Detroit and Michigan

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Band of Horses at The Fillmore, Detroit, October 22, 2010

Lisa and I went to see Band of Horses at The Fillmore in Detroit.  It was a fun show to attend together because we've both grown to love their music over the last year or so.  The first opening band was The Besnard Lakes.  They were OK, but I grew tired of the falsetto vocals.  Next came Jenny and Johnny.  It wasn't long before I was missing The Besnard Lakes because at least they were kind of interesting...while Jenny and Johnny seemed boring.  We were paying more attention to updates about the Dow vs. Midland High football game that were coming in via text message and Twitter.  Finally, BOH took the stage.  We were sitting up in the mezzanine, so we were a bit far away.  Lisa wished we had been standing down on the floor, but I was glad to be sitting (because I'm getting old and grouchy). The last couple songs of the Band of Horses set featured The Detroit Party Marching Band.  Here are a few videos from the show courtesy of YouTube:

"Is There A Ghost" (incomplete)

"The Funeral"

"No One's Gonna Love You"

"The First Song"

"The General Specific"

There's a Neo-Nazi Rally Coming to Town on Saturday... what to do?

Last week I saw a news story mentioning a neo-Nazi rally scheduled for Saturday afternoon in downtown Midland:

Randy G. Gray II...will express his views on issues such as free speech, due process and the “illegal invasion” at a rally from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, July 31, on the steps of the Midland County Courthouse.

Gray made headlines in 2008 when he was elected a Republican precinct delegate but was barred from assuming the post after he appeared in Ku Klux Klan regalia, protesting the election of President Barack Obama, on the streets of Midland.

The rally is sponsored by a group informally known as Citizens Against Out of Control Government, Gray said.

Speakers from the Christian Identity movement ("white Western European people are the only true children of God") and the National Socialist Movement (“fighting for white civil rights") will also participate.

I'd like to think the rally would be a dud due to lack of interest, but it's being promoted on white supremacist web sites and Michigan has a long history of white supremacist activity.  In fact, the National Socialist Movement is based in Detroit and has been organizing rallies across the country (with a focus on illegal immigration).  You might have heard about the event they organized in downtown Los Angeles a few months back that turned violent:

There was a brief flare-up of violence when a man removed his shirt revealing tattoos that featured Nazi lightning bolts, which some in the crowd deemed offensive.

Counter-protestor James Lafferty, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, said he saw the tattooed man punched and kicked as a plainclothes officer dragged him behind police lines. Blood could be seen at the base of his neck, Lafferty said.

As the rally ended, counter-protestors hurled rocks, branches and other items over the police line toward the neo-Nazis.

Thinking about the event coming up Saturday, I realized that I don't know the best way to respond.  Ignore it and avoid downtown on Saturday?  An "in-your-face" counter-demonstration like L.A.?  Neither of those seems right to me.

What's the best way to respond?

Update 2010-07-27:

The consensus of the Facebook is to ignore them:

Unfortunately it is costing the tax payers of the City of Midland and Midland County alot in preparation for what hopefully will be a non event. Hopefully he will be ignored and those in the media and in opposition to his "beliefs" won't give him the satisfaction of attending.

Encourage your newspaper not to print a story about it every day like they did here in Howell about a nazi memoribilia auction in town. If the media had ignored the auction, it would have been a non-event. There will probably be less in attendance than you think, even though it's in Michigan where we have a "history" of white supremists.

The best thing to do is not to go. They are looking for a fight. The ADL should be contacted if they have not been already. The ADL will keep an monitor the people involved.

I think the best thing is not to go. The more attention they get, the more they think they are spreading their message and becoming relevant.

Update 2010-07-30:

There was a follow-up comment on FB that I forgot to add here. It's the kind of thing I was trying to think of...though I was thinking less about diversion and more about something harmless yet annoying to the rally attendees...a Yes-Men- or Improv-Everywhere-style prank or something...:

I have a new, improved idea. What we need to do is create a diversion. Not a counter-rally -- because that would draw more attention to them -- but a crazy, wild diversion that would draw lots of attention away. Something like a huge, naked Zoomba class outside by the Tridge........

Update 2010-07-31:

It sounds like the crowds were small. I haven't heard any reports of naked Zoomba.

White supremacist rally in Midland draws strong opinions, small crowds

First Day of Spring 2010 in Michigan

Link to Vimeo (also on YouTube)

How Not to Defend Your City's Reputation

Saginaw, MI, was recently named the most violent city per capita in the U.S. (link), keeping alive its 6-year run at the top.  Flint, Detroit, and Pontiac all made the top 11.  The news about Saginaw sparked a couple of local college students to publish the following comic in Delta College’s student newspaper:

Delta Collegiate Cartoon

From the Saginaw News (link):

The comic in question depicts a person making visits to Midland, Bay City and Saginaw. After receiving gifts of art and alcohol in Midland and Bay City, the character travels to Saginaw and is handed a bag of drugs by a man in a black mask.

“Welcome to downtown Saginaw. We have the most violent crimes in the U.S.,” the comic strip reads. “Here’s a bag of drugs to thank you for stopping by.”

In the next frame, the masked man pulls out a knife and says: “OK, now give me all your money ... and drugs.”

Among those outraged by the illustration is Rev. Larry Camel, co-founder of the city outreach group, Parishioners on Patrol.

“It’s very negative,” Camel said. “We’re going to be talking out about it because it’s racist. It’s really a slam on Saginaw.”

Camel said the black bag slung over the cartoon criminal’s head represents black people.

Marchlewski Bachleda pointed out that, while the bag is black, there is no color in the criminal’s skin.

Camel said he and other religious leaders in Saginaw may visit Delta on Thursday to address the issue.

“We want to nip this in the bud,” he said. “We don’t want this reputation.”

Hmmm.  The F.B.I. has named you America's most violent city 6 years in a row, and you're worried a comic in a college newspaper might ruin your rep?  Well then, raise a ruckus.  What do you know?  The story ends up featured in the popular online column of The Wall Street Journal's James Taranto (link) and thousands of readers across the nation read about your dubious honor from the F.B.I.  Yep, your reputation is safe now.

Detroit (Half) Marathon 2009

Last Sunday I ran a half marathon in Detroit for the second time.  I hadn’t trained as much this year and had put on a few extra pounds, so I wasn’t expecting to improve on last year’s snail’s pace.  I was slower and ended up in the bottom 5 % of my age group.  At least improving next year shouldn’t be too hard.

Here’s a collection of video clips (the shaking sound while I’m running is the bag of M&Ms in my pocket that I eventually lost at some point):

And here are some photos:

20091018-005128 waiting for the start

20091018-005138 waiting for the start

20091018-013258 onto the Ambassador Bridge…a nice view as the sun was rising

20091018-014243 off of the Ambassador Bridge

20091018-022755 in the tunnel

20091018-032010 not sure what this guy was doing

20091018-034339 in sight of the finish

20091018-035202 afterwards

Greater Love Has No One Than This

A couple stories with a common theme caught my attention last week.

First, from the December 6 installment of The Writer's Almanac:

And it was on this day in 1917 that an accidental explosion destroyed a quarter of the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia. It was the height of World War I, and Halifax was serving as an important port city for many of the ships carrying supplies for the battlefront. One of the ships coming into the port that day was a French supply ship called the Mont Blanc, carrying 200 tons of TNT, 2300 tons of other explosives, as well as ten tons of cotton, and thirty-five tons of highly flammable chemicals stored in vats on the ship's upper deck. On its way into port, the Mont Blanc collided with a Norwegian freighter, which started a fire, and the crew of the Mont Blanc piled into lifeboats and then paddled frantically away.

The fire on the Mont Blanc drew a crowd of onlookers along the shore of the channel. The docks filled with spectators, trams slowed down, people stood at office windows and on factory roofs to see the blaze. Then, a few minutes after the fire had started, the Mont Blanc exploded. It was the single most powerful man-made explosion at that point in human history.

The blast wave of water hit the shore, sweeping away buildings, bridges, roads, vehicles, and people. City streets split open. Houses, churches, schools, and factories collapsed. Virtually every building in the city had its windows broken. About a quarter of the city, was completely destroyed. More than 2,000 people were killed and more than 9,000 were injured. It was the worst disaster of any kind in Canadian history.

One of the only people who had known about the cargo of the ship was a dispatcher at the yardmaster's office. As soon as he'd realized what was happening, he began telegraphing warnings around the city, and he kept sending out warnings even though he knew that an explosion could come at any minute. He died at his post.

It was the dispatcher that caught my attention.  He knew about the explosive cargo, knew an explosion was imminent, but chose to stay at his post where he died while warning others about the danger.

Then I read a story about a 7-year-old girl in Detroit who put her body between her mom and an enraged gunman and took 6 bullets while shielding her mom from harm.

Alexis Goggins, a first-grader at Campbell Elementary School, is in stable condition at Children's Hospital in Detroit recovering from gunshot wounds to the eye, left temple, chin, cheek, chest and right arm.

"She is an angel from heaven," said Aisha Ford, a family friend for 15 years who also was caught up in the evening of terror.

The girl's mother, Selietha Parker, 30, was shot in the left side of her head and her bicep by a former boyfriend, who police said was trying to kill Parker. The gunman was disarmed by police and arrested at the scene of the shooting, a Detroit gas station. Police identified him as Calvin Tillie, 29, a four-time convicted felon whom Parker had dated for six months.

A benefit fund has been set up for Alexis.

These stories, of course, reminded me of the verse from John 15:13:

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

It made we ponder whether or not I, if placed in that sort of situation, would be paralyzed or if I could on the spur of the moment give my life for a family member or a stranger.  I don't know, but I thought these two serve as great examples.


Saturday night we went to dinner with Prentice and Jaclyn at Mitchell's Fish Market in Livonia.  Here are some photos of Prentice, Chewy, and me.




Fall Harvest Festival

The weekend before last we spent a few hours at the Fall Harvest Festival at the Chippewa Nature Center.  Some of the more memorable observations were of the guy scraping and preparing the skin of a bear that had been killed in the UP a few days before, Prairie Pete and Miss Sarah portraying early Michigan settlers, and the folks plowing the field with plows pulled by oxen.  We learned that the difference between cows and oxen is that oxen have been trained to pull the plow.

Here are a couple photos of the boys helping to back apple butter.



Midland Daily News

Recently, our local newspaper The Midland Daily News took some heat when a couple of robberies at ATMs that occurred on Tuesday and Thursday did not appear in the paper until Saturday. This situation was interpreted by some as further confirmation that the MDN tends to downplay negative news in order to perpetuate the appearance that life in Midland is more perfect than it really is. The newspaper's editor responded with an explanation that, although less disturbing than the speculation, was not exactly reassuring: the staff member who would normally handle this subject is on maternity leave and a "failure to communicate" prevented the reporters who are filling in for her from doing so adequately.

Before any of this happened, I had already decided not to renew my subscription to the paper. For one reason, I prefer to read the news online anyway. Lisa doesn't. She likes to flip through the paper, but she didn't protest too much when I pulled out the "it's a waste of paper" secret weapon. What pushed me to really want to get rid of it, though, was the MDN's reporting on the proposed coal-fired plant. As one critic put it in the context of the ATM robbery omission:

There is a reason this robbery wasn't reported on Friday as it should have been ... MDN doesn't do investigative reporting. They report what is fed to them and that's exactly what local governments do, they feed the MDN what they are willing to let be reported...

The first couple articles in the MDN about the proposed power plant were published in February and June. They do kind of read like press releases from LS Power. You'd think they could have dug up some info from the other side of the story in the 4 months between the first article and the second. An article about an open house that the company held included a resident of Arizona (in Midland for the summer) as one of the people they interviewed (most of them making positive comments). An article later in June was another showcase for LS Power, including several colorful and informative graphics. An article at the end of June covered a planning commission hearing about some rezoning issues related to the power plant. There is a brief mention of concerns about the power plant in the lengthy article. I can't find the article online describing the outcome of the July 10 planning commission vote. Apparently, as we learned later, the paper misreported the outcome of the meeting (more on that later). In August the paper published a lengthy article about the outcome of the city council meeting that addressed the zoning issues. That article again quotes a few of the folks who voiced concerns at the meeting. The city council went against the recommendation of the planning commission and approved electrical generating stations as a "by right" use of the rezoned land instead of "conditional use". The paper's article made it sound like the planning commission made two recommendations and the council acted in agreement with one of them. Instead, the motion that the planning commission recommend "by right" use did not pass but "conditional use" did. Lisa argued with the paper's editor about this because she thought it was significant. Eventually he agreed to print a correction though he didn't really consider it to be significant. The paper also printed her letter to the editor, though it never appeared online.

Contrast MDN's coverage with that of the Bay City times concerning similar power plants proposed for Bay City. An article in July gives a great deal of info regarding the debate concerning the environmental aspects of coal plants. In the last few days, Consumer's Energy has officially announced that Hampton Township was the chosen location for their proposed plant. One article reported the announcement and gave lots of detailed coverage of the complex issues regarding "clean coal." Another article used Q & A to allow the power plant officials to make their case. Then, a couple days later, another article examines the environmental issues in detail and informs that Consumer's Energy and LS Power are effectively in a race to see who can get their plant approved first since the other is likely to face more strict environmental restrictions.

I suspect that Jeff Kart, author of most of the relevant Bay City Times articles, is considered a thorn in the side of power industry officials. I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't consider his reporting balanced. In my opinion, it's been excellent, giving both sides of the argument their due. My subscription to the MDN won't be renewed this year.

Lisa's Letter to the Editor

I haven't seen it yet nor has it appeared online, but I'm told that my letter to the editor appeared in Friday's Midland Daily News. For more information about the fight against coal in Midland, check out the website of the grassroots organization MidlandCARES.

Dear Editor,

I am writing to express my concern with the coal plant proposed for Midland by Mid-Michigan Energy, an affiliate of the LS Power and Dynegy. The Midland plant is proposed to use conventional pulverized coal technology instead of the newest gasification technology called IGCC. Through large ads found in this paper and public comment made by the power plant representatives, Mid-Michigan Energy contends that IGCC technology is not an option for the Midland plant for three main reasons: poor reliability, higher emissions, and cost. I would like to take this opportunity to inform our community of what the MDEQ thinks of IGCC technology. In a document titled "Fact Sheet: Environmental Permitting of Coal Fired-Power plants in Michigan" made public by the MDEQ on their website this summer, the following statements were made regarding IGCC technology:

"The availability and reliability of IGCC facilities has been steadily increasing, and new IGCC facilities have reliabilities comparable to conventional coal-fired power plants."

"Mercury control on IGCC plants is significantly more effective than mercury control on conventional coal-fired power plants. IGCC has superior sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and mercury control, resulting in significantly lower emissions of these pollutants compared to conventional coal-fired facilities."

"With the advent of climate change as a national issue, the ability to capture and sequester carbon emissions has become a concern related to coal-fired power plants. As an outfall to these considerations, it has been noted that Michigan has unique geological formations which could make carbon sequestration in Michigan both economically and technically advantageous. IGCC has a much higher potential for carbon capture than conventional facilities. As climate change strategies are implemented, these considerations will serve to offset IGCC's higher capital and operating costs in Michigan more than in other locations."

Document can be found here.

I urge Mid-Michigan Energy to explain to our community why their information seems to contradict that of so many other sources, including the MDEQ. I am skeptical of supporting a new coal power plant in Midland that will not be using the best technology to control emissions. At least thirteen IGCC plants are already proposed across the nation. In the Great Lakes Region alone, at least three IGCC plants have recently received permits or are in the last stages of the permitting process.

Why would our community willingly settle for old conventional coal technology while so many other cities are moving forward embracing the future?

BTW, I spoke directly to the MDEQ Lead Engineer who drafted the document mentioned above to clarify what was meant by "conventioanl coal plant". He said that "conventional coal plant" describes any pulverized coal plant - subcritical, supercritical, and even ultra-critical. So the above statements certainly show the superiority of IGCC to even the cleanest possible pulverized coal plant.

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