Michigan

Donald Trump comes to Ypsilanti, MI

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What an unexpected treat! No, I’m not talking about the heavily redacted tax forms that were leaked from the White House…no, I’m talking about our Commander-In-Queef in the orange flesh! In my city! About 5 miles from my house, at the old Willow Run auto plant that has recently been converted to an autonomous car testing facility.

Will he use the word “bigly”? Will he take credit for the economic upturn, despite being a President for less than a financial quarter? Will he accidentally get run over by an autonomous car?

Well, 2 out of 3 isn’t bad.

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Plastic: we’ve taxed it

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According to MLive, the Washtenaw County (Michigan) Board of Commissioners has just approved a 10 cent tax on each grocery bag (paper and/or plastic) that is used to package groceries. This would apply to any retail establishment that sells food, which means pretty much any store from gas stations to grocery stores in Washtenaw County would be subject to the tax.

Ultimately, this is just another ridiculous idea from the same board of commissioners that spends more time passing resolutions against things that they have absolutely no control over (i.e. diversity rights in other countries), than spending time on things that would actually improve the quality of life for the taxpaying residents of Washtenaw County.

A 10 cent tax makes sense on pop cans and bottles. A 10 cent tax makes less sense on plastic bags that costs retailers less than .0005 cents each wholesale. Plus, not all of us have Lululemon branded carrying bags to haul groceries into our spacious Subaru crossover vehicles. Many residents rely on public transportation to do grocery shopping. I have done it quite a few times when a car wasn’t available. Carrying 50 pounds of groceries onto the bus, and walking a mile home is barely feasible with triple plastic-bagged groceries. I sure as hell wouldn’t recommend attempting that with some raggedy old cloth bags that have lower centers of gravity and less room to store things. Although, we do have some people who are quite content to just push grocery carts full of groceries all the way back home, which is just as ridiculous. Maybe THAT’S where the focus on punitive fees and resource conservation should be? I see more abandoned shopping carts than I do grocery bags on the sides of the roads.

Another problem is the implementation of this fee. Many people use “U-Scan” self serve checkouts at grocery stores, partially for the convenience, and partially because there are usually no actual traditional cashier lanes open. The U-Scan machines are prone to break down, need constant calibration, and can barely work for their intended purposes…let alone if we were to add additional sensors to keep track of the amount of bags used. There are hardly enough human beings working the checkout lanes, so how the hell do you expect them to keep track of how many bags are used?

Of course, this could all be null and void if Senate Bill 853 passes, which was approved by the Senate and is currently waiting approval by the House of Representatives. Personally, I could care less either way. Being as environmentally conscious as I am a cheap bastard, I have used plastic grocery bags for many years to dispose of waste at my house. It saves money on buying trash bags, and is a great way to re-use old plastic bags. The way I see it, a package of trash bags might cost 3 bucks. With this tax, 3 bucks buys me 30 plastic bags that I can use for trash bags. See, now THAT’s the type of creative problem solving we need in this county! Maybe I should run for the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners…

Smile, Ypsilanti: You’re on camera!

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In the world of internet services and applications, nothing is ever truly free.

If you buy a game for your cellphone, you may have two options: a free version that contains advertisements, and a paid version that does not contain advertisements. Data-farming is highly lucrative, and identity theft is prevalent in a world where most people balk at two-factor authentication, where people complain about privacy settings on Facebook while thinking nothing of logging into sketchy third-party apps to play ridiculous games and surveys, and where many people still consider “abc123” a viable password.

If you aren’t paying for services with money, then you are paying for services with your data.

Which brings us to the lovely city of Ypsilanti, Michigan. If you decide to walk throughout the downtown and Depot Town areas, you will find some great bars, stores, and restaurants, as well as Riverside Park which is next to the Huron River. You will also find video cameras trained on these locations:

-The intersection of W. Michigan Ave and S. Washington St.

-The intersection of N. River and Cross St.

-The parking lots for N. Huron, S. Huron, and N. Adams

Now…the man who is responsible for these video cameras is Steve Pierce. He is a local businessman who has been involved in local political elections. He is also the person responsible for the Wireless Ypsi initiative, which provides the immediate downtown area with free wireless internet access.

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Steve Pierce, who is responsible for the installation and oversight of the cameras in downtown Ypsilanti.

 

The issue that people are starting to have, is that Pierce has refused to sign an agreement with the Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority, which states that he will not sell the images that he receives while using these cameras.

For his part, Pierce thinks that what he is doing is completely legal, and that what he is doing is no different than videotaping animals at zoos, or videotaping the geyser Old Faithful.

And, for my part, I think that videotaping actual human beings is a hell of a lot different than videotaping a monkey or an attraction at a national park. Yes, these videos are available for the public to watch (I’ll provide a link to the website at the end of this article), but why would Pierce want to videotape city parking lots and intersections?

I can only speculate, but whether he is simply a voyeur, whether he is gathering metrics, data, and images to sell to other businesses or to use for his own business purposes; or whether he is a calculating politician hoping to catch a particular person stumbling out of a bar into a parking lot, there really are no valid reasons for a private citizen to administrate the videotaping of large public areas in a city, with no oversight. This is probably more of a case of Creepy Uncle rather than Big Brother, but there are still many questionable things about this.

The only valid reason to have cameras in public places are for security reasons, and even then there need to be limits imposed on the amount of data collected and the time allotted to store the data. The video cameras in the West Willow neighborhood is a good example, which has helped somewhat to reduce and deter crime in a traditionally high-crime area, and which was approved by the residents themselves, in collaboration with the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department.

It’s really unfortunate that Moore’s Law (which is starting to plateau) is still more accurate and relevant than the laws governing usage of the internet, and internet enabled products. This has ignited a good debate in the community, however, and the Ypsilanti DDA will continue to debate the legality of these video cameras at their next meeting in April.

The video cameras in Ypsilanti, offering real-time feeds available to the public, can be seen at http://cams.ypsi.com/ .

 

 

 

The AIC/A2 connection

Growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I was an outcast surrounded by outcasts. One good thing about this was that I was constantly exposed to good music, that is, when I wasn’t getting kicked out of school for fighting or insubordination. One band that I was really into was Alice In Chains. I remember buying “Dirt” the day it came out, and coming home with it. My parents, bless them, would attempt to censor what I listened to. They took a look at the liner lyrics (remember those?), and immediately told me that I couldn’t listen to it. Which made Dirt the first album that was ever censored by my parents NOT due to obscenity. Yeah, there were a couple swear words, but I still believe they wouldn’t let me listen to it because the lyrics were so drug-infused, depressive, and dark. Now that I’m a parent, I can understand why I wouldn’t want a kid listening to songs like “Junkhead” and “Dirt”, although I would never censor what my son listens to.

Side note: Parents…don’t censor what your kids listen to! They will listen to what they want, whether you “let them” or not. It’s better to be aware of what your kids are listening to, so that you can be informed and offer some advice or perspective on it.

When I went back into foster care, however, I started hanging out with people who were into hardcore and metal like me, and started going to shows. My first concert was Helmet and the Rollins Band, with Sausage (which was a Les Claypool side project at the time). Pretty fucking cool for a first concert, if you ask me. Helmet’s “Meantime” was the first actual CD that I ever bought, and you would have seen me rocking a Helmet band shirt regularly back then. Helmet is still one of my favorite bands. Page Hamilton was a huge influence on my guitar playing, and John Stanier is still one of the best drummers I’ve ever seen perform. And the whole time I was 15, I rocked an Alice In Chains ball cap, because I loved AIC so much.

The reason I’m writing about AIC is because I just read a biography about them, and have been revisiting their music. I recently found out that a group from my hometown of Ann Arbor, Taproot (they were fairly popular in the early 2000’s), was almost the last band to work with Layne Staley. Apparently, the story goes: Toby Wright, who produced AIC’s Jar of Flies, and Jerry Cantrell’s solo stuff, was working on Taproot’s second album “Welcome” (which is a good album by the way). They had an instrumental that went by the tentative name of “Spacey”, and Layne Staley heard it and loved it. He had agreed to put vocals on the track, but ended up passing away before that happened. Although, it was said that “Spacey” was still playing in Staley’s stereo when he was found dead…

Anyway…I thought that was crazy. Dirt is obviously a 10/10 classic, but Facelift and the “Dog Album” had their highlights too. What The Hell Have I is a killer song. Even the new shit with William DuVall is good. The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here is a great album and if you close your eyes, you can swear that DuVall is channeling the ghost of Layne Staley. Jerry Cantrell has some mean riffs on there, as well.

One of my favorite AIC songs:

 

 

The Michigan government water torture

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Who would HB 4540 actually benefit? Enbridge. Notice “Line 6B”? That pipeline burst into the Kalamazoo River back in 2010, and there was a major state cover-up to hide the facts. HB 4540 would just make it easier to make another cover-up the next time a pipeline leaks oil into our Great Lakes and rivers.

Well, things are finally looking better for Flint, now that they’ve gotten a lead-free water source, millions of bottles of water, and hometown band King 810 promising to save them all. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, we can take one step ahead while taking two steps back.

House Bill 4540, originally sponsored by state representative Kurt Heise, is a bill that was introduced solely to conceal information about oil and gas pipelines from being public information. It is basically an amendment added on to the state Freedom Of Information Act, and will make it a requirement for anybody who wants to access this information to jump through the typical FOIA rings of arbitrary fees and paperwork.

Ironically enough, Kurt Heise, according to his state bio:

“(Kurt) Heise has nearly 25 years’ experience as a municipal, labor, and environmental attorney in Southeast Michigan.  He began his career as the Assistant City Attorney in Dearborn Heights and Woodhaven, then as the Mayoral Deputy in Dearborn Heights.  Heise spent nine years in Dearborn Heights, where he handled all elements of municipal government, environmental law, ordinance drafting, contract negotiation, labor relations, and intergovernmental relations.

From 2003 to 2009, Heise served as Director of the Wayne County Department of Environment.  He played a key role in the development of the State Watershed Alliance Act, was a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission for Lake St. Clair, and was appointed by the Speaker of the House to serve as co-chair of the Michigan Groundwater Conservation Advisory Council.  Heise represented Wayne County on all matters impacting the Detroit Water & Sewer Department and the Rouge River Watershed before the Federal Court, EPA, and MDEQ.”

One can only wonder why someone with such an extensive career in environmental issues would introduce a bill that serves only to help the people who ruin the Michigan environment the most. If you want to let Kurt Heise know how you feel about this despicable bill, he can be reached at his creatively named phone number 1-855-REP-KURT, or he can be e-mailed at kurtheise@house.mi.gov .

Michigan has the largest concentration of freshwater in the world. Why the politicians here are hell-bent on ruining it for us, I have no idea. But once it’s gone, it’s gone. Let’s do what we can to save our most precious resource, while we still can.

Michigan: Bankruptcy, lead-filled water, and ridiculous posters

Flint, Michigan has been dealing with a water crisis for almost 2 years now, ever since they switched water sources to the Flint River in order to cut costs. The crisis, of course, is the fact that the lead concentrations in the water have been unsafe for quite some time, with many kids and adults finding out that they have elevated levels of lead in their bloodstream. In one of the poorest and most dangerous cities in the nation, the last thing Flint needs is a water source that can potentially cause mental and physical maladies for their residents.

It took a lot of protesting by the citizens and the local government to bring awareness to this issue, and eventually the Michigan government took notice. They have finally switched back to the original water source (the Detroit River), which should put this crisis to rest, finally.

I’m not a Flint resident (although I like to go there to visit the best concert venue in the state, The Machine Shop), but I just noticed this poster that was given out/shown to Flint residents last month. Now, if this isn’t terrible PR handling, then I don’t know what is…

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What in the HELL made the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) think that this was a good idea? Which pot-smoking intern came up with this poster, and who in the hell approved it? A few thoughts:

-Kids will drink bathwater whether you “let them” or not. As a parent of a 2 year old, I am fully aware of toddlers’ bathwater drinking habits.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, warm water will have much higher levels of lead than cold water. Unless you bathe yourself or your kids in ice cold water, there is a relatively higher risk of lead poisoning. Funny, I didn’t see that fact listed anywhere on that Comic Sans font nightmare of a poster.

-One thing the poster got right, mostly, is “lead in bath water will not soak into your skin fast or at high levels”. In fact, lead doesn’t soak into skin AT ALL. Of course, it can soak into mucous membranes, so if you or your child have any cuts or abrasions, it would be wise to take extra caution.

Now, I am glad to see Flint residents finally getting safe tap water. But this poster is just the icing on a lead-contaminated cake. The Rick Snyder administration needs to get some remedial lessons on PR, ASAP. And some graphic design lessons wouldn’t hurt, either.

 

We can get paid $100 just to read an email? Sign me up!

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The Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) is an incredibly important tool that forces transparency on businesses and governments that, many times, would rather keep things on the “DL”. Of course, this tool can come at a high cost, as a local high school student recently found out.

Chris Robbins, a Plymouth-Canton (Michigan) high school student, decided to submit a FOIA request for emails pertaining to the school’s policy regarding blocked websites. The school district sent him an almost $9,000 bill, which is apparently because it will cost $100 to read each email, when it will cost $50/hr with a 2 hour time allotment. Why it would take 2 hours to search a single email is beyond me. Even if you were to double, triple, and quadruple check each email, it shouldn’t take any more than 10 minutes for each one, and that’s being extremely generous.

Personally, if I wanted to pay $100 an hour just to get screwed, I’d walk down to Michigan Avenue and find a hooker. Last I heard, they charge considerably less than that, which means you’re getting even more bang for the buck! Oh, I love terrible puns.