Monday, February 26, 2018

Detroit: Not Good Enough Part Two


Everyone in this area right now is talking about the beyond-terrible condition of roads. I'll join in the griping.

Drive from Philadelphia-- a winning city in more ways than one-- on the Pennsylvania and Ohio turnpikes, and you know when you're back in Michigan. The condition of roads.

Does Michigan have the most decrepit highways, roads, and streets in the nation?

It's hard to imagine a state with worse ones. I've driven all over this country-- south, east, west-- and never encountered anything like it.

There's an epidemic of potholes throughout Metro Detroit. Not potholes. Craters. As if bombs were dropped.

We all know friends, relatives, acquaintances with ruined vehicles from hitting those monster holes, resulting in thousands of dollars in repairs. A Conspiracy Theorist would speculate it's a plot to keep road crews and auto repair shops continuously prosperous and occupied. The craters aren't good for anyone else.


Compound this with Michigan's auto insurance rates, highest in the nation. For residents of the city of Detroit in particular, running a vehicle is prohibitively expensive. Like paying rent. Own a car and you may as well live in it.


Then there's the bus system. I'm sure someone has asked the question before. They must have. But: WHY are there two bus lines in Metro Detroit?

Woeful inefficiency-- a holdover from the city/suburb divide which has destroyed prospects for everyone. And from the long-time racial divide in this town. Which everyone on all sides needs to get over as quickly as possible if we're all to move forward.

At the moment Detroit is attracting a modest number of go-getters from the east coast. From New York City most of all. On the east coast people don't need to own a car to get around. Many don't. They depend on public transportation. They're used to it-- subways, trains, trolleys, buses. This applies also to those who move here from Chicago.

IF Detroit's to move credibly forward-- to keep pace with other cities, and to begin to catch up to them-- it needs a workable regional transit system. NOW.
NEXT: Changing the Psychology.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Detroit: Not Good Enough


It's curious. There's been very little finger-pointing over Metro Detroit not winning the Amazon HQ2 bid-- not even making the top 20 cities. An embarrassment. What was experienced instead from media in this town was a giant sigh of relief that we were out of the running.

A loser mindset. A Detroit Lions mentality. "Boy, we almost made the playoffs this year. We almost won that game."

Fear of success. Change can be troubling.

Yeah, I know, Dan Gilbert, Mayor Duggan and Company tried to give away too much to a gigantic corporation.

Obviously not!

This area needs a sea change in attitude. It needs, frankly, to wake up. Metro Detroit has lost its best, most ambitious, most talented individuals the last several decades and is still losing them. It needs to give aggressive go-getters reasons to stay. Bids, plans, projects, hyperbole. Confidence and cockiness. Talking big. Creating an image of the future which investors and public alike can believe in and buy into.

It needs a winning attitude.

NEXT:  Transit and roads.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Detroit and Amazon


WHAT DOES IT SAY about Detroit journalists that an argument in support of the now-failed Amazon HQ2 bid is a contrary view? Did the plan have too many tax-giveaways for Amazon? Was it too sweet of a deal? Obviously NOT-- the city of Detroit did not make the cut.

Don't kid yourself. Scoring the Amazon 2 headquarters in competition with every other city in America would've been a huge victory for Detroit. It would've signaled to investors around the world, "Detroit Is Back."


Here are three of the arguments against Detroit's bid.

Valerie Vande Panne, an opponent of the Amazon HQ2 bid, takes indirect shots at it at Alternet:

Philip Conklin  and Mark Jay take on Detroit's fledgling comeback at Jacobin:

Eric Starkman presents a hyperbolic essay with his reasons why the bid was mistaken:

Vande Panne makes a few good points in relation to small business. The Jacobin essay has to be taken for what it is, given that it was published by a neo-Marxist magazine whose goal is the end of capitalism.  Starkman's is a shriek against the injustice of the universe. Job in the Bible shaking his fist at God. Yes, the economic system is unfair. Amazon is not a benevolent corporation. To quote from a classic film, "The grown man knows the world he lives in." Or: If you're going to change the world, don't make Detroit, of all places, the sacrificial victim.


A.)  JOBS.

Vande Panne lists "Jobs Will Save Us!" as a myth. She's wrong. I travel through southwest Detroit and the impoverished downriver suburbs nearly every day. Rootless people are everywhere; on disability, on drugs, lacking purpose. Wasting their checks at the downtown casinos. That's reality, not myth. For most people in this world, a job gives purpose. Reason to get up in the morning. Structure. Self-respect.

The claim is that Amazon 2 will bring to a city 50,000 jobs. That's a lot of paychecks. A lot of money being spent in a town. Circulating. There's a multiplier effect. People, services, and small businesses working to serve the employees. Any city in the beat-down condition Detroit is still in, when presented with such option, has to say, "We'll take it."

B.)  2008.

The biggest argument for accepting a large-scale project like Amazon is where this town was in 2008. I was staying downtown then, when the auto companies collapsed and the economy bottomed. Downtown was a ghost town-- scores of large office buildings sitting vacant. After six p.m., what downtown workers there were vanished and the downtown of a great city turned itself over to vagrants and pigeons. I lived in an almost-empty building which itself seemed populated by ghosts.

One man turned this around. Love him or hate him, this is fact. At the time he began buying up properties and pumping money into this city, a comeback seemed like illusion. Like many, I just wanted to get out of town-- and for awhile, did.

With his money, Dan Gilbert took enormous financial risk. It's still a non-guaranteed bet-- the comeback is shaky at best. Businesses like Nike have been encouraged to open stores downtown, possibly with sweetheart deals, because that's how it's done. The roulette wheel is spinning. The bet is that Detroit will come back. No one knows for sure if it will.

Is there going back to 2008? Does anyone truly wish to go back?


The biggest burden Detroit has carried for 50 years is its image. For 50 years it's been portrayed as a place of crime, poverty, and ruin. The negative psychology has been a cloud hanging over town. As with a sports team, winning begets winning, and losing begets a downtrodden attitude. The city will come back for real when it believes it will come back-- and when investors and tourists around the world believe this as well. Winning the Amazon contest would've instantly changed the perception of Detroit. The psychology. "Detroit Is Open for Business" would've been the message. What killed the city is disinvestment. Ways need to be found to turn this around.

Yes, this would benefit evil big-money capitalists out to make a buck. But, how did Detroit become a major city to begin with? Wasn't it because of entrepreneurs? Industrialists? Uh, capitalists?


Gore Vidal among others posited that in the 21st century, with the rise of a global economy, the dominant political-economic entity would no longer be the nation-state, but the city-state. Which means, yes, Detroit very much IS in competition for jobs and resources with every other large city on the planet. We can deign to compete, and sink further into oblivion, with attendant lethargy, poverty, food stamps and substance abuse. Or we can plunge fully into the contest and put the latent talents we have in this town to use.


At New Pop Lit we believe business is not a zero-sum game. Inviting major players like an Amazon doesn't squeeze out everyone else. Instead, such companies generate activity and resources, which smaller entities, if quick enough, can take advantage of. There are a lot of hustlers in this town. People want to make a buck. Sorry, but few wish to make their own clothes and exist at a subsistence level. That's not the world we live in. Today that lifestyle can be lived in impoverished third world countries or in nostalgic history books. More poverty? Been there; done that.

We're here because we're hustlers. We see opportunity for tremendous growth and we aim to be part of it.


Monday, October 23, 2017

A Goodfellas Rigoletto?

IN THE 19TH CENTURY Italian arias were the pop songs of the day-- catchy tunes which had everyone singing. One of the best of them is Giuseppe Verdi's "Women Are Fickle" ("La Donna e Mobile") from the opera Rigoletto. The swaggering character "The Duke" sings it near the start of the last act, to express his joy of love and life-- the joy of singing itself.

It's why the updated version presented at the Detroit Opera House this past weekend was so apt. Set in New York's Little Italy in the 1950's, it's more relevant than the original to an audience raised on "Goodfellas," "The Sopranos," and Godfather movies. The slickly-dressed mob chorus was belting out songs of cockiness from an art deco lounge like a collection of Joe Pesci characters. Young mob boss the Duke, played by Joshua Guerrero, resembled Al Pacino in both look and gesture. Tragic Rigoletto remains a hunchback, modernized to wise-cracking bartender.

The audience loved it! The Italian language and street-smart posturing of the original suddenly fit. No dusty artifact this. On stage the opera came vibrantly alive.

The plot was always bad melodrama, and remains so, appropriate to the noirish atmosphere and shadowy staging. What matters most in opera is the music. The songs. Rigoletto has a host of them. When the Duke croons one along with his gang; or when he and Gilda-- the young woman he's trying to seduce-- sing their love duet on an iron fire escape, it becomes late 1950's street singing. Think African-American do-wop songs like "Duke of Earl," or Italian-American a cappella groups like Dion and the Belmonts and the Four Seasons. But better.

The young woman who played Gilda, So Young Park, is a protege of Placido Domingo, one of the famed Three Tenors. She came to town with a huge reputation. Her voice and acting more than lived up to it. Her vulnerability was poignant, her high notes surprising and moving. A star in the making.

Swag, song, setting-- this opera, like Carmen a year ago, is the perfect introduction for anyone to the wonders of opera. It was heartening especially to see a number of young people in the audience, many looking like first-timers. They saw live singing at its ultimate. These ARE the best voices on the planet.

The joy of song. The joy of art.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

An Apocryphal Ernest Hemingway Story

Discovered during New Pop Lit's recent excursion to northern Michigan.

There's a small town in Michigan named Aloha, near where the young Ernest Hemingway used to visit. (You can look it up.)

The story goes that Ernest stopped at a tavern in Aloha. While drinking a beer at the bar he engaged in conversation with one of the locals, who was either a lumberjack, or an American Indian.

"What do you say when you write people?" Hemingway asked. "Aloha from Aloha?"

"I'm actually from Detroit," the man told him.

"Well, then I guess it's 'Aloha from Detroit,'" Hemingway said, touching beer glasses with the fellow.


Have the smart-looking New Pop Lit "Aloha from Detroit" t-shirts been designed to celebrate that legendary Hemingway remark?

Not really. But they could have!


Purchase your "Aloha from Detroit" t-shirt now, using the BUY NOW button to the right. Help support the cause of new literature and questionable Hemingway tales.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

"Best Detroit T-Shirts"

Who has "Detroit's Best T-Shirts"*?

WE do! Hit the "Buy" button on this page and take a look!

Can you afford NOT to own one? :-)

(*Per informal poll taken at Detroit's big "Dally in the Alley" festival.)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

City versus City?


Detroit decision makers--especially media people-- need to get it out of their heads that Detroit can be satisfied to exist as an adjunct of the media power of New York City. A  poorly-respected stepchild of New York, at that. Detroit should be putting everything into establishing itself as its own power base.

Before he died, Gore Vidal made the argument that with the rise of the global economy, the world was returning to the situation which applied in ancient times. Vidal was quite the student of history, of course, which gave him the ability to see when patterns repeated themselves. His argument was that in the 21st century it will be not nation competing with nation, but city-state competing against other city-states. The power centers of the ancient world were cities like Athens, Rome, and Carthage. This is how we need to view the situation of the present day.

To control its destiny, Detroit needs its own media. Media centered in this town and controlled by those who live here, not by a competing place. We need to write our own narrative. More than this, media is like an ongoing advertisement announcing the Detroit brand. In this postmodern age, power is determined by how much noise you make. Noise equals power.

This means that Detroit power brokers-- the giant automakers, notably-- need to push to have one of the large networks based in Detroit. Or lacking that, they should be taking steps to create their own large-scale network. This would give them-- and this area-- enormous leverage in the ongoing international game.

Far-fetched? Not really, considering the leverage the automakers have through their ad buying. They may be the biggest ad buyers in the country, maybe in the world. Are they receiving full value and clout for their dollars? Truly?

We at NEW POP LIT are interested in print media. We want print culture-- and arts culture generally-- centered here. We envision a time when we'll be publishing an intellectual magazine out of Detroit able to compete straight up with an influential magazine like The New Yorker. Not just competing with, but beating, as we'll be the new model compared to old.

At the moment we have our hands full with our new literary journal. (Which can be purchased via the Buy Now" button on this page.) We KNOW that we can and will outdo any other literary journal based anyplace else-- including the well-funded journals in New York City. We know this because we know where to find exciting and talented new writers that cronyism-clogged New York won't even look at.

We"ll not be content to be a poor stepchild to anybody.