Archive for October, 2007

The Black Art of Tax Creation…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, October 15, 2007

Several years ago, I was bought out of an employment contract (which basically means that I was sacked but with a really nice severance). So at the end of that year my little family had a significant hunk of extra income on our balance sheet. Now understand that I wasn’t complaining then and I’m not complaining now, but that income pushed us up a bracket or two tax-wise and THE &$%@^#! GOVERNMENT WAS TAKING MY MONEY!!! I never felt so Republican in all my life….

Just goes to prove what may seem like a decent idea in the abstract can turn out to be devil’s very own work when it affects you personally. Democrats as a whole are perfectly willing to raise taxes. (Just as Republicans are willing to make cuts.) But when it’s your money that gets taxed or your service that gets cut, well, that just ain’t right. “How did this happen?!” is a legitimate question to ask. But be prepared to get “with apparent randomness” as the answer.

Earlier this month, Michigan’s legislature in a crazed flurry to stave off a state shutdown put together a package that applied the state sales tax to certain services heretofore exempt. It is quite an eclectic list: office administration, landscaping, carpet cleaning. It’s also terribly confusing: Why tax skiing and not golf? What exactly constitutes “personal care services”? Why does “warehousing” and “mini-warehousing” both need to be specified? This week’s comic is my attempt to provide some context….

Oh, and the asterisk is meant to lead you to a translation for the Latin phrase. It’s an extra dig at the legislature whose own taxes and services remain untouched.


Good News from Michigan! …No, Seriously…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, October 8, 2007

It shouldn’t be news to any of you — whether you live here or just read this blog — that Michigan is down. And not just losing to Appalachian State down (although that certainly didn’t help). No, economically, politically, spiritually down. Our state’s unemployment rate is highest in the country — a full percentage point over our next “competitor.” Our state government recently took us to the brink of shut down and then — finally facing reality after years of denial and shell games — raised taxes to keep crippled services hobbling along. Our state’s automotive industry celebrates new labor agreements by shrinking even more.

And so (ever the contrarian), I looked for some good news, and as it turns out, it was easy to find here in West Michigan. In the span of a few days, we had three openings, each startlingly positive in their own way:

  • The new Grand Rapids Art Museum opened in a marquee spot of downtown. It’s an impressive community investment in not just the arts but in city life. Local leaders in government, business, arts all got together to build a beautiful new home for celebrating creativity and with very little friction.
  • The JW Marriott luxury hotel opened near the existing Amway Grand Hotel and the DeVos Convention Center. Yeah, we might be a mid-size post-industrial Midwestern city, but there’s something more happening when a building like this goes up. Again, our local rich guys invested their money and their expertise back into the local economy. They don’t have to do that, ya know.
  • The new Metro Health hospital and ancillary building opened in Wyoming on the growing south side of the area. Metro previously was in a landlocked portion of the city with limited prospects for growth or even survival. As the smallest of Grand Rapid’s three major hospital systems, its future was somewhat bleak. But with its new facilities, it has created a whole new center of economic development (not to mention a huge expansion of medical services). Bonus: Its previous facilities are being renovated for elder care.

Sure, none of this changes the fact that it will soon again be February in Michigan (and it’s gonna suck), but it’s nice to enjoy the sun’s warmth when it shines….


Translation for Legislature’s Sacred Command…

“Supremus totus , servo nostrum beneficium” is Latin for “Above all, protect our benefits.”

The comic for this will be published in the October 15 Grand Rapids Business Journal….

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What You Should Have Said…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, October 1, 2007

When you’re 16 and lifting weights in the basement while your parents are talking with a neighbor upstairs in the kitchen just beyond the open basement door, and you just finished your last rep and go to put the bar back on the holder and it slips and it crashes onto your thighs and you say, “F-bomb!” and because F-bombs are actually lighter than air it floats upstairs to the sudden and coincidental pause in conversation, what you should have said was …nothing.

When it’s after 10:00 at night, and it has been a long, long day, and you’ve said “Good Night” to your kids several many multiple times but they never seem to actually go to bed and you’re about to pass out and you hear a kid walking in the hall and you shout, “I swear I’m going to break your legs so you stay in bed!” and it turns out the kid was coming to you because she just lost a tooth, what you should have said was …nothing.

When you’re on the Grand Rapids Public School Board and you’re frustrated because hundreds of parents send their kids to suburban schools for various reasons but at the very least they are the kind of parents concerned enough about their children’s education to be active participants and you say to them, “You’re a bunch of racists and if don’t like the schools in Grand Rapids, then move someplace else.” what you really should have said was, …nothing.


Willfully Stupid Things…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, September 25, 2007

Back in the olden days (1984), Disney re-released the animated classic “Fantasia” to theaters for a limited run. Fantasia was not available at that point on spanky new videotape technology (VHS or Beta), and even if it was, viewing it at home on that 17 inch Magnavox console television would certainly not be the same experience as projected film on a big screen. The point is I desperately wanted to see it. And as I was at home on Thanksgiving break in the sophisticated city of Flint (sophisticated meaning that there was more than a single movie theater as opposed to my college town of Houghton, Michigan), I had but one chance to see it. Maybe forever. (It was 1984 — what did I know?)

The complication was that my friend Isaiah was staying with me on that very last weekend of the release. Isaiah was from Nigeria and had limited options for places to go when school was out, so I had invited him to spend a few days with my family. He was a quiet, reserved guy but with entertainment tastes that ran more toward pro wrestling than experimental animation set to classical music. I knew this. I absolutely knew this. But hoping against hope that the magic of Disney would somehow transcend all gaps in culture and personal taste, I took Isaiah to see Fantasia anyway.

He hated it. It was clear right from the start he hated it. About 15 minutes in, he leaned over to me and asked, truly perplexed, “Is this the movie?”

Jane was sitting between me and Isaiah which allowed me a sort of buffer to lose myself occasionally in the film. She definitely took one for the team there because he passed the time by taking off his boots and eating ketchup packets he had swiped from Halo Burger earlier that day. (Isaiah liked to eat condiments. I don’t know if it was a Nigerian thing or what, but he is the only person I have ever seen go to a salad bar, put nothing but five different dressings on a plate, and eat it.) Anyway, as I marveled at the dancing hippos, Jane was nearly asphyxiated by the acrid swirl of feet and spiced tomato paste.

After the movie, I apologized profusely. I told Isaiah it was a selfish thing for me to do, and I regretted making him sit through it. Isaiah, trying to find some positive in the unfortunate situation replied, “No no, John. Thank you. Thank you for taking me to see this movie. Now I will know not to ever see it again.”

Which brings us to the theme of this week’s comic: willful stupidity. The comic itself has enough dialogue to explain the background of what happened with the state representative from my district, David Agema. If you want to read more, here’s an article. All I can say is, “Thank you for taking the hunting trip, David. Now I will know not to elect you again.”

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Soccer Camps…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Family magazine, September 2007