Wednesday, December 02, 2009

17th Annual Madrigal Christmas

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The Leelanau Children's Choir will present its 17th Annual Madrigal Concert at 7:30 on Friday December 4th and Saturday December 5th at the Northport Performing Arts Center. This is a picture of Anna and Liz. This photo is maybe 4 years old; the little girl wearing this costume this year is truly little, Liz is long graduated, while Anna has become a young lady. Tech week is always a grind, but the performances truly start the Christmas season.

Monday, November 30, 2009


University of Michigan senior Shelagh Fehrenbach works with a group of third graders on Spanish words during a class at Ann Arbor's King Elementary School. Melanie Maxwell |

It was a treat to have daughter Shelagh and her husband Jordan home for a short Thanksgiving holiday. My favorite moment was when Shelagh was reacquainting herself with the piano and Beethoven's "Sonata Pathetique" in all its head=banging glory while Jordan and I swept up the kitchen and Anna hovered over Shelagh's shoulder, turning pages and watching music and hands.

We ate a smoked turkey from Carlson's and lots of side dishes. Shelagh and I sort of tag teamed teaching Anna how to make the pies. We burned the first baked pie shell so we had two lemon meringue pies and no apple, but apple is an everyday pie and lemon meringue only shows up when Shelagh comes home, so everyone was happy. I cut up a home grown big Long Island Marrow Squash, roasting part of it in chunks and cooking down the rest for pie filling. Yams with coconut milk and garam masala has been my favorite leftover dish.

Shelagh and Jordan went back to Ann Arbor on Saturday. Shelagh is student teaching in a third grade classroom at Martin Luther King Elementary, hoping to be lucky enough to get a teaching job after graduation, but making plans to work odd jobs until Jordan finishes his degree.

You can read more about the Ann Arbor Language Project here.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

350 at the Dunes

Ken Scott's stop action film of the 350 on the dunes.

We had to go to Traverse City anyway, so I told Anna that we would spend the extra fossil fuels to swing by the dunes and join a group of people who were going to make a giant 350 on the dunes to draw attention to climate change. She said "Great!" and asked if her friend Madison could come along.

When we got there, people were sort of milling around and saying hi to each other. It was interesting to try and figure out who was there for climate change and who was there to just visit the dunes. Jim Lively stood on a picnic table, hollered a welcome, explained the event, and then asked us to divide into three groups, one for each digit. I was drawn to the small groups of people picnicking and watching; I made a quick pass down the picnic tables inviting the onlookers to "help us make the number 350 on the dunes as part of an international effort to focus government attention on the challenge of climate change." I knew I probably wouldn't get many takers, but I wanted everyone there to know why we were doing what we were doing.

I'm the person in the teal shirt and dark jeans running to catch up to the last of the "0" group. Anna and Madison were wearing matching neon green T shirts and pink shorts, at the top of the 5. In the stop-action movie it seems like we were rushing, but at the time we had plenty of time for crosstalk, even as we kept our eyes on our director. The lady next to me fretted about people who who coming in late to join. They weren't wearing the bright blues and greens mentioned in the email invitation to the event. "That's OK," we reassured her, "we need all the help we can get." It reminded me of the bickering about "I'm greener than you!" that often pops up in environmentalist circles and discourages neophytes from taking small steps because they can't see themselves going whole hog.

In the movie we are only laying down for a second. In real life we had time to look at the clouds blowing by. A guy to my left started thinking aloud:

"350. That's the percentage of the carbon of what, again?"

I spoke to the sky, "We need to achieve a target of 350 parts per million of CO2 in our atmosphere in order to avoid catastrophic levels of climate change. Scientists agree that 350 is our target."

"And where are we now?"

Across the "0" someone yelled, "We are over 380. Getting close to 390."

An older voice said, "We need to get our governments to get serious about this. We can all do things on our own, but governments need to become involved. A younger voice suggested "Go to"

We stood up again, on cue, and then jumped up and down and did some waves. I was reminded that I was never meant to be a cheerleader. The elderly lady next to me confessed that she couldn't jump. I said, "I think I'm jumping but I'm afraid that my pants are staying where they were."

We all trooped down again on cue, and then went off to our own pursuits. I fed the girls a picnic lunch and they set off to play on the dunes, the better to justify the extra gas that we had spent on such a frivolous stunt. Usually we come to the dunes when family visits. I was impressed at the discipline of the group that came on the tour bus and dutifully trooped up and down the dunes in a line. I saw many examples of our typical family gathering, when a few people go up and then disappear for what seems like hours while others wait at the bottom wondering if the first group is lost.

I sat for over an hour waiting for Anna and Madison. I talked to the family sharing our picnic table and turned a forgotten video camera over the a park ranger. I fielded questions from people who had seen the 350 and wondered what it was (a family reunion?) I explained that this action was both a precursor to international events being planned for October 24th and a follow up to Bill McKibben's talk in Traverse City last fall, when he saw mentioned on his own dune tour how cool it would be to se folks depict a 350 on that landscape.

Finally we packed up and drove home, getting ice cream bars in Maple City and dropping Madison off at her house. All traces of 350 were gone from the dunes, but Anna and Madison had put two new tracks on by rolling all of the way down.

It was nice this morning to see that the EPA is going to start regulating greenhouse gas emissions on the nations biggest producers, mainly power plants. Even dunes can move.

P.S. There are more pictures of the event here.

Friday, August 07, 2009

4-H Livestock Auction

Two 4-H kids and their lambs, waiting for their turn to show.

The Northwest Michigan Fair opens on Sunday, with the culmination of the 4-H Livestock projects, the 4-H Livestock Auction, taking place on Thursday, August 13th. The 4-H Livestock Auction is an opportunity to purchase high quality, local, home grown animals for meat, for breeding stock, or to add to your laying flock. It is also the place to buy less mainstream meat like goat, rabbit or duck. For those who want to truly know what they are eating, the fair is an opportunity to interview the person who raised the animal, peruse feed records, compare animals, and to see who was deemed the best by expert livestock judges.

Darrel Robinson of the 4-H Livestock Council was kind enough to give me some advice about the action for first timers. 4-H kids will be showing their animals all week (see schedule here) through Wednesday, and will rated for both the quality of their animals and for showmanship (their knowledge of and handling of their animal). Wednesday evening , the eve of the auction, is a good time to walk the barns and talk with the kids about their animals. Registration for the auction is at 8 am on Thursday morning; the auction starts at 9 am. The auction proceeds one specie at a time, beginning with swine. The lineup looks something like this:
Meat Chickens
Production Chickens (layers)
Dairy Feeders
Jr. Beef
There is a free appreciation luncheon for all registered buyers at noon on auction day. Registered buyers also get free fair admission on auction day. Buyers are also publicly thanked in fair and newspaper advertising. If you are interested in bidding on an animal but can't be there for the auction, you may complete a "proxy card" which authorizes 4-H Livestock Council to bid on your behalf. Call 228-6562 to get a buyer's pass or a proxy card.

After the auction, you may choose from five different local processors, who will slaughter, butcher, vacuum pack, and freeze your meat to your specifications. The processors will have their services and prices posted at the auction. Smoking and other specialty processing is available. 4-H will transport your animal to the processor at the close of the fair. (If you wish to take your animals home instead of to a processor, this is allowed.)

Families who have purchased or shared in the purchase of a cow or pig tell me that having a whole animal in the freezer challenges them to find recipes for more than the usual cuts of meat. I've found these recipes in older cookbooks and ethnic cookbooks. Authentic ethnic cooking often requires goat, rabbit or duck, smaller animals perfect for adventuresome cooks with less freezer space.

Buying at the 4-H Livestock Auction is more than just an alternative way to buy food. Last week at the Traverse City Film Fest, I saw Food, Inc. and was inspired to hand out Livestock Auction brochures at the discussion afterward. During the film, the audience murmured and groaned during scenes of animal distress. I was more moved by descriptions of farmers' distress. The cheap meat that we see in the grocery store is made possible by a system that forces farmers to accept higher and higher levels of debt and diminishing levels of actual income. I'm not worried about the future of the factory far. -- the system is unsustainable and will crumble under its own weight -- but I'm worried that as we build more sustainable systems we will face a dearth of young people who know how to actually work with animals. Supporting 4-H through the Livestock Auction is a way to support the next generation of food producers.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Fourth of July Parade

The 4th of July is a big holiday in Leland. Our streets are full of residents and summer people, although the split may be 50/50 between residents watching in the parade and residents actually in the parade. My family has been dedicated parade watchers, passing up opportunities to ride bikes, be a piece of the baguette, support candidates and causes, etc., although brother Chris has been known to play his french horn in the one-rehearsal-only marching band.

For me, the big drama was the Eve of the Fourth fireworks. As long as I can remember the fireworks have been held on the Lake Michigan beach, sponsored by the Leland Community Improvement Association. A few days before this year's display, Leland's fire chief, Mike Fandel, met with the pyrotechnic crew at the site and determined that the rising water and late dredging had left us with too little beach to safely host a fireworks display. Chief Fandel offered us an alternate location, at Hancock Park, and presented us with a plan for crowd control and how they would station the fire crew to simultaneously monitor the fireworks dsplay and be ready in case of a need elsewhere in the township.

It was fun to be called to a special town board meeting to "save the fireworks" by approving the new location. It was not so much fun to hear feedback from people who feared that the soccer fields would be ruined, the park would be trashed, or that the parking would become unmanageable.

In the end, the fireworks went off without a hitch. I heard good feedback about the fire department's safety enforcement and event management. The new location, on a hill, meant that the display was visible from many more parts of the township, including most of the north lake , East Leland, and even my house, over the tops of the trees. Many village residents skipped going out to the field and simply watched from their yards, streets, or rooftops. People remarked that it was much more of a family event, instead of the beach front bacchanalia that we had seen in recent years.

NOTE: I've mentioned fireworks enough that the web crawlers are sure to think that it is appropriate for this blog to host home fireworks advertising. In order to put on a fireworks display in Leland Township, you must get special permission from the town board, which involves obtaining a large insurance policy and an event plan approved by the fire chief, you are likely to be ticketed, fined, or worse.

After the fireworks drama, it was nice to have a laid back day in Leland, watching the parade and cooking hot dogs. I tried to get one shot of each entry in the parade, but I ran out of memory just before The Leland Fire Department made their customary second appearance, with some members running around the back streets to not only head up the parade, but to also bring up the rear. Chief Fandel ended up on top of the antique engine, using a not so spry water shooter to sprinkle the kids in the crowd.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Suddenly Summer

In summer, we are often too busy living life to properly document it, so here are some quick updates:
  • Leland Harbor is still not open for business. The earliest we expect to have slips and fuel is July 3rd, with showers and full service maybe July 17th. If you came into the harbor, you would see docks but no fuel or pump out available, and every second plankon the docks is loose, so that the workers and inspectors can get at the underside.
  • Strawberries are out, the garden is in, rhubarb was a hot seller again this year.
  • I set another hen on eight eggs and ended up with two new chicks. She was a real good mom, but the rooster is apparently not giving his job its due.
  • It rained in Chicago, so we never made it to the blues fest. But I spent a day letting Anna learn how to navigate the subway and bus and how to handle an umbrella on a busy sidewalk. It was fun.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Choir Concert Tonight

The Leelanau Childrens Choir concert is tonight, 7:30 at Northport School. I'm going early to drop Anna off and then taking Richard out for barbecue at the new place just south of Dog Ears Books. Hope it doesn't rain.

(Image borrowed shamelessly from Books in Northport. Some days are pretty busy......)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Lots of News, No Pictures

The wine fest is tomorrow, and the parking lot is ready in the nick of time! Wednesday night I was at work on break when I read in both the Northern Express and the Leelanau Enterprise that the community of Leland was so resourceful and cooperative that we had figured out how to hold the wine fest at the harbor despite the delays in actually finishing the harbor project. Rains on Monday and Tuesday had meant further delays and the wine fest site on Wednesday had looked like piles of dirt with curbs. As I went back to work I worried that the printed congratulations may have been premature.

But then I saw the project foreman watching some guys play a slot. I tapped him on the shoulder.

"Do we have asphalt?"

"Tomorrow. Eight in the morning."

Asphalt went down as promised, and set up for the wine fest should be going on as I type. I have no picture, as I am in Evanston today, picking Liz up after her junior year at Northwestern. We'll miss the wine fest, but we intend to take in the Chicago Blues Fest tomorrow. (See The Leland Report for a crazy photo)

Liz wanted baby chicks when she got home, and I finally got a hen to commit to brooding a clutch in time for the first two little ones to hatch out yesterday morning. I hope she'll be a good mom and keep them safe until we get home. I wanted to download some pictures, but this morning my computer had an ominous "System file 22 corrupted" message on the screen. Good excuse to leave town and come back with Liz and her computer. It was a beautiful day to travel. Life is good.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Leland Harbor: Four Days Til Wine Fest

And it's raining at Leland Harbor. The parking lot must be graded and paved in order to host the Leland Wine Fest on June 11, and they were still pouring curbs and gutters late last week.

This drama is as good as any reality TV series. At our last Town Board meeting we decided to extend the completion deadline to:
  • Parking Lot Paved -- June 11
  • Operational Gas Dock -- June 26
  • Building Substantial Completion -- July 10
We could have refused to grant any extensions and collected penalties and fees from the contractor, but having the harbor open, even provisionally, is worth more to us.

The docks have been in use already, almost from the moment they hit the water. Even over Memorial Day, when they were just floating in the harbor, unattached to land, there was a sailboat that spent the holiday on their own little island out there. As Anna and I left on Sunday, we saw some power boaters pull into a slip, tie up, and walk over the "Dock Closed" sign on their way to shore.

Our mission Sunday was to photograph the north side of the building, which is now almost completely covered with the grey shakes that were chosen to mirror the look of the vintage buildings of Fishtown. I have to look past the construction equipment and imagine the front porch, but I can see the building eventually feeling like an extension of Fishtown.

Even before I was elected I heard a lot of opinions about the size and style of the harbor building. I talked to people who came late to the process complaining that the building would be too big and tall. I talked to the Harbor Commission members who had put the design together based on the input from public hearings and the constraints of the site and the funding process. I went from being skeptical of the design to being a big fan. But I was also struck by the way the the people who came in late to criticize the design were talking to only each other. I had always thought of a public hearing as a mechanism for the public to make their views known to the powers that be. Now I see the public hearing as a useful forum for the various stakeholders to hear each other and figure out how to compromise. The harbor building had to accommodate the boaters' needs, the classic Fishtown architecture advocates, the pedestrian traffic, the playground crowd, and myriad state and federal agencies. Nobody was getting everything that they wanted, but the Harbor Commission did try to come up with a design that was responsive to all concerns.

Right now it takes a lot of imagination to erase the construction equipment, the tool trailers, , the piles of dirt. You have to visualize the grey shakes darkening in a few seasons. The seagulls are already depositing their own patina on the red roof. One day the flag pole will be up again, the noisy machines will be gone, and we will be standing in the harbor with seagulls flying through a stiff west wind, watching a small boat entering safe harbor, and all will be well.

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Friday, June 05, 2009

Stefani on "The Early Show"

Watch the video here

I wrote about Stefani Pentiuk in a Leelanau Childrens Choir inspired post a few years ago. That post ended "Life is too much to believe," and not much has changed. Stefani and her parents were on The Early Show this morning with her heart doctor, the man who reassured her before the heart transplant that she would not only survive, but he would "take you to your prom." Dr. Ackerman then showed up, ten years later at the Leelanau County Prom to surprise Stefani and fulfill his promise.

I was thinking of that scene while reading recent commentaries about proms and the expensive gowns, limos, hairdos, hotel rooms, etc that some communities indulge their kids in. Our prom is a three-school affair that takes place in the showroom at the casino where I work. The event is organized by a student committee advised by Sutton Bay business teacher Stan Pasch. You don't need a date, or a new dress for prom; you can shop second hand or rework an old dress. (I used to like to go visit prom on my breaks. Of course my own kids hated seeing me, but the neighbor kids were always glad to hug me.) Flying in your heart doctor is the most extravagance I've ever seen associated with the Leelanau County Prom, but it made perfect sense.

I've told Stefani's story a lot lately. There's not much to do when you turn eighteen in this town, so lots of kids come out to play at the three dollar blackjack tables once they're old enough. During the transplant and recovery years Stefsni seemed to have lost a few years of growth and a lot of people ask "is she old enough to be in here?" I like telling her story, as it perfectly illustrates my oft-repeated line "Casino luck is the most overrated kind of luck."

Stefani graduates next week and sings in the choir concert the week after. We are all charged with taking whatever luck we have and using it to serve others. She will start at Hope college in the fall, studying to become a nurse.

I was apprehensive about The Early Show gig, but they did a wonderfully understated job of telling the story. I'm looking forward to hearing Stefani's account of her trip to New York.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Leelanau Children's Choir Upcoming Concert

This year's Leelanau Childrens Choir concert is entitled "The Last Five Years", referring to the musical of the same name and also describing the choice of music, all of which comes from recently debuted Broadway shows. They are singing selections from "Spelling Bee", "Spring Awakening", "Billy Elliot", "The Light in the Piazza", "Mary Poppins", "The Last Five Years", "Wicked" and probably some others that I haven't heard yet.

So much new music means that the kids have a lot to learn. Anna has been sitting at the piano evey spare moment working out the melodic details of each piece. The song in the video, however, has taken over her imagination; it is the song she sings to herself when she doesn't even know she's singing. Anna's voice is suddenly sweet, strong, and mature, as if the person upstairs singing is a young woman, not a twelve year old girl.

The video is a YouTube production of an anonymous voice singing a capella, illustrated with stills from various productions of "Light in the Piazza". It seems you can find anything on YouTube these days. The concert is on Friday June 19th at the Northport Community Arts Center. The concert begins at 7:30 pm.

Friday, May 22, 2009

My Brothers Launch a New Book

The face of Buffalo's Memorial Auditorium, AKA "the Aud", now in demolition.

So these days I have a Google news alert set up to keep track of my siblings. Good thing, too, because I'm too busy getting the garden in to do much writing of my own. Today's alert tells me that Brothers Chris and Tim's long time project, a coffee table book about the heyday of the Buffalo Braves basketball got a nice review in the Buffalo News. The review also mentions the demolition of the old Memorial Auditorium, the big venue for sports, concerts, etc. of my youth.
I can see it from the third floor of The Buffalo News, a crumbling carcass of steel and brick. You think of the ghosts and memories contained in the old Memorial Auditorium, and in the hearts and minds of the athletes and fans who spent so many hours there.

Tim Wendel remembers. Wendel grew up in Lockport. He came of age in the 1970s, when pro sports in Buffalo were at their zenith and two daily newspapers were there to record the moment. Wendel would run out of his house on cold winter mornings to pick up the old Courier-Express, and to see what Phil Ranallo had to say in his column.

Wendel went to Syracuse to learn journalism. He got work as a sports rewrite guy at the Courier, editing Ranallo's stuff. He was on his honeymoon in September 1982 when he got a phone call from a friend who was watching his apartment. Your apartment's fine, the friend said, but your paper closed.

He ended up in Washington, D.C., where his wife got a job with the Post. Wendel wrote a book about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. He covered baseball and wrote a baseball novel about Fidel Castro.

He remained a Buffalo guy at heart. He and his brother, Chris, sat around at family gatherings, rehashing games from their youth. One day, they were carrying on about the Braves when a relative said, "Why don't you guys shut up and write about it?"

Buffalo, Home of the Braves is published by Sun Bear Press, brother Chris's new publishing company. Chris is a small business consultant for the the NorthWest Michigan Council of Governments; starting a publishing company is his response to Brother Tim's frustration with the state of the publishing industry, and the opportunity offered by new print-on-demand technology.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Leland Harbor Still Under Construction

Unloading the new floating docks.

The latest word on Leland Harbor from the Harbor Commission:
Leland Harbor is still closed for renovation. Don't look for any mooring in the harbor until June 18th, and don't look for fuel before June 26th. The boat launch will open around the same time.

The Leland Harbor project was on a tight schedule, having been delayed last fall due to State of Michigan red tape, and one of the waterside contractors was held up by the relatively late spring. I had hoped that they could catch up in the long days of late spring, but dredging is going slowly near the shore.

Once the dredging is done, they can stabilize the retaining wall and start on the building's front porch. The roof shingle are on and the shakes, stained a weathered gray, are ready to go up.

I have heard a lot of criticism of the building's size, the roof color, and so on. As the daughter of a civil engineer and an interior designer, I have seen a lot of structures make the transformation from blueprint to finished building, and have heard this same sort of criticism before. I went to the Thompson Street beach after hearing complaints about how huge and intrusive the building looked from the beach. Of course with no siding and shingles it looked bright and huge. But when I imagined what it would look like finished and with the flag flying in a stiff breeze, well my heart skipped a beat. The scene was so impossibly perfect that I'm anxiously waiting for the finish date so that I can see it for real. I suspect that by the end of the summer we will be tripping over artists and their easels painting that very scene.

Of course if you are out on the big lake, scanning the shore for a safe harbor, that red roof will be a most welcome sight.

Anna has been taken with the building process as well. She scrambled over the rocks to get this photo of the new floating docks, as they are assembled out in the harbor waiting for the rest of the components. Only two days on the water and already the seagulls are making themselves at home! An otter was playing around and flipped its tail at us.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mimi at Shelagh's Birthday Party

This is another from the rolls of old film. This is Shelagh's birthday party, her first grade year. Shelagh would have been turning 7 this year, so it was 1993, and my Grandma Mimi, in the photo above was 90. Next to Mimi is Ashley Patterson, and the girl in the red bow is Becky Houdek. Mimi always loved children and loved a party, so she had a place at the table for every birthday party.

This is in the kitchen at our house. We used to have cake-and-ice cream birthday parties with musical chairs and Duck Duck Goose. You were allowed to invite only as many kids as the age you were turning, plus your sister, so turning seven made a pretty good party. Shelagh's birthday is just before Christmas, so other pictures on this roll show the girls making Christmas cookies. In another picture Shelagh is proudly modeling the hand me down white shoes that Ashley gave her. Shelagh was thrilled to get white shoes and I was honored that Ashley's mom trusted us enough to give a second hand birthday present.

Today is Mother's Day. All I wanted was to spend time with my family. Anna and I slept late, then went for a walk in the woods. For supper Richard, Anna, and I made half baked pizza crusts and cut all the fixings, then took it all over to my parent's condo and made them dinner. We also had baby lettuce salad and fresh cut tulips.
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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Leland Harbor Progress

A video from last Thursday, April 23rd.

Swine Flu News

Readers might have wondered why Effect Measure has held the number one spot in my "Blogs I'm Reading now" list. I started reading Effect Measure, an epidemiologists' blog, when I was interested in avian flu and backyard chickens. Mainstream news outlets were desperately trying to take an evolving science story and fit it into the "beginning, middle and end" story formula, preferably with a gripping headline that would get us tuning in again tomorrow and the next day. Effect Measure's editors were engaging in a more collaborative investigation that was much more interesting and to which I, as a backyard chicken keeper, could occasionally contribute some practical observations.

Now, with the swine flu news getting similar treatment, I recommend Effect Measure to readers who want up to date news and science without the premature conclusions. I'm also stocking up on Lysol spray, decongestants, garlic, and chicken soup.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sammy the Dog

My girls are remembering our dog Sam, who was the next picture in that old roll of film. Her full name was Samantha. She was born under the porch at what was then Ken and Alice Scott's house in Peshawbestown, part of a litter born to a stray black lab who took refuge there. Sam was a good dog, very smart, and very protective of the kids.

It was a tragedy when she died under the wheels of Mr. Hagstrom's school bus, trying to prevent it from taking Liz off to kindergarten. I was guilty of negligence, as she would have been obediently by my side had I remembered to call her in before the bus was due. But that day I had gotten our piano tuned for the first time and I dawdled to try it out as Liz nagged me to call the dog in.

Time heals. By the time Liz graduated from high school, the family tragedy had become a well worn black comedy. Liz feigned bitterness over memories of classmate Ellen laughing when Liz shared the news at kindergarten circle time. Ellen obliged by recreating the laugh. Abby's graduation announcement -- featuring a picture of Abby on her first day of school boarding Mr. Hagstrom's bus -- was hung on the wall as crime scene evidence.

Rose has been, in contrast, a not so smart dog. Perhaps that's why she lived so long. She never figured out how to open gates, climb the fence, or even how to walk over the fence when the snow drifted over it. (She did fall over the snow drifted fence a few times and couldn't figure out how to get herself back in.) Instead of having a dog who seemed to always know what I was thinking, I've had to learn to communicate with a loving, but slow witted dog. And now to be patient with a tired, smelly old dog.

So there's a picture of Sammy, my wonderful but short lived dog.
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Monday, April 13, 2009

Ridgeline Zoning Hearing

Tomorrow night, Tuesday April 14th, at 7 pm in the township office, Leland Township's Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on a proposed zoning ordinance to regulate the development of ridge lines.

The purpose of the proposed ordinance is "to naturally reduce the pronounced appearance of structures on a dominant ridgeline without interfering with the scenic views from within those structures." There are restrictions on how much tree cutting can go on around ridgeline construction, and a provision for siting structures below the ridgeline instead of at the top "so as not to be the primary ridgeline element seen from a public road during the first week of July."

I see problems with the ordinance as proposed, since it would pretty much eliminate our township's best sites for wind generation. I also suspect that the oversized house on the hill is the dream home of the last century; the dream home of the future is likely to be of a more reasonable size and built into the hill to conserve energy.

As township trustee, I will go to the hearing to listen, rather than to advocate one side or the other. But I hope that the hearing will be well attended, and that we will hear a variety of perspectives on this issue.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Shelagh and Liz


My splurge with the tax returns involved scooping up all of the old film laying around the house and taking it in to be developed. This is one of a roll from around 1992, when Shelagh was in first grade and Liz was in kindergarten.
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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Leland Harbor Renovation- Installing the Fuel Tanks

Folks returning to Leland this spring will see some big changes. The old Courthouse has been torn down, and there are plans for new housing in it's place. The Leland Library is undergoing a complete interior renovation and should be looking nice and new by mid-May. but the real nail biter has been the long-planned Harbor Renovation. It has been a challenging project, requiring cooperation between Leland Township, Michigan DNR, Michigan DEQ, Michigan Office of Budget Management, the US Army Corps of Engineers, Leelanau County Road Commission, Leelanau County Construction Code Office, and, no doubt, some other agencies that I've forgotten.

Today it was a pleasure to see a big part of the project successfully put into place. The fuel tank in the pictures and video will hold both diesel fuel and gasoline, providing boaters with the only fuel stop between Frankfort and Northport. Behind it, rather lost in the mayhem, you see our pretty little playground. I was happy to see the fuel tank nestled deep into the ground. When the area is back filled and sodded, it will be a nice venue for "king of the Mountain."

It was a warm spring day, with beautiful blue water framing Whaleback. The construction guys are hoping for more weather like this to make up for the time they lost fighting blizzard conditions early in the project.

P.S. As I left the site, I saw an eagle soaring above, too high for a photo, its white head gleaming in the sun.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Climate-Energy – Leelanau’s Future Sustainability

Wednesday April 15 5:30 to 9:00 PM Old Art Building in Leland

“Climate-Energy – Leelanau’s Future Sustainability”

Come to Leland’s Old Art Building at 5:30 for a delicious chili and

biscuits supper, followed at 7 with presentations by guest

speakers Steve Smiley and Dave Barrons.

Donations at the door

Sponsored by the Leelanau Democrats.

Anna Plays Ball

Anna on the volleyball court.
Anna, my third daughter, is younger than the other two by nearly a decade. She strives to distinguish herself from her sisters, who set the bar high with their academic achievements. Anna has spent seventh grade being a jock, playing basketball, then volleyball, and she is now co-manager of the varsity softball team.

I know little about basketball and less about volleyball. I haven't tried to learn. There seem to be enough parents around who know all of the lingo and all the strategies and who want to tell anyone within earshot what the coach is doing wrong. Seventh grade is when kids are starting to break away from their families and establish their own identities. I'm glad the coaches are there providing venues for kids to try out their newly minted autonomy.

Anna had one basketball coach who yelled, and one who wrote on a clipboard. Her volleyball coaches were mantra-types, repeating the same simple instructions, "Happy stance! Call it! Shuffle shuffle!" In volleyball, the kids were not even supposed to look at the score. They were praised by their coaches for using the proper six-step serving techinique, even if they never got the ball over the net. Once the ball was in play, they were supposed to try for six touches every time the ball came to their side, regardless of scoring possibilities.

Liz said, "Yeah, the seventh and eighth grade teams always lose, but by the time they get to ninth grade they're really good." We shall see. I'm happy to see discipline and practice stressed over "talent", whatever that is. And I'm happy to go to the games and make the popcorn when it's my turn and otherwise enjoy the show.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

More About GM

Looking down on a lighted walkway in Detroit's Renaissance Center, and, below that, a display of GM cars.
I never did figure out how to actually get to that walkway.

My family continued to weigh in on the troubles of the Big Three auto makers. In the comments on my last GM post, Brock Yates Jr., second cousin on my dad's side, referred to his dad's recent critique of the Big Three, Grosse Pointe Blank.
The Big Three’s bosses work is unlike that of any other boss of a major manufacturing operation. In a sense, they must function more like television or movie executives. They must link with their audiences’ daily lives– and dreams– or lose business. They must be one with their sales people– and the “real” people.

And yet, the geography of the business and its “show biz” component makes the men who run Detroit's car companies a culture unto themselves. They live in fancy houses well away from inner city squalor; their private clubs are among the finest in the world. Their social set links them with each other, and connects the major companies like Europe’s nobility linked eighteenth century nation states. They are seldom fired, downgraded or even moved laterally. They are stars in their own little universe. but this universe is distant, and finite.

You could even say these execs live cloistered lives. The Motor City’s Princes and Kings have more privilege and perks than other major executives, yet remain behind closed doors. They make millions from but rarely deal with the Union men who actually build the cars upon which their livelihoods depend. PR flacks protect them from the snooping media. And they seldom deal with the public– beyond an occasional visit to a motor show or a speech written by their media men delivered to some fawning special interest group.

In the world of powerful men, here or in Europe, few live within such a bizarre combination of privilege and insulation.

Like many bosses in industries under assault from "barbarians," Detroit’s isolated auto execs work tirelessly to maintain the status quo. Safe in their gilded cages, they continue to ignore their customers' changing needs. And they continue to build the same products over and over: the same damn automobiles that their fathers and grandfathers built.
There is a lot of meat, even in these few paragraphs. The auto execs' implicit assumption is that America will buy what Detroit decides to produce. When we can't or won't buy they cry foul, even though many of us bought American vehicles long past the point where it made sense.

My parents were loyal GM buyers for decades. They lived in a GM town, Mom had grown up in a GM family, worked at GM on summer break when she was in college. Grandma and Grandpa were retired on a GM pension. When Mom's last GM car spontaneously combusted with a few thousand miles on the odometer, she called the dealer to report the unusual event. At least my mom thought that having to escape from a flaming automobile in the course of an otherwise normal drive to town was an unusual event. Nobody at GM seemed surprised, or apologetic, or even curious. Her hometown Chevy dealer said "You're in luck! I've got another one like it right here!" assuming that she would collect her insurance money and settle into an identical vehicle. that was the end of a lifetime relationship.

My brother Chris, the small business guru, describes a hierarchy of customer loyalty:
.....I’m always looking out for good and bad customer experiences. Like many of you, I keep a mental list of businesses that I’ve placed on “probation” (I’m not going there for awhile), “double secret probation” (Why did I come back here again?) and “boycott status” (I’m not ever coming back here again!).
For most products and services companies move down the ladder of shame one step at a time, and even a monumental experience like my Mom's could be turned into a positive experience if the customer is treated with respect and empathy. Taking customer loyalty for granted is deadly.

If GM was losing my parents' generation, they never had my generation. When I was in high school, during the first oil crunch, the gear heads were already dividing up into two groups: there was the "go fast" group, but there was also the guys looking to stretch their paychecks by eeking more mileage out of their vehicles. Cousin Brock Jr accurately describes how GM failed to honor that subset of car lovers:
During the first fuel crisis in 1973 consumers witnessed the contempt Detroit had for the marketplace as they tried to discredit small cars with such swill as the Pinto, Vega and Pacer. This allowed the Japanese and Germans footholds in the country where before they were less than niche brands. Over time, as the executives became more insulated from the marketplace, they become increasingly incapable of understanding what consumers wanted and started losing market share.
I always thought I would someday buy a GM car, once they got their act together and built a car for the future, one with breakthrough gas mileage. GM has tantalized people like me with various concept cars, basically holding off the environmentalists' criticisms by showing us technology that was perennially "on the horizon." Suddenly it's the future already. Everyone from our governor to the electric company to the county extension agent is bullish on wind energy, expecting GM to honor its 2010 launch date for the plug-in hybrid Volt. While Michigan's cheerleaders are looking for GM to help turn the state around, automotive insiders are skeptical, as Jack Lessenberry notes in a recent column:

Now, people are pinning their hopes on the Chevy Volt, the new electric car scheduled to go into production next year. Last week, I talked to the man who may be most responsible for making electric and hybrid cars happen, the legendary Stanford Ovshinsky.

He was the principal inventor of the nickel-metal-hydride battery that powers your cell phone. He worked for years on an earlier GM attempt to build an electric car, the EV-1, until GM got cold feet.

If you want to know more about that, go rent the movie "Who Killed the Electric Car," in which Stan and his late wife Iris play starring roles. Stan, by the way, recently launched a new company, got remarried, and is working as hard as ever. And why not? He is only 86. I asked him about the Volt. "Well, it is a start," he said. "They will probably sell a few thousand, but... they are fourteen years behind the Japanese." Back in the 1990s, he went to Japan and saw that the hybrids were coming. He tried to tell GM, "and they laughed at us. They said they would never work, or sell."

Ovshinsky hopes the Volt is a success. But, as he noted, the company still hasn't decided on the battery to run it. The car will also cost more than $40,000, out of many people's reach.

It's so tempting to throw up our hands and let the car companies sink or swim on their own. Here in Michigan, things are more complicated. It's not just that Michigan's economy is intertwined so thoroughly with the auto industry. Michigan is a place where people know how to do things, to grow things, to make things.

This era's broad declarations about the new "idea economy" sound just as stupid and unsustainable as the broad announcement of the new "service economy" did back in the 1980's. America's auto industry is the backbone of our nation's manufacturing industry, the same "we can do it" people that churned out the tanks, planes, and armaments that won WW II. Lately we have been experimenting with outsourcing almost all of our nation's manufacturing, and a lot of the food production, to whoever could promise to do it cheapest. Even in peacetime this outsourcing gave us lead in the toys, fake medicine, and melamine in the pet food. Could you imagine if we were actually at war?

Maybe my dad gets at the root of the problem when he talks about the adversarial relationship between management and union workers. Union workers, with no big war to win, went to work winning better contracts and better benefits. Somewhere along the line, the auto workers went from leading the way in improving the lot of the working people to becoming an elite class onto themselves, with benefits (cosmetic surgery? free legal advice?) that leave the rest of us shaking our heads. Management seems to have missed the news that American workers as a whole have seen stagnant wages and increased costs over the past twenty years. We just can't afford to buy a new car every three years, no matter how much they spend on advertising.

Maybe my kids' generation is key. They are so overexposed to advertising hype that they seem practically immune. Many twenty-somethings like cars, for road trips, but aspire to be car-free in their day to day lives. Paying for car insurance, car payments, and running the risk of getting pulled over on the way home from a night out seems like a rat race, without even thinking about the hassles of actually commuting to work. No wonder they are looking at walkable communities and filling the Amtrak trains. What would you have to build to sell to the next generation? I have an idea that the answer is something as far from today's cars as the Model T was from a horse and buggy.

It all looks to me like that picture of the lighted walkway at the Renaissance Center. The people on that walkway were going somewhere, talking to each other, busy at their tasks, never noticing the rest of us. Now they need a bridge loan? Maybe they should walk alongside the rest of us, and we'll talk about it.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Produce Under Snow

The garden at 8 pm -- not yet dark but certainly dusk.

We had yet another snowstorm early Sunday, with a fresh new 6 inches of wet snow. The sun is high these days, as high as it is at the end of August, but it never seems to burn down to the bare ground of the garden. under that snow there are parsnips and carrots overwintered, arugula, parsley and French sorrel ready to poke through, and a big crop of rhubarb gathering up all the snow melt moisture. I have already been cutting chives, thyme, and oregano from the bed up by the house, but that got covered again on Sunday.

The warmest bed, down by Richard's shop, had lettuce and arugula already sprouting from seeds that fell off the bolted plants last fall. I'm trying to figure a way to start parsnips inside (in toilet paper tubes?) since they grow so slowly that they tend to get lost in the weeds. Spring harvested parsnips are a sweet and tasty treat, even if they didn't come in early spring when we are craving garden produce.

We are still eating canned tomatoes, dried tomatoes and peppers, apples held in the basement, dried apricots, pickles from the gallon jar in the fridge, frozen blueberries, cherries, and pesto, and garlic from the basement. I'm ready to plant peas as soon as I can find some bare ground. The chickens are really thinking spring -- they're laying at full tilt and I'm hoping it warms up enough to put a broody hen on some eggs.
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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sugarloaf Petition

I still have my Sugarloaf sweatshirt.

I just signed the Sugarloaf Petition. It asks the county to purchase and redevelop the closed and deteriorating Sugarloaf Ski Resort as a Brownfield Redevelopment project.

I'm not a skier, but I sure appreciated the winter business that the ski resort brought into the county. The resort has been closed and neglected since 2000. At various times the owner was in jail for tax evasion, the new owner was rumored to have bought the place to house a rehab center, and several parties have tried to buy the place but were thwarted by the odd business practices of the nominal owner.

Friends have seen squatters living in the building. Kids have taken to exploring the abandoned buildings and some were caught lighting fires. The roof was reported to be leaking about five years ago already; I'm sure that mold alone is enough to qualify it as a brownfield. I'm glad to see Chauncey Shiflett, my county commissioner, taking the lead in this.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


They got out the chainsaws and the beer last Sunday and cut a "partyberg" out of the ice of Lake Leelanau. The big berg got hung up somehow and wouldn't float down the river, so the chainsaws came out again and pretty soon there were two partybergs. Liz took this picture near the end of the ride. She saw one guy jump completely into the river to "save the beer". Soon after this the dog in the picture bailed out and swam for shore.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Ice Castles

The beach at Reynolds Street in Leland.

I spent most of the day driving down to Kalamazoo to pick Liz up from the train station. I was irritated to find that snow had fallen again, glazing the pavement from Bingham to Cadillac, allowing me to drive about 45 mph at most. Her train was early and I was a few minutes late, but we met and enjoyed conversation the whole ride home.

Living in the snow, I tend to think about how to best get from here to there. Coming from Chicago, Liz wanted to see what the beach looked like. We gathered up Anna and headed off to Leland to find ice stretched almost to the islands. Anna wanted to climb the ice foothills, but we know that those lumps are often hollow and if you fall through you will be in a ice cave filled with icy water and the roof far above you.

This winter has dragged on and on, but these late winter scenes are more and more extravagant. The landscape is transformed daily, if not hourly. It's nice to have Liz here for a few days to drag me out to see it all.
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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

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Snow Totals

Our four foot chain link fence with our 4+ accumulation of snow.

The weather varies wildly, up to 46 today and down to the teens tomorrow with 50 mph winds. The good news is that there's not much snow predicted in the next storm. The bad news is that the last storm was predicted to be "2 to 6 inches".

The reality, here in Leelanau, was as much as 23 inches (just north of Leland) in our yard well over a foot. It fell at a rate of 3.5 inches per hour, or as my neighbor Kathleen put it, "It fell like cement." Kathleen is just back from two years in Thailand in the Peace Corps. She found the snowfall to be thrilling. The rest of us are sick of winter, but I saw more than a little pride in how fast roads, driveways and sidewalks were cleared. Shoveling snow when it's 40 degrees and sunny is far superior to shoveling when it's 10 degrees and bleak.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Thunder Snow

On the eastern edge of one of the Great Lakes, a thunder snow is often the first or last snow of the season. Last night was just a lot of wet snow, coming fast and furious for about four hours. Somehow, the snow was greasy on the bottom and blowing on top.

We kept table games open an hour later than usual, to accommodate the people who had stopped in because they couldn't make it home. I wasn't in a hurry to leave, as I wanted to wait until the plows could get out and make a dent on the main roads. As I dug my car out of the parking lot there was a front end loader clearing big bites of snow. At one point I saw it sliding backwards and sidewards down the driveway, dropping its blade to try to slow down. I inched down that driveway, sliding, but slowly, coming to a stop on the frozen chunks that were M-22.

I crept over the top of M-204 hill, not wanting to have too much momentum on the long downhill slope. My rider had to walk the last four blocks home though the village of Lake Leelanau, as there was no place to turn off the main highway. By that time it was a pleasant night, not too windy and surprisingly warm, so I wasn't too worried about him.

My heart sank as I got to French Road. There seemed to be no lane plowed at all, but at the last minute I saw a narrow lane in the snow bank and went for it. I had hoped to break through that last bank at my driveway, but my luck ran out. I ended up on top of the bank, wheels barely touching the ground, and I had to dig for the better part of an hour to get that last 12 inches of my car out of that narrow plowed lane. I was about done when the sheriff deputy came by and helped me back out and then push it the rest of the way off the road.

Richard got up at dawn and ran the snow blower, rescuing my car before the plow came by and buried it further. You can see where I strayed off the path last night, into thigh deep snow.
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Saturday, March 07, 2009

Drunk Herding

I'm still thinking and writing about GM, but I'm also in the middle of my 3 day work week, three 12 hour shifts in a row. the casino has been busy on the weekends, with a moderate amount of drunk monitoring. The video reminds me of a Saturday night.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

General Motors -- the Family Weighs In

Grandpa Gordon Harry pioneered the camshaft driven fuel pump when he was a young engineer with General Motors.

My post on GM corporate culture brought in feed back from my parents, my uncle, and my brother. Everyone heard (or lived) the stories in slightly different ways. From my dad, in Lockport, New York, once home of GM's Harrison Radiator division:
Based on my limited observations of the Harrison operations here in Lockport I think that there were three (actually four, including the union) sub cultures interacting within the company - which I suspect was pretty typical of all US auto companies.

There was top management which operated in it's ivory tower isolated from the 'dirty work' of the manufacturing operation.

Manufacturing was led by tough, bull headed guys (no women in that culture!) who worked on the assumption that the union workers were dumb, weren't to be trusted and had to be 'kept in line.' Pure old 'Theory X' management style - I think, you do!

This assumption created and reinforced the Union labor philosophy that management couldn't be trusted and you only did what you were told to do and had to do. You avoided all work you could get away with.

The manufacturing and union culture somehow, over time, created a high level of mistrust and tension was always high - especially when contract negotiation time was approaching. In effect the two parties create a win-lose interaction that turned into a lose-lose situation. The focus was always on trying to get something from the other party. Cooperation and collaboration were the last thing on their minds - they were more like enemies fighting in the same theater of battle day after day.

And then there was the design group - like Gord and Alfred. They were a very different culture - technically focused and, to a large extent, they remained aloof from the rest of the operation as much as they could. Of course, they interacted with the other three groups because what they designed had to be manufactured but when friction occurred, I imagine that they stepped back and 'let them sort it out.'

Concerning Gord, did you know that he had 28 patents? I don't know what the others were - probably more mundane, technical items that were integrated into 'stuff' that made cars better. I do recall him talking about work he did on early catalytic converters before he retired. Perhaps you Uncle Bryan knows more about all this.

I was always impressed with the fact that Alfred spent his whole career on spark plugs - plain old spark plugs! But then I thought about how spark plugs had to change as combustion engines change from low to high compression, from relatively cool running engines to ones that ran at very high temperatures. And he also worked on jet engines - unheard of during his first couple of decades of work. And, I recall, he worked on the ignition systems that detonated the early atomic bombs. Quite a wide range of applications!
From my brother, the small business consultant here in Michigan:
I recall Grandpa Gord discussing an early version of cruise control, although I'm not sure if that was one of the patents. The GM he described was bureaucratic and immense, yet there was room within the design sector for expansive "what if" kind of thinking, both with innovative part development and car aesthetics.

That was now 45 plus years ago. Who knows what happened with that GM design culture. Grandpa Gord thought the accountants were running the show in the 80's, basing new model "introductions" more on their ability to maintain older die-hard American customers (i.e. Buick) than adapting to changing customer demands (i.e. fuel efficiency).

Brook Yates' book from the early 1980's "The Decline and Fall of the American Automobile Industry" refers to the "The Grosse Pointe Myopians." discussing in detail the way American automotive upper management grew "arrogant, lost touch with its markets, and failed to respond to changing public needs and tastes, technology, and energy and environmental concerns".

Our economy today is obviously more knowledge based. Unfortunately (I think)the days of someone with a high school education, working at an auto plant, earning $50,000-60,000 are over. It's amazing to me how that this sense of entitlement still exists within the auto unions. Not what one would think of as "entrepreneurial".
From my uncle Bryan, Gord's son, long time resident of Hawaii, recently retired from the US Department of Interior:
As a kid I always regarded Dad as hugely creative, and given pretty much free license by GM to go wherever he thought. Cruise control type things were something dreamed up out of the air. The fuel pump kinds were, however, innovative solutions to vexing problems.

I don't think the tension between the 'accountants,' the 'engineers,' and the 'stylists' that Dad crabbed about was any 'root in the trail' for GM.

In my view, the Darwinian seed was planted in the labor relations' conflicts
during and shortly after World War II. Recall, wages were frozen during and
shortly after the war. But labor strife and the competition for labor was
intense. GM leadership coped by giving its employees huge other benefits--work rules and health care, and pensions--that skirted the wage freezes and were championed as the model for all industry. And they are still grandfathered in! Because of GM's success at that time, Dad was really more concerned that the company was so dominant that Gov't was likely to break it apart using antitrust laws. And too--recall that Dad really had an analog--not a digital--mind and outlook. Maybe GM did too.

So fast forward to now. I think GM cars are very good. Excellent in fact. But GM can't pay out the labor benefits--work rules and health care, and pensions--when their sales are not only way down, but at best they now are only 20% of the total today's market share rather than 70% like the yesterdays. Around here each Chevy carries about $1500 / car 'employee other benefits costs' in its price tag. A Honda carries maybe $50 to $100.

In my sense--I hope the accountants prevail. They are saying that unless GM sheds these other benefits--work rules and health care, and pensions--to be comparable with the Toyotas and Hondas, the old company seems doomed.

So, I'm hanging on to my Chevy-- unless Michigan labor relents, it'll soon be a 'collectors item' (and still running great).
Here in the rust belt, the cost of employee benefits, and retiree benefits, in old news, weighing down budgets in the public and private sectors. Still, I think that building something that people want to buy would do a lot for the US auto industry...

Friday, February 20, 2009

GM Culture

I have been over at The Truth About Cars, reading the first three installments of Dr. Rob Kleinbaum's analysis of General Motor's corporate culture. I have touched on this subject in my a piece about Grandpa Gord, and of course it was impossible to watch even a little bit of the Big Three's performance before Congress without asking "Who the heck do these people think they are?"

Part two of Dr. Kleinbaum's series gives us a clue:
In progressive societies, merit is central to advancement but in static ones it is family and connections. On this point, GM probably gets mixed to negative reviews. The sense is that one must be part of the club to advance, which usually means the right degree from the right school, the right path, and knowing the top guys, who are your mentors. Twenty years ago, GM would have been completely in the static dimension on this attribute, but there has been substantial progress in reaching out to groups that had been excluded in the past and advancing them on their merits.

Unfortunately, this has been much truer for GM’s operations outside of North America and Western Europe than for these two core regions. In North America, the tradition is to pick high IQ people with the right background at an early age and then to rotate them through a series of “developmental” assignments. The consequence is that the people who rise to the very top are very smart with broad experience, but they are almost never people who have truly accomplished anything; who have built something from scratch or grown a business from small to large or turned around a losing operation into a profitable one.
Progressive cultures are secular, with limited influence of religious culture and a high degree of tolerance of heterodoxy and dissent. GM scores fairly low on this attribute. There is little tolerance of strong dissent from the prevailing opinion, although there is substantial subversion and passive-aggressive resistance. In discussions about setting direction, much more attention is given to wondering what the senior leadership will think than to figuring out the right path and trying to make it happen. The very senior people are often spoken of in tones of reverence and are seldom debated in any meaningful way.
That first congressional hearing was funny, in a sad sort of way. It was clear that Wagoner, especially, could not quite get his head around the idea that there were people who would actually question his pronouncements and challenge him to support his conclusions with anything more than the sound of his own voice.

This stuff is not just a spectator sport here in Michigan. Last night I spoke with our township supervisor. His business is in auto parts manufacturing; he had just come back from a meeting in Grand Rapids where he had announced a 15% pay cut to all of his salaried employees. Here in northern Michigan we see parts manufacturers laying off or shutting their doors almost weekly. Our tourism business is highly dependent on the automakers as well.

In Detroit a few weeks ago, I stayed at the Renaissance Center, home of GM headquarters. Amusing myself between meetings, I took a tour of the ground floor, which was set up as a museum/showroom for all of GM's cars. Seeing them all at once was weird. They were all so large and clunky, too big for my garage. They all looked the same to my untrained eye. Bored, I started looking at the window stickers, trying to find a vehicle or two that got MPG similar to my 1996 Corolla. When I finally found a car I would consider driving, I glanced inside the driver's window. The steering wheel was cranked to the right, exposing the bottom of the center plate. The center plate had been indifferently installed so that the wiring for the horn and the airbag and everything else was just sitting out there for all the world to see. It was a sight that stays with me, the moment when the Emperor had no clothes.

I had another vision last week, a vision of what it would take to save the GM, and to save Michigan's manufacturing sector. What if they stopped thinking of themselves as a car company and started thinking of themselves as the consumer energy solution company? There's a lot of talk about plug in hybrids. what if GM made a plug in hybrid car that was designed to be charged with GM brand wind generators and GM brand photovoltaics? What if there were GM charging stations at work and a GM motorbike, charging from the same GM home system, for short trips? What if your GM charging system or plug in hybrid could also function as emergency power in case of a blackout? What if.......

Then I woke up. I saw the restructuring plan that they just showed to Congress. As Dr. Kleinbaum put it:
GM’s current response seems to reflect its fundamental beliefs about the way the world works and it’s almost identical to what it has been doing for the last 30 years: cut “structural costs,” wait for future products to bring salvation, and count on cash from the other regions (and, now, the government) to help prop things up in the meantime. But they effect no truly fundamental changes in the business, its structure or the people running it (as they are clearly the best and brightest, know how to manage things in a serious way, and have a sound plan).

The proposed changes are touted as “profound” and “fundamental” but are really the minimum change from status quo the company believes it can get away with. There is a profound reluctance to make hard decisions that would cause short term pain but would lead to fixing the problem in the long run; instead there is a continual compromise of action that leads to “too little, too late” but defers immediate catastrophe. This is reflected in every aspect of the enterprise, from decisions on manufacturing, which never bring capacity into line with market realities, to people, where almost no one is ever fired for poor performance. This has not worked before and it is difficult to believe it will work now.
Part four will be published tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Guerilla Knitting


Kathy at Thistledown Yarn keeps asking me if I've been to downtown Suttons Bay lately. I finally went over there today to pick up some books that I ordered from Peter Makin at Brillian Books. That's when I found what Peter referred to as "The Guerilla Knitting" on all of the power poles. Peter says that they all appeared the night of the Superbowl.

Right now I'm reading Loiuse Erdrich's The Game of Silence, the second of the Omakayas stories.
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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Anna and Rose

This was in 2005, back when Anna and Rose were still hanging out together. Anna would wake up everyday and figure out what to do with Rose. Rose was good at hide and seek, or at sitting with a treat on her nose until Anna told her to eat it. She would wear dresses, or wait at the bottom of a tree while Anna climbed. Anna tried to get her to ride on the sled or in the wagon. Rose politely refused.

When Anna was born, Rose was just over a year old, still puppy silly, and I told her that she needed to grow up and become responsible so she could help me raise this kid. Rose always barked at anyone passing by, so I felt safe letting the two of them play out in the fenced yard. Anna learned to be responsible about closing the gate to keep Rose in. Later she learned to go out and find Rose when she ran away.

Now Rose is old and can barely make it up the porch steps, much less play. She is blind and deaf; to get her to go anywhere we have to put our hands on her and point her in the right direction. She can't hear the back door open or even a knock on the door. Her digestive system is problematic; she is flatulent and sometimes poops involuntarily. I know that she won't be with us much longer but I hope she sees another spring.
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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Ice Report

Seems like reporting on ice all is I do anymore. I've had a big uptick in blog traffic from folks looking to know how much of the Great Lakes are iced over, so I've posted a new graphic and will let you all click here to stay updated. Lake Michigan is cold. Depending on which way the wind is blowing, there may be ice as far as you can see. Suttons Bay is frozen over at the foot of M-204, but I haven't seen any fishermen out there yet.

Last night the temperature was below zero at dawn and it didn't move out of the single digits despite the clear sunny morning. The good result of a nearly frozen Lake Michigan is the end of lake effect snow that comes from dreary lake effect clouds. The days are brighter, sunnier, and longer.

I'm doing another sort of ice reporting as well. The people in the condo next to my parents' place left their heat down too low when they left town and the pies froze, burst, and then leaked unattended for quite some time. It had been cold enough that the leak wasn't discovered until a contractor turned the heat up in the place below and melted the ice upstairs. What a mess! As it turns out my parents' place is pretty much OK but the neighbor's place must be completely gutted and rebuilt. Paying a cottage care service to keep an eye on things is a small expense in comparison.

Our Hoop Housing Neighbors on NPR

Mature greens in Jon and Jenny's hoop house, mid April of 2005. I think this was the first year they ran the hoop house.

I never look at this picture without wishing for an excuse to post it to the blog again. Tonight I got my wish. As I hopped into the car and headed off to the planning commission meeting, I heard a familiar voice on NPR. Jon Watts and Jenny Tutlis of Meadowlark Farm, just up the road, were featured in a piece on season-extending farming in the frozen North. For years Jon and Jenny have been our faithful neighbors, the ones who trade chicken chores so we can leave town now and then, the parents of Anna's friend Ella, and Liz's much loved employers last and next summer.

You can hear the whole interview or read the transcript by clicking here.

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Dirt on Kids

Two new articles about parenting came out yesterday, verifying my suspicions about workaholic parents and dirt. The first, from England, details a study that looks at childhood well-being. The headline, Selfish adults 'damage childhood' pretty much says it all:
The aggressive pursuit of personal success by adults is now the greatest threat to British children, a major independent report on childhood says. It calls for a sea-change in social attitudes and policies to counter the damage done to children by society. Family break-up, unprincipled advertising, too much competition in education and income inequality are mentioned as big contributing factors.
The report itself is not likely to be popular, as it points out the detrimental effects that divorce, two working parents, and too much competition in education have on kids. The report's recommendations are interesting:
  • a civil birth ceremony conducted by a registrar in which parents publicly accept the responsibilities of parenthood

  • free parenting classes available around the time of birth

  • free psychological and family support if relationships struggle

  • rules making it easier for parents to stay at home to rear their children

  • abolishing sats tests and league tables in English schools

  • a ban on all advertising aimed at the under 12s and no TV commercials for alcohol or unhealthy food before the 9pm watershed

  • stopping building on any open space where children play

  • a high-quality youth centre for every 5,000 young people
I'm not sure about that last one. I think the high quality play environment ought to be in one's backyard with a parent watching out, but not too close.

This brings us to the second article, sent to me yesterday by Liz. I'm sure she was thinking of the low cost play space she and Shelagh enjoyed when they were young. We had a sandy bank in the yard, and if they begged Dad, he would bring over a shovel and loosen the sand to make a pile to play in and a hole to excavate. The "dirt pile" was a major draw in our yard; kids would get a glimpse of the dirt pile from the back seat and they were all over it, down on their knees and getting dirty before anyone could say no. Often there was a dog or a chicken helping to dig, that's how the they came up with the summer "Chicken Circus" in which chickens would ride on bike handle bars and "fly" though hula-hoops.

I'm sure some readers are clucking to themselves at the unsanitaryness of all this. The article Liz sent, Babies Know: A Little Dirt Is Good for You is provocative, but it might gross you out:
Ask mothers why babies are constantly picking things up from the floor or ground and putting them in their mouths, and chances are they’ll say that it’s instinctive — that that’s how babies explore the world. But why the mouth, when sight, hearing, touch and even scent are far better at identifying things?

When my young sons were exploring the streets of Brooklyn, I couldn’t help but wonder how good crushed rock or dried dog droppings could taste when delicious mashed potatoes were routinely rejected.

Since all instinctive behaviors have an evolutionary advantage or they would not have been retained for millions of years, chances are that this one too has helped us survive as a species. And, indeed, accumulating evidence strongly suggests that eating dirt is good for you.......

.....“What a child is doing when he puts things in his mouth is allowing his immune response to explore his environment,” Mary Ruebush, a microbiology and immunology instructor, wrote in her new book, “Why Dirt Is Good” (Kaplan). “Not only does this allow for ‘practice’ of immune responses, which will be necessary for protection, but it also plays a critical role in teaching the immature immune response what is best ignored.”

One leading researcher, Dr. Joel V. Weinstock, the director of gastroenterology and hepatology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, said in an interview that the immune system at birth “is like an unprogrammed computer. It needs instruction.”

He said that public health measures like cleaning up contaminated water and food have saved the lives of countless children, but they “also eliminated exposure to many organisms that are probably good for us.”

“Children raised in an ultraclean environment,” he added, “are not being exposed to organisms that help them develop appropriate immune regulatory circuits.”
I must admit that it's kind of fun to hear the "ultraclean environment" moms getting scolded for once. They should give up some cleaning and volunteer a little more.

The idea that being infected with intestinal worms conveys an immunity to disease is really new:
Immunologists now recognize a four-point response system of helper T cells: Th 1, Th 2, Th 17 and regulatory T cells. Th 1 inhibits Th 2 and Th 17; Th 2 inhibits Th 1 and Th 17; and regulatory T cells inhibit all three, Dr. Elliott said.

“A lot of inflammatory diseases — multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and asthma — are due to the activity of Th 17,” he explained. “If you infect mice with worms, Th 17 drops dramatically, and the activity of regulatory T cells is augmented.”

In answer to the question, “Are we too clean?” Dr. Elliott said: “Dirtiness comes with a price. But cleanliness comes with a price, too. We’re not proposing a return to the germ-filled environment of the 1850s. But if we properly understand how organisms in the environment protect us, maybe we can give a vaccine or mimic their effects with some innocuous stimulus.”
In the end, we weren't going to keep all of those germs out of the baby's mouth, anyway. It's nice to know that letting them out of the car seat and into the dirt was what they really needed all along.