Monkey Power Trio 18: Reno

Last October, I spent a weekend locked up in a cabin, surrounded by bears, somewhere in the vicinity of Lake Tahoe, with my friends; Dan, Matt, Dave and Mike. Collectively, as some of you know, we’re known as the Monkey Power Trio, and, when we were in Nevada, we celebrated our 18th anniversary as the world’s longest-running one-day-a-year band. Following are my rough notes about the session, written as I sat in the Reno airport, waiting for a blizzard to let up, so that I could make my way home. I’m sure that my plan was to post these notes here on the site upon my return home, but somehow I must have forgotten. I’m sorry if any of you MPT fans out there have been waiting on pins and needles all this time.

SO, HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED OUR 18TH DAY/YEAR AS A BAND:

renotunic2• The other guys all flew into Reno the day before I did. I couldn’t get away due to obligations associated with my job. That entire day, as I was hard at work, trying to tie up loose ends, I kept receiving photos from them, documenting their decent into drunken stupor in a second-tier Reno casino. There were lots of group photos, all accompanied by captions stating things like, “Official Monkey Power Group Photo 2012… All the guys are together again.” I got the photo to the right the night before I left, as I was cleaning baby poop from the railing of my son’s crib. (He’d finally discovered how to remove his own diaper and fling his poop.) It’s one of a series of Mike and Dave accompanied by a couple of waitresses in a white tunics, who they’d someone convinced to participate, jumping up and high-fiving one another, enjoying their time without me.

photo-17• Thankfully, I didn’t have to spend much time in Reno, which is one of my least favorite places in the entire United States. I despise Vegas, but Reno is worse. It’s Vegas without the attractive people. The good news is our time spent there inspired us artistically. Our best song of the session, entitled “Hit Me ‘Till I Win,” wouldn’t have existed if not for the fact that we had experienced the wretched misery that is Reno. I can’t, off the top of my head, remember all of the lyrics, but I do recall describing Reno as a place where crippled people walk again. I liked that. (In the song, I describe Reno as the happiest place on earth, where people come to turn their lives around. The image of obese people with oxygen tanks riding their scooters up to gambling tables and pulling themselves up, I thought, was a great illustration of these restorative powers of Reno.)

photo-18• Most of our time was spent at the cabin. I believe the area we were in was called Squaw Valley. It was beautiful. The stars at night were insanely bright, and seemed close enough to jump up and poke your eyes out on. Unfortunately, though, I only got to look up at them for a few minutes, as I was convinced that the bears could smell the bacon grease on me. (I’d fried up three pounds of bacon immediately upon arriving at the cabin.) I never saw a bear, but their presence loomed large. What appeared to be high-voltage slinkies were strung across all of the cabin’s doors and windows, and the large metal garbage enclosure, which stood right at the end of the driveway, was covered in wet, rump roast-sized snout marks.

Reno3• In spite of the bears, we did some exploring during the day, both alone an together. The morning of the session itself, we took turns leaving alone, and venturing up the “fire road” which led to the peak of the mountain we were living on. It was Dan’s idea. He said that we should all have a “vision quest” and come back with a song. Dan came back with a song about a new species of monkey that was just discovered. Dave came back with a song about man at a flea market who imagined himself to be Al Green. I can’t remember what Matt and Mike came back with, but my contribution was a song about a man looking to end white male domination by having children with women of color. (It was brought about by the realization that, even though all of us in the band are white, the four sons that we’ve produced thus far are not.) I don’t know that it’ll make the record, but I like knowing that it’ll be there in the archive for our kids to one day have to deal with.

photo-13• As usual, a disproportionate number of my contributions involved sex and impregnation. In addition to the “seminal warrior” song referenced above, I also had a punk song called “Out Fuck The Rich,” which is about our need to have more children than our well-financed adversaries.

• Speaking of sexy songs, this year, I believe, was the first in recent history in which we didn’t attempt a song about panties. I had an idea for a song called “Prehistoric Panty Dampner,” but it never came to fruition. (Our last panty song, as I recall, was Panty Groove.)

reno1• The cabin, as I understand it, was lent to us by a family in San Francisco. The husband is an intellectual property attorney. The wife is running for elected office of some kind. Apparently Dan knew them years ago, when they were all young people living in New York, before the 9/11 exodus. A mutual friend, from what I understand, had gotten to know this couple as a result of the fact that they let their dogs run around together in the same park. And, now, well over a decade later, we’re making noise in their cabin. Dan just put something up on Facebook, letting people know that we were looking for a location, and these folks came though with an offer. I think that’s really cool. (For what it’s worth, we’re now accepting offers for our 2013 session… Oh, and it’s worth nothing that we’re incredibly clean. With the exception of one time in Savannah, we always leave places better than we find them.)

photo-14• The music part of what we do is fun, but the thing, I think, that keeps us all coming back year after year, is the opportunity to commiserate about our lives, which are constantly changing. We talk about marriages and kids, jobs that we may not necessarily always find rewarding, our various physical ailments, and how we’re handling the stress of everyday life. At the risk of making our outings sound too new agey, they’re sometimes like intense male encounter groups… only, instead of tears and hugging, there are debilitating personal attacks aimed at one another’s perceived weaknesses, and endless sarcastic assaults. This year, the guy whose wife left him was the primary target, although the size of my stomach got some unwanted attention, after an incident transpired which required the immediate removal of my shirt.

• There were no walk-outs this year. There were no fights to speak of. Those of us who are typically grumpy, weren’t. No one had that glazed look, where you thought that he really didn’t want to be there. This, I think it’s safe to say, is somewhat unusual.

• Lessons learned this year… Snacking throughout the session is probably better than stopping to eat a meal. Our intention was to play all night, but, after grilling out burgers, we all just fell asleep… The idea of an early-morning vision quest, in which each of us heads into nature to write a song in solitude is also something that we should incorporate into our annual sessions going forward.

photo-16• Final thoughts… I didn’t go into this session expecting to have a great time. Maybe it was the taunting by way of text message that preceded the session, or the fact that, in order to get to the cabin, we had to make our way through Donner Pass, where, a century-and-a-half before, good friends had engaged in eating one another. As it turns out, though, I enjoyed myself quite a bit, just sitting around with old friends, drinking beer, and occasionally yelling out some nonsense about the importance of making babies and sending them into space. It’s good to have an excuse to do this every year. And it’s extra-special-fun when we occasionally stumble upon a song where everything clicks.

Given the fact that we’re already several years behind when it comes to releasing the songs created at these annual sessions of ours, you shouldn’t expect to hear anything recorded in this cabin for at least four years.

UPDATE: Dave tells me that our song about Reno, which I mentioned as being the best thing we’d done all session, has been lost. So, I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it when I say that it was probably the best thing produced by human beings in 2012.

Posted in Art and Culture, Monkey Power Trio, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Reza Aslan on looking for the real Jesus, the threat of fundamentalist literalism, and making white heads explode

If you spend any time at all on the internet, you likely saw a video making the rounds yesterday of religious scholar Dr. Reza Aslan repeatedly defending his decision to write a book about the life of Jesus to Fox News host Lauren Green, who clearly felt as though the subject should be off limits to him, as he’s a practicing Muslim. (Video of the interview is below, for those of you who haven’t seen it.) Well, Aslan showed up today on Reddit, answering people’s questions. And, as I really liked what he had to say, I thought that I’d pass along a few quotes. If you like them, I’d encourage you to read the whole thing here… And, by the way, why do we allow Anthony Bourdain to keep write about global cuisine when he’s not food?

ON THE FOX NEWS INTERVIEW

Q: I was just amazed on how you kept your cool with that woman. I would have lost it after the second time you had to explain that writing about religions was your actual job.

A: When you are a brown Muslim man from Iran talking about Jesus, you must always remain calm.

Q: How do you deal with people not understanding that your personal religious beliefs are independent from your work as a religious scholar? I’ve been thinking about this a lot in light of your recent response to Fox News. It’s frustrating for me, so it must be painfully frustrating for you. How has the hate that stems from the inability of people to distinguish belief vs. historical fact affected you personally and emotionally? It’s got to take a toll on a person.

A: It’s funny. No one asks the hundreds of authors who have written about Islam if their faith influences their books. A good scholar makes a differentiation between the study of religion and the experience of faith. They are not one and the same!

Q: What was going on in your mind when she (the reporter from Fox) kept going back to, “You’re a Muslim”? This is your CAREER, it has nothing to do with your religion, and this lady kept attacking you based on your beliefs and not your credentials.

A: Look, I get it. There are people who are afraid, and who feel attacked by a book that questions some of their most basic beliefs. But Jesus said to build your faith on the rock, not on sand. If your faith is strong, then nothing I say should be able to shake it. So relax. Pick up the book. Debate its arguments. But don’t be afraid.

Q: I wonder if you can elaborate more on the political and (I believe racially tinged) motivations behind Ms. Green’s line of questioning in your recent Fox News interview. Watching the interview, it was clear that Ms. Green’s questions repeatedly sought to discredit and situate your scholarly research as something outside of “the academy” and a voice not to be trusted merely because of your faith. Have you encountered this same kind of distrust and skepticism in researching other world religions or has the political pushback been most critical with regards to your research on Christianity?

A: Look, every news outlet (even CNN) has political motivations, but ultimately cable news is a commercial enterprise. The ONLY thing that matters is getting folks to the commercial, selling them Coke and Viagra. So the same considerations that go into filling a one hour daytime soap opera is what goes into an editorial board meeting at many news outlets. HOW DO WE GET PEOPLE TO WATCH? That is the ONLY question that matters.

ON HIS FAITH

Q: As a scholar of religion, do you believe in one true faith?

A: I think the Buddha said it right: If you want to draw water you do not dig six one foot wells. You dig one six foot well. Islam is my six foot well. I like the symbols and metaphors it uses to describe the relationship between God and humanity. But I recognize that the water I am drawing is the same water that every other well around me is drawing. And no matter the well, the water is just as sweet!

Q: As someone who has invested so much time in to the study of world religions what leads you to identify with a specific one? I’m not trying to suggest that you’re asserting “fact” in doing so, but merely curious as to how you came to choose Islam as your personal belief system — why not some combination of all the different belief systems you’ve seen? What about it struck you as most desirable?

A: Religion is nothing but a signpost to God. If you believe there is something beyond the material, and if you want to commune with that “thing” then it helps to have a set of symbols and metaphors to help you talk about it – both to yourself and to other people. That is ALL religion is supposed to be. A language of symbol and metaphors to help you make sense of something that is ineffable. I just happen to prefer the symbols and metaphors of Islam. That’s all.

Q: Has studying religion influenced your faith? Do you find new things that change your view of the things you believe?

A: Yes absolutely. It is difficult to study the world’s religions and not recognize that they are pretty much all saying the exact same things, often in exactly the same way. Some scholars think that’s because there’s something in the human mind, or in human societies, that longs for divine connection, and so comes up with similar answers in the pursuit of God. Maybe. But it could be just as conceivable that the reason we all talk about God in pretty much the same way (though with different symbols and metaphors) is because we are all talking about the same God!

ON JESUS AND MOHAMMED

Q: Is there any hard evidence that Jesus of Nazareth existed? I think many people just take it for granted that he existed and that the Bible itself is more than enough evidence. Is there anything else?

A: Outside of the Bible there is almost no trace whatsoever of the historical Jesus. However, in 94AD (60 years after Jesus died) a Jewish historian named Josephus casually mentions him… In a brief throwaway passage in the Antiquities, Josephus writes of a fiendish Jewish high priest named Ananus who, after the death of the Roman governor Festus, unlawfully condemned a certain “James, the brother of Jesus, the one they call messiah,” to stoning for transgression of the law. The passage moves on to relate what happened to Ananus after the new governor, Albinus, finally arrived in Jerusalem. Fleeting and dismissive as this allusion may be (the phrase “the one they call messiah” is clearly meant to express derision), it nevertheless contains enormous significance for those searching for any sign of the historical Jesus. In a society without surnames, a common name like James required a specific appellation — a place of birth or a father’s name — to distinguish it from all the other men named James roaming around Palestine (hence, Jesus of Nazareth). In this case, James’ appellative was provided by his fraternal connection to someone with whom Josephus assumes his audience would be familiar. The passage proves not only that “Jesus, the one they call Messiah” probably existed, but that, by the year 94 C.E., when the Antiquities was written, he was widely recognized as the founder of a new and enduring movement… That’s pretty much all we have but it is significant.

Q: In that same vein of thought, is there hard evidence that Muhammad existed? Which religious figure has more physical evidence?

A: Good question. We have a good deal of writings about Muhammad from his followers and his detractors that suggests that the man himself was a real person who started a movement sometime around the beginning of the 7th Century AD. But, as with Jesus, these are not historical documents. They are mainly testimonies of faith written by communities of faith many years after the events they described. So we are left to cull whatever historical information we can get from them by analyzing their claims in the light of what we can know about the history of the time. That’s what separates studies of Jesus from studies of Muhammad: we have a LOT more information about Jesus’ world (thanks to the Romans) than we do about Muhammad’s… I did my best to reconstruct Muhammad’s world in my first book No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam.

Q: If you we take into account that everything in the Bible is not meant to be taken literally – Do you think Jesus actually proclaimed himself to be the Messiah because he believed he was the Messiah? Or is that a title he assumed to lend himself more legitimacy? Or was it a title ascribed to him afterwards by his followers?

A: The single most important thing to remember about Jesus is that he was Jew. Now that seems obvious but if it’s true then it means that everything he said or did must be viewed in its Jewish context. So if he claimed to be the Messiah, he meant the messiah as most Jews would have understood it: the descendant of King David, whose chief task was to restore David’s Kingdom on earth. The idea of a messiah who is also God simply did not exit in Judaism at the time.

Q: You state that Jesus of Nazareth was deeply involved with the politics of his time. Do you feel that present day followers of Jesus should follow that example? Do you feel that the most politically active fundamentalist Christians are effective in carrying the word of Jesus of Nazareth?

A: There was no difference in Jesus’ time between religion and politics. They were one and the same force (some would say that is still the case). Whatever religious claims Jesus would have made would have been instantly recognized by his audience as “political.” Especially the claim to be Messiah. After all, if you are claiming to be sent by God to usher in his kingdom, you are also claiming that you have been sent to usher OUT the kingdom of Caesar. That can’t go unanswered if you are Rome.

Q: Do you think people will ever get over the fact that Jesus was not a blonde hair blue eyed savior but actually someone who looked like one of the locals?

A: I like to say that Jesus probably looked like me… but then that would make the collective heads at Fox news EXPLODE!

WHY CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?

Q: As a scholar of religions, what is the fundamental difference between the Abrahamic religions that prevents, historically, and culturally, a long lasting, peaceful interaction between these three (Judaism, Islam and Christianity)?

A: Perhaps it’s partly a result of monotheism. After all if you believe there is only one God then you could easily believe that there is only one path to that one God, that there is only one myth to describe God. That means all other paths/myths are not just wrong, they are ANTI GOD. They are evil and demonic. But the truth is that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are providing similar answers to the same questions of ultimate concern. They are just using different sets of symbols and metaphors to do so.

Q: As a non-theist I find it difficult to begin any sort of religious practice in a world of literalists. How would you recommend approaching this problem?

A: You are not the problem. The literalists are the problem. Literalism is an extremely new phenomenon. It can be traced to the end of the 19th century. The people who wrote and compiled the Gospels were NOT literalists. If they were they would not have canonized four gospels which contradict each other on numerous facts of Jesus’ life. THEY DID NOT CARE about those contradictions because they did not read the texts literally. Neither should anyone else.

[Now, if you’d like to listen to a real interview with Aslan, check out his recent chat with Terry Gross.]

Posted in Other, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Ypsilanti Immigration Interview: John Feldkamp

A few days ago I got a call from a friend who works for the City, suggesting that I talk with a new Ypsilanti homeowner by the name of John Feldkamp for my Ypsi Immigration Interview series. As it turns out, he’s not really new to Ypsi, as he received his undergrad degree from Eastern Michigan University several years ago and never really left. But, as I always love hearing stories about EMU staff members who choose to settle down in the City, I thought that I’d go ahead with it… Feldcamp, by the way, is the Associate Director of the EMU Honors College.


John_CoopMARK: Where did you move to Ypsilanti from?

JOHN: I was raised on the border of Saline and Clinton, and moved to Ypsilanti when I started at Eastern Michigan University in September 2003.

MARK: I wasn’t aware that you’d gone to college here. I though that you’d just recently come here in order to help run the Honors College at EMU…

JOHN: I actually came to EMU when I began college. I wanted to be a high school math teacher, and my sister had attended EMU before me for their Music Education program. Therefore, I knew about EMU’s reputation for having a great College of Education. She was a member of the Honors College (previously a program) at EMU, and really encouraged me to pursue the Honors College while I was in school. Although I didn’t come to EMU because of the Honors College, it’s what has kept me in Ypsilanti. As a student in the program, the requirements led me to engaging places in the City and really made me want to live here. Now that I work at EMU, it has just developed into this ideal home/work situation.

MARK: Just to be clear, have you lived here ever since you first came to college in 2003, or did you move away for a while?

JOHN: Correct, I have lived in the Ypsilanti area since 2003. I lived on EMU’s campus for three years, and have lived in apartments and my current house since then.

MARK: Why did you choose to settle in Ypsilanti? Quite a few EMU faculty and staff, as I’m sure you know, choose not to live here?

JOHN: My wife and I lived in many apartments in the City while we were in school, and we just always loved the ability to walk or ride our bikes to multiple places that mean so much to us. We love going to the Ypsilanti Food Co-Op, our favorite restaurant is Tower Inn, and we’ve spent countless evenings in EMU’s University Park. We have owned a plot in the Recreation Park Community Garden, my wife was a co-founder of EMU’s Giving Garden, and we have strong ties to many groups, people, and places in the City. When we decided it was time to own a home, we looked at various places, including neighborhoods in Ann Arbor. At the time, when we were searching for a home, I worked at the University of Michigan (North Campus), and being able to use public transportation to get to and from my job was a very high priority for me. However, we really loved the location of a house in College Heights. We definitely considered economic factors, proximity to family, and the house itself, but the four things that really convinced us that this was the house meant for us were the proximity to diverse food options, public transportation, sidewalks, and a park. We’ve also discovered that many of our neighbors have connections with EMU (faculty members, alumni, and staff), which has allowed us to create a stronger community in our neighbordhood and on EMU’s campus. On a daily basis, I am really happy that these were the priorities that guided our decision.

MARK: I don’t know if the initiative is still ongoing, but, as I recall, there was a program in place not too long ago to incentivize EMU faculty and staff to buy homes in the community. Did you by chance take advantage of that program, and, if so, did it help influence your decision to buy a home here?

JOHN: No, I did not. However, I love the idea of encouraging people to live where they work. Our work has more meaning, and we feel more invested with where we live since both our jobs and house are in the same community.

MARK: How has your perception of Ypsilanti changed now that you’re a homeowner? Has anything surprised you?

JOHN: The City is so friendly, and it is really nice to see how integrated and collaborative the different businesses and organizations are with one another. People are so well-informed when it comes to local activities, and really do make an effort to come out and support one another. What surprised me the most about living in our neighborhood is how quiet it is. My wife and I expected to hear traffic on Washtenaw, but we never feel like it’s a distraction, and sometimes we forget how close we are to a major street in the City. We also really enjoy hearing the marching bands in the late summer and fall, and the faint train whistle as we fall asleep at night.

MARK: I understand from the mutual friend that put us in touch with one another that you’ve made it your mission to get the EMU students that you’re working with more engaged in the community. Do you have an idea as to how this might manifest itself?

JOHN: Many EMU students are involved in organizations on campus, many of which do great work in Ypsilanti. This upcoming year, our office plans to work closely with the City of Ypsilanti to develop events and activities to make sure that there are organized ways for students to engage with the surrounding area. Some ideas we’ve discussed include integrating our calendars and organizing students to attend events as a group. For example, participating in activities like going to the Farmers’ Market. I would like to consider programming that allows our students to place their program of study and Honors work in context with the surrounding community. I’m really looking forward to hearing how students and Ypsilanti residents believe we can do this!

MARK: So you’re talking university-wide, and not just the Honors College?

JOHN: My work specifically focuses on Honors students. However, we like to try new things in the Honors College that could be implemented for all of EMU. We have strong relationships with the students we work with in our office, and that, coupled with the fact that the students we work with are very strong academically, allow us to try new educational experiences, and we share with others the results of those activities. For example, at Honors orientation for incoming first-year students, we have current Honors students and alumni show their research projects and share their educational experiences with the new students in a colloquium. This is a way for us to help expose new students to concrete examples of research, and show them how they can begin conducting research as early as their first year in college. This has really helped increase our students’ desires to study abroad, present at conferences, and reach out to professors very early in their academic careers. The positive results from this type of program presents our school with new ways to consider how we engage with all EMU students.

MARK: I’ve had friends over the years who have attended the Honors College, but I really know very little about the program. How many students do you have, and what does the program entail? Are the students, for instance, engaged in larger group projects, which could be community-based?

JOHN: This past year, we had about 1,100 students in the program. And we expect our largest incoming class of Honors students this year. We compose about 6% of all undergraduate students at EMU. The Honors College was founded in 1984, which means we are approaching our 30th year in existence. Relative to many honors colleges and programs, we have a long history. Students can graduate with up to three types of Honors while at EMU: University Honors, Departmental Honors, and Highest Honors. Something specifically unique about our program is that it allows students to begin at various points in their academic career. For example, our program allows current students and transfer students to begin later in their academic career. Access is a very high priority for our office, and we want to make sure all students can have an opportunity to pursue an Honors education. We seek students who have a college GPA of 3.50 or high school students who have a 3.50 GPA and a 25 ACT (or the equivalent SAT). However, we also consider students’ essays and letters of recommendation, and we do not cap the number of students we can admit in a year. Therefore, we really have an opportunity to evaluate the individual when we are considering prospective students.

We offer Honors sections of courses, which are capped at 20 students. This provides Honors students small, interactive learning environments and creates discussion-based, peer-led learning environments. Honors students really enjoy this because it allows them to develop close relationships with their fellow students, and work closely with their professors. As someone who has advised students on which courses to take for their program of study, it is incredibly rewarding to hear when a student had a positive experience in a course you encouraged them to take. It is also fun to see how work in their courses has led them to their life’s passion, which they might not have even been aware of before they started college. Our students’ work can definitely lead to community-based projects, and I have seen examples of how students have integrated their work into the local area. I believe students seek ways to see how their passions can contribute and make a difference in the world, and our curriculum provides them an avenue to incorporate that desire into their college education.

919598_10100922472040734_1392179391_oMARK: What, in your opinion, would be an ideal project for Honors College students looking to engage locally? Or, to step back a bit, what kinds of things do you think they’d find of interest, in a broader sense? Sustainability? Entrepreneurship? K-12 education?

JOHN: Over the years, I have seen hundreds of projects, ranging across the humanities, sciences, and arts, and, in the end, they all started with the same general motivation: curiosity. Our courses and curriculum are meant to expose students to a myriad of topics, themes, issues, and events, and we want our students to consider all of these things when they begin to work on their thesis projects. We encourage our students to pursue projects that allow them to harness that interdisciplinary curiosity into a focused question, and encourage them not only explore the topic, but also themselves. We encourage students to be bold with their thoughts and to be inquisitive. Whether it be with an issue in economics, education, and/or health, the project would be able to address a larger question that could be considered in other areas of study and contribute to an academic field’s literature. In turn, contributing to the field’s theory will be able to help develop today’s current practices and contribute toward the public good. However, at the end of the project, we also want the student to be able to look back on their journey and not only be happy with what they produced, but also with what they learned about themselves along the way.

MARK: How do we keep EMU students in the community after graduation?

JOHN: This seems like an easy answer at first, however, this becomes a complex question rather quickly. While I was in graduate school, I researched where students reside after they graduate from college. It truly is one of the most complex questions because it is so relative to the individual. Of course employment opportunities are right at the top, and students sometime feel that they cannot live where they necessarily want to (at least initially) due to the pressures of finding a job. With college graduates having increasing student debt, financial opportunities do become more salient. Therefore, ensuring that there are jobs available for graduates is critical. However, there is an emotional investment that comes when one decides where they live upon graduation. Feeling involved, whether it be through family and friends living nearby or by enjoying local organizations, really does mean a lot. One finding in my research that really stuck with me is that individuals seek places that allow them to have the opportunity to make change. That is why I find it so important to make sure that our current EMU students know what opportunities are around them in the community. I do not want to recreate the same activities and events that I have participated in as a student and resident because I still have so much to do while I’m here too. However, I hope that they can experience as much meaning as I have because this truly is a wonderful city with wonderful people, and I look forward to creating so many more memories while I am here too.

MARK: I’ve been increasingly impressed by EMU students as of late. It seems to me that more of them are venturing off campus, and not just to go to bars, but to actually work in the community. The folks involved in the Ypsi Free Skool group, for instance. They’re building tiny libraries in the park, helping out with things like the reintroduction of native plants on Water Street, and organizing classes for community members, student and non-student alike, on subjects ranging from permaculture design to political history. It could just be a aberration, but my sense is that young people want to be more involved in their communities.

JOHN: I could not agree more. It is really amazing to me to hear how our students are involved in multiple organizations, typically with multiple leadership positions. I regularly send emails out to our students, making them aware of various opportunities to volunteer, and I often hear back from the organizations how impressed they are with the students who follow up. When recruiting, a common question asked of me is, “What local groups can I volunteer with or work with in the area?” I have so much faith and confidence in our students because I see daily how they do things that benefit the community.

MARK: I had an interesting meeting with someone at EMU a few years ago, when I was kicking around the idea of launching a bike-powered movie series in Riverside Park. He was of the opinion that Riverside Park was too far away from EMU for students to walk. Do you get that sense? And, if it is the case, how do we change that? How do you change the culture of a college that, to a large degree, is an insular, commuter school, with students who, I think it’s safe to say, are more likely to be working and supporting themselves than students, say, in Ann Arbor?

JOHN: The number of students who are living on EMU’s campus is increasing significantly, and likewise there is a deliberate focus to integrate commuter students into campus activities. I think the recent work completed on Cross Street has really developed the bridge between the Depot Town area and EMU, and, as more students familiarize themselves with the local area, they will find new locations to make meaningful college experiences. As the City’s activities become more integrated with EMU’s activities, I believe the lines will blur with regards to where events technically take place, and students will just view the area as their local community. For me personally, Riverside Park is one of my favorite spots in the area. (It’s actually where I proposed to my wife.) We’ve spent countless walks going back and forth from EMU’s campus to the park, and love the time we spent along the way. Like us, I truly believe that students seek places they can have those enjoyable walks with significant others and friends, and, as we continue to promote community-based activities, I think we will naturally find more and more students in the local Ypsilanti area.

I had another question for John, but, seeing as how he’s relatively new to the EMU staff, I thought that I’d hold off on asking it. If there’s anyone else in the audience from EMU, though, I’d love to know their thoughts on the following.

BONUS QUESTION: Over the years, it’s been relatively clear to those of us who pay attention that EMU has been following a trajectory away from the City. With the exception of the Business School, which was built more than 30 years ago on Michigan Avenue (for various political reasons), all of the University’s growth over the past several decades has been on the other side of campus, away from the City. I don’t doubt that they had good reason to pull away from the City during the 70s, when Depot Town, as I understand it, was home to biker gangs, and crime was relatively bad, but, at this point in our history, it seems shortsighted. At least it seems to me that there needs to be a recognition that our destinies are intertwined, and that neither of us will be successful without the other. Instead, though, we still see things like the student union moving away from Washtenaw, and the university trying to close College Place, one of the main thoroughfares connecting the City and the campus. As an EMU insider, I’m curious to know if you get the sense that the willingness to engage is growing on the part of the University community?

So, any takers?

Posted in Special Projects, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Totally Quotable Arlo: First Sentence Edition

Arlo said his first sentence today. I didn’t hear it. Linette heard it, as did her mother and father. Under normal circumstances, I’d be sad to have missed my son’s first complete sentence, but, since, by all accounts, what he said was a lie, I think I’m OK with it.

Here, from what I’m told, is how it happened… Arlo dropped his grandparents’ television remote into a bucket full of water. Then, looking over his shoulder at his clearly disproving grandparents, he said, “I didn’t do it.”

ArloBeach2

I’m not freaked out about it too much. Sure, it would have probably been better if his first sentence had been, “I love you, father,” or something like that, but it’s not the end of the world that he lied. I can remember when Clementine was about his age, and tore a limb off my favorite little oak tree. She told me that she didn’t know who’d twisted it off. After asking her about it a few times, I remember her saying that the dog might have done it. And, when that didn’t work, she offered up her mother, saying, “Maybe, Mama did it.” And, despite my fears, she seems to be turning out fine.

And, I guess it could have been worse. Arlo could have said, “Yeah, I did it, and I’d do it again.” At least, I figure, he knows what he did was wrong. Sure, he lied instead of apologizing, but maybe that’s a step that kids need to go through. Or, at least that’s what I’m hoping.

Posted in Mark's Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

Alison Lundergan Grimes, coming out swinging against Bitch McConnell

Having been born in Kentucky, and still having quite a lot of family there, I make it a point to keep up on Bluegrass State politics to some extent. And, I was incredibly disappointed, some months ago, to learn that I wouldn’t have an opportunity to go door-to-door in my parents’ neighborhood, explaining to their conservative neighbors why even Ashley Judd would be a better choice to represent them in the Senate than the criminally obstructionist Mitch McConnell. (McConnell, it would seem forced Judd from the race after making it know that the election would largely center on her well-documented battles with depression and views on Christianity.) Well, it looks as though Kentucky Secretary of State, Alison Lundergan Grimes, is now officially stepping into the ring, with Judd’s support, to take on the rich and powerful Senate Minority Leader. Here she is speaking about her candidacy, and why she’s running, in a video released yesterday.

The whole thing is a little too saccharine, and the music is a bit too overwhelming for my taste, but I suspect it might be the right note to hit with the voters of Kentucky. In spite of a less than stellar campaign launch earlier this month, my sense is that Grimes knows what she’s doing. Her father is a former Kentucky Democratic Party chairman, and she won the Secretary of State primary by a double digit margin against the incumbent, then went on to beat her Republican challenger in the general election by 10%, which, for a Democrat in Kentucky, is pretty remarkable.

And, as if all that weren’t enough, her grandmother pretty much calls McConnell a “bitch” in the ad above… which pretty much says to me that Grimes is ready for the fight.

According to Republican polling, Grimes is currently trailing McConnell by 8 points, with 12 percent undecided, but I suspect that will narrow sharply, as the women of Kentucky realize they have a viable alternative to McConnell, who voted against the Violence Against Women Act, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and any number of other bills intended to improve the condition of American women… But, I’m sure McConnell and his corporate sponsors still have a few tricks up their sleeves, which is why I’m about to ask that you open your billfolds and purses, and give Grimes a little cash.

Please join me in supporting Grimes, and helping the Democrats pick up another seat in the Senate… Donate now.

Posted in Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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