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.

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!

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.

 

Some Things I Discovered While Looking Up Other Things

I’m a reasonably well educated guy.  I grew up in a solidly middle class neighborhood and walked to a local Catholic school. For all of its challenges you have to give the Catholic church it’s propers when it comes to education. There were 50 students in each classroom but we learned our reading, writing and arithmetic.  I was thinking about than in during a recent Facebook thread on diagramming sentences. We did a lot of that too.

But in practical terms probably the most relevant course I’ve ever took was the non credit after school course in touch typing when I was a high school freshman. We sat at manual typewriters that had no letters on the keys. In the front of the room was a large chart with the QWERTY keyboard.  A white habited Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister whose name is lost to my memory drilled us in the order of the letters of the keyboard.  We would type each letter as we recited in unison A;SLDKFJGH [SPACE]. These were the home keys. And so it went for the upper row of keys and the lower row of keys. The drills went on and on until we were adept at touch typing; that is, typing without looking at the keys.

Who knew what an important role the QWERTY keyboard would become with the evolution of personal computing? There have been suggestions that QWERTY is obsolete.  But they will have to pry my QWERTY keyboard from my cold dead hands. Although here are some input devices I would definitely try.

Lately, I been learning about all of the neat things one can do to format documents in Microsoft Word. I’m immersed in different kinds of “Styles” and how neat it works when you take a “numbering style” and attache it to a “paragraph style”.  We lawyers love our numbered paragraphs. Once you learn how to do this editing and moving paragraphs is a breeze and  the numbering  stays consistent.

Here is a neat Word trick. Say you want to experiment with your formatting and need several paragraphs of “text” to play around with. Type this command =lorem(2,3) and you will get this:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Maecenas porttitor congue massa. Fusce posuere, magna sed pulvinar ultricies, purus lectus malesuada libero, sit amet commodo magna eros quis urna.

Nunc viverra imperdiet enim. Fusce est. Vivamus a tellus.

The first number is the number of paragraphs you want and the second number is the number of lines.

Alright, I’ve posted an entire blog without talking about politics. But that silence will end soon.

Ciao!

Drynuary

It’s no secret that I have a fondness for gin. It started in law school. I worked full time and attended classes at night. Getting home around 10:00 I found it a quick way to round the edges of the day’s stress and get to bed in time to do it all over again. Ever since then most evenings end with one or two (and sometimes three) martinis on the rocks. I once watched an “ex” order a martini during happy hour. He looked at me and said; “I blame this on you, Michael”.

I have colossal respect for my friends in recovery.  I wouldn’t describe my behavior as addictive. But I know some would disagree.

Inspired by my friend Nancy I’m observing Drynuary – a month free of alcohol.  She makes a good case in her Blog:

My main takeaway was how many adults old enough to know better still drink like college students, with the multiple rounds of Fireball shots, the mixing of beer and vodka and all sorts of vile crap, all served in plastic cups in horrible bars.

My second takeaway is that there’s nothing more boring, and intolerable, as a drunk. I’ve known a few, and that glassy-eyed stare they get brings back unpleasant memories.

Days 1-3 total fail. So I’m going public in hopes that fear of humiliation will increase the likelihood of success.

Here’s a story from the New York Times about someone who has been doing this for years.

I’ll keep you posted.

Holistic New Year’s Resolutions – Redux

Three years ago I first posted my Holistic New Year’s Resolutions. I’m dusting them off again.

A specific New Year’s pledge of mine – Resolved to write more. Hopefully my writing will survive when I’m gone.

  1. Don’t be nice – be kind

There’s a big difference.  Nice people are polite, smile and are friendly.  Kind people actually care.  Last year I received a random act of kindness.  I pulled up to the drive through window and was informed that the car in front of me had paid for my meal.  That was nice and who doesn’t want a free lunch?  But we should match our kindness to need.  Be aware of people you know who have suffered a lose or are otherwise hurting.  If you go to a funeral follow up about a month later with a call or a visit.  We all know people who have been through divorce or bad break ups.  Keep them on your radar and make it a point to reach out.  Your opening can be as simple as “I was thinking about you.  Can I buy you a drink?”

2Change from Within

Instead of focusing on weight or appearance change from within.  Seek and appreciate solitude every day.  For one friend who is a single mom it’s the 15 minute very hot shower in the morning.  I’ve tried driving to work as a moment of solitude but that doesn’t work for me.  Try meditating.  There are lot’s of YouTube videos with guided meditations.  If you belong to a religious congregation seek out the more spiritual aspects of your beliefs and worship.

3. Eat Better Food

Did I say I was at a drive through window?  I’m working on this.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says I should be eating 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables per day based on my age and level of activity.  I’m not even close. You can find out what they recommend for you.  One has to shop, clean and chop  those veggies.  But once you do that roasting, steaming, boiling or sauteing them is pretty easy.  And they taste pretty good too.

4. Spend Less Than you Earn

This is financial equivalent of burn more calories than you consume.  Keep track of your spending.  It’s surprising how many people don’t especially when using credit cards.  For $39.95 you can get Quicken’s Money Management software. You can automatically link your bank accounts and credit cards to down load and categorize all of your expenses. A free on-line version is available at Mint.com.  I’m not comfortable with all of my financial data and passwords on the cloud but I’m no expert on this either.  Make monthly contributions to your retirement as important a payment as your rent or car note.

5. Be a Mentor

Parents with children at home can skip this one.  Reach out to a niece or a nephew, a kid in the neighborhood or someone at work.  Give them the gift of your time and your wisdom.

6. Volunteer

You know how to do this.  Do it.

7. Be Creative

Former President George W. Bush took up oil painting.  The critics have not been kind but who cares?  I’m going to try to edit video…and be a bit more faithful to this Blog.

bush paintings

8. Get Rid of Toxic People in Your Life.

This may sound unkind but it’s really not.  You know who toxic people are.  They contribute nothing to your personal growth, talk about themselves way too much, whine but do nothing and are constantly critical about everyone and every thing.  I remember one such person criticizing mutual acquaintances to me and it made me wonder what he said about me to others.  Life it too short and we have choices about who to include and who to exclude in our personal environment.

9. Learn a New Skill

If it’s a creative skill you’ve got a twofer (see no. 7).

10. Be Mindful of Your Life’s Purpose

Indulge me as I get a bit “New Agey” here.  I do not believe we are accidents of evolution.  We all have a purpose.  Most of us are fulfilling our purpose without realizing it.  Being mindful of ones purpose makes it’s fulfillment all the more satisfying.  One’s purpose includes each of these three characteristics.

a. You are very good at it.  Be it writing, teaching, cooking, writing code or painting houses – you are better at it than just about everyone else.

b. You enjoy it.  My father used to say they don’t spell work “f-u-n”.  To an extent he is right.  Work is work.  But when we are engaged in our life’s purpose we are most likely to get into the “zone” in which all of our concentration and attention is focused and time loses its meaning.

c. You Make the World is A Better Place.  When it comes to saving the world few of us can do more than baby steps.  But all of those baby steps accumulate.  And they are very important to those around us that experience and benefit from our life’s purpose.

Happy New Year everyone.  I’m hoping it’s joyful, healthy and prosperous.

The Smartest Man in the Room

I’ve come to believe when one has lived long and accomplished much we should not mourn their passing but celebrate their lives. And that’s what I want to do here; celebrate the amazing life of David W. Adamany.

This is not an obituary. You can easily find several including here and here with a summary of his remarkable career in urban higher education.

It was my great privilege to serve for 16 years on the Board of Governors of Wayne State University. For 8 of those years David was the University’s President. It was once observed that the only real role of a university board is to choose the President. That’s an exaggeration but there’s some truth to this. Boards are involved in matters of broad policy but it’s the President who runs the show. David ran quite a show and I had a ring side seat.

David was the smartest man I’ve ever known. He had a keen intellect, near photographic memory and an incredible ability to instantly analyse any situation. But my admiration came from his values. These were the overall context and motivation for his work. He believed in excellence. He practiced it himself and demanded it of everyone else. He believed in the University’s urban mission and took to heart the fact that many of Wayne’s students were the first in their family to go to college. Without  Wayne State a university education would not have been available to many young Detroiters. Less than a dozen years earlier I was one of those kids.

The chairmanship of the Board was usually for a one year term and rotated among the members. As it turned out I was the Chair when David’s predecessor resigned. I co-chaired the search committee. This was 1981 and the the country was in it’s worst recession since the great depression. As the saying goes when the country gets an economic cold Detroit gets pneumonia. Wayne State faced deep cuts in it’s funding. This was not an attractive job in the national academic community.

I first met David in the Marriott hotel across the street from the Rosslyn Station of the Washington D.C. Metro.  There is a reason I remember this. The Board flew to Washington to interview several candidates. At National Airport while the other board members were lining up at the Taxi stand my colleague former Michigan Governor George Romney (yes, Mitt’s dad) punched me on the shoulder and said with a grin, “Let’s take the Metro. I think we can beat them to the hotel”. Now George had also served as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and knew Washington a lot better than I did. Off he ran carrying his suit case with me trailing behind. We didn’t beat them but we came close. When we emerged at the top of the 207 foot escalator (one of the of World’s longest), their cabs were pulling up to the hotel entrance.

When the Board unanimously decided to offer David the job it fell to Executive Vice President Ed Cushman and me to return to Washington to negotiate the terms. We spend most of the day in David’s condo near DuPont Circle. As we talked about the University and economic conditions in Detroit David quoted to us the Michigan State Constitution, the terms of our union contract with the AAUP and the University’s Code of Procedures. This was my first real exposure to this renowned Constitutional Scholar who never, EVER, showed up unprepared. He was intrigued by our offer but he had a dilemma. He candidly explained that he was sitting on a offer to serve as Provost at Princeton. “I can spend a few years at Princeton and then be a President just about anywhere. I can also serve as President at Wayne State during this recession and never get another job”.

In hindsight I’m not surprised he chose us. The work was harder and the challenge was greater – and that was David.

David Adamany and me at my final meeting as a member of the Wayne State University Board of Governors.

David Adamany and me at my final meeting as a member of the Wayne State University Board of Governors.

During his tenure as Wayne’s President David was the subject of much gossip about his personal life.  The prevailing “wisdom” of the early 80’s was that it would be very difficult for an openly gay man to lead a major institution dependent on the legislature and donors for its success.  It’s not that David lived life in the closet. His particular version of “don’t ask, don’t tell” was more like “don’t brag, don’t deny”.  The Board of Governors knew. But we were so overwhelmed by his leadership in that very difficult time no one thought it was relevant.

We are inevitably shaped both positively and negatively by the people we are fated to meet. My work and friendship with David Adamany is one of my life’s blessings.