Noam Chomsky on Ferguson: “This is a very racist society”

    It’s been a several years since it happened last, but someone just used the n-word in a comment on this site. I don’t know that the context really matters, but it was said in relation to the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri. As I’m not in the practice of editing or removing comments, I’m going to keep it up, but I thought that I’d take the opportunity to respond by sharing this video of Noam Chomsky, who appeared a few days ago on something called GRITtv to talk, among other things, about how pervasive racism is in America. Here’s the relevant part of the transcript, courtesy of Salon.

    “…This is a very racist society; it’s pretty shocking. What has happened with regard to African-Americans in the last 30 years actually is very similar to what Blackmon describes happening in the late 19th century.

    The constitutional amendments after the Civil War that were supposed to free African-American slaves — it did something for about 10 years, then there was a North-South compact that granted the former slave-owning states the right to do whatever they wanted. And what they did was criminalize black life, in all kinds of ways, and that created a kind of slave force… It threw mostly black males into jail, where they became a perfect labor force, much better than slaves.

    If you’re a slave owner, you have to pay for — you have to keep your ‘capital’ alive. But if the state does it for you, that’s terrific. No strikes, no disobedience, the perfect labor force. A lot of the American Industrial Revolution in the late 19th, early 20th century was based on that. It pretty much lasted until the Second World War, when there was a need for free labor.

    After that, African-Americans had about two decades in which they had a shot at entering society. A black worker could get a job in an auto plant, the unions were still functioning, and he could buy a small house and send his kid to college. But by the 1970s and 1980s it’s going back to the criminalization of black life.

    It’s called the drug war, and it’s a racist war. Ronald Reagan was an extreme racist — though he denied it — and the whole drug war is designed, from policing, to eventual release from prison, to make it impossible for black men and, increasingly, more and more women and hispanics to be part of society.

    In fact, if you look at American history, the first slaves came over in 1619, and that’s half a millennium. There have only been three or four decades in which African-Americans have had a limited degree of freedom — not entirely, but at least some.

    They have been re-criminalized and turned into a slave labor force — that’s prison labor. This is American history. To break out of that is no small trick…”

    [note: As I recall, the last time the n-word was used on this website by a reader was in early 2007, in the wake of Laura Dickinson’s murder at EMU.]

    Posted in History, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 47 Comments

    “It’s beginning to smell a lot like Krampus”


    Ypsilanti’s fifth annual Krampus festivities are scheduled to take place the night of Saturday, December 20… so you’d best start sewing your pelts and practicing your dance moves.

    This year we’re going to be doing a few things differently. It’ll still be the big, ass-shaking, anti-holiday dance party you’ve come to know and love. And it’ll still culminate in an awesome torchlit procession through the dark streets of Ypsilanti. But we’ve decided to change things up a bit in order to keep things fresh. First, we’ll be starting the evening at Ypsilanti’s Dreamland Theater instead of at the Corner Brewery. This not only gives us more time to decorate and the like, but it means that, throughout the night, we can, if the mood strikes us, call on a host of puppets to dance with us and slap our sweaty bottoms. And that, we think, is invaluable. Second, we will not have a special brew, like we have in the past. So, if you’re looking forward to another “naughty” feta, beet and peanut butter concoction that’ll make you pee bright red for 24 hours, we can’t help you. This year, instead, we’ll be joined by our friends at Go Ice Cream, who will be dishing out Dirty Snowball Sundaes and Vegan Dirty Snowball Sundaes. (We’ll also have beer and wine, so don’t you worry about that.) And, third, unlike last year, the route of our drunken midnight march will not take us in the path of any speeding trains. No, we’ve planned a much safer route, and arranged for guides… This year, our procession will be led by an authentic Balkan marching band. They’re called ρυτά μουσική (Rhyta Musik) and you can listen to them here.

    Here, for those of you who still aren’t sure if you’d like to attend, are four links. If you follow them, I think you’ll get a pretty good sense as to what the event is all about: 2010 recap, 2011 recap, 2012 recap, 2013 recap.

    And here, if you’re unfamiliar with the backstory, is a clip from something that I posted way back in 2010, just before Ypsi became the first community in the midwest to welcome Krampus.

    krakpusposter2014…I’ve been fascinated with Krampus for the past several years, since I first learned of his existence through my friend, the cultural anthropologist of all things strange and Fortean, Doug Skinner. Doug had sent me a turn-of-the-century Austrian greeting card. On it, Krampus, a large, shaggy, bipedal horned beast with wild, flaming eyes and a forked tongue, was lashing plump, rosy-cheeked children and stuffing them into sacks… I was hooked.

    With Doug’s help, I began to learn about this fellow, who, in addition to Krampus, has gone by names such as Knecht Ruprecht, Perchten, Pelznickel, Black Peter, and Klaubaur. According to pre-Christian Alpine tradition, while old St. Nick went about the business of handing out treats to the good children at the turn of the new year, old Krampus would be dispatched to punish the bad. He, in other words, was the stick to Santa’s carrot – a tool used to ensure good behavior. Children, if they were good, would get candy and presents. And, if they weren’t, they wouldn’t just get lumps of coal come Christmas morning – they’d be thrown into the pits of hell by a cloven-footed monster covered in matted black fur. But, as brilliant of an idea as it is, for whatever reason, Krampus hasn’t made the leap to the shores of America, where all the children, regardless of how evil and disrespectful they might be, can expect to be rewarded with video games and cigarettes come yule-tide.

    In countries like Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Slovenia, however, he’s still very much a part of the Christmas tradition…

    So, if you get burned out on holiday parties and find that you could use an unseasonably dark release, or if you just find yourself wanting to lash out against the over-commercialization of Christmas, or even if you just like dressing up and drinking beer, come and join us as we take back the holiday season on behalf of Santa’s dark assistant…

    And, for what it’s worth, our version isn’t terribly dark. It’s more like a glam, sci-fi monster dance party… Just imagine the cantina scene from Star Wars, only maybe a little sexier, and with a bit more spanking.

    Here, to get you in the mood, if you’re not already, is Ypsi’s own Black Jake performing the holiday favorite, Krampus Bells.

    [For more information, check out our Facebook Event page.]

    Posted in Special Projects, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

      Save yourselves. Don’t be like Michigan.


      I may have the exact wording wrong, but, when asked why he writes dystopian fiction, Ray Bradbury responded by saying that he did so in order to “prevent it” from actually happening…

      I know it’s hard to see any silver lining in what we’re experiencing today in Michigan, but, if nothing else, perhaps we’re serving that same purpose. Maybe we’re the dystopian vision of the future that prevents it from actually happening elsewhere. Maybe we’re doing a good thing here, by devolving into a gleefully under-educated band of tire-burning, pollution-breathing homophobes. Maybe our existence will demonstrate to others that certain boundaries, like those which we crossed multiple times this past week, should never be traversed.

      That’s the only way I can look at current events and not become totally disheartened.

      Maybe, I tell myself, thanks to our example, others will be less inclined to slash public school funding, reclassify burning tires as a renewable energy source, and make it possible for bigoted EMTs not to treat people who they fear may, god forbid, love someone of their same sex. Maybe, by living through this, we’re serving the greater good, like the people of Florida and Texas did in simpler times, before the madness set in.

      Speaking of the madness, at no time in modern Michigan is it more palpable than it is right now, during the lame duck session of our legislature, when vitally everything is on the table, from drug testing the poor to making it easier for corporations to poison us. And that, by the way, is something I believe our representatives may be working on at this very moment, as they consider SB 891, legislation that would rip open and gut the Michigan Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, freeing polluters from any semblance of real accountability… The following comes from Ann Arbor Representative Jeff Irwin.

      …In a nutshell, SB 891 changes Part 201 of the Michigan Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act which is the section of law stipulating how much polluters must clean up their messes. In essence, this statute determines ‘how clean is clean.’

      From a market-based perspective, Michigan’s environmental cleanup laws are an orgy of externalities. Ever since Michigan ditched the ‘polluter pay’ philosophy in the 1990′s, cleanup standards have been diminished across the board and corporate accountability is at a minimum. Or so we thought. SB 891 continues the slide towards rewarding the companies that pollute by reassigning their responsibilities to the taxpayers, future land owners and public health. I certainly understand that polluted sites will not be pristine when response activities are complete, but this bill will allow polluters to shirk their responsibilities even when a more effective cleanup would be possible.

      If SB 891 passes, here is just a sampling of the problems we will see:

      1) current law gives a preference to cleanup methods that remove the pollution rather than capping it or managing exposure. This bill removes that preference.

      2) current law requires that, when polluters use deed restrictions to manage exposure – such as a deed restriction to ‘never touch that aquifer again’ – they must notify the public when they build on the land or otherwise change the land use. This bill removes that notification process, making it harder for the public to maintain these flimsy controls. Also, the bill removes the requirement that contaminated aquifers be monitored for leaks and releases.

      3) current law requires that the source of pollution be contained and monitored to prevent the pollution from spreading to other properties. This proposal weakens those rules.

      This is an arcane and complicated statute but it cuts to the heart of corporate responsibility. If a company pollutes our state, they should be required to contain the pollution and clean that property to a reasonable level that is protective of public health and the property rights of others. Anything less is bad for Michigan, our Great Lakes and especially the health and welfare of future generations.

      Here’s hoping, wherever you might be reading this, that you are stronger than we are… Best of luck.

      [Check out previous warnings from the Mitten State here, here, here and here.]

      Posted in Civil Liberties, Corporate Crime, Michigan, Observations, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

      Talking erections at the doctor’s office

      I went to the doctor a week or so ago for a long overdue physical. After exchanging a few pleasantries, the doctor, who was probably about ten years younger than me, laid me out on his table and poked around at me for a while, awkwardly asking the kinds of questions that you ask a man in his mid 40s to determine risk for things like prostate cancer. It was odd and uncomfortable, but not without its moments of interest. I particularly liked the exchange we had about my ability to achieve and maintain erections. I liked the exchange so much, in fact, I was thinking that it would make a nice little two-panel comic. But, as I sat down to draw it out, it occurred to me that, given the raw lines of dialogue, without context, other people might approach it in completely different, and perhaps more interesting, ways. So, I cast the lines out there by way of social media and waited to see what the universe returned to me… Here, before I share the comics, are the lines.

      DOCTOR: Are you having any problem achieving an erection?

      MARK: Now, or just in general?

      And here are the first four response I’ve received.

      Eddie Knight:


      Matt Posky:


      Jim Cherewick:


      Peter Sickman-Garner:


      Others, I assume, were too intimidated by the subject matter.

      And, yes, this is what I chose to write about today instead of the Senate report on CIA torture. Sorry, but I just couldn’t think about it with jeopardizing my erection.

      Posted in Mark's Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

      A new downtown pop-up puts Ypsi youth to work bridging the digital divide

      There’s a new pop-up computer retailer in downtown Ypsilanti this holiday season. It’s called Digital Inclusion (DI), and it’s the most recent outgrowth of a program that started half a dozen years ago to get computer systems into the hands of folks on the wrong side of the digital divide. And, if the pop-up goes well, they may try to find a way to keep a store open downtown permanently. Not only do they sell steeply discounted, previously-owned systems to low-income and at-risk Ypsilantians, and provide low-cost to no-cost technical support, but the work of refurbishing these computers is done by local Ypsi youth under the guidance of EMU students. Following is my conversation with Jack Bidlack, the director of The B. Side, the entity that oversees the program.

      digitalinclusion1MARK: What can you tell us about Digital Inclusion?

      JACK: Digital Inclusion is a refurbished computer equipment retailer and technical training social enterprise operated by The B. Side (The Business Side of Youth). We are very excited to have just opened a pop-up storefront at 10 North Washington, in downtown Ypsilanti. The store will be open until December 17, 2014, and then we’ll evaluate what we were able to accomplish, and think about what we want to do next.

      MARK: So the pop-up could lead to a more permanent presence in the community at some point?

      JACK: It’s possible. We see the pop-up as a relatively safe and easy way to see what kind of impact we can have by operating a store in the community.

      MARK: And it’s youth-run retail operation?

      JACK: Our day-to-day store operations people, and our youth trainers, are all Eastern Michigan University students. Most of them are pursuing degrees in technology-related fields. DI provides them the opportunity to work and train (be the instructor) area youth, as well as be responsible for the success of a social enterprise developed to assisting those most in need. We have had, and are always looking for, volunteers, but a paid core student staff ensures the stability of Digital Inclusion.

      MARK: So, EMU students are running DI, but the folks doing the work of restoring computers, installing software, etc, are young people from the community?

      Chris n MikeJACK: Well, it’s a combination of both. When we’re running training programs, youth from the community provide the bulk of the work, and, when we aren’t, our EMU students do the work. No matter what, the EMU students working at DI do the final check up and approval of the computer before it can be sold.

      MARK: So, on a few different levels, you’re teaching job skills, while at the same time making relatively low-cost computers, and computer support, available to members of the community who might not otherwise be able to afford it?

      JACK: Yes. DI was developed to bridge the “digital divide” – the technology gap – that predominantly impacts those in low-income areas of Washtenaw County. By training youth from those areas, we’re helping to bridge that gap. During their DI training, these young people learn to repair and troubleshoot computers, which, in turn, produces functional refurbished systems. Those computers can then be sold at very affordable prices, generating money that can support our training programs, and more. We market these refurbished computers primarily to those most in need; low-income households, disabled individuals, the elderly, etc. In order to continue our work, however, we will sell to anyone.

      MARK: And, these participants are also getting entrepreneurial exposure… They’re learning how to run a small business…

      JACK: Right. Our hope is that going through the DI program gives these young people more options. And we’re always encouraging them in their entrepreneurial endeavors. They now have a skill and some unique knowledge. So, instead of just mowing lawns or shoveling snow, they might consider clearing up viruses and replacing hardware for people. We’ve even had youth that have purchased the refurbished computers at a discount and resold them on their own. What can we say? I mean, we’re teaching them to be entrepreneurs, right?

      photo 1MARK: Are the young people who participate compensated in any way?

      JACK: Youth that go through the DI training program receive 40 to 55 hours of computer hardware and software training depending on their program track. A unique feature of the DI training program is that graduating youth also receive a $150 DI store credit. They can use this to get a complete system, or apply it to reduce the price of a more costly computer.

      This is important because it impacts the youth in two ways. First, it provides them with access to a computer in their own home – helping to bridge the digital divide. And, second, it gives them a computer so that they can continue to practice what they’ve learned.

      MARK: So, what can young people expect to learn when they enter the program?

      JACK: The training covers both PC and MAC systems and includes the areas of: Computer Basics and Hardware, Troubleshooting, Operating Systems, Software and Updates, Security, Networking and Wireless Connectivity, Customer Service, Peer-to-Peer Training Opportunities, Community Outreach and Engagement.

      MARK: What other benefits have you seen from running the program?

      JACK: Through DI, we’re exposing low-income and at-risk youth to both college students and the EMU campus. We’ve seen a great number of the youth grow and come to the understanding that college is something that they’re interested in, and that they could see themselves on this campus. Many of them build lasting relationships with the EMU student trainers, who are always available through DI for follow-up questions, support and advice.

      GroupMARK: What else can you tell me about the young people who are participating?

      JACK: As I mentioned before, the majority of the youth that go through the DI program are from low-income households, or have been designated as “at risk”. Last summer, however, we also started offering paid training courses through Washtenaw Community College (WCC), which we will offer again in the new year and next summer. These paid training courses are simply another way to reach more youth and to provide additional revenue streams to support our Digital Inclusion efforts. Ultimately, the training of youth provides an opportunity for residents of Washtenaw County to receive no-cost to low-cost technical support, and for our youth to potentially generate their own income.

      MARK: How many kids can participate at any one time?

      JACK: In our current space, we can have up to 16 youth in a training session. On average, we have about 8-10 per cohort, but we are often running multiple course schedules.

      MARK: What was the origin of the idea?

      JACK: The original vision for Digital Inclusion, also previously known as I-Zoom, came from a think tank of Washtenaw County non-profits and staff. The group applied and received a grant from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation (AAACF) to pilot a computer refurbishment and training program for youth. The B. Side was selected to develop, test and operate this pilot program. We launched DI on October 18, 2008. The B. Side and Washtenaw County saw a greater opportunity for success, and therefore had The B. Side take over the entire program after the first year of operation. After operating this pilot program for 2.5 years, The B. side eventually created a sustainable model and started generating enough funds to support the current program efforts. DI’s main storefront is housed on the campus of EMU in the College of Technology at 105 Sill Hall and can be reached at 734-487-8070 or at

      MARK: So it started as a strictly educational program, and, at some point, it was decided to add the retail component in an attempt to make the program self-sufficient, and to give the young participants experience running a business?

      JACK: Yeah, kind of sort of. We knew that refurbished computers would be a byproduct of the training, and originally we knew that we could provide affordable technology to those in need, but it was important to create sustainability. Because The B. Side’s core focus is entrepreneurship, it only made sense to turn Digital Inclusion into a social enterprise – a business that has a primary mission to make a social impact through its efforts.

      The business would be a major factor in creating sustainability, and, yes, provided the perfect backdrop to teach both EMU students and youth on how to develop, manage and operate a business.

      MARK: Where do you get your computers from?

      JACK: The vast majority of computers are donated. We look for and build relationships with organizations like EMU, Washtenaw County, Toyota Tech Center, Dominos, etc to get batch donations. Most importantly, this makes our equipment costs very low, but it also provides us with multiple systems that have the same specs and setup. This reduces the costs and confusion that can be caused by receiving single computer donations. Not that we are opposed to individual donations, but we have to be very mindful of the potential value of the donation, so typically we stick to laptops only. All donations, by the way, receive the tax benefits for donating to a 501c3 charitable organization.

      MARK: So, if someone has a laptop to donate, or knows of an opportunity for a bulk corporate donation of desktop units, who should they talk with?

      JACK: They can contact me directly at or call our office at 734-487-6570. We appreciate all the support we have received thus far and are always looking for new partners and supporters.

      photo 1smMARK: So, what are the metrics that you point to when you tell people about the program? How many young people have gone through your training program? How many computers have been refurbished? How many have made it into the homes of those in low-income areas? And how much money have you made by way of sales?

      JACK: Over the past 6 years Digital Inclusion has achieved the following:

      Youth Trained: 137
      EMU Students Employed: 23
      # of Computers refurbished & distributed: 521
      Grants, Contracts & Revenue Generated: $165,000


      MARK: And I hear that you won an award not too long ago…

      JACK: Yes, we won a second place $15,000 “emerging organization” award in the Pure Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge on June 18, 2013. It was good to have the validation. The competition allowed us to see how we stacked up with those creating and running other social enterprises, and proved to be a turning point for the vision of what we think DI can become.

      MARK: So, you do you think you might have a permanent presence downtown?

      JACK: That’s our hope. It would not only benefit the community, but EMU as well. In addition, we’re exploring how to expand the DI model to other communities throughout the state, so that we can really make an impact on bridging the digital divide.

      Posted in entrepreneurism, Local Business, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments


        Krampus ad BUY LOCAL... or shop at Amazon through this link Banner Initiative Jeff Clark