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Friday, April 8, 2022

Student Body, Right

Can intelligence be measured? Does it have a weight, a volume, a quantity consisting of units? Is it bespoken of materially, manifesting itself in property, propriety or prosperity?

Is it even an objective thing? Is it verifiable through achievement? Through notoriety? Personality? What tells the rest of the world that you're smart?

A baseline of some kind is in order to even have such a high-minded discussion. Although some blue-collar snobs may reject it, most of society would agree, graduating from college is a pretty decent sign of a workable IQ. I can accept that - and I don't have a college degree.

I know a little bit about graduate-level academia, though, because my Dad was a professor at Western Michigan University. I grew up knowing about the inner workings of the place - the politics and the little rubs that maybe caught Dr. Heller in a slightly wrong way.

But that was back in WMU's heyday, when the student body accounted for almost half of the City of Kalamazoo's population. That glory faded a long time ago. The latest numbers - metrics we can all get our hands on and our heads around - bear this out.

Enrollment is down dramatically at Western, again, this time plunging by 8.6 percent. That follows an almost-as-calamitous 2021, when it dropped by 7.1 percent. In simpler terms, for every seven freshmen that arrived on WMU's leafy campus in 2020, six are showing up today.

Some eggheads out there might point to the pandemic as probable cause. But I don't know about that. Kalamazoo County wasn't exactly a Covid-19 hot spot like Kent County or Oakland County, plus, we generally stay away from each other here anyway.

Besides, isn't one person's pandemic another person's opportunity, creating healthcare demand on an unparalleled scale? Western Michigan University is home to Homer Stryker School of Medicine (WMed), after all.

Rather than more medical students being attracted, WMed has actually seen the number of applications it receives go down year after year, just like WMU. And they have yet to crack the Top 100 list for medical schools in nearly a decade of existence. (But they are also the contracted coroner for many counties in Michigan so the uptick in autopsies was, I suppose, greatly appreciated.)

Now let's stop playing dumb and look at some of the real reasons young people rely on when deciding where to take their scholastic talents. Start with tuition. Spending one semester at Western Michigan University will cost a student a little over $6,000... WMed, a lot more than that. Since everybody borrows the money anyway, you can throw a heaping helping of interest on top of that amount.

Indeed, just last year, the university decided it was prudent to hike tuition by 3.1% and room and board by 3%. This took place under the guidance of the university's new president, whoever that is.

Now throw in some sociology. Kalamazoo has horrible weather, high crime, broken infrastructure, boring architecture, frightening pollution and really bad roads. It's also chock full of mean people. And there are no solutions, because our city and county governments are stocked with self-interested C-average types who like to pick and choose which rules to follow, when to follow them.

This place has about as much sense of purpose and charm as a mouse trap. Not attending WMU, then, would be a sign of intelligence. This is a good place - to avoid. Do the smart thing. Pass on it.

And pass it on.

pH 4.o8.22

***

Monday, February 28, 2022

Some Sunny Day

 The Gods of War are walking the Earth.

The bravery of the Ukrainian people, juxtaposed against the cruelty of the Russian would-be Empire, is historic in its scope and depth, resonant with emotion, dynamically awful.

I may have beefs with my local government, we have our differences, but I would never call it tyranny. Not compared to what we see happening in older parts of the civilized world right now.

I'm a Gen-Xer. We were raised on all of the things that existed before everything we have today. We didn't have e-mail; we had paper and pens and envelopes and stamps. Our parents drove us around in station wagons, not "crossovers" or SUVs. We didn't have a remote control... We WERE the remote control.

The telephone was attached to the wall. Reading material was generally printed. We weren't allowed to use calculators in school because that was considered cheating. There was no Google - some families had an encyclopaedia at home, and beyond that, we had to deal with the Dewey Decimal System and the stupid Index Card Catalog at the library. 

We adapted to all these changes, just as our forebears adapted from the slide rule to the computer. But one thing remained the same:

The threat of global thermonuclear war.

Having lost her young son in 2015, my sister has infrequently suggested that Charlie must have died in order to be spared some other horrific event... It's kind of hard to argue with that right now, with Russia's nuclear forces on high alert, their ICBMs aimed principally at us.

My dad, also a Charlie, is a retired geography professor, and he served in the Air Force way back when, as an officer. He has a pretty good understanding of which cities in America will be important targets to the enemy in the event of a nuclear exchange.

Kalamazoo is an unassuming rail and freeway hub connecting millions of people between major cities like Chicago, Detroit and Grand Rapids. Strike One.

We have an airport, a university (with a medical school no less) and two hospitals that serve the whole region. Strike Two.

And we have Pfizer, where the Covid-19 vaccine is produced, along with other drugs that enhance the quality of American life, such as Rogaine and Viagra. Strike Three.

In short: Kalamazoo's not gonna make it. The Russians probably have six, eight nukes with our general ZIP code on them (49oo1), maybe more. If the Gods of War decree it, none of us stand a chance.

Historically speaking, with the sand potentially running out of the hourglass, many bad people have sought to atone for their wrongs. They tried to get it off their consciences before the bitter end.

Not here. It's easier for them (and now, for us all) to stick our heads in the sand... As if that would save any of us from being flash-fried like toner on a piece of paper stuck in a copy machine.

pH 2.28.22

***

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

On Potholes and Autopsies

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer is running for re-election this year in a contest that may as well be called "Snow White vs. The Seven Dwarfs". Her victory is as predictable as the potholes that reveal themselves each year when the winter ice sheet recedes.

While Whitmer's first term was considerably derailed by the Covid-19 pandemic, she ran in 2018 on a rather simple message, meant to appeal to everyone: "Fix the Damn Roads." She might as well run on that platform again, since the roads have most certainly not been fixed, at least not where I live.

While Kalamazoo itself is a joke, as cities go, poor road conditions in general are not. In India, for example, potholes are responsible for the deaths of 10 people per day. Michigan's motorists are more likely to pay with their savings accounts than with their lives, as their car suspension parts snap and buckle under the strain of unnecessary roughness.

So we don't invest in the roads here. Call it the Other Kalamazoo Promise: You will be replacing your tires, rims, shocks, struts, springs, ball joints, tie rod ends, wheel bearings and other parts on your vehicle on a regular basis if you choose to live or work here.

Is it somehow super-expensive to patch potholes? No... About $40 or $50 for the patching material, plus a couple of guys and a truck. Repaving the roads would be a much better solution, of course, and that costs anywhere between $300,000 and $900,000 per mile, depending on width and other physical factors.

So why wouldn't the city and the county want to invest in our infrastructure, even if the State government won't keep its word to do so? I guess we have other things to spend our money on around here. Lord knows we don't raise enough in taxes - if we did, we wouldn't have a bunch of billionaire patrons stocking the larder like we do (something very few, if any, other cities have ever done).

One of the projects that the wealthy have brought to our town is called WMed. If you have read this blog even a few times, you know that WMed has contracts with nearly all the counties in Southwest Michigan and beyond to perform coroner services. They perform about 1,000 autopsies each year here, at a cost of about $3,300 per corpse.

If you cheated and used a calculator, you know that comes up to about $3.3 million per year. That's enough money to patch hundreds of thousands of potholes, or to pave between 3 and 10 miles of road each year. So why are our roads so much worse than our neighboring city of Portage?

Perhaps we have other priorities here. Perhaps the county is too busy fending off lawsuits - from citizens and former employees alike - to budget its resources sensibly.

Or maybe they just don't care.

It's kind of easy for me to believe the latter, seeing the way WMed's Chief Pathologist, Joyce deJong, lied her ass off on my nephew Charlie's death certificate. Even after she changed her story, she still refused to change the document!

If I lie to my boss, I get fired. If you lie to your boss, you get fired. But the Medical Examiner in Kalamazoo gets paid whether she chooses to be honest or not and her salary alone could pave, what, another quarter- to half-mile of road. Depending on width. And other physical factors.

Nothing changes here. No matter what promises are made or who is supposed to keep them, nothing gets put right. Not the coroner, not the roads, not the parasitic clowns who live off our consent to be governed. You can think about this stuff the next time you're waiting for your car to be repaired... I tend to think about it a little more often than that.

pH 2.23.22

***

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Kalte Nacht

Nazi madman Josef Mengele enjoyed experimenting on innocent children. Among other horrific things, the bad doctor liked to stick them in freezers. History and God alike have damned him for it.

Mengele got away with his sadistic insanity in real time because, hey, he was a government official when he did it. That's the sort of rotted nonsense most any evildoer will deploy until it crumbles in the face of actual justice.

Fast-forward to Kalamazoo in the year 2022. And swallow hard.

Somewhere out there, on this sub-zero night, is an evicted citizen named Issa Smith and her small children. Maybe indoors, maybe not. This time of year, when it gets this cold in Michigan, an industrial freezer would likely be warmer than any local park bench.

Homelessness, in this environment, is akin to a death sentence. So who bears responsibility? Who would turn a single mom and her vulnerable youngsters out in these circumstances? Not the murderer Mengele; he's dead.

It was, in fact, Kalamazoo County's 9th Circuit Court Judge Alexander C. Lipsey. That's who decided it was in the public interest that children should shiver. Over a landlord-tenant dispute. Like most judges in this morally frostbitten town, he sided with the powerful, against the powerless.

He's a judge. He has the discretion to do just about anything he wants, within or without the law (I've seen him do it firsthand), and this is the decision he made.

Look, I'm not going to further excoriate the guy, since it's obvious to any decent person just how fucked up that is. But I will point out that he has made rulings in the past that also negatively impacted the lives of single mothers and their little ones - rulings that veer into outright cruelty.

An objective glance at his history proves that he's practically made a living doing it, which may cause you to wonder, why? Why would he harbor resentment for the most helpless members of our society?

The bargain-bin judge isn't the only public servant to blame around here, though, as dishonorable as he is. Ms. Smith contacted the members of the City and County Commissions in Kalamazoo - her representatives - asking for help. They opted to ignore her.

It all sounds pretty familiar to us Hellers.

As a woman and her children may be freezing to death out there tonight, the rest of us at least get the faint comfort of knowing that Lipsey's reign of (t)error is coming to an end. He won't be allowed to run for office after his current term expires because of his advanced age. That's the law...

Because here in Michigan, we know, throwbacks aren't necessarily a good thing. We know that as surely as we know that the temperatures will plummet in late January.

pH 1.26.22

***


Thursday, October 28, 2021

Season of the Witch

Despite all that happens here on Her scorching surface, Mother Earth just keeps rolling along, unimpeded by our mental ideas about time and space, unbothered by the billionaire gnats flitting about her watery, verdant, rocky celestial body. Whatever "it" may be, "it" matters not to Terra Mater.

For the inhabitants of our solar system's shining blue jewel, frantically flipping the pages on our calendars, it means that we have again reached the end of October. Autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, the crops have been picked, the leaves are turning colors, the frost is on the grass. Finally...

Halloween.

It is the anti-Holiday, the subject of horror movies, a moonlit celebration of pagan trickery and artful deceit. Disguises. A night of calculated movement in the darkness. Some people would prefer that to be every night, with or without the candy.

Of course, it has been duded up for daylight nowadays. "Trunk or Treat" has largely supplanted the traditional way of doing things, conducted under the hovering gaze of parenthood in school and/or church parking lots - what good is that?

The shepherds of utopia have wrung the fun out of Halloween, compared to the way it used to be, there is no doubt about that. And progress only goes in one direction, so we're not about to go trudging back to the wicked old days.

Amidst the tragedy of the loss of my nephew Charlie, there is still a black light shining on some of the things we shared during his short lifetime. Halloween was one of Charlie's favorite holidays (right up there with his birthday and Christmas). I've written about it here before.

He was not a Treat-Trunker or whatever the hell you'd call that. He was old school, donning a damn good costume each year, coming home with enough sugar to feed the Army. The kid loved it. And I at least get to live with the knowledge that he got to experience Halloween in much the same way that I did.

Part of the thrill involved in such stealthy - almost professional - skulking was the fact that there really was danger out there. Some children, being bigger and lazier and less creative than their peers, opted for criminality instead of ingenuity. Going door-to-door in a methodical accumulation of goodies was simply not for them.

They'd let the others, their victims, do that hard work for them. At the right moment, they'd jump someone, ripping the heavy pillowcase from their frantic little hands, then go thudding off into the gloom.

Bullies. The very reason that clowns are scary.

Dedicated Trick-or-Treaters were mindful of that, and would either wear running shoes, or travel in packs. Or both. Bullies can travel in packs, too, after all.

One of the problems facing society today, another thing that our planet does not much notice, is that bullies run rampant among us, even as belabored adults. In response, the same people who come up with things like Trunk-or-Treat have tried to eliminate bullying from schools by decree. They tried to teach it out of humanity. But that won't work and should not be attempted.

Our parents taught us how to handle bullies. Ignore them at first, but if they escalate the confrontation, you had to know how to fight. And fight we did. Because bullies don't want to fight; they want to bully. And when you fight them, they generally go find somebody else to pick on.

We were not shielded from this harsh reality of the world because our elders knew that bullying does not end when childhood does, as if slated to do so on the calendar. They are all around us, among our bosses and co-workers and neighbors and fellow congregants.

They're on the Internet. They're in our government. They're on the other side of oceans that, like the trees on the street I grew up on, don't seem so big as they used to.

They are the real-life monsters and demons that we live with for all 365 days of the year. I believe in ghosts.

And I've known a few witches... Haven't I, Joyce?

pH 1o.28.21

***

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Class of Twenty-One

I'd rather not try to impress you with my linguistic skills this time, if that's cool. I'd rather not worry about Oxford commas or dangling participles just now. It's best if I just deliver the information without the butter, the syrup... Mostly syrup.

This is the year that my nephew Charlie would have graduated from high school. He would have attended the same fine learning institution that all of us Heller kids attended: Kalamazoo's Loy Norrix High School.

Even though Charlie did not get to experience Norrix in the academic sense, he was familiar enough with the place. We took him to a basketball game or two there, where I fulfilled any Uncle's solemn duty where his school-age nephew is concerned. I taught him how to properly heckle.

The kid missed out on so much. That happens around here. You can take my word for it as a Loy Norrix Knight.

But before I was a Knight, I was a Lancer, at Milwood Junior High. A boy we all knew back then, Billy Fleming, drowned in his own swimming pool in the summer between 7th and 8th grades (we heard). He was a mischievous kid, bright and funny, blonde hair, very much like Charlie was.

It's quite a shock, having mortality thrown in your face at such a young age. 8th grade is kind of weird, anyway, and when you're that age, you don't yet know how to process things or even how the hell they get processed. And it seems like we kind of collectively forgot about Billy after moving on to high school... Big changes, you know?

But on the day of Loy Norrix High School's Graduating Class of 1986, we all got a colorful and jolting reminder. There was a huge balloon bouquet in one of the front row seats at the ceremony. For William Fleming.

Class of Eighty-Six.

I told my sister about this a while ago - she remembers; she was friends with Billy's older sister - and she arranged for Loy Norrix High School to have a seat available for Charlie, with a similar gesture, when his class takes that sweet stroll across the stage.

Congratulations, kids...

Go KNIGHTS.

pH 6.o9.21

***

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Behind the Mask

The CDC has issued its decree that America can finally take off its collective mask. So we can all see each other's faces. Notice we are not smiling.

What is there to be happy about? We are all standing at the bottom of a hole looking up. The future holds for us not some utopian better thing, but rather, the same thing we had before.

Not good enough.

They want us to return to work, but at the same wages. They want us to go back to the stores, but with higher prices. They want us to all get along, but they won't end the constant gridlock.

Who are "They"? The government, of course, and its obligatory corporate paymasters. This is not a rant about Big Government, however; at least Big Government thought to throw some money at us. No, upon further review, the problem is (and always has been) small government.

Unless you really stick your head out and bother them, the federal government doesn't have time to take stuff personally. Large cities excluded, your local government likely doesn't have anything else to do, and that can be detrimental to every citizen.

Sometimes the results can be as devastating as the horrific fate that befell George Floyd and others. That's classic small government abuse (or, y'know, murder). Yet the use of soft power against the people can be almost as harmful.

That's the deal here in Kalamazoo. We've got an uppity Medical Examiner (Joyce deJong) who made a sickening mistake in classifying my nephew Charlie's death as a suicide. This was devastating to my sister, and to my whole family, and it doesn't seem unreasonable to ask for that official public record to be changed.

But change it they won't. They defended their decision - which they admit was erroneous - all the way to the State Supreme Court. And as residential taxpayers in this County, we even provided the funding for them to do it.

That's unacceptable. What is also unacceptable is the fact that the same Medical Examiner surreptitiously shared information with the wannabe-plaintiffs who sued me, attempting to take this blog down, because she didn't like it. That idiotic endeavor failed, and amidst that failure, mistakes were made. Perjury was committed.

Then they did what? What? They took out their big brooms, and swept it all under the rug. No dirt here in Kalamazoo! See? Nothing that's bad for you. No reason to wear a mask.

Since the people who run my County are so fond of those brooms, I have a suggestion, another way they might consider using them:

Climb on. And fly away.

pH 5.15.21

***

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Odds and Ends (Justify the Means)

As life goes on without my nephew Charlie, I often find myself at some juncture or other thinking, "The kid would have loved this." Other times, obviously, I find myself taking the opposite point of view.

The coronavirus pandemic has staying power here in Michigan, even if the governor does not. She has been reduced (by our legi$lature and our ©ourts) to public pleading: Stay at home, wear your masks, wash your hands.

I don't know how many of us are buying in anymore in certain parts of the state. Our urban centers are hit the hardest. I would not call Kalamazoo a real city - no chance of that ever happening - but it could provide a haven for those who want to get away from the spread.

Nationally, 10 percent of the population has tested positive for Covid-19. While Grand Rapids is in the Top Ten cities where cases are concerned, our polluted little river valley is not. Here, only 1 in 16 County residents have experienced the virus.

Why, you're just as likely to be the victim of a crime in our city limits, no greater statistical likelihood than that. And most of those are just property crimes.

The violent crime rate here is about three times higher than the state average, sure, but it's still lower than it is in, like, Detroit. (Assaults, mostly; barely over a hundred rapes each year and only a double-handful of murders.) And, least heralded of all, we've made a lot of progress on our feral cat problem.

Only 580 residents in Kalamazoo County have been hospitalized by the virus, about 1 in 500... 287 deaths, which is less than 1 in 1,000. That's the same fatality rate associated with motorbike racing, and who does that? Maybe that's why fewer than 1 in 4 of us have been vaccinated here...

Anyway, even though Charlie can't be here to see all of this, you can be! Save yourself from the pandemic. Leave your disease-stricken metropolises and come to Kalamazoo.

Just don't look at the Townies the wrong way.

pH 4.11.21

***

Friday, March 26, 2021

Timber

"Consumers signing any contract with a business do so with the expectation that they will be treated fairly." - Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel

***

As a consumer, and as a citizen, I have two reactions to the Attorney General's broad statement, which is in reference to a logging company lying to its customers about how much and what kind of timber it had removed from their properties.

First reaction: Uh, no.

Second one: Thanks for nothing, Dana.

As a citizen of Kalamazoo County, I am also bound as a consumer to the contract the County has signed with Homer Stryker School of Medicine (alias: WMed) to conduct forensic pathology work. Y'know... Coroner services.

When the lying skank Medical Examiner, "Doctor" Joyce deJong, bungled my nephew Charlie's death certificate in 2015, and even admitted that she made up the official circumstances she used in erroneously determining Suicide, she was not made to treat us fairly. Anything but.

Of course, the Attorney General and everybody else knows about the whole thing already. If she doesn't know - and it is possible; Michigan's adult literacy rate isn't what it used to be - then I have two more reactions, as a citizen and as a consumer:

First reaction: Shame on you, Dana.

Second one: Start at Chapter One.

I know, it's easier to take a stand when there's nothing but lumber at stake. You don't have to go out on a limb for anybody. No one sees that your bark is worse than your bite. You're not a wooden politician, no. You're the Lorax. You speak for the trees.

But not for the people who elected you.

The facts: If one dies here, the coroner can capriciously make up anything she wants and put it on one's death certificate. No Commissioner, no Representative, no Senator will help you. No judge will step out of the County line to relieve your family of their anguish, from lowly Circuit Judge Lipsey to the Michigan State Supremacy Court.

At the very most, all these selfish ham-and-eggers will do is listen politely, smile and nod and check their manicures, and then when you leave, they'll go right back to doing what they were doing, which is nothing. They do nothing, they care nothing.

That's why nothing ever changes here in Little Shitsville. Not since I was a kid. Unless it was to change for the worse.

And really, this is all that awaits any weary traveler that jumps off I-94 on any of our, what, four freeway exits. Take it from one who knows:

Don't come here. Don't spend your money here. Don't look for an education or a job or a home here. Don't raise your kids here. Unless you want to be drowned in your own tears. Because that's all what ever happens in Kalamazoo.

pH 3.26.21

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