Archive for Grand Rapids Biz Journal

Michigan Economic Quiz…

Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, January 4, 2010

You know, I may have had something clever to add here about Michigan’s current economic predicament, but then, well,  there was this earthquake in Haiti and I’m mostly feeling blessed about living in Michigan at the moment….


2009 in Michigan — Pretty Brutal…

Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, December 28, 2009

Yet another invasive species is making its way to the Great Lakes, four of which make a shoreline with our beleaguered state of Michigan. This time it’s the Asian carp, a large and nasty fish that would gobble up and muscle out the native plants and creatures, which is bad enough. But they also have an alarming tendency to leap out of the water when agitated by motors — motors on the boats of, say, unsuspecting fishing enthusiasts who might then seek to avoid spending their fishing time in Michigan and spending their fishing money. What’s next? A plague of locust?


Michigan’s Ghost of Christmas Future…

Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, December 21, 2009

Sure was a fun year here in Michigan, huh? Weeeeeee!


On the Van Andel Institute Tour…

Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, December 14, 2009

In case I haven’t already made this obvious in previous efforts, I think the notion that all government is bad and ruins everything it touches is, for lack of more articulate word, dumb. Yes, many things government touches do not go well, and it is good to think through what should and should not come under its control. But it is just plain counterproductive to argue that anything “government” — especially in a constitutional republic like ours with its checks and balance and disfunctional but free press — is fundamentally bad. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the National Institutes of Health and how it is helping to fund our Van Andel Institute.


Government: of the People, by the People, for the People…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, December 7, 2009

A few years ago I was in Washington DC in July. For those of you who don’t know, DC is a swamp. Or rather, it was built in what was formerly (and, some would argue, is currently) a sweaty, steaming, thick, suffocating swamp. So if you are fool enough to go out for a run (and I was), it’s best to do it in the early morning before all the oxygen goes away. It is also a safer time to wind yourself through the city before it becomes packed with people and cars.

This particular morning I ran from the Elliot Spitzer Hotel (that’s not the real name; I can’t seem to recall it. I could Google it. It’s the hotel where Spitzer hooked up when he was in town. I tell you this because I think it’s really sad that this is what I do remember. Wow. Will future stories of Florida be relatable only through Tiger Woods references?) But I digress. I ran from the hotel, down past the White House, on to the Mall, and eventually made my way to the Lincoln Memorial just as the park workers started to allow people on to the grounds. And I was the only people.

I ran up the steps and stood dripping with sweat before the great man, just me and him. A look one side to read the Gettysburg Address chiseled into the wall. A look to the other side to read his second inauguration address. A turn to see the sun rising over the Washington Monument and the Capitol beyond. And then back to the run. I have never felt so “one” with my country. Not necessarily patriotic (which I think is best exemplified by Mel Brooks’s 2000 year-old man’s national anthem for his cave) — but a feeling that I am the United States and the United States is me.

“…and that government: of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”

So we can argue and discuss the necessary roles of our government and its optimal size, but we should not forget that it, our government, is us. Trying to disassociate ourselves with a “the dern government screws up everything” won’t work. It’s weak and cowardly. If something is screwed up, it’s because we all screwed it up. And we all better get serious about fixing it. It won’t be nice, and it won’t be easy. You can ask Abraham Lincoln about that.

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Banashed to the Kids’ Table…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, November 30, 2009

Yeah, me grousing again. Nothing wrong with that in an editorial cartoon, I suppose. But now that I look at it again, it makes me happy — that’s a young Atticus and a young Natalina with a penguin shirt in frame 4. Good heavens they were sweet. (I’m drawing Ellie in a Family comic right now, so she’ll be showing up soon.)


To Be More Like Sarah Palin…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, November 23, 2009

I’m sure you’re familiar with the term, “the power of positive thinking.” You know, the idea that if you really want something — to achieve success, to gain a position, to win a contest, whatever — that it’s just a matter of believing in yourself. It pushes you to accomplish goals you could not if you were paralyzed with self-doubt. I think positive thinking is great. Well,… mostly. Because I also think there’s a “danger of positive thinking.” Sometimes, positive thinking can lead one to willfully disregard obvious signals that perhaps the goal itself is not the best choice. It can lead to a certain delusion with strengths and weaknesses and how they apply to accomplishing the goal (and what might happen it if were actually achieved). Ah, but you read the comic, so I’m guessing you know where I’m going with this.

My big problem with Sarah Palin is that she is the very poster child for the danger of positive thinking. Look, she is saavy. She is bright enough to know how to play the game. She seems to have convictions. But honestly, when the McCain camp got it in their heads to offer her the position of running mate, she should have said what she supposedly said about that “Road to Nowhere” money: Thanks, but no thanks. Why did she say yes? Well, from what I can gather, it had something to do with duty and honor with a bit of self-destiny sprinkled in. But what actually got her to pull the trigger was convincing herself she could do the job. And for me, she has done nothing since that point but prove that she absolutely could not do the job. Clearly when you find yourself a year later blaming Katie Couric for ambushing you with legitimate questions there is a deeper problem. Which is, I don’t believe she has the intellectual capacity to be president, and there’s no amount of positive thinking that will ever get her there.

Now, is intellectual capacity the only determinant for what makes a good president? No. If that were true, we’d be reminiscing about the good times of Jimmy Carter’s second term. (Bright person, less than stellar president.) But c’mon now, no matter your political persuasion, don’t you like the idea of your President being up to the challenge of thinking through problems? Somebody who can give you an articulate answer to semi-expected questions? And don’t give me that “the liberal media set her up” nonsense. She is trying to hide a weakness. Much in the same way the Clintons tried to throw the focus from their weaknesses with their “vast right-wing conspiracy” nonsense. And the weakness is — no matter her beliefs, her politics, her sex — she is not that bright.

So you might have heard that Ms. Palin wrote a book. <insert snarky comment about what she actually wrote here> And you might have heard she kicked off her book tour in Grand Rapids, Michigan. That was enough to allow me to express my feelings toward Ms. Palin (a self-serving, ambitious but empty quitter who blessed her home state by leaving) with our own train-wreck of a governor, Jennifer Granholm. I guess props to Gov. Granholm for sticking it out here in Michigan when she probably could have snagged a job in the incoming Obama administration. But it truly has been a horrible year of governing for her. As a lame-duck in a state everybody acknowledges has been bleeding primarily from auto industry wounds, she had more than enough political cover to put forth some bold plans and make game-changing decisions. She has done neither. In fact, her strategy turned out to be allowing a budget to pass that she didn’t much like and then begging people to amend it afterward. (Trying to rally college students to demand the return of scholarship money she allowed to slip away — that was really special.)

Next week: Perhaps something with a bit more holiday cheer.

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Treating Budget Cuts with Salt and Lemon Juice…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, November 16, 2009

Of course the origins of many of ideas can be traced back to The Princess Bride. Here’s where this cartoon started to germinate:

Inigo Montoya: Are you the Miracle Max who worked for the king all those years?
Miracle Max: The King’s stinking son fired me, and thank you so much for bringing up such a painful subject. While you’re at it, why don’t you give me a nice paper cut and pour lemon juice on it? We’re closed.

Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving everyone!


Economic Recovery Marathon. Ready, set, go!…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, November 9, 2009

Never miss a chance to take a jab at economists. The giddiness with which they anticipate the economy going into a recession (Oh, boy! Something fun to talk about!) is equaled only with their annoying enthusiasm for predicting exactly when the economy is coming out. The thing is, they are so very wrong most of the time. What other job can you have such a lousy success rate and still get paid the big bucks? I mean, besides Major League Baseball….

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Michigan Promise (!) Scholarship…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, November 2, 2009

You know, sometimes it isn’t so much the actual failure that feels bad — it’s the knowing that you set yourself up for the failure that’s painful. I do this to myself all the time. Every week I make an impossibly long task list for myself, and by Friday late-morning (right around now in fact) it becomes eminently clear that I have no hope of crossing off half of them. Then I compound that by Friday late-morning (right around now) making a similarly impossible list of weekend tasks. No doubt that when Monday rolls around many tasks will remain untouched. And I can tell you, if that means that I’m scraping frost off my windshield at 5:45AM because I didn’t make room in the garage for my car, reality will = unhappiness. Cold, painful reality.

In my defense, I make these lists mostly knowing I have no hope of completing them — my first goal is not to forget anything. So if I make a note to update my blog’s interface or replace the uneven bricks in the front walk, it’s stressful knowing that I very likely won’t do it, but at least I’m keeping track of it. I never call my lists “My Holy Covenant of to Be Completed Tasks” or “Resolutely Affirmed Guarantee of Accomplishments I Will Achieve Successfully” or “The Highest Order of Soon Realized Commitments I Humbly and with Much Fidelity Pledge…” well, you get the idea. I make no promise.

So, a few years ago when the State of Michigan set up a scholarship for college students to receive $4000 toward their education, it was a good idea. And when funding for this program was cut because of the current budget crisis, that was cold, painful reality. The bad idea was naming it the Michigan Promise Scholarship, because that was just setting itself up for failure.

Gotta go. I have a long list of things not to get to this afternoon….


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