My inner Communist.

You can live in a place a long time before you really get to know it. So it was that it took me three years to get to the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House, as chaperone on a Girl Scout field trip. It’s a lovely house, a piece of local history; the Fords were generous people. We all bow in their general direction. Let us stipulate that up front, because there’s something about drooling over rich people — and that’s the response encouraged by the tour — that bugs me. Many of the home’s stellar details were plucked from the rubble of English country houses falling to neglect and reversed circumstances — the six-inch-wide oak floorboards from here, the stained-glass medallions on the windows from there. Maybe in another 200 years they’ll be in some rich man’s house in China or India. The great wheel turns.

One doesn’t feel encouraged to say these things out loud. In Edsel’s office there’s a photograph of him with his dad, Henry, and Edward, Prince of Wales. That was a real meeting of titans — two fortunate princes of lucky birth and one man who made his own fortune. What were they talking about? The Jewish Problem? Henry and Edward were on-the-record anti-Semites, and some accounts say Edsel was the one who got his old man to tone things down, at least for the sake of business. These things don’t come up on the tour; you are invited to exclaim over the woodwork. Ah, well. It’s worth an exclamation or three.

Here’s something interesting I learned: Edsel commuted to his job in Dearborn in true style — by water. Google won’t let me alter the route off the actual pavement, so you’ll have to use your imagination. Here’s how he would have gone via asphalt today:

View Larger Map

Now imagine a stylish man in a mahogany speedboat, pulling away from his backyard dock and going south on Lake St. Clair, into the Detroit River, taking a right at the Rouge River and tying up at dad’s place, or at least someplace where the motoring leg to the office would be only a short hop. It was 28 miles by water, the guide said; in that pre-freeway era, it was a 2.5-hour surface-street commute. Edsel liked the wind in his face, I guess. Can’t blame him.

Quick bloggage, because today is Organize the Tax Records Day:

Today’s NYT profile is the most I’ve yet read about Stanley Ann Dunham Soetoro, aka Barack Obama’s mother. Worth reading if only as an interesting counterpoint to the old argument that only children raised in stable, two-parent homes grow up to amount to anything. Soetoro’s life was a whirl of marriage, divorce, children by different fathers, relocation across continents and heart-following work, and it may yet turn out that she raised the next president of the United States. A fascinating portrait.

The story ends with an image of Soetoro’s children scattering her ashes in the Pacific Ocean off Oahu, which reminded me of Jon Carroll’s column about doing the same thing when his mother died. Through the miracle of the Google, we can enjoy it again. Bonus not-very-fun fact: Jon Carroll’s mother was adopted into “a wealthy Grosse Pointe family,” and later disinherited from it after her marriage to a poor Irish Catholic. Another useful lesson about the good old days, maybe.

Yesterday we had a parent-teacher conference in which the teacher encouraged us to help our kid increase her vocabulary. (Please, no jokes.) I’m going to require daily 10-minute sessions on Free Rice. (And yes, I know I’m only the latest person in a very long line to tell you about Free Rice. Humor me.)

You can’t legislate morality, but you sure can tax it. Unfortunately, morality has a way of evading taxes. A look at the the fallout from Michigan’s $2/pack cigarette tax, in today’s Freep. My friend Frank, the doctor, says high cigarette prices are the most effective discourager of young people taking up smoking, so I’m not unsympathetic. But you really can’t blame people for making a quick hop over to Indiana to pick up cheap smokes, either.

The baby polar bear picture of the day is giving me a new time-waster (because surely I need another one of those): internet translation. When the daily picture showed little Flocke gnawing on her keeper’s back, it read:

Milch, Hundefutter, Kalbsknochen – alles lecker, aber nichts geht über einen saftigen Pflegerrücken.

Which, translated, means:

Milk, dog fodder, calf bone – all lecker, but nothing goes over a juicy male nurse back.

Crude, but enough to get the gist. “Hundefutter” = dog food. German is funny.

That is all for me today, friends. Enjoy the start of Green Beer Weekend.

Posted at 9:14 am in Current events, Detroit life |

36 responses to “My inner Communist.”

  1. Sue said on March 14, 2008 at 10:01 am

    Oh, so much to respond to today! I think I know what you mean about museums which breathlessly focus on things (lifestyles of the rich and famous now dead people), but at the same time I really enjoy knowing where these items came from – it can tell you a lot about the owners. I have yet to make it to the Pabst Mansion in MKE, but it’s on my list. A few years back they had a “backstairs” exhibit that I missed, to my great disappointment. I have always been curious about how the invisible people lived, the ones who had to keep all that wood polished and those clothes pressed.
    While we’re talking about Free Rice, may I mention Nothing But Nets? Another worthy and cheap cause. And Smile Train. Not cheap (relatively speaking), but all the money goes to the charity, I understand; overhead is covered.
    Wisconsin’s proposed smoking ban just died. The bar owners are very happy.
    Funny you should be talking about internet translation. It’s a good way to keep your language skills up. I have occasionally used Babel Fish to translate Nancy Nall into German. Very, very interesting things appear.

    1114 chars

  2. ashley said on March 14, 2008 at 10:13 am

    Courtesy of my pals Kim and Ray, here is the worlds hardest vocabulary test. She should get transmogrify right, just from reading Calvin and Hobbes — and every single reader should get schadenfreude.

    441 chars

  3. nancy said on March 14, 2008 at 10:27 am

    I have occasionally used Babel Fish to translate Nancy Nall into German. Very, very interesting things appear.

    And when you play it backward, you can very plainly hear, “Tim is dead, killed by liberals.”

    213 chars

  4. Connie said on March 14, 2008 at 10:30 am

    I would also recommend a visit to Meadowbrook Hall in Rochester Hills, built by John Dodge’s widow Matilda Dodge Wilson. It is available for events including weddings, and I attended an event there years ago at which we actually stayed overnight in the rooms in the Hall. That was my first ever exposure to multiple showerheads on the side walls of the shower. Meadowbrook Hall

    451 chars

  5. Connie said on March 14, 2008 at 10:31 am

    And I have been thinking we need a policy here about free ricing while working on a public service desk.

    104 chars

  6. nancy said on March 14, 2008 at 10:36 am

    Excellent verbage, Connie! Only I think it needs to be one word — “freericing” — to get it closer to its roots, so to speak. It is that addictive.

    155 chars

  7. Dave K. said on March 14, 2008 at 10:43 am

    “German is funny…”. We are continuing our vacation visit with our daughter, son-in-law, and grandson in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, just north of the Austrian border. Last night for dinner I enjoyed delicious grilled “Schweinhauxen”, pig hocks we call them in Indiana. Never have seen them as a featured menu item before though!

    329 chars

  8. Michael said on March 14, 2008 at 10:43 am

    The funnier thing is that “Futter” also means “stuffing”.

    Dog stuffing.

    74 chars

  9. Andrea said on March 14, 2008 at 10:46 am

    My 81-year-old grandmother and her husband make monthly trips up I-95 to Delaware to buy cartons of cigarettes, even before Maryland doubled their per pack cigarette tax to $2 at the beginning of this year. But atleast the tax made my sister quit – 10 weeks and counting!

    If you’re ever in the Baltimore area and have time to kill, take the 45-minute house tour of Hampton National Historic Site in Towson, a small, forgotten piece of the National Park System (I volunteered as a guide there one summer). At the time the main house was built in the late 1700s, it was the biggest in the US and was occupied by the Ridgely family until the 20th century. They just reopened last month after being closed for a major two-year remodeling project (I haven’t been for a visit yet since they reopened). Ridgely was the largest slave owner in Maryland and the grounds also include two original slave quarters that are open in the summer. They place quite a bit of emphasis on both the occupants of the house and the workers – slaves, indentured servants, etc.

    1082 chars

  10. Danny said on March 14, 2008 at 11:08 am

    Andrea, I’ve been to Hampton House at least half a dozen times (I grew up near there, in Bowley’s Quarters). I had looked it up a few months ago and was glad to see it was reopening.

    183 chars

  11. Sue said on March 14, 2008 at 11:09 am

    Ashley: I’ll bet Dennis Miller uses EVERY ONE of those words in everyday conversation. I won’t tell you how I did, other than to say I was embarrassed at the number of words I knew without actually knowing exactly what they meant. And my favorite German verb is “liegenlassen” which means “to leave lying”. I like it for two reasons: it demonstrates the German habit of stringing words together, and if English had a word like that the lying/laying confusion would bring about usage arguments that would cause entire English Departments to explode.

    553 chars

  12. Danny said on March 14, 2008 at 11:11 am

    German. I knew a guy who would always tell Germans, “I’ll-Be-the-Same.”

    72 chars

  13. Peter said on March 14, 2008 at 11:17 am

    Speaking of house tours, last spring while in California we checked out the Hearst estate.

    I would have given anything to jump into that indoor pool, I’ll tell you.

    However, I found the tour very unsettling. The lady giving the tour from the state was practically orgasmic in her gushing over Hearst. You think I’m exaggerating, but my wife and I lost count over how many times she referred to Hearst as a truly handsome man. And she went out of her way to trash Orson Welles, emphasizing that Hearst had nothing to do with his “well deserved” downturn in his career.

    At one point, my wife asked the guide if it was her first year, since she seemed so enthusiastic “Oh no, I’ve been doing this over twenty years”. Talk about drinking the Kool Aid.

    760 chars

  14. Danny said on March 14, 2008 at 11:19 am

    I came across a quote from Ronald Reagan that sums up this week in New York politics.

    “Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.”

    And here are some other great quotes from him:

    “Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘We should never judge a president by his age, only by his works.’ And ever since he told me that, I stopped worrying.”

    “I have left orders to be awakened at any time in case of national emergency, even if I’m in a cabinet meeting.”

    “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'”

    654 chars

  15. Connie said on March 14, 2008 at 11:29 am

    Dave, my grandmother always ordered the pigs feet when we went to the Schnitzelbank restaurant in Grand Rapids. She considered it a special treat. As children we were horrified.

    179 chars

  16. Sue said on March 14, 2008 at 11:36 am

    One of my most treasured possessions is my grandmother’s cookie jar, for all the usual sentimental reasons and also because it came from one of the many bars my grandfather frequented and originally contained pickled pigs feet. This is how we do things in my family.

    267 chars

  17. WhiteBeard said on March 14, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    During my decade in Montreal in the 70s, pig knuckles boiled in beer was a special treat. But Montreal restaurants were a gourmet’s candy store with 29 varieties (at least) of Chinese restaurants, a pair of Vietnamese eateries (one north and one south Vietnamese) close to each other on The Main, the popular name for Boulevard Saint-Laurent.
    Then there was the restaurant housed in the old city morque in Old Montreal. After my newspaper shift ended I would be a bouncer/bartender at the Black Bottom, a jazz bar in Old Montreal where Aunty Bea would treat us to soul food. And how about Montreal’s famous smoked meat on rye, also in different styles. It makes my mouth water just thinking about that wonderful food, so I need to visit my daughter there more often.

    767 chars

  18. alex said on March 14, 2008 at 1:17 pm

    When I was a kid I remember some foodie friends of my parents who had pigs’ feet hanging in a burlap bag in the garage. For all I know I was served it without my knowledge. The little ones always looked in the bag for a good gross-out. It was on a pegboard hook right between the unicycle and the pogo stick and directly above the poo-poo tweezers.

    348 chars

  19. WhiteBeard said on March 14, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    Back to the original thought about great house tours and the grand lifestyles of the rich, famous and now deceased, Biltmore House, in Asheville, North Carolina, is another special place, the showpiece of the Vanderbilt wealth and called at one time the largest private residence in the nation. Now restricted to 8,000 acres from its original 125,000 acres, you could spend two hours or better yet, two days there seeing the interior of the house and the gardens.
    Back to Montreal, when the British trade commisioner was kidnapped in the tense Separatiste years, the kidnappers remarked on the opulent residence he occupied, the thick carpets, things they had never seen in any home they lived in.
    Now that CEOs are making 600 times that of the lowliest worker in their companies, maybe the rich are getting too rich without doing much physical or mental effort to earn that wealth. I applaud Bill Gates whose mental agility produced Microsoft and who now is moving into his philantrophy pursuits for his giving back to society in general. He truly deserves a Nobel Prize for good works. And, Yes, everyone in my family has a PC and I sat in the wings in awe when he spoke at a computer show in New York City many, many years ago. Nothing against Macs, I have a couple and used them on the job, but I still have not lived down my furious backing of Beta videotapes.

    1369 chars

  20. colleen said on March 14, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    Kocsonya. Jellied pigs’ feet. apparently a Hungarian delicacy, but not on my personal menu, thankssomuch.

    107 chars

  21. John said on March 14, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    “poo-poo tweezers”…please translate.

    38 chars

  22. Dorothy said on March 14, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    I was going to ask the same thing, John, but then thought better of it. Maybe I’ll skip reading the rest of the comments today!

    128 chars

  23. Jeff said on March 14, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    Pooper scooper tongs, no?

    25 chars

  24. Connie said on March 14, 2008 at 2:38 pm

    If you do the Biltmore House tour I recommend adding on the servants view tour to see it behind the scenes.

    107 chars

  25. John said on March 14, 2008 at 2:41 pm

    Jeff, a pooper scooper. That makes sense. I was being a bit slow today.

    Connie is right. Buy both tours of Biltmore. The servant/lower house tour is just as fascinating.

    176 chars

  26. LAMary said on March 14, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    I like the German word for nurse: krankenschwester. It means sickness sister.

    78 chars

  27. Kafkaz said on March 14, 2008 at 4:50 pm

    We managed to find a little out of the way corner of our area that actually has old houses, sprawling yards, intact forests, and even a few neighborhood dogs. (The friendly ones who wander around a bit, know everyone, and are considered a part of everyone’s family. Not many places where that’s okay, anymore. I still miss the dog that used to come by every few days to drop his slobbery tennis ball at my feet, and wait for me to throw it down the road for him. Looked as big and mean as can be–like he’d eat ya’ whole as soon as look at ya’, but in fact his whole thought process ran something more along the lines of, “Wanna play ball? Huh? Wanna? Wanna?” Good doggie, so I braved his spitty mess of a ball just to make him happy.) But it seems like most of the newer houses in our general vicinity–and pretty much everywhere else, too–do aspire to mansion status. The multi shower head deal is standard, now. Media Rooms. Giant flat screen t.v.’s everywhere. Kitchens befitting a chef, even though no one ever does much more than nuke a prefab meal in them. Built in floor to ceiling book shelves that seldom have any actual books on them. Wretched excess is the new black. Mostly, though, the yards shrink. So, there are no grounds to speak of with these would-be estates. Just interchangeable mansions on postage stamp yards ChemLawned into submission. Sad. On the other hand, a shower that leaves the skin tingling is a wonderful thing. Boo to little trickles that can barely rinse the shampoo out of your hair. Good water pressure, enough space to feel good about going outside in my jammies with newspaper and coffee on nice mornings, and lots of trees–those make me happy. I’ve accepted my shallowness.

    1739 chars

  28. michaelj said on March 14, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    I don’t support either, but I. This is great journalistic sport. I support both. W is an inconceivable greedy moron thathas not l the nations indterests at heart. His administration is more concerned with Halliburton Needs to have his ass disposed of.

    Did Geraldine Ferraro say something impolitic? Maybe. If Obama had been Joe Biden. Did Bll Clinton make some sort of racist comments? Not in a billion years. The Obama people are so full of shit on this they should be gagging. But you know, they were dumb enough to say so.

    There aren’t any racists involved, and Barrack apologitzes. What Ferraro said was one true fact. If Barrack wasn’t a black gur, if he was your typical white interlocutor, the women vote would would would rule. That is what she said, as a matter of fact. Apparent;ly there are ways and ways of playing the race card might be beneath Obama. it’s pretty clearly something his opponent never considered.

    If somebody could point out how Bill Clinton said anything remotely racist, I’ll kiss Keith Olbermann’s ass. Just never happened,

    If it’s about Shock and Awe, and the invasion and occupation, if you think Congress authorized thi, you’re an idiot with an agenda. Intelligent people in Congree were presented with evidence. Should they have assumed the president was just lying his ass off? Well, how. Lyndon lied, if your old enough to remember. This was so far more massive lying, you’d have to expect prescience. I didn’t believea word. On the other hand, it’s easy to see how Members pf Congress would believe th CommanderinChief wouldn’t just lie and muder people with th initial shock ans awe.

    Murdering iraqis? I truly belive this asshole thinks , whaever they’re just

    1721 chars

  29. Randy said on March 14, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    The two dollar cig tax…

    Here in the Great White North, we pay 12.50 per pack. Of that, approximately 7.00 is paid in tax. I have no idea how that compares in the US, I suspect the tax is less there… I smoke about a half-pack per day, and know I must quit, yet keep smoking, so who knows if prices will discourage people.

    We had a brief time in 97 where the government lowered taxes on smokes – hurrah for me – and curiously, people just shrugged, even though the anti-smoke lobby is as tough or stronger here. Go figure?

    Speaking of crossing the border for your fix, native resrves here can seel smokes tax-free, but unless you are a Status Indian, you cannot buy them. There was a huge black market, but somehow it went away. Here, less than 20% of the population smoke, down from over 50% in the last generation (25 years).

    Nancy, you’re awesome! Keep it up (for my coffee breaks at work)


    915 chars

  30. basset said on March 14, 2008 at 7:03 pm

    I was going to mention the Biltmore & I see a couple of you beat me to it… the servants’ tour is indeed the most interesting part, probably because some of them were more than likely my ancestors.

    slipped away from the upstairs tour for a minute and stood out on the stone veranda, looking down over the expanse of lawns… and for some reason flashed on being a Nazi general in occupied France. or a Draka merarch in Burgundia, not a whole lot of difference.

    469 chars

  31. Danny said on March 14, 2008 at 7:37 pm

    michaelj, Ferraro and Clinton may have nothing to worry about. Obama’s candidacy is in serious trouble for the crazy and racist comments his pastor (of 20 years!!) has made.

    174 chars

  32. Harl Delos said on March 14, 2008 at 7:55 pm

    What Ferraro said was one true fact.

    Yep. You’re right. Barack Obama was lucky to have been born a black man.

    Except that he wasn’t. His mother was as white as Geraldine Ferraro is.

    195 chars

  33. Gena said on March 14, 2008 at 9:30 pm

    The New Yorker’s piece (march 10) on Michelle Obama is a good companion to today’s NYT piece on his mom. Don’t really get the feeling they fit in a churchy box. Like most of us.

    177 chars

  34. MarkH said on March 15, 2008 at 10:19 am


    OK, Harl, let’s say the obvious isn’t true; so what is he?

    Are you saying that he should not (let alone has not been) campaign(ing) as an African-American/black man?

    Then what’s this ongoing kerfuffle about race in the current democratic presidential reace been about? In light of that, how do we (or, do we) label him as a result of all this? Is not the reality that one black parent makes you black (political reality, if nothing else)? I certainly don’t think Obama would disagree, based on the evidence.

    521 chars

  35. Harl Delos said on March 15, 2008 at 3:27 pm

    OK, Harl, let’s say the obvious isn’t true; so what is he?

    If you want to use the terminology of the 19th century, he’s mulatto. Mulattos and quatroons don’t even qualify as “high yellow”; only negroes do.

    Are you saying that he should not (let alone has not been) campaign(ing) as an African-American/black man?

    Yes. Haven’t you ever listened to one of his speeches? He’s not running to be a black president. He’s been running to be the president of all of us.

    Then what’s this ongoing kerfuffle about race in the current democratic presidential reace been about?

    There are a lot of bigots who want to dismiss him as just another a token, someone who is there for appearance’s sake, a dress nigger, but not someone you really want to trust with any real responsibility.

    MarkH, take a look around you. Nigger isn’t something you are. It’s not something you do. It’s something you’re treated as. And most people are treated like that by big companies, whether they’re employees or customers. It’s time we got treated with respect – ALL of us.

    In light of that, how do we (or, do we) label him as a result of all this?

    He would prefer you call him Senator Obama. Or Barack. Or call him the leading contender for the Democratic Party nomination. He’d prefer that you not brand him as a cute little token that can be dismissed with a wave of your hand as inconsequential.

    Do you label people according to their blood type? Do you label people according to whether their earlobes are attached or detached? It’s pretty easy to examine someone and tell which of *those* groups someone belong to. But race is simply a matter of opinion.

    Is not the reality that one black parent makes you black (political reality, if nothing else)?

    If that’s true, then EVERYONE is black. It hasn’t been THAT many generations since we all had a common ancestor, known to biologists as Mitrochondrial Eve.

    1965 chars

  36. John said on March 16, 2008 at 9:37 am

    “quatroons”, Jeez…Does that have any meaning anymore?

    As least it is a real word, unlike “halfrican” which I heard on Fox News.

    132 chars