Letters 10-24-2016

It’s Obama’s 1984 Several editions ago I concluded a short letter to the editor with an ominous rhetorical flourish: “Welcome to George Orwell’s 1984 and the grand opening of the Federal Department of Truth!” At the time I am sure most of the readers laughed off my comments as right-wing hyperbole. Shame on you for doubting me...

Gun Bans Don’t Work It is said that mass violence only happens in the USA. A lone gunman in a rubber boat, drifted ashore at a popular resort in Tunisia and randomly shot and killed 38 mostly British and Irish tourists. Tunisian gun laws, which are among the most restrictive in the world, didn’t stop this mass slaughter. And in January 2015, two armed men killed 11 and wounded 11 others in an attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. French gun laws didn’t stop these assassins...

Scripps’ Good Deed No good deed shall go unpunished! When Dan Scripps was the 101st District State Representative, he introduced legislation to prevent corporations from contaminating (e.g. fracking) or depleting (e.g. Nestle) Michigan’s water table for corporate profit. There are no property lines in the water table, and many of us depend on private wells for abundant, safe, clean water. In the subsequent election, Dan’s opponents ran a negative campaign almost solely on the misrepresentation that Dan’s good deed was a government takeover of your private water well...

Political Definitions As the time to vote draws near it’s a good time to check into what you stand for. According to Dictionary.com the meanings for liberal and conservative are as follows:

Liberal: Favorable to progress or reform as in political or religious affairs.

Conservative: Disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditions and limit change...

Voting Takes A Month? Hurricane Matthew hit the Florida coast Oct. 6, over three weeks before Election Day. Bob Ross (Oct. 17th issue) posits that perhaps evacuation orders from Governor Scott may have had political motivations to diminish turnout and seems to praise Hillary Clinton’s call for Gov. Scott to extend Florida’s voter registration deadline due to evacuations...

Clinton Foundation Facts Does the Clinton Foundation really spend a mere 10 percent (per Mike Pence) or 20 percent (per Reince Priebus) of its money on charity? Not true. Charity Watch gives it an A rating (the same as it gives the NRA Foundation) and says it spends 88 percent on charitable causes, and 12 percent on overhead. Here is the source of the misunderstanding: The Foundation does give only a small percentage of its money to charitable organizations, but it spends far more money directly running a number of programs...

America Needs Change Trump supports our constitution, will appoint judges that will keep our freedoms safe. He supports the partial-birth ban; Hillary voted against it. Regardless of how you feel about Trump, critical issues are at stake. Trump will increase national security, monitor refugee admissions, endorse our vital military forces while fighting ISIS. Vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence will be an intelligent asset for the country. Hillary wants open borders, increased government regulation, and more demilitarization at a time when we need strong military defenses...

My Process For No I will be voting “no” on Prop 3 because I am supportive of the process that is in place to review and approve developments. I was on the Traverse City Planning Commission in the 1990s and gained an appreciation for all of the work that goes into a review. The staff reviews the project and makes a recommendation. The developer then makes a presentation, and fellow commissioners and the public can ask questions and make comments. By the end of the process, I knew how to vote for a project, up or down. This process then repeats itself at the City Commission...

Regarding Your Postcard If you received a “Vote No” postcard from StandUp TC, don’t believe their lies. Prop 3 is not illegal. It won’t cost city taxpayers thousands of dollars in legal bills or special elections. Prop 3 is about protecting our downtown -- not Munson, NMC or the Commons -- from a future of ugly skyscrapers that will diminish the very character of our downtown...

Vote Yes It has been suggested that a recall or re-election of current city staff and Traverse City Commission would work better than Prop 3. I disagree. A recall campaign is the most divisive, costly type of election possible. Prop 3, when passed, will allow all city residents an opportunity to vote on any proposed development over 60 feet tall at no cost to the taxpayer...

Yes Vote Explained A “yes” vote on Prop 3 will give Traverse City the right to vote on developments over 60 feet high. It doesn’t require votes on every future building, as incorrectly stated by a previous letter writer. If referendums are held during general elections, taxpayers pay nothing...

Beware Trump When the country you love have have served for 33 years is threatened, you have an obligation and a duty to speak out. Now is the time for all Americans to speak out against a possible Donald Trump presidency. During the past year Trump has been exposed as a pathological liar, a demagogue and a person who is totally unfit to assume the presidency of our already great country...

Picture Worth 1,000 Words Nobody disagrees with the need for affordable housing or that a certain level of density is dollar smart for TC. The issue is the proposed solution. If you haven’t already seen the architect’s rendition for the site, please Google “Pine Street Development Traverse City”...

Living Wage, Not Tall Buildings Our community deserves better than the StandUp TC “vote no” arguments. They are not truthful. Their yard signs say: “More Housing. Less Red Tape. Vote like you want your kids to live here.” The truth: More housing, but for whom? At what price..

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Robert Downes

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Math Rebellion

Random Thoughts Robert Downes It looks as though the Great Math Rebellion of 2007 is starting to wind down in Traverse City as school officials and parents do the arithmetic of gettin’ their heads together and solving the problem. Whew!
Some kids reportedly can’t understand the new “reformed math,” which employs a new problem-solving process. Ditto for parents, trying to help out.
I asked an expert what she thought of the high school math program: my daughter Chloe, who graduated a couple of years ago and is now in business school (I’m proud to say). She said she liked her high school Compass math program because it taught her how to work out problems in the real world... although in new ways that might be adrift from what us parents recall from our readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic daze...
So, different strokes for different folks.
Thursday, March 8, 2007

The Spiritual Thing

Random Thoughts Robert Downes Are you a spiritual person? This being our annual “Mind-Body-Spirit” issue, it seems a good time to ask.
What does it mean to be “spiritual”?
That’s a question my generation has struggled with since the ’60s, when we read “Siddhartha” in college, discovered yoga, transcendental meditation, the I Ching, turned Jesus freak, joined communes... But, being Americans, our quest was more about style than substance, so when the next big thing came along (disco, the “Me Generation,” the running boom, Reaganism... ), we bailed out on spirituality.
Plus, no one could ever quite figure out what it was to be “spiritual,” other than acting kind of dreamy and yearning to live “up there” in a disembodied existence, as vacant as a glass of water in Buddha’s kitchen. The rock group Procol Harum summed-up the mumbo-jumbo of the spiritual quest in their song about a wise old yogi telling a young seeker the meaning of life: “Oh, my son -- life is like a beanstalk, isn’t it?”
Thursday, March 8, 2007

Bed of Bliss

Features Robert Downes Stretch out on one of the thermal massage beds at Migun of Northern Michigan and you’ll find yourself immersed in an oohs! and ahhs! sensation, like a warm jade roller coaster trickling up and down your spine.
A series of five jade massage heads move up and down a belt, traveling your back from head to toe as you lie in the twilight of a quiet room. Infrared heat radiates through the bulbs, penetrating as much as five inches into your body, stimulating your muscles, nerves and bloodstream. After 35 minutes of deep tissue ecstasy, you arise, as limp and relaxed as a wet rice noodle.
Thursday, March 1, 2007

Signal achievement ... Anne-Marie Oomen

Books Robert Downes Anne-Marie Oomen is one of those irresistible writers whose work always packs a surprise. A poet and a playwright with the easyAA warmth that comes from a country upbringing, she weaves an endlessly inventive orbit, enveloping the sphere of life in rural Northern Michigan.
Her latest work is “Uncoded Woman,” a collection of more than 60 poems. The poems tell the story of a young woman named Bead, who is “running away from her life in a stolen pickup.”
Bead (short for Beatrice) seems to be seeking shelter from the storm of her life with a new beginning along the coast of Lake Michigan. She picks up a Native American hitch-hiker named Barn and accepts his invitation to stay at his trailer in the Glen Arbor area (we know because they have “charred burgers at Art’s Bar”). Under her new friend’s guidance, Bead renews her life, learning to fish on Lake Michigan.
Accompanying each poem is a semaphore message from the maritime “International Code of Symbols” used to signal ships at sea in the days before radio. Bead stumbles across the codebook at the lifesaving station in Glen Haven in Leelanau County and recognizes its blunt signals as metaphors for the perplexities of her own life. When she discovers a body floating in the lake, the cumulative codes help build a sense of drama and suspense in the reader’s mind. The mystery forces Bead to face her own demons. How will she decode her own life?

Thursday, March 1, 2007

A Puff of Freedom

Random Thoughts Robert Downes As a former smoker, I can’t say enough bad things about this evil addiction. It kills 500,000 Americans every year and is surely as addictive as heroin. In a rational world, smoking would be outlawed completely as being as dangerous as cocaine in the long run.
And yet, I couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief when Grand Traverse County voted against taking the steps which would result in a county-wide ordinance to ban smoking in public places.
Why? Because as county commissioner Dick Thomas stated in a recent Record-Eagle article, such a ban would mean “more big brotherism.” And brother, we’ve got too much of that in America as it is.
Unfortunately, there’s a streak of neo-puritanism that runs deep in our country which knows no ideology. For every conservative who’s worried about what you do in the privacy of your own bedroom, there’s a progressive counterpart hell-bent on legislating morality “for your own good.” And both political camps tend to have paid, professional advocates working full time to chip away at individual liberties.
Thursday, March 1, 2007

The Full Monty

Features Robert Downes Desperate out-of-work men, bare their souls (and other stuff) to make money to feed their families in a tough economy. Sounds like Michigan, doesn’t it? In fact, “The Full Monty,” being staged this week at the Old Town Playhouse (OTP) in Traverse City strikes close to home when you consider that Michigan has been “stripped” of 25% of its manufacturing jobs since the late ‘90s.
In the original film, a group of laid-off British steelworkers decide to stage a burlesque show to raise funds to feed their families. They’re inspired by their wives, who enjoy watching male strip shows on “girls night out.” The suspense in the film builds on whether the guys will have the guts to drop their trousers at the end of the show.
That “will they or won’t they?” question is part of the tease for OTP’s musical version of the film. In any event, the play has some interesting parallels to Michigan’s own plight; it’s not hard to imagine a group of laid-off factory workers in Northern Michigan resorting to the same gambit.
“The ‘Full Monty’ was Americanized when the film became a musical,” says director Michelle Dungjen. “It’s set in Buffalo, New York, so there are some parallels that are ironic to what Michigan is going through.”
Thursday, February 15, 2007

Got Energy?

Books Robert Downes Got Energy
Moving away from fossil fuels and nuclear power is the goal of author Hermann Scheer, whose book, “Energy Autonomy” (EARTHSCAN 2007) finds the solution in a scattershot reliance on renewable energy schemes.
A member of the German Bundestag (parliament) and president of the European Association for Renewable Energy, the author is also chairman of the World Council for Renewable Energy.
With credentials like those, it’s no wonder Scheer is passionate in the search for alternative sources of power, including biofuels, solar and wind power, to replace the destructive aspects of burning coal or building new nuclear power plants. Scheer argues for a decentralized approach to providing local power, using renewable sources that are close to home.
“Energy Autonomy” is not an easy read; it’s scholarly in tone and Scheer lacks Al Gore’s skill at putting zest in his subject. Perhaps it’s the translation. But if you’re charged up over the quest for a new way to power the world, this “Hero for the Green Century” (Time Magazine) offers an encyclopedic overview.
Thursday, February 15, 2007

Whatever happened to The Crowd Pleasers?

Music Robert Downes If you were into the local nightclub scene in the ’80s and ’90s, then chances are you busted a few moves with The Crowd Pleasers, who were the uncrowned kings of traveling show bands in the Midwest.
Based out of Columbus, Ohio and playing a circuit of Holiday Inns and other venues throughout Michigan, Illinois, Ohio and Indiana, The Crowd Pleasers performed countless dates in Northern Michigan. The seven-man group energized crowds with their brand of R&B, funk and soul, with an extra kick from a horn section that gave the band an irresistible dance groove.
Thursday, February 15, 2007

Finding a way forward

Random Thoughts Robert Downes “Our future is directly tied to our ability to develop, attract, and retain concentrations of skilled people.“

-- Mark Murray, president of Meijer, Inc., commenting on Michigan‘s future in the State‘s Emergency Financial Advisory Panel Report

Americans have never been keen on taxes, going back to the days of the Boston Tea Party. And the anti-tax mantra has accelerated since the presidency of Ronald Reagan to the point where any suggestion of raising taxes has become a cardinal sin.
It doesn‘t help that government often wastes our tax dollars with an obscene ineptitude. For instance, the news last week that $9 billion of our tax dollars have gone missing in Iraq. Turns out that the Bush administration bundled up 363 tons of cash in bricks of $100 bills and flew it to Iraq during the early days of the war to help with reconstruction. Then the money simply... disappeared. Apparently, people (including contractors already on our payroll) just showed up in Baghdad with garbage bags and shoveled in the loot under any pretense, with no accountability.
So who can blame Michigan citizens for grumbling over the news that Governor Granholm has proposed a 2% tax on services to help balance the state‘s budget? The services would include everything from haircuts to auto repairs, lawyers, accountants and movie and concert tickets.
Thursday, February 8, 2007

Where all roads lead

Random Thoughts Robert Downes Stumbled across a good book over the holidays. A real page-turner; couldn’t put it down. Even got up at 6 a.m. one weekend to read more. That doesn’t usually happen when a book was written more than 2,000 years ago.
It’s “The Gallic Wars” by Julius Caesar, written during his conquest of Europe during 58-51 B.C. And what Julius went through back then seems eerily familiar today.
In those days the area of Europe including France, Switzerland and the Netherlands was known as Gaul. Caesar led his Roman legions against dozens of tribes, some of which raised armies of 60,000-100,000 warriors, hellbent on protecting their homeland.
Thursday, February 1, 2007

Plugged in... Jeff Bihlman

Music Robert Downes In the real world, Jeff “Jabo” Bihlman teaches blues-rock guitar to a few dozen students in Northern Michigan. Meanwhile, in cyberspace, he’s also teaching
thousands, thanks to a new online guitar series at www.workshoplive.com.
The frontman for the popular Bihlman Brothers blues band, Jeff also has a new role as the star of a 30-minute infomercial that’s playing on TV in major cities across the nation, such as Denver, Chicago, Atlanta, and both coasts. Plus, he’s featured on a concert DVD being used to promote the new online teaching method that’s advanced far beyond similar sites on the Internet.
And the biggest news of all. The Bihlman Brothers just signed a three-record deal with legendary Hollywood producer Bruce Robb on his brand new record label, Quarter to 3.
Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Bitter Pill

Random Thoughts Robert Downes Ever wonder why prescription drugs cost so much in America when they’re so much cheaper in countries such as Canada?
Do you have prescription drug costs ranging into the thousands of dollars each year? Are you elderly and living on a limited income? Do you have to choose between buying the drugs that will save your life or paying for food and heat?
Well, tough beans. Because according to conservative pundits, you are nothing more than a “greedy granny,” trying to get Uncle Sam or his Canadian counterpart to lend a hand when you should be paying through the nose like everyone else.
Thursday, January 18, 2007

Wild Wings

Features Robert Downes “Sky,” an immature bald eagle, was first spotted lying dazed and dying on a rock in the middle of a river near Pellston last August 17 by a sharp-eyed DNR officer.
The young female was apparently suffering from the effects of West Nile Virus, a neurological disease spread by mosquitoes which kills most birds.
Thursday, January 11, 2007

To Blog or not to Blog

Random Thoughts Robert Downes To Blog or Not to Blog?
I got you something really nice for Christmas this year that you won’t get from almost any other forward-thinking newspaper editor in the country.
What is it? Take a guess. Give up?
Okay, here it is. I’m going to spare you the torture of reading an Editor’s Blog.
Blogging is the new hot trend in journalism, even though there are millions of blogs in cyberspace already, wiggling like mental spermatozoa in search of a brain to fertilize.
Blogs from editors and reporters are hatching on newspaper websites like a bogful of frog eggs. And mostly, they‘re about as tasty.
Thursday, January 4, 2007

Comfortable numb at the gym

Random Thoughts Robert Downes ’Tis the season to get back in the gym. Some of us have never left it; we’ve been noodling at stairmasters and weights, aerobics and yoga all year long in a lackluster way, waiting for our winter cousins to show up for their annual visit, which tends to run from January through April.
It can get downright lonely in the gym during the heat of the summer, but after the New Year, the place is packed with stinky people once again and it’s hard to find a stray machine in need of company. Every stairmaster, treadmill and exercycle is hammering like an 18-cylinder sports car.