Stories indexed with the term ‘In it for the Money’

In it for the Money: Chosen People

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. [Full Story]

In it for the Money: Equal Marriage

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. [Full Story]

In It For The Money: Presidential Stinkburger

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. [Full Story]

In it for the Money: Your Public Library

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. [Full Story]

In it for the Money: Crimes and Misdemeanors

I want to talk about Dylan Farrow’s open letter, published on the New York Times blog on February 1. But I don’t particularly want to talk about Woody Allen, or rape, or patriarchy, or the law [1].

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

I want to talk about rhetoric.

I want to talk about rhetoric, and moral decision making, and a funny little blind spot built into our cognitive hardware.

At 942 words, Dylan Farrow’s open letter is one of the most brilliant pieces of persuasive writing I’ve seen in years. It’s strength stands on three legs.

First and foremost, Farrow’s letter opens and closes with a question, which is an established marketing tactic [2]: Humans naturally want to give assistance, and our minds rise unbidden to answer questions. We might be able to tamp down that inclination long enough to keep the answer from flying out our mouths or fingers, but we still rise to the question in our heads, and that’s all Farrow needs here. She needs us to engage her claim, which we might not be inclined to do if it was flatly stated.

Second is the powerful juxtaposition in the first two sentences:

1. “What’s your favorite Woody Allen movie?”

2. “Before you answer, you should know: when I was seven years old, Woody Allen took me by the hand and led me into a dim, closet-like attic on the second floor of our house.”

The juxtaposition implies an association, but does so without demanding we parse anything complicated. We are first asked a question – with which we reflexively engage. Then we’re given a very evocative declarative image.

Finally, that associative juxtaposition connects Woody Allen with violation, and activates a deep, pre-rational aversion buried in our hardware of our brains: We do not like to be associated with unclean things. Those two sentences associate Allen with this fundamentally repugnant violation in a way that speaks to our deep brain without engaging the rational surface layer.

If Farrow had flatly stated her claim – something like: “When I was seven years old Woody Allen raped me. You should not enjoy his films.” – our clever, lately evolved, logic-obsessed prefrontal cortices would balk, tossing up all sorts of rational roadblocks (It’s nonsense! The one thing has no bearing on the others! My favorite Woody Allen film was released three years before the events in question! ). The two sentences, as I’ve presented them, are literally non-sequitur; the one does not follow from the other in any obvious logical fashion.

Farrow’s rhetorical touch is brilliant, because she sidesteps our rationalizations, and directly engages our deep-seated imperative to distance ourselves and our loved ones from anything unclean. [3]

As such, Dylan Farrow’s question is much larger than one specific time and place, or one specific artist’s work: In everyday commerce, how do we decide how deeply we want to engage with people who we are fairly confident have done terrible things?

All of this is a bit outside the areas of my expertise [4], so I called Ari Kohen. [Full Story]

In it for the Money: Bed Bugs!

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” opinion column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. If you want to get a not-more-than-weekly update on what Nelson is thinking about, sign up for his quasi-automated newsletter.

We met our first bed bug while traveling in the spring of 2011. My wife had plucked the creature from a friend’s bedroom wall.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

As tends to be the case in situations like this, the meeting began with a debate over whether the arthropod in question was in fact a bed bug. Because I’ve had the privilege of being born and gendered male, my initial response was a very confident declaration:

“That’s not a bed bug!” Then we Googled it.

It was totally a bed bug. It was, quite possibly, the exact some bed bug shown in the top result returned for “bed bugs.”

What followed was a complete and hysterical existential freak-out. We helped our friends tear apart their home, searching for signs of bed bugs with all the frantic compulsion of deeply addicted meth heads scouring the rug for that last lost shard.

Our findings were inconclusive – as lots of things look like bed bug carcasses when you are freaking out. So we elected to beat a hasty retreat – fleeing not just the house, but the city and state, and stopping only to spend an hour or two at a highway rest area tearing through our belongings in a disgusted search for bugs, nymphs, carcasses, or droppings.

Meanwhile, our four-year-old played in the grassy border unattended, attempting to coax robins into landing on a stick he held by pretending to be a tree. [Full Story]

In It For The Money: Happy Holidays!

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” opinion column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. Unlike Xanukah, it did not come early this time around.

Xanukah came early this year, and so did the Holiday headaches.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

For example, due to issues both mathematical and autobiographical [1], I had a hard time getting Xanukah candles. Although I’m generally inclined to attribute these sorts of minor inconveniences to broad anti-Semitic conspiracies [2], I’ll admit that, in all fairness, this particular annoyance was mostly on me.

Owing to a family party, a Jewish Community Center party, a congregation party, a collision with a nominally secular national holiday, and some associated family travel, we got all the way to the eighth night of Xanukah without buying candles. And lo, on the morning of the seventh day [3], there were no Xanukah candles to be found in Ann Arbor.

I started driving up and down Washtenaw Avenue, then calling drug stores and groceries all over town, and it was always the same drill: I’d repeat “Xanukah candles” three or four times, and the clerk or manager or whoever would finally get his or her head around what the hell I was asking, and then very nicely, very apologetically, explain that they’d received a small shipment a day or two before, but sold out almost immediately.

Everyone was very nice and very concerned that I couldn’t acquire my ritual candles, and I didn’t have the heart to tell them that, despite the annual hoopla in the Gentile-controlled media, Xanukah is a really, really minor military holiday, and so it wasn’t a big deal.

But when I went into Hiller’s, I had a funny exchange with the clerk. I asked her if there were Xanukah candles (repeat × 3), and once she figured out what I was saying she said no, and apologized. She noted I wasn’t the first person to come in that morning (it was 9 a.m.), and that “you’d think we’d have them, because we’re a Jewish store, but no, we’re all sold out.” [Full Story]

In it for the Money: Miss America

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” opinion column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri has a local tie, having grown up in western Michigan and attended school at the University of Michigan here in Ann Arbor. She graced the pages of The Ann Arbor Chronicle back in 2008 as part of The Chronicle’s coverage of the Miss Washtenaw pageant that year. Incidentally, she did not win or even place (!) in that pageant.

David Erik Nelson and  Nina Davuluri (Miss America 2014)

David Erik Nelson and Nina Davuluri (Miss America 2014)

On Nov. 1 the Ann Arbor Chronicle sent me to talk to Miss America. She was scheduled to speak at the India Business Conference held at the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business, and then give a press conference.

Not being a journalist by training, I imagined a room crowded with folding chairs and jostling reporters, camera flashes bursting and shutters clacking. I figured I’d maybe get one chance to ask Nina Davuluri (Miss America 2014) a single question – and no follow-ups! So I practiced saying “Thank you, Ms. Davuluri. David Erik Nelson, Ann Arbor Chronicle . . .”

I was a little foggy on what the actual substance of my question would be, but that didn’t end up being germane, because I was the only legitimate journalist who showed up to report the event [1]. So we had some time to chat.

I’ll concede that you, as a “news consumer,” are right to question this. Should news media – even small-town news media – bother covering something like the annual Miss America pageant, let alone some specific Miss America showing up at this or that conference to blather on about … oh, god, I can’t even be bothered to imagine what drivel?

Clearly, the legitimate media – the Detroit papers, whatever the thing that was once the Ann Arbor News is calling itself this week, the various alternative weekly and monthly advertising vectors that “tell it like it is” – they didn’t deem it “newsworthy” that Miss America was speaking before a pretty large crowd of business people and aspiring business people.

But were they right to skip out on the event?

No. They were dead wrong. [Full Story]

In it for the Money: Cockroach Thanksgiving

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” opinion column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

Come November, Ann Arbor’s own Backyard Brains will be shipping their educational RoboRoach kits. In just a few E-Z steps you (yes, you!) will upgrade a standard issue Blaberus discoidalis cockroach into your very own iPhone-controlled insectoid robo-slave – and just in time for the Non-Denominational Gift Giving Holiday Season!

I know, I know, you have questions – and almost certainly some objections – when it comes to icing a live cockroach, mutilating its antennae, drilling a hole in its back, and taking control of its brain – with a goddamn phone. [1]

Readers, I share your moral panic. But I have walked in the Valley of Death, have been prodded with the SpikerBox, have bought coffee and a cookie for the lead roach-roboticisizer, have met their techno-insectoid minions, and here, on the far side of the vale, I want to tell you this:

I am not worried about the kids who unwrap a Backyard Brains RoboRoach kit sometime between Thanksgiving and the end of the year; I’m worried about the kids who don’t. [Full Story]

In It For The Money: Whole Hog

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” opinion column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

You might choose to disintermediate your meat consumption for a variety of reasons.

Maybe you’re a local organic kinda gal. Maybe you want a niche product (e.g., heritage pork, halal goat, bilingual llama) but can’t swing the upmarket prices at Whole Foods and their ilk. Maybe you want to keep the government out of your meat purchasing decisions.

Maybe you thrill to the challenge of using the whole hog, one piece at a time. Maybe you want to eat meat as ethically as possible, personally verifying that the animals are treated kindly in life and compassionately in death. [1]

Whatever your motivation, as Michiganders, you are perfectly situated to enjoy the most deliciously ethical domestically raised meat available in this modern world.

Who do you have to thank for this boon? Lazy deer-hunters, fickle farmers, conspiracy theorists, gun “nuts” – the usual folks. [Full Story]

In it for The Money: How to Career as a Writer

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” opinion column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

Because I live in a college town, I’m periodically asked to speak to undergrads about “careers in publishing.” Despite my discomfort with human beings in general, I tend to jump at these opportunities. First and foremost, it’s nice to seem important.

And undergrads are pretty easy to trick into thinking you’re worth listening to (just ask any Lecturer III).

Beyond that, launching a writing career is a really straightforward process, and I feel it’s more or less my duty (as a former educator) to demystify whenever possible.

I think that folks outside the university systems might also be interested in this process. So, for the benefit of anyone looking to make a terrible career move, I offer this roadmap. It starts with getting a baby. [Full Story]

Column: Noam Chomsky Walks into a Bar

[Editor's note: David Erik Nelson writes a monthly column for The Ann Arbor Chronicle called "In it for the Money."

David Erik Nelson, Noam Chomsky

At the end of the interview. DEN: Do you mind if I take a picture of us? NC: Sure. I’ll put my glasses back on so people will know it’s me. DEN: You actually look remarkably like yourself. [Chomsky laughs.]

Instead of his regular column, this month we’re publishing a piece Nelson wrote based on an interview he conducted with Noam Chomsky a few weeks ago, when Chomsky visited Ann Arbor. The piece includes long chunks of transcript, interspersed with commentary from Nelson. It begins with Nelson, whose thoughts are presented in italics throughout.]
I’m interviewing Noam Chomsky in the bar of the Campus Inn a block from the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The bar is dim and entirely abandoned at 10 a.m. on a Friday morning. Because I’m highly distractible, I can’t help but periodically marvel at the symmetry of this: I only ended up interviewing Noam Chomsky at all because I’d Tweeted a link to a joke about Heisenberg, Gödel, and Chomsky walking into a bar [1], and Dave Askins (editor of this fine publication) had responded by noting that Chomsky would be speaking at the University of Michigan a week or so later, and essentially dared me to interview him.
I’d agreed, on the assumption that it would be impossible to land an interview with the man almost universally regarded as America’s foremost public intellectual. I was wrong – and Chomsky chose the bar as our quiet little nook! It was almost too good to be true: Noam Chomsky walks into a bar and … and …
And lemme tell you, there is more than a little pressure inherent in being the straight man in a classic joke set-up, even if the set-up is only in your head – which is germane, since from Chomsky’s perspective, it’s the conversation in your head that is most essential to the nature of language.
[Full Story]

In It For The Money: Brawling About Guns

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” opinion column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

What’s most struck me since I started talking about guns earlier this year is the degree to which just factually stating U.S. gun injury and fatality numbers constitutes an “argument” for “gun control.” [1]

I don’t particularly feel like I’ve argued for gun control. In fact, I’ve tried to be pretty clear that I don’t think this should be an “argument” or “debate” to begin with – and that most of what people suggest when they talk about “gun control” is either unworkable or unconstitutional.

But regardless of my druthers, there is a “gun control debate” in America.

Since simply stating the fact that 30,000 people will be killed by gun-fired lead this year – almost all of them in moments of hate, sorrow, or anguish – means I’m “arguing for gun control,” then let’s take a few minutes to give full credit to the argument against. Let’s look at those numbers. [Full Story]

In it for the Money: Independent Risk

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” opinion column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. At the May 20, 2013 meeting of the Ann Arbor city council, a resolution will appear on the agenda that would establish a task force on “economic development.” This month we asked Nelson to write about a segment of the local economy we think is likely to receive scant attention from that task force: independent workers. [0]

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

In abstract, my monthly column is about money – how money is a way that we signal our values, the way we track our interest, and the trail left by our investments of time and attention.

Last month I wrote about the stuff I do to earn money. This month let’s talk about something I do that can’t conceivably ever earn me a damned dime: The Workantile.

The Workantile is a business-like entity on Main Street in Ann Arbor [1]. In contrast to pretty much any other “business” on Main Street, we sell neither goods nor services.

Our business is maintaining a space where a community of independent workers can sit together and work on their own things. Our space is around 3,000-square-feet, and has lots of rolling tables and chairs (so that the space can be reconfigured in any way that interests the members and serves their ends), as well as a kitchenette, a clean and commodious bathroom, a couple of phonebooth-esque things, a couple of conference rooms, some lockers and bike racks, and an awesome printer/scanner/copier.

We also have half of an ancient, homebrew quadrophonic stereo hooked up to a wifi bridge which, combined with our brick walls, high ceilings, and hardwood floors, means that we have a pretty sweet-ass dance hall sound system, too. [2]

Some of our members work together formally – either for the same employer with home offices in some distant and exotic place (usually California), or on projects of their own devising. But mostly we work separately, tapping away on our keyboards with headphones on.

We work on our own without having to work all alone. It’s nicer than a coffee shop, because there’s no milk-steamer roar, no awkward break-up happening at the next table, and no creepy old dudes leering at your sandaled feet. Our doors lock, so the crazies are limited to those who stay current on their membership dues (i.e., me).

You can go to the bathroom without worrying that someone is going to steal your laptop or rifle your purse. Also, when clients meet you in a coffee shop, they think, “Ugh. I guess this is how we have to do business in the 21st Century.” When clients meet you at Workantile — with our industrious brick walls, antiquey tin ceilings, and huge windows — they think “I can’t believe this gal isn’t charging me more!”

That, my friends, is an excellent thing for your clients to think.

So, to dispense with the hard sell: Come down today (or any other weekday) for a tour and a FREE Day Pass!!! [Full Story]

In it for the Money: Not Safe for Work

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” opinion column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. FYI, Nelson has recently written a piece for The Magazine about a device to adapt a digital camera to pinhole technology, called Light Motif – possibly of interest to Chronicle readers.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

This was going to be another column about “gun control.” Despite my repeated threats to be “done talking about guns,” it turns out I had another roughly 8,000 words worth of opinion, math, and legalistic nitpickery. (Spoiler alert: Prospects are bleak for “gun control” fixing the problems we want fixed.)

But then events unfolded in Boston, and it was the opinion of this fine publication’s editor that maybe we should go with something a bit more “light and fluffy” to break up our unbearably bleak march to the grave.

To this I assented [1]. It’ll be back to guns next month.

So for this month I’ll return to a topic I’ve written about before: education. This time I’ll start by asking: How do school books get written? And who writes them?

I can shed some light on the first question, because the answer to the second one is: This guy! And not all of them are classroom reference works on Internet pornography.  [Full Story]

In it for the Money: Running Gun Numbers

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” opinion column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. FYI, Nelson has written a piece for The Magazine about a device to adapt a digital camera to pinhole technology, called Light Motif – possibly of interest to Chronicle readers.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

Thanks for returning for this second installment of Dave Not Really Taking a Meaningful Position on Gun Control. As you’ll recall, last month we talked about What Guns Are and Aren’t [1].

This month, we’re just going to talk numbers, because if you get your vision of the world from the daily news, then your impression is probably something like: (a) Guns kill maybe three dozen people per day, mostly in murders (many of which are committed by cops in the line of duty); (b) Lots of little kids find guns, play with them, and get killed; (c) Gun injuries aren’t that common; these things basically kill you or don’t, and most injuries are accidents [2]; and (d) NRA is a deservedly powerful voice in the national conversation about guns and gun control.

All of that is wrong.

I fully acknowledge that the fourth point has some aspects of opinion to it; the first three do not. These first three are demonstrably incorrect.

Just to get the punchline out of the way, in America: (a) Guns actually kill 86 people per day, and only about a third of those are murders; (b) A very small percentage of gun accident victims are kids; (c) Gun injuries are more than twice as frequent as deaths; and (d) NRA doesn’t have enough members to warrant the influence they wield. [Full Story]

In It For The Money: Guns And Control

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” opinion column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. FYI, Nelson has written a piece for The Magazine about a device to adapt a digital camera to pinhole technology, called Light Motif – possibly of interest to Chronicle readers.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

This is not a column about “gun control” [1]; it’s a column about guns, and it’s a column about control, and it’s ultimately a column about the quick and the dead.

But it’s not about gun control. As of this moment, I have no stable opinion about gun control; I’m not conflicted, but I’m still doing the math. My next column will be closer to being about “gun control” – and you can expect some math then.

But today, let’s just talk about guns.

I own two functional guns. One is a Beretta AL 391 Teknys, which is a semi-automatic 12 gauge shotgun. I’m told the AL 391 family is popular with bird hunters, although I use it for shooting clays – a hobby I was introduced to by my father. I also own a Browning Challenger .22 target pistol.

As Americans, we take it for granted that guns are tools for solving problems. I thought that too, back before I’d ever actually shot a gun. But I don’t think that anymore.

In this column I want to talk mostly about the pistol. [Full Story]

In it for the Money: #My2K is $17,000

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” opinion column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. Sometimes, like this month, he’ll deviate from that schedule and write two columns in one month. FYI, Nelson has a story in the latest issue of “Asimov’s” (which hits newsstands this week). It’s your basic crappy-jobs/labor-relations/time-travel tale – possibly of interest to speculative Chronicle readers.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

Last week I insisted you write some letters.

This week I’m urging you to once again take to the keyboard but, after that, I promise: You’ll be free of my nagging until 2013 – at which time we’ll all be sailing together over the “fiscal cliff,” which is sort of an economic Doomsday Device that will automatically cut federal spending and bump up taxes on Jan. 1, 2013 unless Congress pulls together a workable budget.

According to the President, if Congress does nothing, then middle class families will see a tax bump of as much as $2,200. He’s encouraging folks to drop him a line explaining what $2,000 means in your household budget.

Many folks have taken to tweeting brief glosses of these letters using the hashtag#My2K” – which has also become a tag for carping about the fiscal cliff generally.

Below the fold is what I wrote to the President (and forwarded to my congressfolk). [Full Story]

In it for the Money: Letters And Wish Lists

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” opinion column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. Sometimes, like this month, he’ll deviate from that schedule – because he had something super-important to tell you right now. Nelson is sort of a long-winded son-of-a-gun. If you want to read very short things by Nelson, more frequently than once a month, you can follow him on Twitter, where he’s @SquiDaveo

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

It’s the letter writing season.

I’d like you to add at least one more letter to your list: I need you to drop a line to your state reps, senators, and the governor telling them that you’re opposed to any expansion of Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority during the current lame duck session.

You’ll want to tell these folks to oppose or veto House Bill 6004 and Senate Bill 1358 (which expand the Education Achievement Authority) and House Bill 5923 (allowing for the unlimited formation of new publicly-funded charter and cyber schools).

More than that, though, I want you to activate your whole network – that Facebook thing you do, that Twitter thing and even LinkedIn. Because I bet you have friends, family members and colleagues who live in Kalamazoo, Traverse City, Grand Rapids, Bad Ax or wherever else in Michigan, who you can move to action by nudging them with social media. What we want to do here is activate the entire state.

Below the fold is a template you can crib from – and feel free to omit the link to this column, if you so choose; my self-promotion is, as a policy, utterly shameless. [Full Story]

In it for the Money: C.R.E.A.M.

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” opinion column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. Nelson is sort of a long-winded son-of-a-gun. If you want to read very short things by Nelson, more frequently than once a month, you can follow him on Twitter, where he’s @SquiDaveo

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

I voted to re-elect Barack Obama. I doubt that’s a terrible shocker, but I want to explain why I did so – and why, regardless of how the economy looks on Jan. 1, or next summer, or in four years, I will still be proud of that decision.

In the run-up to Nov. 6 we kept hearing – and by extension kept telling each other – that this election was “about the economy, stupid!” I beef with that claim, but don’t reject it entirely – certainly not so long as I’m writing under the banner of being “In It for the Money.”

A lot of Americans frame the American Dream as one of economic security. While economic security is obviously a vital component of the Dream, to see that as the whole Dream is – as I’ve sorta harped on in the past – more than a little sad. When Jefferson cribbed Locke for the Declaration of Independence, he revised those original unalienable rights from “life, liberty, and estate” to the often ironically snarked “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I doubt that was a typo.

Call me a sucker, but like Honest Abe, I believe in the Declaration of Independence as the fundamental expression of what our Unfinished Work [1] is all about – now in its 236th year. And, while you may need to bank some Estate in order to pursue that Happiness, it’s a bit shallow to argue that acquiring the Estate is the same thing as acquiring Happiness.

When I stood at the flimsy little voting station – a plastic tray with telescoping metal legs, set up in Allen Elementary School – I wasn’t there to vote for a smaller national debt or expanded social programs or lower taxes or higher unemployment. I was there to vote to advance our Unfinished Work.

And that meant filling in the bubble next to Obama/Biden. Let me explain. [Full Story]

In it for the Money: Kleptocracy

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” opinion column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. Nelson is sort of a long-winded son-of-a-gun. If you want to read very short things by Nelson, more frequently than once a month, you can follow him on Twitter, where he’s @SquiDaveo

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

I didn’t initially intend to write an overtly political column this month. I actually had something nice all framed out, about how to talk politics civilly with friends and family. Then Matty Moroun took to hammering me daily with his pro-Prop 6/Prop 5 craziness, and I just went totally bat-shit insane.

Here’s the skinny, in case you’re bailing on me here: A billionaire is hijacking our state constitution in order to lock-in his near monopoly on commercial access to the nation of Canada. This is a for-real super-villain-style power play. Odds are you are on the verge of inadvertently helping this one-tenth-of-1-percenter screw us all for generations to come.

Your action on Nov. 6: Vote NO on Proposals 5 and 6.

If you can’t stomach another political jeremiad this ballot season, I respect where you’re coming from. But please give me 12 minutes to convince you that no sane Michigander who doesn’t already own a bridge to Canada would ever want Prop 6 to pass.  [Full Story]

In it for the Money: School Transportation

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. Sometimes it’s later, like this month.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

Over the last couple years school busing has been drastically altered in most Michigan districts. As a consequence most schools – including my son’s school, Bryant Elementary, which is only K-2nd grade – expanded their “walking zone” (kids that get no busing) to 1.5 miles. Do you know how long it takes a five-year-old to walk 1.5 miles? [1]

If you live at the far edge of the “walking zone,” you aren’t going to be walking – especially once our autumn rains arrive – you’ll be driving your kid to school.

Spoiler alert: Bryant Elementary was built in 1972 and renovated in 1983. So it’s not designed to have dozens of cars drop off individual children each morning – it’s designed for all of the kids to arrive at once in four big buses. An efficient set of buses has been converted to a frustrating, time-gobbling traffic jam. [Full Story]

In It For The Money: Classroom Sales

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. Sometimes it’s earlier, like this month. Columns for the two previous months were “In it for the Money: E Pluribus Progress” and “In it for the Money: Getting Schooled.”

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

I spent the last two columns talking about what we should be teaching in our schools [1]. As we teeter on the brink of another school year, I want to take a second to talk about how to best teach these things. And, fair warning, my suggestion – as a former teacher and school administrator, not just a current chattering gadfly – is one you’ve already heard a thousand times: small class sizes.

But in the next twelve minutes I’m going to give you a way to argue for small class sizes in a patois that business folks can get behind.

As I’ve mentioned before, the vogue among conservative politicians – both at the state and national level – is to argue that their business acumen makes them uniquely well-suited to govern in our economically troubled times. I don’t reject this claim out of hand, because I agree that there are many business practices that adapt well to the public sector.

The problem, to my eye, is that the practices these erstwhile businessmen want to import to the public sector are largely from the management offices, rather than the sales floor. [Full Story]

In It For The Money: E Pluribus Progress

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. Readers will recognize the subtle thematic connection of this month’s column to Maker Faire Detroit, which takes place July 28-29 this year. That fair is about tinkering with stuff, and Nelson’s column is also about tinkering with stuff, but more importantly, ideas.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

Last month I basically argued that it’s petty – and possibly tragically stupid – to demand schools “prepare our kids to participate in the 21st Century economy,” or whatever stump-speech claptrap rhetoric the blue-suit-red-tie men are using this cycle. [1]

That said, I know I’ll never get what I want, because plenty of good hearted folks – very rationally – want our schools to focus implicitly (if not explicitly) on prepping our brood to participate efficiently in economic exchange. Money, after all, makes the world go round. [2]

Fortunately, economic competence need not exclude compassionate mutual usefulness. But moving toward either goal, let alone both, demands that we change how we’re doing things. Simply put, the public education system we have is largely designed to create employees, folks who can obediently and accurately execute on another person’s directions in an orderly fashion for a predetermined block of time.

Unfortunately, we’re sorta shy on employers, so producing more employees just gluts the market and devalues that resource. In case it isn’t suitably obvious, being trained to follow directions doesn’t necessarily prepare you to be the person determining what should be done. What we need are folks capable of making up new things to do, and content to see those best-laid plans torn asunder in the productive chaos of Getting Things Done. [Full Story]

In it for the Money: Getting Schooled

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

Last Friday my son finished his kindergarten year at Bryant Elementary – an excellent public primary school in Ann Arbor, Mich., conveniently located near our municipal airport and impressive town dump [1]. He learned a shocking amount this year – e.g., he’s now functionally literate and has a solid grip on mathematical concepts I vividly remember my middle school class puzzling over – and I really appreciate everything his teachers and school administrators have done.

But, frankly, it’s hard to be super shocked by these academic achievements. I’m a former English teacher, my wife has taught for at least a decade, and the only consistent forms of entertainment in our house are books – it would be a little weird if he didn’t know how to read yet.

No, what impresses me about my son’s education at Bryant is this: Midway through his school year my blond, Jewish five-year-old told me he wants to be like the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. [Full Story]

In it for the Money: Mitt and Me

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. 

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

Mitt Romney and I went to the same high school – three decades apart. This would be immaterial, except the Washington Post just published a fascinating 5,500-word remembrance of Mitt Romney’s hijinks at Cranbrook, a high-pressure prep school in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

I attended this same school in the 1990s; it’s an architectural gem, the staff is excellent, the program an academic crucible. Later, as a University of Michigan student, I shared a broken-down house with three fellow Cranbrook alums. One was in a sociology class, and we were delighted when he revealed that his textbook listed Cranbrook as “one of the last vestiges of American aristocracy.”

Because Mitt and I attended Cranbrook exactly 30 years apart, we ended up standing back-to-back on a balmy June evening in 2005 – the same year Mitt received the school’s 2005 Distinguished Alumni Award. The governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and I stood together at the lip of a deep, inset fountain, which gurgled contentedly, almost as though it was whispering ♪♫Daaaaave, I would be an excellent place for a GOP splaaashdown!♫ [Full Story]

In it for the Money: Sleep, Baby

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. 

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

On March 1, 2012 medical doctors tore this nice new baby from out my wife’s guts. (Don’t worry: momma and baby are both tip-top, but if you’ve ever had front row seats at a C-section, you know that the preceding sentence is 100% accurate, both factually and emotionally. The true miracle of childbirth is that anyone returns for an encore.)

At the urging of this fine publication’s editor, I’ve subsequently decided to “take it easy” this month.

The following column is a “reprint” of an essay I wrote about five years ago, for the second issue of The Birth Project, a zine published out of Ypsilanti by a group of birthing professionals (including the doula we used for our son’s birth in 2006, Kate Stroud).

I’ve forced myself to leave the original text unaltered, but taken the liberty of lightly annotating it, for clarity’s sake, and because my thinking has (predictably) shifted a little. [Full Story]

In it for the Money: Local Police Control

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. 

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

Since the heyday of Occupy Wall Street we’ve seen a fair bit of bi-coastal police misconduct in heavy rotation on both the mainstream and people-powered news mills. As a result, folks like us – and by “us,” I’m specifically calling out folks like me [1] and, likely, you – are increasingly attacking the basic idea of policing as an institution.

Now, I’m sorta-kinda willing to let this slide with right-wing and Libertarian folk – who are already committed to dismembering public servants and grinding them up to sell as school lunch protein-patty filler [2] – but if you’re progressive, you’re at least nominally committed to the notion that, as communities, we’re best off when we combine our resources and chip in to safeguard the public good – with public safety (and public safety personnel) being an obvious component of this. [Full Story]

In it for the Money: Time with AT&T (Part 2)

Editor’s note: This column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. 

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

This installment of the column is published in two parts. Mostly that’s because Nelson wrote too many words this month. Part 1 of the column documented Nelson’s experience with AT&T customer service, as he attempted to get an unjustified service call charge removed. Nelson was ultimately successful in getting the charge removed.

Left unpaid, Nelson would have faced the standard legal methods available to businesses to recover payment from non-paying customers, including being turned over to a collection agency. 

I hate to be accused of mincing words, so I’m gonna put aside my usual genteel beat-around-the-bushiness and just say it: What AT&T is doing is straight up extortion.

A person [1] with whom I have a very shallow business relationship sends me a letter demanding money, either in the form of cash, or in a greater sum of my time. If I don’t pay up, he is going to pass my name to his “collection agency,” who will then hound me until I give them the money they want, and do me lingering economic harm even after they get the cash. [Full Story]

In it for the Money: Time with AT&T (Part 1)

Editor’s note: This column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. 

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

This installment of the column will be published in two parts. Mostly that’s because Nelson wrote too many words this month.

Listen: I’m fully aware that a healthy, employed man in a functioning industrialized democracy kvetching about his phone service is basically the canonical First World Problem.

In my defense, this is illustrative kvetching; c’mon, it’ll be fun!

I have AT&T for my home phone and high-speed Internet service. In September last year this service took a nose dive; suddenly my Internet connection would suffer hours-long periods of dropping, negotiating, reconnecting, then dropping again – a process that I could readily monitor, since my phone line was now so lousy with modem whistles that I could hear little else (although callers could hear me with crystal clarity, which made me sound somewhat prematurely demented as I hollered for them to speak up over all the damn noise). [Full Story]