The Ann Arbor Chronicle » David Erik Nelson it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 In It For The Money: Our Schools Mon, 01 Sep 2014 13:01:22 +0000 David Erik Nelson My son starts third grade at Pattengill this week. He spent the first three years of his compulsory education riding the big yellow bus to Bryant Elementary – Pattengill’s K-2 sister school, sorta-kinda over by the municipal airport and town dump.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

Every day, on the way home from the bus stop, I’d ask what he did that day at school. Invariably they’d done nothing. I’d prod, as directed by the school: “Which specials did you have today? Did you go to the library? Did you have gym? What did you get in trouble for? Did anyone fall out of a chair?” and basically get nothing.

He clearly demonstrated that he was learning things somehow – he was reading ever more voraciously, and suddenly knew perfect squares through 10 and what a rhombus was. If the school accomplished that through long days spent sitting motionless and staring into space, far be it from me to disrupt their zen practice. “Nothing” was, after all, getting results.

But as it turns out, my kid is a damned liar. They hardly did any “nothing” at all at that school.

Enter the Loose-Leaf Golem

At the end of the school year my boy brought home a trashmonster, his backpack heavy with pounds upon pounds of classwork, much of it unfinished, or seemingly untouched (kinda confirming his claim that he does nothing at school).

Knock, Knock. Who? Yes!

Knock, Knock. Who? Yes!

Embedded in that mess of nightmare penmanship and abandoned math sheets were bizarre gems, like these little daily writing things. I don’t know what these were supposed to be: They are half-sheet size, stapled into booklets, rarely dated.

Sometimes they are just a sentence or two about his weekend or favorite food, but often they are these weird schematic jokes.

Or little nuggets that read like spitball pitches for indie horror films in an alternate universe where the SAW franchise was conceived and executed as an animated series a la Muppet Babies. My favorite of these reads (with spelling corrected): An unfortunate hamster and a monkey with big ears tied together to a bone.

An unfortunate hamster and a monkey with big ears tied together to a bone.

An unfortunate hamster and a monkey with big ears tied together to a bone.

If any of you aspiring young filmmakers want to option this concept, the boy and his lawyer are taking meetings.

So that’s something they did all year: They scrawled cough-syrup fever-dream koans on little pieces of paper. Also, they published a fiction anthology.

This thing weighs over a pound-and-a-half and is thicker than my thumb. My boy’s contribution is the first chapter (?!) of what seems an awful lot like Snoopy/Pikachu slash fic in which wolves bring the intrepid couple magical weapons and a sonorous bird.

An anthology of stories by the students in Mr. Kinasz's 2nd grade class.

An anthology of stories by the students in Mr. Kinasz’s 2nd grade class.

More chapters of this – occasionally illustrated, invariably scrawled edge-to-edge, front and back, on loose sheets of college-rule paper – were embedded in the classwork trashmonster.

There was also the unpublished first draft of the first book in his series “Presidents in Peril,” in which Lincoln is saved from wolf-assassination by a time-traveling ninja (also an excellent film pitch, in my humble).

I realize that I’m running the risk of being dismissed as flip, so here’s a slightly more somber piece of classwork I extracted from the work-lump my son brought home from school.

Below is a single page from a not-at-all radical second-grade civics curriculum. That final box is a bit squished. It reads: The community may be abandoned.


“The community may be abandoned.”

We’ve lived next to an abandoned house for as long as he can remember (#PureMichigan), and we’re middle-class pink-colored people – which is to say we’re the sort of Americans that, statistically, are doing OK right now. That is what OK looks like in 2014.

In the Belly of the Beast

Oh, and, one more thing: My kid’s second-grade class made a whale last year.

In the belly of a blue whale.

In the belly of a blue whale.

It was a 1:1 scale replica of a blue whale, made from black plastic tarps and inflated with industrial blowers (the kind the custodians use to dry the floor after waxing. Sorry the photo isn’t super-fantastico; there was no practical way to get a pic of the outside of the thing, because it was as big as a blue whale.)

A whale. A whale. They made a whale, and then inflated it, and got inside it as a class, and made measurements so they could tape down 3×5 index cards labeling the locations of all the organs.

They worked on it for months – during which, every day, I asked my kid: “What did you do at school today?” and he answered “Nothing.”

He spent his days toiling in the belly of a whale.

Yet that was “nothing” to him – nothing at all. We live in an age of wonders.

These are our tax dollars at work, Ann Arbor. These are our tax dollars at work, Michigan.

This is what we vote for when we vote for millages. This is what we destroy when we slash budgets and privatize services.

This is what we destroy when we permit ourselves to obsesses about the less-than-meaningless minutia of testing tests – to better test the tests’ capacity to test our kids’ capacity to test well on future tests of their test taking skills.


My son attended Clifford E. Bryant Elementary School for three years. It wasn’t until that final day – the day I saw the whale – that I stopped to actually read the plaque next to the rather dour portrait of Clifford E. Bryant hung in the lobby. It’s hung high above the door my son walked through no less than 1,000 times, in the building bearing the name of the man pictured there. And what does that plaque say?

Clifford E. Bryant came to Ann Arbor after World War II and was hired as a custodian for the Ann Arbor Public Schools on August 16, 1946. He worked in the school system for 25 years. Mr. Bryant was not an ordinary custodian. He had the reputation of being a friend and helper to both students and teachers. He was not a tall or big man in physical size, but he was in every other way. Although tradition dictated that schools be named after deceased persons, Clifford Bryant was honored during his lifetime. He was chosen because of the kind of man he was and what he did for the children, teachers, and parents of Ann Arbor.

I’m including a half-tone photo of Bryant from a 1972 newspaper article instead of a photo of the plaque, because I think it makes a  better portrait of the man.

Clifford Bryant

Clifford Bryant

On the occasion of the school being named for Bryant, AAPS assistant superintendent of operations Emerson Powrie (who had worked with Bryant as a principal) said, “I’m very pleased that the [Ann Arbor Board of Education] has recognized that faction of the school community that is so often overlooked. Cliff was a very dedicated employee and deserves such an honor.”

I want to flag a couple things here.

First and foremost is the primacy of always reading the plaque – and the sooner the better. I wish I’d known this three years ago. I wish that I could have told my son, so that he would have more than 1,000 reminders of the other thing that I want to flag: The little things count.

We didn’t name a school after Clifford Bryant because he fought in a war (although he did), nor because he saved a bunch of kids from a fire (he might have), or because he cured cancer (which doesn’t seem to be the case), or because he walked on the moon (which no records indicate ever happened). He was not rich (according to any reports I’ve seen), he didn’t revolutionize desktop computing (to the best of my knowledge), and he didn’t appear in 47 top-grossing films nor win an Academy Award for his role in Good Will Hunting. As near as I can tell, his death wasn’t even very widely mourned – heck, he passed just six years after the school was named for him, and yet doesn’t seem to have even warranted an obituary in the local paper.

So what did he do to deserve this honor?

He showed up faithfully. He worked kindly. He helped. In short, he bent the arc of the moral universe in exactly the way that we all want our children to aspire to: By being gracious on the daily to those around them.

At a fundamental level Bryant was a custodian: He steadfastly protected and maintained something of value to us all.

And just as I very much like living in a community where we set our children to the task of building and working inside of ersatz, air-filled land-whales, I also very much like living in a community where we will name a school after a person because that person was good and faithful and kind.

Happy Trails

And here we are, Dear Readers, at the end of the road.

I’ll level with you: This has been a ton of work. In the normal course of events these columns consumed hours upon hours of typing, backspacing, typing, revising, cutting, cutting, cutting, and cutting, followed by my endless compulsive nit-picking and fidgeting and altogether trying of Mary Morgan’s good faith and Dave Askins’ monumental patience – and those were the columns that went to print.

Uncounted were the hours spent standing in lines, pestering folks, fruitlessly Googling, working the phones, and otherwise chasing down leads that evaporated to nothingness. If you knew how long these 33 columns took to write and research, then you’d know the awful truth: That I’m not just a self-aggrandizing blowhard, but also a damned fool.

Say what you want, Gentle Readers, but at least I was always a fool for the facts. I reported what I saw as faithfully as possible, and told you the truth to the best of my ability. And over and over and over again I have been surprised, and humbled, and intensely flattered by your honesty and patience and good will in coming along with me on what has been, quit literally, a fool’s errand. That we are here, together, at these words so low on the last page of the final column is a testament to your civic fortitude as much as my obstinacy.

So while it’s a bummer we’ll no longer hang out like this, it’s also a tremendous relief. I’m sure you understand.

That said, I continue to write.

Something like this column – albeit much shorter and more poorly proofread – pops up on my website now and again. If you want to be kept apprised of that, you can sign up for my newsletter (and hear from me not more than weekly) or follow me on Twitter (and see many more pictures of my toddler attempting to feed gin to a stuffed lemur). I also write other stuff. Amazon will happily sell it all to you, and places like Literati can certainly get ahold of the things actually printed on paper.

If any of you happen to know someone looking for a somewhat obtuse columnist interested in a new project, I’m willing to talk. No reasonable offers will be dismissed out of hand.

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1155 Rosewood Fri, 29 Aug 2014 17:11:19 +0000 David Erik Nelson This sunflower @roosroast is 10′3″. This barista is 5″2′. The flowers rule over all! [photo]

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Shell Station at Jackson & S. Maple Thu, 21 Aug 2014 18:51:50 +0000 David Erik Nelson Look who’s chilling on my gas pump! [praying mantis] [photo]

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Pioneer High School Sat, 26 Jul 2014 16:12:47 +0000 David Erik Nelson What the crap are they building in front of Pioneer High school? On bare dirt, no less! [photo]

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In it for the Money: Chosen People Tue, 24 Jun 2014 16:38:36 +0000 David Erik Nelson Editor’s Note: David Erik Nelson’s short story “The New Guys Always Work Overtime” won the 2013 Asimov’s Readers’ Award for Short Fiction. You can buy it or download a free copy: [here]

Our Jewish Community Center in Ann Arbor is small. This seems to throw a lot of people off. They think of Ann Arbor as a fairly Jewfull town, because the University of Michigan brings in a lot of East Coast Jews, as well as basically every Midwestern Jew who can make the cut.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

This probably sounds harsh, bordering on bigoted: When some guy with a generic Englishman’s surname and a very Nordic “K” in his conspicous middle name starts sounding off about the preponderance of Jews in town . . . well, it doesn’t sound good, does it? So, to clarify for the Occasional Readers and those who have not yet grown to know and love me: I’m a Midwestern Jew, born and raised in Metro Detroit, like my father before me.

And to us Metro Detroit Jews, UM has long been the Promised Land: At last count something like 40 of my relatives have attended the university (with most ultimately earning a degree or two!) The latest of these, my nephew, will be joining the rolls this September. We are kvelling (well, maybe less so his step-dad  – who is a Spartan, but still a pretty OK guy).

But the university’s Jews don’t tend to stick around, so the actual number of Jewish families in Ann Arbor is pretty small – or, at least, small compared to where I grew up. The point being that we have a small JCC here. It’s pretty heavily used by all the congregations, of which there are three with actual buildings – if you count the Reform folk, who share a building with Episcopalians – and then a handful of gathered congregations. I’d guestimate that more than half of the JCC’s square-footage is dedicated to children: There’s a large daycare, and a K-5 Hebrew Day School, plus an after-care program and several summer camps.

Our tiny JCC has an armed guard. In my mind, this is pretty common. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a JCC without an armed guard – but it came as a surprise to my wife and in-laws, who are not Jews.

Our guard is a guy I’ll call G. He’s a high-and-tight retired Army Ranger with a drawl. All the kids love him, because he is an excellent security guard: He makes it his business to be sure that all the kids know him and like him, so that they will listen to him in an emergency. Most of the emergencies are weather-related (naturally), but during my son’s final year in preschool at the JCC three armed robberies took place within a 1-mile radius of the JCC in a two-week stretch. In all three cases the school was locked down, because three men with shotguns were running around the neighborhoods, evading cops. In such situations, I’m glad G. is handy, because he is sharp and disciplined – and I am very comfortable with him and his role and his being armed in this setting.

To the uninitiated it maybe sounds a little nuts, that my kid’s daycare – which is also the building where we make our religious practice – has an armed guard. But this is the way of the world: Now and again white men with gun-show stockpiles take it upon themselves to take a stab at Zion, and they disproportionately target JCCs when they do so. And JCCs almost invariably have daycares and schools.

But that’s not what I want to tell you about. I want to share a Terrible Revelation I had at the end of May.

A New Gun

G. was off for a couple days at the end of May, and so the substitute guard was there. I’ve seen him now and again – he’s one of several subs who fill in for G. He’s well-meaning, but kinda shlubby; not crisp and affable and sharp as G. But good enough in a pinch.

And on his second day subbing, as I was carrying my 2-year-old daughter through the blast doors, I noticed he had a new pistol – either a small 9mm or a larger .22, the finish absolutely pristine – and I thought to myself “Dude has a new pistol. Oh yeah, some fucker in Belgium shot up a Jewish Museum over the weekend. Figures.”

On that sub’s first day on duty, I’d noticed he had no gun, and the thought in my head had been: “What the fuck good to me is a guard without a goddamn gun?” The thought just surfaced, made its impression, and drifted away. It was not a remarkable thought, here in the Promised Land.

I noticed because I always check the guard’s gun on the way into the building, no matter who is standing guard. G., for example, always packs the same automatic, which I believe to be a .45 Glock. It’s got wear along the end of the barrel and rear sites, where they rub as he walks, stands, sits. I always look, because I want to see that holster clipped – which it always is. And I want to know the gun is there.

So, on that second day I found myself relieved to see G’s sub with a gun on his hip. And only then did I realize how much I’d been bothered by its absence. And I discovered that – way in the back of my head – I’d actually been sorta-kinda considering calling the JCC to see when G. would return.

I made it out to the parking lot, to my car where my son sat waiting for me to drop him at his bus stop, and all of it just suddenly piled on top of me:

It will never be done.

The Land of MLK and Honey

All over this great nation, African Americans attend church on Sunday, and they do not worry about getting blown up. But at one time that just wasn’t the case – back in the days when MLK himself advocated packing heat. Terrorist IED attacks on churches were a constant worry, part of a constellation of worries. And those worries are not gone. And we are not “past race.” But church bombings are in the past. Lynchings are in the past. Burning crosses are in the past. If I were to go to a church and ask “Why don’t you have armed guards?” they’d look at me like I was nuts. If I asked “Why aren’t these windows blast-proof?” again, I’d seem insane, because for all the awfulness African-America has to deal with on a daily basis, broad ideologically motivated targeting by domestic terrorists has markedly declined.

But being the plum target of the men who purchase arms through the gun-show loophole will evidently drag on forever – even though this paranoid worldview jumped the shark so long ago that most garden-variety American Jew-haters have forgotten we killed their God and don’t even know what the blood libel is any more.

They just know that Jews are for hating.

Our JCC – my kid’s daycare – has blast proof windows. I have some professional contacts in the bulletproofing industry, and I can tell you for a fact that bullet- and blast-proof exteriors are exceedingly common at Jewish Community Centers – almost the norm. Under the auspices of Homeland Security, the federal government even offers grants to defray the cost.

Again, this is how the world has been as long as I can remember: JCCs have armed guards, High Holiday services have police protection, and you regularly meet grandparents who decline invites to cook-outs because the smell of meat over open flame stirs the hot ashes of memory and triggers panic attacks.

As children, our history was not sterile and abstract: It was not stark black-and-white photos in the encyclopedia; it was not limited to dramatizations directed by Steven Spielberg.

Our History was at your left elbow at the dinner table telling you about the time he captured – and then murdered – a panzer commander, because that officer gave him lip on the same day he learned his family still living in Poland had all been liquidated by good German patriots just like that privileged officer. Our History spent her young womanhood in Auschwitz-Birkenau sorting the clothes of those who’d been sent “up the chimney,” so that the garments could be shipped to the widows and orphans of German soldiers. Our History had a scar where she’d had her numbers cut out, rather than bear them as a sign upon her arm for the rest of her days.

Just to be crystal clear: I am a well-off “white” person born in the United States in the final quarter of the 20th Century. I grew up in a community of upper-class “white” people, most of whom had regular interaction with family members who had been enslaved and tortured for the German war effort. I grew up in a place where people like me were certainly “white” if you were dark, but still never quite white enough for the world of folks who festooned their house with lights come winter and never thought about whether or not they were really white, or really American.

I remember once, when I was a kid, someone keyed a rental car we had, carving swastikas into the driver’s side door, just above the handle, where the driver – my mother – would be sure to see. This didn’t alarm me; it was just part of how the world was. It was, in fact, so very unremarkable that I didn’t even think of the incident again until I sat down to write this column. For comparison, around this same time I came across a skinned cat laid out on a large flat rock in the middle of a creek in the woods near my suburban elementary school. I think about that moment often. It was the first time in my life I’d ever seen a skinned animal, and it had taken me a long, long moment to even make sense of what I was seeing, and what it must mean.

The skinned cat was remarkable. That was a Mystery worthy of long meditation.

But a swastika? Psssh. I can spot a swastika at 20 yards – scratched into a wall, worked into a tattoo, hidden in a pattern of tiles, subtly alluded to in the shapes of children’s toys and the orientation of library study carols. There are swastikas everywhere, when you have the right eyes on. And it behooves folks like me to keep those eyes on. Remember: Our daycares need forced-entry rated glass and armed guards. Our houses of worship draw regular protests.

The Slow Turn

But then I had my own kids, and my heart went soft. I began to assume that this threat – so small it is almost imperceptible, but also constant and all-permeating, like radon – just wouldn’t be part of my kids’ world, in much the same way that my childhood was not marred with the sort of overt anti-Semitism my dad endured, and his childhood was not defined by the murderous anti-Semitic pogroms his father fled: Seven years old, Abraham Spielberg crossed the Atlantic with a note pinned to his shirt, indicating the address where he should be sent, and the name that he should adopt, the world into which I ought to disappear.

This world. Here. America. The Promised Land of Milk and Honey.

But it’s a long tail, I guess, and this last bit, these final men with guns will linger for ever. And on the day one of them comes and puts lead in me and my kids and their teachers and my neighbors and G. and the receptionist, there will be people on the Internet like weev, or whoever, who will laugh and crack an “Elders of Zion” joke. And then click on to the next thing.

And we – me and my Jewish children, our Jewish neighbors, our gentile guard – we will be dead.

And we won’t be dead because Gun Control or because Mental Health or because Assault Rifles or because the Internet or because Anything. We’ll be dead because, for whatever reason, this one stupid little thing just won’t finish, the other damn shoe will never drop. They don’t even know why they should hate us any more, just that  being hated is what we’re for.

I can tell you – as a guy who spent his formative years talking to concentration campers, talking to Jewish-American enlisted men who liberated concentration campers, poring through first-person accounts, reading Christian Patriot and Aryan Identity forums – that the men who will come now to kill us, they are more dedicated than any of those sad-sack old SS guards that get scooped up now and again and dragged to Israel for trial. Unlike Eichmann himself, these last men with guns will never claim to have just been cogs following orders. These men are proud of their devotion. They come to give “a wakeup call to America to kill Jews” and to make sure that everyone knows that “The Holocaust is a lie. Obama was created by Jews. Obama does what his Jew owners tell him to do. Jews captured America’s money. Jews control the mass media.”

These are the men who will not be persuaded, who I cannot talk my way past or bring around, who won’t stop until someone like G. puts a bullet in them. These are the men who rarely stand trial because they are dead on the scene. These men will give the last full measure to squeeze off those rounds into my kid’s daycare.

Because that’s how firmly they believe that my daughter should be dead. Because she is a Jew like me. This must be how it feels to know you passed your daughter that gene for super-aggressive metastatic breast cancer.

And I’ll wager that the bulk of my Gentle Readers don’t have a context for this feeling – because they’ve never felt the cruel twist of self-loathing that comes with knowing you’ve endangered your children by virtue of being related to them. This is part of what I want to share with you.

This is, in a way, the core of the Terrible Revelation: I suddenly realized that your average Americans don’t spend a second of their lives despising themselves for marring their own children with the awful taint of their Identity.

For just a second, standing in the parking lot with my hand on the door handle of my car, that was too much to bear.

The Promised Land

But the Terrible Revelation just kept expanding, because in all the world this is among the safest places for us. This is as good as it gets: A daycare with an armed guard and blast-proof windows. According to a recent poll from the Public Religion Research Institute 12% of Americans think it’s basically OK to refuse to do business with a Jew (and let us not forget the breadth of services that might ultimately fall under the auspices of “doing business in America“).

The lede on that first article is that 10% of Americans think it’s basically kosher to refuse to do business with an African American man or women. That number is pretty awful, yet somehow, today, now, in the 21st Century, Jews – nominal whites – are still a smidge less popular among your average American than the most terribly, systematically abused minority in the history of this nation.


The initial frame of this animiation shows dots representing a random selection of 100 Americans. The second frame shows 13% of African Americans (black dots) and the 10% of Americans who would refuse them service (red dots with slashes). The third and final frame shows the 2% of the population who are Jewish (blue dots) and the 12% of Americans who would not do business with them.

But once you really think about those numbers, it’s even worse than it sounds: African-America makes up just about 13% of the U.S. population. If you randomly select 100 Americans, you can expect about a dozen of them to be black, and ten of the remainder to refuse African Americans service. That’s terrible. But at least the black folk outnumber the racists. Pardon the grim calculus, but provided the other 77% of Americans decide to stay out of it, the black dots have a fighting chance.

Meanwhile, maybe 2% of the U.S. is Jewish. So, in that same random sampling, you have two Jews staring back at a room full of gentiles, a dozen of whom really hate them. And the remaining 86? I hope they are at least indifferent.

But every time I see a headline about Donald Sterling or Bernie Madoff or Alan Greenspan or Israel, I start to worry about the 86% of America – those who are neither Jews, nor so shockingly bigoted that they’d refuse to take our money.

I know where I stand with the Jews, and I know where I stand with the guy at Buhr Park Pool rocking the Parteiadler tattoo.

But what about the other 86? I never know. And history tends to indicate that there’s a tipping point for them. Some little thing is going to be one thing too many, and then . . . and then it’s the wrong end of the gun, it’s the lager bottles filled with gasoline, it’s axe handles, it’s Heaven’s Chimney.

It’s the End all over again.

But it never ends, because that’s the point: Until we stop existing – because we’re smoke and ash or because we wise up and stop going to our synagogues and JCCs and museums – then it’s never over, because they will always be more numerous than us, and they are as dedicated to our death and dismemberment as we are to just living our lives and getting our kids to daycare on time so that we can get our other kids to the school bus so that we can go home and get to work and pay our bills and taxes and just be.

Thus ended the Terrible Revelation that I wanted to share with you.

Happy Birthday

The next day after the Terrible Revelation was my son’s eighth birthday. He’s never met anyone who saw the inside of an operating concentration camp. I can remember being six and seven, but I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know about concentration camps, about genocide. I can’t remember ever being told; it was just always there, like air and thunderstorms and acorns.

I have not told my son. I feel like I’m lying by not telling him. I feel like I’m concealing something.

But I can’t find words to tell him anything about any of this; my throat just locks up. And that scares him. And so we do something else, because there’s no need to scare him. As should be suitably established by this point, the world is scary enough on its oddy-knocky. Hardly needs my enhancements.

What would I tell him? What fatherly advice suffices?

Keep a clean nose? Keep a low profile? Keep quiet?

I’m going to let you in on a little Jewish secret, Gentile America: Jewish fathers have told their Jewish sons to learn to keep their mouths shut and blend in from time immemorial, and it has never done a damn bit of good. We didn’t end up with the anonymous surname “Nelson” by some accident of history, folks. It was a plan. But it never really worked out.

I guess if I could say anything, I’d say it’s like what the Rabbi says in the story: Feel lucky, boy, ’cause it can always be worse.

Why Am I Telling You All This?

Honestly, I don’t know.

I do know that often, when you try to tell the Majority about some little sliver of a facet of living in a Protected Class, they get huffy. Sometimes it’s because they think you are a whiner or full of shit or whatever, and that’s OK. An asshole is born every minute – and, frankly, I don’t think many of those folks have read this far.

No, the Righteous Among the Nations get huffy, too, and I think that’s because they are sickened and overwhelmed by new knowledge of perpetual injustice. And, because they are powerful, and because they are good, and because they are Americans, they want to do something to Solve This. And what upsets them is the fact that this cannot be solved. That, in short, is my whole point: Here and now, in this place, this is as good as it will ever get for the Children of Israel – and still, my daughter’s daycare needs an armed guard and blast-proof windows.

So, just to be crystal clear: I’m not telling you this because I expect you to fix it. I’m not telling you this because I expect you do say “Poor Dave! Poor Jews!” I’m not telling you this because I want you to give Israel a pass on their awful domestic policies. I’m not telling you this because I want you to watch Schindler’s List or donate to the Shoah Foundation or visit a Holocaust Museum – jeez, you’re taking your life into your own hands doing that.

First and foremost, I tell you this because some of the Jews with whom I shared the Terrible Revelation, they said “You should publish this.” I suppose they felt that hearing this might help you – the great and all-ruling throng of gentiles – to know us a bit better. But whatever their motivations, they said you should be told, and they are right: By not telling you, I am lying to you about the world, as sure as I’m lying to my boy by not telling him about the Shoah.

I owe you the simple fact of what I saw as I stood in the parking lot, fingers on the door handle, on the day before my son’s eighth birthday.

But also, I want you to know because I think about that 100-person vision of America often. I think about those two little Jews adrift in a sea of docile American gentiles. I think about those twelve venomous jellyfish floating along, invisible to their countrymen, invisible to everyone but us yidlach.

I know that the vast, vast bulk of you, Gentle Readers, are likely to be Gentile Readers, quiet members of the 86% of Americans who are neither Jews nor principled bigots. And it’s you I dwell on, not the two little Jews, not the twelve angry anti-Semites.

Eighty-six of you in that quiet crowd, and God knows that you have every right, when the Bad Thing Happens, to treat it as exactly none of your business. God knows that this would be the smart thing to do, because standing up will likely mean getting killed with the rest of us, and you have your families and your people to watch out for. I entirely respect your decision to keep quiet and carry on.

But God also knows that if all of you choose to prudently mind your own business, we two Jews will be totally and completely fucked. Once again.

The Chronicle relies in part on regular voluntary subscriptions to support our publication of local columnists like David Erik Nelson. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. So if you’re already supporting us on a regular basis, please educate your friends, neighbors and colleagues about The Chronicle and encourage them to support us, too!

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In it for the Money: Equal Marriage Wed, 28 May 2014 11:33:03 +0000 David Erik Nelson Editor’s Note: David Erik Nelson’s short story “The New Guys Always Work Overtime” won the 2013 Asimov’s Readers’ Award for Short Fiction. You can buy it or download a free copy: [here]

Back in March, for just shy of 24 hours, Michigan was willing to license, solemnize, and recognize the marriage of any two people without getting all particular about their genitals. [1] The three-judge appellate panel is still out on whether the question of a happily-ever-after for non-bigots and wedding-lovers here in Michigan. But that was still a pretty wonderful day.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

In one sense that day resulted from a specific victory in court: A courageous couple embarked on a legal battle in order to protect their adopted children in the case that either parent dies, lawyers argued the case, and based on the merit of those oral arguments and the testimony of experts a federal judge issued a very strongly-worded decision.

By itself, all of that was a wonderful example of our legal system basically working as we’d hope.

But here’s the thing:  If that was all that had been done – just plaintiffs and lawyers and experts and a level-headed judge – no one could have gotten married on Saturday, March 22, 2014. No offices would have been open, no staff would have been on hand, and the appropriate forms would not have existed.

So today I want to sing the praises of the quiet heroism of county clerks – who are, for the vast bulk of law-abiding citizens, the daily executors of the Law, which is to say our Will as a People. This column is meant to record in something approaching a permanent way their mettle in helping to bend the Arc of the Moral Universe towards Justice.

Background: Marriage Equality in Michigan

In October of 2013, when the DeBoer/Rowse v. Snyder case was filed, there was an expectation that federal judge Bernard Friedman would make a decision on the merits of the case based on the pleadings, without a full trial. This is called a “summary judgement.” Both the plaintiffs [DeBoer/Rowse] and the defendants [Governor Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette in their capacities as executors of the state's laws] had requested Friedman make such a judgement.

But he refused to do so because the “rational basis” of the state’s justification of the Michigan Marriage Amendment (which amended our state constitution to stipulate that “the union of one man and one woman in marriage shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union”) is itself questionable. His denial of the request for summary judgement is worth a quick read.

My favorite sentence from the denial has to be this one, taken from Lawrence v. Texas (2003): “Moral disapproval of a group cannot be a legitimate governmental interest under the Equal Protection Clause.” Friedman’s stated goal in forcing the case to trial was to permit (or, if you prefer, oblige) both parties to offer the most rigorous presentation of their case. However, several lawyers have independently told me that they believe Friedman forced the case to trial specifically to expose the state’s “pathetic” (their word) defense of MMA to the most intense possible scrutiny – and for that scrutiny to become a matter of public record, adding to the swiftly growing body of work dismantling common claims used to defend discriminatory marriage laws.

So, long story short: DeBoer and Rowse got their day in court and prevailed: Friedman deemed the MMA unconstitutional. Because same-sex marriage is such a hot-button, the expectation was that Friedman would place a stay on his decision – essentially hitting the pause button on canceling the MMA. He did not.

In retrospect, Friedman’s decision not to issue a stay makes a lot of sense, based on his deeply rational scrutiny of the matters of law surrounding the case itself. Generally a stay is issued for one of two reasons: Either because immediate execution of the judge’s findings would cause “irreparable harm,” or because the party requesting the stay seems likely to prevail on appeal based on the merits of the case presented. Friedman’s ruling makes it pretty clear that: (1) no one demonstrated that similarly gendered people saying “I do” has ever harmed anyone, irreparably or otherwise; and (2) the case the state presented had very little merit.

On the merit of the state’s case, I like Friedman’s characterization of one of the state’s four “expert” witnesses as “entirely unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration.” About the four taken together, Friedman wrote that they “clearly represent a fringe viewpoint that is rejected by the vast majority of their colleagues across a variety of social science fields.”

But what really counts is that Friedman immediately voided our constitutional prohibition on same-sex marriage – at the end-of-business on a Friday. The state simply had no time to get someone down to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati – the next court up the ladder toward the SCotUS – to request a stay.

And Saturdays are great days for weddings.

Going to the Chapel

What does it take to get married in the state of Michigan? Well, you basically need four things:

  1. A pair of opposingly-gendered, currently unmarried adult humans
  2. A correct and complete Marriage License Application form
  3. $20
  4. Three days

In the last several years, Item (1) has been the sticking point here. Back in 2004 a group of well-funded national bigots convinced a minority of Michigan voters to approve the Michigan Marriage Amendment (aka, the “MMA”). This nuked an existing separate-and-not-really-equal-but-better-than-nothing arrangement we had here in Michigan, whereby gender-opposed folks could get “married” – and accrue all the liabilities and benefits associated with that legal status. Meanwhile gender-similar folks could join in a “civil union” – and accrue some, but not all, of the liabilities and benefits associated with the “married” status.

One might characterize the MMA as unequally targeting a minority group and unconstitutionally stripping them of rights and responsibilities, in much the same way one might characterize grass as green and the sky as blue.  That is, the characterization would arise from immediately evident facts easily observed by reasonable minds – which is to say the great mass of the people. Michigan lawyers in the audience will see what I did there, clever, clever boy that I am – the rest of y’all might wanna Google “Justice Cooley” and “reasonable minds.”

So, assuming that you, Dear Reader, are not a bigot, then you are likely wondering what needs to happen to fix this fundamental injustice written into our state constitution? The voiding of MMA by either judicial, legislative, or voter action is obviously the start – but it’s only the start, because if something is legal, but functionally impossible, then we haven’t really restored justice; we’d be patting ourselves on the back for being so progressive without making any actual progress.

In order to move forward here in a meaningful way, we have do more than turn the Wheels of Justice. We need to turn the Wheels of Bureaucracy.

We have a tendency to lambast bureaucrats as, at best, ineffectual pencil-pushers with an unspellable title, and at worst pitiful and infuriating tin-pot dictators of tiny demonic fiefdoms, but they really are neither of these things, which is why I want to draw attention to them here and now.

They aren’t gremlins, or unglorified data-entrists; they are our legal conscience.

What it Takes to Get Married

Except for some common edge cases, here’s the basic process: A pair of otherwise unmarried adult humans with mismatched genitals show up at their county clerk’s office with proper ID. They fill out a single-page marriage license application and pay a $20 fee (unless neither are county residents, at which time the fee is $30). They wait for three days. (State law actually stipulates “A marriage license shall not be delivered within a period of 3 days including the date of application.”) After the three days have expired, the happy couple just need to get the license solemnized (i.e., have a judge or mayor or rabbi or whatever mumble some words and sign off on the deal). Boom! Married!

But let’s say you don’t want to wait three days. Maybe you have a plane to catch, or maybe you and your life partner need to rush things a little in order to dash through the brief gap in a stupid, hateful, and fundamentally unjust law. Don’t worry! The law allows for counties to issue licenses immediately, forgoing the waiting period, provided “the person applying for the license … pay a fee.”

When Larry Kestenbaum took office in 2004, that fee was $5. As it turns out, that was a terrible price point.

Brief Economic Tangent

People mostly don’t care about the three day wait; a marriage license is valid for 33 days after issuance, and applying for a marriage license is one of those things that everyone involved in your wedding is going to hound you about. It’s in the game plan, and thus “rush service” is just not a service many folks need under normal operating conditions. When accelerated processing is not an option, they don’t even notice. But once they hear that they can have their marriage license immediately for just $5, plenty of folks will say “Well, why not?” and drop the fiver.

In other words, at that price it’s an impulse purchase, just like the candy bars at the grocery store checkout. What human needs a 250-Calorie sugar boost in order to make it from the register to their car carrying bags upon bags of food? Perhaps some small subset of poorly-managed diabetics, but that hardly justifies the display, and that isn’t the reason it’s there: When we can immediately gratify some need cheaply, it takes an act of will not to do so.

So, the low price of expedited marriage licenses was actually incentivizing the purchase of something these folks didn’t really need, and wouldn’t have missed had it been unavailable.

The thing is, preparing marriage licenses is not the same as leaving a box of Snickers on the counter. Prepping a marriage licenses is time consuming and legally fraught; screw-ups can only be corrected by court order. So marriage license applications are only handled by workers specially deputized to do so, which will tend to be your more experienced (i.e., most efficient) staff. While a more skilled worker is monopolized rushing a marriage license for folks who are in no hurry, the line is backing up with other folks in need of quick fixes (e.g., picking up notarized birth certificates, completing DBA renewals, being told they are at the wrong counter and need to go to the second floor of a different building, etc.)

When Washtenaw County Clerk Larry Kestenbaum took office in 2004, it was immediately obvious to him that it costs more than $5 to rush a marriage license, so he bumped the fee up to $50, with the dual purpose of: (1) ensuring that the fee covered the added workload; and (2) disincentivizing rush orders. And it worked great – under normal operating conditions.

But there are times when the county clerk might reasonably expect (or even encourage) a surge in expedited marriage licenses – like, let’s say there’s a comet headed straight for earth. Or maybe we’re blessed with a very brief suspension of our fundamentally bigoted constitutional ban on certain subsets of minority marriages. In such emergency scenarios the county clerk isn’t necessarily eager to soak the desperate for $50 a pop. Or, at least, our county clerk, Larry Kestenbaum, is not eager to soak the desperate for $50 a pop, because our county clerk is a mensch.

So back in 2013 our county clerk made arrangements to be able to call “fee holidays” in situations where reasonable minds might need a rushed Marriage License at no fault of their own – for example, on occasions when the county offices will be closed for four days, or during a very temporary ellipses in our relentless legalistic bludgeoning of people based on a few stray clauses in an ancient religious text that we otherwise almost completely ignore.

During a fee holiday the $50 rush fee drops to one cent. (The Chronicle report on the Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting of Feb. 19, 2014 details the discussion and approval of the fee holiday.)

There’s No Box on the Form

So the judge has (temporarily) fixed the problem of the “mismatched genitals mandate”, and the clerks have fixed the “time and money” problems. One catch remains: Check out Michigan’s standard-issue marriage license application.

You’ll note that this form cannot be correctly completed by a couple that isn’t male-female. Heck, owing to its sort of narrow expectations about who does what with his surname upon marriage, I actually know several heterosexual couples who couldn’t technically complete this form completely and accurately.

Anyway, the problems posed by a form that demands one male and one female applicant (no more, no less) were not lost on the county clerks. So last year a group of clerks, led by Kestenbaum, contacted the State Registrar for Michigan’s Division for Vital Records and Health Statistics, Glenn Copeland. They asked Copeland to consider issuing a new gender-neutral marriage license application and marriage license forms. These were designed by a committee of county clerks, and ultimately were distributed by the state – which then abruptly whipsawed, claiming that the gender-neutral forms they’d issued had not been approved and thus couldn’t be used.

Interestingly, Michigan law doesn’t stipulate that the state has to approve these forms in any manner, just that they have to issue them. The statutory mandate is that “blank forms for a marriage license and certificate shall be prepared and furnished by the state registrar appointed by the director of the department of community health to each county clerk of this state in the quantity needed.”

If this seems like a minor point, bear in mind that some county clerks were arguing that same-sex marriages couldn’t be performed if the form didn’t provide for it – which is sort of bass-ackward, because the county clerk’s sworn duty is to facilitate the execution of the law. And for those hours between Friedman’s decision and the District Court of Appeals’ subsequent stay of that decision, the law was that any two Michganders who were of age and not already married could contract marriage.

“[The Law] didn’t require that the state be officially backing the form at the time we are using the form,” Kestenbaum said. “This is a question of 14th amendment equal protection under the law; I don’t think the form should stand up as a barrier.” Not surprisingly, Kestenbaum made a point to redistribute the state-issued gender-neutral marriage application forms far and wide.

Please note well: Assuring that all citizens were equally protected under the law, in the most functional day-to-day sense, fell not to legislators or judges, but to standard-issue pencil pushers in a small offices you never even think about.

March 22, 2014: Washtenaw, Ingham, Oakland

All of the pieces were in place on Saturday, March 22, 2014: The MMA was not in effect and the forms were fixed; forward-looking county clerks had even gone so far as to make sure their fee structure was prepared to fairly accommodate extraordinary circumstances.

But of Michigan’s 83 county clerks, only four made arrangements to provide services on Saturday, March 22. These were: Larry Kestenbaum in Washtenaw County (home to Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan, me, and probably everyone reading this), Barbara Byrum in Ingham County (which includes Lansing and Michigan State University), Lisa Brown in Oakland County (immediately adjacent to Detroit and among the ten highest-income counties in the U.S., and second most-populous county in the state, with about 13% of the state’s population), and Nancy Waters in Muskegon County (a small, rural county in West Michigan).

All told these four clerks and their staffs issued 329 marriage licenses on March 22. Washtenaw County alone – which was only able to stay open for a half-day, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., but was well staffed with deputized workers and a bevy of holyfolks ready to solemnize – processed 74 expedited marriage licenses that day. By comparison, Kestenbaum noted in an email that the Washtenaw County Clerk’s office has “averaged around seven [non-rush marriage licenses] per business day for the last several years.” Based on population size you’d expect the entire state to issue about 200 licenses on your average business day.

That highly productive Saturday was well covered by the media in Washtenaw, Ingham, and Oakland Counties; these are easy places for them big city papers to reach and pigeonhole. These are large (and largely supportive), diverse communities with large, well-staffed county offices.

Muskegon County is a little different, but instructive.

March 22, 2014: Muskegon

Muskegon County did not open their offices on Saturday, March 22. Nancy Waters, their county clerk, was much less confident of her community’s support than the other clerks, and so she made separate arrangements to hold what amounted to “office hours” in a nearby Unitarian church. There she was joined by the church’s pastor, Rev. Bill Freeman, and a deputized volunteer legal secretary. She informed the chair of the county board and the county administrator of her plans on Friday, but in the interest of avoiding conflict did not plan to do anything in any county building, use any paid county employees, or rely on any public resources.

Working from 9 a.m. until 3:50 p.m. – when the federal appellate court in Cincinnati issued its stay, thus reinstating the discriminatory MMA – Waters, Freeman, and their unnamed volunteer issued and solemnized 48 marriage licenses. That’s just shy of 15% of the total number of marriage licenses issued that day statewide.

They worked, without breaks, without lunch. When they ran out of HIV brochures – which county clerks are required by law to give to couples seeking a marriage license – Waters announced that she’d have to stop because they could not legally process the paperwork unless they could truthfully attest to the pamphlet having been issued. Upon hearing this, and of their own volition, freshly-wed couples took it upon themselves to collect and redistribute these pamphlets, so that there would be an ample supply. After all, the law says that couples need to receive this pamphlet in order to be issued a license; no one says a married couple has to keep it. I have no idea where my and my wife’s HIV pamphlets are. For that matter, I am a touch foggy as to where our marriage license is.

Operating from  9 a.m. to 3:50 p.m. also meant that Waters was face-to-face with a line of eager fiancees when she was told by the Detroit Free Press that a stay had been issued and she had to stop issuing licenses and marrying couples.

“There were people crying, there were people in line. One person – not in line, one of the family members – came up to me and said ‘Well, couldn’t you go on and issue these last few? Who would know?’ And I pointed to me, to my heart, and said ‘I would know.’ And I want to be able to say ‘I have followed the law all the way through this process.’”

Earlier in our conversation Waters had explained:

When this is over, and people hear the whole story, they’ll see that this was a real commitment on my part for following the law, and I would remind so many people who called me [before hand] and were opposed to it, and didn’t want me to do this, that up until 1967 interracial marriages were not legal [in much of the United States], and clerks were not allowed to issue marriage licenses if a black and a white came in to get a marriage license… There’s been a little backlash [to Muskegon County's March 22 "office hours"], but there’s been a lot of favorable support from people that I didn’t know, from people that have sent me little personal notes saying, ‘Even though I’m heterosexual, I want to commend you, I’m so proud of you, I salute you.’ And, you know, the few that were not in support or favorable were so minor that I don’t even think about it.

Bending the Arc

I love and admire the Rev. Dr. MLK, Jr., but I’ve taken him to task for favoring this passive, objectless grammatical construction when he said:

The Arc of the Moral Universe is long but it bends toward Justice.

That’s not just a grammatical peeve. In this case my gripe is rhetorical, because as King lays it out, the implication is that, given time, History will end up in a place of Justice and equality all on its own. Ice will melt. Fog will lift. And the Arc will bend toward Justice.

I do not believe this to be true.

The Arc of History is not going to bend toward Justice all on its own.  It will bend toward Justice if, and only if, we get up every morning and put a little effort into bending that bastard. Not a ton, just a little.

Larry Kestenbaum, Nancy Waters, Barb Byrum, Lisa Brown – they got up early on a Saturday morning, enlisted the help of friends and colleagues, put their hands to the Arc and pulled that dogleg straight. I want this column to be a lasting testament to their mettle.

Why did Nancy Waters go it alone and work her ass off to marry as many couples as possible on March 22? She was quite explicit when we spoke: “It was an opportunity for me, as a county clerk, to follow my oath of office, which said ‘Follow the law.’” But following the law wasn’t super popular where she serves, which is why she went forward independently, relying on no public resources.

But what gave her the courage to move forward?

“I certainly looked to Larry Kestenbaum. I have looked to him from the day that I became a county clerk in 2008, when I was elected. … Larry Kestenbaum had everything in order; that’s why I do look to him … and was so pleased for his very, very, very strong leadership in this significant process.”

Waters was of the opinion that the Oakland and Ingham county clerks had also looked to Kestenbaum for guidance. It was a contagion of courage, spreading like whooping cough in a California hippie school.

But where did Kestenbaum get this overabundance of courage? He got it from the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, who had pledged their support. And they pledged their support, because they knew we had their backs.

Is the virtuous feedback-loop clear?

Bending the Arc need not be a grand effort, like rustling up ministers and churches and volunteers to help process minority marriage applications. Nancy laid hold of the Arc because she knew Larry was doing so, and Larry did so because he’d done the ground work, and because he lives in a region of the state full of us, and knew that we wanted someone to straighten out the offensive jag that a minority of our fellow voters crammed into the Law in 2004.

And Larry knew we wanted this not just because we’d voiced support in obvious ways – with emails and notes and votes – but because this is a part of Michigan where, if our kid calls a teammate a “fag” for dropping the ball, we yell at our damn kid and give him “consequences.” We’d no sooner sit idly while a co-worker called a lame reality show “gay” then let a man beat a child in the street.

There is shit we just don’t tolerate, and discrimination against homosexuals has joined that shit list.

And our queer notions are spreading. Every time we put our hands to the Arc, a few more folks join us – because of herd mentality, because of peer pressure. Bending the Arc in these little daily ways is the joyous inverse of a lynch mob.

Midway through our conversation, Kestenbaum told me this:

One thing that I hadn’t really thought about was that these specific scenes – something happens, same-sex marriage becomes legal, and couples show up, and you have this wonderful happy time, and the examples of many of these people, who’ve been together for years or decades and have children – those scenes have helped drive support for same-sex marriage. I think that’s absolutely the case. …There’s that famous line about ‘the Supreme Court reads the election returns‘ – I think that public opinion is moving quickly on this, and the Supreme Court does not want to be left on the wrong side of it. So I’m still pretty optimistic [about how the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals and Supreme Court will ultimately adjudicate this issue.]“

And I’m optimistic about the rest of us, because it’s true: None of us want to be left on the wrong side, and our powerful need to be in the right will drive us to be sure that no one is left out in the cold.


[1] I know it’s going to begin to seem like I’m being snarky with all this talk about genitals in reference to the Michigan Marriage Amendment – which dictates “the union of one man and one woman in marriage shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union.” But in all honesty, once you start to actually think about the ramifications of those words, it’s really hard to determine what the MMA wants from marriage license applicants. The law doesn’t define what “man” and “woman” mean in Michigan, so we’re left with the “reasonable person” standard, at which time we’d assume that if someone shows up expressing a given gender and with a birth certificate and driver’s license indicating they have that gender, then that’s the case. But check out footnote 9 here, where the Michigan Court of Appeals finds that “Under the most obvious and commonly understood meaning of the words ‘man’ and ‘woman,’ a postoperative male-to-female transsexual is not a ‘woman.’” The note goes on to explain that’s because the surgery has not changed the fact that the individual has an X and Y chromosome, not two X chromosomes, because, in day-to-day life, the first thing any of us checks when deciding which pronoun to use is whether or not someone has a Y chromosome in the mix.

Snark aside, this finding strikes me – a reasonable person – as a pretty wacky interpretation of what a “reasonable person” would infer when introduced to a human with a female name, female demeanor, female genitals, and “FEMALE” printed on her birth certificate and driver’s license (Michigan law allows these records to be revised and sealed by folks who’ve undergone sexual reassignment surgery). Call me crazy, but I would be satisfied that such an individual was “female” and just get on with my life. In fact, judging by what I hear from folks married in Michigan more recently than I, if the state does anything to actually enforce the MMA, it goes no further than checking the sex listed on the applicants’ drivers’ licenses and birth certificates: There is no mandatory genital check or genetic testing, no mandate for a doctor’s affidavit. In other words, the state appears to be perfectly content to issue licenses that it knows to be “unconstitutional” under current Michigan law and its own inane common-law findings – which is hardly the sort of thing we’d expect “reasonable people” to do. [All credit and much love to Anne Marie Miller for digging up the legal reference for me.]

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In It For The Money: Presidential Stinkburger Mon, 07 Apr 2014 15:29:41 +0000 David Erik Nelson The President of the United States visited Ann Arbor on April 2. If you want to know what he said, you can read a faithful transcript right here, or just watch the unedited remarks.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

But none of that puts you in the room with the PotUS. Hearing the same four presidential soundbites about Zingerman’s and minimum wage played over and over again on the radio certainly gives you the gist of what was said; none of it was earth shattering.

In fact, I’d wager that most Chronicle readers could generate a fairly accurate facsimile of the remarks made by the PotUS working strictly from First Principles. You know what politicians are like: Y’all a good looking crowd! God bless America! Handshake-babykiss-SMILE! You know what excites East Coasters about Ann Arbor: Zingerman’s! Sportsball! Wolverines! And you know how PotUS stands on the minimum wage: Raise it!

None of that puts you in the room.

And you’re likely inclined to say: So what? What’s the use of being in the room? What’s the bother of showing up in a specific time and place to see something that’ll be on YouTube ten minutes after it happens, to be watched at my leisure? Hell, Dave: Why did you bother wasting so many hours to be in that room? Don’t you have better things to do with your time?

And, while I do have better things (or at least better paid things) to do with my time, there’s always value in being in the room. In abstract, there’s value because being in the room is The Job. It’s what I’ve said I will do for you: I will show the hell up, and tell you what the hell I saw. This is the baseline contract any newspaper should have with its readers.

And specifically, on this occasion, there was value in being in the room because some things do not come across in articles and the op-eds and the clips and soundbites – not even in the unedited audio or video. There are intangibles – including all of the things that are outside the frame of the camera, too far away for the mics to pick up, or of little interest to the reporters on hand.

In The Room With The President

Appropriately enough, the venue for the visit was the basketball court at the top of the University of Michigan Intramural Building. This is an old building – constructed in 1927-38 – and the basketball court is a general purpose gymnasium: no bleachers, no built in hoops. Enormous windows allow excellent natural light, and the balls get dribbled on maple floors (which UM notes are original, and somewhat oddly constructed). All told, the innocuous IM Building is a goddamned fortress. It’s an open box with good light and excellent acoustics.

April 2, 2014 IM building on the University of Michigan campus: U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the assembly.

April 2, 2014 IM building on the University of Michigan campus: U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the assembly.

About half the space – the half with a conspicuous maize-and-blue MICHIGAN painted on the brickwork – had been prepped for remarks from the PotUS. It was cordoned off, then broken into two roughly equal-sized seating areas: “blue ticket” to the left, and “red ticket” to the right.

The red ticket section had seating, and was populated by Local Dignitaries (the mayor, UM Regents, Jon Conyers, a prominent metro-area family of personal-injury attorneys, etc.) and People Who Deserved Chairs (several UM sports stars, folks whose jackets prominently advertised their labor union affiliations, a voluble Detroiter in a track-suit who didn’t like banjo music and identified all of these people for me, etc.) The student section offered a row of portable bleachers against the wall beneath a sign reading OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL – which, when you think about it, doesn’t really have much to do with minimum wage, unless you’re really stretching it – and the rest of the space was standing-room-only.

These two sections embraced a little stage and podium for the PotUS, which was backed by another set of bleachers – packed with hand-picked UM students – and a very, very large American flag. In case you’re wondering: Yes, the students in the bleachers behind the PotUS were markedly more attractive than those who had seemingly randomly packed the bleachers in the “student section.”

The ethno-racial and gender breakdown of both bleachers and the student crowd seemed to be balanced, although I got the distinct sense that neither is a good match for the current race distribution at the university. That’s a topic for some other column, some other time (likely written by some other guy). This was all encircled by ring of steel made of the sort of portable railings I’ve seen used for ad-hoc cattle pens.

Orbiting all of this was a crescent of media. Some of the media were held on two risers (one directly opposite the PotUS, one to the right, sorta-kinda mirroring the student bleachers). These were crowded with thickets of tripods and cameramen. A roped off section of folding tables was packed with media folks crouched over lap tops. The rest of us journalistic rabble crowded at the cattle railing.

A very nicely dressed person wearing a “volunteer” badge told me that 1,400 people were in attendance. I have no idea of that number included media and staff. If not, then give that number a healthy bump of at least 10 percent or more.

Frankly, I have a lot of questions about much of the media. For example, of the folks like me crowded at the rail, very few were operating cameras, or holding recorders, or taking any sort of notes, or using cameras to do anything other than attempt to snap a selfie of themselves and the PotUS – who was no less than 65 feet away, standing behind a podium on a raised stage, and busy giving advice to college kids.

I'd totally planned to take a sort of half-joking, post-ironic selfie with PotUS in the background. But watching all these other folks do exactly this same thing  (1) drove home how painfully unoriginal my originality is; and (2) was totally, totally mortifying. So here's a photo of my press pass instead.

I’d totally planned to take a sort of half-joking, post-ironic selfie with PotUS in the background. But watching all these other folks do exactly this same thing (1) drove home how painfully unoriginal my originality is; and (2) was totally, totally mortifying. So here’s a photo of my press pass instead.

The point here, mostly, is that I’ve seen this crowd in other media accounts described as “raucous students.” And I just want to make the point that much of it (certainly in terms of floor space) was not students.

And although the students were exuberant, they were remarkably orderly given the circumstances. The lag between the audience load-in and the President’s actual remarks was at least 90 minutes, during which the organizers played looped, tinny banjo music at extremely high volume.

No one liked that music, and while the folks near me (I was on the rail behind the Local Dignitaries and Other Chair Sitters) were starting to get vocal on this topic, the close-packed students were happy as clams in a very crowded kettle.

The PotUS Is Such A Dad

What is the PotUS? For one thing, apparently, he is a Dad. And I don’t just mean to say he’s the biological father to Sasha and Malia; there hasn’t been childless PotUS since James K. Polk (who, Batmanishly, took on a nephew as his ward – so you could argue there’s never been a childless PotUS). I’m talking about the Nature of the sitting PotUS. George W. Bush was a “Cool” Big Brother – which is to say half rake, half bully. His father was a Study Hall Proctor. Reagan was, obviously, a Hollywood Actor. Clinton? He was an Elvis. And the current PotUS is a total Dad.

The PotUS arrived in his shirtsleeves, because he was ready to Get Down to Business and Hit Us with Some Straight Talk about wages and stuff. The PotUS complimented us as good-looking, and commended our work ethic and academic achievements. He seemed to legitimately admire the quality of the prominent sportsball players in the audience, which pleased the audience a great deal.

Then, like somebody’s dad, the PotUS cajolingly admonished us to sit down – which might have seemed sort of cryptic to home-viewers, because the crowd was cropped out of the shot. Everyone had given a standing ovation upon his entrance, and then remained standing. Many folks were standing on their rickety folding chairs – which any dad will tell you is dangerous, and bad for the chairs. C’mon, guys; settle down. I’ve gotta talk to you about something important.

This was all in the first three minutes and thirty seconds of his speech.

He went on to tell an anecdote about his lunch (Zingerman’s! ZINGERMAN’S!!!). He gave some really legit advice on properly structuring your college debt, and suggested that it’s important always to be polite when arguing with folks about politics. He may have advised us to neither be a borrower nor a lender, and to our own selves be true – I’d need to double check my recording.

Such dad-ish digressions were peppered throughout the presentation. The speech was taken up by long stretches during which the PotUS was clearly working crisply from the prompters and notes – stretches indistinguishable from every speech of his you’ve seen on video. And then we’d hit one of these sparkly little patches where the PotUS could be your pal’s dad, driving you to the movies in the family minivan, periodically craning back to explain something about compounding interest, or the infield fly rule, or why you always want to be sure your tires are at the appropriate PSI.

You know, standard issue dad small talk.

But the most dad-ish run in his remarks starts around 25 minutes in to the speech. The PotUS is talking about GOP economic policies, which seem to be in a rut: The same ideas stuck on repeat, despite being neither popular nor effective. He gets a little salty about the most recent attempt to repeal Obamacare: “Because they haven’t tired that fifty times!” And then about a minute later PotUS drops in a joke comparing these stuck-on-repeat GOP tactics to the film “Groundhog Day” – “except it isn’t funny.”

Now, I believe that line was scripted – and maybe not as a joke, precisely. He really seemed legitimately peeved at that point, just as he had with the “fifty times” jab a minute earlier. But the Groundhog Day joke turned into an actual laugh line for the audience – one that got a really disproportionate response. It really landed.

And you could sense the PotUS becoming emboldened, in the way dads will. You can see it in the video, a hint of it, but there in the room, you could feel the antic energy gathering. Even from 65 feet away, standing behind the crowd, I could feel a dad joke coming. It was like the portentous pressure front that precedes a tornado; my ears popped, wasps went nuts, squirrels fled, dogs barked at locked doors.

“If they tried to sell this sandwich at Zingerman’s,” the PotUS said, struggling to suppress his glee, “they’d have to call it [tiny pause] the Stinkburger.

I’m quite confident that somewhere in Washington D.C., at 3:19 p.m. on April 2, Sasha and Malia found themselves spontaneously rolling their eyes. “Oh no,” they gasped, miles apart, yet in perfect unison, “Somewhere, Dad’s trying to be ‘funny.’ ”

The crowd in the IM building was perplexed, thinking Did the President of the United States just say “Stinkburger”? I know this, because the two cameraless-notepadless-compterless-recorderless “media” people behind me – “mean girls” from central casting in pastel blouses and dark pant suits, who’d been snarking throughout the preceding 28 minutes – said aloud exactly that:

Ohmagawd. Did he just say ‘Stinkburger’?!

Frankly, they were just saying what the rest of us were thinking – at least at that moment. The other 28 minutes of their chatter was all just catty bullshit about people, places, and outfits I couldn’t conceivably have cared less about. But in that moment, we were all together, all of us, from the most exalted student athlete to the lowliest scribbler, joined of a single mind, wondering:

Did the guy who makes the drone kill list just say “Stinkburger”?

True to form for a dad, our chagrin did not dissuade the President of the United States and Leader of the Free World. There was joke there somewhere, and he could feel it. From across the crowded room, I could see him groping for that laugh-line.

So he groped on dad-style after the Stinkburger until he found something else: “Or the … or the … or the … or the Meanwhich!” Nailed it!

Ohhh. Dag, Mr. Obama. That’s … that’s not great. You can pull over and drop us off here. We’ll walk the rest of the way to the mall.

That joke just hung there, stagnant and awful as a fart in a car. And then we all laughed, because – just like that fart in a car – the awfulness, and the fact that we were all caught in that awfulness together, was itself sorta funny.

Dad Jokes, Domestic Policy

It’s been interesting to see the Stinkburger joke spin out across the political universe, especially among folks who weren’t in the room. In the local coverage – much of which, I can verify, was based on first-hand accounts – the Stinkburger didn’t seem to merit much mention. Nationally, it gained some traction in the Twitter feeds of elected Republicans, who were suitably outraged (but not there, in the room with us). Now, over the last few days, it’s been shoehorned into the headlines and ledes of articles in Business Insider,,, the Washington Post, etc. – as though it’s a legitimate expression of executive policy.

In case there’s any question, there is no “Executive Order: To Hell with GOP Stinkburgers!”

But treating any part of the PotUS’s April 2 remarks as legitimate political rhetoric meant to sway a dubious electorate is just as nutty. He didn’t come here to convince 1,400 people in the Upper Midwest that raising the minimum wage by $2.85 is a good idea. We’d all waited hours to get in, gone through the security rigamarole, and then stood around for another couple hours listening to excruciating banjo music. The folks who were on board came because they were already on board. The folks who weren’t came so that they could find something to be angry about.

He came to give us what we want: A sense of connection with the Leader of the Free World.

And, true to his agreeable nature and intent to be an aisle-bridging centrist, the PotUS gave everyone exactly what they needed – even the folks who just want to be pissed off at him, even the folks who didn’t show up to be in the room.

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Hoover & Sybil Wed, 02 Apr 2014 17:05:54 +0000 David Erik Nelson City dump trucks moved in as barricades for PotUS visit. This one is full of aggregate! [photo]

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Main & Washington Sun, 30 Mar 2014 20:09:13 +0000 David Erik Nelson So many people are making so much awesome at the free FoolMoon Luminary Workshop at Workantile right now! [photo]

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In it for the Money: Your Public Library Wed, 26 Mar 2014 01:11:25 +0000 David Erik Nelson Editor’s Note: At the Ann Arbor city council’s March 17, 2014 meeting, Ann Arbor District Library Director Josie Parker told councilmembers that heroin sale and use takes place at the downtown location of the AADL. The council was debating a resolution about reserving as a public park an area of the surface of the city-owned parking structure adjacent to the downtown AADL.

In rejecting the idea that the problems are caused by the homeless, Parker also told the council that “some of the most obnoxious behavior exhibited at the public library in Ann Arbor is done by persons who are very well housed, very well fed, and very well educated. It is not about those things. It is just about simply behavior.”

Chronicle columnist David Erik Nelson is a frequent visitor to the public library. He drafted this column before Parker made her comments. And he’s still an enthusiastic library patron. From Parker’s March 17 comments: “We manage it and you don’t know about it … and you’re generally as safe as you can be in the public library, and that makes it successful.”

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

Say a precocious child – like Glenn Beck, for example – asks you how much the library costs. The library is, after all, readily confused with a bookstore (because it is full of books) or NetFlix (because they let you have stuff for a while, but expect it returned in good condition).

What’s your answer?

Probably the first thing that comes out of your mouth is that it’s free – which makes sense to the child (and, evidently, Glenn Beck). After all, the kid never sees you pay anyone there, and (assuming your household finances are like mine) it is also likely often a place you go to have fun and get stuff after you’ve explained that you can’t buy this or pay to visit that on account “We don’t have the money for it.”

But we’re all grow-ups here – even Glenn Beck – and we certainly know that the library costs something [1], we just don’t know how much (or, evidently, who foots the bill). If pressed, we’d wave our hands and say that the library is probably funded (note that passive voice!) by some sub-portion of a portion of our property taxes, plus a little Lotto money and tobacco settlement, multiplied by the inverse of some arcane coefficient known only to God and the taxman, or something – yet another inscrutable exercise in opaque bureaucracy.

But it’s not that way at all.

In contrast to pretty much all other public services – which are funded by an exceedingly hard-to-parse melange of federal, state, local, and “other” revenue streams – more than 90% of the Ann Arbor District Library’s budget comes from local property taxes. The amount you pay for it is written out on your tax bill.

At first glance, it’s probably more than you would have guessed: The average Ann Arborite has a $155 annual library bill. That’s sorta pricey for something that’s “free.”

But upon even brief reflection, it’s pretty clear that the library is much better than free.

The Cost of Everything

So, here’s my summer tax bill (which is when you pay your library bill – in the summertime). Check out line six.

The author's summer tax bill from 2013.

The author’s summer tax bill from 2013.

This year’s library bill was exactly $128.56. [2]

So, that’s about $11 per month. But is that a good deal?

Your average new trade paperback sells for $15 to $20. Even if Amazon knocks off 30%, I’m still looking at at least $10.50 per book (plus shipping). So, if I borrow one book per month from the AADL, I’m doing OK. [3]

I live in a four-person household; the baby (who turned two at the beginning of this month) doesn’t take out books yet (we’re trying to restrict her destruction to private property), but I don’t think my wife and 7-year-old son have ever returned from the library with fewer than three books each. So, just between those two, we often make back our entire annual contribution each month. If an investment consistently pays off at 10% annually – which is to say you start the year with $1 and end it with $1.10 – that’s a great investment. How do you even describe an investment that annually pays off 1,100%?!

Forget BitCoin; put your money in libraries, kids!

But “book rental” isn’t really a thing these days. A much more straightforward comparison would be a commercial endeavor like NetFlix – which is a pretty reasonable comparison, given that about half of the AADL’s annual circulation is “A/V materials” (predominantly DVDs).

NetFlix’s lowest pricing tier for service that includes a physical DVD (rather than streaming only) is $7.99 per month, for which you get one DVD at a time. My experience is that the turnaround time on a DVD is at least three days, and usually we don’t get around to watching a DVD for a day or two. (Remember: two working people, two kids, and we’ve got all those damn library books to read!) So, figure we watch four DVDs per month. Maybe you are a happy single person with few demands on your time. Given the limitations of NetFlix’s shipping schedule, the USPS, and the calendar, you still likely max out at around 7 DVDs per month on this plan.

Meanwhile, the AADL lets you take out an unlimited number of items simultaneously and has an average fulfillment time on requests of one to two days. Also, you’ve already paid for your library, and they offer a lot more than just “Nacho Libre” and “Eight is Enough” on DVD.

A Value Multiplier

As AADL Associate Director Eli Neiburger eagerly pointed out over cookies and coffee one Friday morning, “The library is very unique among taxing entities, in that you pay a flat fee up front, and then the value you receive from it is in direct proportion to how much you choose to use it, with no additional cost required.”

If you don’t feel like you’re getting a good value for your 1.55 mill tax [4], then there is a bone-headedly easy remedy: Borrow more books. Don’t like books? Then borrow movies and music. Don’t like any of the library’s 434,729 items? Then ask for something you do like.

In the same month that I glanced at my summer tax bill and wondered whether $128 was a good deal, the AADL loaned me a pair of digital oscilloscopes – $500 in gear, delivered to within a mile of my house, and free for me to use basically until someone else needs it. If that was the only thing I got from the library in four years, I’d still break even.

You’re likely wondering why the library (an institution named for the books that are its raison d’être) had one – let alone two – oscilloscopes to lend out to me. [5]

And, the short answer is: They had it because I asked for it.

The Most Responsive Entity

I don’t mean to imply that the AADL bought these scopes just because some big important local newspaper columnist asked. Mine was only one of a small handful of patron requests for oscilloscopes. But chatting with staff over email, I was given the distinct impression that even a single sufficiently impassioned request might well have triggered the purchase. That’s because there was already a strong sense from within the library that an oscilloscope might be something their patrons would want, if they knew it was there for the asking.

“We’re here to meet patron demand.” Eli says, with that “we” clearly meaning libraries in general, not just the AADL. “Typically libraries get in trouble when their vision of patron demand drifts from the actual patron demand. [...] What our users want is what we want to get. That’s the mission of the library: To get people the stuff they want. If anything, the 21st century’s biggest problem for libraries has been a ‘faster horse’ problem [6], that they [patrons] may not know what they want.”

Eli was quick to clarify that he wasn’t implying that the AADL should be a nanny telling patrons what they should want, but that any library is constantly bumping up against the limitations imposed by having libro embedded in their name.

According to Eli, “libraries were never in the book business, that was just the cheapest and easiest way of distributing information. To me, the value of the library has always been that it aggregates the buying power of the community and it purchases shared access to things [for private use]. There are no other institutions that have a mission like that.”

Do you want free music? Then the library wants you to have it. [7] Do you want a telescope? Come and grab one! Wanna rock out on a drool-worthy array of synths? BOOM!

“The pressure from the taxpayers helps keep it focused, in that [they ask] ‘Are you adding value for my money?’ – and because the central conceit of the library [...] is you buy it once and you use it many times.”

Libraries and the Creation of Stuff

So, that’s the most obvious bang for my buck: My annual payment of something-like-$128 goes to buying several hundred dollars in oscilloscopes – or whatever other reasonably useful things patrons might think to want. But the library isn’t just an aggregator of stuff. Check out the usage chart. (In case you want a little more context, that slide is drawn from this deck, prepared by the AADL.)

Ann Arbor District Library usage trends from 2004 through 2013.

Ann Arbor District Library usage trends from 2004 through 2013.

What do we see here? Well, since 2006 most of what the library does has held steady: Circulation (i.e., “checkouts,” which number around 9 million annually), folks visiting the library (“door count”), and event attendance are steady.

But “web” (that is, views of AADL web pages) has quadrupled. Why are so many people visiting the AADL web site? Isn’t it basically just a digitized card catalogue?

No. Check it out: “One of the best things we can do with the public money is cause new things to exist on the web that never would have existed otherwise, for which there is no commercial use case,” Eli said.

Eli rattled off several examples – including digitization of the Ann Arbor News archives, which amounts to salvaging, preserving, and disseminating 174-years of small-town history that just happens to coincide with the entire history of Michigan as a state and the growth and flourishing of one of the world’s preeminent research universities.

Or consider the AADL’s partnership with the African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County. Here’s how Eli describes it:

Once or twice a month we set up our equipment and we record an interview where a member of the museum interviews a member of the community and we put the entire unedited video up online with a clickable transcript and professionally done meta-data. There’s not a world in which that makes business sense. The library has an opportunity to make things happen that otherwise would not have happened without the library’s resources. And those things, they don’t just have value now or next week or next month, we seriously think about some of the things we produce having value in hundreds of years.

It’s ludicrous to think that something you upload to Facebook is going to be available to a scholar 500 years from now. But something that you put in the library’s corpus just might be. Of course, there’s a lot of zombies and barbarians and alien invasions between here and there, but, you know, we honestly think about [that] when we put up our infrastructure – we don’t say we want to ‘put it in the cloud and host it on a server.’

We need to know where it is, we need to know how it’s formatted, we need to be responsible for making sure that the data survives catastrophic events and that it can be recovered by people far in the future who we can’t imagine what their tools are. Now, that’s a very serious role, it’s an important part of a community, but it’s a very small part of what the library does, both in terms of hours and in terms of dollars. But does our copy of “Nacho Libre” have long term value to the community? No, it has short term value to the community. But our copy of an interview that would not have otherwise existed, and which we’re pledging to keep on the Internet for as long as we exist and as long as the Internet exists, that has enduring value.

In other words, the library has become a somewhat unconventional publisher – and it only takes a tiny sliver of your $130-ish per month to fund that quixotic endeavor.

Later in our chat Eli characterized it like this: “The 20th Century library brought the world to its community; the 21st Century library brings its community to the world” – which nicely brings us around to the last major thing the library does for us.

Soft Diplomacy

Let’s face it: As a nation, we don’t necessarily have a super-great reputation throughout the world. So, there’s obvious value in putting a little effort into telling the world about ourselves and how we live, lest they somehow get the impression that we’re mostly uneducated, unemployable queer-bashing gun nuts.

A little less obvious is what the existence of an endeavor like this tells the world about our commitment to our nation’s core values. “Free” public libraries – that is, those that are entirely and only funded by local taxes, with no additional “use fee” – are a rarity in the developed world, and libraries of any sort are rare as hen teeth in the developing world.

A project like the AADL says nice things about us, because it highlights our attention and commitment to recording, preserving, and disseminating truths about ourselves that may not be entirely flattering. The First Amendment is effectively meaningless if you have the freedom to speak, but no capacity to do so in a way anyone will get to hear. When we fund the library, we are putting tools in the hands of every member of the community, so that they can be heard. It’s us making good on the promises we’ve made to ourselves. In a world where the most common place to see “MADE IN THE USA” is stamped on the side of the tear-gas canister your government’s secret police just shot into a crowd of school children, it’s nice to have a counter example.

But these are edge cases, because even if the mission of the 21st Century library is to bring our community to the world, I’ve still gotta say that our libraries do a pretty good job of bringing the world to us.

The AADL branch that I frequent is the Malletts Creek branch. I can’t speak to the user mix elsewhere in the system, but Malletts Creek is heavily used by new immigrants and resident aliens, who come there not just for CDs and movies and books, but also for the tot time and Internet access and to receive language tutoring and literacy training. Some of these folks are in it for the long haul – political and economic refugees – and others are here for a few years while they or their spouses attend the University of Michigan. In any event, all of them seem to make occasional sojourns overseas, and to maintain connections with their countrymen.

I very much like knowing that, when someone has a bone to pick with America and the things we cause to happen around the world, these folks I meet at the library have enjoyed the fruits of our system, and are thus more inclined to say, “I hear what you’re saying, but you haven’t been to the United States, and I have, and let me tell you: They aren’t like that. They all chip in without batting an eye – even the blowhard jerkwads on talk radio – to make sure that everyone who sets foot on their soil can learn the language, get online, and get their hands on the stuff that it takes to make rich lives. They are as real about their First Amendment as they are about the Second.”


When my first book came out I did a few events at the AADL’s downtown location. I was making small talk with the guy helping me set-up, and said something to the effect of, “I really appreciate you guys putting on so many free events” and he stopped me and corrected me: “It’s not free,” he said, “You already paid for it.”

And it’s money well spent.


[1] Here’s Jon Stewart’s classic bit on this. The library gag comes in at 2:20. For the Glenn Beck apologists out there who might wanna claim that Beck just slipped up and misspoke that one time, you’ll note that the two clips I’ve shared are from different events; this “libraries are free” malarky was a standard applause line for Beck about three years ago.

[2] Our house – a lovely 1,000-square-foot ranch with 3 bedrooms, 1.5 baths, hardwood floors, and a finished basement – is about 80% of the median home value for Ann Arbor, so we’re paying a bit less than your average Ann Arborite, whose annual library bill is probably closer to $155. It should thus come as no surprise that a non-resident library card costs $150 per year.

[3] There are obviously some assumptions here as to how one uses those books; buying and borrowing are only the same if you are primarily interested in the book as a word-transmission and transport system. I’m not taking into account those books that I mark up and meditate on over time, books that I need to reference repeatedly, or recovering some of a book’s initial purchase price either directly through resale (for which I rely on the excellent Books by Chance), or karmically through trade or gift-giving.

[4] Currently, each property holder annually pays $1.55 per $1,000 taxable value of their home. The taxable value of an Ann Arbor home is around 40% of its market value. So, if you have an “average” Ann Arbor home – the median home value being something around $250,000 – then your taxable value is probably around $100,000, and your annual library bill roughly $155.

[5] It’s not unreasonable for rational readers to wonder why I needed the damn things: I’m working on my second DIY book. (Here’s my first.) This new book is all musical instruments and noise-toys, many of them electronic. Having a digital oscilloscope on my bench has made it an order of magnitude easier to debug and refine my homebrew (and not terribly electronically rigorous) oscillator and filter designs.

[6] Henry Ford apocryphally quipped: “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.”

[7] I was particularly enjoying this album while drafting this column.

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