On death, bikes, cancer and the practice of aggressive moderation

Continuing our conversation on local news sites and their policies concerning the removal of people’s comments, it’s been brought to my attention that the recently launched AnnArbor.com site is already making good on their promise to “aggressively moderate” the contributions of their readers. Apparently, yesterday, reader comments following a short article on the tragic death of a local cyclist began disappearing. Monitors, however, to their credit, were quick to acknowledge their actions. The following comment was left in the thread by AnnArbor.com’s Cindy Heflin:

Some comments on this story have been removed because they assign blame to one side or another or they are discussing whether bikers or drivers are inconsiderate of each other. If you’d like to discuss that topic, please start a conversation on the blog. If you want to discuss comment moderation on this site, please post comments here:http://www.annarbor.com/about/comment-moderation-guidelines-meant-to-cultivate-community-forum/

Unfortunately, not all the comments removed from this particular thread had to do with bikers and drivers being inconsiderate of one another. Following is one of the comments, left by someone calling himself AAbob43, that was removed from the thread by moderators.

I read this bicyclist story via the “AnnArbor.Com” newsletter. I was invited to subscribe to that newsletter, and it was sent to me by AA.Com. The “headline” of today’s newsletter was the bicyclist story. I clicked the link for more information, and was directed to a screen full of Wolverine football info. So, the link was defective, and in this somber case, troubling. I then found the “rest of the story” on the bicyclist by navigating my way through the “news” tab. I was troubled to see that AA.Com had reported only 74 or so words on this story. Meanwhile, there was a wealth of information via the posts of individuals who had been at the accident site. The reporter had included no such information. I then posted a comment complaining about the defective link and skimpy journalism. I received an e-mail from Jim Knight of AA.Com. It said that “I took your comment down from the thread because it’s not on topic.” I then called Jim. We had a frank discussion about defective links (Jim had not reviewed the AA.Com newsletter, and was surprised at the erroneous link.) We also discussed the content (or lack of content) in the story. Jim indicated that AA.Com was waiting for the official police verison before reporting more, and observed that eyewitnesses can be unreliable. I find this frightening. If AA.Com is going to wait for the official police version of events before reporting to the community, we won’t need AA.Com. We can just accept whatever the police tell us and be done with it. What does it say if AA.Com won’t report on eyewitness information, especially when the same information was corroborated by numerous citizens? Meanwhile this morning, I have read the Detroit Free Press online, and have read the New York Times in print. The latter, of course, pretty much sets the standard in journalism. And for those on the right, I’ll read the Wall Street Journal in an hour or so (also an excellent paper.) I am very concerned over the future of “journalism” in Ann Arbor. I read a story pertaining to a bicyclist’s death (I am an avid cycler.) I got U of M football instead. When I found the “story” it was more of an anaecdote. I expressed concern about exactly that “story” and had those comments deleted by AA.Com because they were not “on topic.” And finally, I was told that more info had to await the police version of things. Wow.

To the credit of AnnArbor.com, however, this comment was eventually reposted to the thread, along with the following letter from editor Tony Dearing.

AAbob, your comment has been reposted here, and I’d like to address your concerns. I apologize for the incorrect link in the newsletter. We are taking steps to prevent it from occurring again. You can read more about that here:

As for the story, Jim Knight did not mean to convey that we don’t talk to eye-witnesses or gather information from the scene of an incident. We did have a reporter at the scene, and there were no eye-witnesses present while he was there. As eye-witnesses commented on the story later, we should have tracked them down and talked to them. On this story, we fell short of what you expect and what I expect, in terms of continuing to follow and develop the story.
In terms of removing comments, we do remove those that are off-topic, but if someone is questioning our reporting on the story, that comment should remain up on the site, and we should respond to concerns about our stories, as I am doing here. That is how we will handle such comments moving forward.

While I continue to have issues with AnnArbor.com’s aggressive moderation, I’m encouraged by Dearing’s response to this particular reader, and I think it marks a move in a positive direction. As I’ve indicated previously, this question of what gets removed and when is going to be incredibly difficult one for the folks at AnnArbor.com to work though, and, I think the success of the entire enterprise hangs in the balance. As this particular thread demonstrates (the thread includes several incredibly vivid comments from eye-witnesses of the accident), there’s enormous potential here, if moderators are able cultivate a readership that feels respected. And, based on what I’ve seen with regard to the treatment of this one comment, I think they may have a shot of pulling it off.

Speaking of online conversations taking place on local news sites, my friend Tim has a brilliant piece on his site tonight about a recent MLive.com discussion on the new bike racks popping up around Ann Arbor. The post, which does a wonderful job of weaving together various threads, ends with a link to the blog of Tim’s cousin Julie, who is presently battling an aggressive form of cancer. The following clip, which I absolutely love, comes from her. (I can’t stop reading her site tonight.)

… When I was ten, summer meant riding our bikes to Rainbow Park with sack lunches tied to our backs, our tires wobbly on the dirt trail by the chain link fence where that one stinkin dog always barked and tried to get our pedals. We (we being me, my sister Angie and usually one or two of our neighborhood friends) threw down our bikes at the big meadowy hill and chowed sandwiches and Capri Sun. Then I think we played tetherball, but I might be wrong about this.

We returned home sweaty and tired, having raced on the way home, with Cindy Smith trying to win by doing that bobbing thing up the hills. Our kickstands melted into the asphalt of the driveway (the next day my brother would measure the depth of the kickstand hole and compare it to previous days). We stuck our heads in the freezer until our mom yelled at us to get out of the kitchen while she tried to make Beef Stoganoff in the electric skillet.

I went to bed sweaty again, probably, but happy knowing that we could do the very exact thing tomorrow if we wanted to.

Growing older, of course, brings more responsibility and perhaps less freedom, but summer always has that free edge. Margaritas with dinner outside on a patio, camping in the middle of some woods right next to your car, no jacket, swimming, popsicles in the middle of the day. Screen doors.

Dare I complain from my beautiful little garden room? Dare I open the pretty french doors and scream bloody murder?

I am attached to a pain pump and a catheter which drains my left lung. And I just want to go swimming. A long fast swim like at swim team in 7th grade. A 20 foot deep bottom search at Lannon Quarry where I was a lifeguard and swim instructor with pretty pink lungs and a whistle. A leisurely sidestroke with my Gramma in her inground pool (pick the apple, put it in the basket; pick the apple, put it in the basket). A crazy handholding bobjumping headgoinunder with my daughter, Luka, as we swam around Creston Pool. Mama and Baby Fish…

My thoughts tonight are with Julie and her family, as well as the family of the man who died here yesterday, on his bike, as he peddled home to see them. I wish I had fitting words to offer, but everything just seems so trite. The world seems to be such an incredibly cruel and arbitrary place sometimes. It’s hard to believe that life goes on in spite of it. I suppose we should find that comforting somehow. I’m having a hard time seeing it right now, though.

Posted in Art and Culture, Mark's Life, Media, Michigan, Other | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 53 Comments

Say No to Trough Urinals in Ypsilanti


I love the Brewery, but I’m thinking about starting an online petition. I seriously hate trough urinals. I realize my dislike of them probably has a lot to do with the fact that I suffer from social phobia, but, even if that weren’t the case, I can’t imagine that I’d enjoy urinating shoulder-to-shoulder with other men, like a neanderthal. I’d rather stay home, cold sober, than run the risk of winding up at a trough.

Posted in Mark's Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 60 Comments

The death of the Health Care bill

It looks like the President’s healthcare bill is headed for failure. Here’s a clip from the Associated Press:

After weeks of secretive talks, a bipartisan group in the Senate edged closer Monday to a health care compromise that omits two key Democratic priorities but incorporates provisions to slow the explosive rise in medical costs, officials said.

These officials said participants were on track to exclude a requirement many congressional Democrats seek for large businesses to offer coverage to their workers. Nor would there be a provision for a government insurance option, despite President Barack Obama’s support for such a plan…

Essentially that means the thing is dead. It may pass in some form, offering some marginal improvement, but it won’t be the comprehensive solution that most of us were hoping for… Matt Taibi, for one, isn’t surprised. Here’s a clip from a column that he released today.

…It’s the same with this health care bill. Who among us did not know this would happen? It’s been clear from the start that the Democrats would make a great show of doing something real, then they would fold prematurely, ram through some piece-of-shit bill with some incremental/worthless change in it, and then in the end blame everything on Max Baucus and Bill Nelson, saying, “By golly, we tried our best!”

Make no mistake, this has nothing to do with Max Baucus, Bill Nelson, or anyone else. If the Obama administration wanted to pass a real health care bill, they would do what George Bush and Tom DeLay did in the first six-odd years of this decade whenever they wanted to pass some nightmare piece of legislation (ie the Prescription Drug Bill or CAFTA): they would take the recalcitrant legislators blocking their path into a back room at the Capitol, and beat them with rubber hoses until they changed their minds.

The reason a real health-care bill is not going to get passed is simple: because nobody in Washington really wants it. There is insufficient political will to get it done. It doesn’t matter that it’s an urgent national calamity, that it is plainly obvious to anyone with an IQ over 8 that our system could not possibly be worse and needs to be fixed very soon, and that, moreover, the only people opposing a real reform bill are a pitifully small number of executives in the insurance industry who stand to lose the chance for a fifth summer house if this thing passes…

So, if this thing goes belly-up, who’s to blame? Is it the Republicans and the healthcare lobby, or is it Barack’s team? Congresswoman Maxine Waters seems to think some of the blame belongs at the feet of Rahm Emanuel, the President’s Chief of Staff. Here’s a clip:

One of Congress’s most liberal members, Rep. Maxine Waters, (D-Calif.), declared on Tuesday that the White House’s problems getting Blue Dog Democrats to support its health care agenda were largely its own doing — or more specifically, the doing of its chief of staff.

Waters said many of the self-proclaimed conservative Democrats, including those who have stalled legislation on the House Energy and Commerce, were initially recruited to run for office by Rahm Emanuel back when he was head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee…

“Don’t forget,” she said, “[Rahm] recruited most of them, as when he was over in the Congress in the leadership. Rahm Emanuel recruited more conservative members and based on some of the information I’m getting, they told them that they could vote the way they wanted to vote, that they would not interfere with what was considered their philosophy about some of these things”…

So, why isn’t Rahm beating them into submission? Do you think that perhaps Taibi is right, and no one in power really wants to change the current system, in which millions of people continue to go uninsured, and corporate profits continue to rise, as regular Americans have to chose between death and bankruptcy? And why don’t we the people seem to care more? Why aren’t the switchboards at Capital Hill lit up with people demanding meaningful reform?

Posted in Observations, Other, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

The Family Uniform

A few years ago, I put out the word that I was looking to develop a “family uniform” for Clementine, Linette and myself. Here’s what I posted:

It doesn’t have to be an actual uniform, but I was thinking that it might be nice for Linette, Clementine and me to have at least one matching set of clothes. The easiest thing, I suppose, would be to buy identical coveralls from a uniform supply place, and then maybe embellish them a bit with some patches or “accent colors.” (Maybe bright orange hazmat suits with some robin’s egg blue piping, minus the hoods, worn with neckerchiefs.)

Throughout my entire childhood, every day that my dad didn’t go off to work wearing a tie, he was staying home and working around the house in what can best be described as a one-piece, Army surplus jungle suit. I’m sure when I was really young that I thought it was cool, but it never crossed my mind to ask him how I could go about getting one for myself. And, it sure as hell never crossed my mind to suggest that he, my mom, my little sister and me all get them, and then go out in public. But, in spite of that, I have to say that I love the idea of doing it now with my family.

Actually, as much as I like the idea of matching flight-suits that say “team maynard-lao” across the back, I think that Linette would prefer something a little more low-key, like matching knitted sweater-vests that we could wear during the holidays… perhaps something with snowmen on them.

Remember that scene in “The Sound of Music” where Julie Andrews makes all the kids matching outfits out of curtains? Maybe that’s what’s responsible for this new obsession of mine. Or, maybe it’s Devo. Whatever it is, I can’t seem to get the idea out of my mind that we need at least one coordinated ensemble… Maybe I should just go out to the fabric store and pick up a bolt of satin and a bolt of velour and see what happens.

Anyway, if you have any suggestions, or words of warning, please leave a comment.

Well, as I was sitting here today, talking with Clementine, the idea resurfaced in my mind for some reason. (Maybe I subconsciously liked something that she was wearing, and wanted it for myself.) And I remembered that, among the original responses to my plea, I received a great sketch from my friend Ken Boyd in Atlanta. When I went back to find it online, though, I found that it had been mysteriously erased from the site. Fortunately, however, I was able to reconstruct it just now using my cyber sleuthing skills. And, here, for those of you who have never had the pleasure of seeing it, it is… Behold.


Posted in Art and Culture, Mark's Life, OCD, Other | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Bill Wilson and Midwest Permaculture

While I was away on vacation this past week, a well know permaculturist by the name of Bill Wilson came through Ypsi on a speaking tour. As I wasn’t able to attend, I asked a friend of mine named David Palmer, who was at the event, to share his thoughts. Following are his notes.

There are not many events in life that, when complete, you feel completely convinced that you need to plan to live your life in a different way; (Friday) night was one of those evenings for me. This was not a eureka moment, instead it was a nice columniation of my desire to be more self-sufficient, not relying on warehouses masquerading as grocery stores to sell me food, or as the case may be, franken-food, aka highly processed, genetically modified delights (thank you ConAgra & Monsanto).

permacultureI was lucky to grow up with a garden in my back yard. Being a renter, and moving almost every year, I have missed the relationship with my food for a long time. It might take a few years, but Bill Wilson’s presentation, an Introduction to Premaculture, planted a thought that will sit in the back of my mind until circumstances are right to engage this choice of lifestyle- if for no other reason than to have a farm market growing naturally in my lawn instead of paying someone else to grow food for me.

Bill Wilson is the Co-Founder of Midwest Permaculture, and he spoke to a group of about 70 people at the EMU College of Business Friday evening (24 July). This was the last of a series of four speaking events that took him to Ann Arbor, Flint, Detroit, and finally Ypsilanti. A wealth of information about Permaculture can be found on his website.

I’ll be honest, I had not ever heard of Mr. Wilson before attending his workshop last night. The event was sponsored by one of my favorite local organizations, Growing Hope, along with a number of other groups including the Southeastern Michigan Permaculture Guild. After his three hour class, however, I’m sure I’ll never forget him.

“Permaculture is a creative and artful way of living, where wastes become resources, productivity and yields increase, work is minimized, people and nature are all preserved and the environment is restored (even enhanced) – all by thoughtful planning and a respectful approach to life.”

Sounds pretty reasonable, eh?

Wilson gave several examples of developments that cooperatively created Permaculture gardens that sustain the entire community. Communities interested in maximizing their productivity and reducing their waste naturally segue to improving energy efficiency, seeking alternative ways to heat and power their homes and businesses, and start thinking more about why they waste energy on unnecessarily lighting the night sky.

In a practical sense, utilizing Permaculture it is possible to feed you and your family with fresh organic foods. Instead of having a sterile front lawn that you mow every week during the summer using a gasoline powered mower, which encourages water to run off into the sewer system. Instead you develop a front lawn that becomes a bountiful garden bearing fruit trees, vegetables and rain gardens. These changes are sustaining both to the body and spirit; not to mention nicer to look at than a sign that says, “pets and children should stay off the grass- recently treated with pesticides and fertilizer.” On his website, Wilson sites examples of people harvesting their gardens year round, even in cold climates.

It is no big secret that the world has reached its peak oil production. It is also no big secret that clean drinking water will be the liquid that future wars will be fought over as people and governments do little to ebb the affects of global warming. Permaculture is a way for an individual, or community, to retain water on the land and replenish aquifers, reduce one’s carbon footprint and indeed sequester carbon in new vegetation, and also to increase one’s personal security and stability in an economically unstable time.

Ask yourself, when gasoline is $4, $5, or $15, a gallon, how will you be able to afford lettuce, green beans and pears from Kroger or Hiller’s Market? We all know that food prices are directly related gasoline prices, after all it was not so long ago that gas was over $4 a gallon in the Ann Arbor metroplex and we all talked about how shocking it was to spend a lot more money shopping for groceries.

One of the reasons I have been attracted to volunteering for Growing Hope is that community gardens are one of the simplest and best ways to enhance community. A garden can be an anchor that revitalizes an entire neighborhood. In many cases neighbors meet for the first time, and build relationships they would have never had if not for the garden plot that brought neighbors together. Permaculture is the next logical step after building community gardens across Ypsilanti. There are known ways to easily turn abandoned parking lots into a sweet potato farms, and front yards into virtual farmer markets where 40+ varieties of fruits and vegetables can be harvested with relative ease.

Together we can build a lasting and sustainable community, one that is more shielded from the drama of state, national, and international economic cycles of boom and bust. With effort and time, the knowledge exists to work with the gifts that nature has provided us all- one garden, one lawn and one asphalt lot at a time.

David Palmer, who also shot the above photo of Wilson with Growing Hope’s executive director, Amanda Edmonds, is a newly-appointed member of the Growing Hope Board of Directors and is an active member of the community in Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County, and Southeast Michigan. For a copy of his notes from the Bill Wilson meeting, or to just say hello, you can email him at david.palmer76@gmail.com… I’m reading through his notes right now, and there’s some good stuff. I’m particularly interested in the references to the Enright-ridge Urban Eco-village in Cincinnati, OH… Oh, and I’ve traded a few emails with Bill Wilson, and it looks like I might be interviewing him one of these days for the site. So, if you have particular questions that you would like to have asked, just let me know.

Posted in Agriculture, Ann Arbor, Environment, Food, Sustainability | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments


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