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.

Jesse Jackson in New Orleans on Larry King

In typical fashion, Jesse Jackson comes on and makes one good point: that the post-Katrina news is overly focused on the Heart of Darkness aspects of the onetime Big Easy, when mostly there's suffering. And then he turns around and calls the oil-price gougers in Atlanta the real thiefs. Like I give a flying fuck about some Atlanta commuters. Let em carpool or telecommute, or pony up the dough. That's not the main story.

Jackson, as ever, shows himself to be a strange cross between a decent human being and and utter demagogue.

nb. Larry also talked lots of self-serving white politicians. Bill Frist is all proud that they're allocating big money for relief. As if anybody is surprised that a W administration can rack up a deficit. All kinds of deficits. We know that. Of course we're gonna pay for aid.

I'm surprised the thumpers haven't moved in yet with free bibles.

To read or not to read

I wonder what is the evolutionary basis for the guilt one feels when around the house alone with one's kids. On the one hand, if they're quiet and/or entertaining themselves, I want to leave them alone in expectation of the next time they get in a fight or come begging for attention. It's good for them to be happy on their own. Have a little precious time to myself. Read. Blog. Clean. On the other, I feel like I'm away a lot and therefore should spend time with them.

I suspect many non-psychopathic parents no what I'm talking about. It's pretty common.