Too Damn Many Mikes

Since the very beginning of Christianity the church honored saints. Originally these were individuals who were martyred for their faith. They were thought of as particularly holy or devote and very likely in heaven. In the tenth century the Catholic church began a more formal process of canonization.  To be canonized one had to overcome the arguments of the advocatus diaboli  – literally the devil’s advocate.  Detroit’s own Father Solanus Casey will be “beatified” at a Mass at Ford Field on November 18. This is the next to last step before being named a saint.

I mention this because if you grew up Catholic your parents were obligated to name you after a saint. Each of the saints have a day of the year designated as their  Feast Day and St. Michael’s feast day is September 29th.  This day is otherwise know as Michaelmas and traditionally associated with the beginning of autumn.  Michaelmas also marks the beginning of the season for the sitting of the Courts in England.  Our Supreme Court honors that tradition by convening on the first Monday of October each year.

My patron saint isn’t ever a person like St. Patrick or St. Joan of Arch. He’s an archangel if you believe in such things. Catholic Online says:

Saint Michael the Archangel isn’t a saint, but rather he is an angel, and the leader of all angels and of the army of God. This is what the title “Archangel” means, that he is above all the others in rank.

St. Michael has four main responsibilities or offices, as we know from scripture and Christian tradition.

  • The first is to combat Satan.
  • The second is to escort the faithful to heaven at their hour of death.
  • The third is to be a champion of all Christians, and the Church itself.
  • And the fourth is to call men from life on Earth to their heavenly judgment.

Given the second and fourth responsibilities I’d just as soon he not show up for a good long time.

I grew up as Mike. And that’s what my family and the people who have known me the longest call me. About 15 years ago I was involved in a film project in which they already had a Mike. So I was dubbed Michael to distinguish the two of us. It stuck. While I don’t really care what you call me if you ask my preference today I’ll say Michael.

There are too damn many Mikes! I attended a small all boys Catholic High School with a graduating class of 81. Eighteen were Mikes.  There’s even a rock band Too Many Mikes I’m all about a moratorium on naming boys Mike.  Last year Mike Trapp made a YouTube video on just this subject. I’m with Him.

A School House Rock notion of democracy is that the voters chose their politicians. But with Gerrymandering it’s the politicians who choose their voters. On Tuesday SCOTUS will hear oral arguments in Gill v. Whitford, arguably one of the most important cases of the season. Here’s a wish for some hope in a season of political Lamentations.

A shout out to my high school classmate Mike Hovey as he begin his long awaited retirement today.

Watch the video. It will make you smile. Happy Michaelmas Day everyone!

 

 

 

Black Day In July

I’m republishing this Blog post I wrote two years ago.

Every generation has those “where were you when…” moments we associate with historical events. For Baby Boomers it’s usually one or more of the evil string of political assassinations of the 1960’s; JFK, RFK, MLK. But everyone who lived in Metropolitan Detroit in the summer of 1967 knows exactly where they were and what they felt.

In the early morning hours on July 23 the Detroit Police raided a “Blind Pig” operated at Clairmont and 12th street on Detroit’s west side. A Blind Pig is an after hours drinking establishment. It was hot and humid night. Confrontations between the police and patrons and other onlookers escalated. The whole thing devolved into  one of the deadliest and most destructive riots in the history of the United States.  Wikipedia provides a concise summery.

To help end the disturbance, Governor George W. Romney ordered the Michigan Army National Guard into Detroit, and President Lyndon B. Johnson sent in the 82nd Airborne Division. The result was 43 dead, 1,189 injured, over 7,200 arrests, and more than 2,000 buildings destroyed. The scale of the riot was surpassed in the United States only by the 1863 New York City draft riots during the U.S. Civil War, and the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

Most of the damage occurred in Black neighborhoods. Stores were looted and set on fire. Snipers were on roof tops shooting at will. Most of the business were white owned. Black owned business with windows signs that said “Soul Brother” were spared.

soul brother

Why?

I’ll not presume to even attempt an answer to that question here.  Some things to note.  President Johnson appointed  an 11-member National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders known as the Kerner Commision for its chair, former Ohio Governor Otto Kerner. The take away from the report was; “Our Nation Is Moving Toward Two Societies, One Black, One White—Separate and Unequal”.  In short, an American form of Apartheid. 

Last Saturday I enjoyed a delightful visit to Camp Ozanam for its annual Alumni Day. That’s where I was in the Summer of 1967 working as a dish washer. It was the summer between my sophomore and junior year in high school. While walking the camp grounds I thought a lot about that summer.

So here’s the thing. I went to high school at Sacred Heart Seminary’s Cardinal Mooney Latin School. We were all admitted there because we believed we were called to be Roman Catholic priests. The seminarians staffed the camps each summer.

There is this east side – west side thing in Detroit.  I am an eastsider.  I spent my formative years three blocks from the City Airport at Gratiot and Conner (look it up). When I was 14 I went to the bus stop at 6:30 in the morning and traveled across town to Chicago and Linwood to Sacred Heart Seminary’s Gothic campus. I rode the “Clairmont Through” line which went right passed the intersection where the riot started.  Looking at newspaper photos at camp I instantly recognized all of the businesses at that intersection.

Most of us had transistor radios then so we got the news of the riots as it happened.  My father was a Detroit Fire Fighter.  As news of arson and snipers came through I became increasingly upset.

Sacred Heart

The camp had one land line and when I got permission to call hone on it I was greeted with a recording that “no circuits were available”.  Many of our campers lived in affected neighborhoods. We choose to tell them nothing until the day the boarded the bus home.

When I came home at the end of the summer my father told me what he had decided.  I would no longer ride the bus across town.  I would become a boarding student living on campus and coming home on week ends.

My father didn’t talk much about his combat duty that summer.  He did talk about crawling under his fire rig twice when sinpers began to fire on them. He also told me about sitting in the rig across form a young national guardsmen and pushing the barrel of his rifle away from his face. Young Guardsmen: “What, are you afraid?” Dad: “Of that gun? You bet I’m afraid.”

When it was all over my dad and a bunch of other Firefighters vowed they would never go into anything like this again unarmed. Someone went to Ohio and bought several small caliber hand guns that were called Saturday Night Specials.  I was always aware that that gun was in our house. But it didn’t mean much to me.  The gun was under my parents’ mattress and the ammunition was in a dresser drawer.

In 2008 we planned to celebrate my father’s 80th birthday.  My older brother Ron came in from Seattle. All of his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren would be there.  He was not doing well.  Macular Degeneration had robbed him of most of his vision.  The side affects of radiation for prostate cancer made him chronically uncomfortable.  This strong proud man who enlisted in the Marine Corps at 17 bristled at the fact that he needed help using the remote for watching television.

Ron’s call woke me before 6:00 a.m. I sped the 70 miles to their house. A sheriff’s deputy’s car was in the driveway. Dad was on the back porch. The EMS had come and gone. Nothing for them to do. I sat with him until the people from the funeral home arrived. As far as I know that was the only time that gun had actually been fired.

Most people’s reactions to suicide is anger and that was mine. But this very proud ex-marine, fire fighter, carpenter and home builder was watching his independence and dignity slowly but steadily erode. I’ve come to regard it as a courageous act and a loving act.

Post Script: Canadian Singer, Song Writer Gordon Lightfoot was was in Detroit and confined to his room in the St. Regis Hotel on West Grand Blvd during the riot.  He saw a lot of the smoke and fire and did what singer song writers do.  He wrote the song “Black Day In July”  Predictably, a number of radio stations banned it. Ah, the 60’s

Here is a very nice YouTube video of the song with haunting pictures from that summer.

 

Call Me Lefty

Three weeks ago today I had arthroscopic surgery to repair a tear in two muscles and to reattach a tendon in my rotator cuff. The surgery required seven small incisions in my shoulder. I tolerated the ordeal reasonably well. I must confess that the first two days were pretty painful. The prescription Vicodin made me loopy but didn’t really do all that much to reduce the pain. But by day three I put the opioids aside and was reasonably comfortable using extra strength Tylenol.

The post surgical protocol is to immobilize the arm for a period of six weeks. So my arm has been in a sling with lots of straps and Velcro. I’ve been unable to drive, operating a computer is awkward, and I’m gradually learning how to do things with my left hand.

Today is the halfway mark. Three weeks down and three weeks to go.

I tried to shave with my left hand before the surgery but that wasn’t happening. So now for the third time in my adult life I’ve allowed my beard to grow. It’s looking a little scruffy and I’m sure will disappear the first day I’m free of my sling.

I’ve done the minimal amount necessary to keep the law firm going. I rather enjoy enforced leisure at home. Someone suggested I was practicing retirement. NFW!

I had no idea who Ed Sheeran was. But I am a game of thrones fan and now I know. Maybe this will be a trivia question next week

Good news and sad news out of the United States Senate. Thank goodness the Republicans couldn’t get it together and destroy the affordable care act. The fact that the law was drafted in secret never presented to a committee nor the subject of public hearings was pretty awful. The three Republican women senators were completely left out of the process. And guess who are principally responsible for the fact that it tanked? The sad news is word of John McCain’s brain cancer diagnosis. Regardless of your politics you have to admire the man. One memorable moment from the 2008 campaign is when he corrected a woman who referred to Sen. Obama as a Muslim. The candidate in 2016 had no such class.

The media is abuzz with stories about the summer of 1967. Tonight I’m going to see the film 12th and Claremont. This is a collection of home movies from those troubling days put together by the Detroit Free Press.

In its aftermath business labor and community leaders got together to discuss a way forward. They created what they called an urban coalition named New Detroit Inc. I was very fortunate to begin my professional career as their director of public policy in the mid-1970s. Walter Douglas was vice president of NDI. He later became its president. He took a chance hiring me for this position at such a relatively young age. I will always be grateful for his mentorship.

Tomorrow is Friday. Hope your week ends well.

Hamilton, Hype and Life in the Third Act

You can turn off the music by clicking the Play/Pause button in the upper right corner.

Life’s Third Act includes mildly unnerving experiences. Like watching your niece/Goddaughter graduate from High School. Wait, weren’t you an infant that I held at your baptism just a few years ago?

San Francisco is among my favorite cities. It’s charm and quirkiness make it special. My brother in law Tom and his extraordinary wife Vicky live in the East Bay area in the town of Martinez at the end of BART’s yellow line. St. Patrick and St. Vincent High School is a very diverse place. We came to the court yard early to get good seats. The people watching was fun and so was the fashion show. Blacks, Hispanics and Asians easily outnumbered the White folks. And watching your child or grandchild graduate is a pretty good excuse to – well – go a bit nuts. Something I’ve never seen before was blown up baby pictures attached to the end of a stick like a picket sign that were waived from time to time. I guess it’s to let the graduate know his or her family is still here. Mercifully there was no commencement speaker. Just the usual remarks from the Valedictorian and Salutatorian with inside jokes and regret that they were leaving what had been their second home for four years.

“As we begin to call the names of the graduates please hold you applause until the end”. Yeah, like that’s going to happen. It didn’t.

Vicki’s mother is active as a volunteer usher and season subscriber in San Francisco’s theaters. She was able to score pretty decent tickets for the Sunday matinee of the wildly popular play “Hamilton”.  My 20 year old nephew, Jake had seen it. His critique? “In spite of all of the hype it exceed my expectations”.  I have to agree. It was one of the more exceptional performances of anything I’ve ever seen. But there was something about Jake’s  comment that stayed with me.

I’ve thought the word “hype” was an abbreviation of “hyperbole“; “obvious and intentional exaggeration not meant to be taken literally.” So if the play exceed your expectations then what you heard about it wasn’t really hype. It was true.  Another lesson of living in your Third Act is noticing that the meaning of words evolve.  Jake had it right. The Urban dictionary says one definition of hype is “A fad. A clever marketing strategy which a product is advertized [sic] as the thing everyone must have, to the point where people begin to feel they need to consume it.” That’s Hamilton!

Also had a chance to spend an afternoon with two Michigan ex pats and grade school classmates on Memorial Day. Just lunch and a couple of hours of meandering through Golden Gate Park. Lot’s of gossip about teachers, classmates, and the old neighborhood. Oh, and bitching about Trump.

In the song “My Shot” Hamilton sings “There’s a million things I haven’t done, just you wait“. I know what that feels like, even in Act Three.

East Side Story

The Urban Consulate is a movement that describes itself as, “a network of parlors for city dwellers & travelers seeking urban exchange.” Operating in Philadelphia, New Orleans and Detroit they host conversations in a parlor environment with knowledgeable experts about important urban topics. In Detroit the Consulate’s proprietor is the genial but serious urban activist Chase Cantrell.

Chase is a friend who has been gently prodding me to attend one of these “conversations” and I did so last Wednesday. The topic was Who is it Built For? and featured a discussion regarding community engagement by urban planners Kimberly Dowdell and Steven Lewis.

The Urban Planning community is justifiably cautious in contemporary planning of grand redevelopments  in older neighborhoods. Author Richard Rothstein has been on the talk shows promoting his new book which is described on the Fresh Air web site.

Rothstein’s new book, The Color of Law, examines the local, state and federal housing policies that mandated segregation. He notes that the Federal Housing Administration, which was established in 1934, furthered the segregation efforts by refusing to insure mortgages in and near African-American neighborhoods — a policy known as “redlining.” At the same time, the FHA was subsidizing builders who were mass-producing entire subdivisions for whites — with the requirement that none of the homes be sold to African-Americans.

Detroit is a poster child for Rothsetin’s thesis. The Black Bottom/Hastings street neighborhood was wiped out by the construction of I-75, I-375 and the Urban Renewal along Lafayette and Larnerd just east of Downtown Detroit.  Urban Renewal came to be know as Negro Removal,

Dowdell and Lewis spoke passionately about the lessons learned and still being learned regarding the scope and depth of engaging the community from the very beginning of the planning process.  My ears perked up during one part of the exchange when Professor Dowdell reflected on her Detroit childhood and the family’s move from a home on east side to the more desirable area of the west side. I grew up on the east side just a few blocks from the City Airport (Coleman A. Young International Airport) at Gratiot and Connor. The east side of my childhood was strictly segregated.  As you walked south on Gratiot the color line was Harper Avenue. I spent many hours at the YMCA on Gratiot and Harper where whites and blacks mingled but no black family lived within a mile of my house.

Photo Credit Chase Cantrel

That got me thinking. All of the projects that are part of the Next Detroit or the New Detroit or what have you are happening on the west side. When the floor was open to questions my hand was the first one up. Why, I wanted to know, is all the attention west of Woodward and no buzz about anything east of Woodward. I was reminded of all of the projects along the river front many occurring within spiting distance from where I currently live. But here’s the thing. There are no formal redevelopment efforts north of E. Jefferson and east of Van Dyke. Professor Dowdell conceded some validity to my point. “I have to admit, we’ve always considered the east side a heavier lift”.

Why? I would contend it’s economics as much as race. All of Detroit’s traditionally affluent neighborhood except Indian Village are on the west side. Think Palmer Woods, University District, Sherwood Forrest, Green Acres, LaSalle Gardens, Virginia Park and Rosedale Park. The five Grosse Pointe communities are another thing all together. Another participant said he thought that the west side Jewish neighborhoods were more racially tolerant and consequently less resistant to integration. Also the more affluent are better able to move north to the emerging suburbs. As an undergraduate I studied social science under Otto Feinstien at Montieth College on the campus of Wayne State University. Otto’s parents brought him to this country from Germany a step ahead of the Holocaust. Otto’s scholarship traced the geographic movement of various ethnic groups through Detroit. He had lot’s of maps. The only good one I could find on the web was this which looks at Detroit area ethnic group in 1971

The brown area represents Black neighborhoods and the Purple are Poles, Italians and Germans. Follow Gratiot up from I-94 and you will see the east side of my youth.  On the east side the Black community remained south of I-94 while on the west side it went up to and over Eight Mile. My east side, while white, was solidly working class. Our parents were auto workers, cops and, like my father, firefighters. Every family had one car, usually a station wagon and a minority of the adults had a college education. You didn’t need one. The UAW made it possible to earn a very good living on the assembly line. These Poles, Italians and Germans eventually moved past Eight Mile to the Macomb County suburbs and became the Reagan Democrats in the 1980’s and the Trump Democrats in 2016

Detroit is now 84.3% Black. Do the east side – west side economic disparities matter today? I don’t know. But why does the east side continue to be a more heavy lift?

The Urban Consulate meets every Wednesday at 6:00 p.m. at the Mackenzie House at 4735 Cass Avenue on the campus of Wayne State University.  All are welcome.

Harry and the Chase for Paper

The year before I started Law School I saw James Bridge’s film The Paper Chase. It chronicles the trials and tribulations of first year (or 1L in the law school nomenclature) law student  James Hart portrayed by Timothy Bottoms. The opening scene is the first day of class. Just after Professor Charles Kingsfield (John Housman) enters the room he calls on Hart to recite a brief of a case in Contracts. Hart is befuddled and admits he hasn’t read the case. Kingsfield snarls at Hart for being unprepared and chastises him for not looking at the notices on the bulletin board where assignments were posted. When class mercifully ends Hart bolts to the men’s room and loses his breakfast.

Sometimes life  does actually imitate art. Because of the movie I checked the bulletin board before my first class in Contracts at the Detroit College of Law. Sure enough there were reading assignments posted there. I also attended a meeting sponsored by the law fraternity where they showed us how to use the wide margin note paper and properly “brief” a case (IRAC; Issue, Rule, Application, Conclusion). I showed up for my first class prepared.

Professor Matthew McKinnon was a brilliant Detroit College of Law student who was offered a teaching position immediately after he graduated. He was younger than a lot of us but he did his very best to take on a Professor Kingsfield persona. He walked into class, flipped through a deck of 3×5 cards with our names on them and said, “Mr. Einheuser please tell the class about the case of Hawkins vs McGee.” It was one of those surreal moments. Did I just hear my named called and pronounced perfectly?

“Is Mr. Einheuser here?”

“Yes, I’m here. Um this is a contract case”

“Mr. Einheuser the name of the course is Contracts; they are all contract cases”.

I remember I spoke slowly and unevenly but managed to explain the facts of the case, the issue that confronted the court, what the rule of law was, how that rule was applied to these facts, and the court’s conclusion.  I remember he shot a few more questions at me which I muddled through. And then he called on someone else.

My tentative but adequate performance was not what he hoped for. The point of the first session of law school is to scare the shit out of everyone so they wouldn’t  even think about showing up unprepared. He was able to make his point with the next two or three victims he called on who apparently hadn’t seen the movie.

It’s always good advice not to peak too soon. You know –  not be that guy that starts out strong and then goes into a steady decline.  But that was my law school experience. I had a full time job as an Executive Assistant to the Mayor during the day and I didn’t always give my night classes the time and attention they demanded. I would not have graduated without the grace of God and the support of my Study Group.

I got word last Friday that Harry Dalsey was taken by Pancreatic Cancer. It’s the devil’s disease!  Harry was one of the wittiest people I’ve ever known. His was a Seinfeldian kind of observational humor.  He saw and made jokes about life’s simple absurdities.  He livened up our Study Group and made Law School more tolerable.

His acerbic wit almost got us all into a bar fight.  It was after the final class of our final year. Only exams stood between us an graduation. Around 9:00 PM we went to the neighborhood dive bar The Elwood. There was a great rivalry between the day students and the night students and several day students were already there having spent the afternoon enjoying their own celebration.  Harry opined as how the night students had a superior education and would make much better lawyers.

“Why?” asked one female day student.

“Because we have much more real world experience than you do”

“I have experience”

“Oh, have you ever………”

His salacious question had a similar suggestion as last week’s controversial joke by Stephen Colbert. Her boyfriend jumped up, his chair when crashing across the floor and now everyone jumped up and faced off. Cooler heads moved in between us. I’d like to think I’d rush to the defense of my Study Group member and fellow night student. But I’d have preferred that the cause have been a bit more noble.

Harry is the second member of our Study Group that we’ve lost.  Gerald Van Vliet collapsed and died while jogging on August 3, 2012.  As I contemplate what life will be in my Third Act I feel enormous gratitude toward Harry and Gerald and the others who made my career and livelihood possible.

Go gently on your journey, Harry.  You’ve profoundly touched many lives, including mine.

  רוך דיין אמת

Baruch dayan emet  (Blessed is the True Judge)

My Detroit College of Law Study Group and spouses celebrating our graduation in 1980. Gerald Van Vleit is in the back row left and Harry Dalsey is in the back row 3rd from the left.

Walking Pneumonia (and the Boogie Woogie Flu)

Note: You can silence the music by clicking the pause button in the upper right corner of your screen.

 

Well it’s week three of enduring what people around me call “the Crud”. Coughing, sneezing and feeling just miserable. Monday around 3:00 PM Diane, my partner in business and many other things, called out from her office “Why don’t you go home!” How sweet, I thought. She’s being compassionate. But then she said “I’m tired of listening to you”!

I broke down and went to my primary care Doc yesterday afternoon. His verdict “Walking Pneumonia”.  I’ve heard of it before but never really knew what it means.

Walking pneumonia is how some people describe a mild case of pneumonia. Your doctor might call it “atypical pneumonia” because it’s not like more serious cases.

So sez Web MD.

If you have this condition, you probably won’t have to stay in bed or in the hospital. You might even feel good enough go to work and keep up your regular routine, just as you might with a cold.

Pneumonia with out the fringe benefits.

Since last July I’ve been on Medicare with a supplemental private policy I pay for myself. The office visit and a Rite Aide bag full of prescriptions all happened on the same day  with very modest co-pays. The Doc says I should be fine by the week end. I consider my self fortunate (blessed?) to have such access to health care. My Republican friends would say, you work hard so you have earned your health care coverage. (Sigh!) Which brings us to consider you know what.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office whose current Director was appointed by a Republican Congress says 24 million American will likely lose their health care in the next ten years under the new plan. Back when I was a trial attorney I’d prepare for any contested court hearing by writing an outline of my opponent’s strongest argument. Likewise in politics I really try to get in someone’s shoes and understand why they believe what they believe. Understanding the logic of the other side in the health care debate is beyond me. The argument comes down to provide tax cuts to people who make more than $200,000 annually at the cost of quality health care for tens of millions. It’s not an exaggeration to say People Will Die.

Last week end the Washington Post did a deep dive in West Virginia coal country. About 74% of these residents voted for THAT GUY and just about 74% depend on the Affordable Care Act or the expanded Medicaid for their health care. Again, trying to put myself in the other guys’ shoes to understand the logic just leaves me shaking my head.


Since the election I’ve changed the way I consume news. I’m weary of the 24 hour news cycle. And, frankly, I simply can’t stand to hear THAT GUY’S voice. I now curate morning and drive time listening with podcasts. During March the leading Podcasts are encouraging listeners to introduce pod casting to others in an effort they have dubbed “Try Pod”.

Washington, DC; February 22, 2017 – For the first time, leading podcast publishers have joined forces to introduce new audiences to podcasts.

During the month of March, the hosts of hundreds of shows including Stuff You Should Know, Planet Money, Missing Richard Simmons, and Crimetown, will encourage listeners to introduce a friend, relative or coworker to a new podcast, and, show them how to listen if they don’t know how. Listeners will be asked to share stories of why they listen and their favorite podcasts using the hashtag #trypod.

Here’s a good place to start; Episode 56 of Shankar Vedantam’s “Hidden Brain”. It’s called Getting Unstuck. 

At one time or another, many of us feel stuck: in the wrong job, the wrong relationship, the wrong city – the wrong life. Psychologists and self-help gurus have all kinds of advice for us when we feel rudderless. This week on Hidden Brain, we explore a new idea, from an unlikely source: Silicon Valley.

Life coaching from, who da thunk, Software Engineers. This is a great use of 28 minutes of your time – even if you are old enough to collect Medicare.

Have a great day and beware of the Ides!

Don’t Drink the Water

When I turned on the kitchen faucet, like most of you, I didn’t give much thought as to how clean and purified water got all the way from the river to my house. At least not until about two years ago when Mayor Mike Duggan asked me to Chair Detroit’s Board of Water Commissioners. Now I think about it a lot.

We are in the third day of a “Boil Water” advisory for a large area of the city and I live smack dab in the middle of that area. So I’m boiling water and dirty dishes are gathering in the sink because I can’t run the dish washer.

The problem originated in the venerable Water Works Park just up E. Jefferson from where I live. This is one of three intake facilities that suck the water into the system from the Detroit River.  A key pump failed and the water pressure in the effected area dropped. Water mains (the big pipes that bring the water to your house) are old. Over time they accumulate a certain amount of what I’ll simply call crud. As long as the mains are pressurized the crud stays in place. But a drop in pressure can stir the crud up and release bacteria.

This is an interesting lesson in the geopolitics of Southeast Michigan. From the first days of the city’s establishment Detroit has been responsible for all of the water and sewerage activities for the entire region. The system began in Detroit and was expanded to meet the needs of the suburbs as they sprawled north, south and west (can’t go east because of Lake St. Clair).

In the early 70’s urban planners expounded the benefits of Regional Government – combining municipal services over the boundaries of many individual suburban communities. They have had success with the concept in places like Toronto. Since the Water and Sewage system provided services to the entire region this was a good candidate for regionalization. But the idea of regional government coincided with the election of Detroit’s, first Black Mayor the Honorable Coleman A. Young. He and many Black Detroiters were suspicious. Why was it okay for Detroit to run the system for many decades until a Black Mayor was in charge?The idea of Detroit’s jewels was born. The white suburbanites were out to plunder Detroit’s jewels; the Art Institute, the Zoo, Belle Isle and the water system.

For reasons that are complicated and involve corruption under former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, the system came under the jurisdiction of a Federal Judge. On January 1, 2016 the fans of regional operation of the water system got their wish. The collecting and purifying of water and the treatment of sewage is now the responsibility of the Great Lakes Water Authority.

But as the saying goes – be careful what you wish for.

GLWA (glee-wah) leases the plant and equipment from Detroit and is responsible for all operations. Detroit is simply a retail customer like all of the other cities in the region albeit the largest at 45% of total capacity.

It’s GLWA that screwed up. And it’s not the first time. Residents of the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood got raw sewage in their basement after a very large rain storm last summer because 6 out of 15 pumps at the Conner Creek pumping station were off line.

Conner Creek Pumping Station on E. Jefferson

 

This is exactly what Coleman Young feared. If we don’t control the system Detroit will always get shitty service. Now for what it’s worth GLWA delivered foul smelling water to a number of Downriver communities earlier this year. How’s this for bureaucratic speak?

Cheryl Porter, chief operating officer for the authority, said that despite the odor the water is safe to use in any manner.

“In regard to the concerns about water quality in a number of Downriver communities, the authority has conducted extensive testing of its water at its Southwest Treatment Plant and in locations where odor is being detected,” she said in a statement. “Tests confirm that all regulatory water-quality standards are being achieved, and that the water is safe.”

In other words “hold your nose and drink”.

The “boil water” water advisory should be lifted today. It was issued in the first place in “an abundance of caution“.

I’m going to invite the CEO and the COO of GLWA to the next meeting of the Detroit Board of Water Commissioners. Someone has a lot of esplaining to do.  I think there will be a lot more wah than glee.

The Last Hallelujah

One thing you can say about Christian fundamentalists; they possess a much greater degree of theological certainty than most of the rest of us.

In spite of my own spiritual ambiguity I practice the religion of my childhood, Roman Catholicism.  I’ve been part of a faith community (we used to call them parishes) for a couple of decades now where the preaching is Jesuit and the music is Gospel. Not a bad way to spend most Sunday mornings. And for what it’s worth it’s significant to note that even Mother Theresa had profound doubts about the existence of God.

In his closing remarks last Sunday the Pastor observed that we had heard the last Hallelujah. I’ve not been paying attention to the liturgical calendar. Only then did I realize that today is Ash Wednesday the beginning of the 40 day observance of Lent. “Hallelujah” and “Alleluia” become Voldemort – words not to be spoken aloud during Lent.

The Lenten tradition involves fasting, praying and alms giving.  As kids we were instructed to “give up” something. This usually involved abstaining from candy, movies or some other personal privation. When I was an undergraduate I teasingly asked a Jewish friend what he was giving up for lent. He didn’t miss a beat. “The Goyim”.

During Lent we also revert to the old Catholic tradition of not eating meat on Fridays. This was something observed year round when I was a kid. The old Friday standby was mac and cheese, a dish I didn’t particularly care for. Thank God for peanut butter. The idea of not eating meat was thought of as a form of penance. I questioned the value of this penance when in High School I heard that one of the bishops had a standing Friday reservation at venerable Joe Muir’s seafood restaurant on Gratiot just south of Eastern Market. 

Seafood, of course, is not meat whether it’s canned tuna or poached sea bass. Eating meat on Friday was a mortal sin. Meaning if you did it and died before making a confession you went right to Hell. As a teenager my reaction to the news that we could now eat meat on Friday foreshadowed my career as a lawyer. “If it’s not a sin anymore what about all those poor bastards in Hell?”

Our friends who live downriver have this curious practice of eating muskrat during Lent. Is muskrat meat or seafood? A priest friend once remarked, “as far as I’m concerned anyone who wants to eat muskrat during Lent is doing plenty of penance”.

I’m thinking I’m not going to be giving up anything in particular for Lent. I’m making an effort to eat healthier which involves abstinence from some favorite foods. But that has more to do with concerns of the flesh rather than the spirit. I am going to make an effort to reach out to friends and acquaintances I’ve not had contact with in a long time.

Like a good play, life’s Third Act should include characters we met in Acts One and Two.

The Emperor’s New Clothes

I’ve not read a lot of Andrew Sullivan’s work. But he channeled many of  the troubling thoughts and fears I’ve been experiencing but trying to ignore for the past several weeks. His piece “The Madness of King Donald” shines a bright light on the elephant in the Oval Office; namely that the President is nuts.

He begins with the litany of lies which are verifiably untrue but for which there is never an acknowledgment or correction. The lie is repeated and often doubled down by a bigger lie. What kind of person does this? Someone in a very troubling state of mental health.

I keep asking myself this simple question: If you came across someone in your everyday life who repeatedly said fantastically and demonstrably untrue things, what would you think of him? If you showed up at a neighbor’s, say, and your host showed you his newly painted living room, which was a deep blue, and then insisted repeatedly — manically — that it was a lovely shade of scarlet, what would your reaction be? If he then dragged out a member of his family and insisted she repeat this obvious untruth in front of you, how would you respond? If the next time you dropped by, he was still raving about his gorgeous new red walls, what would you think? Here’s what I’d think: This man is off his rocker. He’s deranged; he’s bizarrely living in an alternative universe; he’s delusional. If he kept this up, at some point you’d excuse yourself and edge slowly out of the room and the house and never return. You’d warn your other neighbors. You’d keep your distance. If you saw him, you’d be polite but keep your distance.

Sullivan says journalists simply have to call him on his lies immediately and to his face.  We shall see.

The patriarch of the Ilich sports, gaming and pizza empire Mike Ilich passed away. His significant impact on the city I love cannot be overstated.  But you have to separate what he did and how he did things. He had his detractors. Stephen Henderson wrote of some of the ambiguity we feel.

But he also leaves a complex legacy. The strife over some of his projects and the public subsidies for them. The fans who decried the tenure of his ownership of two of the city’s major sports franchises. They are part of who he was, too.

Happy Monday to you all. I’ve got four days of work before I get to leave on a vacation to a very warm place.

Desearía poder hablar español.