Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Which U.P. Town Is The Best?

Aerial view of Marquette, Michigan

Dear George,
My dad was a big booster of the U.P.  He’d traveled around the world, but his opinion was that there was no place better to live than the U.P. in general and our home town of Menominee in particular .  He embraced our natural surroundings — the forests, lakes, rivers, flora, and wildlife — as well as the virtues of small town life and the quality of the people.  When confronted with newspaper reports that the U.P.’s population was declining, Vic typically applauded, arguing that the fewer the people, the better things would become.   

Katja and I have lived for varied amounts of time in big cities (Cincinnati, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Milwaukee, San Francisco), in medium-sized cities (Ann Arbor, Madison), and in small towns (Menominee; Yellow Springs, OH; Bethel, ME).  While we’ve opted for big city living for most of our adult lives, it’s clear to me that a small U.P. town like Menominee has a number of unique and desirable qualities: e.g., location on the water; wilderness surroundings; ideal summer weather and a real winter; hunting, fishing, camping, boating, bicycling; outdoor sports of all kinds;  a low crime rate; a low cost of living; small town values of community and helpfulness; and ready access by car to larger metropolitan areas (e.g., Green Bay, Milwaukee, Chicago).    

There are various web-sites that provide detailed statistical data on American towns and cities.  Having accumulated a batch of information on Menominee in the past, I decided it would be interesting to compare major U.P. towns on “quality of life” dimensions.  I relied on two of the most comprehensive sources for this purpose: and  I selected data for the ten largest towns in the U.P.:  Marquette (pop. 21,383); Sault Ste. Marie (14,251), Escanaba (12,609), Menominee (8,603), Houghton (7,692), Iron Mountain (7,662), Ishpeming (6,500), Ironwood (5,366), and Kingsford (5,164).  There are, of course, many different variables on which to compare communities.  For my purposes, I picked seven dimensions.  These were: (1) Education level (% of residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher, labelled “Educ” in the table below); (2) Income (estimated median per capita income, “Incom” in the table); (3) Unemployment rate (circa 2013, “Unemp”); (4) Crime rate (average of violent and property crime on a 1-100 scale, “Crime”), (5) City Parks budget (budget per resident allocated to city parks, “$ Parks”), (6) Doctors per capita (number of M.D.’s per 10,000 residents, “MDs”), and (7) Population Change (population growth or decline since 2000, “Pop. Chng”).  Cities were regarded as more favorable when they had higher education and income levels, lower unemployment, lower crime, a larger parks budget, more doctors per capita, and population increases since 2000.  The table below shows the raw data for each town, as well as its rank ordering among the ten communities, from 1 (most favorable) to 10 (least favorable).  I’ve also provided average scores for the U.S. as a whole on the various dimensions.  The towns are ordered sequentially in the table from Marquette, which had the highest average ranking on the seven indices (1.8), to Ironwood which had the lowest average ranking of 7.2 out of 10.       

Table:  Comparison of ten U.P. towns on seven dimensions (with towns ordered from the most favorable average ranking [Marquette] to the least favorable [Ironwood]). 

                                                                                                $                        Pop.
Town                      Educ    Incom    Unemp  Crime  Parks   MDs      Chng
Marquette            35%     $21K      6.3%      32.7    $82        39        +9.3%
                                    (2)         (4)         (1)         (1)        (2)        (1.5)      (1)

Kingsford             15%     $23K      7.0%       37.8    $38        29         -7.3%
                                    (9)         (1)         (2.5)      (4)        (6)       (3.5)      (4)

Gladstone             25%     $22K      8.7%      32.9   $75         14        -9.1%
                                    (3)         (3)         (6.5)      (2)        (4)       (7.5)      (7)

Iron Mountain    24%     $23K      7.0%      40.1    $10         29        -8.6%
                                    (4)         (2)         (2.5)      (5)       (10)      (3.5)      (6)

Ishpeming           19%      $20K      7.4%      37.5     $29        39        -2.4%
                                    (7)         (8)         (5)         (3)        (9)        (1.5)      (3)
Houghton             51%      $15K      8.5%      60.0   $29        17         +4.8%
                                    (1)         (10)        (8)         (8)      (8)        (5)          (2) 

Menominee         14%      $20K      7.1%      45.4    $80         6          -9.2%
                                    (10)      (7)          (4)          (6)      (3)        (10)        (8) 

Sault Ste Marie  20%     $21K     11.4%    62.8   $87        12       -14.3%
                                    (5.5)     (5)          (10)       (10)     (1)       (9)           (9)  
Escanaba             17%       $19K      8.7%     60.6    $61         14         -7.4%
                                    (8)         (9)         (6.5)      (9)       (5)        (7.5)       (5)

Ironwood              20%     $21K      9.6%      46.4   $30         16        -14.6%
                                    (5.5)     (6)         (9)          (7)       (7)         (6)          (10)
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
U.S. Average        29%     $29K      6.3%      42.5    NA         26.1     +8.5
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The U.P. has been an economically depressed region for many decades, and it shows up here in terms of income levels below the national average for all ten towns and unemployment higher in 9 of 10 towns.  (I should note that cost of living is also well below the national average.)  Education levels are lower than the national average in all except two college towns, Houghton and Marquette.  Eight of the 10 U.P. towns showed a population decrease since 2000.  Crime rates and MDs per capita are similar, on average, to national trends.  

While most of the U.P. towns are clustered fairly closely on these seven dimensions, Marquette stands out as a clear favorite, ranking first or second on 6 of the 7 dimensions examined.  My brother Peter attended Northern Michigan University in Marquette for a while, and my brother Steven graduated from Northern before going to law school.  Both enjoyed their stays in Marquette, and that’s not surprising since the town has enjoyed many accolades.  It was recently identified by CNN/Money as one of the top five places in the U.S. to retire.  Gear Patrol, a travel adventure website, lists Marquette among the top 25 adventure travel destinations in the world, along with Tangier, Istanbul, and Bogota.  It’s also been ranked among the 10 Best Small Cities in America (Nerwdwallet), the top 10% of Towns for Outdoorsmen (Outdoor Life), one of the 10 best Winter Wonderlands for Retirement (US New & World Report), and the third best small city in the U.S. for raising kids (Forbes). 

Marquette has abundant outdoor activities — hiking on Sugarloaf Mountain or in Presque Isle Park, world-class mountain biking, and sweet water paddling on Lake Superior.  There’s Nordic skiing in the winter, boat tours in the summer.  In addition to the university campus, there are six museums and galleries in Marquette, including the Maritime Museum, the Iron Industry Museum, the Marquette County History Museum, and the U.P Children’s Museum.  The Superior Dome, home to the NMU football team, is the world’s largest wooden dome.  The downtown historic district houses boutiques, art galleries, antique stores, and good restaurants.  Da Yoopers Tourist Trap features the world’s largest working chainsaw.  At various times the city offers music festivals, food festivals, summer theater, ski and sled dog races, and an annual wife-carrying competition.

I’m disappointed that my home town, Menominee, didn’t come out at the top of the heap, but it’s our first choice for family visits nonetheless  Now I’m itching to visit the U.P. and take a trip up to Marquette.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Hey Diddle Diddle: A Nursery Rhyme For Our Anguished Times

Dear George, 
Our Poetry Writing Workshop began anew last week, and I was happy to start up again.  Our first homework assignment was to take a fairy tale, a nursery rhyme, a Greek myth, etc., and tell the story from the perspectives of two or more different characters.  It took some thought, but finally I settled on the nursery rhyme, “Hey Diddle Diddle.”  You’ll remember it goes as follows:

            Hey diddle diddle,
            The cat and the fiddle,
            The cow jumped over the moon.
            The little dog laughed,
            To see such sport,
            And the dish ran away with the spoon.

I chose “Hey Diddle Diddle” because it has multiple characters who are clearly reacting in very different (strange) ways.  The hitch is that the reader has no idea what’s going on, and the various events appear unconnected.  To make it comprehensible, I decided, one has to set the rhyme in a specific context.  I started thinking about the recent happenings in the news, and, once I’d done that, Diddle Diddle seemed to fall into place.  Here’s how my poem wound up.

            Hey Diddle Diddle, Donald Trump

The day that The Donald took charge of the race
The world was turned topsy turvy
Carly Fiorina defended her face
And Jeb tried his best to be nervy

Our cat got out our fiddle that night 
So distressed by the Trumpmaster’s lead 
She played sad songs till the morning light
Haunting ballads of bluster and greed

Our cow tuned into a Fox News show
There was Donald berating Hispanics
The cow leapt so high he left Earth far below
That can happen when a thoughtful cow panics

Our little dog Spot found it all very merry
Bon voyage to Wisconsin’s Scott Walker
And what the heck happened to Governor Perry?           
That Donald’s the noisiest talker

Our friends in the kitchen can stand it no more
Said the dish, “Let’s exit this dump.”
“Hooray,” said the spoon, “it’s you I adore”
“In Aruba we’ll never see Trump.”

So it’s Hey Diddle Diddle for Donald Trump
He’s worth eighty times more than the rest
His hair stands up in a bright orange clump
That’s why Iowans think him the best! 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Tap...Tap...Tap...Is That the Grim Reaper I Hear Knocking at the Door?

Dear George,
Few things are odder in life than visits to the doctor’s office.  It’s because they involve an uncomfortable degree of physical intimacy with strangers, though routinized, impersonal, and frequently bewildering.  The other day I went to see Dr. Cosgrove (pseudonym) about my high blood sugar.  I can’t remember how long my blood sugar has been on the high side, but it’s been quite a while.  I monitor it before breakfast each morning, pricking my index finger with a little jabber and watching the drop of blood flow into the test strip.  I always expect a superior result, but I’m inevitably disappointed.  People’s blood sugar gets classified as normal (below 100), pre-diabetic (100-119), or diabetic (120 and over).  Up until six months ago my readings vacillated between high-normal and pre-diabetic.  Then they started creeping upward, and July saw them zoom into the 130s.  That was unsettling.  Because many of Katja’s clients at the Association for the Blind suffered from diabetes, I realize it’s a nasty, unacceptable condition.  I called my doctor’s office, and they prescribed a daily pill and scheduled me for an A1c blood test in early September.  The A1c test is quite amazing.  By measuring how much glucose is stuck to the hemoglobin in your blood, it reliably assesses the average level of your blood sugar over the previous two to three months.   I took an A1c test a year ago, and it fell just inside the normal range.  It didn’t look like I’d be so lucky this time around.  

I went to the lab for my new A1c test. then saw the doctor a week later.  On the morning of my appointment I gathered together the various charts I’d been preparing (blood sugar, blood pressure, weight, etc.) and drove across town to Dr. Cosgrove’s office.  A nurse checked my vitals, and Dr. Cosgrove came in and asked how I was doing.  “Fine,” I said, “except my blood sugar is too high.  It went way up in July.”  Dr. Cosgrove checked my new A1c  result on his laptop.  Much to my amazement, my A1c score was identical to the score I’d obtained a year ago, still within the normal range.  I couldn’t believe it.  Apparently I am diabetic at home but revert to normal at the doctor’s office.  “Very puzzling,” Dr. Cosgrove said.  He asked which result I thought was correct.  I didn’t know though I privately thought my home-testing results were more compelling.  Probably Dr. Cosgrove believed more in his lab test.  In any case, he said that he was going to put me in charge of my own treatment.  He asked what I thought the next step should be.  When I drew a blank, Dr. Cosgrove suggested that I could simply come back and get another blood test in three months.  That sounded like a good course of action to me, and I agreed enthusiastically.  Dr. Cosgrove also recommended a flu shot, then shook my hand and bid me adieu.  Our meeting had lasted a little over five minutes.  It dawned on me later that Dr. Cosgrove never asked me about any symptoms I might have or given me any advice about how to lower my blood sugar.  On the other hand, I’d forgotten to show him my charts. 

Since my appointment I’ve stopped worrying about going blind.  Dr. Cosgrove doesn’t seem that worried, so I’m not going to torture myself.  I decided I will step up my exercise, be still more careful with my no-sweets diet, and try to lose a few pounds.  My next appointment is scheduled on Katja’s birthday in early December.  When I told Katja about the timing of my appointment I said that a low A1c score would be a nice birthday present for her.  Katja frowned.  She said a good A1c seemed like more of a birthday present for me than for her.  That’s probably true, though my birthday’s quite a ways off.  

As the first step in my new treatment plan, I decided to discontinue my daily two glasses of red wine.  Unfortunately, that didn’t have any impact at all.  I did a Google search and discovered that, if anything, red wine lowers your blood sugar.  Newly liberated, I promptly drank an entire bottle of my favorite $4.49 Cabernet Sauvignon in an hour or two.  The next morning my blood sugar level had dropped 30 points, and it’s been refreshingly lower ever since.  I may have stumbled upon a medical miracle.  Now I can’t wait for it to be Katja’s birthday so I can get my A1c test again.  I’m confident it will be the best birthday present ever.  

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Camping With Mikey

Dear George,
Mike and I are just back from an overnight camping trip to nearby Winton Woods.  When the sheepdogs were younger I’d regularly take both Mike and his brother Duffy on camping expeditions.  Then Mike’s arthritic hips got worse, and, because he had trouble going on longer walks, I’d just take Duffy by himself.  Since Duffy died in late June, I haven’t gone camping much, and when I did it was by myself.  Katja suggested I take Mikey along.  I was uncertain how it would work out, but decided to give it a try.  Winton Woods, one of our Hamilton County parks, has personal meaning for me because it’s less than a mile from where my dad lived when he moved to Cincinnati at the end of his life.  He and I used to go on occasional weekend outings to Winton Woods, and those were enjoyable occasions, if bittersweet.  Now Mike and I were returning there, with me quite a few years older and Mike, at age thirteen, close to the end-stage of his life.  Our trip turned out to be enjoyable for us both.  Here are some photos that tell the story.  

Mike got excited as he watched me pack up the camping gear, and he looked happy as could be when I brought him out to the SUV.

Despite its suburban location, the Winton Woods campground is set in a large grove of 60-foot pines, and we could well have been in northern Wisconsin.

On an uncrowded weekday we picked out one of the best campsites, right next to the lake.

I set up Mike's shaded playpen the very first thing.  It’s a safe and comfortable den, and he stretches out and watches the goings on.   

Mike did get restless as I was putting the tent up some thirty yards away, and he tried to get out the pen by pushing his head through the slats.  His head got stuck, and I was frantic when I was initially unable to pull him back through.  

Once our dome tent was set up, all the world was back in order.

Here is the lake view from our campsite. 

Mike likes being in the playpen, but the tent is definitely his favorite.  

After lunch we took a short hike around the marina.

Mike didn’t show much interest in the ducks, and they weren't intimidated by him or me. 

It’s not fair but sheepdogs are prohibited from riding in kayaks. 

Mike looked over one of the big RVs.  Perhaps he was wondering if they’re more comfortable than tents.

Suppertime is the best time to be in one’s den. 

By 8 p.m. it was almost dark.  

I watched the campfire flickering and pondered old memories while Mike was fast asleep. 

Inside the tent Mikey looked rather eerie by lantern light.  

On the other hand, I looked like my normal self.  

With a sagging air mattress, I had a fitful night.  But Mike slept like a log.  Here he is at 7:30 a.m.  

After breakfast we went for a walk on the Kingfisher Trail.

There are lots of good things to sniff in the forest.     

We took one last stroll around our campground before I packed up our gear.

Mike was happy to be back in the car.  Camping is good, but nothing is as good as being at home. 

I’m glad we went on our trip.  Mike was a good companion – patient, cooperative, curious, happy to be with me, friendly to other dogs and people. Our hikes weren’t as long as they were years ago, but we took more of them, and we relaxed at our campsite as well.  In a couple of weeks Katja and our friend Donna will be leaving for a two-week trip to France, and I’ll be in charge of Mike and Donna’s sheepdog, Sophie, Mike’s younger sister.  Maybe Mike, Sophie, and I will do a longer camping trip. I think we’ll have a great time.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Summer's End

Dear George,
Just as regular as clockwork, another summer is winding down.  Our family highlight this year was a four-day visit from our son J and grandson L who flew up from New Orleans in late July.  L had grown several inches since last Thanksgiving, and he was bright, funny, and enjoyable.  We did the zoo, Smale Park, Graeter’s, the movies, Skyline Chili, the Taft Museum, Ludlow Avenue, and a host of other spots.  We’re eager for our next get-together, hopefully in NOLA. 

Also in July I flew up to my 60th high school reunion in Menominee.  I’ve known many of my classmates since 1950, so there was lots of reunion-ing to be done.  I stayed with long-time friends, enjoyed the reunion events, had lunch with my cousins Ann and John, visited my favorite hometown spots, checked out my sister’s property on the river, and took a bunch of photos.  Our class all voted to come back for Number 65.  

It’s been a high tech summer.  Katja bought me a new Mac PC for my birthday as well as an iPad for herself, and I spend many waking moments online.  When J came to visit, he helped me activate the FitBit exercise monitor that Katja had gotten me at Xmas.  I’m definitely a quantoid person, and I like keeping track of my daily steps and sleep efficiency.  

Summer 2015 was marred by a sad and painful happening — the loss of our beloved sheepdog Duffy to bone cancer.  Duffy has been a major life companion for me — hikes in the forest, long walks in the neighborhood, camping trips to area parks.  He was a loving, loyal dog — funny, affectionate, and full of life — and we continue to miss him every day. 

Katja and I celebrated our 55th wedding anniversary at the end of August.  We had an excellent dinner at the Phoenix, one of Cincinnati’s finest restaurants.  55 is a special number.  If you add up all the numbers from 1 to 10, the total is 55.  Then if you square the numbers from 1 to 5 and add them up, the total again is 55.  I don’t think there are any other consecutive numbers that do that.  I think it means we’re in for a unique and mysterious year.   

There were many other enjoyable aspects of Summer 2015: the summer opera season, dog hikes at Miami Whitewater Forest and Eden Park, Ray Donovan, neighborhood walks with friends, line dancing, Wimbledon and US Open tennis (and Roger Federer in person at the W&S Open), Friday night movies, flea market expeditions, my birthday dinner at Seasons 52, working out at the fitness center, art museums, our new Clifton library.  All in all, a summer of pleasures and treats. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

On Labor Day: Rosie the Riveter

Dear George,
In honor of Labor Day, I thought I would post the lyrics of “Rosie the Riveter”.  We identify Rosie, of course, as the iconic image of women defense workers in World War II.  The original “We Can Do It” poster (above) was created in 1942 by a Westinghouse Company artist, J. Howard Miller, in response to the federal government’s urging industries to encourage more women to join the wartime work force.  Miller’s poster, however, had no association with the name “Rosie” when it appeared, nor with the riveter occupation.  Rather the name, “Rosie the Riveter”, first appeared as the title of a song composed quite independently by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb and released in early 1943.  Recorded by the Kay Kaiser band among others, the song quickly became a national hit.  Here’s how it went:


All the day long, whether rain or shine
She's a part of the assembly line
She's making history, working for victory
Rosie, brrrrrrrrrrr, the riveter

Keeps a sharp lookout for sabotage
Sitting up there on the fuselage
That little frail can do more than a male can do
Rosie, brrrrrrrrrrr, the riveter

Rosie's got a boyfriend, Charlie
Charlie, he's a Marine
Rosie is protecting Charlie
Workin' overtime on the riveting machine

When they gave her a production 'E'
She was as proud as a girl could be
There's something true about, red, white, and blue about
Rosie, brrrrrrrrrrr, the riveter

Ev'ryone stops to admire the scene
Rosie at work on the P-19
She's never twittery, nervous or jittery
(FEMALE VOICE: I'm Rosie, hm-hm-hm-hmm, the riveter)

What if she's smeared full of oil and grease
Doin' her bit for the old lend-lease
She keeps the gang around, they love to hang around
Rosie (Hm-hm-hm-hm, that's me, the riveter)

Rosie buys a lot of War Bonds
That girl really has sense
Wishes she could purchase more Bonds
Putting all her extra cash in National Defense

Oh, when they gave her a production 'E'
She was as proud as a girl could be
There's something true about, red, white, and blue about
Rosie the riveter gal

While other girls attend their favorite cocktail bar
Sipping dry Martinis, munching caviar
There's a girl who's really putting them to shame
Rosie is her name

Oh, Rosie buys a lot of War Bonds
That girl really has sense
Wishes she could purchase more Bonds
Putting all her extra cash into National Defense

Oh, Senator Jones, who was in the know
Shouted these words on the radio
Berlin will hear about, Moscow will cheer about
Rosie (Hah-hah-hah-hee-hee-hee), Rosie (Hee-hee-hee-hee)
Rosie the riveter gal  (3) 

A few months after Evans and Loeb’s hit song appeared, Norman Rockwell created a cover for the May 29, 1943, issue of the Saturday Evening Post which featured a woman riveter with the name Rosie on her lunchbox.  Historians speculate that Rockwell was familiar with Evans and Loeb’s song when he composed the picture.  Rosie is a large, muscular women wearing blue work clothes and holding a riveting gun in her lap.  A copy of Hitler’s Mein Kamp is under her feet, symbolizing Rosie’s contribution to crushing the Nazi war machine.  The American flag in the background contributes to the patriotism of the message.  (5) 

Because of its massive distribution, Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post image was well-known at the time and was widely used in war bond drives.  However, because of copyright restrictions, it was seen less and less often after the war ended.  Miller’s “We Can Do It” image was essentially unknown, having been shown only to Westinghouse employees, and it disappeared within weeks.  It was rediscovered in the 1980s, became associated with the feminist movement, and only then became linked to the label “Rosie the Riveter.”    

With widespread enlistment of males in the military in the early 1940s, women entered the American workforce in unprecedented numbers.  The female percentage of the U.S. workforce increased from 27% to nearly 37% between 1940 and 1945.  By 1944 4.1 million unmarried women between the ages of 20 and 34 worked in the defense industry, compared to only 1.7 million unmarried men between those ages.  The aviation industry saw the largest increases for women.  While women constituted one percent of the aviation workforce before the war, over 310,000 women were employed by the aircraft industry in 1943, making up 65% of the total workforce.  In addition to factory work and other jobs, 350,000 American women joined the U.S. military, serving at home and abroad.   (1) (5) 

In my home town the largest industry in the 1940s was the Lloyd Loom factory which produced baby carriages and wicker furniture.  250 male employees left Lloyd to join the military at the war’s beginning, and they were replaced by local women, many new to the work force.  85% of the Lloyd plant’s work was in war production: glider fuselages, bomber trainers, airplane motor mounts, and high-explosive shells.  I like to think that Rosie the Riveter might have been a part of the crew. (4)