Antiques Road Show: historic Ypsilanti edition

    A few months ago I received an email from a fellow by the name of Roger Pellar. He’d apparently read my interview with historian Matt Siegfried about Ypsilanti’s Native American past, and was hoping that, through this site, I might be able to help him identify a few artifacts that he’d uncovered while making his way across Ypsilanti with a metal detector several years ago. (He also wanted to know where he could donate these pieces once they’d been identified.) So, we began trading emails, and, just yesterday, he shared the following two photos.

    The first piece, according to Pellar, was found about ten years ago on the banks of the Huron River as it passes along Frog Island. The object, he says, is carved bone. And the metal component appears to be made of silver. He suspects that it’s Native American in origin. If it is, my guess would be that it was relatively recent, given the design and construction of the metal piece, which appears to be some kind of clasp, but I’d welcome other input.

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    The second piece, which appears to be a belt buckle, was found about ten years ago as well, when the City was tearing up our downtown streets in order to replace our aging water mains. According to Pellar, this piece was found beneath Miles Street, just north of Michigan Avenue. His guess is that it might in some way be connected to a pre-Civil War militia. My guess is that it might have belonged to a member of an early Ypsilanti Fire Company, but, again, that’s just a wild guess. (An image of the buckle’s back, if it helps, can be found here.)

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    All input is welcome.

    One last thing, regardless of what we discover about these two artifacts, I think it’s incredibly cool that Pellar has decided that they belong in the hands of a local organization and not in his own collection. At a time when, I suspect, most people would be tempted to put such items on Ebay, and see what, if anything, they might be able to get for them, I think that’s worthy of praise… Who knows, maybe this will be incentive for others in our community to come forward and share their finds with us.

    Posted in History, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

    Detroit gets the Daily Show treatment, looks stupid for shutting off water to the poor while keeping it flowing to non-bill-paying golf courses and professional sports franchises

    Earlier this year, as I’m sure you’ll all remember, a decision was made by the powers-that-be in Detroit to terminate water service at several thousand residences. This, we were told, was absolutely necessary, given the fact that the City was insolvent, and could no longer afford to provide services, even critical ones, to those who refused to pay their bills. And, with that, an international shit storm was born. The United Nations opened a human rights investigation, and news crews from around the world descended upon the City, where people had literally taken to the streets in protest of a policy that not only deprived Detroit’s most vulnerable citizens of clean drinking water, but also threatened to bring about a public health emergency as toilets across the City began overflowing. Well, it would seem the national media, after a bit of a hiatus, is showing renewed interest in the story. The following appeared last night on the Daily Show.

    For what it’s worth, the shut-offs haven’t ended. There was a brief reprieve once the story first went national, but it didn’t last long, and, according to the Lansing State Journal, there were 5,100 new shut-offs in September, and another 4,200 in October, bringing the total since January 1, 2014 to 31,300.

    There are three things I liked about the above Daily Show piece quite a bit. First, I liked that they pointed out the hypocrisy of cutting water to Detroit’s poorest citizens while allowing it to keep flowing to private golf courses, and the homes of the Red Wings and Lions, in spite of the fact that they owe hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Water Department. Second, I liked the old white guy demonstrating how he needed water on the golf course in order to wash his balls. And, third, I loved the following exchange between the Daily Show’s Jessica Williams and Nolan Finley, the Detroit News editorial page editor.

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    Finley, to his credit, pretty much admitted that he came across badly in the segment, saying a few days ago on Twitter that he was just happy not to have fallen for their trick and accepted the water they kept offering him over the course of the 90-minute interview.

    If you have a moment, and would like to know more about the ongoing water crisis in Detroit, I’d suggest that you watch the video I shared earlier this summer from the Netroots Nation conference in Detroit featuring Abayomi Azikiwe of Moratorium Now!, Meredith Begin of Food and Water Watch, Monica Lewis-Patrick of We the People Detroit, Jean Ross of National Nurses United, and Maureen Taylor of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, who, by the way, was leading a petition drive in 2009 to “make water affordable and stop shutting off the water of low-income people” in Detroit. (The session, titled Turn on the Water! How Locals are Fighting Back Against the Shutoffs, was moderated by Peter Hammer, the director of the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights at Wayne State University.)

    I know there’s a temptation to see this as something other than a civil rights issue. It’s easy, I know, to see this as an example of lazy Detroiters, once again, looking to game the system. I’d argue, however, that it has more to do with the cost of being poor in America than anything else. Wages are dropping. Cost of living is rising. And utilities, especially in rapidly-depopulating urban communities like Detroit, are becoming more costly to those who remain. It’s a proverbial perfect storm. I know people like to look at Detroit with scorn and horror, but I really do think that we’ll eventually begin to see this everywhere, as the American middle class slowly disappears.

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Detroit, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

      If I ever use the phrase “Drink the Kool-Aid” again, please do me a favor and kick me in the teeth

      TimeJonestown36 years ago today, a charismatic, and increasingly paranoid Jim Jones commanded the assembled members of the Peoples Temple, who had followed him from the United States to the jungles of Guyana, to take their own lives by ingesting a cyanide-infused knock-off of Kool-Aid called Flavor-Aid.

      Despite the fact that Jones can be heard referring to their deaths as acts of “revolutionary suicide,” on audio recorded that night, the truth is, very few of the 909 Peoples Temple members who died that evening took their lives willingly. As we’d learn in the months following their deaths, they were forced to ingest the cyanide at gunpoint, and those that refused were either held down and forced to drink it or injected with the drug.

      My friend Robert Helms, the editor of the zine Guinea Pig Zero, reminded me of this fact today, when he forwarded a link to an interview with Julia Scheeres, author of the book A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Jonestown, about the use of the phrase “drink the Kool-Aid” in contemporary culture as shorthand for mindlessly following leaders and trends. Here’s a clip.

      …I was writing a satirical novel about a charismatic preacher who takes over a small Indiana town when I remembered Jim Jones was from Indiana and Googled him for inspiration. I then learned that the FBI had recently released its files on Jonestown. These included 50,000 pieces of paper that agents had collected from Jonestown after the massacre and almost a thousand audio tapes. Once I started browsing the materials, I couldn’t tear myself away. This story seemed more urgent to tell than a religious farce.

      The more I understood what actually transpired in Jonestown, the more offended I became by the notion that Jones’ victims “drank the Kool-Aid.” I felt a duty to defend them, to tell the true story of what happened in Jonestown. The central argument of A Thousand Lives is that Jim Jones murdered his congregants — it was mass murder, not mass suicide. He fantasized about killing them for years before they moved to Guyana and lured them there by making them believe they could return to California whenever they wanted. Once he had them sequestered in the middle of the South American jungle, he refused to let anyone go. “If you want to go home, you can swim,” he told disgruntled residents. “We won’t pay your fucking way home.” I found many heartbreaking notes from residents begging Jones to let them go home, offering to send down paychecks for the rest of their lives, etc. The hardest to read were from parents who, once they realized Jones was intent on killing everyone, were at a loss for ways to insulate their children from Jones’ madness. A third of the 918 people who died in the Jonestown massacre were minors. They didn’t “drink the Kool-Aid;” they had it forced down their throats….

      A 12-year-old girl named Julie Ann Runnels kept spitting the poison out, so two of Jones’ lieutenants forced her to swallow by it by pulling her hair and clamping their hands over her nose and mouth. She did not “Drink the Kool-Aid.” She was murdered—as were all the 303 children who died that night. We need to stop disrespecting Jones’ victims with this odious and wildly inaccurate phrase…

      I’m not sure if it’s a phrase I’ve ever used here, but, if it is, I’m sorry. Scheeres is absolutely right. And I promise not to ever do it again.

      [The image above is from Time Magazine. It shows one of the tubs full of cyanide-spiked Flavor-Aid surrounded by dead bodies. When I was a kid, I have a vivid recollection of finding this issue of Time Magazine in my parents’ bathroom and reading the article about the Jonestown massacre, which, until that point, I think had been kept from me. I remember the images of the dead bodies, and a comment about how it was even worse than it looked, as, in many areas, the bodies we stacked three deep. I remember the fact that over 300 of the dead were children. It made a huge impact on me as a kid. And, when I think of Jonestown, it’s always the first thing to come to my mind.]

      Posted in Other, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

      I am no longer the most powerful Mark Maynard in the world, but I still own the URL

      I don’t know this to be true, but I’ve heard, over the years, that the Maynard side of my family made their way to Kentucky from West Virginia. And, as there are currently a great many Maynards there, like Lee Maynard, the brilliant author of Crum, I suspect that there may be some truth to it. So, when somoene asked today if I was related to newly elected used car dealer turned West Virginia State Senator Mark Maynard, I had to respond with a… “probably.”

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      I bet you’re wondering, “How’d he do it?” Well, my friends, the answer is easy… Maynard power!

      He just turned on the old Maynard charm! (You can see it in his eyes.)

      And it probably didn’t hurt that, accord to the Associated Press, statewide exit polls showed that three out of four West Virginia voters said that they disapproved of Obama’s performance, which shouldn’t really be too much of surprise, given the recent loss of coal mining jobs in the state, and Obama’s stance against global warming.

      I know he’s a Republican, and I should probably hate him, but, according to the article above, his stances on the issues were pretty much identical to those of the Democratic incumbent he was going up against. And, more importantly, I’m thinking that, if his political career takes off, the value of the MarkMaynard.com url may increase to the point where I could sell it for big bucks and retire.

      Oh, speaking of West Virginia and coal mining, do you remember a few years ago, when we were discussing Don Blankenship, the mine-owning teabagger who cut corners and ignored regulations until it cost 29 men their lives? Well it looks like he finally might be going to prison for his actions at the Upper Big Branch South Mine in Whitesville, West Virginia. Here’s a clip from the New York Times.

      The former chief executive of the company involved in the nation’s worst coal mine disaster in 40 years, in which 29 men died in West Virginia in 2010, was charged on Thursday with widespread violations of safety rules and deceiving federal inspectors.

      Donald L. Blankenship, who formerly ran the Massey Energy Company, was indicted on four criminal counts by a federal grand jury in the Upper Big Branch disaster near Montcoal, W.Va.

      Mr. Blankenship was accused of looking away from hundreds of safety violations “in order to produce more coal, avoid the costs of following safety laws, and make more money”…

      The charges hold him personally responsible for the hundreds of safety violations in 28 months leading up to the explosion. They included failing to ventilate coal dust and methane, which are highly explosive, and failing to water down equipment to prevent sparks that could ignite an explosion.

      According to the indictment, Mr. Blankenship’s aggressive enforcement of mining quotas left workers no time to build ventilation systems “because constructing them diverted time from coal production.” He denied a request to build an air shaft in a mine where airflow was below the legal minimum, the indictment said. He also cut the number of miners focusing on safety in order to make the operation more profitable.

      Mr. Blankenship was charged with authorizing a “scheme” of warnings to miners underground when federal safety inspectors made surprise visits. By using “code words and phrases,” word was passed by telephone from a guardhouse to a mine office to supervisors deep underground, who ordered miners “to quickly cover up violations” before inspectors arrived, the indictment said…

      To quote Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, “(Blankenship was) treated far fairer and with more dignity than he ever treated the miners he employed. And, frankly, it’s more than he deserves.” I’m not a proponent of the death penalty, but if anyone deserves it, it’s this Ayn Rand acolyte.

      Posted in Corporate Crime, energy, Environment, Other, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

      Mr. Quintron to demo the Drum Buddy in Ann Arbor this afternoon

      quintronbuddy2I know it’s short notice, but Mr. Quintron, the inventor of the Drum Buddy, and my former Bulb Records label-mate, will be at the Ann Arbor downtown library at 1:00 this afternoon, all the way from New Orleans, to give a special, all-ages demonstration of how the Drum Buddy “uses oscillators, a coffee can and light to make sounds and, ultimately, music.” So, if you’re interested in the science of music, or perhaps know of kids who could use some kick-ass inspiration, this could be a pretty good time.

      If you’ve never before seen the Drum Buddy in action, I’d highly recommend that you check out the infomercial, which, if you ask me, is still one of the 10 most incredible things on the internet.

      Also, while you’re at the library, by sure to check out the massive collection of synthesizers, guitar pedals, theremins and the like they have available for checkout… Speaking of which, one wonders if the AADL might be persuaded today to become the first library in the world with a Drum Buddy in their lending collection. That, I think, would be pretty fucking awesome.

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      Posted in Ann Arbor, Art and Culture | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

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