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AnnArbor.com's News section covers government, crime, education, health and the environment across Washtenaw County.

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    Michigan Republicans are sticking with their party leader as the GOP tries to keep complete control of state government in 2014.

    Bobby Schostak was narrowly re-elected chairman Saturday at Republicans' state convention in Lansing. He fended off a challenge from tea party enthusiast Todd Courser.

    Schostak supporters credit him for helping the GOP maintain control of the state House and Supreme Court in 2012 despite President Barack Obama's and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow's easy wins in Michigan. Schostak detractors say Republicans had a lousy year.

    Gov. Rick Snyder supported Schostak's bid for another two-year term.

    For more on the Republican state convention, see MLive's coverage.

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    The annual Artini Martini Crawl returned to the streets of downtown Friday to benefit the Ann Arbor Art Center.

    Participants traveled among various downtown bars to sample special craft cocktails. Those involved were Babs' Underground Lounge, Black Pearl, Cafe Felix, Cafe Habana, Mash, Melange, Rush Street, The Last Word, The Ravens Club and Vinology.

    A portion of the ticket price benefits the Ann Arbor Art Center. Photographer Courtney Sacco captured these images.

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    Jen English has been working in Ann Arbor since she was 16.

    "I really wanted to have more independence," she said. "I wanted to make my own money and do things with my friends on my own."

    Now a senior at Hartland High School and working almost 20 hours per week, English strongly encourages other high school students to seek employment.


    A new U-M study shows many students benefit from holding a steady job through their high school years.

    AnnArbor.com file photo

    "It’s a great way to expose yourself to new people, a new environment, and to become more independent," she said. "It’s a great way to transition from being a teenager to being a young adult."

    But despite the positive influence employment can have on students, parents still might need to be careful about how many hours they allow their high school-aged kids work. According to University of Michigan researcher Jerry Bachman, their academic success might depend on it.

    Bachman's research, which compiles two decades worth of statistical data from about 600,000 high school students, shows that students who work long hours tend to be less successful than those who work fewer hours.

    "They are likely to have lower grades than those who aren’t working long hours," he said. "They‘re also more likely to smoke cigarettes, to use alcohol, to use marijuana, and to use other illicit drugs as well."

    While the study did show high school students who work tend to be more successful than those who don't, the trend reverses as soon as the number of hours they work exceeds 15 per week.

    "For every increase in the number of hours they work, things tend to get a little worse," Bachman said.

    Though working long hours may contribute to poor academic performance, Bachman said a direct causal relationship cannot be claimed.

    Researchers also observed what they call a "selection effect," where some students may seek extensive employment as a way to succeed if they're already performing poorly in school. For some students, this was a way of achieving self-fulfillment.

    "Many kids who wind up working long hours already show evidence of some problems before they start working," he said. "But this certainly doesn't rule out the possibility that long hours of work can add to the problems."

    Bachman found the most significant factor to a student's success to be socioeconomic status, which for purposes of the study was defined as the level of education completed by a student's parents.

    "The kids with the (most) educated parents have the best grades," he said. "They’re less likely to be involved in substances, especially cigarettes. For that matter, they’re much more likely to go to college."

    Socioeconomic status also affected which students were impacted by working long hours, but the relationship was the opposite. Among students of high socioeconomic status, the correlation of long hours to substance use and lower GPA was much stronger than among students of low socioeconomic status.

    "Arguably, affluent kids have the least need to work during their student days," Bachman said. "When they do work, they seem to suffer more in terms of grades and substance use."

    However, the data showed that this wasn't true for students of all ethnicities.

    "This is true for white and Asian-American students," Bachman said. "Whereas spending long hours on the job appears to be less harmful for African-American and Hispanic students."

    So far, researchers have only offered speculative explanations for the statistical discrepancies between the ethnicities surveyed in the study.

    "Among the notions is that there are fewer jobs available in communities where many African American and Latino youth find themselves," Bachman said. "So the ones who are able to get jobs may be among the more attractive candidates or applicants."

    Erin Williams, a 17-year-old from Ypsilanti, got his first job when he was 14.

    "I needed to help around the house," Williams said. "They needed it. So I had to take my responsibility around the house. I started working more and had less enthusiasm for school."

    By his junior year at Ypsilanti High School, Williams was working more than 30 hours per week.

    "I would miss classes," he said. "I wouldn't go to school a day or two of the week. I'd fall behind."

    Midway through that year, Williams' counselors told him he was too far behind to pass his classes. Rather than retake them, he decided to drop out of school.

    "I said 'forget it' and I started working full time," he said.

    Scott Weissman, a licensed social worker and LEO lecturer at U-M, stressed that the brain isn't fully developed until a person's mid-20s. He said it's risky to let students work long hours in environments where they may be exposed to behavior more appropriate for adults.

    "Decision-making ability isn’t developed until we're older and we put those kids in settings that they’re not able to navigate on their own and there’s no parental oversight," Weissman said.

    But Weissman said that most of the students he works with "do quite well in school and are able to maintain the job."

    "I have worked with a number of young men and women who work while they’re in school and enjoy the benefits that come from that," he said.

    A full copy of the article Bachman co-authored with several other researchers can be purchased from the American Psychological Association.

    Kody Klein is an intern for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at kklein@mlive.com

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    Darion Cole-Hickonbottom

    Courtesy of the Washtenaw County Jail

    The 23-year-old Ann Arbor man who police say lit a fire in a parking structure elevator after having sex with a 14-year-old girl pleaded guilty to arson and sexual assault charges Thursday.

    Darion Cole-Hickonbottom will spend between 34-67 months in prison, according to a plea deal struck in the Washtenaw County Trial Court.

    A charge of larceny from a vehicle had previously been dismissed, attorneys said. Three counts of third-degree CSC will be dismissed at the time of sentencing. In exchange for the dismissal of those charges, Cole-Hickonbottom pleaded guilty to three added counts of CSC, assault with intent to penetrate.

    Sentencing is scheduled for March 14.

    Police say Cole-Hickonbottom and the 14-year-old girl first stole an Xbox controller and clothing from vehicles parked inside the University of Michigan structure on South Forest Avenue on July 22.

    Cole-Hickonbottom and the girl then made their way to the parking structure on Church Street, where they allegedly had sex inside the elevator, police said. While still in the elevator, Cole-Hickonbottom started a fire on the floor using cardboard and at least one of the items of clothing taken from a vehicle, according to police.

    U-M police received a call from Cole-Hickonbottom from the emergency phone at the Church Street parking structure at 6:22 a.m. Police soon decided he was the likely suspect in the arson that burned the elevator cab, causing around $3,000 worth of damage.

    The other two CSC counts Cole-Hickonbottom pleaded guilty to stem from sexual incidents that took place with the 14-year-old girl between July 20 and 22 at Veterans Memorial Park in Ann Arbor, police said.

    Cole-Hickonbottom remains in the Washtenaw County Jail on a $250,000 cash bond.

    John Counts covers cops and courts for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at johncounts@annarbor.com or you can follow him on Twitter.

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    Down only 47-39 and with four minutes, 39 seconds remaining against Eastern Michigan, it seemed a bit early for Missouri State to start conserving the clock.

    But Eastern had led the game since 4:30 into the game, and with the Eagles stretching every possession to the very end of the shot clock, that 4:30 seemed like barely any time at all.

    So Missouri State coach Paul Lusk called for the Bears to let the ball roll to halfcourt on the inbounds in order to milk every second out of the clock he could.

    Nathan Scheer hit a 3-pointer on the possession, and so started a 14-0 run that would lead to a 57-54 loss for Eastern Michigan at the Convocation Center on Saturday. The Mid-American Conference vs. Missouri Valley Conference matchup was part of the 2013 Ramada WorldWide Bracket Busters event.

    Eastern (12-15) scored just seven points in the final six minutes of the game, all of which came in the final 39 seconds.

    "We needed all the time we could get because they make you have such long posessions with their zone," Lusk said. "And then on the other end, we’re trying to guard them, but they’re running their shot clock all the way down.

    "So every second matters when you’re on the road, every second matters especially when you’re down."

    Despite the extended scoring drought, after Thompson's 3-pointer Eastern was only down three with 39 seconds remaining. But needing to foul on Missouri State's next possession, it happened to be Thompson who did the fouling to stop the clock.

    It was Thompson's fifth foul, which left the Eagles without their leading scorer down the stretch. Thompson finished with 19 points and was 4-of-6 from 3-point range.

    "Derek to his credit, made the play. Big team play. We had to stop the clock and put someone on the line," said Eastern Michigan assistant coach Kevin Mundro. Head coach Rob Murphy was not available after the game due to a family emergency according to an Eastern Michigan representative. "(Thompson) played a whale of a game."


    Eastern Michigan's Anthony Strickland attempts to console Antoine Chandler after Chandler missed a pair of free throws in a 57-54 loss to Missouri State at the Convocation Center Saturday, February 24.

    Joseph Tobianski | AnnArbor.com

    After J.R. Sims made a pair of free throws following a Missouri State technical foul, Eastern Michigan had possession and trailed by three with four seconds remaining. Eagles sophomore Antoine Chandler came open on the inbound and was fouled immediately.

    Chandler missed the front end of the one-and-one, ending Eastern's chance at a comeback in the final seconds.

    "We were fouling whoever got it when we were up by three," Lusk said. "We weren’t going to let it get to overtime."

    Chandler had missed the front end of another one-and-one with Eastern down four with 21 seconds remaining. The two high-pressure situations happened to fall on the shoulders of the sophomore guard who played less than a minute in the game.

    "You never know when your number’s going to be called," Mundro said. "He probably went to bed last night dreaming of a situation like this. I mean it’s not the end of the world, next time he’s gotta make ‘em, and I think he knows that. But he didn’t lose this game."

    Lusk said fouling Chandler specifically -- who played least of any player to enter the game -- wasn't part of his team's end-of-game strategy.

    "It just happened that way," Lusk said. "Whoever got it we were fouling on the catch."

    Eastern started the game hot from the outside, making its first four 3-pointers of the game and leading by as much as nine in the first half. The Eagles took a 29-21 lead into halftime.

    The Bears (9-20) started the second half on a 7-0 run, but after back-to-back buckets from Thompson, including a four-point play after he was fouled on a 3-pointer, Eastern appeared in control.

    That is until they went completely cold with six minutes to go in the game. Eastern finished the game 8-of-16 (50 percent) from 3-point range.

    Anthony Downing gave Missouri State the lead for good with a spinning jumper in the lane with 2:45 remaining in the game. Downing finished with a team-high 16 points.

    Austin Harper had nine points and six assists off the bench for Eastern.

    Pete Cunningham covers sports for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at petercunningham@annarbor.com. Follow him on Twitter @petcunningham.

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    The longtime leader of the Michigan Democrats is losing his job.

    Mark Brewer on Saturday withdrew from the race for party chairman at the state Democratic Party convention in Detroit. He said he wishes challenger Lon Johnson all the best.

    Thumbnail image for Mark_Brewer.jpg

    Mark Brewer

    Brewer announced his decision to thousands of delegates rather than continue an uphill climb to retain his seat after unions and Michigan's Democratic congressional delegation got behind Johnson. Brewer said he wishes Johnson all the best.

    Johnson was officially elected the new chairman shortly after Brewer's concession. He is vice president of a private equity firm and a veteran of national political campaigns.

    Johnson and his supporters are frustrated that presidential and U.S. Senate candidates win Michigan easily, but Republicans control all of the state government.

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    More than 300 participants dressed-up in costumes Saturday morning to participate in the Polar Plunge and get their chance to jump in to one of two pools set up on Michigan Stadium's field.

    The event was held to help raise money for the Special Olympics.

    Staff photographer Courtney Sacco was there to capture images.

    Courtney Sacco is a photographer for AnnArbor.com.

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    My daughter is a third grader at Erickson Elementary school in Ypsilanti. She is a third-generation Wildcat - my mother and I both attended Erickson. My mother and her three brothers graduated from Ypsilanti High School between 1969 and 1975. I graduated in 1992. My mother worked for the district for almost 15 years. I worked for the district for two years.

    My family has a long history in this city. When my husband and I moved back to Michigan, we opted to use the school of choice option to enroll our daughter in Ypsilanti Public Schools. I had hoped that my daughter would be a member of the class of 2022 that graduated from Ypsilanti High School. If things in this school district continue on as they are, I can tell you with almost all certainty, she won’t.


    After voting for the Ypsilanti-Willow Run consolidation, some families are left unhappy with the way things are going in the Ypsilanti district.

    As a future teacher, I believe in public education. I believe in teamwork between educators, families, and the community. I have gone to the mat in defense of YPSD - even when it was failing before my eyes. I have faith in the teachers that they are teaching the best that they can despite being crippled by the lack of funding from their district and the lack of respect from the families they try to serve. I tried to show my support of building administrators who were caught between making sure their teachers were equipped to do their jobs and making sure the demands were being met.

    At certain points, I defended the administration because I can not even imagine how difficult a job they have had in the past. I supported the consolidation because I thought it was innovative, brave, and it appeared that both districts were trying to pool their strengths and find a way to make a strong and healthy educational system that would serve the children and families in Ypsilanti and provide them with a quality education while the administration would ensure that the district was running a lean and effective budget.

    It appears that I, like the thousands of people that voted for the consolidation, was sold a bill of goods. We were duped. We were conned. I am exceptionally disappointed in the new school board’s choice to “explore” a multi-superintendent model. I am disgusted that Sharon Irvine’s application isn’t being given the due respect and consideration she deserves. And I am appalled that this school board seems to largely believe that the community should not have a say in how the district that we were practically BEGGED to vote for, will be overseen.

    However, the lack of familial involvement from the community at large has been deplorable. It has been, for the most part, the same few vocal people over and over again. I recall a time when I attended a meeting of the Parent Advisory Board at Perry CDC — a school with almost 600 children in attendance at the time. There were, at the most, 12 parents there. 12.

    So if you are wondering why there has not been more transparency in how things have been running, it’s because there are very few people who are asking for it. We, as a community, have been falling down on our duty to hold the people in these offices accountable for what they are supposed to be doing. We - and I definitely include my husband and myself in this - have been sitting on the sidelines, playing armchair quarterback, recalling the bygone days and talking to ourselves about how things SHOULD be.

    The time for sitting back in the BARCO lounger is done. The time for being passive recipients of our public educational system is finished. WE are the taxpayers in this community. WE are the parents in this community. And WE need to be the ones who take this board, this administration in hand and tell them that we are finished accepting the status quo that has driven our teachers, our kids, and our schools so deep into the ground that no one can breathe without getting a nose full of dirt.

    It is time for action, not words. We can make a difference. We SHOULD make a difference. Robert F. Kennedy once said, “The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better.” Folks, we need to stop waiting for someone else to make things better and do it ourselves.

    Aimee McVay Conat is a parent of a Erickson Elementary School student and an Ypsilanti resident.

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    While I dressed bravely, my fear was evident as I approached the water on my plunge in the Big House.

    Courtney Sacco | AnnArbor.com

    Editor's note: The looping videos in this post were created using Vine, a six-second video platform. To turn the volume on and off click the speaker in the upper right hand corner of the video.

    The worst part of the Polar Plunge is definitely the feet.

    As soon as you take your shoes off you’re hit by the sudden feeling that you may never see all 10 of your toes in the same place again.

    The best part is the faces of the Special Olympics athletes and their families participating in the event.

    Seeing their enthusiasm and listening to stories of what athletics means to them makes you realize why people from ages 5 to 59 dress up in crazy costumes and jump into ice cold pools of water in the middle of winter.

    I met some interesting characters on my way in:

    Casey Hutson, a Special Olympics athlete and student at Pioneer High school, was joined by a group of staff and students from the high school.

    “It’s really a great program because athletics means so much to him,” special education teacher Cassandra Brower said.

    “The rest of the students here are all peers, and they help us and participate in a program called ‘unified sports,’ where general education and special education students play sports together on the same teams.”

    Just more than 300 “plungers” dived into pools of water set up on the field of Michigan Stadium Saturday morning. Temperatures stood in the high 20s, but it felt significantly lower thanks to a brisk wind blowing through the tunnel and around the stadium.

    The participants raised more than $130,000 according to a preliminary counting announced at the awards ceremony after the event. Special Olympics director of marketing Amie Dugan said this was one of the most unique plunges she had ever seen.

    “We do hundreds of Special Olympics Polar Plunges every year in the United States alone,” she said.

    “But this one was incredible. To have the event in one of the top stadiums in the country and with the participation of the athletics department it was just great. Having a partner like this that really is committed to helping every step of the way makes all the difference.”

    Paul Teboe tells me why he and his Saline marital arts group are plunging:

    When I first agreed to plunge, I had only heard of the event in passing and did not realize the enormity of what I had gotten myself into.

    The whole experience was surreal — hundreds of people gathered at the Big House wearing the craziest collection of costumes you’ve seen since the last Harlem Shake video you watched. There was a group of Spartan warriors, various Michigan and high school sports teams, and an extremely convincing pair of Ghostbusters. I felt positively underdressed in my American flag swimsuit and “Action Hero” cape.

    The outfits ranged from punny — the group of Pioneer students and staff all wore plungers on their heads — to bizarre, with one man who wore a straightjacket and boxers that had a fake naked tush attached to the back.

    Some jumpers had friends or family members who were Special Olympics participants, others just thought it sounded like fun and wanted to support a good cause.

    “When I signed up, I thought ‘why not make fun of myself if something positive comes out of it?’” top fundraiser Michael Spath said before he jumped in.

    “…But the closer it gets to the big day you get a bit less excited about it when you realize what you’re actually going to do. But now I’m taking courage from everyone else here. We’re all just feeding off of each other.”

    Some plungers were more graceful than others:

    The biggest rounds of applause during the event came for the Special Olympics athletes, but Lloyd Carr and Brady Hoke came in a close second. Both coaches gave the plungers a pep talk and then acted as “judges” in the event.

    “The Special Olympics’ athlete’s oath is, ‘let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt,’” Carr said.

    “…Today, not all of you will be able to win, but you will all need to be brave in the attempt!”

    The Special Olympics does not receive government funding and relies on individual donations and fundraising events like the Polar Plunge to support its activities. All Special Olympics events are 100 percent free to athletes and their families, Dugan said.

    “Sports can be our great unifier and our great divider,” Spath said.

    “I’m not personally touched by the event, but whenever I see it you just can’t escape how awesome it is to watch people achieve, just have an amazing time and compete.”

    The great unifier on this day was that we were all exposed to the elements and about to jump into a pool of water. There were volunteers, who seemed a little too cheerful, adding bags of ice to the water throughout the event in case our body heat inadvertently raised the temperature to anywhere near bearable.

    I can't believe they did this to us:

    “It was a great experience. Everyone should do it next year,” Michigan senior Liz Sherzer said. “But bring lots of fuzzy warm socks.”

    Truer words may never have been spoken.

    You can watch what the plunge looked like from my point of view (the high pitched squeals of freezing are all me):

    Ben Freed covers business for AnnArbor.com. You can sign up here to receive Business Review updates every week. Reach out to Ben at 734-623-2528 or email him at benfreed@annarbor.com. Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2

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    Michigan forward Phil Di Giuseppe, above, scored two goals in Michigan's 6-3 win over Ohio State on Saturday.

    Daniel Brenner | AnnArbor.com file photo

    It's a Michigan hockey team tradition to sing "The Victors" in the locker room after sweeping a series. Earlier in the season, Michigan coach Red Berenson joked that he might forget the words during this season.

    Berenson got a refresher course on Saturday as the Wolverines defeated Ohio State 6-3 in Columbus. It was the second sweep of the season for the Wolverines, who swept Michigan State earlier this month.

    Phil Di Giuseppe had a pair of goals and Alex Guptill scored one -- his third of the series -- in the win. Steve Racine picked up the win in net for the Wolverines (12-18-2, 8-15-2-2 CCHA), who entered the third period tied with Ohio State 3-3.

    Pete Cunningham covers sports for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at petercunningham@annarbor.com. Follow him on Twitter @petcunningham.

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    A Richard Barnes image from "Exception"

    Humanitarianism collides with today’s front page in the University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities exhibit “State of Exception.”

    Based on the U-M’s “Undocumented Migration Project,” the exhibit, says Institute for the Humanities Communications Specialist Stephanie Harrell, traces “the human experience — backpacks, water bottles, border patrol restraints, and other objects left behind in the desert by both undocumented migrants on their journey into the U.S. and the law enforcement agents who seek to keep them out.”

    A seriously packed multimedia installation, the exhibit consists of video taken by New York City-based photographer/videographer Richard Barnes and artifacts collected by U-M anthropologist Jason De Leon, as coordinated by Institute for the Humanities curator Amanda Krugliak.

    Following up, Harrell’s statement says, the collaboration between Barnes, De Leon, and Krugliak “considers the complexities and ambiguities of found objects and what they may or may not reveal in terms of transition, human experience, culture, violence, and accountability.

    “The ‘Undocumented Migration Project’ is a long-term anthropological study of undocumented migration between Mexico and the United States that uses ethnography, archaeology, and forensic science to better understand this clandestine social process.”

    Millions of migrants journey from many points south in Latin America across the Mexican/United States border seeking relocation in violation of immigration law — and, ultimately, American sovereignty.

    The numbers are not known, but it’s estimated there are between 7 and 20 million people living unauthorized in the United States today. Some believe enforcement is too tight; others, too loose.

    Rather than take a direct side in the debate, “State of Exception” lays out evidence De Leon calls a “state of exception” taken from the theory of conservative political philosopher Carl Schmitt and contemporary Italian biopolitical theorist Giorgio Agamben, defining this strategy as a process “whereby sovereign authorities declare emergencies, often with the stated goal of protecting the state, in order to suspend the legal protections afforded to individuals while simultaneously unleashing the power of the state upon them.”

    Toward this end, as De Leon shows, the U.S. border patrol policy of ‘Prevention through Deterrence’ has been established with the goal of “rerouting unauthorized aliens from urban areas and towards more remote areas of the (U.S.) Southwest border, making the journey more difficult.”

    “State of Exception” graphically illustrates the journey and the hardships these people endure. For example, one of the more graphic aspects of the exhibit is a wall-length installation consisting of hundreds of soiled backpacks stacked from floor to ceiling.

    The number of these packs is stunning enough — their aged and damaged condition alone testifying to the hardships encountered on this dangerous trek. Meanwhile, a half-dozen video monitors featuring U-M graduate students mounted in rows of two on another wall (sometimes speaking singly; sometimes speaking in overlapping dialogue) recall their professional and personal experiences working on the “Undocumented Migration Project.”

    Additionally, two display cases filled with ravaged artifacts — personal effects like coins, bottles, shoelaces, wallets, and the like; mingled with abandoned refuse — illustrate the property these folk carried with them on their arduous desert journey.

    Krugliak adds in a short essay contributed to the display, “Many may see this exhibition as a study of aesthetics, materiality, and practice. However, ‘State of Exception’ attempts to consider the journey of migrants through the deserts of Arizona from all sides, like a puzzle, turning it over, and then again. It emphasizes the ambiguity and complexity of a situation that is as ongoing and endless as the border fence itself.”

    Krugliak’s assessment is certainly accurate enough — both sociologically and as public policy. But Barnes’ video contributions are also easily the most artful aspect of this remarkable display.

    On entry, a trio of DVD monitors projects a filmed video path of abandoned detritus strewn across a ravine down a narrow path leading into the Institute’s installation space. And in the installation proper are two additional video loops of the Arizona fence separating the U.S. from Mexico.

    Barnes effectively turns one of the most controversial aspects of America’s domestic policy into an artful meditation on borders and boundaries. For both videos are shot from a moving car with the metal poles of the fence appearing as a series of metal slats through which the landscape passes.

    One of the videos has been shot through the car’s front window during a stormy night, and the border fence dramatically flickers up to the right at a diagonal angle as the vehicle moves slowly down a dirt road. The other video (shot through a side window) breaks the scenery into a flurry of interconnected slices as the car moves relentlessly forward.

    In both instances, the motion of Barnes’ looped footage of the border fence is unceasing. There’s no start to the movement, nor is there any rest. The impression given is one of a long, arduous passage with no repose in sight. And such, by implication, is the fate of those who brave the dangerous route north.

    “State of Exception” will continue through March 12 at the University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities’ Exhibition Space, Room 1010, 202 S. Thayer St. Gallery hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday. For information, call 734-936-3518.

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    AnnArbor.com entertainment reporter Jenn McKee will be live tweeting during the Oscar ceremony. Follow her at twitter.com/jennmckee

    By David Germain

    Associated Press movies writer

    LOS ANGELES — Nominations morning last month revealed major surprises for the Academy Awards, promising one of the most wide-open campaigns ever for Hollywood's highest honors.

    Six weeks later, things have shaken out into the same old predictable Oscars.

    Like almost every awards season, earlier honors have established clear favorites for the top prizes at Sunday's Oscars, where Ben Affleck's CIA thriller "Argo" is expected to take home the best-picture trophy.



    Warner Bros.

    "Argo" has dominated the awards picture with wins at the Golden Globes and ceremonies held by the Directors Guild of America, the Screen Actors Guild and the Producers Guild of America. The film now is poised to do what only four movies have managed before at the Oscars: win best picture without a nomination for its director.

    With the top trophy and other key prizes expected to go to obvious front-runners, the Oscars will live or die on the show itself, which has a hipper flair with "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane as host and a cool lineup of current and vintage stars. Among performers, presenters and other special guests are Barbra Streisand, Norah Jones, "Harry Potter" star Daniel Radcliffe, key players from "The Avengers," and Mark Wahlberg and his cuddly stuffed-bear sidekick from "Ted," voiced by its writer-director, MacFarlane.

    Adele will perform her nominated title tune from the James Bond adventure "Skyfall," and the show features a salute to the 007 franchise, an appearance by Bond theme song singer Shirley Bassey, and a tribute to the resurgence of movie musicals over the last decade, which includes current best-picture contender "Les Miserables."

    Oscar organizers are trying to inject more verve into a show whose awards generally play out by the numbers. While drama may be lacking in the outcome Sunday night, there was plenty of it early on in the Oscar race.

    When nominations came out and Affleck was omitted of the best-director lineup, it seemed to doom the best-picture prospects for "Argo." Likewise, the best-picture chances looked slim for Kathryn Bigelow's Osama bin Laden thriller "Zero Dark Thirty" and Tom Hooper's musical "Les Miserables," since they also were snubbed for directing nominations.

    Leading the field with 12 nominations, including one for director Steven Spielberg, the Civil War epic "Lincoln" suddenly looked like the best-picture favorite, almost by default. It seemed the only realistic choice among the nine nominees, given how rare it is for a film to win best picture without a directing nomination. The last time it happened — and the only time other than in the earliest years of the Oscars — was for 1989's "Driving Miss Daisy."

    The other best-picture contenders that also had directing nominations — Michael Haneke's old-age love story "Amour," Ang Lee's shipwreck saga "Life of Pi," David O. Russell's oddball romance "Silver Linings Playbook" and Benh Zeitlin's low-budget bayou drama "Beasts of the Southern Wild" — were acclaimed films that all seemed like best-picture longshots.

    But the crowd-pleasing "Argo," Affleck's liberally Hollywood-ized chronicle of the real-life rescue of six Americans during the Iranian hostage crisis, defied expectations by sweeping other awards despite the Oscar directing snub — or perhaps partly because of it.

    "There's this groundswell of support for 'Argo' that took a lot of people by surprise, and it's making me think that the omission of Ben Affleck in the best-director category was the best thing that ever happened to that movie," said Dave Karger, chief correspondent for movie-ticket website Fandango.com. "All of the 'Argo' fans are going to rally behind it in that best-picture category."

    Affleck has taken a page out of fellow "Argo" producer and smooth operator George Clooney's playbook, handling the Oscar attention and his directing snub with grace, humility and self-deprecating humor. It's a reverse of Affleck's quarrelsome demeanor earlier in his career, when he bristled and barked over publicity centering on his relationship with Jennifer Lopez.

    Rarely lauded for his performing chops, Affleck joked at the Golden Globes that no one felt he was snubbed for an acting nomination on "Argo," in which he gives one of his finest performances as a CIA agent orchestrating a scheme to disguise the Americans as a Hollywood film crew scouting locations in Iran.

    Earning acclaim for all three of the films he has directed, Affleck talks like a modest newcomer, saying after his Directors Guild win that he considers filmmakers such as William Wyler, Martin Scorsese and Spielberg to be the "grown-ups I think of as directors. I think of myself as a work in progress."

    And despite the directing snub, Affleck has expressed nothing but gratitude to the academy for his film's seven nominations — repeatedly making note that he is up for an Oscar. As producers of "Argo," Affleck, Clooney and Grant Heslov would share the best-picture honor if the film wins.

    Assuming it does, there still will be plenty of love to spread around among other films, particularly "Lincoln." Spielberg's consolation prize, should "Lincoln" miss out on best picture, is a probable third directing Oscar. He would be only the fourth filmmaker to achieve that, along with Frank Capra and William Wyler, who also won three times, and John Ford, who won four.

    "Lincoln" star Daniel Day-Lewis is expected to earn his third Oscar in the title role, making him only the sixth performer to win three or more Oscars and the first to win three times in the best-actor category.

    Other acting favorites: Jennifer Lawrence, best actress for "Silver Linings Playbook"; Anne Hathaway, supporting actress for "Les Miserables"; and Tommy Lee Jones, supporting actor for "Lincoln."

    So where's the surprise of Oscar night? Maybe in the hands of versatile show host MacFarlane, whose talents include animation, comedy writing, singing and songwriting (he's an Oscar nominee himself for a tune from "Ted").

    His skills also include crude humor, setting the stage for something livelier, more irreverent and less predictable than the usual ho-hum broadcast.

    Producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron "have mixed it up quite a lot compared to Oscar ceremonies I've seen in the past," MacFarlane said. "Without it being a long ceremony — their goal is to keep it shorter than it's been — but they've managed to pack more surprises and more cool stuff into the ceremony than I think I've ever seen in any one Oscars. ...

    "They have a real sense of command of what they're doing, but at the same time they've allowed me to play to my own strengths, or weaknesses, depending on how you look at it, and structure my own segments as I see fit."

    AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen contributed to this report.

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    To address gender and racial equality issues in the health care it provides and in its workforce, the University of Michigan Health System has created a new administrator role.

    The first Associate Vice President for Health Equity and Inclusion is Dr. Carmen Green, a researcher, pain medicine physician and anesthesiologist at the University of Michigan.


    Dr. Carmen Green

    Courtesy of UMHS

    Green was appointed to the new post Thursday by the U-M Board of Regents after a national search.

    Green will report to both Dr. James Woolliscroft, dean of U-M’s Medical School, and Doug Strong, CEO of U-M’s Hospitals and Health Centers.

    After an associate dean position in U-M's Medical School was left open when a faculty member left for U-M Flint, UMHS leadership decided to reorganize the spot to become the Associate Vice President for Health Equity and Inclusion, said Pete Barkey, director of public relations for UMHS.

    “In any financial times, good or bad, we’ll make strategic decisions in what we invest in at the health system,” Barkey said. “One part of it is recruiting and retaining high-quality faculty.”

    In her research at U-M, Green has found unequal treatment of pain and pain care based on factors including race, ethnicity and gender, according to UMHS officials. She’s found disparities and barriers in access to pain medication for blacks, women and low-income individuals with chronic pain.

    Green has also worked on advisory boards for programs that promote inclusion of minorities and women in biomedical science -- an effort that Green will continue in her new role.

    In addition to holding numerous fellowships and leadership roles nationally, Green is the director of the Healthier Black Elders Center for the Michigan Center for Urban African American Aging Research at the U-M Institute for Social Research.

    Green will continue to practice part time. In her new role, she’ll first gather and analyze data about the patient population served by UMHS and its workforce.

    Bringing a “cultural humility” to work at UMHS is important, Green said in a statement.

    “Since our founding in 1817, Michigan as an institution has been committed to excellence, quality, and inclusion regardless of race, gender, religion, or class, so diversity is in our DNA. And we have many outstanding clinicians, educators, and researchers focusing on health disparities in a broad range of fields,” Green said in a statement.

    “But where there is evidence about what we can do to improve how we provide care, do research, train new professionals or foster careers, we will implement it. And where there is no evidence, we will work to create it, using sound evidence and research. As an integrated and learning health system and university that values interdisciplinary work we want to put Michigan on the map when it comes to health equity.”

    Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for AnnArbor.com. Reach her at (734) 623-2552, amybiolchini@annarbor.com or on Twitter.

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    Dottie Day has been one of the biggest Michigan fans since leaving her family's farm outside of Jackson to attend the University of Michigan.

    Joseph Tobianski | AnnArbor.com

    I had heard about someone who attended every University of Michigan men’s basketball game, home and away, for the past 39 years. It sounded extreme — unreal.

    Who would do such a thing? There were some great teams during that time, true, but many that you wouldn’t make the short trip to Crisler Arena to see, let alone drive to State College or West Lafayette or Iowa City.

    Meet Dottie Day.

    Even as a 5-year-old, basketball and schoolwork already were big in her life. She had to finish her homework (that is, coloring) before she could go with her family and extended family to high school basketball games or whatever sport was in season.

    When she grew up and left her parent’s dairy and crop farm in Clarklake, south of Jackson, to attend U-M in 1963, she was terrified of the big city. But she found a familiar environment in working the concessions booths for hockey and basketball at the Coliseum and Yost Field House. She always tried to position herself so she could catch glimpses of the game, or at least of the scoreboard.


    Michigan fan Dottie Day stands and cheers before the game against Penn State on Sunday, Feb. 17.

    Daniel Brenner I AnnArbor.com

    Before C.J. Kupec, the center on the freshman basketball team in 1971-72 came to campus and changed her life, Dottie had graduated and began working as a learning specialist at the U-M Department of Psychiatry with kids and teenagers with needs ranging from eating disorders to autism to major depression. She helped with their school work, the goal being to motivate them and increase their self esteem to the point that they knew they were capable of learning, and even enjoying it.

    "I absolutely loved those kids," she said, "and the challenge of helping the most difficult succeed. It was wonderful when something clicked and they began to learn. They would tell me they didn’t know it could be so easy." Dottie augmented her teaching degree with a masters in reading and one in special education. She said throughout 44 years there were only three youths she felt she couldn’t reach. She retired in October 2012.

    Meanwhile, Kupec had impressed Dottie with his basketball smarts and his all-around game. He eventually impressed others, too, and became an All-America. "When he is a senior, I am going to all of his games," she told herself. And she did.

    "I saved my money and my vacation time in order to travel to away games," she said. "Then I did it again the next year. And the next year. I didn’t plan it that way. It just happened."

    She hasn’t missed a game since, except for three in 1976 when her mother died, two in 1996 when her father died, and half of the 2007 season when she was "placed on the disabled list" for foot reconstruction. She tried to get the doctor to delay it until after the season, but no luck.

    In the early days, when the athletic department finances were tighter, Dottie, and sometimes others, traveled on the team plane and bus as a way to supplement department funds. She got to know the coaches, including Johnny Orr, Jim Dutcher, Bill Frieder, and Brian Ellerbe, and she still talks often with Steve Fisher and Brian Dutcher.


    Dottie Day's Michigan basement at her home in Ann Arbor. Day has been one of the biggest Michigan fans since leaving her family's farm outside of Jackson to attend the University of Michigan.

    Joseph Tobianski | AnnArbor.com

    During many of those years, games were on Thursday and Saturday, and both games would either be at home or on the road. Michigan didn’t return to Ann Arbor between games, so there was more down time. Dottie participated in team backgammon tournaments and euchre games. She went to practice and shoot-arounds.

    Back in Ann Arbor, many of the players had dinner at Dottie’s, and she organized team bowling outings. At the end of the season, she was with them in the locker room as March Madness pairings were announced. And because she became part of the team, each year the coaches and seniors made sure the freshmen were introduced to her.

    "That’s what I miss the most," she said. "Yes, the transportation was convenient, but what I really, really miss is getting to know the kids better. Now, it’s more like seeing them for a few minutes in a hotel lobby or after a game."

    She does get a hug from each of the players just before the game, though,

    In 1979, Frieder asked her to sit behind the players’ bench at home games. You can still spot her there with her sister or a friend in the midst of the "maize rage." When everyone is jumping, look for the one who is at least jumping on the inside.

    Dottie won’t tell you who her favorites have been because they are all "my kids." But if you want to know what a former player is doing now, chances are she knows.

    Don’t expect her to talk statistics, though. That has never been her focus. "The kids are people, not numbers on a jersey or stats on a scoreboard," she said.

    Asked if the players think she is crazy for doing what she does, she says, "I don’t know. They may wonder why I do it. My friends are the ones who think I am loony - that is until I get them to go with me. Then they get it."

    For Dottie, the reasons are simple. "I love - just love - the University of Michigan," she said. "I love the game of basketball, and I really love kids that age, anywhere from teens to mid-20s. They keep me young — it’s fun for me.

    "Besides, I enjoy competition and the psychological aspects of the game. I want to be the best at everything I do, and want my team to be the best. When they lose, I want to see if they will bounce back; and when they win, I want to see how they handle it."

    Dottie’s fun does require work, however. For example, drive time to Champaign for the Illinois game is six hours. She allows herself two extra hours in case of traffic or weather or other delay, enough leeway so that she is at the hotel to greet the team when they arrive.


    Michigan fan Dottie Day embraces the basketball team before the game against Penn State on Sunday, Feb. 17.

    Daniel Brenner I AnnArbor.com

    Funny thing is, she hates to drive. She was glad for the many years that Carl (Bud) and Florence Ernst traveled with her. Bud preferred to drive. Then when Pat Hatch, whose father, Henry, was the U-M equipment manager for 42 years, retired from teaching, she accompanied Dottie to every away game for more than 20 years and shared the driving.

    "My rule of thumb has always been that if the trip is longer than a 24-hour drive one way, I will fly," Dottie said. "I may lower that number since travel is getting more difficult. But I don’t have any plans to stop soon; I would like to die at a basketball game."

    Now that Dottie has been doing this for so many years, she can’t imagine stopping. She said she would wonder, ‘Will the kids think I forgot about them? Will they know I’m not there? Will they miss me?"

    This is her family, after all, and she feels that her presence and support makes a difference, at least to some of the individuals if not to the team as a whole.

    "One of my most prized possessions," she said, "is a letter from a walk-on written during his senior year. Part of it read,‘It seems to be your goal to make us all feel important to you. You succeeded with me.’"

    For Dottie, that’s a good return on her money. She realizes she has chosen an expensive hobby. ‘Had I not chosen it, I could be living in a mansion instead of where I am. But I have no regrets."

    P.S. What does she think of the 2012-13 squad? "I love this team. The first time I saw them, I said, ‘Well. We might have something here.’ They are unselfish, they truly like each other, and are willing to give up the ball for each other. They are a diverse, interesting group, and can go a long, long way."

    Bob Horning is a lifelong Ann Arbor resident who writes U-M sports human interest stories for AnnArbor.com. If you have ideas for future columns, please email news@annarbor.com.

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    Ypsilanti residents can now legally garden on vacant lots, but council again delayed a decision Tuesday on allowing hoop houses and greenhouses within city limits after several concerns were raised by homeowners.

    Thumbnail image for stjoseph-thumb-400x266-129005.jpg

    Although Ypsilanti residents can now legally garden on vacant lots, they will have to wait to legally use greenhouses and hoop houses.

    Council voted 4-3 Tuesday to remove hoop houses and greenhouses from the ordinance revision resolution. No decision was made whether the issue would be discussed for a third time.

    The city council initially tabled the discussion last December until February after concerns were raised about the possible effects of loosening land use restrictions in residential neighborhoods.

    In 2010, the planning commission’s ordinance committee began looking into possible amendments to clarify where food could be grown within the city, to address residents' requests for small-scale hoop houses and to increase the areas where food production could be done.

    The ordinance revision would have allowed greenhouses and hoop houses up to 720 square feet in residential areas. Those interested in increasing the size to 1,200 square feet, would have been required to obtain a special use permit and site plan would be required.

    Due to Michigan's growing season, city staff said they noticed an increase in interest in hoop houses and greenhouses to extend the growing season to nearly a year-round use. Supporters said the structures would provide economic benefits, greenhouse gas reduction and an interim use of vacant lots.

    Concerns raised by council members and residents ranged from a possible lack of an immediate resident or tenant to address any possible issues with the hoop house maintenance, worry that the structures may be used as a second garage, and concern that hoop houses may be so large they could exceed the size of adjacent structures or not fit into the character of the neighborhood.

    Ypsilanti resident Kathy Bodary said while she supports the concept of urban farming, she has concerns regarding the regulation of them.

    "I love seeing raised beds, but I have some similar concerns," Bodary said. "There’s a maintenance issue... I'm very concerned about noise pollution. The idea of fans or power equipment that would be needed is a real issue. People have the right to peaceful occupancy of their homes. I don’t want to hear a generator running."

    Peter Church was another Ypsilanti resident against the idea.

    "The issue is near and dear to myself and my neighbor," Church said. "To see something like a 720-square-foot hoop house, that's extraordinary. Is that your vision for the city? It's certainly not mine. We need to keep our residential areas for residents and that's the number one concern i have."

    Nicki Sandberg, a trained urban planner, said hoop houses and greenhouses have a large economic impact on cities.

    "It can have a hugely positive impact," Sandberg said. "It can extend the season and provide dollars to the local community."

    "I really think that these kinds of ordinances will attract the creative class," said Lisa Bashert, Marketing Coordinator and Beekeeper for the Ypsilanti Food Co-op.

    Council Member Pete Murdock said there were too many questions regarding the hoophouses.

    "It's going to take more time to deal with all of the issues of hoop houses," Murdock said.

    Gardening on vacant lots now legal

    Although council removed hoop houses and greenhouses from the discussion, council approved a zoning ordinance change allowing gardening on vacant lots.

    Council approved the change with six votes in favor of it, Mayor Pro Tem Lois Richardson abstained from the vote because she had too many questions and concerns.

    Council will have a second reading of the ordinance at an upcoming meeting.

    Prior to this, gardening was not allowed as a principal use on land within the city. The change allows residents to have gardens and community gardens as a permitted primary use in R1 (single family) and R2 (one-two family) residential districts.

    Council members previously expressed concern regarding whether the ordinance change would possibly make the city's grass ordinance obsolete. The ordinance allows the city to enforce restrictions on tall or unsightly grass.

    City staff made several revisions to prevent gardens from potentially becoming nuisances to neighbors:

    • Gardens should not encroach on neighboring property.
    • The property shall be maintained in an orderly and neat condition and shall not be detrimental to the physical environment or to public health and general welfare, and remains subject to compliance with the property maintenance code, noise ordinance, and related ordinances.
    • The property shall be maintained so as to prevent the free flow of storm water, irrigation water, chemicals, dirt, or mud across or onto adjacent lots, properties, public streets, or alleys.
    • Motorized equipment within a residential zoning district or residential planned development district shall be restricted to hours beginning at 8 a.m. and ending at 8 p.m.
    • Equipment, such as fans, necessary for the operation of greenhouses are exempt from the provisions.
    • Compost piles may only be used for waste generated on site, and are subject to three foot setback requirements.
    • Gardens shall utilize integrated pest management techniques and best practices.

    Katrease Stafford covers Ypsilanti for AnnArbor.com.Reach her at katreasestafford@annarbor.com or 734-623-2548 and follow her on twitter.

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    The township alleges the homeowners at 1397 Crestwood Ave. are pumping medical marijuana fumes out of their basement.

    Tom Perkins | For AnnArbor.com

    Ypsilanti Township’s case against a man officials charge has been pumping strong medical marijuana fumes out of his house will be heard by a Washtenaw County Circuit Judge.

    A defense attorney for Michael Engle and Deborah Klochubar asked Judge Archie Brown to dismiss the case, but that motion was denied.

    The township says Engle is in violation of its noxious fumes ordinance because of the “intense” odor that has disrupted neighbors’ lives. Township officials have stressed that the issue doesn’t have to do with medical marijuana laws but zoning ordinances regulating what kind of odors can be omitted in the township.

    Officials allege Klochubar and Engle are processing medical marijuana in some way that produces fumes that are pumped out of their basement window through an exhaust system and towards a neighbors’ home.

    Police and township officials say they have smelled the odor outside the home at 1397 Crestwood Ave. on multiple occasions, and presented affadavits from neighbors who said they smelled it.

    In a separate case, the township charges that Engle and Klochubar are in violation of the township’s zoning laws regarding growing of medical marijuana.

    According to state law, a person with a medical marijuana patient’s card can grow up to 12 plants for their personal use. Ypsilanti Township ordinance allows residents to grow their personal plants in residential zones.

    But state law says registered caregivers can grow up to 72 plants for up to five patients and their own personal use. Ypsilanti Township's zoning ordinance doesn’t permit caregivers to operate in residential zones.

    Eric Misterovich, attorney for Engle and Klochubar says that state medical marijuana laws pre-empt local ordinances, and the township’s zoning ordinances regarding medical marijuana are not enforceable.

    Judge Brown will take that question under advisement, and a trial date of Aug.12 has been set for the noxious odor case.

    Although the two cases are separate, Misterovich said they are tied together, and medical marijuana producers' emissions can't be regulated.

    That ruling could have wide-ranging consequences across the state as officials are not aware of any other case in the state where zoning ordinances regulating medical marijuana growing activities have been challenged.

    “When there is a direct conflict between state law and local law, state law is upheld,” Misterovich said.

    The noxious fumes zoning ordinance states that the "creation of offensive odors shall be prohibited" in any zone. Mike Radzik, director of the office of community standards, said the odor coming out of the home constitutes an offensive order, and a district court judge has already agreed.

    Neighbors first began complaining in March of 2012 and Engle and Klochubar were cited. On May 8, 14-B District Court Judge Charles Pope ordered Engle and Klobuchar to abate the odor. Engle admitted that there was a disruptive odor being pumped from the home by entering into a consent agreement, Township attorneys says.

    Officials say that agreement with the 14-B District Court has gone ignored.

    Misterovich said he presented affadavits from other neighbors on the street that said they don't smell any odors. And, regardless of the smell, Misterovich underscored that he feels the state laws pre-empt the noxious fumes ordinance, so the odor can't be regulated.

    Ypsilanti Township attorney Dennis McLain says he is pleased with the rulings so far.

    “It’s a huge plus for the township as far as we’re concerned,” he said. “The township is moving forward.”

    Tom Perkins is a freelance reporter for AnnArbor.com. Contact the news desk at 734-623-2530 or news@annarbor.com.

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    Brothers Dan Milstein (left) and Alex Milshteyn came to America from the former Soviet Union at ages 16 and 8. They now both run their own offices.

    Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com

    By the numbers, Dan Milstein and Alex Milshteyn are extremely successful.

    Milstein was the top mortgage originator in the country in 2010, closing $385 million in loans. One year later, Milshteyn sold 160 homes in the Ann Arbor area worth a combined $28.5 million.

    However, if you ask the brothers themselves, they tell another story.

    “I hear people saying we’re successful, you’re successful,” Dan Milstein said.

    “But I don’t view myself as successful. The moment I say, ‘I’m successful,’ is the time to move all of my things out of my office into my house, pat myself on the back, and retire. Until then I’m only as good as my next client or my next employee.”

    Milstein and Milshteyn came to America from the former Soviet Union in 1992 when Dan was 16 and Alex was 8. Their family came to Ann Arbor to join distant relatives because Chicago was too expensive.

    “We were only able to bring one suitcase and 75 dollars per person out of the USSR,” Dan Milstein said. “We couldn’t afford Chicago so that’s how we ended up here in town, and we’ve been here ever since.”

    Milstein is founder and CEO of Gold Star Mortgage, a company that has been on the Inc. 500 list of the fastest growing companies in America. He also has written two books, the second of which, 17 Cents and a Dream, debuted Feb. 4.


    Milstein's new book shares the story of his family's escape from the former Soviet Union and his subsequent business success in America.

    The book already has risen to number two on the Amazon Kindle store in the Entrepreneurship category and is the number 34 book in the memoirs section. The new book is the tale of the brothers’ journey to America from the Soviet Union and Dan Milstein’s drive to achieve his American dream.

    His little brother also has harnessed the immigrant’s drive to succeed and started his own company at a young age.

    “The American dream is entrepreneurship,” Alex Milshteyn said. “And that’s what we’ve done.”

    “I’m an entrepreneur, I started a real estate business at the age of 18 and that’s the American dream in my opinion. Doing something you want to do and realizing its potential.”

    Milshteyn is a Realtor with Howard Hanna in Ann Arbor and was named one of Realtor Magazine’s 30 under 30 in 2011.

    “Alex and I have one thing in common,” Dan Milstein said. “I haven’t called in sick since 1998. I’m here every day dead or alive assisting my employees and my clients to achieve their American dream and goals.”

    “It’s true,” Alex Milshteyn added. “I sometimes call my assistants and tell them not to come into work because I’m there and I don’t want to infect them with anything.”

    While the two share a work ethic and a set of parents, they do not share a last name. At least, not the same spelling of their last name.

    “I have the original last name,” Alex Milshteyn said. “Dan decided to be creative and change his.”

    “I changed my name to make it easier in the business world, but also so it could be pronounced the way it should be pronounced,” Dan Milstein replied.

    “It’s OK, because people remember my last name more,” Milshteyn said. “It’s unique, and they can’t pronounce it, but when you do get it, it’s very exciting.”

    “Right, but when we came here Alex was fairly young so he dropped the accent but I still have [it],” said Milstein. “So people remember me for that. Alex is trying to be creative because he doesn’t have the accent to set him apart.”

    Their age difference prevented the brothers from competing to a large extent, and they both insist that it was pure coincidence that they both entered the housing business with their own focus.

    “I just ended up becoming a mortgage guy and [Alex] ended up being in real estate,” Dan Milstein said.

    “I would love for Alex to come work for me at Gold Star and I’m sure he’d love for me to go and be his Realtor’s assistant, but I don’t think either of those are going to happen.”

    Alex will continue to sell houses, Dan will arrange ways for people to pay for them, and neither plans to leave Ann Arbor any time soon. Milshteyn said the only place he's ever found that felt nearly as "home" as Ann Arbor was Boulder, Colorado, and he realized that was only because it reminded him of Ann Arbor.

    Gold Star has been headquartered in Ann Arbor since it was founded, and Milstein said even with plans for expansion, he's not going anywhere.

    “We are forever thankful to the American government and to the residents of this town for giving us the opportunity to come here,” he said.

    “We had a lot of people that helped us along the way whether it was clothing to wear or a community resident who helped us with an apartment before our subsidized housing was available… We have stayed on course and true to ourselves to support the city that has given us such opportunity.”

    Ben Freed covers business for AnnArbor.com. You can sign up here to receive Business Review updates every week. Reach out to Ben at 734-623-2528 or email him at benfreed@annarbor.com. Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2

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    Editor's note: Eli Cooper, Ann Arbor's transportation manager, sat down with AnnArbor.com recently to talk about transportation initiatives under way in Ann Arbor, including what's happening this year with the city's push for a new train station.

    Asked what inspired his chosen career path, Eli Cooper, the city of Ann Arbor's transportation manager, quickly recalls a memory from his childhood: His father stuck in traffic.

    "My dad worked in New York, we lived in the suburbs, and as I was engaging in various activities, there were times when dad couldn't make it because he was stuck in traffic," Cooper said, recalling his response to the situation: "I said, 'Someone's gotta do something about that!' "

    Cooper, who has degrees in both environmental science and urban planning, grew interested in transportation from an environmental perspective as well.


    Eli Cooper, the city of Ann Arbor's transportation program manager, stands outside his office on a recent morning.

    Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

    "I remember as a youngster, looking out the window in the morning, and the sky was blue, and by 11 o'clock it was just smog," he said. "And come to realize that transportation is a major contributor to the smog that formed in those days, so it's part of wanting to help society, help the planet."

    Cooper came to Ann Arbor in 2005 after spending two decades honing his skills as a transportation planner in New Jersey, Delaware, Minnesota and Washington. He's worked on initiatives ranging from light rail to statewide transportation planning, and just about everything in between.

    Cooper said he welcomes the recent news that the Michigan Department of Transportation, Federal Railroad Administration and Norfolk Southern Railway Co. have signed an agreement to transfer ownership of 135 miles of Norfolk Southern's tracks to MDOT for $140 million.

    The line is part of Amtrak's Wolverine and Blue Water passenger rail services between Kalamazoo and Dearborn, and its biggest stop is in Ann Arbor.

    Transferring the line's ownership to the state paves the way for track improvements to accommodate passenger train speeds up to 110 mph — knocking about 30 minutes off the travel time between Detroit and Chicago, and reducing the overall trip time to about five hours.

    "So at this point, as we sit here, the first major change has just occurred, and that's the ownership," Cooper said.

    Once the ownership transition is final, which is expected this spring, Amtrak will handle upcoming track and crossing upgrades to make higher-speed rail possible.

    The $140 million used to purchase the line included federal High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program grant funds, plus a state match of $37.5 million. The FRA also awarded $196.5 million to MDOT for the major track and signal improvements on the corridor.

    "And it's my understanding that MDOT has been working on both planning and engineering design of the actual railroad system itself," Cooper said, "so what types of track improvements are necessary to both maintain the current service and increase the speed to something in the order of 110 mph from east of Ypsilanti all the way out to south of the lake in Indiana."

    The promise of those upgrades is partly what has Ann Arbor officials moving full steam ahead on plans for a potentially $44.5 million train station to replace the Amtrak station on Depot Street.



    AnnArbor.com: What are we going to see happen this year with the push for a new Amtrak station in Ann Arbor? What are the city's next steps?

    Cooper: At this time, we continue to work with MDOT and FRA — FRA obviously the funding authority and MDOT our contract partner on the project. We're looking at satisfying the planning requirements that FRA has in order to be eligible for the eventual construction of a train station.

    We will have to outline the purpose and need, as well as address the environmental review requirements for whatever location is selected, so there's a planning process that has been funded by the FRA. They also are the administrative agency that has to review and approve all of the documents that we will produce. And so during the course of the first half of this year, we will be going through a process of developing the documents and engaging in a public process with those. And depending on what the technical data reveal and the citizen input we receive, we would like to be in a position by the end of this year to have completed the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) requirements.

    If the Fuller Road site once again comes up as a preferred alternative, there is a section of NEPA called Section 4(f), which addresses additional requirements needed if a transportation project is going to be built either in a historic area or on recreational lands. Fuller Park, as a park, would require Section 4(f) analysis as well. And it's our expectation we should be able to complete both the environmental assessment and the Section 4(f) requirements during this year.

    That will give all of us the clarity that we need — the basis, justification, purpose and need, and the ability of either the existing train station site (on Depot Street) or some alternative location to meet the federal agency approval for us to enter into preliminary engineering, which would be the immediate next phase of work once we have a concept plan and the environmental clearance.

    AnnArbor.com: Will that cost more money?

    Cooper: The grant that we have has sufficient funding in it to both complete the environmental process and the preliminary engineering. So we would anticipate once the site selection process, NEPA review, is authorized, we will immediately advance into procuring a contractor for the engineering work to begin, and that work should follow. It's hard to say whether we'll get into preliminary engineering yet this year in 2013. But if we're fortunate, we should be into the preliminary engineering phase, and that will then begin to signal our next steps and our next investments.

    AnnArbor.com: Realistically, when could residents expect to see a new train station in Ann Arbor, assuming all the stars align perfectly?


    Steve Sobel of the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers captured this shot of the newly refurbished rail cars that are expected to be used for Ann Arbor-to-Detroit commuter rail during testing in November.

    Photo by Steve Sobel

    Cooper: We're probably looking at a 2016 or 2017 timeframe.

    AnnArbor.com: For people who might not have been following this project closely for the last three or four years, remind me why this is something the city is pursuing.

    Cooper: It goes back to a simple visit to the existing Amtrak station. We look at that today and it has accessibility problems. If you're on Depot Street during the peak period, you'll realize you can't get there. The parking provided on the north side of the track is not directly attached to the station physically and it requires a lengthy walk, including grade changes that are difficult and almost impossible for someone who has mobility challenges. So it's an issue of accessibility and capacity.

    We now know the state of Michigan is in the process of investing up to half a billion dollars to both acquire and improve the rail line that serves the Ann Arbor station. That station and the service that it has will change. I could use terms like 'dramatically increase.' MDOT and Amtrak have procured double-decker rail cars, so each train — even though it may be the same length — may bring twice as many people coming or going from the city. When you look at the loading and parking areas today and envision increased demand, just based on the size of the trains or the capacity, that's one level of pressure. The hundreds of millions of dollars that are being spent on the rails are intended to decrease the travel time between Ann Arbor and Detroit and Ann Arbor and Chicago, which will bring another increment of new ridership into our community. The question is how do we plan for accommodating the increased traffic that increased rail service will represent to us?

    AnnArbor.com: I know the promise of commuter rail service between Ann Arbor and Detroit is another factor in all of this. Can you explain what's happening around that?

    Cooper: We were out there on a recent cold night waiting for the test train to come through. The commuter train passed its testing and we, the city of Ann Arbor, working with SEMCOG and MDOT, continue to support and are enthusiastic about the potential for commuter rail service on that line. If the station is challenged to meet the intercity demands and you layer commuter service on top of that, that's additional pressure for a system that was designed back in the 1970s and early '80s and would not be an adequate transportation facility as a gateway for Ann Arbor.

    Look out for Part 2 of AnnArbor.com's Q&A with Eli Cooper coming Monday. The second installment will focus on improvements being discussed for the North Main corridor, where the next roundabouts might be in Ann Arbor, and other non-motorized transportation issues.

    Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at ryanstanton@annarbor.com or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's email newsletters.

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    I believe that, here in the US, we have a violence problem not a gun problem. Media spin skews gun violence statistics by including individual suicides to arrive at their figure of 30,000 annual gun-related deaths. More than half of these (51 to 55 percent) consist of suicide by self-inflicted gunshot wounds. Crime and accidents account for the other half (45 to 49 percent)

    Though statistically on the decline in recent years, violent crime has become so widely reported in our society that we are rarely surprised by its occurrence (whether or not a firearm is involved). The 24-hour-a-day news cycle ensures that even lesser incidents are publicized.


    Courtesy of MLive

    Most of us spend our entire lives avoiding people and places that may put our personal safety in jeopardy. Does someone make you nervous? You avoid them and attempt to keep them away from your sphere of influence. Do you visit the convenience store late at night for a gallon of milk? Though you might, it’s not a good idea due to potential risk.

    Avoiding violent crime as an individual is far simpler than addressing and correcting its root causes. However, a discussion of those root causes - and what realistically can be done about them - is essential to the current, ongoing debate over Second Amendment rights.

    I believe the larger mental health issue also must be central to that discussion. It’s become clear that our health care system allows many troubled individuals to drop through the cracks; lack of insurance coverage for mental health care, lack of funding for state facilities, and lingering stigma are all to blame.

    I’ve found that there is little help available for people with mental health issues unless one has extremely good health-care insurance. Even then, it’s a constant fight to get coverage approval. That coverage is usually adequate for early diagnosis of noncritical cases and some initial medical treatment. However, critical cases quickly can result in violent episodes, criminal behavior, or suicide before proper treatment can be fully established.

    Emotionally distressed persons remain among the most difficult threats to assess. Their contribution to violent crime statistics is equally difficult to determine. It has been suggested that a mental health database be added to firearm purchase requirements. This sounds like a good idea until you think about its implementation. How do you compile it? What level of incident places one on this list and for how long? Will this database and the potential stigma associated with it discourage individuals from seeking treatment?

    I believe that if we add mental health screening to firearm purchase requirements, the benefits will be minimal because the mentally ill will find a way around this via theft or fraudulent purchase. Criminals already do so.

    The proposed mental health database is a slippery slope for a variety of reasons and has potential for misapplication in other areas once it’s compiled, for example in job applicant screening.

    The intersection of mental illness with violent crime is a dilemma that won’t be easily solved. However, awareness is the first step toward solving any problem. It’s time for all of us to take a realistic look at the prevalence of violence of all forms in our everyday lives. We can no longer afford to look the other way.

    Alvin Walsh is a resident of Tecumseh, Michigan.

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    New York Philharmonic publicity photo

    photo by Chris Lee

    What did you think of the concert? Leave a comment and / or vote in the poll at the end of this post:Susan Isaacs Nisbett

    If New York Philharmonic Music Director Alan Gilbert weren’t such a terrific conductor, you would swear he had missed his calling, as a dancer.

    On the podium at Hill Auditorium Saturday evening to lead the NY Phil in the first of two weekend concerts presented by the University Musical Society, Gilbert was a model of uplift, grace and dancing inside the music. And, in a program of Mozart and Brahms that could have been business as usual, those qualities translated into playing that made the repertoire - the Overture to Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro;” his “Linz” Symphony; and Brahms’ monumental Symphony No. 1 in c minor - anything but routine, and anything but dull.

    The Mozart selections could, for example, sail along on charm, and that they did, but with oh, so much more to engross the listener. In the “Figaro” overture, the tempo was swift, alert, but the playing was never hurried: the music seemed to unfurl by itself, unforced but winging by, with time for a listener to appreciate all the little undercurrents and inner voices.

    In the “Linz” Symphony, the playing was characterful, lithe, buoyant and beautifully shaped dynamically, on both a small and large scale. In the opening movement, the strings offered a soulful, tender treatment of the sinuous line, and the music’s internal balances - of question and answer, short phrase and long - were elegant without being fussy. Again, as in the overture, the momentum never stalled, with little details - an exclamation from the violins, for example - pushing the line forward. A deceptive cadence in the Andante, and the entrance into and out of it, became an alluring focal point; the movement’s danciness seemed to find fruition in the minuet that followed, witty and full of swing (and lots of rubato in the trio section). The Presto finale zipped along, light of foot, the strings playing with tone so bright it was as if the sun was glinting off the polish of the instruments.

    The tone and temper changed radically post-intermission, when the orchestra returned for the Brahms Symphony No. 1 in c minor. It’s a work that can, on occasion, feel as long as the number of years (somewhere between 14 and 21, depending on how and who is counting them) it took Brahms to complete it. But the reading the Phil delivered Saturday was taut, tension-filled, absorbing from first notes to last.

    The orchestra, Brahmsian in size, played with dark-hued, plush sound, but clarity never was sacrificed to mass: motives surged to the foreground and then receded, still vital, to background; inner voices contributed to a grand edifice. And the inner movements - the Andante and the Allegretto - were beautifully paced, the Allegretto flowing along on a current buoyed by the pizzing of the cellos. The finale built, serene and dramatic, to a magnificent close. As Gilbert called on players to stand for bows, the audience responded by standing itself and adding cheers for those he singled out - like concertmaster Glenn Dicterow, Principal Horn Philip Myers and Principal Oboe Liang Wang, among others - as well as entire sections.

    To end the evening with a little lighter Brahms, the orchestra offered the 6th Hungarian Dance, played with elan, lots of wit and clicking of heels. They’re back at Hill this (Sunday) afternoon, for another program - Mussorgsky, Bloch and Tchaikovsky - that also promises rich rewards.

    The New York Philharmonic performs again at Hill Auditorium on Sunday at 2 p.m. For details, see the UMS website.

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