Monday, June 30, 2008

Misery Loves Company

This article from Fortune Magazine regarding California is very confusing to me. According to the author, California may need a $10B loan to pay their bills.

According to recent estimates, Michigan will likely be facing a budgetary shortfall between $170M-$350M in 2008.

Doing the quick mental math as I am an engineer, California seems to be approximately one zillion dollars further into debt than Michigan. That doesn't make sense.

Over the past few years I have spent some substantial time in California for work and pleasure, and CA is, without a doubt, a tantalizing state. The weather is generally ideal year-round, the technology industry is exceedingly sexy, and Mexican food is everywhere. They tried to serve me a taco at McDonald's the last time I was there. How are they so far in the financial hole, and why doesn't this tarnish their sterling reputation as "the place to be"?

Why does the national, and some local, media paint Michigan as the poorest-managed, most fiscally irresponsible state in the country? California, the poster child of "Awesome" and land of those who despise Detroit metal is $10B in debt. Life isn't fair and there is a chasm of opportunity to improve state management, but it seems like Michigan is always being cast as the ugly girl at the dance. I bet you wouldn't want to dance with the more attractive girl if you found out that she owed someone $10B.

The Family Jewels

A little over a month ago, I proposed to my girlfriend of over four years and she accepted (surprisingly, without hesitation). This last weekend, I began to better understand some of the pre-implications of being engaged. We spent the better part of the weekend traveling around southeast Michigan to see as many potential ceremony and reception sights as we could fit into two days. Typically, the ceremony and reception search process is beloved by the feminine and significantly less beloved by the masculine. With minimal preconceptions regarding the fun (or lack thereof) of the overall experience, I threw myself into the looking process and was pleasantly surprised by the adventure.

It goes without saying (but I will anyway) that weddings are big, big, BIG business, and there is a pretty adequate supply of sites to meet the available demand - country clubs, banquet centers, large restaurants, yacht clubs, and converted hotels, banks, and theaters, to name a few. I was struck by one main thought, not including the wedding-related issues, as I visited some of the available options. Despite a consistent stereotype to the contrary, Detroit and the suburbs are filled with amazingly beautiful locations. Ranging from Addison Oaks way up in Rochester to the Atheneum Hotel in the heart of Greektown to the Detroit Yacht Club on Belle Isle (yes, Detroit has a yacht club AND a river), Michigan is overflowing with striking estates, hotels, and conference centers - and this is only with a focus on southeast Michigan. In addition to this, those responsible for managing these locations are fiercely proud of their landmarks and maintain the many pleasing aesthetic qualities with a fantastic energy.

While some of these spots may not be as prominent as, say, The Henry Ford Museum or the newly-rennovated Detroit Institute of Arts, they, too, are our Michigan Family Jewels and should not be overlooked when considering the merits of Michigan.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Why I'd Like to Punch that Guy in my Neighborhood in the Face

(Editor's update from the future: for the necessary amount of C.Y.A. (technically C.M.A.), I ask that you read this post after you read my thoughts below)

I run daily, and very much enjoy the scenery of my neighborhood and overhearing bits and pieces of conversations of my friendly neighbors. Yesterday, as I trekked through a humidity-drenched run, I saw and overheard a gentleman discussing and cooing over his brand new, clean, black Nissan Altima. The Altima is a pretty car and Nissan actually has a pretty large employee base in Michigan, but more than anything else in the world at that moment, I wanted to punch that guy in the face.

"What other cars did you look at?" asked one neighbor
"Honda Accord, Toyota Corolla, and a Jetta" responded the guy I want to punch in the face

Allow me to explain...

For many, many years, American auto manufacturers - those who brought wealth to Michigan and the American middle class - produced world-conquering SUVs that averaged 0 MPG city, 1 MPG highway. These horrid gasoline economy statistics did not matter though, because gas was less than $1 a gallon and the average consumer demanded the biggest, baddest, newest SUV on the block.

Then the United States consumer turned on the Big 3. As we are all acutely aware, the price of gasoline exploded, and the American manufacturers were not prepared to handle the consistently elevated price of gas. People turned up their noses at the products and market that their demand had created, and the primary driver of Michigan's economy, the automobile industry, is currently teetering - holding on for dear life.

Many years ago, individuals began to shun American vehicles because they were angered by the spotty quality and design of the Big 3's smaller vehicles, but the Big 3 did not care because they were making money hand over fist. These people were certainly justified in their resentment and anger as the American auto manufacturers did not pay the appropriate amount of attention to the smaller vehicle segments, and one can only be burned so many times before learning a lesson.

But times have changed, and the American auto manufacturers are no longer filled with the sense of entitlement and complacency that dominated for the past 50 years. They are fighting for their lives, and the quality of their non-SUV and truck products has increased drastically. Many people, though, refuse to even consider products badged as GM, Ford, or Chrysler.

If you live in the state of Michigan and you enjoy living in the state of Michigan, you HAVE TO at least seriously consider purchasing a car from a Michigan-based automobile manufacturer. Take the new Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Focus, or the Cadillac CTS out for test drive and think about the implications of your potential purchase. The Big 3 are the companies that made this a place worth living, and if they go away, you too will have no other option but to go somewhere else. This in no way implies that Michigan shouldn't continue to diversify its economy and develop jobs in many different industries, but without the engineering and manufacturing jobs provided by these companies (and the countless suppliers affiliated with them), there will simply not be enough to sustain a population a small fraction of the current size of Michigan's populace. There are many places an individual can go if our industry fails, but none of them will be "home". If you do not live in Michigan, I also beg your support and consideration, but that is better left for another post.

So, guy I'd like to punch in the face, I think you have a very nice new car, and I don't begrudge you in that you are allowed to spend your money wherever you'd like as we do live in a free-market enviroment. The fact that you did not even consider a product that (more directly than you think) keeps your home from becoming entirely worthless makes me want to punch you in the face.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Bang! Ker-Plooey!

(photo courtesy of The Detroit Free Press)

The Target Fireworks are an annual tradition in the 'D' that take place in June. This year, the fireworks launched the evening of June 23rd and were introduced by Mr. Deal or No Deal Himself, Howie Mandel. Howie Mandel!! Do you remember that show Bobby's World? What was the deal with Bobby's voice?

Fireworks are beautiful, exciting, and a wonderful reason to share some family and friend time. Michigan is lucky to have such a marquee annual event that brings throngs of energized people from inside and outside of the city to the banks of the Detroit River, including some local treasures like Hart Plaza and Belle Isle. Such a show is also a brief opportunity to let some of the stresses of life simultaneously slip into the night and explode in controlled aggression. The fireworks are a showcase for the city and state, and I am thankful to those who organize and setup the show, patrol the grounds to keep the attendants safe, and sponsor the boom. Now let's all go and buy some gift cards at Target.

(note: I have no affiliation with Target or anyone else for that matter, though to quote a late, great comedian named Mitch Hedberg, "I tried to walk into a Target, but I missed. I think the entrance to Target should have people splattered all around.")

Monday, June 23, 2008

Difference Making For Dummies

Is there some sort of handbook available about how to genuinely make a difference in anything? How and where does someone start when they want to make an impact? Seriously, I really need help in this area, and I have to imagine there are more than a few people who also struggle with this subject.

I think that writing rambling thoughts that no one actually reads on the internet is a good jumping off point as it indicates at least some small willingness toward action, but a solid knowledge of Mavis Beacon and the English language are unlikely to change anything. Is public office the answer? If public office is the answer, how does someone become a public official? And which public official can have the most impact? The last time I counted, there are more than 20 public officials in almost every city, thereby exhausting my available number of fingers and toes. How do I determine if I want to be an index finger or pinky toe public official?

Let's say that I had my eye on one of the big toe jobs - governor, for example. Is it possible for a regular person without millions in the bank but an overdose of enthusiasm, hope, and knowledge to become governor? Do I first have to be sanitation commissioner ("The Garbage Man Can"), then district attorney, then mayor, then governor?

Bad news is depressing, but feeling helpless to improve the bad news stings that much more. Aren't we tired of thinking that the problems we face are too overwhelming and complex to conquer? We can't just want to make a difference, we need to make a difference, but we will all have to depend on others to guide us in the correct direction.

If I had given up whenever a problem seemed too big, then I would never have fit that whole Subway sandwich in my mouth.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Suck It, "Rust Belt"

The key here is the quotes around "Rust Belt", as in, "I thoroughly dislike the name Rust Belt and I think it would be in your best interest to also dislike the name Rust Belt."

Is there anything remotely appealing about this name? Only if you could somehow convince me that there is some positive quality to rust. Rust implies old, rust implies dirty, rust implies degradation, corrosion, and a general level of disrepair from which the underlying metal cannot be recovered. According to my good friend and one-stop research resource (i.e. always 100% accurate) Wikipedia, The Rust Belt denomination is assigned to several states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, New York, Pennsylvania, and part of West Virginia. Many, many years ago, these were some of the states of critical importance in assisting the United States toward the industrialized nation and global economic force that we know and (mostly) love today. Expounding on the pros and cons of an industrialized US are not the purpose of this post, but it is difficult to argue that the national standard of living that we have enjoyed for decades in our country is not largely based on the backs of the industries and individuals which rose, and continue to struggle for life, in the Rust Belt.

Why, then, are we forced to be continually defined by this classification? Rust is not a chief export (there are actually additives that can and do prevent rust - welcome to 1915 and the wonders of stainless steel), there is not a disproportionately large ratio of rust per person, rust per square foot of land, or rust per trombones in the Rust Belt.

This is a painful, subtle naming convention that continues to cast negativity on much of the Midwest and surrounding states. Sticks and stones hurt people, but names and publicity hurt states and regions. Nobody wants to visit a "rusty (dirty)" place, no business wants to set up a new shop in a "rusty (corrosive)" location, and, definitely nobody wants to slide down a rusty slide. Individuals are allowed to sue for libel and slander, can the Rust Belt sue media outlets with similar charges? I propose the following for as long as the Rust Belt remains the primary classification of this proud area:

The Sun Belt be renamed "The Drought Belt"
The Cotton Belt be renamed "The Former Slavery Belt"
The Bible Belt be renamed "The God is Against Equality Belt"
and the entire US Southwest be referred to as "The Border Fence Belt"

The Sun Belt sounds like an awesome place to visit, but The Drought Belt sounds miserable. There are many positive ways one could refer to our region, so why are we stuck with one that highlights a negative characteristic that continues to reduce the luster of our region?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Stop Reading - Go Downtown

Many suburbanites have long-since abandoned even considering the possibility of visiting downtown Detroit for one reason or another. These people have their explanations, but this weekend is prime time for lovers and haters alike to head downtown to enjoy the GM River Days.

This event runs from June 20-23 and culminates in one of the largest fireworks shows in the country. The GM River Days festival includes concerts, food, rides, the opportunity to enjoy the relatively new River Walk, and apparently some sort of Super Dog that can jump 25 feet. I am afraid of any creature, be it man, dog, or llama, that can jump 25 feet.

River Days is sponsored by many fine institutions and businesses primarily based in Michigan, and it is a good place to start our mission of ongoing support of the local economy, our local businesses, and the revitalization of Detroit.

Go outside, get downtown, and ride the carousel.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

...In a Name

If I had to pick just one non-existent question that my many fictitious readers ask me all the time, it would almost definitely be "What's the deal with with the name of your blog?" Well, fictitious readers, I couldn't be happier that you asked! Some elaboration...every year Michigan's civic, government, and business leaders head to Mackinac Island for what I can only assume is significant quantities of fudge consumption (don't be gross) and horseback riding (again, don't be gross). I think they may even manage to fit in some time to discuss the most current and pressing issues of the mitten. Prior to the conference this year, Edsel Ford II, great-grandson of Henry Ford, was interviewed by The Detroit Free Press columnist Tom Walsh. In this interview, Mr. Ford declared:

"We want our kids to stay here. We want them to be of Detroit, like we are of Detroit,"

Tom Walsh expands on this viewpoint:

"His choice of words about his aspirations for young people is compelling: We want them to be of Detroit.

Not from Detroit.

Of Detroit.

It suggests not only that they live here now, or did at one time, but they are molded and formed from this place and these people. And that that's a good thing. Or at least it used to be."

I have heard more than my fair share of mind-bogglingly dumb and poorly constructed inspirational quotes. However, the unique statement "of Detroit", while arguably grammatically incorrect, touched my soul in a way that finally motivated me to start writing my thoughts on the interweb. Perhaps the last thought of Tom Walsh struck me more than anything else. He implies that possibly being of Detroit is no longer worthy of pride. I don't think that this is what he is truly saying, but rather I think he is challenging us to reflect on whether pride in our city and state is something for which we will fight.

Who, but us, has the right to define what we are allowed to be proud of? If we do not choose to own strong pride in our cities and state, then why would anyone outside of our boundaries think anything better of us? When I get the jesting question from an acquaintance who lives in a different part of the country, "Why would you want to live there?" I answer, "Because I choose to. Because I love it."

I am not apologetic for my state, its industries, and the people who live here, and while you are free to your opinion Mr. California, Mr. New York, and Mr. Florida, we don't need you to spread uninformed and close-minded derision simply because, in your opinion, things are a little bit better where you are. Stand up and fight for your state and don't accept the harsh words of non-natives just because Michigan has been the whipping boy for the past several years. If we don't stop people from shooting their insults at us, then who else will? Furthermore, why would opinions outside of Michigan change unless we each do our part to make these opinions change?

I am Of Detroit. I am Of Michigan. We are Of Michigan.

Righting My Ship

Before I lose control of this prime internet destination and multimedia juggernaut into self-indulgence, pomposity, and earnest but retread and boring life lessons of a 26 year old (what do I really know anyway), I want to take just a moment to make a quick course correction. My effort is not only to extol the virtues of the automotive industry, Detroit Tigers, and Traverse City area cherries, but also to highlight and revel in some of the day-to-day humor of life, the local and national events and activities that keep people's lives interesting, and perhaps, just possibly, editorialize on other people's editorializing.

That's right, I may even try to be funny.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

It All Starts with Family

This is the first in a likely infinite series of thoughts regarding the value of family, and possibly my family specifically. I am not a psychologist, nor have I studied the value of having a married mother and father, two fathers, two mothers, or an anteater as pet. That is to say - I only know what I know. And I know that nothing is more important to me in Michigan than my family. Even in states with strong economies, young and old adults alike strike out into other distant parts of the world for a job, a significant other, or just the opportunity to see and do something new and exciting. All of these are excellent reasons to leave any place, and it would be wrong to discourage any individual to evolve through experiencing something new in life. Even with all the excitement and activities in the wider-world, nothing has the pull of family, and nothing will positively bond me to Michigan as strongly as the people who are largely responsible for the person I am.

The goal here is not over-sentimentality, but sometimes it seems inevitable. Regardless of your relationship with your mom, dad, brother, sister, or person who you think is your aunt-in-law but you're not too sure, your family will always be there to support you as best they can when the weight of the world is just too much. These days, the weight of the world is a little heavier than usual, but the unyielding support of our families makes life more than simply livable. Family can provide comfort and security at times when comfort and security seem out of reasonable reach.

"Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one."

~Jane Howard

With All Due Respect to Reality

I would like to make something very, very clear. I am neither blind nor ignorant to the state of my state. Over the course of what I hope is a long and well-updated series of posts, I fully intend to take a measured view regarding whatever issue I am posting. This isn't to say that I won't have a personal viewpoint on a subject and that my writing will not reflect this viewpoint, but I do not think that a meaningful and worthwhile movement of optimism can be built with an ignorance toward harder truths and facts.

So, if I have the honor of having you as a semi-regular reader, please remember that I try not to be closed to the facts or realities of life. It is much easier to buy into someone's vision if that person is a zealot who also seems to display a reasonable amount of common sense.

In the Eye of the Storm - Why I Write

My name is Ken. I am 26 years old. I was born, raised, educated, and continue to live and work in the state I hope to always consider my home - Michigan. We are a state that has experienced the highest times and the lowest times. Right now, to say that we are at a low is probably a bit of an understatement. Every day, those of us who regularly read and enjoy The Detroit Free Press or The Detroit News are inundated with the bleak news of our "one-state recession" driven by painful restructuring in the domestic automotive industry, well-meaning but misdirected political leadership, and a well-documented brain drain. Unemployment and general despair are up, and enthusiasm, hope, and the belief in a better future are down, if existent at all.

I know, I know - if you live in or around Michigan or read any financial publications, you are already acutely aware of the pain experienced in the Great Lakes State. My goal and purpose in writing this blog is not to become another member of the world highlighting our woes and emphasizing the need to just leave town. In fact, I aim much, much higher. I endeavor to do my own small part in the world to try to construct a foundation of pride and optimism for our state. Pride and optimism alone will certainly not begin to solve our problems, but I refuse to live a life of crushing despair and negativism. I truly believe that with a common mindset we can start to build some of the momentum required to morph our economy, stand up and fight for our little piece of Earth and our cities, and develop a place that the next generation will also be proud to call home.