Archive for June, 2018

Remember When Michigan Was Great?

Remember When Michigan Was Great

I have something of a Wikipedia problem. In idle moments in between tasks, I tend to wander over to the website for a quick nip — the plotline of a half watched movie here, the defining geographic features of an obscure African country there. I’m in, I’m out, and I’m back to the task at hand. No big deal. I can quit at any time. Really.

Except, not really. Sometimes I get caught up in one of those link rabbit holes. Like when the first article links to a second one, which links to a third, and so on. I’m particularly susceptible to the “On This Day” area, which lists articles about events that happened on that day. On June 20th, there was this one: “1943 – The Detroit race riot breaks out and continues for three more days.”

I was aware of the event, but knew little about it. It had some similarities to the 1967 uprising (competition for jobs and housing), but was really unique to itself. The most fascinating thing to me was the timing: Here we were in the throes of World War II, patriotism arguably running at an all-time high, a concerted focus on defeating the enemy, and we still managed to let our greed and prejudice and tribalism get the best of us. So the first takeaway is: “The good ol’ days are not always the good ol’ days.”

The second is: “We should be able to learn from history, but we don’t.” There we were in 2016, living an economic expansion after having survived the Great Recession. Sure, it wasn’t what we wanted it to be, but times were relatively good. But again, we now seem to be letting our greed and prejudice and tribalism get the best of us. You all just experienced the same week I did, so no need to relive it here. Let’s just maybe resolve to remember the positives of the past without repeating the mistakes.

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The Colbeck Curriculum

The Colbeck Curriculum

Michigan state Senator and gubernatorial candidate Patrick Colbeck has been involved in recent efforts to update the social studies curriculum for K–12 public schools. Colbeck’s stated goals are to “remove partisanship from the classroom” and move students towards a more “politically neutral” dialogue that offers a balanced view of historical issues. Perhaps he is sincere, but few promulgate a more politically non-neutral agenda than Patrick Colbeck.

Bridge Magazine has a very thorough article about this and one of its authors, Lindsay VanHulle, discussed it on Michigan Radio’s Stateside earlier this week. One of the more revealing examples of Colbeck’s ambitions is his assertion that the term “democratic” implies partisan leanings. As a result, 13 references to “core democratic values” have been deleted or changed to “core values.” Politicians defining word usage for all has “dystopian” written all over it. More chilling, Colbeck confided that he only got about a 10th of what he wanted.

Colbeck reminds me of Frank Burns, the character played by Larry Linville in the 1970s sitcom, M*A*S*H. Specifically, the episode in which the 4077 is preparing for a visit from General Douglas MacArthur. The scene opens with Frank merrily tossing items into a fire as fellow doctors, Trapper and Hawkeye, approach:

Trapper: Frank! What are you doing?
Frank Burns: Burning books.
Hawkeye: Oh. Any special reason, Dr. Hitler?
Frank Burns: One of the greatest living Americans is coming and I’m not going to let him see some of the trash that’s read around here.
Trapper: Plato’s Republic? The Life of Red Grange?
Hawkeye: Revolutionaries.
Frank Burns: Right!
Trapper: Robinson Crusoe?
Hawkeye: Everybody runs around half naked.
Trapper: Norman Mailer.
Frank Burns: It’s got *that word* in it.
Hawkeye: Frank, you burn one more book, I’m gonna give you a dancing lesson in the mine field.

Can we at least agree that the last person we want our next governor to emulate is Frank Burns?

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Strange Customs and Rituals

Strange Customs and Rituals

It happens more or less on a regular basis. Somebody with too much time on their hands will point to the large Middle Eastern and Muslim communities in Southeast Michigan and declare their suspicions of nefarious activity. They typically have no real understanding of the nuances — some are Muslim and some are not, some are Arab and some are not, some have been citizens for generations and some have not. But the numbers get lumped together to make the fear more plausible.

It’s bad enough when it’s a low level political operative or a barfly at your local watering hole, but in this case it was Fred Fleitz, the recently appointed Chief of Staff and Executive Secretary for the National Security Council and also Deputy Assistant to President Donald Trump. The Detroit Free Press reported this week that Fleitz had given an interview last year to Breitbart News where he shared this little chestnut of wisdom:

“…there are some communities in the United States that have not assimilated. I’m not concerned about Amish or Jewish communities, but I will tell you that there are enclaves of Muslim communities in Michigan and Minnesota that concern me. The problem with these Muslim communities is that it is making them susceptible to this radical worldview that wants to destroy modern society, create a global caliphate, and impose sharia law on everyone on Earth.”

Look, I do understand the possibility of danger — every group of people has potentially bad elements. (As a middle-aged white guy from Michigan, I bear the burden of never knowing what stupid thing Ted Nugent is going to do next.) But I also understand the greater harm of disparaging an entire community. Or more to the point, the overwhelming benefits the people of these communities provide Michigan.

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The Michigan Death Penalty Scale

The Michigan Death Penalty Scale

We can get so caught up with on on-going issues here in Michigan (roads, water, schools, etc.) that it’s easy to forget some of the reasons we have for taking pride in our state. Recently we marked the 172nd anniversary of Michigan becoming the first English-speaking government to abolish the death penalty. Even more impressive, we have not changed our minds about this since.

Sure, there have been periodic efforts to legalize capital punishment in some shape or form. But to our credit, Michigan has resisted the emotional appeal and stayed the course. As the cartoon illustrates, there are many practical and moral reasons to be against capital punishment. While reasons to be for it are largely emotional.

That said, I can totally understand — even empathize with — how weighty those emotional feelings can be. The Larry Nassar case provides a perfect example. After reading about and listening to the testimony of his victims (and considering their ages and sheer numbers), I have to admit the death penalty crossed my mind. (That’s a caricature of me, by the way, jumping up and down on the FOR side.)

But it comes down to this: How can we write the laws so they are air-tight? How can we apply them evenly? How exactly would the convicted be executed? How much would it all cost? And how can we be absolutely sure?

It says something positive about our state and ourselves that we have decided to go with reason over emotions. Because at any given moment we all can feel very pro-capital punishment for, say, slow drivers in the passing lane.

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