Mike Pence chooses commerce over God in Indiana

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Late last week, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, surrounded by some of his state’s most hate-filled homophobes, signed into law a piece of legislation called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, giving those who claim religion conviction the right to withhold goods and services from individuals they find, for whatever reason, to be morally repugnant.

At the signing of the bill, Pence said, “The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion, but today many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action.” And, with the signing of this bill, the people of Indiana were once again safe. Pence had stood up for persecuted Christians across Indiana and ensured that they would no longer have to compromise their deeply held religious beliefs by having to do things like make sandwiches for people who look as though they could possibly enjoy non-heterosexual intercourse.

The executive director of Indiana-based Advance America, who was with the Governor for the bill signing ceremony, explained on his website why this legislation was so critically important. “Christian businesses and individuals deserve protection from those who support homosexual marriages and those who support government recognition and approval of gender identity (men who dress as women),” he wrote. So, clearly this wasn’t just about bakers not wanting to bake wedding cakes for gay couples. This was about “protecting” god-fearing Christian bigots from “men who dress like women,” among other things.

Thankfully, the tyranny of the homosexuals, and those with “gender identities,” whatever that means, ended last week, when Governor Spence provided much needed protection for the terrified Christian majority of Indiana, so that they would no longer have to confront the likes of a man in a dress, which would surely drain them of all religious conviction that they might have.

It was a proud day for Indiana. Nineteen other states had passed acts in the name of “religious freedom,” but theirs was the most aggressively anti-gay, and people were ecstatic.

But then something odd happened. Pence, started walking back from this great legislative accomplishment of his, which, just days ago, he’d referred to as a victory for “religious liberty.” This morning, he called for the legislation to be “clarified,” saying that the intention of the act, contrary to the quotes given by everyone at the signing ceremony, was never to enable discrimination. “I don’t support discrimination against anyone,” said Pence to the press.

Why the sudden change of tune? Why is it that this man, who, just days ago, felt it necessary to “empower” the good Christian people of Indiana to defend their “religious liberty,” now doesn’t seem to care that they’re at risk? Did God’s views on homosexuality change? Did the Christians of Indiana suddenly become strong enough to serve a sandwich to a gay person without being recruited into homosexuality? Or did Pence just decide that he hates God?

The truth… and I hate to break this to you, my readers in Indiana… is that Pence never really cared about God in the first place. What he cared about were votes. Pence, I’m fairly certain, never gave a fuck about those poor persecuted bigots who were begging him for legislation that would protect them from cake-loving homosexuals. He knew how to read a poll, though, and he knew that, in a solidly Republican, predominantly Christian state like Indiana, he’d be better off playing along. What he wasn’t apparently counting on, though, was the immediate and overwhelming backlash from America’s gay corporate mafia, led by Apple CEO Tim Cook.

It would seem that, when push came to shove, the votes of a few loud, bigoted florists don’t really amount to much when compared to the prospect of losing the NCAA basketball playoffs and $40 million corporate expansion projects. So, today, Pence isn’t talking about “religious liberty,” but declaring that he abhors discrimination. “I don’t support discrimination against gays and lesbians or anyone else,” Pence said today. “I abhor discrimination.”

And this, to me, is twice as disgusting as straight-up bigotry. I could accept it if Pence believed what he’d been saying. It would piss me off, but I could accept it if I thought he really cared about wanting to “empower” Christians to turn away gays from their places of business. I could accept it if he really felt that this was what God wanted, and stood by it. What I can’t accept, though, is someone who says that it’s absolutely imperative one one, and then, the very next… once it’s explained to him that no one will do business in his state any longer… says that’s not what he meant. And that’s why I hope the religious right that he’s courted these past several years now turns on him, and devours him whole. And that’s why I made the graphic at the top of the post. I’m hoping that some group out there that loves God as much as they hate men in dresses, might want to use it for their “Recall Pence” campaign.

One last thing… The gay rights ship has sailed. It’s been 20 years since Ellen started making out with women on television, and over a decade since folks everywhere welcomed the crew from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy into their living rooms. And young people don’t give a fuck about sexual orientation. I can appreciate that some people are horrified by this, but there’s no turning it around. They might be able to push back with bills like this one that passed last week in Indiana, but, as the subsequent backlash has demonstrated, it won’t hold up. The world has already made up its mind to move on. If the folks in Lansing were smart, which they’re not, they would have passed a state-wide civil rights bill on Monday, and gotten on the phone immediately with folks at the NCAA, Angie’s List, and every other group threatening to walk away from Indiana, welcoming them to Michigan. Instead, though, we’re talking about pushing through our own legislation. Yes, we’re apparently that stupid…

Posted in Civil Liberties, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 74 Comments

Reframing Frida Khalo as a performance artist, taking calls from sex-hungry robots, discussing vampire incest in children’s theater, and cooking deer meat in front of the local strip club… all on this episode of the Saturday Six Pack

This past Saturday night’s episode was a weird one… and, strangely, I don’t say that because we attempted to have a serious conversation about the work of Frida Kahlo with respected University of Michigan professor Maria Cotera while simultaneously grilling illegally processed deer meat in front of the strip club next door. No, I say this last episode was a weird one because, on a few occasions, I kind of let the show get away from me. I just kind of backed slowly away from the mic and watched things unfold… which, admittedly, doesn’t make for the best radio. And, for that, I am truly sorry.

[If you would like to listen to the episode in its entirety, you can find it on both Soundcloud and iTunes. Or, if you want, you can just scroll down to end of this post, where you’ll find it embedded.]

First, there was the phone call from densely bearded local troubadour Patrick Elkins, who was standing in front of Ypsilanti’s historic Thompson block, taking questions from City leaders and members of the press about Totally Awesome Fest 11, which is scheduled to overtake Ypsilanti on April 24. Patrick’s highly amplified and distorted remarks, which he inexplicably made through a loop pedal, went on for approximately 8 minutes. And, in spite of the fact that I could only make out a handful of words during that time, like “pancakes” and “basketball,” I allowed it to continue. A more seasoned broadcaster, I suspect, would have hung up after the first 20 seconds or so. But, as I felt it was in the spirit of Totally Awesome Fest, I let it run its course, knowing that I we were probably losing listeners by the dozen. And, if give the opportunity, I’d likely do it again.

And, then, later in the show, the same kind of thing happened again, during the “Bad Combination” eating challenge, as about 20 people crammed into the studio, eating things like vegemite on circus peanuts, and trying their best not to vomit. At some point, about four rounds into the competition, having run out of things to say, I just kind of recoiled from the mic and watched. I know it probably didn’t make for great radio, just listening to people in the background yelling things like, “I think he might be gagging” and “what the hell his that,” but, by that point in the evening, I’d kind of reconciled myself to the fact that the show was no longer under my control. [below: Kyle Kipp, one of the competitors, eating a preserved duck egg covered in chunky peanut butter]

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Even with my lapses, there was a lot to love about this episode, though. I loved it when the robot called in to tell Ben Connor Barrie, who was in the studio to talk about boots and trees with me over a sizzling plate of deer meat, that he was cute. And I loved the deer meat itself. Not only was it delicious, but I really enjoyed watching Ben, on the other side of the studio window, grilling it up in front of Deja Vu, talking with the strip joint’s patrons as they made their way in and out, offering mouthfuls of meat. And I really enjoyed when, a few minutes after someone called in to interrupt the show with a recorded Bill Cosby bit, our troll who calls himself “Ypsilanti Cosby” phoned in to assure us that it wasn’t him, and to distance himself from the execution, which he said was amateurish. That’s right, it took ten episodes, but our trolls now have trolls of their own… There’s nothing cooler than being able to see evolution happen right before our eyes, is there? [below: Ben Connor Barrie cooking deer meet outside of the AM 1700 studio]

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And, of course, I loved taking with my friend Maria Cotera, who, I was told after the show, I didn’t do a very good job of introducing. Apparently, I just said that she was a professor at the University of Michigan, without saying what she was a professor of. Sorry about that. She’s a “scholar of feminists of color genealogies,” and teaches within U-M’s American Studies and Women’s Studies departments. Maria and I talked about the new Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit exhibition at the DIA, which she had consulted on, as well as her work at Southwest Detroit’s El Museo del Norte. [below: Maria Cotera accusing Saturday Six Pack host Mark Maynard of “micro-aggressions”.]

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Theater lovers will also be happy to know that, prior to discussing Kahlo’s work, Maria and I talked at length about the Ypsilanti Youth Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s Pericles. You should listen for yourselves, but our freewheeling discussion touched on everything from vampire incest to my love of the lead actor’s posture.

And, as if that weren’t enough, we were also joined this episode by Patrick Elkins and Jessica French, who wanted to tell us about their upcoming event, CRINGE: a night of truly embarrassing stories, and a waitress from the Wurst Bar named KJ, who wanted to left us know about her pants, and how she had problems keeping them up. Oh, and for some reason, we got into a long conversation with Ben Connor Barrie about his love of the smell made by burning urine… It was a weird show. I blame the Oberon. [below: JK telling us about how her ass sometimes comes out of her pants]

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AND NOW, THANKS TO SCIENCE, YOU CAN LISTEN TO THE WHOLE THING ON YOUR OWN TIME:

Thanks to AM 1700 owner Brian Robb for making all of this possible, and Saturday Six Pack staff photographer Kate de Fuccio for all of the images above.

[If you like this episode, check out our archive of past shows at iTunes. And do please leave a review if you have the time, OK?]

Posted in Art and Culture, The Saturday Six Pack, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Challengers take on 200 feet of meat and raise $6,000 for Fly Children’s Art Center at Ypsilanti’s second annual Wurst Challenge

If you weren’t at the Wurst Bar last night for the second annual Wurst Challenge, you missed a hell of a good time. Ungodly amounts of sausage were eaten, many laughs were had, and, by the end of the night, we’d raised just over $6,000 for the FLY Children’s Art Center Creativity Lab in downtown Ypsilanti. We couldn’t, of course, have done it without all of the would-be competitors who entered, the ten brave men and women who moved forward to last night’s finals, and all of you out there who threw your money behind them. Thanks to your efforts, a lot of local kids are going to benefit from art and creativity programs over the coming year who otherwise wouldn’t… I know it’s silly, but this is something to be proud of, Ypsilanti.

On behalf of everyone involved, I’d like to thank Jesse Kranyak and the staff of the Wurst Bar for being awesome hosts, supplying the 200 feet of meat that fueled the event, and donating 10-cents for every inch consumed by our ten champions. I’d also like to thank the folks at New Holland Brewing for making sure we were well stocked with White Hatter Belgiam-style W.P.A., and for donating prizes for our winners. And, of course, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to Depot Town Tattoo for donating the grand prize for the competitor who ate the most sausage. And, likewise, we couldn’t have pulled it off without the folks at the Ugly Mug, who donated the prize for the competitor with the most style. This was truly a community-based event, with tons of people coming together at every level to make it happen, and I couldn’t have been any happier with the way that it turned out.

Here, told in photos taken by the great Nick Azzaro, is the story of what went down during the competition.

This is what 20 feet of coiled sausage looks like. Each sausage was weighed prior to being served, and the Wurst Challenge champion was decided not on length of sausage consumed, but on the difference in weight between sausage served and sausage returned.

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Cre Fuller limbered up outside the Wurst Bar prior to the competition. Shortly after this photo was taken, Cre was disqualified for selling brats under the table inside of buns that he’d smuggled in beneath the vestments he’d worn into the Wurst Bar. (In the spirit of the event, though, he donated the proceeds to FLY.) While the award for most raised went to Team Smoot, who brought in $815.85 for FLY, it’s now the opinion of everyone on the planning committee that it should have been awarded to Cre, seeing as how he also donated a robot to the silent auction. Had the proceeds of his robot’s sale been added to what he raised prior to the competition, and through the sale of illegal brats during the event, his total would have been $1,016, a full $200 more than Team Smoot. (Cre’s robot sold for $275.) Next year, you can be sure, the rules will be more clear. Also, it should be noted that Cre was not the only competitor disqualified for cheating. Team Cool Runnings was also removed by judges when it came to light that, instead of having just one designated eater, they had several, who gobbled up an entire 20-foot brat in a matter of seconds, like a tank full of hungry piranha.

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Jim “The Outlaw” Engman took an early psychological lead thanks to a “start at the tail and eat your way toward the head” strategy. Sadly, this strategy, while giving the illusion that more sausage had been eaten than actually had been, did not drive the other competitors to despair, causing them capitulate… When all was said and done Outlaw Jim had come in second, having consumed 2.684 pounds of sausage.

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Last year, Jason “Knifebeard SausageHawk” took home the trophy for most eaten, having consumed 16 feet of meet. (According to legend, upon arriving home after the first Wurst Challenge, Knifebeard SausageHawk then consumed the remaining four feet, which he’d smuggled from the Wurst Bar wrapped around his neck.) This year, however, our returning champion did not fare so well. He placed third. As you can see, though, it wasn’t for lack of trying.

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The night’s big winner was William Henderson, the chosen representative of a local gang known as Team Smoot. Henderson, assisted by teammates who rubbed his belly and refused to let him stop eating, consumed 3.258 pounds of sausage, leaving just the small bit you see here. (I would have loved to have seen him face-off against the Knifebeard SausageHawk of old. That would have been a battle decided by milligrams.) Team Smoot, by the way, was a machine. They not only raised a ton of money by way of social media, they then showed up to the event selling beard oil, the proceeds of which also went to FLY. Next year, I expect to see other groups organizing as teams around individual competitors. I think it’s a great model, and I’d love to see more of it… I can see companies doing it. I can see neighborhood associations doing it. I can see social organizations doing it… This is William Henderson, surrounded by his Team Smoot co-conspirators.

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I won’t shame anyone, but let’s just say that not everyone finished in the top five. Some, sadly, had to tap out after having just completed a few laps around the dish.

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And, lastly, here’s Outlaw Jim again, accepting his award for style. You can’t see here, but he was wearing a pair of tongs on his hip, in a holster.

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Not shown above, because I just didn’t have the room, are Julian Weisenel, Jason Tallant, Kate Stroud, Patric Dunn and Quinn Phillips, each of whom raised hundreds of dollars and ate multiple pounds of sausage. (They are heroes in every sense of the word.) If you have an interest in seeing them in action, I suspect more photos will be shared shortly by FLY Children’s Art Center on the Wurst Challenge Facebook page.

Lastly, it took a while, but it sounds like we’re starting to get some non-Michigan press. I saw that the Wurst Challenge had shown up on the Miami Herald last night, and now it looks as though it’s being talked about on the news in Chicago… Good work, Ypsilanti.

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Posted in Art and Culture, Special Projects, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Like the groundhog emerging from his hole to announce the coming of spring, Patrick Elkins ascended Ypsilanti’s Thompson block yesterday and announced the coming of Totally Awesome Fest 11

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Yesterday Patrick Elkins finally gave in and agreed to answer questions from City leaders and members of the press concerning the local pagan holiday he presides of over – Totally Awesome Fest. Several in our community, it would seem, had been pressing him for information about the event, which every year grows not only larger in scope, but also exponentially more strange. So, yesterday evening, Patrick stood majestically in front of Ypsilanti’s historic Thompson Block, protected behind an army of skateboard-wielding hooligans, and gave his fellow Ypilantians a glimpse of what he has in mind for this year’s multi-venue cultural happening… The annual celebration of spring, now in it’s 11th year, said Elkins, would run without stop for 55 hours, beginning at 8:00 AM on April 24. And, he promised, it would be weird. “People,” he said, “will be dressing as animals. And animals will be dressing as people.” Here’s the video.

I was particularly intrigued to hear of the multi-species basketball tournament planned from Prospect Park… In addition to basketball, there will be music, poetry, films, speakers, puppetry, clothing, food, parades, and much more, all held at various locations around Ypsilanti. And, as always, it will all be all-ages, free, and super fun.

If this year is like years past, maps to secret venues will be left around town in the hours before the start of festivities.

[For those who are curious to know more about the history of Totally Awesome Fest, I’d encourage you to check out a few of Patrick’s press conferences from previous years… like the one for last year’s Totally Awesome Fest, which took place at the back of an AATA bus, or the one for Totally Awesome Fest 8, which was hosted by Eastern Michigan University.]

update: Beards can be purchased.

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Posted in Art and Culture, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

When “shooing away” doesn’t work… Or why we were right to stop the Ann Arbor “ambassador” program

berkeleymallcopRemember how, a few months ago, a bunch of us got up in arms over plans hatched by the Ann Arbor DDA to hire a small army of Segway-riding “ambassadors” to cheerfully open doors for well-healed visitors, remove unsightly band flyers from telephone poles, and shoo away “street people” who might otherwise interfere with commerce by scaring away wealthy suburban shoppers? Well, as you might also recall, we won, at least for the time being. The Ann Arbor DDA, in response to the public uproar, begrudgingly voted to defund the program before it could get off the ground… And, given today’s news coming out of California, I suspect members of the Ann Arbor DDA are glad that they didn’t fight harder to overcome objections and push it through.

The following headline comes from The Guardian.

Violent footage emerged on Thursday that appears to show a hospitality ambassador for a Berkeley downtown business association attacking a homeless man, who was blamed for the incident and later charged with a count of misdemeanor battery.

That’s right, a “hospitality ambassador” savagely beat a homeless man who refused to be “shooed” away, and then had said homeless man charged for battery. Fortunately, video of the incident surfaced to exonerate the man, who hadn’t even thrown a punch in his defense… Here it is.

There are any number of reasons why Ann Arbor’s proposed “ambassador” program was a terrible idea. It would have stripped the downtown of any unique character it had left, for the sake of improving conditions for commerce, as though commerce is the only reason public spaces exist. It would have essentially said to locals that it was no longer their job to smile, offer directions, and open doors for visitors, as those jobs had been outsourced to paid “hospitality ambassadors.” And, perhaps most importantly, it would have shifted certain police functions to an inadequately-trained, privately-controlled quasi-security force, ill-equipped to deal with complex situations involving people who often suffer from mental illness… And, as we just saw in Berkeley, the consequences of that can be disastrous.

Ann Arbor, it would seem, dodged a bullet.

If I were a member of the Ann Arbor DDA, I’d be writing thank you letters this morning to everyone who came and protested during their meetings this winter.

It was naive of Ann Arbor’s DDA to believe that their smiling greeters, with minimal training, could simply “shoo away” what they referred to as “street people.” As many of us said at the time, if they really wanted to deal with the issue in a meaningful way, they would not only have killed the ambassador program, but they would have shifted the funds to an entity like the Washtenaw County Project Outreach Team (PORT), that has a proven track record when it comes to successfully working with at-risk populations. Thankfully, they killed the downtown whitewashing program, but, to my knowledge, they haven’t yet taken that next step, and considered ways to meaningfully address those individuals they refer to as “street people.”

Posted in Ann Arbor, Civil Liberties, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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