He was a big freak

One of the best things about Fathers Day each year is that Linette invariably breaks out a mixed tape that she made for me several years ago that contains the Betty Davis song He was a Big Freak. It’s the only time I ever hear the song, and it always makes me incredibly happy. I’m tempted to listen to it more often, but I really love the fact that, every year, it just comes out of nowhere and catches me completely by surprise.

Here, for those of you who have never heard the album They Say I’m Different, is Davis’s unintended the Fathers Day anthem.

One last thing… If you’re looking for a good Fathers Day tradition, you’re welcome to borrow this one. There’s nothing better than being served overdone scrambled eggs by your kids while Betty Davis screams “He was a big freak… I used to beat him with a turquoise chain” in the background. Trust me on this… It may not be the most traditional of Fathers Day anthems, but it beats Cats in the Cradle.

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Promising to remove the Confederate flag is good first step after over 50 years, but let’s not be so quick to praise the people of South Carolina

It looks like the Confederate flag, which has flown over the state capitol in South Carolina since 1962, a year after Alabama Governor George Wallace raised it on the grounds of the state legislature in Alabama to signify his dedication to the principles of segregation, may finally be coming down. Nikki Haley, South Carolina’s Republican Governor, had the following to say at a press conference late this afternoon, standing alongside several black members of the South Carolina legislature and fellow South Carolinian, presidential hopeful Lindsey Graham. “Today, we are here in a moment of unity in our state, without ill will, to say it is time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds,” she said. “One hundred fifty years after the end of the Civil War, the time has come.”

This, of course, comes just days after a young white gunman entered the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston and proceeded to take the lives of nine men and women engaged in Bible study.

Given how people on the right, in the immediate aftermath of the murders, did their best to suggest that the killings were not racially motivated, I wouldn’t have imagined that now, just a few days later, we’d be talking about the removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the South Carolina capitol. It’s amazing, however, how quickly the political winds can change direction in this era of ubiquitous social media and 24-7 news coverage. And, now, thanks to the discovery of the suspected killer’s racist manifesto, and photos like this one, showing him posing proudly with the Confederate flag, any hint of political cover has been ripped away, and people who, just weeks ago, were talking about how this flag is more a symbol of southern heritage than an advertisement for racism, are finding themselves with no choice but to admit that perhaps it’s time to finally move on from the Civil War.

Screen shot 2015-06-22 at 8.42.14 PM

[The Confederate flag, with this image, had become completely toxic… a symbol of what this young killer had stood for.]

With the discovery of the alleged killer’s so-called manifesto, and reports that he said “I have to do it… You rape our women and you’re taking over our country, and you have to go” to his victims while reloading his gun, there was no longer any denying that his actions were motivated by a deeply held belief in white supremacy.

Knowing this, and not wanting the Confederate flag to dominate the 2016 election cycle, Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said that it had “become too divisive and too hurtful for too many of our fellow Americans.” He urged the the South Carolina legislature to remove the flag from their capitol. And all of the Republican candidates running for President, led by Jeb Bush, who, to his credit, had removed the Confederate flag from Florida’s capitol when he was Governor, joined him. They stopped downplaying the role of race in the murders, and they began joining the chorus of people demanding that it be taken down. By the time Governor Haley took the podium this afternoon, even Walmart had accepted the inevitability of it, announcing that they would be pulling all Confederate flag merchandise from their shelves.

I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but, when Governor Haley announced her intention to see the flag removed from the capital, her fellow Republicans in the South Carolina statehouse actually applauded her. [We’ll have to wait and see how they actually vote when the time comes, though.] In a state where, less than a year ago, six out of ten people still supported the flying of the Confederate flag over the capitol, this is truly an amazing change of course.

The alleged killer, according to friends, took the lives of these nine men and women in hopes that it would spark a race war. And, instead, all his actions have brought about so far is the unprecedented recognition on the part of South Carolinians, at least of the time being, that they can no longer in good conscience rally together beneath a flag that demonstrates to the rest of the world just how backward they are.

For those of you unfamiliar with the history of the Confederate flag, you should know that, despite claims to the contrary, it was never just a symbol of southern heritage. The following comes from The Week.

…(H)istory is clear: There is no revolutionary cause associated with the flag, other than the right for Southern states to determine how best to subjugate black people and to perpetuate slavery.

First sewn in 1861 — there were about 120 created for the war — the flag was flown by the cavalry of P.G.T. Beauregard, the Confederacy’s first duly appointed general, after he took Manassas, Virginia, in the first Battle of Bull Run.

After the Civil War, the flag saw limited (and quite appropriate) use at first: It commemorated the sons of the South who died during the war. We can easily forgive the families of those who died for grieving. No account of the Civil War can be complete without noting how vicious the Union army could be, and how destructive its strategy toward the end of the war had become. That the cause of the war, once the damned Union army actually invaded the South and started destroying it, came to be associated with an actual, guns-out defense of real property and liberties — mainly, the liberty not to die during a war — is not controversial. That’s what happens during wars.

But never did the flag represent some amorphous concept of Southern heritage, or Southern pride, or a legacy that somehow includes everything good anyone ever did south of the Mason-Dixon line, slavery excluded.

Fast-forward about 100 years, past thousands of lynchings in the South, past Jim Crow and Plessy v. Ferguson, past the state-sanctioned economic and political subjugation of black people, and beyond the New Deal that all too often gave privileges to the white working class to the specific exclusion of black people.

In 1948, Strom Thurmond’s States’ Rights Party adopted the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia as a symbol of defiance against the federal government. What precisely required such defiance? The president’s powers to enforce civil rights laws in the South, as represented by the Democratic Party’s somewhat progressive platform on civil rights.

Georgia adopted its version of the flag design in 1956 to protest the Supreme Court’s ruling against segregated schools, in Brown v. Board of Education.

The flag first flew over the state capitol in South Carolina in 1962, a year after George Wallace raised it over the grounds of the legislature in Alabama, quite specifically to link more aggressive efforts to integrate the South with the trigger of secession 100 years before — namely, the storming of occupied Fort Sumter by federal troops. Fort Sumter, you might recall, is located at the mouth of Charleston Harbor.

Opposition to civil rights legislation, to integration, to miscegenation, to social equality for black people — these are the major plot points that make up the flag’s recent history. Not Vietnam. Not opposition to Northern culture or values. Not tourism. Not ObamaCare. Not anything else…

Just so we’re clear, the reason the Confederate flag is coming down in South Carolina after over 50 years isn’t because conservatives finally saw the error of their ways. No, the reason the flag is coming down is that it’s relatively easy to take down a flag. [It’s sure as hell a lot easier than dealing with racism in a substantive way.] The bottom line is that the Republicans didn’t want to go into the 2016 election cycle with this flag as a backdrop. They know there’s too much on the line, as the next President will likely be replacing two justices on the Supreme Court, and they weren’t willing to sacrifice that in order to preserve a flag, no matter how much they might like it… Make no mistake. This isn’t about accepting change. This is about delaying change. This is like when a moonshiner with federal agents on his tail decides to start throwing bottles from his car in order to slow down his pursuers and make his escape.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that the flag is likely coming down, and my hope is that other good things follow from it… But, when you get right down to it, it’s just a flag. And we shouldn’t see this as a huge victory. There’s still a great deal to be done, and we can’t just walk away from the fight thinking that we’ve won. We haven’t.

[As for how the flag should be taken down, I know I said a few days ago that it should be quietly pushed down by a crowd of a million people, but now I’m thinking that we should kill two birds with one stone and launch The General Lee at it, full of explosives.]

Posted in Civil Liberties, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Being forced to contemplate my naked breasts repeatedly on Fathers Day

For Fathers Day, Linette and the kids gathered up every shirtless photo I’ve taken since Clementine’s birth and bound them together in one giant coffee table book.


For what it’s worth, they claim it’s just a coincidence, and that they hadn’t set out to find every photo in existence of my nipples. Regardless of their intention, though, that was the end result. And we now have a book downstairs in which, on every page, you can see my breasts. [It’s like “Where’s Waldo” but with my tits somewhere on every page.]

At first I was horrified, but now I’m thinking that maybe I’ll see if I can find a publisher for it.

Oh, and they also made me breakfast.

Posted in Mark's Life | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

How many people would it take push down the Confederate flag over the South Carolina Capitol?


Originally, I was thinking that we could just swarm the flag with a hundred drones outfitted with razorblades, operated from nearby vans. And I still like the visual of the Confederate flag being shredded to ribbons as police officers tried unsuccessfully to knock the drones from the sky with rocks. The more that I think about it, though, the more I think that something more human is called for. And I really like the idea of a solemn crowd bringing the flagpole down by silently pushing against it in unison. I don’t know if such a thing would be possible, though, given how these things are designed, but the idea of it just makes me so happy that I wanted to share it here and see what, if anything, might come of it.

update: Now I’m thinking that the best path forward might be to offer a bounty of some kind. Let’s say that we were able to crowdsource a reward of $10,000 for the first person to successfully either destroy the flag flying over the South Carolina Capitol, or bring down the flagpole it flutters from, without hurting anyone in the process. I’d have to think that might generate some serious thought as to how this could be accomplished. Of course, it’s probably illegal to offer a reward for someone to engage in property destruction, but maybe that’s OK.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Special Projects, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 18 Comments

The Washtenaw ID Project, Detroit Metro Times Managing Editor Michael Jackman, life in Ypsi during the Civil War, and lycra-wearing Ann Arbor ex-patriot Jim Roll …on this weekend’s episode of The Saturday Six Pack


In the wake of Alan Almond’s death earlier this week, several people wrote to me and asked if I’d consider picking up the torch, dropping my voice a few octaves, and bringing surreal, sexy jazz patter back to the Detroit metro area. And, while I’d hate to give up what we’ve created with The Saturday Six Pack, I’ve been giving it some pretty serious thought… not because I necessarily want to recite nursery rhymes breathlessly into a microphone over “the witching hour,” but because I think that a new version of Almond’s Pillow Talk might be just what’s needed to increase the population of Detroit. [God knows that people aren’t making love and getting pregnant during the decidedly non-sexy Saturday Six Pack.]

But, if there is a format change, it won’t happen for a while, as I already have the next few shows booked.

Speaking of which, here are the guests we have lined up for this weekend’s show.

Keta Cowan, the head of Synod Community Services, will be joining us to talk about the work being done through the Washtenaw ID Project to make government-issued photo identification available to all residents of Washtenaw County regardless of their immigration status, whether they might be homeless, etc., thus allowing them to do things many of us take for granted, like establish bank accounts and obtain library cards…. Michael Jackman, the managing editor of the Detroit Metro Times, will be coming in for a freewheeling conversation about politics, the changing media landscape in Detroit, his background in the underground press, his favorite Hamtramck bars, and any number of other things… Matt Siegfried, our local historian friend, will be picking the People’s History of Ypsilanti where we left off during his last visit, at the beginning of the 1850s… And Jim Roll, the main guy at Backseat Productions, who will be offering parenting tips this Fathers Day eve, justifying his all-lycra wardrobe, perhaps playing a few songs, and taking your calls.

And all of this is free on AM 1700 come 6:00 PM this Saturday.

If you’d like to tell your friends and neighbors about the program, feel free to share the Facebook event listing. Or, better yet, print out a few copies of the poster above, glue them to the sides of your children and pets, and set them loose to run around Ypsi Arbor.


Unless you live really close by, I’d recommend streaming the show online, which you can do either on the AM1700 website or by way of TuneIn.com.

And for those of you who aren’t yet familiar with the show, and need to get caught up, you can listen to the entire archive on iTunes.

One last thing. We love phone calls. So please scratch this number into the cinder block wall of the recreation room of whichever facility you’re doing time in… 734.217.8624… and call us between 6:00 and 8:00 this Saturday evening. If we don’t get at least one call per show, we feel really bad about ourselves.

Posted in Art and Culture, The Saturday Six Pack, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments


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