One of the reasons for extended lameness in this space is my job. For better or worse, I’m a reporter again, and I have to be careful what I opine about in public. My bosses are quite indulgent, but on most local subjects I have to hold my fire other than an occasional isn’t-this-interesting.
Probably the highest-profile interesting — in the Chinese-curse sense of the word — story these days is the Detroit bankruptcy, specifically how it applies to the Detroit Institute of Arts. For those who need background: In an unusual arrangement, the collection of the DIA is actually owned by the city of Detroit. As the city is in bankruptcy, and a bankruptcy requires the listing of assets and obligations, the art is theoretically on the table for liquidation to pay the city’s billions in debt.
Now. From the beginning, all concerned have said that is not their intent to put paintings on the market to pay pensions, but you don’t have to be an art lover to see the Sophie’s choice offered here — cutting pensions to 78-year-old former file clerks vs. looting the museum to pay the bills. I doubt the governor, who appointed the emergency manager, wants to go down in state history as the guy who wrecked a great American cultural institution. Those file clerks will eventually die and stop collecting their pensions, but a closed DIA would loom over Woodward Avenue forever, maybe with the bolts that used to hold Rodin’s Thinker protruding, growing rust by the day. Even for a pro-business Republican, the idea of a once-great working-class city’s treasure being sold to Russian oligarchs and hedge-fund douchebags would likely be a bridge too far.
And for those who might say, “Can’t they just sell some art? Like some stuff from the basement, or a couple of the really valuable pieces?” The answer is no. Selling so much as an ashtray for any purpose other than to buy more art is forbidden under the rules of the museum’s professional organization, the name of which I can’t recall. It’s one they enforce strictly, and breaking it would mean ejection, which would mean the DIA could no longer host exhibits from other institutions, among other sanctions. More to the point, it would endanger the tri-county tax millage that now provides the DIA with its operating budget. Officials in two of those counties have explicitly said that if art is sold, the tax dollars stop. That is a far bigger threat.
In recent weeks, the tune has changed. Someone close to the emergency manager leaked a story to a friendly conservative columnist, claiming the EM “wants $500 million” from the DIA. That story has laid on the table like a rotten oyster for a while now, and finally, today, there seemed to be a response.
The judge has approached the deep-pocketed foundations in the region and asked them to get out their checkbooks:
The federal judge mediating Detroit’s bankruptcy is exploring whether regional and national foundations could create a fund that would protect the Detroit Institute of Arts’ city-owned collection by helping to support retiree pensions, multiple sources told The Detroit News.
Near the end of a Nov. 5 meeting lasting more than three hours, Chief U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen offered what one participant called a “very carefully worded” concept that fell short of asking the nine foundations — including Kresge, Hudson-Webber, Mott, Knight and the Ford Foundation of New York — for commitments to support a plan. Rosen did not cite a specific amount, but participants said it could approach $500 million.
“The number is what’s in question,” said a participant, who asked not to be identified because the talks are confidential. “What does it take to pull this off, to satisfy everybody around the table? And what’s the time frame – 20 years, 25 years? It’s a creative solution to this thing.”
From the beginning, it’s been hard to avoid noting the discomfort of suburbanites, who usually watch Detroit’s agony the way they watch an old disaster movie at 1 a.m. — i.e., through half-closed eyes — suddenly bolt upright on the couch and shriek, SELL THE VAN GOGH? OVER MY DEAD BODY!!!! The foundations are the byproduct of generations-old family and corporate fortunes, many of which made their dollars here in the near-ruined city. Asking for this is a way of saying, OK, let’s see how much the big private money cares about this.
Here’s another thing I think I can note without fear of retribution: The national coverage of Detroit has been a mixed bag, but mainly an argument for the perils of parachute journalism. From Anthony Bourdain to 60 Minutes to this bit of libertarian troll-baiting, it’s been an instructive lesson for all: Outside eyes are valuable, but seldom see everything. Or even most things. And sometimes, not much of anything.
Lots of bloggage today, so let’s get to it:
I think a good lesson to take away from Grantland’s piece on Brian Holloway’s house is to be wary of any story that spreads primarily via social media. Holloway’s story, about how a gang of teenagers took over his empty vacation home and trashed it, turns out to be not the whole story. And not by a long shot. Read the whole thing, but here’s an insightful passage from low in the piece:
For all serious men, the ubiquity of smartphones, social media, and the Internet has opened up a widening gap between parents and their children. And while it’s easy and alluringly postmodern to slough all this off and say that all times in American history are the same as other times in American history, I wonder if there are really many among us who do not worry about what happens when one generation’s message to the next gets blocked off by that dirty cloud kicked up by our information addictions. Holloway’s mantra of discipline and accountability has resonated with thousands of frustrated parents who wax nostalgic for the days when kids could be disciplined in the old-fashioned way. To them, the photos of kids dancing on tables, the accounts of the damage, and Brian Holloway’s tough, militaristic rhetoric confirmed what they had always suspected: Kids were up to no damn good on that Internet.
(That’s especially recommended for Jeff the mild-mannered.)
The Nashville Tennessean digs up an old double homicide. The prose is lightly Albomed, but it’s still a pretty good read about how Stringbean and Estelle Akeman were murdered on their idyllic country property in 1973. Moral: If you carry lots of cash, don’t let everybody know.
Details on an interesting building renovation in Detroit, of an old apartment building heavily damaged by fire five years ago:
The building’s interior must be almost entirely rebuilt off of the rough framing. Developers are taking the opportunity to install some interesting features:
· Added partial penthouse floor with five additional apartments
· Twenty-seven geothermal wells for heating/air conditioning
· Roof deck for resident use
· Rainwater cisterns, which will provide water for flushing toilets
· Rooftop solar panels to aid with hot water
· Soundproof band-practice room in the former boiler room
What interests me most are the rainwater cisterns. Remember, Michigan is one of the wettest states in the nation. But conservation of potable supplies is always smart.
#AskJPM! This is hilarious.
Finally, a WashPost multi-parter on how an alleged small business operator gamed the federal system into millions in federal contracts. Great long form work.
Should we close with a dog picture? Here’s Wendy, having been shoved off my legs, keeping dibs on her seat and giving me the big sad dog eyes:
Have a swell weekend, all. I’ll be raking me some leaves.