I drove across the state yesterday to give the kids a few hours with their grandparents and all the way there and all the way back all I heard on the radio was talk of how the US automakers were poised for failure. From across the country people called in with their outrage over a potential bailout. They did this to themselves with their gas-guzzling environmentally-unfriendly inferior products. Let them die!. . .It's the unions' fault! Let them fail! This is what all types of people from all across America were saying on the radio.

I take pictures of the sad state of Detroit partly because I know there are people out there who can hardly believe places like this exist in their own country. From our greatest, most unique cities to our blandest, most generic suburbs, things have been pretty nice for a long time. It is easy to forget how our once-great economy was built (or what happened to the places that built it). Now it has been pointed out that this robust economic juggernaut we've believed we were for the last several years hasn't actually been wearing any clothes. And winter is here.

Some of the people saying let them fail about Detroit's automakers are very the same people who had no problem with the $700 billion bailout of the very "industries" responsible for the sudden evaporation of so many billions of dollars in equity and credit. I would like to show them the state of this city and ask them to think about how much worse it (and hundreds of other cities reliant on the auto industry) will get if any of these three employers were suddenly unable to pay their employees or suppliers. This isn't Manhattan. We're not talking about Goldman Sachs associates suddenly not being able to pay the mortgages on their $350,000 parking spaces in Tribeca for the Ferraris they bought with their 2006 bonuses. We are talking about the lifeblood of a region that has already suffered so deeply, and I can't believe how many people are speaking so flippantly about allowing this great American industry to die.

I'm no apologist for the Big Three or their ridiculous missteps and lapses of judgment. But I do care about the regular people who work for these companies and who played no role in those poor decisions. Where is the compassion? Consider the charities that receive donations from both corporations and individuals connected to the auto industry and the people those charities help. Some of the moments when I was most proud of my fellow Americans were when people stepped up in the wake of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina or the Asian Tsunami and gave what they could to help fellow human beings who were suffering. Three years after Katrina, New Orleans is starting again to look like New Orleans again.

It hardly looks like Detroit at all anymore.

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One thing I do like about GM, Ford, and Chrysler is that they are companies that still make something. What do the vast majority of the Fortune 500 companies even do? What does Goldman Sachs do? What do all those companies in Silicon Valley make? They shuffle paper, sure, transmit blips of binary code, attend important meetings, and make "deals." Maybe brown people somewhere across an ocean will make whatever it is they're selling or shuffling on paper or e-mailing each other about. But in Detroit, and in plenty of other industrial cities across this country there are still people making things without exploited labor, and believe it or not that still means something.

On Saturday we attended an "urban craft fair" held here in Detroit, sort of a church bazaar for hipsters. We generally like this stuff and buy many of our Christmas presents at such events (last year we drove to Chicago just to attend the Renegade Craft Fair). There was nothing being sold that anyone really needed; there were a lot of ornithologically-themed shoulder bags and tiny buttons and silkscreened American Apparel t-shirts. But despite the superfluousness of these products, I do like the fact that there's a movement afoot of people actually making something themselves and selling it at a fair price. Christ, look at the popularity of craft and knitting blogs. My own wife has recently found great satisfaction sitting at the sewing machine making things. I, too, love to make things. It is a powerful human urge tied to creativity and pride. It's just so cool to be able to say, "I made this" rather than just, "I bought it."

When researching my family's history when we were considering buying the old homestead, I found the story of when my ancestors moved from upstate New York to eastern Michigan. There were pages of details describing the difficulties of the journey and the work of building the farm once they arrived, long lists of the things they built with their hands. When I read that, I thought, God, I can't even install ceramic tile. I can't help but believe that if most of our ancestors could see us whining about "these tough economic times" they'd say, "Forsooth, what a bunch of pussies."

Still, I have a hard time believing we are a nation that will continue to sit content while the Chinese make everything for us in this now-bolstered (yet exposed) sham economy of credit and lies. We may have forked over a good chunk of our pride just to walk out of Wal-Mart with cheap 42-inch plasma screen televisions, but I don't believe that all of our pride is gone.

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On Sunday morning I walked right into another abandoned school. This one had several vocational education classrooms full of machine tools that hadn't yet been scrapped (although the scrappers had broken a huge hole in the third-floor wall and were gradually pushing the massive pieces of equipment down onto the sidewalk below one by one). When my dad was my age (before he quit to pursue his passion of repairing antique cars) he worked in the belly of some high school as an auto body shop instructor. One of his favorite topics still is the decline of vocational education in our public schools. "We'll have generations of pencil pushers who'll have forgotten the quadratic equation by the time they get their diplomas but who don't know how to build or fix anything. They won't be qualified to do anything except make hamburgers." It's one of the few topics we agree on. As I stared at room after room of heavy machinery once used to prepare already-disadvantaged Detroit kids for jobs in the manufacturing sector, all I could think about was my dad, and wonder if the jobs these machines were preparing them for even exist in this hemisphere anymore .

I have always been interested in shipyards, those massive polychromatic piles of shipping containers and the Jurassic cranes used to hoist them. I read that in some cases it is cheaper to manufacture new shipping containers in Dalian or Tianjin than it is to ship them back empty. In my wanderings I once came across a former auto factory on the east side of Detroit that I thought was abandoned, but instead it was busy retooling and refurbishing heavy machinery formerly used in the domestic manufacturing process for export to China, something to fill a few of those empty shipping containers. I have read that the fabrics in the clothes many of us wear were made in China using the same machines that American workers might once have used in North Carolina. I once investigated for this blog if any of those factories where Mr. Rogers once showed kids how things were made were still in business. The results were just too depressing to share.

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They say a sustainable model for future economies will trend away from globalization and be based more on localization. The yuppies and hippies have sort of turned that into "I am better than the white trash at Wal-Mart because I buy my eggs from Farmer Brown the next town over," but that doesn't mean a movement towards more local economies is without merit. For Detroiters, of course, it is hard to separate all this talk of "buy local" economics from the misery of the auto industry, and not be frustrated with those Prius-driving yuppies in the Pacific Northwest calling for the death of this massive American industry while patting themselves on the back for buying butter made from the milk of organically-fed Oregon cows. It's not a simple matter, and hopefully if there is some sort of "bailout" there will be plenty of strings attached: perhaps this could be an opportunity to start transforming manufacturing in the United States to a sustainable model that strengthens our economy and provides jobs here rather than just strengthening the portfolios of a privileged few at the expense of so many. But calling for the death of this American industry is callous and shortsighted, and I would add that slowly turning into a nation where no one knows how to make anything but hamburgers and silkscreened t-shirts can't be good for national security.

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My parents always taught me respect for people who make things. My mother is extremely artistic and she is always making things (instead of buying things) for her grandkids. My dad built his own machines to bend steel and create automobile parts that are needed but no longer exist. From an ancient photo he can use those machines he built himself to craft a fender or a door for a 1913 Oldsmobile. He is a one-man vintage assembly line. Our family has never been wealthy, but I I've always felt a wealth of pride in what we do.

I do see this economic climate as an opportunity for change. It is a chance for us all to step back and think about where the things we buy are made, and all of what that means. It is a chance to accept that much of what we consider wealth isn't even real. If we're going to spend $700 billion to bail out those greedy firms who successfully used chicanery for years to manufacture an economy built of lies, shouldn't we also spend $25 billion to save one of the few remaining industries that actually design, engineer, and manufacture something real and necessary in this country?