friedman’s, but I think that his op-ed piece in today’s New York Times raises an interesting question… If our objective is to create new jobs, are our billions better invested with General Motors, a company that is already asking for more money after being bailed out last month, or with a venture capital firm? Here’s a clip:

Reading the news that General Motors and Chrysler are now lining up for another $20 billion or so in government aid — on top of the billions they’ve already received or requested — leaves me with the sick feeling that we are subsidizing the losers and for only one reason: because they claim that their funerals would cost more than keeping them on life support. Sorry, friends, but this is not the American way. Bailing out the losers is not how we got rich as a country, and it is not how we’ll get out of this crisis.

G.M. has become a giant wealth- destruction machine — possibly the biggest in history — and it is time that it and Chrysler were put into bankruptcy so they can truly start over under new management with new labor agreements and new visions. When it comes to helping companies, precious public money should focus on start-ups, not bailouts.

You want to spend $20 billion of taxpayer money creating jobs? Fine. Call up the top 20 venture capital firms in America, which are short of cash today because their partners — university endowments and pension funds — are tapped out, and make them this offer: The U.S. Treasury will give you each up to $1 billion to fund the best venture capital ideas that have come your way. If they go bust, we all lose. If any of them turns out to be the next Microsoft or Intel, taxpayers will give you 20 percent of the investors’ upside and keep 80 percent for themselves…

OK, I’m off to watch the Oscars now. I generally try to avoid them, but the prospect of an exchange between Mickey Rourke and Jerry Lewis has me near giddy.

And, as for Friedman, I’m not sure what to make of his suggestion. I guess, however, that I’d be more inclined to invest my own money with Al Gore and his associates at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in the Greentech initiative than with Rick Wagoner and his team at GM.

Posted in Economics, Observations | Tagged , , , , , | 16 Comments

This open thread brought to you by the Queen of Hearts

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It’s snowing outside, and I’m going to the gym to sit in the sauna. I think it might help my back, which hasn’t gotten any better since the last time I complained about it here. It’s been out for over a month now. Friends, tired of hearing me scream every time I try to get out of a chair, are encouraging me to see a chiropractor, but I’m dubious. I know it’s not always the case, but most of the chiropractors I’ve met have been folks who couldn’t get into veterinary school. And, I’m not about to trust my spine to someone who isn’t qualified to express a dog’s anal gland. But, I’ve agreed to get a massage. Linette, having heard Clementine say “Daddy’s like an old man” one too many times, called and made me an appointment. Hopefully it helps. I’m tired of walking around, hunched over like Monty Burns… I had physical therapy for the first time yesterday, and it seemed to help for a while. Last night, I couldn’t sleep, though. There was only one position I could lay in that didn’t cause pain, and, the moment I got out of it, I’d wake up with a scream. Linette’s at the library now, getting me a book by a fellow who says that back pain is all in your head. Maybe that’ll fix things.

So, enjoy yourself here in the open thread, talking about the discovery of Atlantis by Google, the finding of Osama bin Laden with math, the reclaiming of Detroit by nature, or whatever else it is that you want to talk about. Just do me a favor and be nice to each other until I get back.

Today’s open thread comes courtesy of Ypsilanti’s Queen of Hearts bakery, where, until April first, you can save yourself $10 on a yummy cake if you use the above coupon.

[a little something to be thankful for: If the there were a way, I’d sneak into your house tonight and exchange spines with you as you sleep. But, there isn’t. I’ve been researching it for the past month.]

Posted in Coupon, Food, Locally Owned Business, Mark's Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 40 Comments

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