Excited to Be Angry

Excited to Be Angry

It seems counterintuitive, but it seems most of us like to be angry. This was kind of proved out by the whistleblower congressional testimony last week. Facebook has tweaked their algorithms to take advantage of this — the more angry users are, the more they engage, the greater the profits.

Conversely, it’s not counterintuitive at all that most of us very much enjoy being on the winning team. (You diehard Lions fans are very difficult to explain.)

So as our congressional redistricting maps here in Michigan are starting to be revealed, we find ourselves caring less about the process, the fairness, the idea that they will provide an accurate reflection of our best interests as a whole and more about the possibility that we can either get really ticked off or revel in sticking it to the other team. And we wonder why our young republic can seem so fragile.


Roughly 1 in 100

Roughly 1 in 100

So many great scenes in the film, Good Will Hunting. One of my favorites (often overlooked) is near the end when Sean (the psychiatrist played by Robin Williams) reconciles with his friend, Jerry (the mathematician played by Stellan Skarsgård). As they leave Sean’s office, they acknowledge their vast differences — Sean, a working class Southie, Jerry, a pretentious academic — and decide to go get a drink. Sean offers to pay, waving a lottery ticket.

Sean: C’mon, this one’s on me. I’ve got the winner right here, pal.

Jerry: Aw…

Sean: Yes sir, this is the one. This is my ticket to paradise.

Jerry: Sean, do you know what the odds are against winning the lottery?

Sean: What, 4 to 1?

Jerry: (laughs) About 70 million to 1.

Sean: Well, I still have a shot.

Of course Sean is well aware that the odds are not 4 to 1. But he throws out that number knowing Jerry knows exactly what the odds are (and to get a laugh). 

A headline in the Detroit Free Press this week read: “400 at Henry Ford Health quit over mandate.” About 400 workers have walked off the job at Henry Ford Health System rather than take a required COVID-19 vaccine. Which sounds like a lot and rather harsh. But another 1,900 received exemptions. And this out of a total of 33,000 employees in a system highly responsible for public health. So does leading with “400” tell the real story?

Point is, aside from highly trained mathematicians and self-taught geniuses, we humans are famously not very good with numbers. Well, large numbers. They can be too abstract to truly understand. To read that nearly 700,000 have died in the US from COVID-19 or that over 3 million have been hospitalized, it’s really difficult to, you know, picture it. So whenever possible, we chunk information into manageable sizes. And all the better if those manageable sizes support the narrative we want to believe.

What are the chances that all of you are going to agree with me on this? Oh, I’d say about 110 percent.


It’s Mostly Our Fault, But We’re not Gonna Help You

As part of the auto insurance reform legislation that went into effect last year, payments were reduced for home care agencies serving those severely injured in auto accidents. However, the payments were cut below the cost for those agencies to function, so they have been shutting down operations in Michigan. The remaining ones are expected to close in October and November. Which means, those severely injured and highly immobile individuals are having to face the prospect of losing in-home care and navigating our health care system for help.

As Michigan Radio reported this week, people injured in catastrophic auto accidents, their families, and their home care agency providers came to the state Capitol on Tuesday, hoping to convince Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey to fix the crisis caused by the auto insurance law. But Shirkey said he is still waiting for “data” before he decides if the law needs to be ”tweaked.”

This from a guy who earlier this year tweeted this out to punctuate the GOP’s 2021 priorities for a healthier Michigan:

“The #MISenateGOP believe every Michigander deserves the opportunity to live and prosper in a safe, healthy community. We are committed to building on opportunities to give Michigan families and communities greater peace of mind about the future.”

Home care agencies will all be closed by November. Bills have been introduced to take action, but no hearings have been scheduled. People are obviously suffering. Some have already died. What kind of data is he waiting for? What does he mean by “tweak”?

The truth is, if we were a civilized country and had functional universal health care, we wouldn’t be dependent on our state Legislature and the likes of Mike Shirkey for patches on workarounds. Of course, the likes of Mike Shirkey is why we don’t have functional universal health care.


Child Care Support in Michigan…Finally!

Child Care Support in Michigan...Finally!

First, credit where credit is due: the Michigan legislature and the Whitmer administration came together to create a budget for next year that does in fact significantly increase funding for child care in Michigan. As reported by Bridge Michigan:

The budget allocates $1.4 billion in federal COVID relief funds to help support child care providers, bring down costs and expand subsidies to another 105,000 Michigan families. The budget also includes $30 million for a one-time $1,000 bonus for child care staffers.

Of course it was relatively easy to do because of the boatload of federal funds. But still, they did it. And ahead of an October 1 default deadline. (Note to Mitch McConnell: This is how grown-ups work together to avoid financial defaults.)

So I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but the self-congratulations from Whitmer, Shirkey, and the lot are a bit hard to take. Specifically because, as later noted in the Bridge Michigan article, Michigan currently helps families with child care costs less than almost any state. (When Mississippi has been kicking your butt, it’s time for some soul searching.) Here’s hoping the 2022 budget is the start of a continued investment in supporting Michigan families and businesses, not a one-time bonus.


Crazy Weather

Crazy Weather

I was over at my folks’ house this week and the news on the TV was showing clips of the latest devastation suffered in Louisiana. I joked with my Mom, “Aren’t you glad now you and Dad decided against buying that retirement home in the bayou?” She gave a little chuckle but then also grimaced at the very idea. Louisiana is one of the last places on earth she would ever want to live. She has never been able to tolerate heat and humidity, and those are pretty much the main ingredients there.

But as I watched more, my little joke got less and less funny. Louisiana has now endured Hurricanes Ida and Nicholas in a two week span. The flooding and damage have been biblical. And hurricane season is not over.

It is true that we’ve experienced some quirky weather patterns here in Michigan recently. And I hesitate to call them “quirky” because they have caused some very real damage. But they hardly rate relative to what has been going on along the Gulf Coast. Thankfully.

Makes you wonder if maybe our scientific community has looked into this. You know, tried to figure out why storms are becoming more violent and more frequent, and what we might be able to do about it. Yep, sure makes you wonder… (That’s also a joke that gets less and less funny).


News Media vs Social Media

News Media vs Social Media

In the olden days (you know, only a couple of decades ago), editorial cartoonists could draw a guy in a frumpled suit and trench coat wearing a fedora with a card reading “PRESS” sticking out of the band to represent the news media. Maybe holding a pencil and notepad. Or a camera with an absurdly large flash. And it would be universally recognized as a journalist. Well, a newspaper reporter, but those were pretty much the same thing.

Nowadays, none of that is nearly as clear cut. So for the cartoon, I drew a person dressed in general work attire and labeled her “News Media.” This leaves an uncomfortable amount of room for interpretation. What I intended by “news media” is straight-up journalism, reporting, the sharing of information as observed by a trained professional. What I didn’t intend was cable news, talking heads, carnival barkers, and the like. Unfortunately, those are often conflated, which is one of the reasons why the media in general is held in such low regard.

Conversely, my demonic “Social Media” guy is probably too specific. I mean, social media also includes pithy memes and cat videos, and I think those are lovely. But it has proven itself to be by far the best spreader of disinformation that the world has ever seen, and that’s the part that isn’t so lovely.


Labor Day

Labor Day

This is really just a silly cartoon intended as a hopeful reminder that (1) it’s Labor Day, (2) Labor Day is for honoring and celebrating working folks, and (3) it’d be nice to give them a break, especially a year and a half into a pandemic.

So if you find yourself upset by, say, being served some less than crispy french fries over the weekend, consider channeling your anger elsewhere. And if you can find a memorial for labor leaders of the past, that may provide some additional perspective.


Supporting Locally Produced Products

Supporting Locally Produced Products

The goal in Michigan has been for 70% of us 16 and older to have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. As of this week, the rate is at 65.2%, which is below that national rate of 73%. So what’s holding us back?

Well, lots of things. Access was a huge problem at the start and still is, especially in Detroit. There continues to be, of course, a great deal of fear ginned up by disinformation campaigns. And there have been functional concerns like for folks working paycheck to paycheck who can’t afford to take a sick day in case they have a reaction.

It’s not for a lack of promotion. The governor and the health department have been consistent in the messaging on the benefits of vaccination both in terms of personal and economic health. And the state has gone to additional lengths. This week an Oakland County woman won the $2 million grand prize in the final round of drawings of the MI Shot to Win COVID-19 vaccine sweepstakes. The Protect Michigan Commission just named nine young winners of $50,000 college scholarships.

What else can we do? Time to take it to the next level and appeal to our pride. A great deal of the Pfizer vaccine is produced in facilities in the Kalamazoo area. If we can tie into the same satisfaction we get from enjoying other locally produced products — fresh fruit, craft beer, pickup trucks, etc. — maybe we can get that vaccination rate to where it needs to be.


C’mon Think People, Think!

C'mon Think People, Think!

Details from the 2020 US Census were released last week, and while Michigan as a whole did better than the last decade, we didn’t do great. Meager growth in population was not enough to avoid losing a congressional seat. Equally important, low population growth means less federal support, which means less money for us. And while some slow-growth states like Kentucky seem to be adept at pulling in more resources than they contribute to these United States, that’s never been a core competency for Michigan.

What to do? What to do? Well, answers may lay in the stats. Let’s start on the rural side. All of the UP’s counties lost population (with Luce Country down 19.5%). Except for one — Houghton County, which managed to gain 2%, largely in thanks to the city of Houghton, which is home to my alma mater, Michigan Tech and the students it attracts.

There was an even wider variance among Michigan cities. Dearborn gained 12% while Flint dropped 20.7% of its population. In a more apples-to-apples comparison, the Detroit enclave of Highland Park lost 23.8% of its people, while neighboring enclave Hamtramck gained 26.8%.

What’s a common denominator? The counties and cities that gained did so by attracting immigrants — newcomers looking to establish new lives and grow communities, many not native-born US citizens, some refugees seeking a chance at a decent and safe life.

So how can Michigan best grow its population (I mean, before everybody gets thirsty and comes here looking for plentiful fresh water)? The same way we grew before: through waves of immigration and migration. And I can’t think of a group of people more eager and perfectly suited to become new Michiganders than the refugees currently motivated to escape from Afghanistan.



Why Do You Have to Make It Political?

Why Do You Have to Make It Political?

I feel like we’re at an advanced level of disinformation — where disinformation can now not only obscure the truth, it can completely replace it.

Case in point (and quoting from a Detroit Free Press story): 

The highest ranking elected Republican in Michigan expects to skip a popular policy conference on Mackinac Island this year because of the organizer mandating attendees be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said the Detroit Regional Chamber “cowed to political science rather than embrac(ing) actual science” by mandating vaccines to attend the Mackinac Policy Conference. The statement contradicts the results of a recent study that indicates the previously infected who remain unvaccinated are at least twice as likely to get COVID-19 again as someone who is vaccinated.

Shirkey does not just imply but openly claims that science is on his side. What he is arguing, of course, has nothing “science” about it — he’s just using the word. But if he can use “science” as his own — just say, “this is science” — then he apparently wins.

Similarly, if you accuse somebody of being political, but you yourself are the one that introduced politics into the discussion, you apparently win that, too.

Please note that I’ve appropriated “winning” here to mean “everybody ends up losing.”

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