Archive for April, 2009

Michigan State Lost in the NCAA Finals — How Does That Make You Feel?…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, April 13, 2009

Back in the late 1980s, Kevin Nealon used to do this bit on Saturday Night Live where he was a TV interviewer who’s entire goal was to make the interviewee cry. So no matter who he was talking with, he’d ask probing questions about tragedies they might have experienced, times that they were very sad, perhaps a death of a loved one, or a favorite pet. And when they finally were reduced to tears, he’d turn toward the camera and smile. (I’ve already spent more time than I should searching for a clip, so if one of you find one, let me know and I’ll insert it here.)

This kept going through my mind during the Final Four weekend earlier this month. The NCAA men’s basketball finals were being played in Detroit and the Michigan State Spartans were, as underdogs from the underdog Big Ten conference and the underdog state of Michigan, the feel-good story. Quite a few State players hale from Michigan, so the national press and CBS just were just thrilled to ask them: Any of your family unemployed? Are times tough? What’s it like to live in a slum? Are you hungry now? How does this make you feel? It was a week-long SNL skit.

I was disappointed, sure, but not surprised. Michigan has become a tabloid story to the rest of the world and all those stories must include the words “unemployment, rust, decay, and heartbreaking.” Whatever. As I’ve said before, when parched folks outside our borders come sniffing around for fresh water in a few years, we’ll gladly provide them with a big brimming cup of kiss our ass. But for the few who happen to report about something positive before then — say, about the Michigan State Medical School being built here in Grand Rapids — come on in and have a swim!

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And So You Automakers Must Die!…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, April 6, 2009

Just looking for fairness in an unfair world….


Beginning to Catch on to That West Michigan Vibe…


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

I took my first job out of college in 1986. I went to work for Thermotron Industries in Holland, Michigan. Thermotron was (and is) a manufacturer of environmental test chambers. The idea is that if you want to make sure a product works under specific conditions (temperatures, humidity, vibrations, and so on), you test it first in one of these chambers. Soon after starting I was privileged to experience the first of many “why government is worthless” rants by a native West Michigander. I forget who it was or why he was doing it, but it likely had something to do with payday and deductions. It was good theater. He was quite passionate — lots of “stupid wastes of money” and “stay the hell out of my life” and “killing the working man.”

I enjoyed it, but later it struck as a bit hypocritical. You see at the time the country was in the middle of a massive military build up — huge amounts of taxpayer money (and future debt) were being poured into modernizing the armed forces. Defense contractors ramped up to meet the need and were keen to make sure the stuff they were manufacturing actually worked. Ipso facto, approximately 75% of Thermotron sales were to defense contractors, which meant a greater portion of each employees’ paycheck was provided by (and not taken by) Uncle Sam. Ah, the circle of life.

So I want to be clear about my point in this week’s comic. I am not a neo-Reagnite who believes that all government is inherently bad. If the past six months have demonstrated nothing else, it has proven without doubt that any large organization can be equally adept at wasting money: banks, insurance companies, automobile manufacturers, branches of the military, and of course the federal government. What we should want, what we should expect — what we deserve — is some accountability from them. We can’t wish them all away — the void would simply be filled by other large organizations. (Ever read “Animal Farm”?) To get accountability there is got to be some checks and balances, some auditing, some tweaking, some informed reporting — a lot messier than “stay the hell out of my life,” but potentially more fruitful.

Oh. My point: West Michigan is getting hosed by the federal government. And if we can’t get some accountability, how about some free pie?


Well, What Do the Experts Say?…


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

Nothing I can add here, really….