Offbeat

Offbeat

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

In May of 2010, Pastor Bill Freeman asked the Holland City Council to pass a Gay Rights Ordinance. The city's Human Relations Commission considered the question for nearly a year, and recommended unanimously that the City Council add the words, "sexual orientation and gender identity," to the city's anti-discrimination ordinances.

The City Council voted 5-4 in June of last year against doing so. Pastor Freeman is trying to keep the issue alive. He’s attended every regular City Council meeting since June to ask that the "no" voters change their minds. He also tried to "occupy" city hall on October 19th last year.  He was arrested for trespassing.

As part of our new "Seeking Change" series, we speak to Pastor Freeman about his efforts in Holland.

 January is Mentoring month in Michigan.   

A special event today at the state capitol honored more than 200 organizations that connect young people with adults willing to mentor them in a variety of fields. 

Lt. Governor Brian Calley spoke during ceremonies in the capitol rotunda about how all people need mentors to guide them.    

“At every important step I ever took," says Calley, "there was always somebody there who took a personal interest in my own success.”  

Calley says mentors can be anyone from parents to co-workers.

missmillions / flickr

You might remember the "Three Things" series we aired in 2010… we asked people from all walks of life what we could all do to help the state.  We wanted to air some positive stories in a time when many in the state were facing economic hardship. In 2011, the series morphed into “What’s Working.”  We highlighted various initiatives and projects that were trying to have a positive effect on the state...

Well, for 2012, we’re going to talk with people who are standing apart from the crowd, being and making the kind of change they want to see in the state.  Throughout the year you’ll hear from people making waves and going against the grain.  We’ll ask them why they’re working so hard on their projects, and try to see things from their perspective. This morning we speak with Reverend Sokuzan Robert Brown. He teaches meditation in Michigan prisons.

*This story was informed by the Public Insight Network. Share your story here.

Alan Cleaver / Flickr

It happens. Sometimes my newsroom misses a story, or we don’t staff a press conference. Every once in a while it’s because we didn’t know about it, but more often than not it’s because we have a small group of reporters to cover the state of Michigan, and we can get spread pretty thin.

Every news director or assignment editor has to pick and choose between coverage opportunities. While the occasional slow news days exist, on most days there are more stories than we can cover and choices are made.

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The Hudsonville Creamery and Ice Cream Company want to create a new ice cream flavor... one that captures the spirit of the Michigan outdoors.

Here's more from the Hudsonville Creamery:

The Department of Natural Resources and Pure Michigan are partnering with Hudsonville Ice Cream to create a unique flavor that best represents all that Michigan State Parks and the great outdoors have to offer.

And it has to be appetizing, so "black fly" and "pine tar" are likely not good options.

You can suggest flavors on their page, or suggest them below.

I believe "Moosetracks," and "Bear Claw" are already taken.

(LegalJuice.com)

The Michigan Supreme Court will hear arguments today over  whether a wrongful death lawsuit can proceed against a 911 operator.    

In 2006, a 5-year-old boy in Detroit called 911 seeking help for his mother who was unconscious. The first 911 operator who received the boy’s call didn’t believe him and told the boy to stop ‘playing on the phone’.    The operator told the boy she would send a police officer to the house, but she did not.    

A few hours later a second 911 operator accused the boy of playing a prank. The second 911 operator did send a police officer to the home. When the officer arrived, he discovered the boy’s mother dead on the floor.

The family sued claiming wrongful death and emotional distress.   

The 911 operators contended they are protected by laws which give 'immunity' to local governments. But lower state courts disagreed. The Court of Appeals found the 911 operators engaged in "extreme and and outrageous conduct" and so were not entitled to dismissal of the lawsuit.   

Earlier this week, a settlement was approved between one of the 911 operators and the family. An attorney described the settlement as ‘nominal’.

user gerrybuckel / Flickr

As Asian economies continue to expand, so do the tastes of Asian consumers, and as Maria Amante with the Grand Rapids Press reports, a steady increase in the overseas popularity of coats made from muskrat fur has meant Michigan trappers have been fetching higher prices for their catches.

Amante writes:

Asian countries are buying raw material for fur garments from Michigan trappers, and muskrats — one of the most popular furs with foreign buyers — are among the most abundant fur-bearing animals in the state.

“The Chinese can’t get enough of them,” said Kevin Syperda, owner of Sy’s Fur Shed, a fur buyer in Pierson. “We call (muskrat) the poor man’s mink.”

Syperda says muskrats defy economics: They are in high supply and their demand is high, yet the price for them is going up for the third consecutive year.

Amante explains that "muskrat pelts fetch as much as $10, depending on quality," and that "trappers, on average, catch between 50 and 100 each season."

For the less-squeamish, the story also includes a slideshow and video of the process of skinning and drying a muskrat pelt.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Immortal Poet / Flickr

Michigan Radio begins a new program on Morning Edition today. During the new series, Seeking Change, we'll explore the different ways that people are trying to help along change in their communities. This year’s presidential campaign is already taking up hours of air-time. 

Voters are seeing continuous TV ads and the candidates have begun disseminating their messages and campaign promises all over the place. But, Americans Elect wants to change that... at least the length of the campaign “season.” Americans Elect is a non-partisan group that is sick of the two-party system. Supporters would like to create a party by and for the people.

Brian Betts, an Americans Elect delegate, speaks with Michigan Radio's Christina Shockley for the first edition of Seeking Change.

In this Saturday's Week in Review, Michigan Radio's Rina Miller speaks with Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry about the latest national unemployment numbers and what they mean for the 2012 presidential campaign, what to expect from the upcoming North American International Auto Show, and the Michigan ACLU's suit against the state's new ban on health benefits for some public employees' domestic partners.

rap-up.com

The front man for the pop music group the Black Eyed Peas, William James Adams, Jr., more commonly known as Will.I.Am, announced that he will start a car company in East Los Angeles, the neighborhood he grew up in.

"I invested my money in building my own vehicle, because I want to bring jobs to the ghetto that I come from, so why not invest like I invested in making a demo to start the Black Eyed Peas," said Adams.

He's not building a car from the ground up - more like modifying a car with existing Chrysler parts.

Here he is announcing the new venture, IAMAUTO, on the Tonight Show (apologies if you have to suffer through a commercial):

Jalopnik, the Gawker website of the automotive world, didn't take the announcement too well.

Here's what Matt Hardigree wrote in his post "Will.I.Am Launches Crappy Car Company":

I didn't watch Leno last night, so all of this is coming via one online report attached to this picture. I'd like to think it's a hoax but it's so bad it seems like it could credibly be a BEP byproduct.

The vehicle will be built using "OEM parts from Chrysler" with a Beats by Dr. Dre audio system. Given he drives a Chrysler 300 in his new video it's likely this is the basis for the car. Lord help us if it's a Chrysler 200.

Will.I.Am wants Leno to test drive the car when it comes out.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - An employee of a Michigan market who was paralyzed from the waist down after being run over by a horse-drawn wagon during a hayride has filed a lawsuit.

AnnArbor.com reports 23-year-old Mary Armbruster of Ann Arbor sued Tuesday in Washtenaw County Circuit Court seeking more than $25,000 from Jenny's Dexter Market in Webster Township.

Armbruster claims the market gave her faulty equipment and didn't fix it when she complained.

Jennifer Lambers, who owns the market, declined to comment to Ann Arbor.com. A telephone listing for the market was busy when called Thursday morning by The Associated Press.

The market is a popular weekend destination in Washtenaw County near Dexter, about 40 miles west of Detroit.

Households and businesses in one section of Detroit lost power for a few hours Wednesday morning.

That’s because DTE Energy was performing what it calls “routine maintenance” on some underground power lines.

Mid-morning, generators were still humming at Holbrook Auto Repair in  Highland Park. Manager Jeff Worthy bought them this week, when he found out DTE planned the temporary power outage.

According to a report by Simon A. Thalmann with the Kalamazoo Gazette, a freight train derailed this morning in Kalamazoo when it encountered a damaged section of track, but Grand Elk Railroad officials say all rail cars remained upright and nothing was spilled as a result of the accident.

Thalmann reports:

"It gets cold and the rail gets brittle," a Grand Elk official said of the section of rail that broke. "The circumstances were right."

A section of rail about 60 feet long broke, with one rail protruding upward and the other snapped and lying in snow.

The train was carrying liquid clay to Graphic Packaging when it derailed at around 10 a.m., according to railroad officials.

Photos of the derailment by the Gazette's Fritz Klug can be found here.

Detroit Dog Rescue / via Facebook

The Detroit Dog Rescue, an organization devoted to Detroit’s estimated 50,000 stray dogs got a huge boost to start the New Year.

Detroit Dog Rescue received more than $1.5 million from an anonymous donor.

Early this year, Detroit officials quashed an effort to make a TV documentary about the city’s stray dog population.

But out of that effort, the Detroit Dog Rescue was born. The group rescues abandoned dogs from the streets, then works to place them in permanent homes.

Scone bandits eat Christmas present

Dec 26, 2011

When Rhonda Pillote’s brother-in-law received a call that his Christmas gift was incorrectly delivered across the street, he did not rush over.

Two days later he arrived to pick up the package and it was gone.

Pillote, an Ann Arbor resident, sent him  a box of scones, honey and coffee from Zingerman’s.

She says he told her the neighbor ushered him into the kitchen, and announced “Funny thing…we ate it!”

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

 Shopping malls won’t be the only retailers doing brisk business this weekend.  

The Mega Millions and Powerball lotteries have a combined jackpot of about $300 million.   

Andi Brancato is the Michigan Lottery’s spokeswoman.   She says big jackpots usually draw in people who don’t normally buy lottery tickets.   And Brancato says that’s good news to Michigan’s eleven thousand lottery retailers. 

Flickr/Tambako the Jaguar

A newspaper reports a tiger cub exhibit has closed at a Grand Rapids mall after public complaints and a planned protest. The Grand Rapids Press reported Friday that mall officials canceled the touring display that allows shoppers to play with and be photographed with the cubs for a price.

Sarah Hale tells the newspaper she had planned a protest for Saturday against the exhibit but called it off.

Yarn bombers have been "bombing" all across the country.

They knit their creations around trees, parking meters, light poles, and statues.

In Cincinnati, an entire city bus was "yarn-bombed" (see the slideshow above for a picture of that "bombing").

But along South Ashley Street in Ann Arbor recently, yarn has been put to a different kind of use.

A "yarn giver" has been leaving items for people to discover - or perhaps there are multiple "yarn givers."

Changing Gears reporter Kate Davidson recently spotted several parking signs draped with scarves.

The note attached to each scarf read "If you are cold take this."

When we came back to take a picture, one scarf was left.

And more than scarves are being left. Last month, my wife found a hat on a fence post along S. Ashley St.

Thinking someone lost it, she took a closer look to discover a note that read "FREE! Handmade wool and alpaca hat for YOU!" (photo in the slideshow).

The discovery totally lifted her spirit, and reminded her of the goodness in people.

Small gestures, either from "yarn-givers" or "layaway-payers," can be especially helpful in a world dominated by news of recession, conflict, and controversy.

travelwisconsin.com

Earlier this month, the Wisconsin Department of Tourism started using a mitten image to represent the shape of its state.

Michiganders took umbrage. In their mind, there is only one true "Mitten State."

Now, tourism officials in both states are working to convert the light-hearted flap over mittens into a donation drive.

More from the Associated Press:

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Tourism officials in Wisconsin and Michigan are trying to parlay their recent dust-up over mittens into a donation drive.

The two states' tourism departments got into a good-natured battle last week over whose state has the better claim to looking like a mitten. Now the states are trying to capitalize on the publicity with the Great Lakes Mitten Campaign, an effort to collect mittens for charities.

Wisconsin officials are urging people to drop off mittens at state travel centers around the state and participating chambers of commerce through Jan. 15. The mittens then will be donated to local charities.

Michigan officials, meanwhile, are asking people to donate mittens directly to their favorite charities.

jimmiehomeschoolmom's / Creative Commons

Strangers have paid off more than 30 layaway bills at a Kmart near Grand Rapids in the last week.

Dan Veenstra has been working there for more than 20 years and says he’s never seen anything like it.  “In the past we’ve had people come in that want to pay on somebody’s layaway - it’s usually a friend or neighbor or a family member. But it’s never been strangers like this,” Veenstra said.

Cascades Humane Society in Jackson, Mich. offers pet food and supplies to families who are having financial difficulties. The pet food pantry helps families keep their pets and reduces the number of animals in need of new homes.

As part of our What’s Working series, Michigan Radio’s Christina Shockley speaks with Debra Carmody, executive director of Cascades Humane Society, about the pet food pantry program. 

Sixty-two percent of US households have at least one pet. Yearly pet care costs can range from $500 to $800—an expense that might be out of reach for families that are forced to downsize. “When you see people coming to our agency and they have to relinquish their pets, it’s heartbreaking,” Carmody says. 

screen grab from YouTube video

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is sticking to his Michigan roots, at least in his choice of campaign song.

Romney has chosen "Born Free" by Detroit-area rocker Kid Rock to serve as the theme music for his bid for the Republican nomination.

While a post on Kid Rock's website seems to give at least tacit approval to Romney's use of the song, things don't always go so smoothly for candidates when choosing their soundtracks.

Michigan Radio has put together a list of controversies, disputes, and gaffes related to campaign songs:

  1. In what might be deemed a classic of campaign song missteps, Bruce Springsteen was none too happy when Ronald Reagan praised "Born in the U.S.A" during his 1984 campaign, as told by CNN.
  2. Earlier this year, Rolling Stone reported that Republican primary contender Michelle Bachmann drew the ire of Tom Petty for using his song "American Girl" to tout her patriotism and her position as the only woman in the Republican field.
  3. Apparently, Bachmann didn't learn anything from President George W. Bush who was scolded by Petty back in 2000 for using "I Won't Back Down" without permission.
  4. A post from mentalfloss.com reports that in 2008, John McCain had a heap of campaign song troubles, receiving cease and desist requests from John Mellencamp, Boston, Foo Fighters, and Jackson Browne in response to his use of their songs.
  5. McCain's running-mate Sarah Palin also took heat for using "Barracuda" by Heart as her intro music at the Republican National Convention. As Rolling Stone reports, a press release from the band said the song was written as "a scathing rant against the soulless, corporate nature of the music business, particularly for women" and that the band found "irony in Republican strategists' choice to make use of it there."
  6. In a more creative, but no less artist-angering effort, Bob Dole rewrote the lyrics to the 1960's Sam & Dave hit "Soul Man,"  to create the eponymous "Dole Man," before being threatened by the song's rights-holders (again from mentalfloss.com)
  7. Not to be accused of partisanship, however, Sam Moore of the above mentioned duo took issue with Barack Obama's use of the group's song "Hold On, I'm Comin.'" As Mother Jones reports, Moore was nonplussed by the politicization of a song about "gettin girls."
  8. While not technically a campaign song per se, Herman Cain became the punch-line of more than a few jokes (many of them made by the Daily Show's John Stewart) for quoting the theme song of the Pokemon movie during his speeches.
  9. If the above stories show that misuse of music by political candidates is an increasingly-common occurrence, then at least, as the Washington Post reports, Charlie Christ had the decency to record a video apology to David Byrne of the Talking Heads for his unauthorized use of the song "Road to Nowhere."

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Michigan to Wisconsin: Hands off our mitten image

Dec 7, 2011
travelwisconsin.com

In a fight over mittens, the gloves have come off.

Michigan and Wisconsin are tussling over which state can rightly lay claim to using mittens in their public-relations and tourism campaigns.

Michiganders, who have long nicknamed the state’s lower peninsula “The Mitten,” for its similar shape to a hand, have taken good-natured umbrage to a new campaign launched by Wisconsin’s Department of Tourism, which uses a knit-brown mitten to represent the shape of the state.

Wisconsin began using the new image in tourism campaigns on Dec. 1, and tells the Detroit Free Press it follows up on an earlier seasonal campaign that used an image of a leaf shaped like the state in the fall. A Wisconsin Department of Tourism spokesperson tells the newspaper that people in Wisconsin consider their state mitten-shaped as well.

Dave Lorenz, who manages public relations for the state of Michigan, tells the Free Press that, “We understand their mitten envy. But there is only one mitten state, only one Great Lakes state.”

user Andrew 94 / Flickr

We here at Michigan Radio know that nothing conjures the holiday spirit quite like numerical data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Bureau recently released a set of seasonaly-inspired  facts and figures.

Here are some numbers from their list:

  • Place names associated with the holiday season include North Pole, Alaska (population 2,117); Santa Claus, Ind. (2,481); Santa Claus, Ga. (165); Noel, Mo. (1,832); and — if you know about reindeer — the village of Rudolph, Wis. (439) and Dasher, Ga. (912). There is Snowflake, Ariz. (5,590) and a dozen places named Holly, including Holly Springs, Miss. (7,699) and Mount Holly, N.C. (13,656).
  • $27.2 billion---Retail sales by the nation’s department stores in December 2010. This represented a 44 percent jump from the previous month (when retail sales, many holiday-related, registered $18.8 billion). No other month-to-month increase in department store sales last year was as large.
  • 21,891---The number of electronic shopping and mail-order houses in business in 2009. These businesses, which employed 320,721 workers, are a popular source of holiday gifts
  • $983 million---The value of U.S. imports of Christmas tree ornaments from China between January and September 2011. China was the leading country of origin for such items. Similarly, China was the leading foreign source of artificial Christmas trees shipped to the United States ($79.7 million worth) during the same period.
  • 88---Number of establishments around the country that primarily manufactured dolls and stuffed toys in 2009. California led the nation with 15 locations.
  • 50 percent---Proportion of the nation’s spuds produced in Idaho and Washington in 2010. Potato latkes are always a crowd pleaser during Hanukkah.
  • $1.5 billion---The value of product shipments of candles in 2009 by the nation’s manufacturers. Many of these candles are lit during Hanukkah and Kwanzaa celebrations.
  • More than 312 million---The nation’s projected population as we ring in the New Year.

- John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Priestmangoode

Hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested in Michigan for high speed higher speed rail.

For that, we'll get trains that can travel 110 m.p.h. for much of the Detroit to Chicago trip.

A modest boost in speed is about as much as we can ask for given the state of our infrastructure (over the summer, some passenger trains in Michigan were ordered to travel at 25 m.p.h. because of the sorry state of the tracks).

One drawback to train travel is the number of stops along the way. Detroit to Chicago has stops in Dowagiac, Niles, and New Buffalo, Michigan.

What if the train could just slow down around those stops?

Behold the "Moving Platforms" concept from Paul Priestman of the English design group Priestmangoode (bob head while watching):

O.k. - this pie-in-the-sky idea has been around for awhile. New Scientist magazine writes that they first featured an article about a similar idea in 1969.

Priestman told CNN that its valuable to throw off the chains and think big:

While Priestman admits that it will be some time before his vision could be implemented, he says the time has come to rethink how we travel.

"This idea is a far-future thought but wouldn't it be brilliant to just re-evaluate and just re-think the whole process?" he says.

But why not dream big?

Meet George Jetson while you think about it:

Vincent Duffy

I always enjoy the holiday related updates I get from friends and relatives at this time of year. Some send old fashioned Christmas cards, others send elaborate newsletters highlighting the successes (usually) of each family member from the previous year, and still others just send a quick email or Facebook post to say they’re thinking about me.

It’s also the time of year when I’m frequently accused by listeners of being a soldier in the war against Christmas.

(photo by Jason Roland) / fleetgod-snowice.blogspot.com

Michigan is getting its first significant snowfall of the year this evening. If you live in southwest Michigan, you may notice the snowplow in front of you is moving slower than you’re used to.  

When a snow plow is dumping salt on icy roads, state Transportation officials refer to it as "Bounce & Scatter".   

As the salt hits the road, faster truck speeds mean more salt tends to bounce and scatter, much of it landing off the road. 

MDOT spokesman Nick Schirripa says to reduce the scatter salt trucks in nine southwest counties will slow from 35 to 25 miles per hour this winter. The hope is slower speed will save money by using less salt.  

But Schirripa admits the slower speeds could put the trucks at greater risk of being rear-ended by inattentive motorists.   

“If we find out after a season, or a few weeks of it, the crash rate is simply too high, that safety is too much of a factor, the (pilot) program may in fact be dropped," says Schirripa.  

If the slower salt truck pilot program is successful, it may eventually expand to the rest of the state.

While the Detroit-based rock duo the White Stripes officially broke up early this year, they are still providing inspiration and encouragement to Michigan students, including some from Flint's Michigan School for the Deaf.

According to the Flint Journal, D-Pan (Deaf Professional Artists Network), an Oakland County-based nonprofit, is working to give deaf students the ability to enjoy music and one of the organization's recent projects was to create a music video set to the White Stripes “We’re Going to be Friends” featuring students signing the song's lyrics.

As the Journal reports, the White Stripes were not directly involved with the project, but some D-Pan supporters were personally acquainted with the band, who not only gave D-Pan their blessing  to use the song, but also gave the project a shout out on their website.

Check out the video below:

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Every year the Michigan Humanities Council invites Michiganders to participate in a statewide initiative, the Great Michigan Read. This year’s selection, Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age, explores a crucial moment in the northern Civil Rights movement—the events leading to the trial of African American physician Ossian Sweet and his family.

On September 9th, 1925 Dr. Sweet and his wife Gladys moved into their new home, crossing the color line into an all-white neighborhood on the east side of Detroit.

Two days later, a crowd of whites gathered in the street to drive the family away. Dr. Sweet and 10 others chose to stay, armed and barricaded inside the house, to defend against the mob. Tensions reached their limit and someone fired into the crowd. Two whites were shot and killed, and the 11 people inside the Sweet home were charged with first degree murder.

Michigan Radio’s Jennifer White spoke with Kevin Boyle, author of Arc of Justice.

The Michigan State Park System won the gold medal award this year for the top state park system in the nation. People use the parks for swimming and boating during the summer, and hunting and downhill skiing during the winter, among a host of other activities.  We wanted to find out more about how the parks system affects our lives.  So, as part of our series, "What's Working," we called Ron Olson, the Chief of Parks and Recreation.

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