Thursday, January 31, 2008

Bad News Badenhausen

Meet Kurt Badenhausen. He's a senior editor at Forbes. His specialty is statistics. No idea what's up with the saintly halo and the mesmerizing gaze in this picture. Perhaps he's auditioning for the role of Russian Icon in an amateur theater production.

With the country bogged down in Iraq, a recession looming, the deficit skyrocketing, and gas prices spiking, Kurt certainly has some weighty subjects to cover. So what is he writing about during these troubled times? What undiscovered journalistic gems is he unearthing? Well, he's just come out with a piece that reveals Flint and Detroit are "miserable" places. According to Kurt, Detroit is the most miserable place in the entire country. Alas, Flint has to settle for the third most miserable.

Don't you just love Kurt?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Piece of Cloud

As if Japan and Europe weren't enough competition for the Michigan auto industry, China is now on the horizon as well. This Tang Hua electric car is called "A Piece of Cloud." It's hard to imagine this over-sized Skittle rolling down Dort Highway, but you never know. The Photo is courtesy of Auto Pacific Vehicle Voice, a great website for car enthusiasts.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Amy Palomar's Vision of Flint



Amy Palomar's first real visit to Flint was this past December with photographer Paul Hitz. Paul went to school in Flint and was more than happy to show Amy around. They ended up stopping in at The Lunch Studio to check out a Flint City Handmade Craft Market.

That's where they met Joel Rash, who is a Flint resident, a commercial real estate owner, and the current manager at the Center for Entrepreneurship at U of M Flint. Joel was gracious enough to let them shoot the the historic Capitol Theater.


"It was wonderful to see this artist movement in Flint and Joel's passion for the city really touched me," she says. "There is so much reason for Flint to make it and I think people like Joel Rash, places like The Lunch Box and movements like Flint City Handmade can make it happen."

Palomar is a metro-Detroit based photographer. You can see her work at the Exposure.Detroit show until March 7 and at the Bean and Leaf Cafe in Royal Oak.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Family Fun!

It happens to the best of us. We go to Chuck E Cheese on Miller Road in Flint, have a few beers, eat some pizza, have a few more beers, play some video games, have a few more beers...and start brawling. The Flint Journal has the details:

The first call came in at 8:53 p.m. concerning a fight among three teenage girls at the pizza parlor. A Genesee County Sheriff's paramedic and state troopers quickly got the fight under control, and canceled other officers headed that way to back them up.

But a few minutes later, the officers sent out a second call as the fight erupted again, and quickly turned into "a knock-down, drag-out between 75 and 80 people," said Flint Township police Sgt. Tim Jones.

"The biggest thing we did was just try to control the crowd. Once pepper has been sprayed, it's floating in the air so we called in for medical help in clearing it. If people aren't used to pepper spray, they get pretty scared and angry," said Jones.

And the fun was really just beginning.

On Sunday, it looked like it was going to happen again. A TV news crew was in the parking lot filming a segment on the previous night's brawl when a family fight broke out among several women and escalated to a group of about 10 in the same family, said Jones.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Pretty Vacant

More arresting images of Flint from Jar With Most

The now-demolished Chevrolet Plant

West First Street

Texting and Privacy

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is probably wondering just how the Free Press got a hold of his text messages, and the rest of the country is suddenly worried about their own privacy.

The telecom companies promise that they don't store text messages. Well, that's not very reassuring, given their track record.

"Phone companies are supposed to deliver our messages, not spy on them," says Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press, a civil liberties organization not to be confused with the Detroit newspaper that broke the Kilpatrick story. "But at every turn, these telco giants trample on basic constitutional principles of privacy and free speech. When you break the law you should face the consequences."


And just how damning are the text messages that the mayor exchanged with his chief of staff Christine Beatty? Remember, they testified under oath that they were not having an affair.

"I'm madly in love with you," Kilpatrick wrote on Oct. 3, 2002, according to the messages obtained by the Free Press.

"I hope you feel that way for a long time," Beatty replied to the mayor. "In case you haven't noticed, I am madly in love with you, too!"

On Oct. 16, 2002, Kilpatrick wrote Beatty: "I've been dreaming all day about having you all to myself for 3 days. Relaxing, laughing, talking, sleeping and making love."

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Ghost Bar

Another belly up Flint bar — The LL-T on South Saginaw. I think it started out as Bill's Still, then new owners rearranged the letters a bit, using a sideways "I" as a hypen. The photo comes via the flickr account of Jar With Most, who has a great collection of Flint images.

Detroit and The Wire

Fans of The Wire, the critically acclaimed HBO crime series set in Baltimore, are probably thinking the situation in Detroit with embattled Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick sounds eerily familiar, especially if they happened to catch the trials and tribulations of Herc (above) in Episode 39: Soft Eyes.

Confused about the morning schedule for the Mayor, officer Thomas "Herc" Hauk waits by the truck, loses patience and goes looking for Lieutenant Hoskins, who heads the security detail. Opening doors in his search for his supervisor, Herc is surprised to encounter Mayor Clarence Royce on the receiving end of a robust act of fellatio, courtesy of his secretary. Stunned like a cow with a sledgehammer, Herc stares at the sight for a moment before slamming shut the door. In that moment, the Mayor sees him...Driving Royce, Herc catches the Mayor's eye in the rear view, certain now he's doomed for what he witnessed...Herc seeks out Carver to get advice on how to handle his embarrassing situation with the Mayor, convinced he'll never make rank now. "This is way beyond my pay grade," says Carver, thinking about who to consult...Herc gets advice from the politically connected and astute Major Stanislaus Valchek, who has a different take on Herc's predicament. The Major would like to be in Herc's shoes: "Kid, careers have been launched on a helluva lot less. Just shut up and play dumb."
For more evidence of life imitating art — or perhaps it's the other way around — read the deposition of Officer Walter Harris, a former member of the mayor's security division, as he describes his very Herc-like experiences with Kilpatrick. It's available at Detroit Uncovered about halfway down the page in the right-hand column.

Michigan May Count

Hillary Clinton makes a bid for Michigan and Florida delegates after the Democratic National Committee unseated them to punish the states for their rogue primaries. Talkingpointsmemo weighs in on the possible motivation:

A cynic would note that Hillary was the only major candidate whose name was on the ballot in Michigan, running against "uncommitted," and that she is also favored to win Florida after none of the candidates campaigned in the state.


Unhappy Zip Codes

For all the talk of the overheated real estate markets in places like California and Florida, CNNMoney's list of the top 500 foreclosure zip codes is littered with rust belt locations, including Detroit and Flint. Overall, Michigan has 34 zip codes in the list. Detroit has four in the top ten. And 48504 — my old zip code encompassing Bassett Park — has the most foreclosures in Flint.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Motor City

Despite all of Flint's problems, Detroit always seems available to overshadow it in the bad-news department. The Free Press reports:

The heads of 17 Detroit municipal unions may ask Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick to resign or face a recall effort, one of them said Thursday, following a Free Press report that Kilpatrick and his chief of staff lied under oath at a police whistle-blower trial last summer.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

We're #2...maybe

The Wall Street Journal, and everybody else, is reporting that Toyota has tied, or even surpassed, General Motors as the world's top automaker

GM on Wednesday said it sold 9,369,524 vehicles globally in 2007, up 3% from a year earlier, according to preliminary sales figures. Toyota said earlier this month it sold 9.37 million vehicles last year, but hasn't yet announced a more-precise figure.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Flint between the covers

There's some provocative self-published literature coming out of Flint these days, including Bedroom Eyes by Merin L. Johnson.

Bleakonomics

Can a famous economist show us the way? Metromode has an interview with Freakonomics author Steven D. Levitt discussing Michigan's battered economy and the prospects for improvement:

"The problems of the rustbelt are just some incredibly difficult problems. I wish I had some magic bullet to offer but it's just tough. In terms of the economy it all comes down to, essentially, workforce productivity. Can you make things people want cheaper than other people can make them?"

Monday, January 21, 2008

Viva Las Vegas

The Las Vegas Review Journal has an article on the mortgage foreclosure crisis that features Flint expatriate Pat Polk, who has discovered, once again, that a successful local industry doesn't ensure prosperity for all:

As impressive as job growth is in Las Vegas, though, people are losing their homes at a rapid rate. Nevada recently reported one foreclosure filing for every 152 households, the highest rate in the nation for the 11th straight month.

It reminds Polk of the economic decline in Flint, although she knows Southern Nevada's gaming industry isn't going anywhere.

"It doesn't seem right to live in a city where your main industry is setting record profits and so many people are losing homes," she says.

"I hate to see so many vacant homes. I know those people who lost those homes are hurting."


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Flint Artifacts: Dance Flyer

Tree Stealers

Flint is often labeled one of the most crime-ridden American cities, but now The New York Times is reporting that even the trees aren't safe:

In the United States, forests are not being illegally logged on a systemic scale, as is the case in countries like Indonesia, Malawi and Brazil, where unauthorized harvesting has led to serious deforestation and attendant environmental problems. Here, the issue is often scattered and intimate, and often affects homeowners, parks and public forests.

In Flint, Mich., for instance, thieves last month stole black walnut trees from the grassy landscaped edge of a main city street. Earlier last year, people were snatching saplings from a city park there as soon as they were planted.


Friday, January 18, 2008

GM offers more buyouts, followed by lower wages

GM plans to offer retirement or buyout deals to 73,000 UAW employees. What's that mean? Lower wages for the workers who follow, according to ABC 12 news:

"Once some opt out, the company plans to replace some workers with those making half what current workers earn."

Flint Portraits: Sam Isaac

 
Now this is what a football coach should look like. Sam Isaac, front and center, with a leather sport coat, dark glasses and a full beard. Obviously, he was not into wearing athletic gear. A pair of those embarrassing polyester Bike coaching shorts? No way, man. Sam's clothing was suitable for the bar or the sideline. I think he intimidated the opposing team more than the players did at St. Mary's, where he coached for many years.

This is a yellowed photo from the Catholic Weekly in the Fall of 1980. St. Mary's has just lost the championship game to Holy Rosary in the Knights of Columbus football league. The year before, St. Mary's went 6-0. The year before that, we lost every game. As you can imagine, Sam was more fun to be around when we were winning, but he was a great coach who would have done anything for his players.

And you haven't really lived until you've heard one of Sam's pre-game talks. Or was it more of a pre-game yell? The ritual at St. Mary's was to troop over to the convent in full gear, navigate the narrow basement stairs, and circle Sam while he delivered a "colorful" pep talk, lit only by a bare lightbulb that hung from the ceiling. Swearing and wall punching were included, free of charge. Then we'd head out to the grotto near the church, get blessed by Father Berkemeier, and get on the bus. The game itself seemed pretty mild-mannered after you'd been through all that.

Sam Isaac is one of the people that made growing up in Flint so great.

UPDATE: Bill Suttles, captain of the undefeated 1979 St. Mary's team, has reminded me that we not only got blessed in the grotto, we actually helped build and maintain it. The nuns were happy to put the students to work gardening, moving large items and cleaning the church. It was all part of a well-rounded education.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Boone's Farm Blues

Flint has a grand tradition of underage drinking. Procuring alcohol and consuming it when you are under the age of 21 (or 18 when I was growing up) is something of an art form in the birthplace of General Motors.

Now that I’ve reached the age when a couple drinks leaves me feeling groggy the next morning, I’ve started wondering if I really drank as much in high school as I seem to think I did.

I clearly remember going to Brown Street party store with my friends Mark and Steve, who lived on Crescent Drive. Steve’s dad owned a Checker, just like the old cabs, except this one was direct from the factory, so it was a tasteful dark color instead of yellow. Not the most inconspicuous car for a night of illegal boozing, but at least it was built for safety. It was like tooling around Flint in a well-appointed tank/limo with The English Beat on the stereo. To this day I associate the song “Mirror in the Bathroom” with Steve’s car.



I trust my memory of the Checker, but I’m having my doubts about the volume and variety of alcohol we’d drink before heading into the Our Lady of Lebanon dances. Did we really finish off a bottle of Boone’s Farm wine each in about 20 minutes? I don’t think I could hold down that much water now, let alone the sickeningly sweet $2 swill courtesy of Ernest and Julio Gallo.

(Let’s not even talk about the other horrible things I drank in high school. Okay, okay, but just one example: Apple cider and rum, followed by a half bottle of cheap champagne. I started throwing up in Alena Birnie’s bathroom, and finished barfing in a snowbank near Bassett Park.)

I put a call into Mark on his lunch hour at Ford, convinced he’d say that all three of us shared a single bottle. Nope. He confirmed that it was one bottle each.

“It was easier to drink than beer,” Mark explained, revealing why he became an accountant for an automaker and not a sommelier.

He pointed out that I might be thinking of the time we couldn’t get Boone’s Farm so we bought a single massive jug of wine — one of those bottles with the little glass rings near the top for easier swigging — and took turns finishing it off.

“That night we technically shared one bottle of wine,” he added.

This trip down memory lane got me interested in figuring out just what Boone’s Farm really is. We all refer to it as “wine” but that doesn’t seem accurate. The Gallo Wine website calls it a “fruit flavored beverage.” Boonesfarm.net, which jokingly — I hope — claims to be “dedicated to the best selection of drinks in the world,” describes it as a “flavored…wine product produced in the American state of California.” But in a testament to the high quality of Boone’s Farm, the site adds: “In some U.S. states, such as Minnesota and Utah, some Boone's Farm products are labeled as malt beverages and not as flavored apple/citrus wine products, as state liquor laws prohibit the sale of wine in grocery and convenience stores.”

Why don’t I settle this once and for all and call it a “flavor enhanced wine-like malt beverage.” That has a nice ring to it.

One thing Boone’s farm doesn’t have is a lot of alcohol. It's "only" in the 8-10 percent range, which is why it gets dissed on a few websites dedicated to, well, booze with high alcohol content: “This sugary swill is more of an underage drinker's economy wine than a bum wine,” the connoisseurs at bumwine.com opine. “You won't find empty Boone's bottles in any rail yard or heating vent, but you will find it in the local bowling alley parking lot or make-out spot.”

Regardless of its alcohol content, Boone's farm is responsible for a lot of happy memories and horrible morning afters. That might be why it inspired Emily Dunbar to write a song about it, which you can listen to here. But I’ll provide the lyrics just in case:

Painted eyes, ruby lips
Press-on nails on her fingertips
She wears her hair down
Like a Clairol Crown

An entourage at her command
A string of beaus, no wedding band
If she looks your way
Hey, you’re kind for the day

She says, “Hey, shut up and kiss me”
If she thinks you’re looking fine
She says, “Hey get me a drink, dear”
What’s she drinking?
Boone’s Farm Wine

A lipstick stain on her cigarette
T-top down on the Corvette
Well, it’s Friday night
She’s feeling alright
She meets her friends just south of town
They turn the music up and watch the sun go down
They get fired up
With their plastic cups

She says, “Hey, kick off your shoes girls
“Cheers to yours and here’s to mine
“Let’s have another round girls”
A round of what?
Boone’s Farm Wine

She wears her heels high and her skirts short
She lives at the East Line Trailer Court
Baby blue with the screen porch
And the bamboo tiki torch

She works the video counter at the IGA
Nothing glamorous but she gets paid
Rent nine get one free
New release DVDs

Hey, hey when her shift is over
Out the door she goes flying
With just one stop at the liquor counter
What’s she buying?
Boone’s Farm Wine

Strawberry Hill, Mountain Creek
Wild Island, Wild Raspberry
Two dollars, ninety-nine cents
For a liter at five percent

It tastes so sweet like Kool-Aid
Put it on ice and you got it made
It’s fizzy and it’s pink
It’s a girls’ drink

You can keep your Pabst Blue Ribbon
You can keep tequila shots
Keep your Triple Sec and So-Co
I’m not drinking unless I got
Boone’s Farm Wine

99 bottles of Boone’s on the wall
99 bottles of Boone’s
Take one down and pass it around
98 bottles of
Boone’s Farm Wine


GM's Electric Dreams

With the Detroit auto show in full swing, Toyota announced plans to develop a plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle with a lithium-ion battery before 2010. This is bad news for General Motors, which is allegedly planning to introduce its own lithium-ion hybrid, the Chevrolet Volt, around the same time and build it in Detroit.

I say "allegedly" because GM doesn't have a great track record on promoting electric vehicles, and GM execs have already started fudging on if the Volt will actually be in production by the 2010 target date.

The sad tale of how GM developed and then crushed — literally — their electric EV1 is chronicled in the 2006 film Who Killed the Electric Car. According to Wikipedia:

"A large part of the film accounts for GM's efforts to demonstrate to California that there was no demand for their product, and then to take back every EV1 and dispose of them. A few were disabled and given to museums and universities, but almost all were found to have been crushed; GM never responded to the EV drivers' offer to pay the residual lease value ($1.9 million was offered for the remaining 78 cars in Burbank before they were crushed). Several activists are shown being arrested in the protest that attempted to block the GM car carriers taking the remaining EV1s off to be crushed.

"The film explores some of the reasons that the auto and oil industries worked to kill off the electric car. Wally Rippel is shown explaining that the oil companies were afraid of losing out on trillions in potential profit from their transportation fuel monopoly over the coming decades, while the auto companies were afraid of losses over the next six months of EV production."
Once you watch this movie, you'll find it hard to believe that GM will ever beat Toyota at the electric car game.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Glen Rice Arrested

Former Flint Northwestern, University of Michigan, and NBA star Glen Rice was arrested Friday on a felony battery charge.

Rice went to the home of estranged wife Christina Rice and punched Alberto Perez several times, police said. Perez fled the home and called police. He received a cut to his forehead that needed nine stitches, police said.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Calling all autoworker activists

A reader passed along information about an autoworker activists gathering scheduled for January 26 in Flint. The event will focus on "the recent concessionary Big Three auto contracts. The session will be an opportunity to analyze the economic & structural impact of the negotiations, to share experiences from the effort to mobilize opposition, and explore strategies and tactics for reclaiming unionism’s direction and rebuilding rank & file solidarity."

For more information go to the Soldiers of Solidarity website.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Michael Moore Poll

To commemorate the wildly inaccurate polling in the lead up to the New Hampshire primary, Flint Expatriates has added a poll of its own. It's in the top right-hand corner of the site. This is a risky endeavor because it offers some indication of how few people actually read Flint Expatriates, but it's a risk I'm willing to take.

The first poll concerns Michael Moore, so here's some video of Flint's most (in)famous citizen in all his glory:

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Frog Lives

Flint-area blogger Scottr has uncovered the fate of the Genesee Valley frog. It has been liberated from its highly commercialized indoor home, freed from the Muzak and fluorescent lighting by the Ruth Mott Foundation:
"The Friendly Frog has found a new home at Applewood! Purchased from the Children’s Museum in late 2004, guests will find The Friendly Frog just inside the estate’s Lot K entrance gate on a brand new “lily pad”! The smiling amphibian was created out of terrazzo and concrete by renowned sculptor Marshall Fredericks (1908-98). Working from studios in Royal Oak and Bloomfield, Fredericks left a rich legacy of famous pieces that include The Spirit of Detroit to mark a chief government building for that city, and Christ on the Cross at Indian River. A bronze replica of The Friendly Frog is on view at Frederik Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids. A cast of the frog is owned by the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum at Saginaw Valley State University.

"The Friendly Frog’s first home was the Genesee Valley Shopping Center, which commissioned it in 1970 near the time of its opening. The frog’s richly textured surface and gracefully slanted back naturally invite climbing and sliding. Children strolling through Genesee Valley found it irresistible, but eventually the shopping mall decided to part with it. In 1986, Genesee Valley turned the frog over to the Children’s Museum, then housed at the North Bank Center in downtown Flint. The museum was able to put it on exhibit there, introducing it to a new generation of children. But when the Children’s Museum moved to its current quarters at 1602 West Third Avenue, the staff was advised that the floor would not sustain the weight. Carefully stored by Hank Fracalossi at C & S Motors since 1993, the sculpture was brought to Applewood in 2004. The Friendly Frog quickly became a favorite spot for photographs and brought back many fond memories for visitors. Its new 'pad' includes a colorful slip-resistant surface, water features, seating and pots of beautiful flowers. Be sure to bring the little ones in your life to Applewood this summer to meet The Friendly Frog, join The Friendly Frog Fan Club and create new memories!"

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Liquid Economy

Could the solution to Michigan's moribund economy be water? Lake water, specifically. You know, the stuff that sank the Edmund Fitzgerald. Edward McClelland at salon.com reports that Michigan could become an oasis for parched Sun Belters:

"For the last half-century, the Great Lakes states have been on the losing end of a migration that would have baffled our nomadic ancestors. Ignoring thousands of years of prophetic wisdom, from Moses to Sam Kinison, Americans have been moving away from fresh water and into the desert. In the most recent Census Bureau survey, the two fastest-growing states -- Nevada and Arizona -- were two of the driest. Michigan and New York, states awash in water, actually lost people. Some of these migrants were looking for work, following factory jobs down South. But others just couldn't stand the gloomy Northern winters.

"Now, those cold-weather refugees are discovering that the climate that's so well-suited to year-round golf is not so well-suited to providing millions of people with life's most essential element: H. Two. Oh."


Sunday, January 6, 2008

More Will Ferrell in Semi-Pro Preview

The only problem with this new, extended trailer for Semi-Pro, the Will Ferrell movie set in Flint, is that it might make it unnecessary to actually see the movie.

Ode to Autoworld

The Toys Are Good Food website has a loving yet realistic ode to the ill-fated Autoworld:

"The interior of the dome was all built up to look like Flint ('Vehicle City'). But homeless people, abandoned buildings and cars on blocks were nowhere to be found. You see, inside the dome was a Disney-fication of Flint from the early 1900s complete with the (highly filtered) Flint River running through the dome."