There’s so much going on hereabouts, and so many good things I want to direct your attention to, that today will be an all-bloggage entry. Maybe we should make Thursdays the ADHD edition on a semi-permanent basis, eh? On with it, then:
One of the best meals of my life was in a long-dead restaurant in Columbus called L’Armagnac. It was in a converted house somewhere in a gentrifying neighborhood, and some weeks later I had occasion to see the kitchen on a reporting assignment. It was very easy to see the kitchen because it was the size of a broom closet — not much bigger than the one in my apartment, in fact. And yet, magic happened there, and happened on a scale large enough to share with several dozen people every night, and the only real accommodation anyone had to make was scheduled seatings and prix fixe. So I was amused to note this NYT blog piece called Mark Bittman’s Bad Kitchen, Bittman being everyone’s favorite food columnist. (Really. His recipes are worth the NYT subscription price alone.) Anyhoo:
Q: Okay Mark. What’s a popular food writer like you doing in a kitchen like that?
A: I got a bunch of e-mails that say, “Can you believe all this stuff about your crummy kitchen?” But the whole idea is that you don’t need a fancy kitchen. You don’t need fancy equipment, and you don’t need fancy recipes. When I show people my kitchen, they believe it. But I hate my kitchen also. I bump my shins on the dishwasher. There is not enough room to put stuff. It’s a terrible stove. It’s a terrible dishwasher. I don’t have room for the pots I’d like to have. I’ve cooked in much worse, though. I’m used to it. Someday I’ll grow up and get a real kitchen.
Q: So why do so many people think a nice kitchen will solve their cooking woes?
A: Maybe it’s like what you said. You use your crummy kitchen as an excuse not to cook. Maybe it’s like saying, “I can’t exercise in the winter because I don’t have an elliptical trainer.” I once cooked for six months in what amounted to a basement with a hot plate, microwave and a refrigerator and sink.
Sorry if you’re OD’d on the current crisis, but you’re not going to be reading this stuff in your local papers, and some of it is good:
Pete Karmanos — local hero, hereabouts — takes on Alabama’s most irritating senator:
The intent of this letter, however, is not to take you to task for the inaccuracy of your comments or for the over-simplicity of your views, but rather to point out the hypocrisy of your position as it relates to Alabama’s (the state for which you have served as senator since 1987) recent history of providing subsidies to manufacturing. During the segment on Meet the Press, you stated that:
“We don’t need government — governmental subsidies — for manufacturing in this country. It’s the French model, it’s the wrong road. We will pay for it. The average American taxpayer is going to pay dearly for this, if I’m not wrong.”
I trust it is safe to say that when you refer to “government subsidies,” you are referring to subsidies provided by both federal and state governments. And if this is in fact true, then I am sure you were adamantly against the State of Alabama offering lucrative incentives (in essence, subsidies) to Mercedes Benz in the early 1990s to lure the German automobile manufacturer to the State.
As it turned out, Alabama offered a stunning $253 million incentive package to Mercedes. Additionally, the State also offered to train the workers, clear and improve the site, upgrade utilities, and buy 2,500 Mercedes Benz vehicles. All told, it is estimated that the incentive package totaled anywhere from $153,000 to $220,000 per created job. On top of all this, the State gave the foreign automaker a large parcel of land worth between $250 and $300 million, which was coincidentally how much the company expected to invest in building the plant.
[Insert Nelson Muntz HAW-ha here.]
One of my favorite — OK, my absolute favorite — local blogger is Jim Griffioen of Sweet Juniper, who covers Detroit, urban wastelands, parenthood and stay-at-home fatherhood from a perch somewhere near Lafayette Park. His piece on the events of this week is worth a read because it’s beautifully written, and because it captures the ambiguity so many of us feel about the situation:
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 the very 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?
Jim used to live in San Francisco. Ahem:
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.
Oh, and speaking of San Francisco, where else could a letter to the editor this stupid originate?
Missing from both Detroit’s pleas for a bailout and the national discussion of its pros and cons is any acknowledgment that the American taxpayer continuously subsidizes the automobile industry through the financing of local, state and federal roads.
If car companies were suddenly forced to acquire the land and maintain the infrastructure that its products need to function, the real cost of a car would be beyond the reach of all but the wealthiest people, and our national economy would come to a standstill until another form of transportation were subsidized and developed to take its place.
Whether General Motors is “too big to fail” and therefore deserves a bailout ignores the fact that the company, along with every other carmaker in the world, is subsidized by our tax dollars. Giving the automakers more for abusing their unique standing hardly seems appropriate.
Do we need a palate-cleanser? We do:
Jon Carroll quotes an amazing fact about Tom Friedman:
The Nov. 10 issue of the New Yorker had a long and quite balanced profile of Friedman by Ian Parker. This paragraph caught my eye:
“A few years ago, the Friedmans bought a seven-and-a-half-acre plot in Bethesda, Maryland. They tore down the existing house, built an eleven-thousand-square-foot replacement, and planted 200 trees. (In a note at the end of [his new book] ‘Hot, Flat and Crowded,’ where Friedman explains his own ecological circumstances – geothermal heating, solar panels – he invites readers, perhaps unwisely, to regard his real estate move as an act of rescue: He writes that he and his wife bought the land ‘to prevent it from being developed into a subdivision of a dozen or more houses,’ which could sound like someone buying a lot of champagne to protect society from cork-related injuries.) Here, the Friedmans have started an art collection on a theme of reading, writing and the media, which includes a book by Anselm Kiefer and a bench by Jenny Holzer.”
“Perhaps unwisely” — snerk.
Finally, some comedy. One of the many, many shameful things about the way the city of Detroit rolls is the bloated Executive Protection Unit, the police-department detail that protects the mayor. The most recent former occupant of that office apparently looked into the mirror every morning and saw not a college football player going soft in the middle, but a TOTAL BADASS who needed muscle to get through his day without someone busting a cap in his ass. People said the EPU was staffed by his high-school classmates and was just another form of featherbedding, which isn’t hard to believe. Anyway, someone I know attended a Democratic fundraiser in Grosse Pointe Farms last year, and said the talk of the party was the way the governor, this 110-pound blonde lady, made a quiet entrance, her security consisting of one state highway patrolman, followed a few minutes later by Kwame Kilpatrick’s posse in two SUVs. (Because the Farms is a place where you take your life into your own hands after dark, I guess.)
When Kwame left the mountain headfirst earlier this year, there was some local comment that now would be an excellent time to dissolve the EPU as well. Not so fast:
City Council President Monica Conyers took along two police officers from the Executive Protection Unit last weekend to a National League of Cities conference in Orlando, Fla., which some colleagues say is a misuse of taxpayer dollars. Police spokesman James Tate confirmed the trip and said police have escorted Conyers during other jaunts out of town since she became president in September.
Of course, the best part is always the justification:
“She is next in line to be the mayor,” said Conyers’ spokeswoman Denise Tolliver, who added that Conyers took two officers because one requested that a partner come to share the duties. “She absolutely needs that security. She is a woman. She can’t protect herself in many instances. You have to be concerned with her safety.”
Let me just go on the record as saying that if any female can protect herself, it’s Monica Conyers, who can’t even check into a hotel without the police being called. Anybody who would mess with her deserves whatever they have coming.
Now I’m off to exercise until I look like a drowned rat. Mmm, sexy.
UPDATE: Wait! One more. Staffers at the Longmont Times-Call in Colorado have a unique opportunity to make some extra cash this Christmas: Working as valet parkers at the publisher’s holiday bash. If this isn’t the bottom, it’s hard to know what is.