On the canvases.

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.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Detroit life |

42 responses to “On the canvases.”

  1. Brandon said on November 15, 2013 at 1:56 am

    …but mainly an argument for the perils of parachute journalism. …Outside eyes are valuable, but seldom see everything. Or even most things. And sometimes, not much of anything.

    It depends. When I read mainland-media accounts of Hawaii, I can tell none of the writers will fully get what it’s like here, but some articles are better than others. Articles about Hilo will invariably focus on our downtown, the two tsunami, sugar, etc. But there’s always more to the story.

    Have you ever written about Shinola?

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  2. Alan Stamm said on November 15, 2013 at 6:02 am

    The American Alliance of Museums.

    You’re welcome!

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  3. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on November 15, 2013 at 7:00 am

    Hat tip, Brother Stamm.

    The number of tragic crime stories that involve a relatively decent older person who regularly mentioned the shoeboxes of cash in their home in the presence of younger, hungrier, stupider potential felons — it’s all sad, but it does lend itself to rueful headshaking.

    I will check the Grantland piece ASAP, and thanks. You darn kids, get off my intertubes!

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  4. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on November 15, 2013 at 7:51 am

    Okay – the only real add-on to the Holloway piece I can contribute is that when celebrities, including narrow-gauge local ones (the guy who developed a regional mall, a restaurant owner who’s always named to mayoral commissions, the president of the Junior League who starts up a non-profit with a very big, glitzy annual fundraiser that any pol in city, county, or congressional district knows they have to be seen at), start to run out of money in public, their self-glorifying statements often head down this sort of angry echo chamber of recrimination and auto-congratulation.

    You’re hearing, it seems, a narration that’s been running inside of their heads for years (“no one cares about these kids like me; if only I could get these other non-profits to work under my guidance, we could start a movement that would sweep the country; these tax rules are really for businesses, not for my marvelous cause and the people privileged to draw any paycheck at all to do what I’m doing for free, except of course reimbursement of my reasonable expenses like shoes to replace the ones I wore to a site visit and ruined stepping on a piece of gum”), and that financial pressures and increased media scrutiny cause to be patched in to the external jack instead of being kept on the intercom circuit.

    Rob Long fits the bill, and would probably sound similar under pressure even without cocaine or alcohol . . . but those sorts of addictions sure help turn up the volume and turn down the gain.

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  5. coozledad said on November 15, 2013 at 8:13 am

    The Tennessean piece reminds me of some of the people I admired as a child. I grew up not too far from a family that made their own shine and played stringed instruments for entertainment. The kid my age played banjo, and was every bit as good as Scruggs by the time he was fourteen. They cured their own hogs,too. Truly sweet, kind people.

    I’m with you on the ham-handedness of that piece at times, but the story eclipses the writing. Probably the bare winter horror of it. The savage local boy chasing Estelle out to the car to execute her got me. That’s not innocence vs. experience. That’s the delirious stupidity that took over from the humble rural mindset, and they celebrate relentlessly through the speakers at the Tractor Supply.

    That constant reference to Nashville’s “loss of innocence” is the stumbling block for me. Americans apparently don’t even know or care what it means, but they insist on dragging that stupid phrase out for every tragic event.

    I think what we clumsily refer to as innocence is what Blake would have called creeping Jesus. It’s another hulking American fraud.

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  6. coozledad said on November 15, 2013 at 8:30 am

    And whaddya’ know. Here’s Monk Terry killing the banjo. I had to play second banjo with him in a high school play, and was humiliated:

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  7. beb said on November 15, 2013 at 8:40 am

    The questions sent in for JP Morgan Q&A were a riot. What were they thinking having an open question period like that? Apparently JPM and the other financial giants live in a hermetic bubble and don’t realize how much they’re hated outside of Wall St.

    So: $500 million spread out over 20 years and divided among 8 major charities…. That comes to only $3 million per charity per year. That’s a small price to pay. Of course if the EM wants it all as a one-time lump sum….

    the idea of pro-business Republicans selling the city’s to hedge-fund douchebags that’s really an example of crony capitalism.

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  8. alex said on November 15, 2013 at 8:45 am

    I live in a community that has had more trite losses of innocence than a professional virgin. But then our news media have always been better at sucking than at anything else.

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  9. Deborah said on November 15, 2013 at 9:02 am

    Matt Taibbi has a lot of juicy stuff to say about JPMorgan Chase. I tried to create a link to one of the pieces but it was glitchy. He has a blog on the Rolling Stone site that you can Google if you’re interested.

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  10. Jolene said on November 15, 2013 at 9:09 am

    Love the picture of Wendy. I’m generally more attracted to dogs with longer hair (My best canine pal was an Aussie.) and more colorful coats, but she is a heart-stealer.

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  11. nancy said on November 15, 2013 at 9:12 am

    While we’re loving our animals, here’s a video for you equestrians, especially Charlotte.

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  12. Julie Robinson said on November 15, 2013 at 9:14 am

    Here’s what I find curious about the DIA proposal: we, as a society, don’t value art and artists nearly as much as we value say, sports and sports stars. Yet I don’t think there are any proposals to balance the budget by selling a stadium, are there? Perhaps the art is what has true and lasting value after all, she says cynically.

    The DIA was an amazing surprise to me when we visited this summer. The collection is astounding in both its quality and quantity. I didn’t know that the collection has to remain intact, which is unfortunate. But really, are there no other ways to find this money?

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  13. brian stouder said on November 15, 2013 at 9:24 am

    What Alex said, regarding our locale.

    Last night an SUV smashed right into a house, and was chased by the cops. Ultimately the driver smashed over a Fort Wayne police car at Carrol High School.


    Carrol is a suburban school, and is in the background photo…but does the headline scream “POLICE CAR SMASHED AT CARROL HIGH SCHOOL”?


    But if anything happens near South Side High School, the name “South Side High School” will be in the headline.

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  14. Julie Robinson said on November 15, 2013 at 9:39 am

    Oh, and here’s a bad news/good news story that happened in suburbia. A friend’s hubby left his car unlocked in their driveway, and it got cleaned out, including their checkbook. A few days later, she got a call from a teller at their bank, who asked if she had written a large check to someone for car repairs. No? Then would you like me to call the police? Yes, she would, and he was arrested. Chalk this one up to an observant teller who took the time to compare the signature to the one in their system and didn’t think it a good match.

    Now I certainly don’t possess a criminal mind, but if I were trying to cash a check I had forged, and had to wait while the teller made not one but two phone calls, I think I would vamoose.

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  15. nancy said on November 15, 2013 at 9:50 am

    Never underestimate how stupid some people can be. My doctor told me the other day that someone got his DEA number and was writing scrips for opiates all over town. The authorities told him to relax, nothing could really be done, etc. Then the bad guys went to a pharmacy in Grosse Pointe. The pharmacist called, and he said, “Stall them while I call the police.” The GP cops, with little else to do, were there in about 90 seconds. Arrested everyone and seized their car, which was full of cash and drugs, all of which they will now keep.

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  16. Suzanne said on November 15, 2013 at 10:44 am

    I live in a small, rural community which is encountering severe jail overcrowding due to meth activity. I know a small town cop (Bluffton, IN) who says pretty much all he does anymore is meth related. And yet, I hear a constant chorus of “In our little town??” Wake up, people.

    As far as the Holloway incident, I say “blah, blah, blah.” I have known far to many parents of teens who give lip service to all that discipline tough talk, but in reality, most of them don’t really care that their kids are involved in unsavory activities. Once it gets completely out of control and someone gets hurt or arrested, then, suddenly, it’s all about everybody else’s lack of parenting…

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  17. Suzanne said on November 15, 2013 at 10:49 am

    That should be “far TOO many parents”. Bad spelling day.

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  18. Charlotte said on November 15, 2013 at 11:20 am

    Livingston is small enough that the bank tellers tend to know most of us, by sight anyhow, and call in check fraud all the time. One friend had someone break in in the middle of the night while they were sleeping and steal all his jars of coins out of his office — several years worth of spare change — seven or eight hundred bucks worth. Got caught taking the jars to the local bank to be run through the machine — especially since he stole Scott’s backpack along with the coins. Doh.

    Loved the pole bending horse, but he was being a real brat on the way out of the ring!

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  19. Dexter said on November 15, 2013 at 11:57 am

    I know some of you folks have children who are searching and considering options for post-secondary education. I found this less than shocking: revered UC Berkeley, best public university in the land, is a breeze to pass admissions scrutiny, providing you can stuff a basketball, run a football through a maze, or are a 6’5″ girl and can spike a volleyball.

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  20. beb said on November 15, 2013 at 12:17 pm

    Julie @12: Most municipalities don’t own the stadiums even though they helped finance them.

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  21. brian stouder said on November 15, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    Well, I look forward to the Bridge and/or our Proprietress’s thoughtful take on what looks to be a Trayvon Martin II criminal case in Dearborn Heights

    Michigan’s self-defense law states that residents have no duty to retreat while in their own homes if they have an honest and reasonable belief of imminent death or great bodily harm. On Thursday, a toxicology report from the medical examiner’s office revealed McBride had a high blood alcohol content and marijuana in her system when she died.

    McBride’s blood alcohol content was .218 percent, nearly three times the legal driving limit of 0.08 percent in the state of Michigan.

    The shooter is now charged, and thanks to the Stand Your Ground laws, the dead young lady is about to go on trial

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  22. Peter said on November 15, 2013 at 1:12 pm

    I am so mad at myself that I didn’t know about the JPM event – oh, how would I have loved to write something in on that one – although the ones I read were good enough…

    I hate them with the passion of a thousand suns. I hate Jamie Dimon more than Propsero hates George Bush.

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  23. Lex said on November 15, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    “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.”

    I can’t speak for Michigan, but here in North Carolina, the hell it would. Fortunately, not having a comparably large art collection to worry about (although Charlotte’s Mint Museum and the state art museum in Raleigh might be close), we just have to worry about little stuff like the governor raiding the state teachers’ pension fund to offer higher starting salaries to beginning teachers. Grrrr.

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  24. LAMary said on November 15, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    I know someone who completed her MBA about two years ago and part of the course work had to do with Jamie Dimon. In a positive way. She spoke about him like he had found the cure for cancer. I told her he was a vile person but she wasn’t having any of that.

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  25. brian stouder said on November 15, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    Success is a perfume all its own.

    If I had to pick a wealthy financial person who I don’t know, but who I admire – probably someone like Warren Buffet or Alan Mullally (spelling may be wrong – the guy who runs Ford after having run Boeing) would come to mind.

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  26. Deborah said on November 15, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    Peter, you need one of these http://www.zazzle.com/greedy_bastard_01_t_shirts-235831180089763129

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  27. Jolene said on November 15, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    There are other collections of the #AskJPM tweets online. For instance, there’s one at http://www.marketplace.org/topics/tech/funniest-askjpm-tweets-reveal-pitfalls-social-media

    A couple of my favorites:

    How do you get bloodstains out of a clown sut?

    As a young sociopath, how can I succeed in finance?

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  28. MarkH said on November 15, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    Jamie Dimon has indeed earned a rep as a brilliant banker (oh, look how many screens have vomit on them right now). Not making excuses for this guy, as it could be the case that he had too much to handle running JPM to be unaware of the London Whale debacle in 2012. And, certainly, heads should have rolled in the investment side of JPM. He did earn high marks for helping navigate through the financial crisis starting in 2008, including initially refusing TARP money Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson was forcing on all the banks that said they didn’t need it, like JPM.

    Our smarter-than-everyone president has certainly not backed away from his stated affection for Dimon, at least not publicly. From Wikipedia:

    After Obama won the 2008 presidential election, there was speculation that Dimon would serve in the Obama Administration as Secretary of the Treasury. Obama eventually named the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Timothy Geithner, to the position.[35]

    Following the acquisition of Washington Mutual by JPMorgan Chase, Obama commented on Dimon’s handling of the real-estate crash, credit crisis, and the banking collapse affecting corporations nationwide, including major financial institutions like Bank of America, Citibank, and Wachovia (now Wells Fargo).

    “You know, keep in mind, though there are a lot of banks that are actually pretty well managed, JPMorgan being a good example, Jamie Dimon, the CEO there, I don’t think should be punished for doing a pretty good job managing an enormous portfolio.”

    Dimon is influential in the Obama White House with close ties to some there, including former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Dimon is one of three CEOs—along with Lloyd Blankfein and Vikram Pandit—said by the Associated Press to have [had] liberal access to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. Nonetheless, Dimon has often publicly disagreed with some of Obama’s policies.

    On the May 15, 2012, episode of ABC’s The View, Obama responded to a question from Whoopi Goldberg regarding JPMorgan Chase’s recently publicized $2 billion trading losses by defending Dimon against allegations of irresponsibility, saying, “first of all, JP Morgan is one of the best managed banks there is. Jamie Dimon, the head of it, is one of the smartest bankers we’ve got”, but added, “it’s going to be investigated”.


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  29. brian stouder said on November 15, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    I enjoyed the book Too Big To Fail, and ran into all these names (and more), and the truth – it seems to me – is that big complex undertakings sometimes slip from being in-control to becoming out-of-control.

    Viewed that way, the tut-tutting over the difficulties with implementing the ACA pale compared to all these Masters of the Universe crashing their enterprises as 2008 ended

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  30. Judybusy said on November 15, 2013 at 4:37 pm

    To set us off on the weekend, the National Geographic photo contest winners are in.

    And things are moving along on the homefront: the concrete pad got poured today for our new garage. Windows and siding are due to be done 1st week of December. We are riduculously excited.

    Another book on banking is The Bankers’ New Clothes. I started to read it; it seems accessible, bt I just wasn’t in the mood to get furious at the time. It’s still one the list.

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  31. Deborah said on November 15, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    This is for your Prospero http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/pope-and-patti-smith-111513

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  32. coozledad said on November 15, 2013 at 9:08 pm

    This speeds up healthcare.gov considerably.

    Suck on it, Republicans. Keep rooting for the country to fail, why dontcha. Gonna lose more than VA. And boy howdy did you lose it.

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  33. Dexter said on November 15, 2013 at 10:56 pm

    One thing about living in a small town like I do is that long after our kids graduated high school (youngest one 18 years ago) , and it’s been that long since we attended any school events of any sort, when the football team is undefeated in November and has just kicked the asses of the #4 team in the state 49-19 (they led 42-6 at the half) , and now will play #1 Kenton next weekend, the enthusiasm permeates the air, the excitement dances through the streets, and even the old forgotten denizens of the town (me) take notice. If the local lads win, it’s on to Canton for the state championship game. This has never happened here. This tired-ass old town finally has something to be excited over.

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  34. Dexter said on November 15, 2013 at 11:05 pm

    This whole Batkid thing was a smashing success Friday in San Francisco. The Penguin was no match for The Batkid.

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  35. brian stouder said on November 16, 2013 at 12:08 am

    Dexter, superb news about that football team!

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  36. Dexter said on November 16, 2013 at 12:24 am

    Yeah, brian…it’s really different since for years the local boys only would win a couple games a year.

    brian, are you saturated with JFK assassination movies and documentaries yet? I expect even more to be aired in the upcoming week leading to November 22.

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  37. David C. said on November 16, 2013 at 6:19 am

    Judybusy, The Banker’s New Clothes had the same effect on me. I was only a couple of chapters in and I just couldn’t stand the tension anymore. I mostly read books on science now. They keep my brain working without all the high blood pressure.

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  38. coozledad said on November 16, 2013 at 7:29 am

    David C.: If you’re interested in architecture or early colonial history at all, The Framed Houses of Massachussetts Bay 1625-1725 (Abbot Lowell Cummings) is a beautiful book and sleep aid. It gets technical enough that you have to pay some attention.

    The research that must have gone into it is impressive.

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  39. alex said on November 16, 2013 at 9:16 am

    Attention motorheads, history buffs and and urban spelunkers: A photo essay documenting the last days of a fascinatingly gritty place. After Chicago hosted the World’s Fair in 1893, the fairgrounds and facilities were transformed into a majestic campus of parks and public spaces and cultural institutions. After NYC played host in 1939, its fairgrounds became a dark underside of the city seldom seen and little known.

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  40. Deborah said on November 16, 2013 at 9:57 am

    Alex, that was a great photo essay. Too bad the planned urban development is another example of the inauthentic, evaluative oblivion that makes up so much of the landscape today.

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  41. brian stouder said on November 16, 2013 at 10:01 am

    Dexter – I’ve been skipping all the JFK stuff.

    Years ago I watched a haunting Walter Cronkite/PBS examination of the events in Dallas; it troubled me greatly at that time, and the thought of it still does.

    That was where I first learned that Oswald is locked into having fired three shots (from the recovered weapon and shell-casings), with one being a clean-miss (striking the curb), and one being the horrible ending of the president’s life….leaving just one bullet to do everything else before that horrible shot….and the finding of the “pristine bullet” on the gurney at Parkland hospital, which has all the correct rifling marks from the weapon found in the depository.

    That show also included photos of the dead president from the hospital which I’d never seen before.

    Truly, at that point, I was done. Certainly, there was a lot going on – whether orchestrated or not – and maybe someday we’ll know a bit more. But that was scarey, unsettling stuff

    But leaving that aside, Tuesday will mark the anniversary of a “a few appropriate remarks” by a person who thought they would be little noted, nor long remembered, at a military cemetery 7 score and 10 years ago (and who, indeed, was himself murdered as part of a synchronized terror attack [long before al Qaeda thought of such a thing] that also almost lead to the death of the SecState, while the guy sent for the Vice President changed his mind)

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  42. brian stouder said on November 16, 2013 at 10:16 am

    Alex – that was very good stuff.

    In the last third of the photos there was a shot of something I’ve seen around town hereabouts lately – shoes thrown over utility wires.

    What is that? Is it a gang thing?

    Aside from that, here’s the funniest headline from the sports section of this morning’s Fort Wayne Journal Gazette:

    Kenseth grabs pole as he chases Johnson

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