The yellow curtain

Over the past several years of interviewing people here on the site, I’ve developed a few go-to questions – things that I really enjoy asking. Among other things, I like to ask people about the circumstances surrounding their births, and their very first memories. It doesn’t always happen, but, every once in a while, when I ask someone one of these questions, they’ll turn around and ask the same thing back to me, and I’ll tell them about how I was extracted from my unconscious mother with forceps, or share this very distinct memory that I have of laying in a crib, looking up at a yellow curtain covered in severed horse heads, fluttering in a warm summer breeze. Here’s one such instance of the latter, taken from an Ypsi/Arbor Exit Interview with my friend Jeff Meyers, shortly after he abandoned Ann Arbor for Palo Alto. [If you haven’t read that interview, by the way, you really should. It’s still one of my favorites.]

The thing is, as much as I’ve shared this particular memory of mine over the years, I was never absolutely, 100% certain that it was real. As I couldn’t have been more than about two years old at the time, I always kind of doubted whether or not I could trust my memory, even though I could remember the scene very clearly in my mind. And I’m pretty sure that, when I asked my mother several years ago whether or not there really was such a curtain hanging over my crib, she told me that it wasn’t yellow, but blue. But, not too long ago, during a visit back to Kentucky, to help my mother out for a few days after hip replacement surgery, I found evidence of the curtain in question, in an old photo album that I don’t recall having ever seen before. As there’s no reason for the photo to have been taken, let alone be kept in an album for nearly a half-century, finding it was kind of eerie. I mean, who takes a photo of just a crib and curtain? And how strange that I should find a photo of just the very thing that I’d remembered, after wondering for so long whether or not my memory could be trusted. But, there it was…

I know, in the whole scheme of things, this “Rosebud” moment of mine isn’t all that terribly important, and I feel a bit weird for sharing it here, as I can’t imagine it will matter to anyone but me, but, for whatever reason, this is what I want to write about tonight – this first memory of mine, laying in a warm patch of sunlight, happily watching the curtain flutter int eh breeze, while listening to the sounds of summer outside.

Here, for those of you who care, is the photographic evidence of that curtain, which apparently really did once exist in Monticello, Kentucky.

So, what’s your first memory? And, more importantly, do you have photographic evidence?

Posted in Mark's Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Totally Quotable Arlo: In Charge Edition

There are a few dozen things I probably should be writing about tonight, but I don’t feel much up to it. I was at a friend’s house earlier this evening, when he unexpectedly invited me to check out his hidden scotch vault, and all of the pent up anger, which I was going to use to fuel tonight’s rant, just kind of evaporated. So, instead, I’ve decided to share a few photos from earlier today, as I hung out with Arlo. I don’t do it as often as I probably should, but I let him call the shots all morning long, and things went pretty well. We built boats to sail down the Huron, spent about an hour picking up antique bits of glass from the river bed, and then headed to Greenvield Village, where we rode Model Ts and sipped lemonade into the afternoon. It was a good day. And it was a good reminder, no matter how much I might rant here, that it’s still possible to grab moments of happiness, even as the world collapses around us.

Just a few quick related notes… 1. If you’re looking for something to do, now’s a great time, as the water levels along the Huron are pretty low, to pick up trash from the riverbed. Arlo and I probably worked at it for about 45 minutes, and walked away with over two pounds of antique, broken bottles. 2. If you’ve never been, the annual Old Car Festival at Greenfield Village is pretty awesome. Arlo and I had the good fortune, among other things, to strike up a conversation with a former Nissan exec, who proceeded to take us for a ride around the park in his 1924 Model TT Boyer/Oberchain fire truck, encouraging us to crank the siren and ring the bell the whole time, which Arlo loved. 3. Arlo, as evidenced in the quote above, apparently appreciated the fact that I told him that we could do whatever he wanted today. He said this to me at Greenvield Village, as we made our way from the carousel down to the pond by the covered bridge, where he wanted to look for frogs. All too often, I go to places with a set idea as to what we need to see and accomplish, and don’t just let things unfold naturally. It’s nice, every once in a while, to just say, “OK, kid, what do you want to do?” I need to remember that. Speaking of which, if you’re ever at Greenfield Village when they’re playing baseball by 1867 rules, I’d recommend just sitting down for an hour or two and watching, even if it means missing out on seeing the glass tube containing Thomas Edison’s last breath, or visiting Hitler’s childhood home. 4. There was a cake walk at this year’s Old Car Festival, and Arlo won a lemon chiffon cake, which I then had to carry around under my arm for the rest of the day. Thankfully, though, it was pretty light, and got lighter as we continued to nibble away at it. 5. If you’re ever looking for a fee activity to do with your kids, building boats out of sticks, bark, and fallen tree branches is always a lot of fun. You can generally find small vines and the like to lash the pieces together, and clam shells make nice furniture. And, not only is it fun to launch them and chase them as they go down the river, but, if you’re so inclined, you can also try to sink them with rocks from the shore.

[If you’ve got a few extra minutes, check out our Totally Quotable Arlo archive.]

Posted in Mark's Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

DeVos, promising to do more to protect the rights on those accused of committing crimes against women on campus, says, “If everything is harassment, then nothing is”

There was an interesting article in the New York Times just after the election about the 53% of white women, and 42% of women across the board, who cast their votes for Donald Trump in 2016. [note: A whopping 64% of non-college educated white women voted for Trump.] Well, I was reminded of the piece just now, as I was reading about what Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos had to say today about her intention to change the way allegations of sexual assault are handled on college campuses. While not totally unexpected, as DeVos has made it clear that she’s more concerned about how allegations of sexual harassment and rape adversely affect the lives of those men who stand accused than she is about the well-being of those women coming forward to report the charges, it’s still somewhat shocking to hear her say, as we did today, “If everything is harassment, then nothing is,” essentially suggesting that we raise the bar when it comes to what men can get away with on our college campuses. But, again, this shouldn’t really be a surprise, as the DeVos staffer pushing this change, is Candice Jackson, a woman who, as a graduate student at Stanford, claimed that she was being discriminated against for being white and then went on to start an organization dedicated to telling the stories of women “abused” by Hillary Clinton… At any rate, as I was reading up on what DeVos said today, I was reminded of those women who voted for Trump, in spite of what they had heard him say on that hot Access Hollywood mic about how his fame allowed him to grab women “by the pussy” without consent. I was particularly reminded of one woman who said that she was able to vote for Trump by tuning out all the bad things she knew about him, and ‘focusing on the good.’ And it got me wondering what these women might be thinking today, as Trump’s Secretary of Education is telling us that the pendulum has to swing back the other way, with more consideration given to the rights of those men accused of date rape and other crimes against women… Here’s Devos, in her own words, talking about how we need to give less consideration to the rights of the accuser and more to the rights of the accused.

For what its worth, I’m not adverse to the open, honest discussion as to how we, as a society, protect the rights of the accused. I know that false accusations are made, and I know that lives are ruined. At the same time, however, I don’t trust DeVos and Jackson, who recently, by the way, told the New York Times that “90%” of rape accusations “fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right’,” to act in good faith on behalf of victims.

In case you’re interested, here’s some of what what I wrote when Jackson was named as head of the Civil Rights division under DeVos.

…I’m sure I don’t need to tell you this once again, but it’s absolutely no coincidence that the administration has chosen an anti public education activist to run the Department of Education, a man who once said he wanted to destroy the Department of Energy to run that agency, and a climate change denier to run the EPA. This is all being done by design. As Steve Bannon told us himself, his agenda is the “deconstruction of the administrative state,” and there’s no faster way to achieve that than by handing agencies over to those who have vowed to destroy them. As Bannon himself said at CPAC this past winter, “If you look at these Cabinet nominees, they were selected for a reason, and that is deconstruction.” And, with that as the objective, putting Candice Jackson, someone who has demonstrated a clear disdain for civil rights in her life, in charge of defending the civil rights of our youngest and most vulnerable citizens, makes perfect sense.

Jackson is to civil rights what Scott Pruitt is to global warming. She’s a civil rights denier. And, like Pruitt, she’s been given this job to do as much damage as possible to her institution.

For what it’s worth, while Jackson will technically be the Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Office for Civil Rights, she’ll actually be serving as Secretary, as DeVos has yet to hire anyone in that role. If I were the suspicious type, I’d say that this was done by design, as the Secretary position requires Senate confirmation, whereas the Deputy Assistant Secretary position does not. In other words, this was an end run around the Senate to place someone absolutely unqualified for the job in the position as Secretary. [As the acting head of the department, Jackson will be in charge of about 550 full-time staff.]

So, if you’re a white student who has a grievance, now’s the chance you’ve been waiting for… Did you lose a school election to a Hispanic classmate? Did someone tell you that you weren’t allowed to wear a “white power” t-shirt to school? Were you made uncomfortable by a discussion in History class about slavery? Well, you might find a sympathetic ear at the new Office of Civil Rights.

Oh, and while Jackson doesn’t have any experience when it comes to civil rights, unless you count ranting about how civil rights protections are unfair to white Americans, she does have some experience running an organization. Apparently, prior to taking this position, Jackson ran an organization dedicated to telling the stories of women “abused” by Hillary Clinton called the “Their Lives Foundation”. She is also the author of the 2005 book, “Their Lives: The Women Targeted by the Clinton Machine.”

And, yes, this is why we fought so hard to keep Betsy DeVos from the Department of Education.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Education, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

With our second “500 year” storm in three weeks gathering off the coast of Florida, it’s time to accept the reality of climate change, finally hold the GOP accountable for their lies, and take decisive action

As I write this, there are three hurricanes working their way westward across the Atlantic. They are; Katia, Irma, and Jose. Irma, the one that appears to be the most deadly of the three at the moment, has maintained a sustained windspeed of 185 miles an hour for over 24 hours now, breaking all known records. While the eye of the Category-5 hurricane narrowly missed Puerto Rico, both St. Martin and Barbuda have, according to press reports, been decimated. And it looks as though the Turks and Caicos Islands are next, as the hurricane makes its way toward the Florida coast, where, according to some projections, it could do over $300 billion in damage.

While the destructive power of the hurricane may diminish before it hits Florida, I think it’s fair to say that, at least historically speaking, we shouldn’t be talking about a Category-5 hurricane hitting our coast just a few weeks after having a Category-4 hurricane hitting the same coast. I mean, if they were regular events, they wouldn’t call them “500 year” storms, right? But here we are, in the span of just three weeks, preparing for Hurricane Irma to pick up in Florida where Hurricane Harvey left off in Texas.

One would think, at some point, even in deep red states like Texas and Florida, people might begin to wonder why it is that, in spite of what climate change deniers might tell us, the oceans just keep getting warmer, and these once-in-a-generation weather events keep happening one after the other. I mean, the temperature in San Francisco just hit 106-degrees, forest fires are consuming Oregon, and here we are, preparing to see yet another American coastal city washed out to sea. You would think, at some point, people… especially those losing their homes… might stop worrying about the future of Confederate of monuments and begin to worry instead about the futures of their families. At some point, you would think, these people would have to start turning on those politicians like Senator Mitch McConnell, who, in spite of the evidence, has said, “For everybody who thinks it’s warming, I can find somebody who thinks it isn’t,” and Donald Trump, who has claimed that climate change was nothing more than a “Chinese hoax.”

But, it would appear, we’re still not yet at the tipping point… One just wonders how many people have to die before we get there.

Trump, apparently not feeling any pressure from his supporters, just named Oklahoma Congressman Jim Bridenstine, a man who once demanded on the floor of the House that President Obama “apologize” to the American people for funding research into climate change, to be the head of NASA. And, today, of all places, he headed to North Dakota to stand in front of an oil refinery and tell those assembled before him that the drought they’ve been experiencing will simply go away. “We’re working hard on it, and it will disappear, it will all go away,” he told his assembles supporters, as the refinery behind him belched out smoke. In better times, I would have found the irony hilarious.

In a sane world, the whole lot of them – all the Republicans who have continued to lie about the science of climate change because it serves them politically – would be run out of D.C. on a rail, but here we are, clapping for our pussy-grabber-in-chief at an oil refinery as yet another hurricane prepares to hit out coast.

I think I’ve probably said it here before, but every climate denier should be held personally accountable for what happened a few weeks ago in Houston, what is likely going to happen tomorrow in Florida, and whatever happens next. They knew damn well what was happening, and they not only chose to do nothing, but they lied, and told people that there was nothing to worry about. They should not only be driven from office, but every one of them should be the subject of a class action suit… Every family who lost a loved one, or a home, should go after these men for damages, as they knowingly perpetuated a lie to serve the financial interests of their campaign donors.

I’m pretty sure I’ve told you this before, but I first became aware of climate change back in ’87, when I lived in Washington, DC. I remember distinctly attending a public event where scientists, politicians and lobbyists weighed in on the subject. (I remember that the lobbyist on the panel said that, even if global warming were true, we’d be able to invent our way out of it. “We’ll make bigger, better air conditioners,” he said, as thought that would somehow make everything alright.) That was 30 years ago, and the scientific evidence was already pretty clear. And who knows how much progress we could have made toward limiting our carbon output if we’d acted decisively back then. Instead, though, we kept propping up the oil and gas industry with subsidies, while fighting against renewables.

But, instead, we’re staring into the eye of Irma, waiting to find out just how many lives are forever ruined.

Paul Ryan said yesterday, “We’ve got another hurricane right now headed to our shores and it’s critical that we act immediately.” Of course, when he said it, he wasn’t referring to the root cause. He wasn’t talking about cutting carbon emissions, of passing a gas tax to encourage a shift to renewables, or an ambitious infrastructure initiative to public a state-of-the-art wind and solar grid across the United States. No, by “act immediately,” he meant “try to dodge the waves and flying debris.” And that’s what passes for leadership in the United States right now… Something has to change, and it has to happen quickly, if humanity is to survive.

Posted in Environment, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 77 Comments

Pondering the death of retail as Urban Outfitters leaves Ann Arbor

Earlier this evening, having just read that Gap was planning to close approximately 200 stores over the next three years, I heard from my friend Jean that Urban Outfitters had decided not to renew the downtown Ann Arbor space that they’ve held for the past several decades. While I don’t suppose it’s that terribly surprising, given trends in retail, and the fact that Urban Outfitters CEO Richard Hayne said earlier this spring that the company would be opening fewer stores, and closing some of their existing ones, but I have to imagine that this is a wake-up call to those working in Ann Arbor real estate… Here, if you’d like to open a business on State Street, and have over $53,000 a month to spend on rent, is the listing for the 11,650 square foot Urban Outfitters’ space.

While it’s true that I don’t have much love for Urban Outfitters, which has proven time and time again to be a fairly reprehensible company that wouldn’t think twice about stirring up free publicity by selling what appear to be vintage, blood-stained Kent State sweatshirts or tapestries inspired by the clothing gay men were forced to wear in Nazi concentration camps, I’m more than a little concerned about what this means for the future of the downtown community. I know that, as a nation, we’re trending away from brick and mortar retail, but I can’t help but think that our local business ecosystems, and society in general, will suffer when our downtown shops cease to exist… even shitty one’s owned by terrible, right wing assholes like Richard Hayne.

If the name Richard Hayne sounds familiar, it might be because, a few years ago, his name came up here on the blog during an interview I’d posted with Judy Wicks, the founder of the Business Alliance for Living Local Economies (BALLE), who, interestingly enough, was once Hayne’s wife and business partner. Here’s a clip from the interview, where we start talking about how their paths diverged, with Wicks, a successful restauranteur, becoming more interested in the creation of sustainable and equitable local economies, while Hayne grew more and more interested in boosting the bottom line at all costs, without any discernible concern for society in general.

MARK: I’ve read that, prior to the launch of White Dog Cafe, you were a co-founder of the Free People’s Store, which later became Urban Outfitters. I’m curious to know if the trajectory of Urban Outfitters in any way influenced your views on business. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but, having heard a few things about the culture, ethics and politics of Urban Outfitters, I’m wondering if what you did at White Dog, and later, through BALLE, was in any way in response to that experience.

JUDY: No, it was in no way a response. I started the Free People’s Store in 1970 with my first husband (Richard Hayne), my 5th grade boyfriend. We were 23 at the time and were very aligned politically as anti-war, anti-corporate progressives. The store was a sixties kind of place with progressive books, houseplants, new and used clothing, and hip house wares – a sort of department store for the under 30 crowd. We even campaigned for George McGovern out of the store. I left the marriage and the business in 1972 because I wanted to seek my own path for a number of reasons. As I continued my progressive views and learned to use my business to express those views through the educational programs at the restaurant as well as my business practices, I was unaware that my ex-husband had changed his views until about 10 years ago, and that really had no effect on me whatsoever. We don’t talk politics or business when we do happen to run into each other.

As for Urban Outfitters, as I understand it, their stock is doing relatively well at the moment, given the fact that they exceeded the expectations of analysts this past quarter, but their sales are down considerably from what they were last year. According to their last quarterly report, which just came out two weeks ago, sales at Urban Outfitters are down 7.9%. [The company owns other retail brands as well, like the Anthropologie Group, which are also struggling. Anthropologie sales were done 4% over this same period.] Hayne, of course, has assured his shareholders that the future looks bright, but, given the shift in shopping patterns, especially among younger people, who are spending more on food and drink, and less on material goods, and increasingly opting for online alternatives over brick-and-mortar options, when they do need to purchase things, I’m not so sure.

Here’s with more on this consumer shift away from retail, and toward food, drink and travel, is a clip from a recent edition of The Atlantic.

…There have been nine retail bankruptcies in 2017—as many as all of 2016. J.C. Penney, RadioShack, Macy’s, and Sears have each announced more than 100 store closures. Sports Authority has liquidated, and Payless has filed for bankruptcy. Last week, several apparel companies’ stocks hit new multi-year lows, including Lululemon, Urban Outfitters, and American Eagle, and Ralph Lauren announced that it is closing its flagship Polo store on Fifth Avenue, one of several brands to abandon that iconic thoroughfare.

A deep recession might explain an extinction-level event for large retailers. But GDP has been growing for eight straight years, gas prices are low, unemployment is under 5 percent, and the last 18 months have been quietly excellent years for wage growth, particularly for middle- and lower-income Americans.

So, what the heck is going on? The reality is that overall retail spending continues to grow steadily, if a little meagerly. But several trends—including the rise of e-commerce, the over-supply of malls, and the surprising effects of a restaurant renaissance—have conspired to change the face of American shopping…

What’s up? Travel is booming. Hotel occupancy is booming. Domestic airlines have flown more passengers each year since 2010, and last year U.S. airlines set a record, with 823 million passengers. The rise of restaurants is even more dramatic. Since 2005, sales at “food services and drinking places” have grown twice as fast as all other retail spending. In 2016, for the first time ever, Americans spent more money in restaurants and bars than at grocery stores…

Interestingly, a few years ago, Urban Outfitters announced the acquisition of the Philadelphia restaurant Pizzeria Vetri. From what I’ve been able to glean from my reading this evening, there are now two locations in Philadelphia, with three more scheduled to open shortly. What’s more, Pizzeria Vetri seems to be making inroads with Shake Shack… I don’t know that this, when looked at along with the news about Urban Outfitters stores closing, necessarily means that the company is making a significant shift away from retail, and into food, but it would make sense, given the numbers I shared above. And it really wouldn’t surprise me at all of we saw other retailers looking to diversify in the same way over the coming years.

But, back to the matter at hand, what happens when retail dies in our cities? Can downtowns consisting exclusively of bars and restaurants truly thrive? Or, are there perhaps new retail models that might emerge in our city centers? What do you think?

Posted in Ann Arbor, Local Business, Marketing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 38 Comments

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