Your tax dollars.

Last week the Freep had a story about the outgoing Detroit school superintendent — “outgoing” because he’d been fired in March — still driving a Ford Explorer that was part of his compensation package. So far, so good, your basic tawdry story of a public servant declining to unclasp the teat when told to, but, as so often happens here, the punchline to this joke was buried far down in the story. The Explorer is one of two cars the superintendent is entitled to use, the other being a Lincoln Town Car with a security detail attached.

Yes, the superintendent of schools rolls with muscle. The board member quoted said he had no problem with that, because there were some crazy people at those school board meetings. A few weeks ago, a member of the audience threw a handful of grapes at the board after a vote she disagreed with. (Question: Does the superintendent’s security detail pledge to take a grape for the boss?) But maybe for good reason: Yesterday the outgoing supe was indicted, in Dallas, for miscellaneous financial shenanigans. Was a yacht involved? Oh, of course: Sir Veza II, if you’re keeping score at home.

(Yacht names in indictments are like pulling your jacket up to hide your face from photographers on the perp walk — they just make you look more guilty. Last week Terry Gross interviewed someone who’d written a book about Randy “Duke” Cunningham, the crookedest ex-congressman in all the land. The yacht Cunningham was living on, the very kind favor extended by a defense contractor, was called The Dukester. Is that a guilty name or what? Note to self: If one plans to accept a yacht in lieu of dirty money, have the sense to name it something dumb and innocuous, like Tranquility Base, or Windsurfer. Even Liquid Refreshment is tempting fate.)

I remember in Fort Wayne, when the superintendent sent flowers to some woman on his expense account; we wrote stories for days and days, which prompted letters to the editor for more days and days, wondering how long the taxpayers of Allen County were going to carry this sort of outrageous spending and blah blah blah. I wonder what they’d do with two cars, a security detail and an indictment? Faint dead away, I expect.

Kind of a mixed bag today, appropriate for a day promising temperatures in the upper 80s. Lord knows I have work to do, but I spent some time yesterday contemplating two personal essays detailing bad experiences — Jon Carroll’s account of being kept awake by drunken Sherpas in a Nepalese teahouse, and James Lileks’ disappointment with a meal at a Thai restaurant.

If that’s all I told you about the two pieces, which one do you think had a higher probability of bugging the crap out of you? The first one, of course. Just the setup sounds like something you’d hear from J. Peterman — Seinfeld’s J. Peterman, that is. Ah yes, Elaine, I recall when my bride and I honeymooned on Everest, and the teahouse we bunked in was invaded by partying Sherpas imbibing rakshi, their native moonshine… And yet, you read the column, and not only do you not get that feeling, that cry-me-a-river-asshole feeling of a person complaining about having an exotic experience in an exotic land you will never, ever visit, much less be able to write sentences like this about: “We were four weeks into the journey when we came to Pangboche, a charming town at 14,000 feet…” You not only don’t get the feeling, you sympathize. Poor Jon and Tracy in that smoky hut! Rude Sherpas! The least they could have done was expand the hole in the ceiling. It’s the kind of story I wish I could tell, but never could, and not because I’ve never been to Nepal. I lack the self-effacement gene.

But I’ve had many bad meals in restaurants — who hasn’t? — and yet, reading Lileks whine about his own, which involved being served chicken thighs in his curry, instead of the expected white meat, left me thinking this guy should change his name to Babbitt and get it over with. (Let’s leave aside the plain fact that the thighs are where the flava lives on a chicken, and that many Thai recipes call for thighs by name [Lefty and Righty, perhaps]; some people just don’t like dark meat.) I think it’s the ridiculous, out-of-proportion hostility over what was, in the grand scheme of things, no big deal, the sense that Lileks brought not just a gun to a knife fight, but a high-powered sniper rifle, which he used on the restaurant owner long after the fight should have been concluded, digested and sent into the sewer, so to speak.

Your impressions may differ. Share them if you like. Oh, and be advised that the Thai-food anecdote comes about halfway through the big wad o’ text. And since you’ve been so good, here’s a bonus Jon Carroll story, headlined “The Afghans Next Door” but should have been called “Canapés for the Revolution,” which was in the subhead. Cheese puffs?

Fred Thompson is running for president, some say. It’s a pity that James Wolcott already summed him up in a phrase, when he called him a grumpy old dog farting on the front porch.

A few days ago I wrote about architectural salvage in Detroit. Well, not all of it is salvaged — some just gets thrown in the woods, as Detroitblog points out.

And that is all. Good day to everyone.

Posted at 9:34 am in Current events, Media |

24 responses to “Your tax dollars.”

  1. Jim said on May 30, 2007 at 9:41 am

    Remember Gary Hart and “Monkey Business”? Ha!

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  2. brian stouder said on May 30, 2007 at 10:05 am

    Here is alead sentence that bugged the crap out of me just minutes ago –

    May 29, 2007 – In new court filings, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald has finally resolved one of the most disputed issues at the core of the long-running CIA leak controversy: Valerie Plame Wilson, he asserts, was a “covert” CIA officer who repeatedly traveled overseas using a “cover identity” in order to disguise her relationship with the agency.

    Setting aside the particulars of this case, did you note how the writers (Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball) LEAPED – in the same sentence! – right into declaring an issue “finally resolved“…based on what someone “asserts”?

    or maybe we should blame the copy editor!

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  3. Kirk said on May 30, 2007 at 10:21 am

    “Sir Veza,” huh? Is that a play on “cerveza”? Is he not only a crook but also a comedian?

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  4. LA mary said on May 30, 2007 at 10:28 am

    Since when is dark meat garbage? Lileks is such an ass. I remember an ad campaign for potatoes that said suggested five pounds of potatoes and a dozen chicken legs would feed a soccer team, and you know? I’ve done that. Throw in some cole slaw for fiber and you’re there. If you have teenaged boys who can eat their weight daily, chicken thighs and legs become a staple of the household menu.

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  5. brian stouder said on May 30, 2007 at 11:11 am

    btw – clicked the link for the GP Yacht Club in the last entry – and there are many very nice pics…..and the ‘attire policy’ is good for a chuckle or two!

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  6. Jeff said on May 30, 2007 at 11:27 am

    The challenge is to write about your honeymoon in Saugatuck and Mackinac City, eating at Thai restaurants and having Cornish pasties, with many strange and jarring things happening around you, without embarrassing your spouse. There’s stuff i’d love to write about, but that would be the day my dearly beloved would choose to check the blog or read the column.

    It must be helpful to both Jon and James to have significant others who apparently don’t care or don’t read.

    Add in the fact that all my best bizarre stories happened in the line of professional confidentiality, clergy or courts, and i’m just a seething mass of displacement with a thin crust of banality.

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  7. nancy said on May 30, 2007 at 11:55 am

    Tour a marina next time you’re in Florida, Kirk. You can fill a notebook with wordplay. The boat Tony rented in “The Sopranos,” the one he nearly killed Paulie on, was called the Sea Vous Play.

    Don’t forget the sailboat docked a few slips down from ours: Passing Wind.

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  8. MichaelG said on May 30, 2007 at 1:55 pm

    I read both Carroll and Lileks yesterday. Carroll in actual paper and ink as usual. The contrast couldn’t be starker. Lileks is a obvious jerk. Wants to be a snob and doesn’t know how or even why. He’s not even sure why he should have been served white meat other than he somehow expected it. Carroll was his usual graceful self. I didn’t quite get Jeff’s comment. Lileks seems to have an odd relationship with his wife. References to her are rare and strange. Note that he always refers to her as “wife” And he always goes to bed at some very late hour. Etc., etc. She’s very depersonalized. I’m not sure why. Carroll always refers to his wife as “Tracy”, always refers to her in the most favorable way and clearly has a very close relationship with her. My strong feeling is that Tracy both cares and reads the columns. Mrs. L? I don’t have a clue.

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  9. Ricardo said on May 30, 2007 at 2:11 pm

    I want my next president NOT to have a southern accent.

    Fred’s character on Law and Order is so unbelievable. New York wouldn’t have someone from New York available to be the DA so they would have to go to a southern state to find one to run for office. And with southern values. C’mon.

    I recommend to anyone Thai food in Thailand. Very few places in the USA measure up. There is always a tray on every table with 12-20 condiments, each hotter than the next, even in the little streetside joints. I know they would try to tone down the spices when cooking for me, but it was still spicier than anything cooked here. Northern cooking seemed to be better than the food in Bangkok.

    In the LA area, I recommend Banana Bay on Colima, in Rowland Heights. I love their hot pot soup. LA Mary, what is good in NoHo? The biggest US temple is over there. Always on the lookout for Thai and Pizza resteraunts.

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  10. Bob said on May 30, 2007 at 2:36 pm

    Bush doesn’t have a southern accent. He has a white-trash, redneck twang, the kind of speech you get subjected to if you don’t know better than to hang around trashy bars. The swagger and the twang are unsuccessful attempts to mask complete cluelessness.

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  11. Beams said on May 30, 2007 at 2:56 pm

    I have the impression that Lileks deliberately puts as little info about his wife into his blog as possible. She’s a lawyer and I always assumed that having too much info about her publicly available would affect her cases somehow. Or maybe she’s just shy.

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  12. LA mary said on May 30, 2007 at 3:32 pm

    I think she’s imaginary.

    On another subject, I usually go to Thai restaurants in Thaitown, on Beverly near LaBrea. Not much on appearance, but great food, and most of the people eating there are Thai. Sunshine is a good one. Lots of Thai grocery stores in that neighborhood as well.

    Lately we’ve been going to Vietnamese places in Chinatown for pho which is cheap and excellent. Jonathan Gold, who writes about food for LA Weekly, is a good source for hard core ethnic food. He’s fearless.

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  13. ashley said on May 30, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    Dar Maghreb once kicked my coonass when I tried this absolutely clear sauce. Hijo de puta.

    Try Chuck Taggart’s blog for LA food critiques. He lives in Eagle Rock or some such, and is constantly on the prowl for authentic ethnic food.

    And Bush ain’t a Southerner: he was born in Connecticut. Neither is Jeb! for that matter.

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  14. ashley said on May 30, 2007 at 4:10 pm

    Here, Chuck talks about Wat Thai, and bacon caramel ice cream.

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  15. LA mary said on May 30, 2007 at 4:12 pm

    Chuck and I are in the same part of town, so we likely know the same spots. Eagle Rock is getting hipper now. I’m sure he knows the local place The Oinkster, which is known for its slow fast food.

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  16. LA mary said on May 30, 2007 at 6:22 pm

    I read Jon Carrol’s column in today’s paper as well the ones you referenced. All so good. I liked this from today’s:

    Page 2, “Twins’ mom, 60, tells her story.” Twins’ mom, 60, said: “It’s really basically about women and empowerment.” If that’s what she believes, swell. I think it’s about vanity and denial, but that’s just me. Speaking as a 63-year-old human, I’m just incredibly grateful that I don’t have a 3-year-old in the house. In Frieda Birnbaum’s case, I imagine nannies will be involved.

    He got it exactly right. Did you see any of her interviews? Her older children resent her and in her interviews she mentions she had the twins so her older children wouldn’t have to worry about taking care of her when she got old. Jeeez. Then she said both her parents lived into their late eighties, but died from the actions of incompetent doctors. Wouldn’t you want this woman as your mom? She doesn’t feel sixty, why not have more kids?

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  17. LA mary said on May 30, 2007 at 6:34 pm

    Wedding planning update! There is tension in the family of my assistant regarding the mailing of the “save the date” cards. Mother of the bride has requested guest lists from all family members, and not everyone is good with the “save the date” card concept. The step mother of the bride is not co-operating, asking why they don’t just send invitations, rather than pre invitation invitations.
    I’ll keep you all posted on any future developments.

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  18. nancy said on May 30, 2007 at 6:42 pm

    Save-the-date’s a new one on me, but I approve. People are so busy nowadays, it helps to know when a big event is coming down the pike. Especially if travel is involved, it’s just nice to have a long lead time.

    If anyone asks, tell them Ms. Manners says it’s OK.

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  19. Dorothy said on May 30, 2007 at 6:51 pm

    I’m glad we were on the phone when my son mentioned “save the date” cards to me; that way he could not see me rolling my eyes. I guess in theory it seems like a good idea. But if it were me, I’d get on the phone or use e-mail rather than spend money on stationary and stamps. If potential guests don’t remember the date by the time the real invitation comes around, maybe they never really wanted to come in the first place.

    This has taken me 3 times as long as usual to type. I have a new laptop. I’m getting accustomed to the keys. skolwy I mean slowly….

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  20. Kim said on May 31, 2007 at 7:33 am

    I get the feeling that Lileks’ wife is the female version of Faulkner’s Homer Barrons (think that’s his name) in “A Rose for Emily.” Icky.

    Two lovely Thai restaurants over here on the right(wing) coast, both owned by the same lovely Thai family. Unfortunately, many here believe they’re from Taiwan.

    I think save the date cards are weird. If you’re close enough to be invited to the wedding, you oughta be close enough to know it’s in the works. Sure, we’re all over the world these days but I’d bet most of these cards get delivered to mailboxes within a 20-mile radius. Welcome to the wedding industrial complex!

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  21. Jeff said on May 31, 2007 at 7:37 am

    MichaelG — My take (based on enough mentions by both to have at least a theory) is that Mrs. L has specifically asked to be kept out of the depictions, while Tracy clearly doesn’t care. My wife doesn’t ask for complete obscurity, just anonymity, but i write in basically a small county seat in a largely rural county, and we’re still working out what’s fair game.

    And, whatever else you say about Lileks’ politics or worldview, he and Jon are both waaaay better writers than i am, not to mention more prolific. So i’m intrigued to watch for how to incorporate personal occurences from either of their POVs, while still working out what kind of stories i can tell around, if not on, my dearly beloved.

    My son is nine, and who knows where his attitude on all this’ll be in a few years, too.

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  22. crack said on May 31, 2007 at 8:43 am

    The name of the yacht in the Cunningham case was actually worse than that. It was the Duke Stir. What yacht name is complete without a bad pun, made even better by the fact that it’s occupant is now in a different sort of stir?

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  23. brian stouder said on May 31, 2007 at 8:43 am

    Well – on another facet of this entry, Ms Nance said

    I remember in Fort Wayne, when the superintendent sent flowers to some woman on his expense account; we wrote stories for days and days, which prompted letters to the editor for more days and days, wondering how long the taxpayers of Allen County were going to carry this sort of outrageous spending and blah blah blah. I wonder what they’d do with two cars, a security detail and an indictment? Faint dead away, I expect.

    and we would be remiss if we didn’t point out that today (Thursday 5/31) the Republican mayoral nominee in Fort Wayne is supposed to hold a news conference, and ‘splain how he honestly couldn’t tell whether $160,000 he borrowed from a few secretive, wealthy friends was really his own personal money – or a campaign contribution that he should have disclosed!!

    He may as well simply withdraw his name from the ticket today; the fat lady maybe isn’t quite singing yet, but she surely ain’t happy about the unwillingness of this candidate to diferentiate between what is private and what is public business

    anyway – watch this sapce

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  24. Linda LeBlanc said on June 3, 2007 at 5:27 pm

    To learn more about those sherpas who were partying, read who make climbing Everest possible, read Beyond the Summit by Linda LeBlanc. Details of Sherpa culture and religion are interwoven in a tale of romance and high adventure. The story has something for everyone: a love affair between an American journalist and Sherpa guide, conflict between generations as the modern world challenges centuries of tradition, an expedition from the porter’s point of view.

    Below are selections from reviews. To read the complete ones and excerpts go to

    Beyond the Summit, is the rare gem that shows us the triumphs and challenges of a major climb from the porter’s point of view. The love of two people from diverse cultures is the fiery centerpiece of a novel that leads its readers through harshly beautiful and highly dangerous territory to the roof of the world. Malcolm Campbell, book reviewer

    Conflict and dialog keep this gripping story of destiny, romance and adventure moving from the first page to the last paragraph. LeBlanc has a genius for bonding her readers and her characters. I found I was empathizing in turn with each character as they faced their own personal crisis or trauma.
    Richard Blake for Readers Views.

    A gripping, gut-twisting expedition through the eyes of a porter reveals the heart and soul of Sherpas living in the shadows of Everest.

    A hard-hitting blend of adventure and romance which deserves a spot in any serious fiction collection. Midwest Book Review

    LeBlanc is equally adept at describing complex, elusive emotions and the beautiful, terrifying aspect of the Himalayan Mountains. Boulder Daily Camera

    LeBlanc’s vivid description of the Himalayas and the climbing culture makes this a powerful read. Rocky Mt News Pick of the Week

    A rich adventure into the heart of the Himalayan Kingdom. Fantastic story-telling from one who has been there.

    This is the book to read before you embark on your pilgrimage to Nepal. The author knows and loves the people and the country, and makes you feel the cold thin air, the hard rocks of the mountains, the tough life of the Sherpa guides, and you learn to love them too. This is a higly literate, but also very readable book. Highly recommended.”
    — John (college professor)

    Memorable characters and harrowing encounters with the mountains keep the action moving with a vibrant balance of vivid description and dialogue. Literary Cafe Host, Healdsburg, CA

    This superbly-crafted novel will land you in a world of unimaginable beauty, adventure, and romance. The love story will keep you awake at night with its vibrant tension and deep rich longing. Wick Downing, author of nine novels

    Such vividly depicted images of the Everest region and the Sherpa people are the perfect scenario for the romance and adventure feats narrated. It’s a page-turner, so engrossing you end up wanting to visit Nepal! Not just novel, but perfect for those seeking to get acquainted with the culture of this country.
    By Claudia Fournier (América, Bs. As., Argentina)

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