Archive for April, 2008

Jazz and Monroe

Friday, April 25th, 2008

I spent a few minutes this morning on the Alexander Zonjic radio show at the River Raisin Centre for the Arts. Mr. Zonjic is the morning host on WVMV-FM Smooth Jazz V98.7, and today he was broadcasting live from Monroe.

I was one of several Monroeites who were interviewed by the talented jazz flutist/dj. The point was to promote the seventh annual River Raisin Jazz Festival and the May 2 performance of Spyro Gyra at the River Raisin Centre for the Arts.

One of the themes of discussion between Mr. Zonjic and his guests was the remarkable success of the Jazz Festival and the winter Jazz Series in Monroe.

As I said on the air, Monroe is a surprising place. The ability to pull off a big-time jazz festival in our little town is just one more reason Monroe has a much higher quality of life than outsiders would expect.

On the surface, there is not much of a connection between Jazz and Monroe. Monroe was settled by the French, and so was New Orleans. And we both had famous War of 1812 battles. Anything else?

But somehow the River Raisin Jazz Festival, the winter Jazz Series and the summer Jazz Thursday nights have been big hits.

Surprising, but really cool.

Racism in Monroe – a personal issue

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

There’s no doubt about it, the Big Read is a cool concept.

Getting thousands of people in one community to read the same book and then discuss it can be a powerful process – especially when the book is as thought-provoking as “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

The novel by Harper Lee explores racism in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, in the 1930s.

What’s that have to do with Monroe, Michigan, in the 20th century?

Harper LeeIt was clear to me from the Big Read panel discussion on diversity last night that “Mockingbird” offers plenty of lessons for Monroe in 2008.

There seemed to be general agreement from the panel members that racism still exists in Monroe. It’s more subtle than 70 years ago. It’s closely tied to socio-economics – that is, the combination of poverty and racism together are a tougher foe than either by itself. But it’s still evident – in the segregation of the “East Side,” in achievement levels in school, in arrest and conviction rates in the judicial system.

One of the themes throughout both “Mockingbird” and last night’s discussion was that education is the most powerful tool we have in the battle against racism. The more people look beyond their narrow circle, the more they expand their horizons by reading and studying others’ thoughts and ideas, the more likely they’ll embrace people who aren’t like them and be tolerant of diverse cultures and lifestyles.

Another theme that ran through both the novel and the panel was the importance of parenting. Atticus Finch, the lawyer in the novel who defended a young black man accused of raping a white woman, constantly, patiently, explained to his children the importance of putting yourself in others’ shoes – viewing life from their perspective. It’s not an accident that Atticus raised thoughtful, respectful children, and his closed-minded sister raised spiteful, bigoted children.

Perhaps, in my opinion, the most important theme from the book and the panel was the interpersonal role we all can play. In “Mockingbird,” Atticus Finch wasn’t just a rich lawyer who defended poor black people. He was a friend and companion of everyone in his small town, whether they were black housekeepers or poor white sharecroppers.

A highlight for me of the panel discussion was the audience member (I wish I had caught his name, maybe someone can add it in a comment) who asked the panel members if any of them had personal friends of another race – implying that ending racism is a one-on-one issue.

I agree with the point he seemed to be making. Monroe County, for all its faults, is a wonderful place filled with caring, decent people. They’re quick to help a neighbor or a stranger, and they’re willing to step up and make a difference when needed.

For the most part, they live with the subtle racism that still pervades our community because it doesn’t touch their daily lives, doesn’t affect them in any way they notice. It’s easy to ignore something that you don’t see. If they were more aware of the problem, I’m convinced they would want to be part of the solution.

That’s why the Big Read and panel discussions like last night can be so valuable. They help us come face-to-face with issues we otherwise just let slip by.

Racism continues to be a serious problem in America. But we don’t have to look to the Mexican border or the inner city of Detroit to find it. It’s right here in Monroe County.

And the solution is right here, too. In education, in parenting, and in each of us.

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It was a privilege for me to be a member of the panel with Judge Pamela A. Moskwa, chief probate judge for Monroe County; Larry Arreguin, vice president of government affairs for VisionIT and chairman of the Hispanic/Latino Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party; Kelvin McGhee, Monroe City Council, third precinct; and Jeffrey Kodysh, editor of The Agora. Also thanks to MCCC and the staff of the Agora for hosting the event.

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If part of the problem is that Monroe County residents aren’t as aware of race problems as they should be, part of the blame must fall to The Monroe Evening News. What are your thoughts on what the newspaper and its Web sites should do to help raise awareness of race issues in the county. Please share them here, or send me a private note at danshaw@monroenews.com

Michigan Democrats still don’t get it

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

Michigan Democrats are busy picking delegates to the national convention in August.

There seems to be a grim resolve to try to make the best of a disastrous comedy of errors that has disenfranchised the state’s Democratic voters.

State party leaders are going ahead with the process of picking delegates, bravely maintaining that they’ll eventually be seated at the convention.

But it doesn’t change the fact that the voters got screwed.

Squabbling between state and national party leaders led to a non-election in January. The national party told the candidates to boycott Michigan because it scheduled the state’s primary too early; Barack Obama complied and Hillary Clinton didn’t. So Clinton won the election and most of the delegates, but it wasn’t a fair contest and everyone knows it.

It didn’t matter when it looked like Clinton would easily win the nomination. But when Obama blew past Mrs. Clinton, taking a narrow lead in the number of delegates, the Michigan mess became a national problem, not just a local embarassment.

Now state and national Democratic leaders are trying to work out a compromise to give some of the delegates to each candidate in a negotiated settlement.

But, from the perspective of Michigan voters, that’s simply, well, a pile of crap.

State Democratic leaders shouldn’t have gambled with the integrity of the primary in the first place.

When they saw what a mess they had created, they should have held a second election or statewide caucuses. They had several months to figure out a way to let voters express their will.

Now that it’s too late to do it right, they’re trying to reach a compromise. But it’s too late. Any deal that claims to express the wishes of Michigan’s Democratic voters will be bogus.

Comments function working on monroenews.com

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

We’ve always wanted comments from readers on our news stories.

That’s why we encourage letters to the editor. It’s why reporters’ e-mail addresses are included on most stories. And it’s why we started MonroeTalks.com, which serves as a public discussion site.

Example of a reader comment at the end of a storyBut since we launched the modern version of www.monroenews.com two years ago, we’ve struggled with the technology that allows readers to comment at the end of news stories.

Now that feature is working.

Readers can comment at the end of any story on monroenews.com. The launched the feature a couple days ago, and readers already have found it. There are a number of comments already.

This isn’t meant to replace MonroeTalks.com as a place to comment on the news. Both locations – at the end of a story and on MonroeTalks – provide readers with a forum for airing their opinions.

I can imagine, for example, making a specific comment on a news story, then moving over to MonroeTalks.com to start a topic discussing broader issues raised by the story.

This is all part of the Web 2.0 experience sweeping the Internet. People are willing to sit back and let someone else tell them the news any more. They want to provide their own two cents. And in the give and take, a more complete picture of the news can surface – if you’re willing to sort through the chaff to find the wheat.

 

Giving blood and running, oh my…

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

Within five minutes into my run today, I knew something wasn’t quite right.

I felt tired, lethargic. I wanted to stop.

But I perservered. Anyone who runs knows that sometimes there are days like that. The best thing to do is just keep running; often the feeling goes away and what starts out as a dreadful experience turns into a great one.

But that didn’t happen today. I kept going, completing my 5-mile loop. But it was hard.

Then, as I sat in the kitchen drinking a glass of cranberry juice, it hit me. I gave blood yesterday.

And it wasn’t the normal pint. I did the “double red blood cell” thing. It involves taking about twice as much blood, running it through a centrifuge to separate out the red blood cells, then pumping the plasma back into you.  They don’t allow you to give blood again for twice as long, so I imagine it takes more out of you physically.

I asked the nurse, a tall, strapping guy named Mike, if it was okay to run the next day after giving blood. He said, sure, just to drink plenty of liquids.

Well, he’s right. It didn’t seem to hurt me. But it sure slowed me down.

Other than it’s affect on my next-day run, giving blood was again a great experience.

The Rotary Club sponsored the blood drive at the Monroe YMCA. As a member of the club, I work at the blood drive each year and it’s a real joy. So many people donating a few minutes of their day and a pint of their blood to save someone else’s life. And most do it with a smile and a look of satisfaction. It’s a great room to spend a few hours working in.

Whether volunteering – my job yesterday was helping folks get snacks and a beverage after they donate – or giving  blood, it’s one of those experiences in life that causes you to walk a little lighter the rest of the day (no pun intended), knowing that you’ve done a good thing.

And it’s one of the easiest ways to feel good. You just lay there on a cot for a few minutes, watching the bag slowly fill with blood. You can’t help but imagine where your blood is going, and who will benefit from your donation.

When you give double red blood cells, it’s even more rewarding. You watch the blood fill one bag, then go into the cenrifuge and come out, filling another bag with plasma. After a few minutes, you feel the pump switch, and it begins sending the plasma back into your arm. The tube changes from red to pale white. You feel a little tingle, starting in your arm and spreadng through your body. It’s not a bad feeling; more interesting than anything else.

When the plasma bag is empty, the process reverses again, the tube changes back to red and the blood bag begins to fill. After the plasma bag empties a second time, you’re finished.

And as you step down from the cot, you know that someone, somewhere, may live because they desperately needed a transfusion of red blood cells – and you took a few minutes out of your day to help.

That’s quite a feeling.

Meeting Web talkers face to face

Saturday, April 12th, 2008

There are more than 2,000 registered users of MonroeTalks.com, and about 300 of them are regular talkers on the “Your Talk” forums. About 50 are very frequent talkers.

The leading poster, “cc,” is approaching 5,000 posts since the site was launched last June. (Seems like we should have a party and award a gold watch or something when the milestone is hit.) Four others have more than 4,000 posts, and six others more than 3,000.

In addition to the registered users, there are something approaching 10,000 unique visitors to the site each month. In other words, a few people post most of the content, but many people read it.

Any regular reader of the forum knows many of the regular talkers as if they’re next-door neighbors. Their character comes through in their posts, and many have very entertaining personalities.

There’s a natural curiousity about what they’re “really” like.

That’s one reason I enjoyed very much getting a chance to meet a half-dozen of them Friday morning over coffee at Cafe Classics. Another reason is that all were just as interesting in person as on-line.

In some ways, the MonroeTalks experience will never be the same – now that I know what they really look like, I’ll see a real face in my mind when I read their posts, instead of that imaginary image.

Several of the talkers who joined me for coffee Friday said the same thing. The experience changed dramatically for them when they met many of their fellow talkers at a MonroeTalks gathering.

We talked briefly at the coffee shop about why MonroeTalks.com is so successful. Someone – I don’t remember who it was – gave the most obvious answer. It’s because of the people.

Because the talkers are characters, real-life personalities with the full range of human traits, from wit and charm to anger and jealousy, the content of MonroeTalks is fascinating.

Some of it is thoughtful and articulate. Much is inane and just plain silly. But it’s all real. Except the part that is fake. And there is no way to tell the difference, just as in real life.

 

I’m not an expert parent, but…

Monday, April 7th, 2008

I’m doing some research on parenting Web sites, and that led me to this article on babble.com, a national parenting site, on exactly how detailed we should be in our parenting.

We’re planning a major makeover for our MonroeParent.com Web site and its companion print product, Monroe Parent. That’s what led me to look around other parenting sites.

The article mentioned above, by Katie Allison Granju, explores whether today’s parents have become too involved in every detail of their childrens’ lives.

She started the article talking about how our mothers lived in a world that “had become so narrowly focused on one facet of their lives — homemaking — that all the joy had been sucked right out of them.”

She goes on to wonder whether today’s mothers aren’t living in a world that is just as stressful, but for different reasons.

“We may no longer be “professional homemakers,” but whether we stay home with our kids, or work outside the home, we’ve turned parenting into its own, highly stressful, endlessly demanding, often joyless undertaking. In fact, a recent study by research group Public Agenda found that seventy-six percent of American parents describe raising kids today as “much harder” than it was during their own childhoods.

But are we making it a lot harder than it has to be? I think so.”

I agree.

One of the most important skills that parents needed in yesteryear and still need today is knowing when it’s okay to leave children alone to learn for themselves, to experience life on their own terms, to make mistakes and learn lessons the hard way.

Love them. Support them. Give them every opportunity you can. But let them live their own lives.

But then it’s easy for me to give parenting advice. It’s been seven years since my youngest son graduated from high school.

Footnote: Worse that parents who overmanage their kids are parents who don’t care enough to provide the support, encourgement, education, discipline, etc., that kids need.

First outside run of the year

Saturday, April 5th, 2008

For a lot of people, today was the first day of spring.

Not the first day on the calendar, but the first day of springlike weather on a weekend.

For me, it meant the first outside run of the year. I’ve been enduring the treadmill for months, and it was great to feel real asphalt under my running shoes.

I noticed lots of other runners enjoying the 60-degree temperature, and as I passed homes along the road I also saw plenty of people in their yards, beginning the spring gardening.

When I got home, my wife was in the yard, clipping off old growth and tidying up flower beds. It’s only a matter of days before the daffodils will be blooming.

It’s too early to plant much, but it’s still great to be outside. I enjoy helping with the garden much more in the spring – when it’s a nice change from being inside and when the temperature’s still cool – than summer when the weeds are growing fast and the sun it hot.

The spring weather has me inspired. I hope this is the year I manage to keep running on a regular schedule through the summer, maybe competing in some 10Ks before the season is over. I’ve been saying that for 10 years, but it seems like I always run out of time, miss a few days, and fall off the training schedule. And once you’ve fallen out of shape, running isn’t much fun.

I started today with a slow 45-minute run – probably about five miles, since it felt like about a 9-minute mile pace. I was happy that I made it without any trouble. I’ve been doing 45 minutes on the treadmill, but it’s not the same.

My goal is to run 45 minutes three times a week, slowly picking up the speed, and to do a longer run, slowly picking up the distance, once a week. Four times a week is about all I can hope to find the time for – and in the past it has worked well for me.

I used that schedule the year I ran a marathon, about 10 years ago. I don’t have any plans like that this year, but I do want to get to the point where I can run 8-10 miles comfortably.

So, wish me luck sticking to it – and lots of beautiful spring days for running.

If you have a running schedule you like, share it.

Coffee and new blog looks

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

I’m a coffeeholic. I know I drink waaaay too much. But I can’t stop myself.

What’s that have to do with tea in China? Nothing.

But it does relate to a post over on Paula Wethington’s blog, Monroe on a Budget.

Monroe on a Budget is the most recent of the blogs at Blogsmonroe.com to get a facelift. We’re slowly, one at a time, switching from the original WordPress blog template (which you see here) to more customized versions for each blog.

Other recent makeovers were on The Erie Hiker and What is Normal, two of our most popular blogs.

Anyway, one of Paula’s most recent posts was about coffee makers. She made the point that when you’re the only one in the family to drink coffee, traditional makers are impractical.

 Here’s the best coffee maker I’ve ever found for making a single cup.

A few years ago, our son studied for a semester in Costa Rica. When he returned, he brought me a coffee maker he purchased in a public market for a quarter – or the Costa Rican equivalent.

It was a simple wood frame, abouty six inches tall, with a cloth sack hanging from a hole in the top. There was room for one cup under the sack. You filled the cloth sack with the right amount of freshly ground coffee, poured hot water through it, and let it steep for a few  minutes.

Voila! A great cup of coffee. No hassle. No electricity (except maybe to heat the water). The only problem was that the cloth wore out after a couple years and I was too lazy to find a replacement and too inept to figure out how to connect it.

But it would make a great cottage industry for someone to make similar handmade coffee makers and sell them at farmers’ markets, craft shows, etc. Maybe I’ll save the idea for retirement income.