Friday, December 30, 2005

Oh yeah

Had lunch with my CEO today at Teriyaki Boy and he didn't even pick up the tab. And this one week after the only other would-be junior rainmaker in the firm walked for a job in Seattle.

Whassup with that?

The Holidays

Standing in the Unitarian Church in Wellesley, watching my sister singing in a dorky skit about carolers , it was hard not to start bawling from just thinking about how it must feel to her to have come through to the holidays, after what she's been through this last year, after her bout with near cancer. So I'm a sap.

The odd thing is, you tell people your sister went through that, they're like "uh-huh" or at best share a moment of pro forma piety, and then move right on. Because, fact is, everybody got somethin. Over here somebody's dad is dying of blastoma, over there a mom goes down to Parkinson's disease. At some point in time things tip and all of a sudden there's more death then birth going on, to say nothing of weddings. And near death starts to pale beside the real deal "the chemo worked? So shut yer cake hole" they may say.

I'm not quite there yet, though.

Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

A mess of Natalies

Listening both to Dan Zanes's band and the New Pornographers recently, I have heard female singers who sound suspiciously like Natalie Merchant. I begin to suspect that she and the 10,000 Maniacs were a more influential band then I ever gave them credit for.

And surely Merchant is more likely to be behind the rapid growth of popularity of the name Natalie than her name-sharer Portman, who may one day soon complete puberty. The name, indeed has rocketed to #19 (#5 in California) on the Social Security charts since our own one was born, giving us the distressing if accurate sense of being trend participators rather than initiators.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Methinks the text protests too much

Reading a friend's manuscript about the history of Baltimore recently, found myself struggling to keep turning the pages. The author fairly overwhelms his subject matter with flashes of wit and daring and intellect, trying in every sentence to shine. So that each paragraph my easily contain 5 0r 6 mini-performances, and the paragraphs themselves pile up on the themselves numerous pages. It all begs the questions: what is he writing for, and what is he writing about? Style obstructs content, or doesn't let it flower.

This is a pretty valuable lesson, dialling back the style. If what you have to say is worth saying, then you don't need to work it too hard, just like how those with both buff bods and a strong sense of self needn't parade their abs and other marquis muscles.

And you have to know when to stop.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The morning after

Must prepare to officiate shotgun wedding of my mother and David Ontjes, thrown together by Natalie and Caroline as an excuse for a flower-making art project and also to be flower girls. Graham has been appointed ringbearer, as it is believed he will run straight to David, to whom he has taken a proverbial shine.

Should probably shave.

Meanwhile, contemplating dash to mall to pick up all the eminently giftable items that I actually need, but which fell victim to the emerging ban on present-giving amongst adult members of the family.

Friday, December 23, 2005

On the road

Hitting the road for Wellesley shortly. Must find presents for Caroline and mom. Where did I put them?

Watching Christmas Vacation the other night, scene where Clark W. Griswold discovers an anniversary present stashed in his favorite secret spot in the chimney. Perhaps not too far off indeed.

Thursday, December 22, 2005


Some time ago it occurred to me that this blog was not so much a stopgap and supplement to my memory which, fade though it may in time, will nonetheless better recall the events of these years than will those of the kids, for whom childhood will likely blur into a morass of indifferentiation and exposed nerves.

So I'm gonna try to transcribe some rituals.

First: Bedtime, ca 12/05

7:00-7:15PM Told it's time to go upstairs, Natalie waffles and defers until I say: "I'll beat you to the top!" Then, she runs, declaring: "No you willn't". Somehow, she always wins. Graham may or may not follow, depending on his mood.

Next hurdle. Getting her in her jammies. Various tactics attempted until one works.

The reading of stories. On Granny's bed. Natalie closest to the lamp. Somewhere into the first book, Graham shows up and plunks on a pillow to my left. Maximum 3 books, depending on the length. When the book(s) are done, Natalie lays on me and says: I'm not getting up until you read me another book or give me a piggyback ride. It's always the piggyback that wins. Upon hearing "piggyback," Graham also wants one. Natalie first.

7:40-7:45 Piggyback into bathroom (alternately, into "our guys' room" to be thrown on bed). Natalie flicks on the light from position on my back. I put her down standing on the toilet seat, where I brush her teeth, kissing her on forehead at the end. Graham, all the while, tries to put cups and boats underneath tap and turn it on, which he cannot. Graham refuses brushing.

7:45-7:50 Back on Granny's bed, time for Graham's stories. Always 3 shorter books. Perhaps preceded or succeeded by a game of "hide and seek", blankies over our heads. Graham usually knows the last word of each rhyming line, and reads it with me or instead of me. When over, another piggyback. Then diaper change. Then bed. 2x Rock-a-Bye baby, perhaps him singing along. Demand for water. Whatever pacy he's given, he wants another one. If lucky, door closes without event.

8:00-8:10 Time to snuggle with Natalie. Perhaps tell a story with stuffed animals: "Once upon a time there was a bear who was sitting on a log..." After a while, give two minute warning. Natalie climbs on or leans against my back. She may purchase 1 additional minute by walking on my lower back. As end approaches, I ask for the magic word. This is typically long and hard to remember: "Unicorn unicorn star, unicorn unicorn fairy, star, Caroline, Allison, Caroline, Allison, princess princess flower" Would be a short and easy one, with typical components. Once I nail the magic word, I can give up, but only after kissing her a fixed (often 14) number of times while counting in Spanish, German, Serbo-Croatian, or some other language.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Spirit of the Holidays

Vaguely hallucinatory, the taste of envelope glue on my tongue, listening to ethereal medieval Hungarian kyries over and over again, writing our four names out in various orders next to a picture of the kids on the stairs.

One of the best things I do all year.

Robert Maguire, in Memoriam

Reading Elizabeth's manuscript for a book on Moscow I learned that Robert Maguire, longtime fixture of the Columbia Slavics department, had passed away at 75 or something back in September. Maguire advised me on my master's thesis on Ilya Kabakov way back in the early 90s, though he knew nothing of contemporary art. Nor did anyone. That's what made it such a great topic.

I always saw Maguire as a gay combination of the John Houseman Paper Chase character and Sherm from MASH, torn between a desire to be stiff and crusty and a native tendency to kick back and gossip. I think he half thought he wanted to teach, where he really wanted to perform. Certainly he was a finicky and thorough scholar. He was often in his office with door open on Friday afternoons and ever ready to thoroughly chew the fat amidst the dust and books of a classic professorial office.

I bought his translation of Dead Souls some weeks before his death.

He was a good guy.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Some sick kind of pastoral

There we were, in the parking lot of the big boxes on Rte 1 in the wan orange light of a December mid-Atlantic sunset. Across many rows of cars, over in the WalMart area, gulls gathered, circled and dove down at something tasty.

We sat in the car and listened to the Peanuts theme as the car's heat slowly dissipated, and as Natalie gassed herself up with a cereal bar and some milk before we headed into the dollar store to blow all of her tooth fairy money in one fell swoop. Perhaps because I had recently exercised, perhaps because it was just the two of us, a rarity, it was peaceful and lovely.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Meaning of the Grouse

Eat your pineapples,
Chew your grouse,
Your last days are coming,
You bourgeois louse.

- Mayakovsky, 1913 or so

I think everybody always assumes that the Grouse in question on this blog is a verb. It is, in fact, a bird, and looking back at the Mayakovsky, we can clearly see this was some sort of luxury bird back in the day in Russia. Grouse chewing was sort of an apocalyptic thing for the rad young Marxist.

For me, by now, the stakes are kind of different. While I've never actually had grouse literally, I must confess I am generally pro-grouse and wish in fact that there was -- if not a grouse in every pot -- at least a hearty soy-based substitute.

So that the themes that permeate this blog would appear in some sense nostalgic or even conservative, arguing in favor of preserving:

  1. The so-called environment
  2. The way we live -- our house, financial stability, my frickin teeth, etc.
  3. The America I thought I grew up in, characterized by open-mindedness and tolerance, both in somewhat short supply of late.
  4. A sense of curiosity about things not going on around me, or going on not around me
The point is, in the end, for it to be worth Graham and Natalie's while to be living in this overpaved land of blockbuster releases 30 years out, to defer Mayakovsky's last day.

Friday, December 16, 2005

We believe in God, right?

So asks Natalie at the breakfast table not long ago. What am I supposed to say? Should I say, no, we don't, we're Episcopalians?

Who put these ideas into her head? The devout 5-year olds of Princeton? Do I take her to church now?

Or do I just pretend it never happened: "Could you pass the butter?"

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Insulation Contractor

What can we say? He might as well IPO, cuz he's pretty transparent already. Blown insulation, fiberglass bats, you name it. Basically has a monopoly for Central Jersey.

  • Never been investigated by Better Business Bureau (told me thrice)
  • Other business, foam wholesaling, has $500k-$700k monthly revenues
  • Plans to install fixed LAN with no wireless in new office (ironically, "for security reasons")
  • Truck cost $80K: "What'm I gonna do, have some Mexican drive it around?"
  • 30-yr old Lithuanian wife recently returned from a visit to the old country with an illegal and non-spousally sanctioned breast augmentation (this he told Mary)
  • Used to work in asset-backed securities for Citigroup
  • Partial to pork roll and cheese
  • Fails to clean up mess made by team at dining room table
  • Gets dust all over everything, doesn't bother covering with tarp.
  • Kentucky-based partner, the IT guy, has been charged with some sort of sexual advances on a 12-year old: ("I know it ain't true, the guy's got 3 kids and I see him with them. But he's gonna need a lawyer.") The guy also recently diagnosed with liver cancer.
  • Office without walls:
    • Makes or takes "600" calls a day on cell phone (uh huh).
    • Likes to print documents at other people's house
  • Forgets to patch up holes in the wall on the third floor

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Princeton Record Exchange, 12/12/05 12:42 PM

I went to the Princeton Record Exchange today at lunch, though I probably could have gotten the the Charlie Brown DVD by the register and Starbucks and gotten a good solid cup of coffee too. My thinking was to patronize a local establishment, and deny Amazon some portion of my media wallet share.

As I strolled through the shop, I passed records of days gone by: the Descendents, Dinosaur Jr. It was dim and dusty. Ornette Coleman was a blaring. The black clad staff were a glaring. Especially the guy who still looks like he's still cheesed off for not getting cast in Spinal Tap. Time had stopped, just like it does in some diners, but in a different place.

And I found myself thinking: are indie record stores valuable archives of musical diversity, great centers of resistence to relentless corporatization, or are they just mouldering relics of a great moment in cultural history which has passed?

nb. Got the Peanuts. Natalie has taken to track 8, the wonderfully naive "Hark the Herald Angels Sing."

Monday, December 12, 2005

A Griswold am I, pt II, or the white lights

Back at the house, Mary began to search for the white fairy lights we string along the porch. She looked for them for some time, digging through the attic, muttering under her breath unintelligibly, thankfully. I hung the wreath and whatever you want to call that stuff around the door.

Time to put tree in stand. Natalie is very excited. Is it the tree? Is it the present for mom? Who knows. Out on the porch, it's cold. It quickly becomes apparent that this stand is not going to work with this tree. The tree is too scrawny. Thank god for Ace, 5 minutes away, saving me from the throngs in the big boxes.

The precious nap time was passing. One of us needed to exercise. I went. It was colder outside than I had thought. I wasn't able to cheat and slow down and walk as much as I like, just in order to maintain a good core temp. When I got back, Mary glared at me with only a hint of love. Turns out, I had brought the white lights down earlier. "At least you organized the attic some," I offered. This silver lining was not too shiny.

At long last, it was time to decorate the tree, but sadly I couldn't find the music from the Charle Brown Christmas, which is our traditional accompaniment. Mary liked her present from Natalie. Nice tree, if not exactly what we usually get.

Kids dinner, and it's time to string the white lights outside, around the columns and along the tops of the porch. Mary vetos the dangling strand of white bulbs I called the "tendril of light." It's cold as hell, but at the end, I had the warm feeling of neighborhood beautification and homeowner's pride. I go in and get Mary, then the kids, one by one, and show them the house all bedecked with glow. Clark W. Griswold indeed.

A Griswold am I, pt 1

Yesterday was pretty much taken up with getting the Christmas tree and decorations in gear. As per usual, a number of mishaps befell us.

10:00AM Natalie and I were all excited to wrap up the new ornaments (bird and butterfly) that Natalie had picked out for Mary during our rare cameo at the mall. She selected a lovely blue wrapping paper with sparkly snowflakes and we did as fine a wrapping job as a 5-year old and a ham handed dad (I had trouble tying the bow) can do. While grabbing scissors from the ground floor, I took a couple of boxes of Xmas stuff from the attic downstairs, without really looking at them.

11:00AM Mary, annoyed that I took kids upstairs when we could have been taking Xmas picture in the "good light" (photographer speak), declares it's time to get tree. Off we go to tree farm, where all is mighty picturesque in the snow and we ride in an ATV through streams and gullies, but all the live trees are pretty scrawny. One of the pre-cut ones is OK, and we grab it out from beneath this other family, who are sizing it up, on a "we were there first" basis.

Feet are cold. There are horses in the snow, to delight of kids. Men are loading hay into barn. One declares need to take his wife to work, but he'll be back in an hour, a prospect with dubious economics. Two 12- year old boys in overalls by the barn are discussing the fine points of physics, with a youthful openmindedness that CEOs would love to rekindle: "Imagine if, instead of going down, things went up!"

Tree on car. Home for naptime.

Next time: searching for the white lights.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Snow day

As promised, snow arrived last night, after 4am, to be sure, cuz I was up and peaked out the window. And the whole of Princeton was a winter frickin wonderland, even though it's technically fall. I guess Princeton isn't very technical.

And now Mary's off to Manhattan to have dinner with the Yale photo mafia of the early 90s, so I'm here at the house with Graham, who's staying in his crib long after waking from his nap, calling out occasionally for me or mom or Natalie. It smells like he pooped, but he didn't. We've been getting a lot of that recently.

It's calm, but soon Natalie will burst in from sledding and playing dress-up at Helen and Margaret's, and it will flow straight through till dinner.

OK. Now Graham's being fairly insistent with his "Dad!"

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Hard to believe

At a seminar today at the Princeton/Columbia Club on 43rd -- a pretty hideous place, I'll have you know -- on Counterparty Risk Management or, how not to get burned by a Refco, and in strolls this woman from a hedge fund that shares its name with a beer. Asian woman. Got one of these full-sized computer notepad thingies.

And she asks a lot of questions of the speakers. Stupid questions. And shares here own experience freely. How she bought Refco at 10. Lost whole position. Sometimes she trades like that. Still, hey, she's up 15% for the year, so it's OK, ha ha.

And she made a lot of noise clicking on her little notepad thingie, especially when she was playing solitaire. And then she checks voicemail. And then her slinkie little Ipod phone rings -- and she's forgotten to put it on vibrate.

It a was pretty astonishing performance, verging on psychopathic. Luckily, I wasn't the only one that noticed it.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Restaurant proves Russian

Why was I not shocked?

Off in a group of 6 on a covert mission to evaluate New Jersey eateries for a certain newspaper which we will refer to only as one of the three papers of record as part of the research team of our neighborhood critic, who shall be called Jane. Drive down to Cherry Hill to an utterly non-descript strip mall. The decor was odd. They had not litres of Pellegrino. The salads were eclectic. Funky dishes. Somewhat innovative. Not altogether successful.

Waiter has a clearly Slavic accent. Is he Serbian? No. Russian, it turns out (how had I missed it?). Suddenly, it all fell into place. I felt right at home, and the proprietor is my new best friend: "You understand deep soul of Russia, my friend."

At least we can say that the menu didn't choke on adjectives.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Teach your children, well

A Times article on Wilton, CT cites the woodsy little community's dedication to fine and performing arts education. A common theme, fine and performing arts. The crown jewel in a wealthy and tony little town's crown, a way of saying "our kids don't have to worry about getting jobs." Is this trend just a fetish of the upper-middle and upper classes? A class marker pure and simple?

My mind flashes back to Yale this last spring. A small town educator asked a panel including Yale President Richard "Rick" Levin and Pepsico President Indra Nooyi what his school system should be focusing on, and the two looked at each other significantly, leaned their heads together and chimed together "Math and Science."

On the one hand, all the press has foregrounded America's deficit in math and science education and the risk it poses to future productivity. On the other hand, the American elite thinks itself philistine and so pursues refinement.

I myself, possessed of a PhD in Russian Literature, am forever conflicted by the fact that, on the one hand, math kinda sucks, and, on the other, working in financial services means advanced math would be rather useful. Very useful, in fact.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Green Baywatch and Indian car culture

An article in the Times on the emerging car culture in India reminded me of one of my superdeeduperdee ideas from the 90s: Green Baywatch. Those were the days, of course, when Baywatch was the world's most watched and loved program, when Hasselhof, Anderson, and Bleeth were prominent ambassadors of the American way. Why not, I postulated, throw together an ecofriendly version of the show, where buff boys and girls rode about on bikes catching industrialists and other eco-fiends, all while jiggling and flexing. This would be a great way to promulgate sustainable values to the developing world, to show poorer nations that wealth need not necessarily be objectified in steel and asphalt.

Alas, such a show was never meant for this world. In the era of Mecca Cola and widespread disgust with American foreign policy and culture, Anderson's breasts have diminished moral authority. Internet pornography has made it easier for people the world around to find jiggling without consulting their television schedules. A great opportunity to stem environmental decline has been squandered.

Next week: The Fast and the Furious: the Footrace

Sunday, December 04, 2005


It was supposed to snow last night. It did.

I knew I should have brought the car seats in off the back porch. I didn't. Not too too much snow on em, though.

It was a slushy, dense snow, more suited to snowpersons than sledding. So we did both.

Graham, for once, let Mary put a hat on him. But his mittens, which were suspiciously ill-functioning and photogenic (given Mary's stated intent to grab a camera), kept coming off. So he was cold quickly and didn't fight coming back inside for lunch and the nap which, inexorably, follows it. I'm gonna work such a nap into my next contract.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Dental hijinks

Went to the dentist this morning. It's a 15-mile drive, but a pretty one, and this is the tough love guy who pretty much saved my teeth seven years or so ago. Farzaneh, my personal dental technician, shot some computerized and then gave me a cleaning while cooing about how good I had become (by contrast with the now long gone days a dental neglect). And indeed, from my POV, the cleaning was quick and painless.

And then in comes dentist man, all firm handshake and psychotic piercing blue eyes, pokes around my gums with the sharp thing and then sits down to look at the x-rays. All good...
Except for these small areas on the sides these molars. Ca $600, twill be.

So, just like last year, I'll come back in January when my new pot of FSA money kicks in. Aside from being a good dentist, he's a good businessman: shoot xrays at the end of the year, when insurance-free people will have tax-preferred money coming available. Get the cash before the other health service providers do.

He's a good dentist, but he lacks the rabbinical presence of my periodontist. More on that later.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Ivory and ebony

The question of race and children's commodities is at once more complex and simpler than you would think. Books, toys the like.

I remember when we were headed to the house of a black classmate of Natalie's, we were a little uncertain of what kind of book to give: it was odd, it seemed, to give a book of all white kids cavorting about in some idealized pseudo-agrarian land of plenty, of which there is no shortage. But then we get there and what to they have, Mary Kate and Ashley, Barbie out the wazoo, and so on. No offense, apparently, taken.

The other day I saw a mother with three little black girls dolled up going to Nutcracker, with its neo-imperialist spectacle of Clara and the prince or whoever sitting up on thrones watching the dances of the Chinaman, the Russian, and so on. Sugar plum fairies are clearly universal, as the Allen Blooms of this world could have told us.

I'll tell you this, when selecting children's books, I reflexively turn away from books with kids of mixed race, because I need to choose quickly, and the overwhelming trend of these books is towards cloying politically correct hoo ha. All black or all hispanic books or all Asian books are less likely to be revoltingly pious.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

1:01 PM. Backyard

Watching Graham during Mary's parent-teacher conference.

Mary left hose on. I turned off, narrowly averting massive flooding, garnering for self good-sized "I saved your ass" bragging rights.

Meanwhile, in one of the two soon to be four foundation pits visible across our back fence, some sort of mini-backhoe (yes I know I should know all the names) is squirrelling around, doing its digging duty. Graham must at all costs not catch on to this display of machine prowess, lest he should further drift out past the nap for which he is already late.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Day of Adventure

Hightstown Road, Princeton Junction, 7:31 AM

Racing green Oldsmobile slammed straight into telephone pole across opposing lane. Steam rises from trunk. Man dazed in street. Driver or culprit? Anyone dead? Others stop to watch. Must get to train.

47th & 5th, 12;45 PM
Three cops run across 5th and up to the glass doors of the building closest to the corner. The first of them bends over, pulls out his gun, passes smoothly through the left of three doors. The last of them rushes up to the door, bangs into it, fully upright, and tries unsuccessfully to open the apparently locked middle door. Visibly frustrated, if not afeared for his life, he finds an open door and goes in. You could tell who had watched his cop shows more attentively.

Ah yes, here comes my lunch date.

After lunch, 47th street blocked off from the kosher deli back to 5th, and 5th was blocked off too. As Graham would say: "p'lice car. flashing lights."

Monday, November 28, 2005

Party in a firehouse

It looked dark from the street, the firehouse on Chestnut Street. Surely we were in the wrong place, or in the right place at the wrong time, or -- heaven forbid -- just wrong. But shadows were moving in the driveway off to the side, and it turns out the entrance was around back.

Every firehouse in New Jersey seems to have a bar. News to me. This was a pretty big one, big enough for 50-60 comfortably, which was good, cuz that's how many there were. This being the great Garden State, half of them were kids, and they were swarming around the institutional folding tables and chairs. There was kids food (hooray!) and adult food (the usual suspects), juice boxes, beer, and, eventually, seltzer. And there was Liz from Branford, whom I hadn't seen in almost 20 years.

At some point in time, somebody put on Marvin Gaye, and a bunch of 7-10 year old girls were out there doing the bump, prancing around. It was beautiful. Adults were dancing too, but who cares, except when they were dancing with kids, and it was pretty sweet.

Ahh, the joys of density. I don't remember parties like this from growing up, when kid and adult life were so neatly intertwined. It felt downright, dare I say it, European, like one of those cinematic hoedowns at some imagined Irish community center where they all laugh and sing and a few people get tipsy and every giggles at them for being so silly.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Macy's parade

A disgusting spectacle. A 3-hour long ad for all manner of dreck. Lame kid pop. Various candies and other packaged goods, with Katie Couric and Al Roker reading the ad text like the variety show hosts of yore: "may melt in your mouth, but not in your hands."

Natalie liked it.

The Beach Boys played, looking for all the world like they had multiple feet in each others' graves. It was long felt the Orson Welles couldn't escape the shadow of
Charlie Kane, but that has become the fate of any of these old pop stars, who are prisoners of their old catalog, of their youthful voices played endlessly back at them. Imagine how depressing it must be to be pushing 70, stuck outside freezing on a float evoking a California long since paved over.

To say nothing of Oklahoma. Some generic blonde teen belted out a tune from the musical, a romantic evocation of a cornucopic projection of the plains that never existed, a propaganda vision intended to draw losers who couldn't make it on the East Coast out into a place where agriculture was never sustainable without substantial federal subsidies of one sort or another. The red states.

Happy Holidays to all, from Archer Daniels Midland.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Holiday traffic update 12:13 PM

Actual time of departure: 9:45
Travel Time Princeton-Larchmont 1:38

We escaped the jaws of holiday traffic death, by an as yet indeterminate margin of error.

Drive uneventful, save that Mary is laying claim to the Volvo because it has a shoulder-belt in the middle of the rear seat and is therefore more useful for play dates. So I will be relegated to the old Subaru due to a lap belt and New Jersey law around child safety. Drat. No CD player.

Actually, Graham spotted planes both in take off and landing mode at EWR. Always good.

Holiday traffic update 9:08 am

Graham bit Natalie twice. Had a time out.

Target departure for Larchmont: 9:00 AM. Blown already, but we're still within tolerance. Have promised not to get cranky as out timeline is blown. Expected actual ETD: 9:30 AM. We'll see how volume is on the Turnpike and the George.

Kids music in the car.

Kitchen clean.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Vikram Seth novel

I've been reading Vikram Seth's 1999 novel about a string quartet for the last couple of weeks. The fact that I can't remember its title should be a clue.

I love Seth, you must know, I read The Golden Gate twice and I was very sad when the last of A Suitable Boy's 1400-odd pages trailed off into ellipses. So when I remembered to look if he had a new book and found that there was this one, whose name I can't recall and don't feel like looking up, I snapped it up.

And I've read more than 2/3rds of the thing, in excess of 200 pages, I'll have you know, and the novel has many of Seth's strenghts: acuity of characterization, general thoughtfulness, grace, and so on. And a fine theme, pining for the great lost love, and then getting to have sex with her too! Good stuff. But then he piles on all these allegorical resonances: deaf musicians, social disharmony, a little minor psychosis, it just gets precious and stuffy. Those only so much afternoon delight and poignant duets in quaint Eurolocales one can take.

Maybe Richard Linklater can make the movie with Ethan Hawke and frickin Julie Delphy.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Washy washy

Mary's car was filthy from sitting beneath the spruce trees in the driveway and from general neglect, so yesterday after Graham and I picked Natalie up a Maddie's house, we headed over to the car wash on 206. The one of the drive thru variety.

I knew it was going to be pretty exciting. What I couldn't have predicted was that, it being snack time, I would have doled out little bags of Tings, a premium dairy and nut free puffed corn snack food that parents like too. So that, as the carwash pulled us slowly through its many attractions, the initial dousing and soaping, the floppy foam tentacle bashers, the flying multicolor wax, the torrential downpour, and lastly the mighty hairdryer thingies, I would look back at the kids who looked exactly like they were at a somewhat scary movie, munching on this very popcorn-like goodie.

It was fun.

And now the car is clean.

At least the exterior.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

NE Corridor Line inbound, Edison, 10:35AM

At Edison station, all the people at the other end of the train car are standing, looking in one direction, silent, somber. Some sort of health emergency, clearly. I can’t see the subject of the commotion, only its reflection in them.

Conductors come. “Get a doctor”. “Call an ambulance.” “It’s bad”.

The announcement goes out. Anybody with medical experience to the 6th car. Some people come. Do they know anything?

I’m 10 feet away from the poor sap, but I can ‘t bear to go take a look. I just infer from the people standing. Something of a Blaire Witch Effect. Is it that I really feel helpless and I want to help? No. Is it that I don't want to look at somebody who might be dying? More at.

They ask for Orange Juice. A diabetic, turns out. Problem with his pump?

By 10:42 an EMT arrives. Big moustache. Jovial, under control. Diabetic, no problem.

10:49. Ambulance spotted from the door of the train.

10:51. EMT cuts out. Ambulance has arrived.

10:54. The guy is standing up, acting better, wants to take stay on the train. A guy with a 1:00 flight out of Newark is getting antsy. Why? Is he carrying explosives? Eventually they let him take the train, don't make him go in the ambulance. A mistake. He needs chocolate and much tending to make it to the city, annoyingly.

I’m late for lunch with Steve. Probably no “nice sole” at the little French place. Just as well.

American History, by Toll Brothers

At the library I picked up A Picture of George Washington for Natalie.
While skipping the cherry tree affair, it gives the young reader an overview of old GW's life from youth till death. Surprisingly, it's all neatly manicured lawns, winding paths, and nice looking stone Cape Cods with lots of window. That is, neatly mowed plots that would take 3-4 hours to mow on a riding mower, fuggetabout with a scythe. Interior scenes look out at neat paths through the green swales. In other words, perfect domesticaton.

Now I know that children's books are entirely idyllic, that's part of the charm, and that much was plowed under back in the day. But should the colonial wilds really be looking like a friggin office park or a subdivision? I guessed that the book was published in 1994, but it was in fact 1989. The good old days indeed.

Natalie then took to bed a Snow White postcard that Elijah from across the street had sent her on his family trip to Disneyworld. She had it in her hand when she woke up this morning.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Trader Dater

Say no more Trader Daily has a dating page, for traders and the "smoldering community of those who want to meet them." People like Annabelle from London, who asks "Do you have an analytical mind" (and like 6-foot tall blondes?), or Trolling4u (New York) "I never buy a thing for myself."

I can't say that I find it surprising that the trading community has a targeted on-line exchange for its own exclusive purposes (you must be a member to sign in. Literally, though most likely figuratively as well). What better to look for after reading about the biggest trading scams of all time or a shiny speedboat?

I'd like to see the analogous page for the quant community.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Lost tooth

Natalie has lost her first tooth. I would have expected it to be a more disruptive and traumatic experience, but she's unequivocally down with it. Nothing but excitement, no complaints about how wierd it feels, just glee at accession to a new stage of bigkidhood. She was thoroughly prepped by reading about Sal's experience in One Morning in Maine, a book which, incidentally, has also formed the basis of her post-nuptial fantasies with her dream boy, Dylan. Apparently their discussions center around a house in Maine where they can see the water from their porch.

Also seen recently: Natalie working hard to memorize songs from her recently received Dan Zanes CD (thanks Beth). Just like me, she sits and listens to songs over and over again (mostly Dan's duet with Debbie Harry of "Waltzing Matilda") and commits them to memory. One of the faster songs has put her in her most dancingest mood for some times, which is rather welcome as the days get shorter and, theoretically, cooler here in NJ. For the first time in a year or so, she cranks up some junior zydeco and we cut the rug in circles, trying not to bang Graham's head against the coffee table all the while.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Fahrenheit 451:1,67.3

I was shocked this Sunday to read in the the Times was about contrasting interpretations of Biblical verses concerning abortion. The secular world shouldn't accord the Biblical text that much stature and privilege. The Bible should nowhere be referenced in debates concerning matters of law, or, rather, it's stature should not exceed that of say, Proust or Sportswatch.

How did the Bible regain such status in legal debate? What can be done about it?

And then I had an idea: lets burn bibles ritually. Like the flag and bra-burnings of yore. To stir things up a little and signal its non-canonical status. After all, you can't burn the bible per se, right? Just paper and print incarnations of it.

And then I thought, just burning bibles is a little narrowminded. Why not invite people to burn all the texts they perceive to be oppressive: Korans, Torahs, little red books, Julia Child, Darwin, Samuelson, Silent Spring, Strunk & White, Dianetics, Marlo Thomas records, you name it? There could be big burn ins where everyone comes together and lets loose, with microphones and cider and donuts.

But who will fund it? Soros?

Friday, November 11, 2005

My guitar

Sometime in the early 80s, a ball bounced into a fenced-in electrical converter or somesuch thing in Durham, NC, and a boy went in there after it. He died. This was Anderson Cole, the sole child of my godparents, my father's first law partner Jim and his wife Mary. Their marriage didn't outlast the accident by too long.

Soon thereafter, Jim (or was it Mary) gave me a guitar. In my mind's eye, it was Anderson's guitar, though I don't know if that was true or just mythology. It's a Gibson C-1 classic, which I always thought was a good thing until I asked a repairman recently and he said that, unlike Gibson electric guitars, this is crap and not worth spending money on fixing.

But it's my guitar, and it's the only one I've ever had. It now has a crack in the body, which drove our dog Story crazy before he too, passed away. Some packing tape on the back dims the vibrations. If it seems that there's much death in this story, it's because I've had it for so long and it, as a sheltered inanimate object, might just outlive us all. I've considered getting another one, but never pull the trigger. I'd say the fretboard was an extension of my body if my relative clumsiness with it didn't undermine the metaphor.

I hadn't been playing much, until the Scorsese documentary on Dylan inspired me. I used to play some for the infant Natalie when Mary was away teaching on Mondays, but she or Story invariably started crying. Graham's a little more into it, thought he fancies himself too much the strummer at his tender age.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Brooklyn Museum, 11/06/05

Mary and I went to the Brooklyn Museum to see the Edward Burtynsky show on Sunday. After the Times had pummeled the show for it's heavy-handed didacticism and stylistic monotony, I was prepared to be underwhelmed. Usually I'm not into didactic, monotonous work. Unless, of course, the artist is right. Burtynsky's photos a these drone on and on about mankind despoiling nature, and with great bombast. But the work on China is pretty revelatory, really bringing home the scale and density of China and what it implies for the future. A show worth seeing.

The fountain in front of the museum, however, is flat out fab. 60-odd choreographed jets of water shooting straight up in the air in variable rhythms. The kids love it. The ladies love it. You gotta love it.

Was also digging video footage of ritual African dancers. Wouldn't have expected to. Lone males in spooky masks and full body get-up doing either proto- or post-break dancing stuff on dirt.

Otherwise had no time to plumb depths of the museum's collection. Looked OK.

All told, two thumbs up.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Home by Gaudi

As winter approaches, I've been doing some caulking. How I hate it, the gooey, nasty crap, but at the same time rather it's rather satisfying, even in some metaphysical sense. Keeping the outside outside and the inside inside and all that. And warm.

That said, no two surfaces come out the same. In general, "home improvements" is something of an oxymoron for me. I can't hang a towel rack straight. It's kind of like the apartment in Polanski's Repulsion. As the years go by, the only way to keep my house from just getting worse and worse will probably be for me to make enough money to come in and fix the stuff I messed up.

The other day I tightened a doorknob quite proficiently, I must say.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Downtown PM

I'm never downtown any more, always at MidTown or Wall Street, so it was good to troll through the Village, Soho, and Tribeca after a rather mediocre dinner at Artepasto, for some reason Crabill's dad's favorite place.

The West Village: much the same, though 6th Avenue by the basketball courts is skeevier than ever: tattoos, french fries, and sex toys. Patisserie Claude remains as if frozen in time, which is good.

Soho: Along West Broadway, I see a crowd and a glow in front of some yellow restaurant: Cipriani, it turns out. Where some cosmetic surgery for her and and some Guidoish gel for him are seeming prerequisites. Admittedly, my hair would probably get me in at some points in time.

Tribeca: On Franklin St, a scene straight out of Larry Clark: 50 or so budding, affluent teenagers hanging out on the old loading docks, or dangling from scaffolding, smoking cigarettes, unsure whether to go down on each other or share Ipods.

At Beth's apartment, can't open door. Must wake Larchmont for instructions.

Friday, November 04, 2005

You gotta be Catholic to get into Heaven

So said a pretty scary-looking guy -- like David Soul in a lesser Scorsese movie, all sideburns and thick lenses -- as he offered to sell us rosaries on the plaza in front of the public library today. I couldn't help but to think that I might be able to help him get there, in my own way.


I haven't written about my compost pile much, I don't think. I can't imagine why. It is in fact exciting. Very exciting. We throw all manner of moist kitchen matter there, mix it with leaves and yard matter, and in the fullness of time it all comes together and turns into soil sweet soil. By that point in time I could care less.

I'm in it for the game, the frisson. To head out into the back yard Saturday morning to flip that bad boy while the kids are inside the house screaming. To see the steam coming out of it's innards. To watch the worms and maggots squirm around, doing what they do bestest. It's my little science project. And lord knows I don't like science.

Fall and, even more so, winter, challenge the composter. You know you're doing the right thing, but the gratification is so so so deferred. Nothing rots. No heat. Just moisture and piling up. But you're laying the groundwork for future decay and decomposition, and that's just grand.

It's all so much like life. A grand and stinky allegory, mostly of my own.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Coats, hats, and scarves

It's incredible how quickly they burst onto the scene, emerging from their attic slumber and leaping onto the rack. All of a sudden heading outside acquires the character of an archaeological dig. The coat stand fairly groans with finely targeted outerwear: this one's good for 30 minutes of raking, this one for a long stint at the playground, this one for casual rain, this one for business rain. It's like a whole new family come to play. Or, rather, to nap.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Wigstock '05, we hardly knew ya

Ah yes. The peoples they did gather once more for Wigstock, down at the old Masonic moose lodge, and they did dance to tunes that 20 years ago were not oldies, but have become so,
and they did, some of them, drink more alcohol than is typical for their vintage,
and they did pay the price for staying out past their bedtimes the night of the time change (which we forgot to really explain to the toddlers).

And I, eternally sober, had to drive the babysitter back to Plainsboro, where a cop tailed me at 1:00 AM and I had the rare pleasure of knowing that there was nothing he could have on me.

So lets heave out a shout out for Stacy and Eldar (who assures me she did all the work) for giving us all a moment to simultaneously deny and revel in our stage of life, which shall remain nameless.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

What a ride

Check out hedge fund hot shot Jim Rogers with his one of a kind Mercedes built to travel "around the world." Is it just me, or is it pretty ridiculous that the billionaire moron just had to juice up a claustrophobic little coupe and tack on a trailer, instead of, say, buying an SUV and tricking that out a little. In some parts of the world, clearly, ego has utterly no bounds.

Monday, October 31, 2005

The Ghost Pernicilous

We hung a ghost sheet up on our porch for All Hallows Eve. Natalie quickly called it "The Ghost Pernicilous." I have no idea where that came from.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

First fall on record

On Saturday Graham and I walked around the block after his nap while Natalie was over at Elijah's and Mary was off in the commercial realm. It was a cool fall day, the kind that sets would-be writers to musing reflectively. Leaves were dappled with stuff and crinkly and all that. Graham was pushing a stroller filled with gravel, and as we passed other gravel drive ways, he would stop, scoop some up, and put it in the stroller, so that he achieved a multi-colored collection.

As we came up the hill on Linden, a V-formation of geese flew overhead, cawing. Graham looked up, having perhaps never seen them before (they don't fly on weekdays, right?).

"Geese," I said.
"Geese," he said, pointing.

He won't remember much, but this will be his first fall as a speaker of language.

Soon we will make a leaf pile.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Big-assed crane

I know I've said this before, but there's a 20-story crane out my window here in the city. If only Graham were here. Even Natalie would appreciate this epochal thing.

Turner thesis and childhood

I grew up in the midst of thousands of acres of forest, owned by the University of North Carolina. There were big woods out back, it felt like the original frontier vision writ small, looking west, a great mass of forest. I identified more with your Davy Crocketts than your cowboys, but still. So when I read about the Turner Thesis in high school, it made perfect sense.

At our elementary school there was a big ditch in the area with called "down the hill." We thought of it as a canyon and staged epic cowboy and indian battles there. Nearby was an indian grave. I kid you not.

My kids don't have this same mythic construct. Near our house, behind a science building, is a drainage ditch that Graham was running down into not long ago. All grass, mind you, no mud. What is his perceptual background for this space? How will this impact him later in life? I guess kids have grown up around New York before without a sense of openness. But look at them.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Hankerin for an upgrade

At some point in time, even for the most stingy and bargain conscious of us, it becomes difficult to resist the relentless logic of universal commodification, and start measuring progress in life by the material goods one acquires. A house, first and foremost.

Small things can suffice for a while. Discounted ties. A couple of new shirts. Antique cruise ship deck chairs.

A storm door may be good, though less a purchase than a cost control measure. $4500 to blow in cellulose insulation to keep us from freezing our butts off is kind of similar.

Maintenance counts. Staving off decay. But it's somewhat distinct from the feeling of progress that comes from a new thing.

One day we'll get a new TV. We'll probably hate it.

Coming of Age in Sarajevo

This weekend I watched Emir Kusturica's first film, the 1981 Do you remember Dolly Bell?, for the second time. It had been a while since I saw it, so there was some risk of spousal rebuke when I Netflixed it up, but given the shallowness of the Netflix collection, what can you do?

I needn't have feared. Before he degenerated into the undiscriminating purvayor of south Slavic wildness and wooliness, Kusturica had a first period, extending through When Father was Away on Business and Time of the Gypsies, when he was a relatively discriminating purveyor of south Slavic wildness and wooliness. And damned fine with the coming of age theme.

Some scenes in Dolly Bell are striking, like the one when the uncle sings, plays sad songs on the Gusla about the fall of Sarajevo and dad pounds rakija and while the boys slip off to wrestle one another on stone in their best, white Sunday clothes. Just a good long shot.

I ask you this. Why did Yugoslavia produce so many good coming of age movies? All the Kusturica movies I've mentioned plus Hey Babu Riba and Tito and Me. Was the theme particularly appealing for a young, synthetic nation?

Watch all of these films. All good.

Why can't we all get along?

Steve said this the other day with regard to some intra-team squabble, and I realized it was a little odd, because he's so young (b. ca. 1981) that he was unlikely to know what he was quoting: Rodney King reacting to the riots which rose up when the police beat him mercilessly back in '91. And indeed Steve didn't. What he did know, however, was that everybody said these words ironically, and that they therefore could only be used in that way. This is a good illustration of Boris Gasparov's theory of language as a rich associative whole, rather than the rigid signifying machines inherited from the structuralists on the one hand and the Chomskyites on the other.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Jingle Bells and memory

Mary reports a sighting of Graham singing Jingle Bells. This might not strike you as remarkable, save for the fact that last Xmas he was 1 and change and not speaking at all. OK, it's true that Natalie like to sing Christmas Carols all year long (despite the lesson she should have learned from Elmo Christmas, a Sesame Street version of Groundhog Day), and we do sing carols in the car to calm Graham down when he's freaking the fuck out.

(I confirmed Graham's command of Jingle Bells this morning, subsequent to the initial drafting of this post, when I entered the room of crabby "I puked my guts out last night" Graham and charmed him into submission with his favorite Xmas carol.)

But still, he's got a monstrous good memory. Corroborated by the testimony of his speach therapist. Not unlike his father's memory back in the day, prior to the time he took up with tha kine on a more than once a day basis for about 7 years.

Songs are a typical case of rhyme as a mnemonic device: Graham knows rhyming words and the words at ends of sentences. Compare with Natalie, who came away from watching a They Might be Giants kids video singing this little ditty:

If you see a Christmas tree or a stack of newspapers or a 2x4 frame of a house
It's probably made from pine trees and pine trees are conifers, that's what this song is about
Or if you see a plant in the shape of an elephant, or in the shape of a dog
It's probably a shrub, a conifer shrub pruned into that shape by someone
There we have a song without rhyme or real meter, nothing to hold on to, a self-consciously avant-garde affair, designed to create mnemonic links out of logical rather than physical connections. And Natalie was down with it. She doesn't know a 2x4 from squat, but she learned the song and is piecing it all together. But she wouldn't sing it for Mary later.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Sleep soundly

If anyone was concerned about the advance of Avian flu from the Moscow region, becalm yourselves. Russia's chief epidemiologist, Gennady Onishchenko, is on the job:

Onishchenko also said supplies of poultry from the Tula region would continue uninterrupted. "Eating this poultry is safe. It poses no harm to anyone, but you should not eat it raw,"

Which is kind of sad. When I was in Moscow, we pretty much survived on raw chicken. It was considered a delicacy.

More comforting stuff:

Tatyana Grachyova, a veterinarian with the Petelinka poultry giant, based in the Moscow region's Odintsovo district, said the farm was closely following state regulations. "We are enforcing all measures as mandated by law," Grachyova said, refusing to elaborate.

Let there be no fears that there will be a poultry shortfall in Moscow anytime soon. No no: "Moscow now has a stockpile of 75,000 tons of poultry." A hen in every pot, indeed.

Thursday, October 20, 2005


The truly diligent and underemployed amongst you may have been checking the responses to my blog, and you may have noticed that of late a lot of the responses have been, well, machine-generated. Yes, it's the newest thing, blog spam. Check out this response to my post on last Tuesday, entitled Nothing going on or somesuch

Thanks to my prodigious member all the hedge fund greyhairs want my male enhancement product magic!!
I hadn't understood how this was happening, but clearly the spammer has some sort of algorithm to find and grab select, less-frequently encountered words from the blog ("grey hairs", "hedge fund") and stick them into the response. Not the automated text generation is anything new. Bloomberg generates stories like that everyday ("Microsoft rose/fell by [trigger threshold] % on volume of x shares).

Oh yes. Look at the response to this entry. At least it's clever enough to include a link. It also shares the common trait of all of these things: they praise the blogger. "What a clever blog you have, do you collect coins?" This is good-old fashioned yankee ingenuity, even if it's furners at work.

Thing is, lets say I wanted some of this guy's male enhancement product. Who wouldn't? He's left me no link.


As I lie in bed at 4AM, my mind lockjawed upon some trivial piece of fucked-up data in somebody's half-assed database, I wonder to myself, do I have an obsessive-compulsive disorder or am I (like my mother, father, sister, and, in some sense, my children) just an adult child of an alcoholic, with all the delusional and obsessive things that follow from that?

When mom used to talk about the ACA thing, I always used to tune her out, thinking, "I'm an alcoholic myself, I don't have time for all that namby-pamby shit." Years on, I can see that I fit much of the ACA bill: workaholic, rejection averse, guilt-ridden. Then again, much of it I don't fit, and I'm not really keen on getting back into another 12-step program with all the heavy groupspeak thing. But maybe that's just resistance speaking.

Big Mac legislation

House passes bill to block class-action lawsuits against fast-food firms on obesity charges.

"As one judge put it, if a person knows or should know that eating copious orders of super-sized McDonald's products is unhealthy and could result in weight gain, it is not the place of the law to protect them from their own excesses," said Rep. James Sensenbrenner, Wisconsin Republican.

I might be half-inclined to agree with him if he didn't sound like such a smug bastard. People should know that smoking is bad for them, yet they do it. God, I can't get started on this argument. The long and short of it is that Republicans will argue for anything so long as it benefits their deep-pocketed corporate bunkmates.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A beautiful day...

...half-wasted as we drove from Princeton to Somerset NJ for a showdown with my client's administrator. A lot of bluster as they hide behind their new parent company's policies for IT change, and also behind the fact that they don't know what the hell is going on inside their system.

Outside the window, bland Central NJ, condo complexes and corporate glass boxes. Inside the car, talk of tennis and even golf. How did this happen to me?

Oh yes, in the morning I heard Graham singing "Rockabye baby, on the tee top...". That's how this all got started.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Nothin going on

Once more I'm being made to work. What can I say?

Graham scratched the hell out of me last night while bouncing on my belly and saying "trot trot trot." We need to clip his nails.

So I'm headed off to this would-be swanky hedge fund gathering at the Union Club in Philly, home of substantial wood panelling, towering portraits of grey-hairs, and offset-printed paper towels in the wash room, and I'm looking like I had a night of passion with a tomcat. Just grand.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Labor market indicators

In Philly over weekend without kids (a first), we dined at SusannaFoo, a much-ballyhooed place which proved to be just fine but not really supporting the hypothesis that the restaurants there are better than those in New York. What was surprising was that our waiter, and pretty much the whole wait staff, was a hispanic guy whose English was, shall we say, nascent. This is a restaurant with big bills and good tips. When I got out of college people were fighting in the streets for those kind of jobs.

His lack of a command of our fair tongue was a mild impediment in the noisy room, but it didn't hinder him much. The floor staff in general did a fine job, if perhaps displaying excess alacrity at filling the glasses with Pellegrino, but that's more a management than a labor thing: forcible sales.

All told, it's good to see recent arrivals scoring these kinds of jobs. It gives you hope.

Much more so than what we saw in the some of the poor black parts of town. The word intractable came to mind. Though there was one 70 yr old woman with an awesome sparkly hat in a McDonalds on 40th.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Accidents happen

15 minutes after Mary left to go to dinner last night Natalie comes round the corner and tells me that Graham must have gotten milk on him because he's really itchy. I look at him. Indeed he must have. Itching. Red skin. Wet shirt.

And there I had thought the milk on the floor in the kitchen was Natalie's doing, perhaps because she had spilled milk in the dining room twice in ten minutes and dropped cheese-infested lasagna noodles on the rug. But what must have happened was this. Graham stole upon the blue cup on the counter, reached up on tiptoe, grabbed and upturned it, spilling it all over himself, and then (and this is where the narrative strains credulity unless he had an accomplice....) put it back on the counter. But he didn't drink, because he would have puked if he had. And wanted soy milk right after.

So he's itching, and I give him Benadryl (generic). On the bottle it says kids might get revved up, ironically. And he surely does. All during Natalie's story reading, he's jumping on my belly going "trot trot trot", or trying to climb over me to his sister and the book, while I fend him off all the while.

I've got to be more careful.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Aluminium foil

Mary baked some very nice egg-free, casein-free (for Graham) zucchini bread this evening, and when the time came to wrap it up I measured out an amount of foil that only just covered the fresh loaves, narrowly averting a disastrous shortfall due to waste aversion. Such is the way of our people.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Here we go

Try this out. As Polar ice caps melt, why don't we offset rising global sea levels by letting water flow into all the subterranean space made available by offshore oil and gas drilling? It'll be awesome! Imagine the aqua-spelunking opportunities.

ground zero is not about freedom

Out biking a week or so ago I ran into a woman at the Griggstown Causeway who had a table set up for riders riding the D & R canal, and she was seeking funds to complete a greenway from the Liberty Bell to Ground Zero. Very symbolic.

On 10/8 the NYtimes likened the slurry wall of the WTC foundation to the wailing wall, writing "Now that the slurry wall has been laid bare and infused with meaning." And, indeed, pilgrims from states red and blue make their way to this space of awe to pay tribute.

I'm sick to death of it all. 9/11 was scary as hell, and it sucked, and it changed many things, but it was not about freedom. 9/11 is not part of a grand narrative of liberation, and it's shameful that Wolfowitz and Rove and the xenophobic interior have coopted for their own purposes. They flew airplanes into buildings because they hated us for dominating the world so, for being so rich, for managing our presence in the world so ineptly. And because they were and are a bunch of deeply fucked up miscreants. They weren't right to do so, but it's not about our freedom, which is not and never has been threatened from without.

As to us bringing them freedom and democracy, lets keep watching.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Adventures on the left and right banks of the Hudson

Sunday I braved the wilds of the big boxes to go to the big discount shoe retailer. Only Wednesday I had hoped to go to the small shoe discounter over by our office, in order to support it, but after lunch I discovered that my support through the years had been for naught: my little discounter was gone. So there I was, crawling amongst the boxes behind shiny SUVs, listening to the Pogues belt out a disarmingly earnest anthem about how generations of Irish immigrants "celebrate the land that made them refugees."

In the store there was a tall woman who surely harbored a deep-seeded desire to join Abba: round floppy leather cap (don't even know what to call it), corduroys made of vertical strips of many colors of fabric, with lace around the knee (nor do I know what to call them). Ridiculous sunglasses. Hmmmm... I thought, Russian. And, sure enough, her 6'5" broken-nosed boyfriend soon started speaking to her in a thuggish, mealy-mouthed Russian.

Back in the car, I listened to the Pogues song again, and my mind raced back to the mid-90s, at Columbia, when I was studying for my writtens one summer. OK, 1995. There was pick-up soccer on the field in front of Hamilton at dusk, and one night these Irish guys showed up. Fresh off the plane, they were in transit through a dorm at Columbia, destined for a kitchen somewhere on the Vineyard or some such for the summer. And they wanted to play soccer. And they did. And they were good. And I guess they were pissing me off by scoring goals or something. So this one guy and I are going for a loose ball and he slides and I'm trying to clear the ball, and I nail him in the Achilles tendon. He lies on the ground, writhing in pain, and I say something about we don't slide tackle when I knew that, though it wasn't intentional, I hadn't needed to strike the ball that hard, I was just basically pissed. And I could have injured the poor sap pretty bad, fresh off the plane.

That was the last time I hit anybody that hard. A final initiation into restraint.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Princeton Y, 10:55 AM

During Natalie and Jackie's swim lesson Saturday, Graham and I hung with Jackie's dad in the Y's other building, near the "Garden Cafe." There was a sad scene over there. A number of stockbrokers, insurance salespeople, mortgage brokers, and others had organized a workshop on women's financial independence, complete with juice, coffee, muffins and seasonally appropriate orange tablecloths. Nobody showed. No women desiring financial independence. Just a bunch of sad producers networking vigorously amongst themselves, unable even to give away Reese's Peanut Butter cups.

So John and Graham and I hung out by the little play area, and there's this guy there with a daughter who's going straight from ballet to a swim lesson at 11:30. Double-dipping. And so this guy strikes up a conversation with us, giving his name as Adam when I said mine. Standard guy small-talk. # of kids. Where you live. Etc. And then he's asking John when his kids were born, he had one with a birthday of April 19, while John's got one that's April 23. We'll I'll be. And he was digging oddly on some other small point in an inappropriate way.

On such occasions, the mechanical devices for finding common ground with an interlocutor are laid bare as mechanisms: "Where ya from? Where'd you go to school? How bout them Yankees?" You've got to have them, but step over a line and you vear ever closer to pathology. Who cares when your kids bday is? What sort of common bond could a coincidence establish? It's almost random, save for mating patterns (July vacations) that concentrate births at certain times. Was Adam just lonely, looking to loop us in quickly, or does this betray a deeper insecurity. One thing's relatively certain. We'll find out in coming weeks at the Y.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

My Summer of Love

What are you gonna say about this little Irish treat. Beautifully shot, smoking and drinking, hot lesbo action. Born agains too. But no depth, a relatively pale shadow of the films from which it derives: Chtilova's Daisies and the bemusingly psychotic Heavenly Creatures.

Friday, October 07, 2005

The other King

Picked up a copy of the CD Elvis Costello made with Burt Bachrach at a yard sale last fall, from a couple of gay guys who also sold me a copy of Auntie Mame and a black Banana Republic bowling jacket for all of two dollars. Mary objected that it was dry clean only until I pointed out that it was only two dollars.

Anyhow. I had looked askance at the Costello-Bachrach project when it came out, but, as with most things Costello touches, it was well worth the price of purchase, especially since it was from a yard sale. Now I've listened to it a few times and I see that there are many excellent songs on there. Who else could write a hauntingly beautiful and poignant song about empty nesters getting divorced and dealing with the pain of leaving the family home.

Of course, Costello has long since been the songster counterpart to Cheever and Updike. Songs like little novels that complicate rather than disdain the suburbs.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Melvin G, RIP

A sad call from my mom this morning. Melvin, her boyfriend through much of the 90s, is dead.

Melvin popped into mom's life sometime in the early 90s, when mom, still getting over divorce from Dad, despairing of meeting an upstanding upper middle-class guy who wasn't a major jerk in some way, hauled in home from a shag club (those of you in Great Britain, it's not what you think). Tan, bearded, he had a bit of Kenny Rogers going on, and he claimed, at least, to have kicked substances. He claimed, as well, to have been in Vietnam, though subsequent discussions would call this into question. He claimed, in fact, to have been trapped below deck on a ship or something which gave him some sort of disability. In fact, it turned out he had been involved in a bad wreck sometime in the 60s, had a head injury, and had never quite recovered.

Melvin's was a sad tail. It's not that he was poor or disadvantaged from the start, he came from a pretty well off family, he just frittered himself away until he flipped the car and busted his head. His first wife died a long, slow painful death. He was basically illiterate, not too skilled, watched a lot of TV, ate a lot of ice cream. He was polite without being terribly charming.

He died more or less of malnutrition. He had a stroke, perhaps because the woman who inherited him from my mom (and would let him drink) decided at some point in time that he should be pushed down the stairs. Discharged, the VA put him in a chain nursing home, where they basically didn't feed him or fed him crap. When he went back to the hospital, the doctors were shocked at how he had deteriorated. The doctors let his girlfriend take him out of the hospital during the day, which now appears to have been a bad decision, as it did him precious little good.

It's all very sad because, although he's survived by a number of children, one of them a one-time racist psychopath who passed for a normal guy in Eastern North Carolina, it was kind of a wasted life. He never accomplished much. He never conquered his demons. He never really learned to read.

May he rest in peace.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

A fine grind

Caught up in cycle of mild boredom, precious little to blog about. As I've said before, walking to work is delightful, but I see the same things every day: that woman with horn-rimmed glasses who I could swear hung out at the Anchor in New Haven in the 80s. The couple of homeless guys. A bunch of Passats and Volvos.

Then there's work. Work. OK, we just pretty much sold another big chunk of work. That just assures more of the same, from a blog perspective.

Those who draw a connection between blogging and insomnia have a point. I've been up since 5 over here, for no really good reason other than I'm in the habit of doing so. And it's a good time to write, if there's something to write about.

Reading Elizabeth Kolbert's series of New Yorker pieces on global warming now, having recovered all three of them from the deep archives of magazines on our bedside tables (going back to late 2004, in some cases). Scary stuff. Arming myself to better argue with conservative thumper ostriches.

Mary hassling me about my weight.
"Boss" hassling me about my team not billing enough hours.
Graham has started calling many people big and small by name. And, at bedtime, he furrows his brow, looks me in the eye, and says "One more book. Last book."

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Cat in peripheral vision

On the toilet this morning, a little groggy, saw a small plastic cat down by the radiator out of the corner of my eye. For a second, I thought it was both real and dead.

Which I guess it is.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

John Roberts day 1

Scratching, distorted sound over intercom. Tapping:

Testing, testing 1 2 3. Can everybody hear me? Great.

This is John Roberts, your new Chief Justice here at the Supreeeeeeeeeeme Court, and I don't want to take up too much of your extremely valuable time today, but I did want to let you all know how excited I am to be on board with the team here. I have a feeling this is going to be a great year in jurisprudence!

But first, a couple of announcements. The Supreme Court company picnic is coming up this Saturday in Rock Creek Park, and I'd like to encourage everyone to show up and bring their families and favorite sporting equipment. We're going to be collecting canned goods, diapers and whatnot for the victims of those hurricanes, so bring a little something and show that you care.

Also, health care open enrollment commences next week, so review those brochures and contact Janine with questions.

One other thing, we're having an attorney transferred over from the Pennsylvania Avenue office. She's a great gal, and she's going to be a great addition to the Judicial team, so everybody be nice.

As I was saying, this is going to be a great year. Lets all hunker down together, keep our eyes on the ball, and beat the heck out of our numbers!"

Friday, September 30, 2005

The center cannot hold water

Rough transcript of actual conversation
Nameless Garden Stater: "I don't respect people with southern accents, "
Me: "Well, you're talking to two southerners" (me & Steve) "who came from the South to college and dropped their accents on account of that attitude."
NGS: "Oh."
Me: "What do you think of James Carville?"
NGS: "Who?"

Anybody with a non-standard accent -- be it Southern or Brooklyn or Trenton -- is presumed to be provincial and, therefore, limited. Statistically, there may be a basis for this. There is perhaps a broad correlation between staying amongst and conversing with one's own, keeping an accent, and not having access to the breadth of information to the cosmopolitan center. And yet, the center is in its own way xenophobic and reductive. alas.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Get the hell out

The tech guys are mocking me again because I wasn't aware of some nerdlinger term that applies directly to our work. Tell me again how I came to work for an IT company. Time to get the hell out of here.

Every day I wake up, read the paper and envy somebody their job. Financial services is kind of mathy, but at least there's a culture of sociability.

But I walk to work. What are you gonna do?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Man of constant solo

So yeah, Don't Look Back. It'd been a long time since I'd watch that much Dylan, that many Dylans, as if there were ever a plurality. From the beginning, the same old song: nobody tells Bob what to do, who to be. Nobody revels in the game of hide and seek with the critics more than Bob, nobody uses allegorical openness to suggest but pull back from the edge of concreteness quite as well. From the beginning, he delights in fucking with the audience's head. Like David Byrne, he begins with a rhyme and a rhythm and fills the line in going backwards, and the audience takes metric fill dirt for profundity. Like Miles and Johnny Rotten, he spits on the public. Like a rapper, he accentuates the rhythm with clear articulation and a thrusting head. Like almost nobody else, he stretches verses out to arbitrary lengths with but a pro forma refrain to let you catch your mental breath, basically using the guitar get people to focus on the verse.

He's just Bob, and, yeah, at the end of the day, the acoustic work is seminal and the later stuff, well, I don't know so well. And there's a reason. But one things for sure, if he hadn't turned off the spigot of bard, he would have debased an epochal body of work. And he knew that.

All the leaves are brown

Walking to work today saw an archetypal fall scene: a hip student, a black woman wearing a Greek fisherman's hat and a bulky sweater, with a racing green retro women's bike with a kickstand, taking close up photos of the turning leaves of an elm tree through the cemetery's heavy fence, surely with fuzzy tombstones and crosses in the background.

Ahhhhhhh, the joys of Photo 101, when artsy students take their cameras out into the world to capture close up black and white abstractions of sidewalks, leaves, wet rocks, reflections on the water surfaces, etc. No fall would be complete without a mess of this production clogging the dark rooms of America and surely Europe, for this must be an international language of the middle classes of temperate climates, this reflective solemnity of surface and texture.

In other news, Marty Scorcese on Bob Dylan on NPR. Fantastic footage of Dylan and all kinds of folky freaks from back in the day.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Each Peach Pear Plum

As you may have noted, there are days when I don't feel like writing anything particularly would-be-witty, and on those days, I figure I might as well write about the kids. God forbid they should be underdocumented.

So Graham, now, when we read Each Peach Pear Plum around bed or nap time, naturally expects to be cued vis-a-vis the location of the figure hidden on each page. I.e.

Each Peach Pear Plum
I spy Tom Thumb.
Then I'm supposed to say "where's Tom Thumb?" so he can point to it with his little finger. If I don't inquire as expected, he gets his hand in a ready position and looks up at me expectantly with those big eyes.

It don't get no better.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Dying for (lack of) oil

This hurricane season is all about oil. The spectacle of thousands of SUVs, trucks and minivans stuck on Texas interstates escaping Rita, running out of gas, stations running out of gas, speaks volumes. Their many cupholders will not save them. The built-in DVD players will not save them. Why wasn't more evacuation carried out with public transportation? Oh yeah, there is none.

Where is Wall St looking? At the refineries. At the insurers and the insurer of last resort.

This autumn feels something like that of 2001, the steady clip of 9/11, anthrax, Flight 587 over Queens, "Axis of Evil," the snipers on the DC Beltway. Only then, there was some general confusion. There was no reason to think we deserved it.

This fall, in our hearts of hearts, we know we do deserve it. Though it's not conclusively proven, the preponderance of evidence suggests that global warming is real and that hurricane season is nastier for it. The cars stalled out on the highway are at once effect and cause, as in classical tragedy. People will die out there.

Our houses are too big, too far away from work, from each other, from all the people of color we pretend to like. OK , and yes, those of us in old houses waste energy for lack of insulation. Our cars are too big, and we're too ready to haul off to big boxes for apparent discounts.

Our real problems are not gay marriage, abortion, or stem cell research.

We need a President and government who has the vision to address causes, not symptoms. Or we can just let the invisible hand of the high price of gas do it for us.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Jet (almost) Blew

It's gonna be interesting to track the fate of the various parties to last night's sky-high drama. The pilot, and pilots in general, are big winners. Those guys did a fine job.

JetBlue, strangely, is doing well, up 1.4% at time of writing. Dunno, it seems like that landing gear malfunction might look bad. In the short term, at least, Soros squeeks by again.

Airbus, it would seem, is trying to pretend like it didn't happen. No press release on its website.

I would think that maintenance crews at the bankrupt legacy carriers, too numerous to list out, would point to yesterday's events as evidence that the discount carriers were really cutting costs too far, and that the price breaks they offered were in fact unsustainable, a failure of market-oriented risk management similar to the underfinancing of levee maintenance in New Orleans. Here's the consumer perspective: "Well, OK, maybe it's a little dangerous, but hell, I can fly out to Vegas for $79 and get cocktails with those little umbrellas, goddammit!"

The end of the Catholic Church as we know it

New Vatican Rule Said to Bar Gays as New Priests

Quoth the paper of record. As Mary pointed out, this pretty much dooms the Catholic Church, cuz who's it gonna recruit to wear them robes if it excludes the gay population. And it was such a fine and worthwhile institution.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

From our Wellesley Correspondent

The loyal amongst you will recall how, back in May, I divulged that my sister was going through chemo for breast cancer. And now, the astute amonst you initial loyal are probably wondering how she's doing.

As you will see at left, she's recovering quite nicely, thank you, and her hair is even coming along with the season.

I must say Leslie has been rather inspirational throughout all of it, staying upbeat almost the whole time when she wasn't vomiting or languishing on the couch while construction crews and landscapers bustled around their home renovation, which had, after all, been scheduled, unlike the cancer thing.

I was trying to keep it on the dl for Natalie, so when we went up to Boston I thought up some euphemism for Leslie's hair loss, but Natalie had none of it: "It's because she's sick," she said. I guess a good modern parent should disclose this sort of thing. Still haven't told her about 9/11, for example.

Free Kate!

Oh please. H & M is shocked, shocked to discover that Kate Moss does cocaine, and will no longer be associated with the preternaturally twiggy girlfriend of one of Britain's baddest rock and roll bad boys (last time I checked they were together). H & M, this is, purveyor of cheap, scratchy polyester-based clubwear for the pale and skinny, in short, wholesaler of a cocaine meth ecstasy red bull coctail aesthetic. An H & M spokesdrone is quoted as saying: "If someone is going to be the face of H & M, it is important they be healthy, wholesome, and sound." Is Kate the next Martha?

In other news, Graham regaled us with his dulcet tones and a mighty poop this morning at 5, but then displayed his growing affection for hanging out under the blanket in "Granny's room." Good stuff.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Random notes

Disc 1 of Six Feet Under disappointed initially, then came together. But still, I guess I expected more. It feels like a TV show, in the final analysis. I guess it's the 1-hour form.

By the way, for those of you who object to my sometimes thumbnail movie reviews, I should note that I intend for the blog to be a written record of what I've seen, because sometimes we see so many movies that we forget what we've seen. One time Mary and I rented a 90s French movie with Deneuve and Auteuil and it was halfway done before we realized we had watched it before. I don't know if we're pathetic or just typical, but the blog should help mitigate this.

Ran into Viktor and Margarita Tupitsyn today in Tribeca. Hadn't seen them in years, but they're up to their same old shtick of writing theoretically and just plain old dense art criticism, now based out of Paris rather than Manhattan. Who knew one really could make a living being an avant-garde Russian critic?

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Great scenes

Hoggett was just singing and dancing to make the sick Babe feel batter before the big sheep-herding contest. Great stuff.

Last night, My Name is Nobody, spaghetti western with Hengy Fonda and this other, good-looking blonde kid. Wierd, kinda like Soviet screwball comedies like Brilliantovaia ruka.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Women's Golf

Sat on the train today next to a corporate woman who was reading Golf and Women magazine or somesuch. Never really thought much on that whole groove, a whole aesthetic. From its pages beamed wrinkle-free tan, healthy, robust eye contact firm handshaking and capable yet still in touch with their feminine side women, cast against the swales of immaculately groomed greens and fairways, the latter day equivalent of Boucher and Fragonard. As if all of Being had been airbrushed.

Needless to say, I did not become aroused, though I did feel a vague urge to pitch deals to them or serve them mint tea and camembert.

I still don't entirely understand who let golf happen in the first place.

Grey hairs in Accords

Going to the doctor the other day I saw a number of grey heads whizzing round corners in Accords and Outbacks, suspensions torsioning as they were pushed through the curve. I do that too sometimes in my imposing S40.

Where is the great middle bustling off to? If our time was so important, or if we had focused enough to make it so, we should be driving fancier cars. We have in fact tacitly agreed that it's not worth killing ourselves to have the status symbols, ostensibly as a trade-off for something else. So why are we hurdling round bends?

Out on interstate, it takes lots of discipline to stay at Speed Limit +14 when the whole world around you is cruising along at 20 over, but the risk-reward curve shifts dramatically as you cross the 15 mph over mark. But just sitting there in the middle lane at 69 feels so goading. But why?

In the end, rushing just makes you look and feel more important.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Heard on the Street

Out on the street in steamy Princeton a few minutes ago, a passably-accessorized middle-aged woman comes up to me:

"Do you know if there's a store on this street that sells Princeton T-shirts and stuff".
Me: "Um, I tend to sort of ignore that stuff."
Her: "I have a niece in North Carolina who wants one."
Man, how people spend their days.

I told her where to go, a 5-minute walk away through a heavily-trafficked area, and she said thanks and got out her car keys to drive over there. And we wonder why we're in the middle of a demand-driven oil spike.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Points of fact

"Defending its decision not to commit forces to the Tora Bora campaign, members of the Bush administration -- including the president... -- have continued to insist, as recently as the last presidential campaign, that there was no definitive information that Mr. bin Laden was eve in Tora Bora in December 2001." The Times Magazine ("Mr. Bin Laden" indeed)

Why is it that the Bush administration and the right in general insists on such exhaustive evidentiary standards in some cases, and none whatsoever in others. Not enough evidence that Bin Laden was at Tora Bora but enough of WMDs in Iraq to go before the Security Council and lie. Global warming? What's that? Prove it to me. Evolution? A theory. But gay marriage is obviously the downfall of western society as we know it, without any evidence, etc. etc.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Things Graham says

My most dedicated readers will recall how, some months back, Graham's slowness to take up the gift of the blarney was a cause of some concern to our household. Months later, after some speech therapy paid for by our fellow Garden State taxpayers and, more importantly, some patience, he's talking. Lots.

So it's time to begin an inventory of the unbearably cute things that he says, like we have for Natalie.

If this bores you, come back tomorrow. This blog serves an archival as well as discursive and entertainment functions.

First word (a while back): Ball

Age 2
"Mama" (frequently), "Dad" (less so)
"Nana", "Natee" (more rarely): Natalie
"Ganny": Granny
"Dink": Drink
He counts: 1, 2, 3,4 (then gets excited and accelerates) 67810. OK, he skips a few.
He knows colors: bleue, geen, onger, puhpuh
He knows animals: cat, dog, cow, pig, duck, etc.
He knows the ends of all the rhyming lines in The Owl and the Pussycat

He says "No" when looking for main characters in such books as Where's Spot and Squirrel is Hungry. This is way cute.

and much much more. Back to work

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Big Story

Last night, Fox declared the "Big Story" to be the fact that there were 3,000 sex offenders in New Orleans, who haven't been dutifully calling up the 800 number set up for them in such situation. "Protecting the children" is what it's all about today, apparently.

Or, rather, that was yesterday. Today, I earnestly sought more info on these "children at risk" on, but found nothing. Instead, I learned of the execution-style deaths of 3 escaped chimps in Nebraska, and of the death of a baby born to a brain-damaged woman. Sadly, there was no news of the death of Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, nor of that of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, whom we may -- lack of updates notwithstanding -- presume to be still dead.

One item of note at Fox: Ebay's acquisition of Skype for $4 bln, which directly contradicts what I had just read over lunch about "gonzo" VC Tim Draper and his stake in the "disruptive" Latvian internet telephonist:

When asked in July whether Skype received a buyout offer from Yahoo in excess of $100 million, Draper scoffed at the figure before declining to comment. He then went on to claim loudly that he wouldn't sell a share of the stock his firm bought for about $10 million last year until Skype's valuation reaches $100 billion.
Unless he had some extra-special deal, it looks like he fell a little bit short of his mark. But I'm sure he got out OK.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Princeton Day School

Out over the weekend biking to the West of Princeton's Western Section, out in the parallel universe of private schools and BMWs full of blonde beings. Came upon the Princeton Day School, which I perused. In an area of pretty expensive land, this is a big facility. Huge and numerous athletic fields. Watering a baseball field in during a fall drought (I guess softball season must be in the fall, eh?). Pretty out of control, all told.

Went to check out a soccer game in prograss while I drank some water. In all this grass, they were playing on some form of Astroturf, hopefully some newer variant that doesn't eat your knees up like it used to when we were young. All these buff and preppy boys had nice uniforms and passable ball skills, but they didn't communicate with one another at all, and they pushed the ball forward continually, like a bunch of fifth graders. So the ball just bounced around at mid-field from team to team, with nobody actually controlling it or doing squat with it. I guess they sunk too much money into real estate and uniforms and ran out before it came time to hire a coach.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Kinder class

Mom (aka Granny) and I dropped Natalie off at Kindergarten this morning. She was mighty excited, but others were visibly less so. In fact, there was one little girl very much in tears, and a little boy seated next to Natalie, a boy very reminiscent of her uncle George, visibly holding back tears, clearly traumatized by the whole thing. And there mom was trying to take a picture with this sad little boy in it, till I reigned her in.

Powerful stuff, that school. Takes me back.

Kindergarten, Day 1

As the dust settled, our heroine began to show the effects of battle. When I emerged from Graham's room after reading stories at 7:55, I poked my head in Natalie's room, where Granny had read and snuggled. Where usually she would have been bounding about, pretending to go to sleep in the best case, tonight she was out cold. I pried Arthur's Valentine carefully from her hands. She didn't blink.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Data sucks

Whoever was the frickin genius who invented the database should be taken out and flogged with ramen. It's an invitation to mental Guantanamo, when left in the wrong hands.

Meanwhile, it's the first day of kindergarten for Natalie. Gotta run.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Weekend consumption

  1. At Eckerds checkout on Saturday, I marvelled at Eckerds the $21.99 DVD of an Ashton Kutcher/Amanda Peet vehicle. Who would buy that stupid movie at such a high-price? I asked myself. Then my eye alighted upon a $2.48 price tag on the Greatest Hits of Curtis Mayfield CD. Instinct took over, and soon I was driving off listening to "Freddie's Dead." The Mayfield ouvre, it seems, is not but so deep. But at that price point, it need not be.

  2. Memories of Murder. A 2003 South Korean flick that just needs to be seen. A mystery, meta-thriller, period piece, with strong human interest and plenty of sense of humor. Maybe the first really "round" thriller, to paraphrase Forster, since The Usual Suspects. See it.

  3. Having read an article about some sort of carcinogens released by non-stick pans cooking at high temperatures without food in them, i.e. warming up, Mary issued an edict to transition the household to a strict regimen of stainless steel cookery. This, of course, means more oil in the pan. So everything, from boca burger to salmon burger, came out tasting extra swell, extra virtuous. I'm all for it.

  4. Cook-out for neighbors on Labor Day proper resulted in no net diminution of beers in the house. Still 3 Dos Equises lingering from the Christmas Party. Discussion of these beers at Stacy and Eldar's pre-K get-together yesterday focused on the question of skunky beer: a reality or just a marketing ploy? Preliminary research shows that, while skunky beer does exist, its risk is generally mitigated through the use of opaque or semi-opaque (green, brown glass) containers.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

No baby kisser he

Saturday -- Great footage of Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, hero of the hour. Handed a baby, he scarcely looks at it as a soldier puts a baseball cap on it, hands it to an enlisted man, and keeps walking.

I mean, who can blame the guy. He's a military guy, not someone running for elected office. He's not trained at handling babies. But why are they putting him through baby-holding photo ops?

He looks a lot like Cab Calloway, also not a big baby holder.

But seriously, there's a shit flying about who's at fault, who was late to respond, why wasn't risk managed better up front, etc. Aside from a few specific questions like everybody knowing the levees were insufficient and FEMA getting eviscerated by being folded into Homeland Security, it ain't simple. It's not the kind of problem you can just throw dollars at.

Maybe what's gonna happen is that, after major crises every couple of years. (9/11, Anthrax scare, 2003 Blackout, Ivan and his siblings in Florida, Katrina), disaster and crisis management will become more of a prestigious and better remunerated occupation, and more management talent will gravitate towards it, so better solutions will be found.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The Mouse that Roared

And here's Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish, musing on the efficacy of seceding from the United States in order to get some aid money. That's logic straight out of Peter Sellers' classic The Mouse that Roared, in which the Duchy of Grand Fenwyck, upon learning of the Marshall Plan, decides to attack the US in order to lose and, therefore, get some development money.

Katrina and housing bubble

How will it pan out?
How much pressure on supply side? (people needing to be housed)
How much will insurance money prop up builders and contractors whose market might otherwise have abated as bubble popped?
How will P & C premiums be impacted?
How much mortgage default will we see?
How will defaulted mortgage-backeds impact yield curve?

How will monetary policy be impacted?
Deferred or reversed rate hikes?
(Will Greenspan stay on 6 months more?)
How will total carrying cost of housing be impacted?
Probably we'll see a regression to mean ratio of cost of renting to earning?

How will federal goverment finance the ca. $75 bln dollars not covered by insurance?
More of the long bond?
Repeal of provisional Bush tax code line items?
(Estate tax a likely and easy target in class warfare environment)

How will Chinese treasury view additional US debt in an oil shock environment?

One thing's for certain, it won't be solved with a telethon.

More than 9/11, this is the big test of our systemic risk management.
At least unemployment and corporate profit trends are better going into this than they were 4 years ago.
Ironically, one of the big saving graces for the US economy now vs. then is that more services have been offshored to India, etc. That's one big business continuity plan. Healthy redundancy
And Sarbanes-Oxley and Spitzer, for all their occasional excesses, decrease the probability of a bunch of Enrons and Worldcoms riding on the coattails of this. We hope.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

A few points about New Orleans

  1. The collapse of rule of law in New Orleans, which gains credibility as the hours pass, is as strong an argument for gun control as we'll ever see. And we hear of morons in Baton Rouge rushing out to buy guns to protect themselves.
  2. Aaron Brown terms New Orleans the first big crisis for Homeland Security. What about the August, 2003 blackout? That was no joke. Not that anything's ever been done about it. That was forgotten quickly. Until next time.
  3. The big problem? Why were people living there if it's so utterly below sea level? Those levees are prima facie ridiculous. This is a dress rehearsal for rising sea levels as the polar caps recede. Mardi Gras beads my ass. New Orleans shouldn't be repopulated to the same extent.
  4. We're seeing a lot of fat people out there. The urban poor are the most grotesque, but look at those relief workers. You wonder how long they can hold up in the heat. One rarely sees this broad of a cross-section of Americans on TV. The obesity epidemic is for real.

    I know, I know. I'm one to talk. But my BMI is only marginally on the high side.