Current readers pronounce me second best regional blogger!

damnarborwinsFirst off… and I mean no disrespect to the good folks of Tio’s, when I say this… I don’t know how much stock I put in a reader poll that gives Tio’s the award for Best Mexican Restaurant year after year. With that said, though, I thought that I should at least acknowledge the fact that, according to the readers of the Current, mine is no longer the best blog in Washtenaw County. No, in their estimation, I’m runner up to a site called Damn Arbor. I haven’t gone back too far into the Damn Arbor archives yet, but it looks like, for the most part, the guy behind it posts photos taken around Ann Arbor with one-sentence captions. It’s interesting stuff, but I don’t know that I’d say it’s far superior to what I do here… at least when it comes to word-count. At any rate, I thought that I should mention it here, in case there was anyone out there in the audience who wasn’t aware that there was a better blog that they could frittering away their time on…

In all seriousness, I suspect that not too many people voted in this category. My guess is that I had one vote, and he had two. Still, I think it’s fun to pretend that it’s some kind of referendum on my work here, and its importance to the community. As for Damn Arbor, I visit the site and like it. And, if I’m not mistaken, the guy responsible for it leaves comments here on occasion. (His name is Ben.) So, I don’t want to come across as though I’m saying that his site is shit, or something. With that said, though, I do think it’s about time that I had a credible blogging nemesis to spar with. So, if you’re reading this, Ben Connor Barrie, and you’re up for some mud slinging, let me know, and I’ll make a statement about what I really think of you and your site. (note to self: Find a young person who can show me how to insert a winking emoticon here.)

Oh, one more thing that I like about this Current “Best Of” list… They have coming in second in the “Best Website” category to At least I didn’t have to suffer that indignity.

Posted in Ann Arbor, Mark's Life, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Good work, Township! You now look like every other chain-glutted strip mall wasteland in America.


I try not to rant too much here. Believe it or not, I restrain myself for the most part. I try, as best as I can, to limit my posts to subjects where I believe I have positive, constructive things to add. That’s not so much the case tonight, though. There’s nothing positive left to be done. At this point, it’s all about venting. And I apologize in advance.

Let me start out by saying that, in my opinion, the strip of Washtenaw Avenue between Ypsi and Ann Arbor had two relatively unique things going for it. It had a bunch of former fast food franchises that had been taken over by local “ethnic” restaurants (from the Thai place that used to be a Long John Silvers, to the Middle Eastern place that used to be a Dunkin’ Donuts), and it had the Ypsi-Arbor Bowl sign that, up until yesterday, had been standing at the intersection of Washtenaw and Golfside since 1964.

The sign, however, was cut down with blowtorches yesterday, and hauled off. By now, it’s probably half way to its new home in South Dakota, where the owners of a sign museum had bid $3,250 in an online auction.

I’m pissed at myself for not having tried harder to save it. I did a bit, but it wasn’t enough, and I know that it will eat at me every time I drive by the spot where the iconic sign once stood, for the rest of my life. As angry as I am at myself, though, I’m a lot more angry at the elected leaders in the Township, who essentially brushed off our efforts to save this unique piece of Washtenaw County history.

Here, by way of background, is how I framed the issue on the site at the time:

…The Washtenaw Avenue corridor is the most traveled thoroughfare in our County, and this is easily the most distinctive feature on it. In a sea of fast food chains and endless strip malls, it stands out, exuding character, and, at least symbolically, bringing our two cities together. As cities nationwide are descending into a homogeneous mess of lowest common denominator crap, I think it’s imperative for us to stand up and protect the things that make our community unique, and give us a sense of history and place…

I’d like for the iconic landmark to stay right where it is. And I’m confident that we could raise on the order of $5,000 to make that happen. I think enough of us feel passionately about the sign, which has stood between our two communities since 1964, that the fundraising would be relatively easy. But buying the sign is just part of the equation. We’d also have to figure out a way to protect those few square feet that it now stands on. Would it be possible, I wonder, to have it designated a historic cultural artifact? Or, could we convince the Township to designate the State’s tiniest historic district?…

I don’t want to rehash all of the details, but we made some significant progress. I had a few volunteers lined up to launch a Kickstarter campaign, and I had a bunch of people write in to tell me that, if we did it, they’d give money. Given the positive feedback I’d been getting, I thought that a $5,000 campaign would have been easily doable. But, that was only part of the problem. While I was convinced that we could buy the sign, I didn’t have an idea as to how we’d protect and preserve it afterward. Fortunately, a friend with considerable knowledge of public planning came forward with local legislation that he thought made the case for its protection, and, following his advice, I took the matter to Washtenaw County Commissioner Wes Prater.

And that’s where things slowed down to a stop. Prater told me that he couldn’t seek historic district protection for the sign unless the owner of the property asked him to do so… which, by the way, simply isn’t true. If it were, Ypsi’s historic Starkweather House would have been bulldozed long ago. The truth is, under the County’s preservation ordinance, the County Board of Commissioners may establish an emergency moratorium on pending work that “will cause irreparable harm to resources located within an established historic district or a proposed historic district.” But, Prater, the County Commissioner elected to represent that particular part of the County, did not want to get involved.

And, without anyone in County leadership willing to protect the sign where it stood once we’d purchased it, that’s where things stopped. I encouraged people to write to Prater, asking him to reconsider, but I didn’t keep working at it. In retrospect, I should waged a full-scale attack, holding a press conference at the sign, and issuing a series of videos of people talking about what the sign signified to them. I could have made it a much harder issue for people in power to ignore, but I made the decision not to devote my life to the cause. And, now, when I drive by and see the gaping hole in the sky where our big “Ypsi-Arbor” sign is supposed to be, it pisses me off. And I suspect that it always will.

Like I said at the beginning of the post, there’s not much to be done about it now. What’s done is done. (I suppose we could try to snatch it off the bed of the semi with helicopters, but that sounds a little too ambitious.) I just needed to vent. Thanks for humoring me.

Posted in History, Mark's Life, Rants, Special Projects, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Race to the bottom

Our Governor tells us that, if we want to compete, we need to keep taxes low. That, he assures us, is the only way that we’ll be able to attract new businesses, and keep the ones that we’ve still got. While our Republican leadership in Lansing has taken some steps in that direction, I question whether they have what it takes to really go head to head with states like Texas, where their elected officials have proven time and again, that they value tax cuts more than (non-embryonic) human life itself.

Michigan Republicans need to up their game. This isn’t the time for pussyfooting around. This is the time for bold, decisive action – the kind of action that would make Ayn Rand swoon.

Word is Republicans in the Texas House are calling for public education cuts of $4 billion, or nearly 6%. That’s almost double what we’re calling for here in Michigan… And, if the ballsyness of that move doesn’t impress you, consider the fact that Texas is also anticipating an additional 185,000 students over the next two years… I don’t know what that says to you, but what it says to me is that the Republicans of Texas are clearly more serious about their Republican ideals than we are. They’re coming right out and stomping on the neck of public education, like a Tea Party patriot at a Rand Paul rally.

And, it’s not like things in Texas schools are going so incredibly well to begin with. In spite off all the talk of a “Texas Miracle”, things are really bad. Or, at least that’s what those pesky old facts would have you believe. The following assessment comes from Republican matriarch Barbra Bush, of all people.

“Our schools are in crises: We rank 36th in the nation in high school graduation rates. An estimated 3.8 million Texans do not have a high school diploma. We rank 49th in verbal SAT scores, 47th in literacy and 46th in average math SAT scores. We rank 33rd in the nation on teacher salaries.”

And, this, in case I wasn’t clear above, is the situation now, before these new spending cuts go into effect.

But, they want to keep their taxes low, and they’re willing to pay the price that comes along with that.

The following clip comes from

…Once upon a time Texas prided itself on what it called the “Texas Miracle.” The state initially didn’t get hit as hard by the recession as other parts of the county, a fact that legislators claimed was due to its low-regulation, low-tax, business-friendly culture. During Rick Perry’s re-election campaign last year, the governor boasted that the state had “billions in surplus.” Less than two months later, however, the news of a gaping deficit made the miracle look a bit less wondrous, as Paul Krugman was quick to observe:

“But reality has now intruded, in the form of a deficit expected to run as high as $25 billion over the next two years.

And that reality has implications for the nation as a whole. For Texas is where the modern conservative theory of budgeting — the belief that you should never raise taxes under any circumstances, that you can always balance the budget by cutting wasteful spending — has been implemented most completely. If the theory can’t make it there, it can’t make it anywhere.”

So, the next time you hear Rick Snyder say that we need to keep our taxes low so that we can remain competitive, keep in mind that Texas is our competition. This is the competitor that we’re chasing. This is the race that we’re in.

Posted in Education | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

On the passing of Gill Scott-Heron

Gill Scott Herron died a few days ago. I was going to commemorate his passing with The Revolution Will Not be Televised, but, seeing as how most of us reading this site are living in SE Michigan, I thought that I’d go with his anti-nuclear power song, We Almost Lost Detroit, which is particularly pertinent right now, given what’s happened at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan.

And, here’s a little something extra. This is my favorite Gil Scott-Heron lyric. It’s from his song Whitey on the Moon.

A rat done bit my sister Nell.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Her face and arms began to swell.
(and Whitey’s on the moon)

For what it’s worth, it doesn’t look as though whitey is going to be on the moon again anytime soon. Unless something unforeseen happens, the era of manned space flight, at least in the United States, will be drawing to a close this summer, with the last launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis. Of course, the dollars saved will not be spent making the lives of the inner city poor any better. But I guess you knew that.

Posted in Art and Culture, Observations, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Happy Memorial Day

Since I didn’t get any comments when I posted this on Memorial Day in 2003, I thought that I’d try it again.

Linette and I celebrated Memorial Day as the great patriots that we are. We slept through our local parade and then spent the rest of the day drinking Mexican beer (Tecate), eating Indian food (tandoori chicken made by our friend Arun), discussing eastern religion, and bitching about the Bush administration. There wasnt much in the way of flag waving or jingoism. I did see a few kids eating hotdogs, but that’s as close as we came to reaching the conservative ideal.

I will deny it if you tell anyone this, but we even talked to a Canadian woman about French cheese… It just doesnt get much worse than that.

To borrow a phrase from reader Chelsea Lowe, were about as patriotic as a box of kosher salt.

I don’t have time to get into it all here, but I find all of this very sad. After all, my ancestors fought in several wars for this country and I’d like to be able to acknowledge and celebrate what they and others have repeatedly done in the name of freedom, justice and democracy. Unfortunately, its hard for me to muster much patriotic spirit these days. I won’t list all the reasons here. If you read this site, you know what they are. I’d just like to be able to feel the same about my country now as my grandfather did when he left high school to sign up to fight in World War II. I want to be proud of this country and I want to believe that we’re serving as an example to the rest of the world as to what mankind is capable of achieving. I want for us to be the city on the hill that people look toward for inspiration. Unfortunately, I don’t see that being in our future, at least not in the near term. I see us portraying ourselves instead as a glutinous, self-serving and stupid people.

I dont want to feel this way. It’s just how I feel today.

Sorry to get all serious on you. I promise that Ill get back to Whitney Houston and the ball-shaving tomorrow.

For those of you who don’t understand the references to Whitney Houston and ball shaving, you’ll find answers here and here. And, maybe here.

As for Memorial Day, I really thought that I’d feel differently once the neocons were driven from the White House. Unfortunately, I don’t know that a whole lot has changed… Yes, I know that Obama has done a lot since being elected, but it’s hard for me to get around the fact that he just reauthorized the Patriot Act.

Speaking of the Patriot Act extension, it didn’t do any good, but Dennis Kucinich spoke out about it in the House. [And that, my friends, is how a Congressman goes about getting his district eliminated.] For what it’s worth, Rand Paul also tried to derail it in the Senate, to no avail. It passed 72-23 in late night voting.

Oh, you should also know that both Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow voted in favor of the Patriot Act extension.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Michigan, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments


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