Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Where I'm at

  1. Graham's still up, downstairs, at 9:30, practicing some vowels and consonants, which bound up the stairs to my attic study perch, itself littered with 130-odd blocks and God knows how many Playmobil and Polly Pockets items.
  2. Ragged out from last night, when Natalie came in from a nightmare at 3, then I took her back to her bed and almost fell asleep before she came back in, and Mary squeezed me out. So I went to "Granny's bed" and took appropriate drugs. Was asleep by 5.
  3. Tomorrow have 3 meetings in Manhattan, with Private Equity communications specialist, hedge fund dealing in distressed bonds and loans, and an Agency broker. Mind still reeling from yesterday's meeting with CDO of CDO manager. Much to wrap noggin around. Much to bullshit.
  4. Have minor deliverable due tomorrow for current client.
  5. Mary must make allergy group meeting back here in Pton at 7.
  6. Don't feel like working.

So you'll excuse me for lack of wit.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Aristocrats, ta dah

It's interesting that my riff on The Aristocrats, shown below, in its attempt to push in directions the comics in the movie hadn't gone, pulled out the Downs Syndrome thing, just like Sarah Silverman did, as I saw when we resumed watching. I went for the total sick gross-out groove, which is something in the context of that joke.

But my version was morbid, not funny. For the most part, it is a life-affirming joke. Violent, disgusting, yes, but at the end of the day, it's straight out of Mikhail Bakhtin's 1965 classic book on Rabelais. Sex, excretions, violence, it's all about life. OK, the incest part is pushing it. That's why Gilbert Godfrey breaking it out so hard in late September, 2001 was such a big deal: very much Le chaim, fisting or no. As Warhol's Frankenstein put it: "To know life you must fuck death in the gall bladder."

It all took me back to Dushan Makaveyev's movies, esp. Sweet Movie, where, if memory serves correctly, there's actually an on-stage shitting contest, as well as a stabbing in a boat full of sugar and naked or bikini chicks in a vat of (one presumes) chocolate. A must see, if slow.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Heard in passing

9:45 AM Woman headed to cafeteria through courtyard at our office, Princeton. In a hopeful, aren't I clever tone of voice: "But you know, I keep getting all these notices from credit card companies about transferring my balance..." You go girl.

7:00 PM A neighborhood in town. A high-school guy Rodrigo, an uncomfortably obese high-schooler with a declared love of statistics and a demonstrated ability to stay up till 4AM, talks to his buddy on the sidewalk. The buddy, who sports a ponytail and glasses, says: "But you know, time is two-dimensional..." Poor dudes were not fighting off dates to have this conversation.

Saturday, January 28, 2006


Natalie can read. Some. Most importantly, she seems to want to and is actually trying. She picks up a lot of words.

It had been a long time since I had thought about how systematically perverse the English letter h is.

Consider these lilies:

  • Hen
  • The
  • She
  • Chew
  • Through
  • Tough
  • Morph
It's almost as if h, in and of itself, spells trouble.

But not for Natalie.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Home and improvements

As I've said before in different ways, I hate home improvements. The only good justification for doing them rather than outsourcing and reading something productive is that one feels connected to one's home. Disalienation.

But is that just neo-peasant hoo ha? Do rich people who outsource all routine maintenance and concentrate on doing their own business lead less fulfilling lives? Is it even necessary to be tied to a house, a locale, to be fulfilled? Is it true that the rich, powerful, and fabulous are so miserable and isolated, as the myth of the earnest middle class -- supported by the scandalous tales of celebrity divorce and excess trumpeted in People and Us and the like -- would have us believe.

I don't know about the latter. And I'm probably too old to work real hard finding out. But I surely hate fixing stuff.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


Barton Biggs cites studies that say that email impairs intellectual development.

20 somethings email and IM each other all day long. NY Times cites an instance of IM posting a question to an informal network (etymology of "pinging") that returned an answer as quickly as google.

It seems entirely plausible that individual intellectual development slowed by constant interruption. It sure feels right. But this is a heroic investor-intellect model, which some think is receding. But does collective knowledge suffer when the network is used as a mental prosthesis? Is one genius better than a highly interactive swarm?

The youngsters I work with are not stupider than I was at their age. Quite the contrary. But maybe they're just retro-oddballs.

At the end of the day, the truth is surely somewhere in the middle.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Aristocrats

(this after watching 60-odd minutes of the movie)
So this guy walks in to an agent's office, nicely dressed, well-shaven, sits down and rests his fedora on his knee. His eyes sparkled. "Listen," he says to the agent, "I've got this fabulous act for you. It played in Peoria. It fairly bloomed in Bentonville. It brought down the house in Branson. Ashcroft and Jimmy Carter came on stage at the end and did a little jig as Amy Grant sang."

The agent, somewhat louche, stubbed out his cigarette on the ratty shag carpeting and said: "Tell me more."

"Well, for starters, it's called the Aristocrats."

"Be gone with ya, we book family acts," said the agent, reaching for his flask, as his Downs Syndrome-afflicted daughter lifted her head up from behind the desk, where she had been sucking his slightly green and shrivelled cock, and wiped from her face the blood spattered on it from jamming a can of WD40 into a orifice in his leg freshly bored by maggots.

"You tell em, pa!"

The moral story

The Times mag recently posted a story about the living wage movement inisinuating that it was to become the moral issue around which liberal politics would galvanize in the near future (i.e. 2008). Apparently, pushing the minimum wage issue as a moral rather than an economic issue gets people all riled up and moves em to the polls. "This is our gay marriage," said a leading activist.

Indeed it is, if by "gay marriage" we have in mind a seemingly black and white, moralizing issue which is used as a pernicious, demagogic red herring. Time was, interracial marriage, women voting, smoking and working, or the right of parents to beat the shit out of their kids were clear cut moral issues. Any time politics is aimed at the gut, look out.

If they're gonna make a moral thing out of it, might as well have some fun: peg the minimum wage on a percentage basis to the average pay of CEOs, to constrain the latter.

Raise the minimum wage, yes. Tomorrow. But keep your bible in your pants.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The meta lunchpail

I knew I was getting somewhere in life when people began to impugn what I was doing: "that's not real work," they said. "Why can't you program anything?" is very much like saying I don't swing a hammer.

It's the same deal for "action-oriented" or "implementation" consultancies like ours or, more likely, clients -- critique the McKinseys and BCGs of the world. "That's bullshit" or "Powerpooint jockies," they say. Everybody jokes about consultants being bullshit, even on the occasional TV commercial. Royal Bank of Scotland's "Make it Happen" series of ads is the same sentiment in I-banking. MBAs are another classic butt of jokes: "what the hell do they know? What does that MBA actually teach you?"

And yet, the strategy consultants and MBAs keep getting paid. When CEOs are confused, they call people who know how to help out at a high level. The whole idea of coming up with "tangible deliverables" is a production line mentality.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Knitting Factory, NYC, 11 AM, 1/21/06

A matinee at the alt club. Ralph's World -- with Ralph growing his hair out a la Ric Ocasek -- takes the stage. On the floor, 150-175 odd moms, dads, and kids ranging from 1 to 8 sit Indian-style, waiting for the star.

And the band takes the stage all power pop, major keys, clean harmonies, and lyrics like: "la lal la la la la, I love lemonaid" and the like. Pure sweetness. A little louder than I would have thought. But it's frickin awesome. Kids pogoing up and down, acting along with Ralph's directions for such classics as the Barnyard Blues. One little 4-year old stood there with his mini-uke the whole time, not even smiling.

How odd, I thought, all this positivity in such an alt rock space, a space dedicated to noise, smoke, booze, and discord. And yet, there was perfect continuity. The parents had all lived through the alt aesthetic and come round, and, really, the apparent negativity and self-destructive introspection of the post-punk days always implied that it was at least worth caring, where the Top 40 chose to surf the shimmering surface of mass cultural vacuity. So it all made sense.

Natalie was shy at first sitting next to Beth, before the latter ferried Sadie out. Natalie stayed in place for a while in the crowded middle of the floor, took the hand of the 3-year old next to her, then held the girl's dad's hand for a while , danced danced danced, and then finally took my suggestion and joined the mosh pit with a bunch of other "older kids". She was fully in her element when Ralph hit a power chord and called out "Ring around the Rosie!" As if they had been planning it their whole lives, 10 little girls joined hands and went round and round, with big smiles.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Basketball notes

So Duke got beat by Georgetown. It's sort of a shame that the loss which will put a bee in the Blue Devil bonnet came from outside the conference. It just increases the probability that the cocky bastards will continue to dominate.

But it's hard to care since the conference has been diluted so with all these outsider teams that I can hardly remember. And no, I don't care that Miami beat Carolina. The Tar Heels have just been outperforming and are now reverting to the expected mean.

At the end of the day, it all comes back to that classic them: Carolina good, Duke evil.

Friday, January 20, 2006

I love Lisa Kudrow!

Bitch crack me up.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

My block, v1

My block is in transition. Ten to fifteen years ago, it was probably all grad student rentals. Our house, for example, was let out to 5 grad students who put plastic on the windows and stuff like that. Fucked it up good. So some parts of the block are still like that, while others are people like us, -uppies who no longer justify the y, if indeed the p. Certainly not the u.

On the corner lives Toni Morrison. Or, rather, she owns the house. Nobody lives there. We never see her there. She put hundreds of thousands of dollars into sprucing the old house up, gutted it, but did nothing about the roof. Now, most evenings, there's a statuesque black Mercedes Benz planted out in the meticulously manicured paving stones of the driveway. The author herself! You might think. No, indeed, it is not. It is, rather, her son, who lives half a mile away with wife and kides, but likes to watch the big screen TV up at momsies. Is he sneaking away from bath and bedtime duties? Hard to say.

A crisis of traffic

Visits to the Grouse have abated by about 20% over the last month or two, and I feel that, on the one hand, it's entirely justified because my posts have been probably 20% less interesting, and on the other.... I forget.

As a response to this lull in what is otherwise breathtaking traffic (my legal team insists that I not disclose actual statistics), I think of sending out a broadcast email to my list to pump it up. In the short term, at least, I could generate more traffic that way. Problem is, I'm embarassed to direct traffic to a bunch of subpar writing.

Probably my brain is lulling a bit because, not only am I physically not going anywhere for the most part, but I'm reading work-related books in the evening, which makes me doubly boring.

And, obviously, the initial romance of the blog has passed, now I'm down to the grim reality of having implicitly promised multiple paragraphs a day, like a journalist in a land of no news.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


Toothache has long been a first-order philosophical problem. Dostoevskii's Underground Man frets about it at length, Wittgenstein treats it as an irrefutable data point in his musings around solipsism. One wonders if, in fact, toothache might make you deep. Dunno. I may have been deeper back when my teeth were less messed up.

Young people out there, one word: Floss.

Seen and heard

  • NJTransit, Guy with a phone, v1
    A sixty year old would be hipster on the phone sat over by the window talking with a VerizonWireless, and so on. Talking loud and at length about how he had been ripped off: "The guy sold me this phone for $299 when there was another more Windows-compatible phone coming out in two months for $499. And I need that one for my business so I could receive attachments..." and so on and so on ad infinitum subjecting everyone around him to this pablum, driven more than anything, it would seem, by love of his own voice and desire to enrich the rest of us with it, because the rep at the other end of the call was surely in no position to cut a deal. I about ran out and joined the NRA.

  • Young woman in a bodega, 12th and 7th
    "Your sign is wrong, right? It says you can buy cigarettes if you were born in 1988, but it should say 1987, right, cuz you gotta be 18?"
    Me: "But it's 2006. 2006 - 1988 = 18, right?"
    Her: "Oh yeah. I was never good at math."
    Tough math indeed.

  • Soho House, 13th and 9th
    A degree of fabulous not often seen in Princeton. There's Itamar Kubovy, a guy cool enough to support a name like that lounging in a coctail booth when we come in. Over here a pair of skinny 47-year old blondes, just out for a Tuesday night cocktail, over there some Russian-looking 50-year olds with appropriately younger women. In general, a good deal of sashaying and slinking by the staff, irrespective of gender. On the way out the door, some wierd dude with big eyes and a seemingly painted on tan. No wait, that's Andrew Solomon, he of the Noonday Demon, at least seemingly less depressed. Would have said below, had Steve Kahn not been filling my ears with wisdom.

  • Princeton, 2 am
    Graham, with some middle of night screetching, lets me view his long-awaited, long-resisted haircut. Looks comfortable.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Escape from Aristoville

John Corzine coronation as king of the fair Garden State takes place today, and of course he'd have to have the party in Princeton. Never mind that Trenton, where his office will soon be, is right next door, and is graced with many buildings which are designed to hold people. Most of them boast heat, running water, plumbing, etc.

So he comes to Princeton to have a party in the Princeton gym, which is, presumably, one of the smelliest buildings in our fair burg. And he snarls up traffic big time, just like football games would if they could ever fill the stadium.

Major traffic advisories for our few and narrow arteries. I'm off to the city.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Seen and heard

One tends to forget how much of a pain English orthography is. Walking across the street today a hispanic guy in a contractor van calls out to me: "How do you get to Hickstown Road?" And I'm thinking, what? He waves me over and shows me what he's talking about: "Hightstown Road." That's not a problem. English is painful, though.

At the restaurant last night, a sign on the dining room door said "Use Nixt Door." There's really no good excuse for that. That's just slack. The restaurant itself, Aladdin's Palace, is better than its spelling. Read Karla's review, that'll show ya.

Meanwhile, Princeton's Nassau St. now boasts 5 street-level vacancies, one of them 3 stories tall in a beautiful building. That's a lot. What is that telling us? Surely we need another specialty retailer, like the canine cooky store.

Friday, January 13, 2006


On the train yesterday, there was a girl/woman, right on the 18-19-20 year old border between the two, who was a perfect blend of Anne Preston and Sharon Bell from back in the day, when those two ruled the roost at Guy B. Phillips Junior High School, particularly those of us a year younger than them.

And I was transported back to a time before lust, when we were ruled by something that could only be termed longing, as if for ethereal medieval maidens, these doe-eyed, sharp-nosed Wasp icons in kelly green. To a time when the one we called "Cool" could stand on the street in front of Purdy's and inform us that he had been counting his pubic hairs and that he had gone above a hundred. Back to when we were all just getting started.

And the girl on the train was nestled up to a floppy, ruddy-cheeked dude in a knit cap, as if headed off to X-games qualifying. The dude I never quite was back then.

Some things that suck, v2

So I want to take Mary's money out of her TIAA-CREF 403b and roll it over into an Fidelity IRA. That sounds OK, right? A normal transaction.

But TIAA-CREF doesn't want to make it easy. It's not clear how to do it on the website, so I try calling their 800 number: "Due to unexpected call volume associated with our mailing, we are experiencing delays." What the fuck is that! I'm supposed to pay with my time because they can't forecast call volume.

So the guy tells me where to go on the website. The *.pdf form I have to print out needs to be signed by Fidelity. So I'm going to send a piece of paper to Fidelity and have them sign in and send it to TIAA-CREF. In 2006. I don't think so? Don't they have computers?

And their website hangs. But then again, so do the 401k websites of Merrill Lynch and Prudential (Bysis). Nobody, it would seem, wants to really invest in small plan 401k functionality because, hey, why bother, once they've signed up, it's hard to leave. Why serve em?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Some things that suck, v1

Dr Scholl's slippers
I bought the Dr. Scholl's slippers at a discounter in Massachusetts, thinking, "Dr. Scholl's, that's a reputable enough brand. This will help me achieve my quota of 3 purchases in an hour." What I should have said to myself is: what is Dr. Scholl's main product? I would have remembered that, for sure, it ain't slippers.

What it is, of course, is inserts for shoes and other "foot care products". Perhaps that's why the slippers were in such a hurry to slide the furry lining aside and disclose their super-bouncy gel midsoles. I can see it now. A slick entrepreneur with a vision: inserts make slippers! A presentation to a board. A licensing deal...

A little empirical research: Dr. Scholl's is in fact a subsidiary of Schering-Plough, a New Jersey-based pharma company who, some may remember, got in all kinds of trouble with regulators back in 2003 due to its dubious marketing practices. The shoes are manufactured under a license held by Brown Shoes, an inspiring name. The slippers I bought aren't even listed on the DrSchollsShoes.com website. I don't think I need to keep digging.

The moral to the story: don't buy em.

Coming up next on Some things that suck: TIAA-CREF

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The tender barber

The barber I go to a lot sets up a bar between Thanksgiving and Christmas. A card table with bottles of random seeming cheap liquors on it, vodka, whiskey, whatnot. I really don't pay much attention. Also snacks, such as Utz potato chips, cheez doodles, little powdered donuts.

Not a huge outlay, but a nice touch nonetheless. Quite fitting for a guy with a healthy salt and pepper handlebar moustache who can recognize the sound of Stan Kenton from a couple of bars.

I didn't make it by during the inter-holiday season this year, but I asked him about it the other day. Turns out the postwoman became his best friend during these happy days, stopping in for a daily nip of blackberry brandy to ward off the cold even though, usually, "she doesn't even say hello."

So that's how to win friends and influence people.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Token princess

Natalie got a Bella Ballerina video for Christmas that has a white chick, an Asian one, and a black one, all ca 5 or 6. At the beginning, for the warmup period, they're all in bright exercise clothes. Then, when they're actually doing ballet, the white and asian ones get pink lyotards and are shown continually on screen with their little foot placement mats and stretching bars. The black chick stays in exercise clothes, and the camera cuts over to her for rare one-second snippets.

What's going on here? Clearly, the young child of deeper color can't do ballet very well. So who did they think they were fooling with their pseudo-inclusivity? Are they too cheap to go out and find a black girl who's comfortable in toe shoes? I'll bet I could find one in a couple of hours. Morons.

Perhaps it's because the video is Australian? The Parter-Posey looking, braces-wearing, incredibly annoying Bella has an Australian accent. So maybe they couldn't find a black girl who could do ballet in Australia. But why bother including her. The sin of quasi-inclusion far outweighs that of ommission.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Home, sick

The seasonal onslaught continues. First Natalie yesterday, then Graham today, shared the contents of their stomachs with the rest of the household. Now I feel not too far from it, squished here on the couch between the languid Graham and the somewhat feistier Natalie, running through the Charlie Brown archives, half wishing I could find a porcelain god of my own, half cursing Mary for not having taken her cell phone on her walk so I could have her get some ginger ale.

I had never tapped Charles Schulz as a huge influence on Matt Groening, but there's a lot there, in terms of drawing style, if not quite a dissertation's worth. Though Peanuts is distinctly more kids' fare.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Beat that my Heart Skipped

This recent French remake of the 1978 Harvey Keitel flick Fingers about a petty hoodlum torn between beating people up and playing piano (now I try to salvage this sentence) could have been a hell of a lot worse. You fear the guy's gonna get banged up, while pulling for him to make good on them ivories, even as he's a quivering chain-smoking bundle of neuroses. Classic white devil black devil on opposed shoulders stuff. This being France, the Tarantino-Oasis looking protagonist nails a number of attractive ladies, spaced appropriately across the 2-odd hours to insure that we're never too far from a little erotic intrigue. There are relatively few actual corpses.

Worth seeing.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Little peeps

At 4AM, Graham starts making noises, and I'm like: those are the kind of noises he makes when he rolls over and goes back to sleep. I'll do the same, I think.

5 minutes later. More screeching, so I go in to check it out. He's sitting up in bed: "Mommy, mommy", and I'm thinking: what now, a drink of water? Quite the contrary, a stream of brown vomit erupts from his mouth, which is rare, because I know he didn't encounter any allergens in his crib. So what do you do when your kid is puking? You pick him up, of course, and get a little bit of puke on you. Warm.

He's better today.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The Righteous one

Walter told Mary that one thing my dad and I have in common is that we're sure we're right all the time. I'm sure that was plenty true at one point in time, but I'm surprised that I still project that. I personally feel that I solicit other people's opinions all the time and have a pretty solid notion of where my expertise stops, which is roughly right at the edge of my non-trivial girth.

The one thing that may be confusing is that I long ago came to the conclusion that, insofar as there is no absolute truth and that nobody is ever absolutely right, that it does nobody any good to spend your whole day prefacing every statement with some lame caveat like "In my opinion" or "It seems to me" or "You may not share this belief, but..." No. Whatever you say, everybody knows it's just what you think, so why coddle it? Everyone is always seeking to generalize their opinions, advocating for their ideas. If you don't act like you believe what you're saying, you know nobody else is gonna.

But I think I'm able to implement this idea-marketing rather gently, much of the time. Unlike back in the day, when I was just hepped up. Funny that I seem otherwise.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


The CEO of that mining company in West Virginia kept referring to the sole miner whose status ("deceased") was known at the time of the press conference last night as an "employee." Over and over again, with the discipline of a man who had conferred with counsel. What was he/they thinking? Why "employee"? In place of the guy's name? Because "miner" is too tragically loaded a term? "Employee".

One would think that, strictly speaking, the CEO should have called him a "former employee." Though he may have remained on the books, for the moment.

Smooth blending?

Kwame Anthony Appiah's cover piece in the Times magazine this last weekend: "A Case for Contamination", brings a fresh and welcome voice to the public discourse of cultural identity. Not that Appiah hasn't been around for a long time and highly respected too, both as Anthony and, upon subsequent consideration, as Kwame Anthony. I can't even say if he's changed his tune much, as I haven't read more than book reviews from his earlier work, though I always assumed that his book In my Father's House was in the cultural authenticity camp.

Not no mo. Appiah has come out swinging for a more or less modern/post-modern ethic and aesthetic of blending, largely of market determinism. Mostly, the gemeinschafft vision of a privileged and authentic agrarian way of life has been cut down. The problem, Appiah points out, is that nobody wants to be authentically cold, dirty, and disease-ridden. If this spells the death of cultural forms, so be it, people live better. Dallas and Baywatch hurt nobody, cuz the viewers have minds of their own.

But then, a couple of days later, reading the Economist on the fate of Finno-Ugric languages and the people who speak them, you've got to wonder: are there intrinsic benefits to keeping rare languages and cultures alive, as there are in the biosphere? Is there a cultural pharmaceutical industry which muddles through looking for rare ingredients? History shows that monocultures grow and are strengthened through encounters with resistance. Is not cultural authenticity such a pushing back?

In any case, it's good to see someone on the left veer back towards Enlightenment transparency, away from the neo-Herderian claptrap of the purveyors of pious particularity.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Doin her father proud

Tonight I read Natalie a book about dolphins, which described the Dolphin's use of "echolocation" to find things around it. I was about to point out to her how much this was like what bats do, when she goes: "Just like bats."

Yer dern tootin.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Not paying attention

Out for a walk with Leslie and Walter in Graham, we came across a guy who had a "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention" bumper sticker on a car, which sat next to its owner. That he was late 40iesish, standing outside smoking in cozy subdivision in a very high-net worth zip code didn't raise any ironic thoughts in the guy. He was proud of his bumper sticker.

But, irony aside, it made me think. Have I been outraged enough recently? Have I been paying enough attention? Certainly the grouse has wallowed in the domestic and apolitical for some time.

It doesn't mean that I don't recognize that Bush is evil incarnate or that we have no business whatsoever being in Iraq. I guess, more than anything, it indicates that I think that the vitriolic diatribe corner of the discourse and specifically blog market is pretty well served.

I will say, in passing, that the monotonic virulence and porno-intensity of the graffiti in a men's room on the Garden State Parkway the other night was pretty striking. Was it that W picked up none of the vote around there, or that lefty graffitists self select? Judging from the writing on those walls, W needs some baby oil, fast. And there will still be pain.

Oxtail Soup

For lunch today, a very nice oxtail soup made by a certain Eric Dennis, of Ciampino, Italy, at the old Dennis family homestead at West End and 103rd. Made from no recipe, just because Eric was thinking about how Oxtail soup must be made and has become so clever in the kitchen. With fresh bread and nuked snowpeas, followed by brownies, we were styling.

Meanwhile, daughter Emily, now 10, amused herself by pushing Eric's glasses off her dad's nose again and again and again, even after he said he was annoyed. Emily then gave Natalie and Grampa Bob an Italian lesson.