The Michigan Land Use Institute Considers Changing Its Name — For What?

At the height of its statewide and national influence, the Michigan Land Use Institute's 15-member staff gathered outside the new home office in Beulah.
At the height of its statewide and national influence, the Michigan Land Use Institute’s 15-member staff gathered outside the new home office in Beulah. Back row, left to right — Gail Dennis, Charlene Crowell, Kelly Thayer, Doug Rose, Mac McCelland, Mary Ellen Pattyn, Patty Cantrell. Middle row, left to right — Johanna Miller, Jim Lively, Arlin Wasserman, Andy Guy. Front row, left to right — Jim Dulzo, Keith Schneider, Hans Voss, Betsy Alles.

BENZONIA, MI — On April 16, 1995, in one of my last articles as a staff correspondent with the New York Times, I wrote this assessment of American environmentalism’s evolving challenges. “The movement that changed the nation’s environmental ethic a generation ago is reshaping itself, and the most important aspect of that effort is a new openness to what works and what doesn’t in environmental protection.”

Six days later, on the 25th anniversary of Earth Day, I met at Beulah’s Brookside Inn with Traverse City environmental attorney Jim Olson and a few more regional green heroes and formally incorporated the non-profit Michigan Land Use Institute.

The Brookside closed its doors a few years ago. And earlier this year, as MLUI approached the 19th anniversary of its founding on today’s 44th Earth Day, I received notice and a survey from the organization. It asked for my thoughts on a branding project that may very well conclude with a change in the Institute’s name. Holy focus group, Batman! What works and what doesn’t in environmental protection may include an alteration in identities.

Now, right here, allow me to acknowledge that an MLUI name change is personal. But it’s not sour grapes. I was 38 years old in 1995, and a year into a life-changing scrap with the state’s natural gas industry over drilling practices in northern Michigan’s Antrim shale. Benzie in the 1990s also was Michigan’s second fastest growing county. Among the legion of proposals popping up around here was one to turn US 31 north of Luddington into a four-lane highway. I was convinced that a professionally staffed group that focused on the ecological and economic consequences of development could do important work and prosper financially.

I put $13,000 of my own money into the organization that first year. Ted Curran, an important ally and supporter, added management guidance and welcome funding. Florence Barone and Arlin Wasserman put their keen intelligence to work. We got lucky in the summer of 1995 when 27-year-old Hans Voss, the MLUI executive director since 2000, showed up at our door looking for work. We had an active board that included Gary Appel, an educator, and whose wife, Mimi Appel, helped with development. These and a host of other people — Dick Hitchingham, Gerard Grabowski, Jack Gyr, Marty Jablonski — helped get the joint rolling in a way that steadily built our record of pragmatic advocacy, and keen communications skills.

In 1998 Stewart Udall, the Secretary of the Interior during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and a close friend, called the Michigan Land Use Institute the most successful new environmental organization in the United States. We were smart and fearless. I was with Hans when conservative Governor John Engler announced in 1998 that there would be no natural gas drilling in Antrim County’s Jordan River Valley, which we described as the Yosemite of northern Michigan. I was with him again several years later when the state Legislature and Congress, in separate votes, outlawed drilling for oil and gas beneath the Great Lakes. Hans led both campaigns. Continue reading “The Michigan Land Use Institute Considers Changing Its Name — For What?”

Jeremy Lin Is Big Brand In China

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Though no longer a New York Knick, Jeremy Lin is a brand in China as big as this building sign in Qingdao. Photo/Keith Schneider

QINGDAO — Granted I’ve spent decades loving the New York Knicks, even though they’ve been hapless for over a decade. Plus, I’m convinced the NBA is the most exciting sports league in the world.

Yet even with such personal predilections, it’s easy to argue that the best story in America this year — yes, the absolute best — was Jeremy Lin’s emergence from the end of the bench last February to propel the Knicks to seven straight victories, and eight wins in nine games.

Lin’s incomparable play at point guard — the final-seconds countdown three that beat Toronto, the fourth quarter three in Madison Square Garden that sized up and embarrassd Dirk Nowitzki, the 38 points he rained on Kobe and the Lakers in an unforgettable Friday night Garden win — earned him a three-year, $25 million contract in July with the Houston Rockets.

Though he’s no longer a Knick (more on that later) his never-to-be-forgotten fortnight also earned Lin icon status here in China. On Monday afternoon, while walking back to the hotel from the city’s Bureau of Statistics, I peered through the low canopy of Qingdao’s street trees and saw Lin’s image on a six-story billboard fixed to the north face of a downtown apartment building. Minutes later, while ordering a Cafe Americano in Starbucks (which are everywhere here, just like in New York), I spied a smartly attired Lin gracing the cover of Q, a men’s fashion and style magazine that feted him as a young man to admire.

I asked my 26-year-old interpreter whether she knew Jeremy Lin. “Oh yes,” she replied. “Smart. Tall. Handsome. Not married. Every girl in China knows Jeremy Lin.”

Those attributes, of course, aren’t the first words I use to describe Jeremy Lin. His story exemplifies and amplifies in such a wonderful way what it is to be American. And his celebrity, adorned as it is with such apparent maturity and studied modesty, could help clarify in the 21st century how sports, youth, skill, and global focus can span borders and cultures. Lin has said repeatedly in interviews that his life goal is to play an international role helping people. As an NBA player, he’s launched such important work in a significant way.
Continue reading “Jeremy Lin Is Big Brand In China”

Annals of Excess in China: The $317,000 Wedding Cake

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SHENYANG, China — Does excess consumerism represent the measure of a great nation? Or does it portend something darker, a treacherous crack opening in society?

Either way, the wedding cakes for sale at the Black Swan bakery here in Liaoning’s provincial capital are a clear reflection of 1) the astounding wealth some attain in China’s bursting economy, and 2) the indecorous way that the rich communicate their separate stature.

The biggest cake, aswirl in swans and blossoms resting on pedestals of cut crystal, sells for 1,999,999 RMB or $317,000 and change. The smaller cake to the left in pix below is 199,999 RMB or $31,745.The cake to the right is 299,999 RMB or $47,618. The clerk says it’s all because of the ingredients.

— Keith Schneider

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Energy, Food and Melting Ice

teaching at the Middlebury College environmental journalism fellows workshop
Bill McKibben, arguably the foremost environmentalist in the world now, and a great reporter, at the Middlebury College environmental journalism fellows workshop in California, 2010. Photo/Keith Schneider

I read with interest the interviews with Bill McKibben and Amory Lovins that Yale Environment 360 posted today and in February. Good stuff. Perplexing and nerve-wracking all at the same time.

Amory’s optimism about the prospects for clean energy, in its consistency over the last 30 years, reminds me of Lester Brown’s equally long-term pessimism about the world’s capacity to feed itself. Both have the technical details in place to make plausible cases but the actual events deny support for the theses.

Bill’s interview sounds like the several conversations I’ve had with him in recent months. A discouraging geopolitcal cocktail. Two shots escalating despair. One shot personal determination. Add melting ice.

— Keith Schneider

Haverford College Friends

Haverford College friends - Keith Schneider

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — When Bob O’Connor (far right above) was 18, he lived directly above me in a second-floor dorm room in Barclay Hall at Haverford College. He’s a big-boned guy with a quiet way, a sizable intellect, and likes to have fun.

Two upper classmen, Pete Doan and Evan Lippincott, lived across the hall from my first-floor room. Pete and Evan were dorm reps and were supposed to keep tabs on freshmen like me and Bob. They did. They bought us beer and bourbon at the state store in Ardmore.

The other important aid Pete and Evan provided was introducing their young charges to their friends. That’s how I met Andy Solberg (second from right), an Illinois boy a full foot taller than me, infinitely more amusing and intelligent, and can be charming and cranky all at the same time. We get along real well.Haverford College friends

The other two guys in the picture are Jim Walker (second from left) and Pierce Homer (third from left). Jim possesses the curious and incalculably valuable capacity to talk about almost anything with depth and authentic expertise. He also knows how to relax. One morning I found him asleep in the bathtub of my junior-year Haverford Parks apartment.

Pierce is a riot, whip-smart, and our lives really connected in the years right after college when I was a young writer in Charleston and he was living in Alexandria, Va. preparing for graduate school in public administration. On reporting trips from the South to Washington, D.C. I spent nights at the carriage house with the outdoor pool that he rented in Old Town. We had a ton of fun.

Last week, for the first time in quite awhile, the five of us gathered in Charlottesville for a couple of days at the comfortable and spacious modern home that Bob shares with his wife, Sara, and youngest of four children, a daughter, Carolyn. Our time was spent climbing to the summit of Humpback Rock in a cold, gale force wind. We played pool and (good surprise) ate healthy food, including a delightful gumbo sent north from Birmingham, Ala. from Alice Walker, Jim’s wife. We did a good bit of remembering events, and friends who weren’t able to join us. We marveled at the clear sky and view of the Shenandoah blue ridge that greeted us each morning from Bob and Sara’s kitchen. Mostly, we delighted in our strong connection and company.

Robert Frost wrote, “We dance round in a ring and suppose, But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.”

The five men pictured above represent many of the highest ideals of our generation. I say that without any sense of hubris or irony. Our lives as adults have been stoked by the kindling of opportunities and distresses of our time. We thrived even as the country steadily shifted from an era of entitlement, and a dismaying sense of exceptionalism, to a new period of competition, doubt, and caprice. Had we grown up in the same era as our millennial children, worried about educational opportunities limited by diminished financial resources, competing to gain a slim hold in a nation distorted by rigid ideology and real fear, our choices and our paths would have been much different.

The secret, though, sits in the middle and knows.

These men married well and are raising fine children. They are good husbands and fathers. They all are in good health. Their ability to cultivate strong friendships is essential to their well-being.

Their work matters, too. At age 55 and 56, each constructed lives that are wonderfully relevant. Bob is professor, chair, and physician-in-chief in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Virginia Health System. He spends enough time in emergency rooms, in Virginia and overseas, to save lives, lots of lives. Andy is a commander in the Metropolitan Washington, D.C. Police Department. In the 25 years he’s been with the department he helped turn Washington from one of the most dangerous cities in the country to one of the safest.

Jim’s helped to put people into homes, first as director of planning and development in Wilmington, Del. and now as a federal Housing and Urban Development official in Alabama.

While on the way out to Charlottesville, Andy and I passed underneath the new bridges and tracks that are extending the Washington Metro system 23 miles to Dulles Airport. That’s a $2.6 billion project that Pierce helped to make happen as former secretary of transportation in Virginia.

I came away from those two days feeling so content, humbled by the fortune of lifelong friendship with these men, and privileged to know that our adventure together moves forward.

— Keith Schneider

Bob O'Conner, Jim Walker, Andy Solberg