Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Where are the editors?

Why is financial prose so often so faulty. Re-reading Roger Lowenstein's When Genius Failed now, and it is
in many ways a fine book. He's got a great theme going: arrogant believers in pure rationality versus the old guard, trusting experience. Intellect vs. instinct. In some ways it revisits John Henry and the steam engine.

And yet, who was editing this book? There are so many portents, omens, signs, indications, auguries and foreshadowings that it's all excessively overdetermined. Pretty much every page has some version of, "seen in in hindsight, it's now clear that blah." Hindsight is famously easy after the fact. Who are the editors that let all these omens through? Cmon guys, work a little.

But John Meriwether is really, right up with Mohammed Atta, a figure crying out for a biopic. Great dramatic material for both of them, if different. What are the Weinstein brothers up to if not making these movies? Slackers.

Back to the question of books, take Peter Bernstein's Against the Gods. Again, a classic, sui generis, the only good general history of the development of probability theory there is. But the chapter structure leaves something to be desired. There are like 20 chapters, each of them dedicated to a seminal figure in the history of probability and risk assessment. Each chapter is this: there was this guy, he was really smart, but also eccentric (drank a lot, whored a lot, played cards), he contributed blah to the theory of risk, with blah taking 8-10 pages.

First off, this violates the basic principle that any given narrative can have a limited number of highpoints, typically 3 or 4. The story must rise to and fall from them. You just can't have 20 peaks. Again, an editor could have done wonders.

Photo session with Natalie

Just looking over the many shots Mary took, over an hour and a half, to get a good holiday card picture of Natalie and Graham. Several reflections follow, all from reading Natalie's face (Graham being too young to really understand).

  1. It really must suck to have a photographer for a mom. All that sitting still can really make a young girl mad.
  2. Having lots of exposures of the same person really gives a lot of nuance, and in aggregate really provides a tremendous view into a personality, especially when there's an element of duress at work in the sitting and someone cavorting in the background to try to distract the sitter. The archival value will lie in the session and the range of expressions elicited, not the final picture selected for distribution.

    Balzac famously resisted being photographed, fearing that a piece of his soul was being pealed off, like the layers of an onion. As if soul were a zero sum game. Who knows, maybe for him it was. I don't think it's a very lossy transaction, although, as any good pomo person will object, the distinction between performing a self and being onesself is pretty thin and can be easily effaced entirely by a perceived need to perform.

Hmmm. Better get ready for work.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Christmas lights at Saks

Looking down over 5th Ave right now from my office as it's getting dark. A couple of lame little "tasteful" trees over in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral (what do you expect from a church?), but the lights on Saks 5th rock pretty good. OK, they're monochrome, and right now they're just sitting there, but at times they wind those puppies up and get some fine rhythmic patterns going. On. Off. Fading. Flashing. Not bad for a staid department store.

Give us a break

Though it remains hands down the best English-language news magazine, even as it quaintly refers to itself as a "newspaper", The Economist sometimes wraps its head around its ankles. In its year-end issue it devotes a couple of pages to mocking lit-crit types who've been "deconstructing" the Economist, making fun, in particular, of their quasi-exegetical pretensions to finding and decoding domineering and exclusionary master narratives within its articles. Great. It's always fun to pick on the goofy excesses of graduate students and junior faculty. It sells magazines and grants an air of intellectual superiority.

But wait! In the same issue, in its cover story on Apocalypticism, millenarianism, etc., the Economist does its own bit of lit crittery, and not a particularly inventive one at that. Succeeding earlier cyclical cosmologies, Zoroaster begets apocalypticism and a linear conception of history, bequeathing it to Judeaism and Christianity (OK. Standard fare). Marxist historiography also has an apocalyptic master narrative (also not news). Manifest destiny and even the idea of "progress" depend on a the imputed presence of an End (Lit Crit 201). In short, this is all a type of grand hermeneutics which is inconceivable without the speculative inheritance of the literary theoretical tradition which stretches from Nietzsche to the present.

I can see scientists cringing in their lab coats, gazing longingly at their pin-ups of Allen Sokal. "It's all so speculative, there's no data, no proof!" But here's the thing: scientists have budgets for labs. They make lots of mistakes there, and don't publish them. They also publish tons of useless or soon-to-be-superceded work. Humanists have only one good lab: the market. They discuss things with colleagues, which could be likened to preliminary due diligence, get drafts read, and then publish. At that point in time, their ideas really enter the lab. So yeah, there's lots of funny stuff floating around out there. The real reason magazines don't make fun of scientists so much is not that there's not lots of foolishness out there, but that their work doesn't provide as much good comic material.

Thursday, December 23, 2004


Who'd have thunk it? Food poisoning? From Whole Foods fresh chicken sausage?

And I've got to drive to the in-laws in the rain, over the GWB and all. Yuck.

Random notes

Blue hooked me up with some fine tunes. Ted Leo's not bad, reminiscent of the Jam, the Buzzcocks, Squirrel Bait, Blur. The Arcade Fire, on the other hand, is flat out rich. I'm shocked Black Francis isn't involved. The chord progressions and general lyrical flow are so Pixies-like, and not the Kim Deal side of things.

For those with an interest, the Sex Police are reuniting for one show at the Cat's Cradle on New Year's Eve. It'll be a great chance to relive the Chapel Hill scene before Sonic Youth made fun of us, before Polvo, Archers of Loaf, Ben Folds Five, and other bands threatened for a moment to turn the southern part of heaven into the next Seattle / Athens. Before the internet and the total subsumption of the alt scene by the majors changed things entirely.

Oh yeah, on yesterday's paean to 1989, I forgot to link to the great anthem of the period, "'89" by the Croatian Iggy Pop-loving band Majke. This live one's not as good as the album version, but hell, it's free.

Off to the in-laws for the holidays. Low bandwidth. Will try to check in with the Grouse, but it's hard to predict.

S rozhdestvom! Happy holidays! Joyeux Noel! Feliz Navidad! and so on.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

A big day

December 22nd is a huge day. I remember December 22nd, 1989 so clearly. The dictator Nikolai Ceausescu and his wife Elena got were apprehended in Romania by agents of the uprisen people. American troops moved in on the rogue drug-dealer Noriega in Panama. I remember well watching the news on a big screen in the Student Union in Chapel Hill and thinking that things really were changing, incredibly. On Christmas day, when they lined the Ceausescus up and shot them dead like the dogs they were, it sealed in blood the genteel progression from the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Velvet Revolution in Prague through the release of Mandela in February of 1990. It's instructive to recall that there was a moment in our lives when history really opened up and revealed seemingly endless possibilities, when it really seemed like progress was in the wind. The oft-posited analogy with 1848 is well taken.

That 9/11 is the counterpoint to the solstice of '89, and that its preconditions were already simmering at that time in the mountains of Afghanistan and elsewhere, that's the great irony. Frances Fukuyama already in the summer of '89 speculated that religious fundamentalism might supplant the Cold War struggle as the dominant sub-narrative after the "end of history," but he didn't quite sense how quickly and violently a virulent hatred of the West and secular "progress" would flow into the cavity left by the fallen demon communism. Who did? Whoops.

Monday, December 20, 2004

The Party's over...

and the numbers are in.

Number of guests attending: 54
Average # of guests in house at once: 33
Injuries or broken dishes: 0
Beers drunk: 1
Cookies and desserts brought into the house: Beyond counting

A number of key inferences can be derived from this year's holiday party:

* We can fit more people in our house, and therefore invite more.

* Utilizing our precise tabulations of food purchased, imported, and eaten, we can better predict future consumption, thereby reducing future waste, taking into account a few additional variables, such as average age of child. Aggregate and per capita consumption can be assumed to correlate to age of children, which should only rise. Anecdotal evidence does not suggest that this rise in consumption will be to any demonstrable degree offset by a decrease in consumption by aging adults.

* (As if to demonstrate the above) Those desserts made with chocolate chips, coconut, caramel and a graham cracker crust are too delicious, even if made right out of a box.

* Do not leave important and fancy dishes in the closet off the downstairs bathroom if 7-year olds will be present. An impromptu game of hide-and-seek almost lit up the board on the "injuries and broken dishes" stat.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

More holiday cheer

Our own holiday party starts in a few hours. Food and drinks are pretty much good to go. House is clean. Guest list is firmed up. Should be lots of fun.

Discussion of my employer's 4th quarterly meeting can be found on my other blog.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Too much money, too few ideas

Everybody agrees all the major hedge fund arb strategies are overfunded and maxed out. In its recent survey of private equity, the Economist notes that PE funds are having trouble finding exit strategies because they can't IPO and big corporate buyers aren't stepping in, making Private Equity a troublesome place to leave money. Where are the truly High Net Worth to put all their cash? LVMH can't absorb it all. Break out the violins.

They'll tell you that VC industry provides capital to start ups. Why does it need to exit? Why can't investors stick around for a business to mature and live off the income from them, like the god-fearing entrepreneurs of the dinner tables of yore?

What it all boils down to is too much money chasing too few ideas, and I mean real world ideas, not investment strategies. What have we come up with since the bubble burst? Offshoring. Itunes. Sarbanes-Oxley. The Patriot Act. That's about it. GM rebadges the Impreza as a Saab. Shiver me timbers.

If the superrich don't know what to do with their money, one idea might be, ummm, a more progressive tax structure to pay down the frickin deficit. Golly.

Generally entrepreneurialism beat down by corporate culture. With a big box for everything or a website category killer, and the rest of the web to spread ideas quickly, there's room for fewer consumer and business facing niches.

Meanwhile, out in California, one of the few, the proud Grousereaders has nurtured a consumer products idea in his capacious bosom for some time, and will soon unleash it on America with a fury like none seen for many a quarter! I think it has something to do with computers... Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Seasonal cheer

Ah, the holidays. Good times abounding. Natalie and I decorated the tree on Saturday while listening to the Charlie Brown Chistmas soundtrack. I even strung up lights on the porch and the house looks fabulous.

This does, however, return me to a debate on Christmas tree lights and holiday aesthetics in general which I have with Mary and her fellow Westchesterite siblings. I grew up with a twinkling tree, not a blinking one. That is, the lights blinked irregularly, so that the tree twinkled. All these swanky yankees I married into, however, insist that Christmas tree lights should be static. Some even advocate for white lights. Boring.

As far as yards go, we drive by big fancy houses now with restrained lighting on their bushes and Mary praises them and I'm just like: where are the glowing sleighs, reindeer, elves, candycanes and whatnot? Why no blinking? That's the stuff that defined the destination yards when I was a kid. Not that you would want all that crap in your own yard, or your neighbor's, for that matter, but you could appreciate that somebody had done all that work and really brought the season to life. And you got in your car and drove there.

I had meant to write about holiday card and party and all that, but I see 15 minutes have gone by. Back to coal mine.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Masha Gessen is...

The Muscovite journalist Masha Gessen was in Princeton a couple of weeks ago giving a talk on censorship and self-censorship in Putin's Russia and gently stumping for her new book about her two grandmothers during the purges. One of them was, you guessed it, a censor, and the other one also had to make some accomodations with the Stalin regime, as did most. Since they bent a little and made it through, we have Masha, a no-nonsense investigative journalist in time and place not really suited for her ilk.

After her talk I joined Masha (whom I knew from Moscow) and a bunch of others for a dinner, and I asked her about our common friend Katia Petrovskaia, originally of Kiev but now in Berlin. Masha promised me to send Katia's email address, but hasn't done so just yet. Tsk tsk.

In a discussion of the so-called "World Wide Web," Masha recounted how she and some of her friends play a game called "Googlism" where they google the phrase "(Googler's name) is" and see what comes up. Lets see how soon it is that Masha plays that game, and if she pulls up the Grouse. Stay tuned, fair reader, for an update...

Sunday, December 12, 2004

They can put it in you...

But they can't take it out.

This is one of the many bullshit macho mantras bandied about on ESPN2's 3, a biopic of the late Dale Earnhardt and his moustache. Mary was kind enough to sit and watch this piece of red-state hooey, which consisted largely of guys with standing around nodding, furrowing their brows, and saying alternately deep, homoerotic, and portentous things to one another, and then going and racing cars. Fishing, hunting, beer and guns are also featured. In one classic scene, Earnhardt lays down the law and tells his son, also known as Dale, that he must finish high school if he wants to race stock cars like his paw. Tough love.

It segued directly into the World Series of Poker, featuring lots of guys who wear their sunglasses indoors, including one guy whose trademark is, get this, wearing them upside down! I want to launch a start-up just so I can hire that guy.

I'm glad I watched ESPN2 tonight so I could get back in touch with what it means to be a man.

Graham is walking

Yes indeed, the little guy is taking steps consistently and somewhat confidently, taking off from a standing start: i.e. pulling up or getting up off a step or the little star couch up here on the third floor. And he has this expression of immense pride and glee.

And he's expanded his repertoire of consonants as well, having mastered all the vowels, probably, while still in the womb, but certainly on the maternity ward.

And he's fallen in love with Brown Bear, Brown Bear. A reasonable step towards literacy. To double his fun, he walks while holding his favorite book. I like it.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Happy and Secure Holidays!

Dear Grousereader,

It has been my pleasure to provide you with blogmatter this year, and I look forward to continuing to do so through 2005.

Graham Berridge Troy
917 Ruminant Ave
Central, NJ 08007

ps. This note shouldn't exactly be construed as a threat to those who choose not to contribute.

pss. The forward-looking may also consider also supporting Ernie&Bert2008.DNC.org.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

On machismo and other censoring forces in the blog

I've talked about censoring forces on the blog before, and here I am again. On the one hand, the blog should be a free medium, bloggers write about anything they want. On the other hand, this blog is mostly being read by a bunch of guys that I know, so there's a strong tendency for a sort of egghead machismo to impose itself, a pressure to write what's pleasing to my audience. Wit, first and foremost. Sardonicism.

But wit and irony, as we all know, is a prime way of distancing onesself from whatever one is dealing with. From James Ellroy to Martin Amis, there's a strong tendency in contemporary literature (and has been for some time) to interpose a strong-voiced narrator between reader and narrative, to wall experience off in affect. Immediacy can also be a fetish, but it can be done well, as Claire Messud has done so stunningly in the first half of her most recent book, The Hunters. (had to get a plug in for Claire, who, full disclosure, is a friend from college)

And of course I can't really blame the blog. I'm talking about myself, really, my blog. In any case, my 15 minutes are up and I don't know where I was going with this. Oh well.

The general and the specific

Of all the blogs I've checked out, and it's not really all that many, one that sticks in my brain if not my bookmarks is one where a woman, amongst other stuff, described her commute home in the DC suburbs. Like so. "Did it again today. I meant to get off 495 and Jensen's Corner Rd., but I forgot about the construction on the offramp and I had to go all the way down to the Smithson Ave exit. I got forced into the westbound lane and had to make a U-turn via the WalMart parking lot, where I was backed up for 5 light cycles. Then it started to rain."

On the one hand, I have no idea what she's talking about, those specifics of time and place. On the other hand, I'm right there with her, cursing fate as 25 minutes of the precious post-work day are eaten up by one moment of lapsed attention and a whole lot of civil engineering. When you get this effect, the blog rises to the level of great realism, the great realistic novel, where the utterly particular is conveyed with the proper tone and nods to the reader so that it rises to the level of the universal. Or, at least, it's universal to anyone close enough in experience to the narrator to get it.

Good documentaries can achieve the same effect, though they tend to be marred, ironically, by excess didacticism, with affectations of cinema verite undercut by preaching to the converted agendas. Errol Morris does it well, at times.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004


Andy Roddick, the Times tells us, was very sportmanlike in the US Davis Cup loss to Spain, even though he couldn't win on clay to save his life. Good work, kid. Back in the day, I would have been into his Green Day affectations and other goofiness, but now I think it just detracts from his already sufficiently boring game.

I remember back when Ben Jonson and Carl Lewis went head to head in the Olympics and Ben, with steroids making his eyes a blazing, raging red, was like: "I'm gonna kick that skinny boy's ass" where Lewis, in his quasi Michael Jackson voice, allowed that "I just want to go out and do my best and run my fastest..." and I just wanted Jonson to crush him like a bug, because Jonson was being more honest and forthright.

But now, when I hear athletes attribute their success to God and the like, particularly African American athletes (as middle American white people's Christianity just gives me the willies), I think there's something rather touching and earnest about it, an understanding that success combines something received and something made, a refusal to be egomaniacal about accomplishment.

But I dunno. Maybe this graciousness is deceiving, yet another example of ideology as bad faith. The corporate world rewards the steroidal alpha dog before all else. Better go do that.

Monday, December 06, 2004

No time. Must actually work

I'm getting behind at work, if you can believe that. Am supposed to have submitted my quarterly review, but instead must concentrate on getting a proposal in the hands of a hedge fund that is insisting that we sell to them more quickly. What a rare situation. Meanwhile another hedge fund opportunity via a former wholesaling client in lies fallow while I can't do anything. Crazy.

Perhaps it's best that I write little, as I've thought equally little.

Had lunch at a diner that proclaims itself to have "The best wait staff in the history of the world" in a message scrawled permanently on a wall mirror. This is not in fact borne out empirically.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Crossover artist

While working on my Christmas List, I stopped back by Gillian Welch's website to evaluate her albums we don't yet own, and got hooked on a concert video of "Red Clay Halo," which is basically an intensely beautiful and upbeat meditation on death, or "crossing over." Another variant on ashes to ashes. Meaningful art about death is hard for us to swallow. There is no basically secular idiom of death. "Your mom died, oh man, that's really hard."

The gloom and doom of funereal and church iconography don't really quite get it, either. I mean, yes, looking upwards in a gothic church, at the stained glass and all that, does intimate transcendence and permanence, but it's all very cerebral. Does little for the gut.

But bluegrass and other folk traditions celebrating death, really singing it, that's hard to assimilate within daily life. It's a whole other dimension of devotional art, very powerful and disruptive in its own way.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Stay the horse

What was that about not changing horses in the middle of a war? Wasn't continuity of leadership one of the key reasons cited by some for leaving Bush in charge? Now Tom Ridge is going, after Powell, Ashcroft, and four more cabinet level people. Ashcroft, in particular, can burn in hell as far as I care, the less prominent others may be scarcely more defensible.

But continuity we ain't got. Nothing like it. Imagine how down we must be to be excited about keeping Arlen Specter in place.

The Democratic Party needs to get its money in order and see if it can't hire Karl Rove.

From the look s of him and his background, Ridge would seem to be well-suited for Joe Paterno's job.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Thanksgiving dish, by dish

- High-end pate, smelly French (or "Freedom") cheese. Not so Atkinsy a bunch as to be done without crackers.

- Delicious and moist, a rarety for the other other white meat
- A 20 lb bird, though the literature said 1 lb per person would do. Others were sold out. Kosher. Moist and delicious, though the perennial problem of cooking breast to 170 degrees and thighs to 180 (or something like that) occasioned some stress.

- This year, cooked outside of bird, because of my sister's kids Daniel and
Caroline's allergies to the wonderful milk products in it. That is, butter. Tasty enough, containing plentiful sausage with seasonally appropriate quantities of sage, though the stuffing longed for the cavity, where it so likes to commune with bird and juices.

- Shiitake mushrooms, butter, cream, fresh herbs, turkey stuff. Say no more.

- These were my responsibility, and here's where the sad part starts
- I boiled them for too long, so they were a little extra glutinous
- I used all the Yukon Golds, where Daniel and Caroline could have had them for lactose-free baked potatos, but they had to settle for the less-festive Russets (no public protest was registered)
- Then, as the meal approached and Graham was crying and Natalie called out for dinner and I was trying to nuke the taters to get them ready, I realized I was about to get them more than kid hot and decided to serve some for Natalie. But because the bowl barely fit in the microwave, I accidentally pulled out the glass "turntable" from the oven, shattering it on the floor, creating a child hazard. This was a stressful moment for your blogger.
- Then, when I put the potatos on the table as we were trying to assemble dinner, petals were knocked from the chrysanthemums in the centerpiece into the taters. Stressful moment #2.

String beans
- With walnuts and garlic, tasty and low-impact

- Strawberry, for the kids
- Pecan, for us. Crust made from scratch with real butter to avoid non-festive transfats. Made from my grandmother's recipe, which my mom had emailed to me for me to print. But I haven't set up my new printer yet, and have no paper, so mom had to read from my laptop, which she left perched precariously with kids running round. Delicious.

Key learning
- The kitchen is too small for that many people, especially with the peninsula counter thing situated as it is.
- The glass things at the bottom of microwaves are not shatterproof

Joy of joys

There's something rather scary about the pictures of people, most of them women, poised at dawn and glowing transcendentally, ready to burst into WalMarts and other stores the day after Thanksgiving. What is so exciting, so fulfilling about dashing out like droids to do the bidding of Bentonville? And yet, there they are, smiles etched on their faces, pushing and shoving each other gently to go out and blow their hard-earned dollars on mind-numbing ephemera. If Wall Street could take a cue from Madison Avenue and develop an asset-accumulating product that elicits some of the excitement as these vapid cashflow dissipators, we'd be in much better shape.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Decibels no zero sum deal

Anyone who stresses out about the 2nd law of thermodynamics and the finiteness of resources has never considered the problem of the noise-production capacities of small children. This becomes apparent to me whenever I take a day off from work, and particularly when the weather is crappy and we're stuck inside. Natalie is particularly prodigious in this capacity, although Graham has, since birth, been blessed enormous excess lung capacity. It would be great to securitize this surplus capacity and set up an exchange, even if only OTC.

This would seem to account for some of Mary's ersatz axe-murderer tendencies at the end of the day. Not that we own an axe.

Thankfully, the relaxing holidays are upon us. We'll just throw together a little something to eat and kick back and enjoy ourselves. Yeah right.

That reminds me of a fine tale of the duelling linguists. One of them was holding forth, saying how remarkable it was that while double negatives were everywhere construed as having an affirmative meaning, the opposite was not true: double positives were nowhere understood to be negative. To which the other responded: "Yeah right."

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Seasonal Classics

New laptop and wifi in the home now, so blog should burgeon more.

Thinking this morning about the emotional feasibility of showing Pieces of April over the holiday to the assembled family led to reflection on the greatest seasonal pictures of all time.

Mr. Hulot's Holiday.
Jacques Tati's classic B & W, semi-silent film about a dorky Frenchman's week at the shore. Incisive but measured satire of everybody mixed with filigreed physical humor and a beautiful picture of a vacation culture we'll never know. On another level, straight out of Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy, Apollonian vs. Dionysian.

Fall / Thanksgiving
Pieces of April
The best Thanksgiving movie ever. Touches a myriad of family issues (estrangement, alzheimer's, Reliant station wagon with fake wood siding, cancer, food issues) and at once an allegory of America on a single stairwell. If you don't want to cry, don't watch. If you don't cry, see shrink.

Winter / Christmas
Auntie Mame
Rosalind Russell in a pure classic. From umpteen makeovers of an East Side apartment to Beaurigard T. Beaurigard in the would-be antebellum South to the sugary cocktails of Danbury, a movie every child and parent should watch once a year. I don't know why I see it as so Christmassy, but I do.

They show it all the time for good reason. One of the top 10 Hollywood movies made in my lifetime.

Spring is tougher. The mind runs to Being There, or maybe Kusturica's coming of age classic When Father Was Away on Business.

While thinking of Tati, one scene comes to mind. At the end of Parade, something he did in 1974 for Swedish TV, after a couple of hours of filming his trained circus performer types do tricks, the by then oldish Tati trains his camera on two toddlers with a ball, and films them for a few minutes. You can just feel what's going on, this old guy, who's staged some of the most incredibly complex sight gags in history (the restaurant scene in the 1965 Playtime, for instance), lingers on the pure improvisation of youth. A physical comic who began as a ballplayer watching kids learn the rudiments of his initial metier.

Two weeks ago out at a pony ride, goats, and donut farm near Princeton, I saw an octogenarian guy sitting in the shade in a fold-up chair just watching kids and smiling broadly. I think he was on the same wavelength as Tati, having arrived at the point where the entertainment he needed was pretty elemental and elementary. We should all hope to get there.

Monday, November 22, 2004

In the cleavage of nature / culture

The Times' "Week in Review" section had some duelling banjos going on. On one page, it cited an essay on sustainability from spiked-online stating that "Environmentalism can be seen as a counterattack against a key premise of the Enlightenment: that a central part of progress consists of increasing human control over nature." It's a good old argument: man is set off from nature by consciousness, and therefore should seek to surmount nature wherever possible. Culture over nature.

On the Times' next page, in an article about whether kids should be encouraged to achieve or whether they should all be tracked together, some woman from the American Enterprise Institute weighed in that schools should let boys play at Lord of the Flies because "boys are hard-wired to compete." Now, her techno-metaphor notwithstanding, this is nature over culture. Culture can't hold the natural alpha dog-testosterone forces of these little boys back.

They're both on the Right, but they're arguing at cross purposes.

It would be easy enough to end there, and say that the Right needs to get its act straight on the nature / culture question. But the fact is that rare is the person who takes a consistent stand. Everyone is always negotiating some sort of compromise between nature and culture. Say you drive a Prius. You're still despoiling the environment. Is it defensible to drive it to the grocery store but not the convenience store because of unit environmental impact? People actually think about this stuff, but they're always arriving at compromises. The Unabomber was probably as good an example of a naturalist purist as your going to find, and look at him. At the other end of the spectrum, science fiction has thematized, from Blade Runner to Spock to C3P0 and R2D2 and onward, the persistence of an irrational human element in the machine and machine-like. And it is always the irrational that provides a hope of salvation and transcendence.

So nature / culture is a continuous sliding scale. The problem is when you start trying to build policy off of it.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Pull out of Iraq?

Thomas Friedman this Sunday considers, on the op-ed page of the Times, the age-old question: should we pull out of Iraq? No one of any degree of responsibility has, to my knowledge, ever advocated pulling out of Iraq. Just like nobody ever said that we shouldn't support the students at Columbine just because we disagreed with Klebold and Harris on the subjects of weapons usage or how hard high school can be.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Mad rush

"Mad rush, huh," I heard a guy comment from behind me as I approached the steps up to 7th Ave coming out of Penn Station. I think he was referring me and the fact that I was walking fast through the crowds, in my own little passing lane. "Uh huh", said his buddy.

Until the summer of 1990, I had never heard anyone say "Don't work too hard," and then all of a sudden I heard it everywhere. Not people talking to me, just talking in general, mouthing plattitudes, showing solidarity to one another in a generalized resistance to the Man. Another favored variant is "Are you workin' hard, or hardly workin'," which always elicits a good belly laugh and a hand slap. And of course, the general idea is very close to ashes to ashes, dust to dust, stop to smell roses, etc. If you work too hard, you miss out on the fine things in life.

Like donuts. Or talking about sports. Or the high-quality special effects in the latest mega-release. Or Howard Stern and his crazy hi-jinks. This predominantly male office small-talk, can be pretty depressing. All the more reason to bust ass and make some money so you can stop going to work. Or, honestly, to can the blog, for the same reason.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Gasping for words

Or, rather, logorrhea being a more or less endemic function for the fingers a typin, the lack is, once more, on the level of thought. It's cold and dark, and all I do is work, where things are as grim as they can get at a "generalist" consultancy, where generalist means that we just sort of flail away and eventually something sticks.

I would be so much better off with a completely blind, anonymous blog where I could just rail on, or hold forth on, everything. I was once jealous of Andrew Solomon, for the courage he had to publish his goofy first book where he lived with alternative Russian artists in '89 and they fed him disinformation. "I should have been the one writing that book," I said. "We have friends in common. The jerk doesn't even speak Russian." Years pass. Solomon publishes more and more. Finally, out comes The Noonday Demon, the most mind-blowingly, heart-rendingly self-baring memoir of depression ever, where he talks about being so depressed that he runs out seeking anonymous gay sex in hopes of contracting AIDS. And fails to do so, even as he roars as a writer.

And it became clear to me that I couldn't have written the Russia book, let alone the depression one, because I don't have the boldness to take those kind of risks. Instead I took the slow-burning risks of a PhD in the humanities, which may yet prove to be the death of me, and the attendant risk of largely accomodative restraint. In the great state of New Jersey.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Entropy, Flux, Contigency, v1

Finally had a good leaf pile day Sunday. One in the front yard, one in the back. Everybody piled inside getting covered with leafy brown goodness. Natalie dumping stuff on Graham's head.

Later, though, I had to get the front yard one up so it wouldn't "suffocate the grass". These Mexican guys from the soon-to-be shutdown flophouse across the street were looking at me like I was crazy, out there with my rake and my tarp, leaving all kinds of brown interspersed with the green. I know what they were thinking: "Why is that gringo over there working so hard with that rake, when he could pay us $8 an hour for us to blow it away with many decibels."

The thing is (and you knew there had to be a thing), aside from giving you a little workout, using the rake is good because it keeps you in touch with the yard, and with the cyclical and paradoxical nature of all kinds of stuff. Leaves fall. Clean them up. All green. Great. Save for the fact that you're pulling out matter which could biodegrade and enrich the soil right there. Do you fertilize later? But hell, it's the Garden state, ever in need of care.

Nothing is so striking in New Jersey as the piles of plant matter hauled to the curb for pick-up. Everybody's got a little (p)lot, all with plants. We'll be damned if chaos will take over, in the form of plants growing the wrong way. So order is continually inscribing itself on the landscape, spitting disorder out in the form of branches, leaves, and other vegetal detritus, pushed to the curb... (only just starting to get deep)

Friday, November 12, 2004

Dressing the part

One of the pivotal moments of the campaign, for me, was when some of Kerry's staff were on the front page of the times. There they stood, languidly leaning against door frames all tricked out in Armani, with a variety of wet-looking hair products gracing their follicles. And then, on election night, here's Terry McAuliffe with some curls and a mildly casual look, staring at the camera like something straight out of a Hogarth. Out of touch with the mainstream? Stylistically, yes. Idiots.

Time was, if you were in politics, where you stood didn't matter. You dressed to the middle. Button-down collars. Lame-assed ties. Plain blue suits with conservative lapels. And then you could say whatever you want. It was a way of saying to middle America: look at me, I look like you, and therefore the positions I'm taking can't be too alien either.

Somewhere along the way somebody forgot about this and the Democratic Party started dressing like it was headed in to work at Goldman Sachs. Good thinking!

On the other hand, the by now syllogistic assertion that a Northern Democrat can't win the White House (could Pataki or Giuliani, for that matter?), while true and pragmatic, is pretty sad. If the North abides Southerners in the White House, why can't the rest of the country live with a Yankee? Because we're catering to the least tolerant amongst us, that's why. "John Kerry, it's like he's from another country." Yeah right. I don't know what planet John Ashcroft is from. At least he's gone.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

For Google -- Dino John Geanokoplos

Sadly, I just googled Yale's old Professor of Byzantine History, Dino John Geanokoplos, and found zero entries. Zero. Which is a shame. It's hard to find a good Byzantinist these days. Who will chronicle the doings of Theodora, the she-bitch of Byzantium? Who will inform younguns of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, author of The Divine Names and The Celestial Hierarchy, the very founder of apophatic theology, no less? That guy is googlable.

Dino was no softy. The guy gave me a B+ on my term paper, which in today's market would probably be an A- plus a bonus step for not having stolen it. And that one extra A would have made me magna rather than just plain cum. Drat.

I think Dino passed away not long ago, but there's no mention of it on the Yale.edu domain. Equally shameful. Purveyors of knowledge that recondite are not just employees, they're bearers.

We'll check back tomorrow on google and see if I've resurrected him.
Dino John Geanokoplos Dino John Geanokoplos Dino John Geanokoplos Dino John Geanokoplos

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

History receding

Big topics just not popping into head. Has the election just left a vacuum, the sort of "post-historical" space like what held forth between Fukuyama and 9/11? I mean, Ashcroft left, you gotta like that. Moron. If I were Powell I'd get the hell out of there myself and try to get on Jon Stewart and mend my image a little. But really we're sort of in a void now, a space where it doesn't really seem like getting worked up about anything. Fat lot of good it did us during the campaign.

Nor do I have anything funny to add.

My house is cold as well. If anybody out there is thinking of buying and you hear tell of "masonry frame walls," look out, that means no insulation and therefore c-o-l-d. And we're too damned cheap to crank up the heat.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Stupid blog

The stupid blog thing ate my post. Hit the "publish post" button and got a 404. Galling.

At least I have a fine quote from Paul Krugman cut to be pasted:

"The nation's interior is supposedly a place of rugged individualists, unlike the spongers and whiners along the coasts. In reality, of course, rural states are heavily subsidized by urban states. New Jersey pays about $1.50 in federal taxes for every dollar it gets in return; Montana receives about $1.75 in federal spending for every dollar it pays in taxes."

It's a well-known fact, but worth being reminded of.

That makes for some pretty cheap electoral votes, if you ask me.

15 minutes wasted, so sadly.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Would be deep

Had some deep thoughts from last night's cocktail party at the Ekstrom/Rosen household, that's right, the same Esktrom as in "My President is Lisa Ekstrom," a would be bumper sticker, a party peopled by various intellectual luminaries including some tall, handsome McGreevey-looking guy whom everyone was complementing for a recent article in Slate. From the sound of it, I probably wouldn't have published it, but hey, I'm not Microsoft (which is probably a good thing, as far a software robustness is concerned).

Speaking of McGreevey, an article in the Times about his wife yesterday brought back a classic line from that little episode back in August. This guy at my client says: "How can he be gay? His wife is totally hot." His wife Dina, indeed, is not unattractive, very much like Courtney Love on Prado instead of heroin, but that's not really the point. Indeed, in recent questions on gay marriage, has the issue of gay people marrying heterosexuals under false pretenses been raised? Is it not an abomination, worthy of smiting?

But right now can hardly think, because Natalie is rattling on continually, to try to drown out any noises Graham might make. People without kids really can't imagine how strong the instinct to drown out and dominate the baby is. Natalie has remarkable stamina for running mouth, singing little songs, making messes. Must go outside and make leafpile.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Limpid grousing

Had planned to rail on flatlanders some more on environmental issues, but instead am mostly just sapped of spirit by trying to read through some Microsoft documentation. Not even Microsoft proper, meta-Microsoft, people writing about Microsoft stuff in an ostensibly user-friendly way. Not even.

And now I have to go home and sponge sand the walls in a house temporarily without heat because the painters quietly decided that sanding somehow wasn't included. A long story.


Thursday, November 04, 2004

Man of the people

While on the subject of McVeigh and values, I thought it might be worthwhile to have a look back at what he believed in, and compare it to the wonderful values we've heard so much about over the last couple of days. Read an interview with McVeigh from Time, which for some reason made an exception to its policy of not providing mass murderers with a soapbox for the greatly admired McVeigh.

It all just makes me want to write a country song.

Regression testing

The Times today quotes some thumper whom I won't dignify by naming him as saying that the country is "'on the verge of self-destruction" as it abandons traditional family roles." OK.

So the secularism and perversity of the blue states threaten the heartland?

No, no, and no. Rather, the opposite is true. Fundamentalism and autocracy threaten enlightenment and 0pen society from Tacoma Park to Beslan, from Dearborn to Turin, from Hamburg to San Diego. Bin Laden and Rove are touching similar nerves in apparently differing populations, just as Bin Laden and McVeigh -- a cancerous offshoot of the heartland politics of value -- shared a metier. Berlusconi, Putin, and their ilk aren't doing a lot to help.

Lets go back and recall this jamming exchange between Jerry Fallwell and Pat Robertson on 9/13/01:

JERRY FALWELL: And, I know that I'll hear from them for this. But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way - all of them who have tried to secularize America - I point the finger in their face and say "you helped this happen."

PAT ROBERTSON: Well, I totally concur, and the problem is we have adopted that agenda at the highest levels of our government. And so we're responsible as a free society for what the top people do. And, the top people, of course, is the court system.

JERRY FALWELL: Pat, did you notice yesterday the ACLU, and all the Christ-haters, People For the American Way, NOW, etc. were totally disregarded by the Democrats and the Republicans in both houses of Congress as they went out on the steps and called out on to God in prayer and sang "God Bless America" and said "let the ACLU be hanged"? In other words, when the nation is on its knees, the only normal and natural and spiritual thing to do is what we ought to be doing all the time - calling upon God.
I'm so sure that's all the heartland does while it's on its knees.
But seriously, one problem is that the Enlightenment (i.e. back to Voltaire, Jefferson, etc.) no longer knows how to sell itself. Post-structuralism and theory in general may not have truly complicated things, may have only recognized existing complexity, but it certainly didn't make anything easier. Only rarely can the Left look you in the eye, say that it's right, and simultaneously believe it and convey it. That's why Barack Obama is a gift. He does all those things at once. The Democratic Party should put a security detail on that guy, because he's a threat and a target.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Like a dog

"His glance fell on the top story of the house adjoining the quarry. With a flicker as of a light going up, the casement of a window there suddenly flew open; a human figure, faint and insubstantial at that distance and that height, leaned abruptly far forward and stretched both arms still farther. Who was it? A friend? A good man? Someone who sympathized? Someone who wanted to help? Was it one person only? Or were they all there? Was help at hand? Were there some arguments in his favor that had been overlooked? Of course there must be. Logic is doubtless unshakeable, but it cannot withstand a man who wants to go on living. Where was the Judge, whom he had never seen? Where was the High Court, to which he had never penetrated. He raised his hands and spread out all his fingers.

But the hands of one of the partners were already at K.'s throat, while the other thrust the knife inito his heart and turned it there twice. With failing eyes K. could still see the two of them, cheek leaning against cheek, immediately before his face, watching the final act. 'Like a dog!' he said: it was as if he meant the shame of it to outlive him."

Kafka. The Trial

What a great frickin last line. That's what I thought of last night watching the returns, K. getting skewered like a dog, but the shame living on.

What shame, you may ask. The shame of calling the election early and then being wrong, like I did yesterday? Hell no, the problem is we didn't call the election early enough. The Republican talking heads made these poker-faced claims for a Bush victory night after night, and then they went out and made it happen. The Democrats equivocated and analysed the conditions under which a Kerry victory might be possible. Very few ever really believed Kerry could win, which is debilitating in aggregate.

No. The great shame is living in a country where that man is president, where 58 million people all got organized to go and vote for a guy and a party who lied to them about an adventurist war which is killing our troops, making us progressively less secure and destroying our reputation the world around. For a guy who is dedicated to the continual evisceration of the environment and civil liberties, along with an aggressively expansionist government financed by loopy deficits. Shame that 10 more states found it in their hearts to go and ban gay marriage.

What is the heartland so afraid of that it should close up upon itself so tightly?

How can I explain it all to my kids?

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

All hale the chief

Congratulations to our new President, John Kerry. Yes, that's right, you heard it here first, long before the polls close, Kerry will win and win big enough to let us sleep.

How do I know this, you may be asking? Because there is order in the universe, which means that right will out and what must happen must happen, and W must go. He's an embarassment to us all. To Yale. To America. Perhaps even to Texas, though that would be hard.

So Kerry's election is a syllogism. He has won because he needed to, which is comforting. Now new questions arise: will Kerry let Edwards preside over the Senate, or will gavel-pounding look like just too much fun after all these years on the other side? How will Theresa take to the White House? Will it strike her as too modest? ("Honestly, John, living up over the shop, it feels so lumpen.") I suspect that these and other barnburners will call out for answers over coming days.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Dauerhafte freiheit, baby!

Homeland security is such a great new growth industry! Once enough of the black male population had been put behind bars, the natural growth curve of the prison industry sort of flattened out, and terrorism was really a godsend for the rural and would-be-rural thick of neck. No longer do we have to build prisons or, indeed, any sort of buildings to provide the underskilled and undermotivated but self-righteous beer-loving males with something to stand next to and "guard."

Now they can provide security to just about anything! Office buildings. Malls. Border crossings. Schoolbus crossings. Stadia. Bush-Cheney events. Gated subdivisions. Everything's all so constantly threatened, that clearly it makes sense to post some fat guys that can't be bothered to retrain to do something productive to stand there with stern viligance. In case of a nucular event, ya?

Other great ideas from lunchtime brainstorming:

  • Stop terrorism by taxing it (but not too aggressively, so as not to stem the entrepreneurial spirit of the terrorists)
  • Have Mark Burnett produce a reality TV show on which terrorists can blow themselves up before a big audience (shades of Network)

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Big boxes and offshoring

No real fresh thoughts today, so I'll stick with a canned topic. This is, like, a management consultant's version of stand-up. But stale material.

Did you ever think about how Big Boxes and offshoring are two peas in a pod? In the early 90s, WalMart and other Big Boxes really hammered down on trimming fat from retail processes, getting immense economies of scale from technology and supply chain innovations and so on. Main Street was eviscerated, and everybody boohooed and paraded forth nostalgic visions of mom and pops stores which are really just recastings of the romantic myth of the heroic individual vs. the ineluctability of history. John Henry and the steam engine.

Now there's offshoring, where Indian and other firms are doing the same thing to back office processes with bandwidth and eager young would-be office workers over yonder . But there's really no supporting myth for the resistance to outsourcing. There's no romance of the kind and warm CSR or other paper pushing functionary. Just hand-wringing. We're supposed to have jobs, dammit!

Don't get me wrong, it does suck. There are fewer easy ways to have jobs, and fewer pleasant places to shop than there were 20 years ago. But you can buy stuff cheaper, and nobody's really voting with their feet to show that they'll pay more for charm or higher-touch services.

I know, I know, boring. That's what happens when I'm stuck in the office and don't even watch TV.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Sweet and sour

This morning Natalie came upstairs with her hair in two braids, to model them for me as I dressed. Standing in front of the mirror in the hallway, she excitedly tried to see the back of her head in the mirror by turning her head, rotating her eyes as far to the right as possible, etc. It was beyond adorable.

How about those Greenbergs, huh? I thought it seemed rather coincidental that the CEO's last name was Greenberg, like Maurice Greenberg of AIG. Turns out, it's his frickin dad! I wish my dad would get me a job like that. And brother Evan is at the helm of ACE! So what is it: the world's largest insurance carrier, the world's largest insurance broker (containing the world's largest reinsurance broker, Guy Carpenter), and a significantly sized reinsurer (smaller than Swiss, Munich, and Berkshire Hathaway, but still big), are basically a family fiefdom? Why did it take so long to figure out something was wrong?

Ace is so familial that CEO Evan Greenberg signs letter to staff currently posted on its website simply "Evan."

There was a fine masterpiece theatre on Sunday about the effects of royal families' inbreeding. That one was very sad and touching, the Marsh/AIG/Ace thing is sad and troubling.

Monday, October 25, 2004

No grousing. Home sick.

Must take rain check on grouse and nap. Feeling stuffed up and yicky. Left work early for quasi homeland security reasons.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Nickelodeon vs. CTW

Watching a Blues Clues video with Natalie while paying bills. The eternal question arises: how does Nick's content compare to that of the immortal Children's Television Workshop. Sesame Street is basically untouchable, but much of the other stuff of our youth has proved pretty ephemeral. Who really remembers much of Zoom or the New Zoo Review? Kids slapping their knees and saying their names. Could be it wasn't even produced by CTW anyway? Nickelodeon's content is generally pretty good, fairly educational and public interest despite being for profit. Gotta like that guy Steve in the green stripey shirt.

It's Saturday, it must be Boca Burger time, with that health-giving soy, so reminiscent of public school and convenience store burgers of different slices of yore.

Friday, October 22, 2004


I cheated earlier and edited last night's post, which took up 4 of what should be today's 15. Will be brief.

Graham was up three times in the first hour of last night's sleepytime, striking terror into our hearts. He kept wedging himself crossways in the crib, dropping the pacifier and all that, and then exercising his mighty lungs. "Can he carry this through the night?", I thought to myself. Thankfully, the answer was no. A good night's sleep.

On the way to work, I spied a yellow Subaru WRX. I drove one of those things not long ago. 230 horsepower growling like some Camaro that got lost and transplanted into this little body. The automotive equivalent of Freaky Friday. The arms race for horsepower is pretty disturbing. I don't get it. You can't possibly run your car that hard. My little Volvo has more power than it knows what to do with. I know it's going to get me in trouble eventually.

In general, the universal applicability of the male quest for dominance, power, and protruberance has really struck home over the years. Anything that sticks out is good, so long as it sticks out in the right way (no clown noses at work). Perhaps the most telling instance is in To the Lighthouse when that intellectual (Ramsay?) is talking and the female narrator is listening and all she can hear is "I, I, I, I." That was sort of like me in grad school.

I remember when, in college, feminists would tallk about "the phallic" as a general principle and I would just be sitting here thinking "this is absurd. There's no general type of phallic behavior." But of course I never said anything, for fear of offending them and diminishing my chances of sleeping with them.

Time up.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Shout out to the home of the winter surf

Gentle readers, we've had a visit from one Thomas Dwight Nager, now of Niterroi, Brazil, the town that plays Oakland to Rio's Frisco. Bom dia Tomasinho! Who else will check in in the comments section for their own shout out?

And another thing, Dwight. You mention the Balfour Declaration. Would you believe I'm distant kin to the Balfours? Like, some Troy in Edinboro tied the knot with one Elizabeth Balfour back in the late Mid-18th century, making me about as close kin to the Lord that issued the declaration as Bush is to Kerry. Wow. Living history.

As to your general point about Palestinians and Israeli's getting along, it ain't happening. You'd need to see a truly charismatic figure rise up sprouting the message, and (s)he'd probably be assasinated for impersonating the messiah. We can't send in Rodney King as an emissary to help everybody "just get along." So I guess yall got everything straightened out with them favelas, eh?

But, anyhow. Walked from Columbia U. to the Soros Foundation at 58th today (see my old Central Eurasia web site for excitement). Was struck by the quantity of nail salons and hair places on the East side of the street. I knew there was a price and traffic differential between the West side, where Zabar's, H & H, and all the shiny new stuff is, and the East, but this was pretty striking.

Gotta go. Fear another rough night with Graham up every two hours, now that he seems to have a cough. Why did that stupid painter have to tell us not to turn the heat on? Why did we have to listen to him? Will this rain let up in time to get the cracks in the stucco painted before winter? Will we get our interior painting done in time for the family to gather at Thanksgiving? Stay tuned...

15 minutes per post is now an iron law, much like Matthew Barney's student work with restraints, where he tied himself up with bungies and tried to paint.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004


A month or so ago, we found out that Graham is allergic to wheat and seriously allergic to milk (no surprise, given some projectile work he did for Mary). Getting all of the wheat out of his diet has soothed the savage little beast immensely, letting us sleep. But he's clung steadfastly to a preference for mushy food leavened only with Maple Arrowroot cookies and avocado, despite the pediatrician's admonition to get him to eat a more varied diet, lest he develop a "food disorder." And he'd drink nothing but water. Given these constraints, no milk, almost no food but mush, getting enough fat and protein in the little guy was quite a struggle. One in which I, admittedly, played but a collateral role.

So yesterday was huge! He ate two slices of turkey salami, some soy tofu "cheese", and drank 2 oz. of soy milk. Imagine our glee.

I was thinking of scribbling out some deep thoughts on the subject of general threats in the environment, but will hold off. Rapidly approaching the 15 minute cut-off point.

One thing. In response to Ken's response yesterday about a Dostoevskii renaissance. I've thought it inevitable because there's no better way to explain suicide bomber behavior, and better reflection on the problem of evil, than by reading the classic four middle period novels: Crime and Punishment, The Possessed, The Idiot, and The Brothers K.

I keep waiting for someone to have the courage to make a biopic about Mohammed Atta. I suspect there are directors who might risk it, but not studios. Something along the lines of the new film about Che, if necessarily less picturesque. Malkovich is probably the one to do it.

Time up.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Reducible evil?

Ever since 9/11, I've been predicting a big Dostoevskii comeback. Really a no-brainer. And the electoral season has really refocused my attention on the question of evil. So last weekend I headed up towards the bookshelf on the landing by the attic in search of my copy of The Brothers Karamazov, figuring a re-read was due, Ivan Karamazov's discourse on the suffering of a single child, the Grand Inquisitor, Dima getting wasted, the whole nine.

But it wasn't there, must be boxed up in the basement. What I did found was what I took to be a reasonable proxy, Philip Gourevitch's We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families, the definitive anglophone accounting of the Rwandan genocides of 1994. The book opens as the author helicopters in to a church in mountain clearing where corpses of slaughtered Tutsis have been left to decompose where they lay as a memorial, much like the sacked Acropolis in Athens or the Cathedral of Coventry. Gourevitch respectively but without an excess of piety recounts how 100 or so women had been raped and had their skulls crushed there. In the next breath, in a pretty funky stylistic turn, he remarks on the jaunty hips and thrust out buttocks of the soldier who is his guide and who guards the site. Caught me off guard. It just goes to show you, if you're contrarian enough to fly around looking at and digging up evidence of a genocide that the rest of us sort of preferred to ignore, you're gonna have an eye for some wierd detail. And so will your editors.

But whatever, it's a book of rare bravery and fortitude. The kind of thing Michael Moore might do if he didn't need eggrolls and a camera crew forever near to hand.

Song du jour A Balkan treat from the Yale Slavic Chorus

Monday, October 18, 2004

Brain dead

I'm quite the underachieving blogger, it would seem. I've got precious little to say.

But in case you were curious about what seemed hip and ironic in Tbilisi in 1994, have a look at these costumes of fully-burkad (or someone correct me on the precise name of those robes, if you care to) women for a production entitled Sahara.

I took a minute to look into a claim by a colleague that the Nation of Islam was 1.7 million strong and that they don't vote as a matter of policy. Judging by the quality of the Nation's website, it's hard to imagine how it could organize 1.7 thousand people to do anything. It also took me back to 1994.

Meanwhile, things are heating up in Belarus, a county seemingly stuck in 1979, whose dictator Lukashenko couldn't get it invited to join the "Axis of evil" only because it's so pathetic that its most threatening WMD is lingering fall-out from Chernobyl, of which it has plenty. Gallup claims that Lukashenko get 48% of the vote in the recent unconstitutional referendum to scrap presidential term limits, which would fall short of the threshhold needed. But lenta.ru says he got 73%, and the official claim is 77%. Who's right? Who knows? But there were protesters across the street today from Lukashenko's house and they've promised to come back tomorrow. This is a rarity in Belarus. Lets cheer them on and hope that Belarus can be drawn as far forward in time as the fall of '89.

Friday, October 15, 2004

A little something

It would be a shame to post nothing, people would stop coming by. That's part of the addictive premise of the blog. Which gives me a great idea for a business. Why not have readymade, even machine-generated blog text which one could purchase on those days when one couldn't write? In fact, you could make it a subscription thing, where, if you haven't posted by 3 or so, you get an auto-post. And you could store up a variety of flavors of blog, "cranky teenager", "disaffected would-be intellectual", "compassionate conservative NAMBLA member," you know, the regular assortment of types, from which one could get text either selectively or randomly. I'll make jillions!

Thursday, October 14, 2004

What's my name?

Certain observant readers have commented that "Graham Berridge Troy" might not in fact be my real name, and not without cause. It is in fact the name of my one-year old son, whose lovely pic I'll post when I get around to it.

I had at first been delighted to set up my own blog, thinking it a wholly liberated space to write as I pleased, "out of all constrictions," as pfunk would have it. And then I read that googling people has become standard practice for managers, hiring directors, and the like throughout the corporate sphere, which means that a space of apparent discursive freedom all of a sudden transmutes into just another place for the superego to lard itself on, a place to reach out and leverage best practices proactively. Maybe I'll get me one of those too where I can burnish the me that gets things done and saves clients money. Not here.

Kerry's comment about Dick Cheney's daughter last night, though inoffensive to me, would appear to have been ill-advised from the blowback we're hearing. As if he had insulted somebody. But the key thing is that he doesn't support gay marriage, which strikes me as craven. People who find the concept of marriage threatened by the spector of homoconnubials would seem to have issues in their own homes which they can't quite put a finger on. It don't bother my marriage.

Song du jour A Rekjavik bildungsroman, methinks

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Morning in America?

What's this? Jesse Jackson announces John Edwards by saying "the Democratic ticket 'represents morning time in America'." Are the Democrats and Republicans trying to one up one another by recycling the greatest hits of the Reagan campaigns? First "you can run but you can't hide" and now this. Does Jackson really want to invoke one of the Reagan team's cleverest bits of propaganda? The whole thing about morning in America was that, if Carter and Caddell's malaise had nominally passed, it was still a let them eat jellybeans and ketchup packs sunshiny day, where blacks and the HIV-positive (read gay) might as well just stay in bed. Maybe the Rainbow Coalition has gone greyscale.

Song du jour. Gillian Welch transcendent

Monday, October 11, 2004

le Jacques est mort, vive le Jacques

"From philosophy, rhetoric, to make of a text a flower, to mount it, or rather, to have it come round and mount itself, reckoning with a lapidary's instinct."

This is the best I can do to recall the opening of Derrida's "White Mythology," but it's hard to overstate the impact that it had on a kid from the south some twenty years back. The idea that the texts of philosophy, of civics, or whatever other texts you could find were shot through with figures, indeed, that you couldn't strictly distinguish between the literal (letter being just another metaphor) and the figural was huge and hugely liberating. And hard to argue with.

Say what you will about theory in general, that it's been simultaneously abstruse, obtuse, and inane, it's all true. But Derrida and his generation brought an energy and a verve to the humanities which had been missing. There had been visionaries in the previous generation (one thinks of Kenneth Burke, and Wittgenstein of course), but the French came in, generated buzz, and broke things open to new lines of enquiry in a way that a Jurgen Habermas, a Yurii Lotman, or a Seymour Chatman could never dream of doing. Is Derrida to blame that the American academy lacked the backbone to know when to call bullshit?

Friday, October 08, 2004

That middle initial

Incidentally, it's rather unprecedented for the sitting commander in chief to be comprehensibly referenced only by his middle initial. The middle name is a wierd marker. Frank Lentricchia once pointed out that it was odd that our famous assassins all are recognized by their full names: John Wilkes Booth. Lee Harvey Oswald. James Earl Ray. In the Russian tradition, only one person has ever had his middle name, or patronymic, function as a standalone reference: Lenin, whose name was invoked so frequently that he was colloquially called Ilyich. These are the history-makers in whose company W finds himself.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Eyes on the prize

Did anybody else notice how, at last week’s debate, Kerry could scarcely look at the camera? He kept his eyes trained squarely on Jim Lehrer, as if he really really wanted his vote. Some speculated that there had been more than one camera and he just didn’t favor CNN, but VP-debate channel flicking didn’t support this hypothesis. There was one camera only.

The current White House tenant, he of middle initial, at least thought to address himself to his putative audience as he spewed his puerile doggerel. Kerry, on the other hand, was thinking so hard about what he was thinking that he almost spaced on what he was doing. As if it was more important to win the debate than the election. But, since he’s our next President, we’ll let it go.

Another thing. W kept going on about “hard work” in the debate. Iraq is “hard work”, the economy is “hard work,” etc. It was probably a rhetorical ploy like his folksy Texanisms and his Cargill jacket and boots, meant to legitimize him in the eyes of the “working man”. But, in the context of the discussion of Edwards’ lack of experience in the Vice Presidential debate, it could also be read as an attempt to impute a work history to Bush. If Edwards’ public resume is shallow, Bush’s was similarly so. A one-term governor who had run a baseball team and some failed wildcatting ventures? Give him the helm of the free world, by all means.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Eat your pineapples

Esh' ananacy
Riabchikov zhui
Poslednii den' tvoi idet,

Eat your pineapples
Chew your grouse
Your last day is coming
You bourgeois louse.

-- Vladimir Mayakovsky

Absurd as it would seem for someone so thoroughly embourgeoised as myself to launch a blog by citing these rather silly and charmingly apocalyptic verses from Mayakovsky, the fact remained that:

1. I had to select a name for my blog
2. I knew that if I didn't do it right now, it wouldn't get done
3. I couldn't think of a better name than "Chew your grouse"
4. I couldn't very well name my blog something silly and not explain it, now could I?

So let Mayakovsky set the tone for this blog, which will surely be no more nor less onanistic than most others. Your host, cast adrift from the humanities on the rough seas of management consulting, will seek to free himself from the confines of the bullet points and think once more in his native tongue, the paragraph. In time, I may actually have something to say.