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Detroit and Michigan

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.

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.

Concerns about Proposed Midland Coal Power Plant

300px-Mohave_Generating_Station_1.jpgLisa has been having fun lately rabble-rousing and working against a coal-fired power plant proposed for Midland. Here's the email she sent out to friends today:

Hello friends. I hope all is well with you and your families. If you haven't already heard, Midland is entertaining the idea of a new coal power plant. Jonathan and I feel strongly that a decision such as this, having the potential to affect so many people, should be taken seriously. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lack of information out there. So if you are unfamiliar with the details, we would like to inform you so that you too can voice your opinion to the decision makers if you so desire. I have read up on the issue and I went to the company open house. Since plans seem to be proceeding so quickly in the local government, I decided to get an email out to friends with our information and concerns about it. I am including several links to articles and documents so you don't just have to take my word on it.

PLANT DETAILS The plant is proposed on land at the corner of Saginaw Rd and Gordonville Rd (Waldo) across from the fishing ramp area just south of town. According to statements made by the company, the plant will burn "pulverized coal" using the latest technology to help reduce emissions (required by law). They will be a privately owned firm that could sell its power at "wholesale rates" to clients like the Dows and Hemlock Semiconductor. They could also sell to the "grid" but would not be selling to the public. The list could include clients out of state or country. The plant will provide up to 1200 jobs during construction time (though not necessarily local bids). The plant will provide 100 permanent jobs. Here are a couple of links to the announcements and details of the proposed plant: announcement announcement OUR CONCERNS 1. Our biggest concern: We would rather see renewable energy and energy efficiency be the focus. If coal is inevitable, however, then we should insist on the cleanest and most efficient coal technology available. Midland, the City of Modern Explorers, should be a leader in this arena. The type of coal plant the company plans to build is NOT the cleanest coal plant possible. Pulverizered coal is the old technology. The company plans to "meet or exceed" all government regulations by utilizing the best technology associated with pulverized coal plants. However, a cleaner and more efficient type of coal plant that uses a technique called Intergrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) exists and is in operation today. It turns the coal into a gas before burning it, practically eliminating emissions and potentially allowing for an easier capture of carbon dioxide. This technology is cutting edge and being proposed in many other states. According to the companies that have developed and improved the IGCC, the technology is available "turn-key" and guaranteed. The start up cost for an IGCC plant is approximately 20% more (though the projection is to drop to 10% in the near future). Studies show that over the life of the plant the IGCC cost could be comparable to a pulverized coal plant, especially when considering the likely increased environmental regulations and predictable negative health effects. Here are some links, including one from last week in the Bay City Times, that discuss the difference between the two technologies. Also, if you do a google news alert for "IGCC" you will get hits daily. Link Basic facts and comparisions between pulverizered coal and IGCC Link "Clean or Clean Enough" Bay city article Link Article from Alma with interesting details about our plant compared an IGCC plant going in at Alma Link DOE report and IGCC program performance goals Link EPA report on IGCC Link Report on the economic benefits of renewable resources specific to Michigan Link Article reporting on the progress of an IGCC plant in Arizona and the responsible way those city officials are leading, taking a stand, handling their decision process. Link A very encouraging article from April 2004 on how concerned citizens in Manistee joined together to defeat a proposed coal power plant in their town. The above is our biggest concern, however, the most effective way to express concern right now would be to address the zoning issues... 2. We are opposed to rezoning Residential Land to Heavy Industrial when this parcel borders other residential land. Although not our top concern, the rezoning issue is the first step to approving the plant and a first opportunity to express concerns to the city officials. In response to LS Power's request, the Midland Planning Commission has recommended to the City Council rezone 2 parcels of land. Petition No. 542 requests a parcel that is currently "Residental A-1"and borders other residential land to be rezoned to "Heavy Industrial B". Not only would this rezoning be a large jump in rezoning categories (bypassing the "Light Industrial A"), it would also inappropriately allow for "Heavy Industrial B" to border remaining residential land. Drive down to the area. You'll see that there are several families living very close to the location. Of course, as Jonathan says, the smoke stack will spew it too high to effect these people; it's the ones in Freeland and Auburn that need to be concerned! The other petition, No. 543, to rezone light industrial to heavy industrial seems reasonable. 3. We are opposed to changing the text of the Heavy B zoning ordinance to include "electrical generating station" as a "Principle Permitted Use" (Amendment No. 144-A)....this mean any kind of electrical generating plant (coal, nuclear, wind, etc) would be permitted by right to build in any Midland Heavy B industrial Zone. The Planning Commission's recommendation to the City Council on this petition was to decline the petitioners request for "principle permitted use" in favor of an amendment that adds "electrical generating station" as a Conditional permitted use. That's good news! However, the City Council does not have to honor the Planning Commission's recommendations and instead could not include conditions. We are in support of the planning commissions recommendation for "conditional use" due to the special circumstances and obvious potential negative impacts of certain stations that fall under this category. We feel it is important for Midland to have conditions on the land permits for projects of such magnitude and scale. This "conditional use permit" is common practice and should be utilized here. Conditions could potentially include things such as the environmental/health impacts, a need for special buffers near residents or even a requirement that the best technology be used. You can watch and listen to the planning Commission's interesting discussion of this petition and Scott Gaynor's plea to add "conditional use permit" to the amendment. Link you can "jump to" zoning text amendent 144A In my opinion, this zoning text amendment is even more important than the zoning itself. If Midland gives electrical generating stations permission "by right", then we may be eliminating future opportunities to regulate what comes to Midland. Our hands will be tied so to speak. 4. Questions about LS Power practices and experiences. I have come across some interesting information about the petitioning company. They are lobbying against Renewable Energy mandates and writing "improper" letters to the Iowa state representatives threatening to withdraw contributions to the university research program if the mandate passes........sounds sleezy to me. Link In addition, LS Power has never operated a coal plant before. They have 4 coal plants in the development stage and 1 in the very early construction phase, but none in operation. The need for new jobs and more base-load energy in Michigan seems to be a well-documented fact. However, we are not convinced that a coal plant using old technology, run by a company who opposes renewable energy legislation, giving Midland a reputation that in embraces the past and not the future, creating only 100 permanent jobs, while spewing tons of pollution to our air is best for the City of Midland. Jonathan and I have written a letter to the Midland City Council expressing our concerns. If you are also concerned, we encourage you to do the same. At a minimum, please write to ask the Council to thoroughly consider the implications of their actions, to educate themselves on the topic using a variety of resources in addition to those provided by the company and to proceed slowly. For some reason they seemed rushed to get this done as evidenced by the fact the Planning Commission used only 15 of the 60 days they had to consider the rezoning and text amendment petitions. The City Council members' names and addresses are found here Link . They are to hear a "first reading" on the zoning and text amendment petitions at the July 23rd council meeting. A public hearing will most likely be held on August 13th. Letters should be sent before August 6th. I have a friend who recently spoke to one of the councilmen about this issue. After he told her of the positive aspects of plant (need for jobs in our community and energy in the state) she asked him what he thought about the potential environmental and health effects. He actually responded by saying that he had not even considered them!!!! I have no doubt that these men want what is best for our community, but they must become informed on both sides of the issues. You can encourage them to do this. If you would like a copy of the letter we sent to the City Council regarding the rezoning and text amendments to use as an example, let us know and we can email it to you. We plan to send another letter with more specific concerns about the plant itself once a site plan is put before the planning commission. The group MidlandCARES (clean and renewable energy solutions) will soon have a website full of more information at . If you have any questions or comments, please write to us. If you think we are overlooking an important point, please feel free to bring it up. Sincerely, Lisa

Anti-Wal-Mart joke perceived as threat, gets cashier fired

From an AP article of the same title in The Detroit News:

A Wal-Mart cashier who posted a joke on his MySpace Web page lost his job after the company apparently perceived it as a threat. David Noordewier, of Lapeer County's Almont Township, posted a joke that suggested average IQs would increase if a bomb were dropped on every Wal-Mart store. He said he thought it was crude, but funny. His bosses at the store in Macomb County's Shelby Township disagreed, and fired him Feb. 27.

He said he believes a co-worker who disliked him copied the MySpace page and showed it to his boss. "If you have a MySpace site, you better act like you're a politician," he said. "Be politically correct and don't try to be funny."


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