Saturday, September 30, 2006

Of the Essence

After he returned from the trenches of WWI Italy, whence he shipped the manuscript Tractatus-Logico Philosophicus -- a foundational text for logical positivists and stoner mystics alike-- to Bertrand Russell, who quickly got it published, Ludwig Wittgenstein returned to Vienna and found himself a minor celebrity in amongst the philosophical set there, and was invited to the attend Vienna Circle to discuss his work. Wittgenstein duly attended, and when all were gathered, he got up and read a poem by Rilke or Holderlin or Trakl or somebody, and then sat down. The uptight logicians of the circle, startled, asked him to explain himself. So he stood up and read the poem again.

Similarly, Tolstoi, when asked to explain Anna Karenina, said that he would have to read the whole book from start to finish.

Today's rigorously linear and ends-oriented MBA Weltanschaung insists that brevity and essence are one. The shorter and more direct the bullet point, the more it is shorn of descriptive excess, the better. Short and clear means pure.

In a recent discussion a guy was telling me that, by able to integrate the functionalist "need to know on a transaction by transaction basis" executive mode of discourse into his life, he was able to get to the point that he didn't have to "become someone else" when he walked in the door of work. His work persona was him. It kind of makes sense, but it's kind of scary too.

What' s you've got to understand is that Anna Karenina, which can be read in 20-25 hours, if brief by comparison to its referent, which is life.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Big city streets

Down 7th Ave during rush hour tooled a truck with one of them little Pontiac convertibles on the back, wrapped in heavy chains. GM is offering a new 100,000 mile, 5-year warranty!

Like anybody thinks GM will be around in 5 years. Maybe they can do this because they snapped up a bunch cheap parts from the carcass of Delphi.


Earlier, walking up 5th, I passed the building where Rolling Stone has it's offices (the Equitable [now AXA] building). A block or so up this scruffy guy talks into his phone: "So on Friday I was hanging with Ace Freeley, then Saturday I was backstage at Christina Aguilera, then Sunday I saw the Stones, and Monday I heard and then talked to Claption.... all in all, 26 concerts in 30 days." Clearly a concert reviewer for the mag, and so so proud of his remarkable achievement.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

In the Western Lands

Out early from work for a birthday party at Terhune. 3 girls in the backseat chattering and screeching, as I navigate Princeton's rugged Western Section. Who knew what lurked out there at 3pm? A bevy of Mercedeses, Beamers, Volvos, sleekly slithering through verdant glades with tinted windows forbidding view onto God knows what species of womankind, most likely. Huge back-up at the entrance to Stuart Country Day. Traffic in the middle of nowhere always spooks me, but hey, here in NJ, you're both always and never in the middle of Nowhere.

And then I met Susan "Fabulous".

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Tales from the heartland

Impromptu gathering out back chez Eric. 7 guys. Beer. Nuts. Seltzer. Pretzels. Chilly.

Tales of vasectomy. Of counselling. Of a need for post-operative sampling to insure that all the little swimmers are dead. Samples must be delivered 1-hour fresh to the lab during the business day. Think about it. No mean feat in today's hard-driving productivist world. Delivery to a crowded waiting room in a discreet paper bag. "Could you take the sample out of the bag, sir?"

Predictable hijinks ensue.

I think I'll pass.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The President's Last Bang

(When in doubt, a movie review)

This is an odd movie, and I won't dispute the 3 stars that it's rated at Netflix, and while it wasn't necessarily 100% enjoyable, I still say you gotta see it. Cuz it's different.

It's like if Tarantino were a little less violent and lived in some post-totalitarian state and the production values and wit had gotten better but somehow the tone of the thing is distinctly, well, Soviet, or Franco. Sure, most of the actions are undermotivated, and you can't really care about the characters much.

But it's nonetheless a refreshing cinematic palate cleanser.

In general, we've done well by Korean film recently. Memories of Murder is an absolute must see, no doubt. All the Korean films seem to be pervaded by a wierd blend of sentimentality and ultraviolence. Some do it better than others.

Friday, September 22, 2006


Great is my shame. I've been in the office for so long I have nothing to say.

Except, these two bozos here in my office, so intent on their so-called work, wearing their little ties around their little necks like it makes them some kind of muckity-mucks. God, do they look smug, surfing around on the so-called internet. I'll show them, one day, I'll let them know what's really going on. Then they'll be sorry. But it'll be too late.....

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Community Park School fall picnic

Unfortunately, all the good Mexican food was gone by the time I got there, leaving only a motley assortment of pastas, salads, and little sandwiches. OK, I got a couple of dumplings.

Natalie was off on her own autonomous to an unprecedented degree, and even Graham venture far from Mary and me to the playground.

In a disturbing development, the Princeton Rec Dept has informed Mary and Stacy that their Brownie troop (Stacy's idea.... thanks Stacy) cannot meet there because they're too noisy and disruptive. This Brownie thing is quickly turning into a debacle. More later.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Califronia Dreamin

What is it with the people who run Southern California's pension funds? First Orange County blows up on structured product back in '94, then San Diego City scandalously underfunds and then covers it up, now San Diego County dangerously overallocates to Amaranth (why do I keep wanting to say Aramark? I had lunch.)

Is the actual secret that Paulie Shore and Nicole Ritchie are in fact running the whole show (Ritchie surely isn't running Aramark, as is clear to all)? That would explain a lot. And then the guys who are supposed to be exercising fiduciary duty over taxpayer money could spend their time eating tofu burritos, attending John Birch Society meetings, and olleying off of rad vert.


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Now playing in Peoria?

Back to Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children, which I finished yesterday while stricken with a Fall flu. One lingering question I had was, who would want to read about these New York intelligentsia, other than members of it? Time will tell. While she does't have Franzen's middle America hook, with the St. Louis family, Claire does a particularly good job writing about people distantly removed from the urban center. To some extent, her provincial women bummed out about their disappointing sons are her most poignant characters. Or maybe I'm just projecting. Anyhow, it'll be interesting to see how the book sells in Middle America.

In any case, Claire builds towards the novel's 9/11 climax beautifully. We feel the tension rising, knowing what's coming, anticipating the transvaluation of all anxieties, relishing the ambiguities and complexities which will soon be flattened out by the momentous event. And yet, when it does come, it's somewhat disappointing. It's as if 9/11, in its firefighterly and dusty horror, by now undoubtedly the most narrated event in history, does not yield to the fine filigree of her prose. What you've watched a thousand times on TV and heard told like a cubist Rashomon from hundreds of points of view doesn't need embellishment.

And yet, I ate the novel whole, and look forward to the next. Claire's first book was good, and she gets better with each.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Pot to kettle

In Sunday's Times business section, Roger Lowenstein critiques Nikolas Kozloff's book on Hugo Chavez for being full of phrases like: "in an ominous development for American policymakers." If ever there's been a case of the pot calling the kettle black, this is it. Lowenstein's most famous book, When Genius Failed, is shot through with exactly this sin, harping on how everyone should have known Long Term Capital was gonna collapse from early warnings, harbingers, omens, and other SAT words.

Don't get me wrong, I like Lowenstein. If I see his byline, I'm biased to read the article. But he'll never be Michael Lewis.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

ACC Football rankings

Florida State #9
Va Tech #14
Miami #17

Was it worth expanding the conference for this? Do we feel better about ourselves?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Insurable electability

The Economist's recent survey of climate change touched on the subject of home insurance in America, and especially in Florida. State regulators set home insurance rates, meaning that insurers can't adjust pricing to reflect market events. You can kind of see why, to let homeowners predict housepayments year to year (though insurance is a trivial component of homeowner carrying costs and structured products would emerge quickly to manage the risks faced by insurers and insureds).

But in Florida, it goes further. The state subsidizes an insurer -- the Citizens Property Insurance Corporation -- that guarantees coverage to those whose insurers have gone bust, giving it the same kind of moral hazard that the Pension Benefit Insurance Company gives to the Bethlehem Steels and Delphis and American Airlines of the world. The difference, beyond that, is that wealthy homeowners in Florida have recently exerted a disproportionate influence on world events: the election of 2000. The Florida Republican Party and its governor Little Bush have put in place a taxpayer-supported mechanism that insures that it slim margin of dubious victory will be supported.

Friday, September 15, 2006

grey matter

Slow brain day. Here's one of the two poems read at our wedding. John Donne.

If only I could live my life more like this. Or, less like this, as my boss might have it.

Busie olde foole, unruly Sunne;
Why dost thou thus,
Through windowes, and through curtaines call on us?
Must to they motions lovers seasons run?
Sawcy pedantique wretch, goe chide
Late schoole boyes, and sowre prentices,
Goe tell Court-huntsmen, that the King will ride,
Call countrey ands to harvest offices;
Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clyme,
Nor houres, dayes, months, which are the rags of time.

Thy beames, so reverend, and strong
Why shouldst thou thinke?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a winke,
But that I would not lose her sight so long:
If her eyes have not blinded thine
Looke, and tomorrow late, tell mee,
Whether both the India's of spice and Myne
Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with mee.
Aske for those Kings whom thou saw'st yesterday,
And thou shalt heare, All here in one bed lay.

She'is all States, and all Princes, I,
Nothing else is;
Princes doe but play us; compar'd to this,
All honor's mimique; All wealth alchimie,
Thou sunne art halfe as happy'as wee,
In that the world's contracted thus;
Thine ages askes ease, and since thy duties bee
To warme the world, that's done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art every where;
This bed thy center is, these walls, thy spheare.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Magic -- for the young parents amongst you

First it was the Magic Schoolbus , starring Ms. Frizzle, aka "The Friz". These word-intensive 30-minute reads inform schoolkids, and in particular Natalie, about a range of science topics, with a shapeshifting bus that goes from the bottom of the sea to the capillaries of poor Arnold's nose. I had to read these fast and skip lots of words to get Natalie to bed on time. There are 10-15 of these.

Now we're on to the Magic Treehouse series, starring Jack and Annie, who sally forth across fiction and fantasy carrying out missions. There are 49 of these 12 chapter books, and at 3 chapters a night that takes us out well past half a year to read them all. In each book, Jack and Annie go into the treehouse, find a book, look at a picture, point to it, and say "I want to go there." At that point in time, the text is canned "the treehouse started to spin. It spun faster and faster. Then everything was still. Absolutely still." Natalie reads these words along with me, incantatorily.

All these books are good.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

One of those days

I have many days when I oscillate between thinking I should just quit, start seeing a shrink and a career counsellor and exercising more, etc., and thinking I'm on the cusp of a big breakthrough. Today would be one of those days.

The Company would seem to be about to take on my humble team to fix up some of its processes. Hopefully we'll find a technical resource to help out with it, since it's a technical project.

Soon I'll be there, 13 hours a day, ensconced in lush hardwood panelling, testosterone, and workaholism. Fuck, maybe I should get while the getting's good. Some poor shrink needs me.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

9/11 downtown

It was easy to get a parking spot at the train station. Fewer people had gone in to work, most likely as a risk management deal.

At the WTC PATH station at Ground Zero, a bunch of freaks in "9/11, the Truth" t-shirts stood around and bellowed for justice of some sort. Cops talked into their crackling walkie talkies about some planned protest.

All the Irish bars were wall to wall with Firemen. I can see that. One of them had a charcoal grill with a weanie roast set up on the sidewalk. I'm sure that's illegal.

At 9pm I took a walk in Tribeca, and chanced to look south, where they were projecting the twin beams of light skyward. Hadn't known about that ritual. Apparently they do it every year. Looked pretty cool.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Claire Messud's new book

There's been a lot of buzz about The Emperor's Children, Claire Messud's new novel, and I'm reading it now myself. I must say that as much as I like Claire, I look at her as at someone who has had the fortitude to decide what she wanted to do and go out and do it over decades, much like the various rich guys I went to college with. And therefore part of me wants to be catty and snipe at her book, features like the shear Yaliness of all the big and fancy words and occasionally tortured syntax.

But the fact is that she writes well, and I care about her characters. When they're about to have sex that they shouldn't, I'm like "no no no." When fat Freddy sets off for the city, i'm riding shotgun, I want him to succeed, despite his Holden Caulfeldish ridiculousness. And so on.

As much as I may have to say about this novel as I read it, Claire has become a Major Author.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Logan, run

I can tell you neither why I though Boston Logan was a major airport, nor what I was thinking. At least as far as the American Airlines terminal is concerned.

Inside the secured gate area, for example, there are no bathrooms, and there is no food. And when you go out through security, the only food there is after 8:30 is Dunkin Donuts and the main bar, which would take God knows how long.

And then on the way back in through security, the woman scrutinizes my boarding pass thoroughly and scawls her initials "MB" on the back, though nobody ever looks at that side of it again and I throw it away. Good work MB! Praise jah for the FSA and all the great people of Homeland Security.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

First day of school eve

Natalie cried tonight at the dinner table when Mary was saying that she didn't think that 1st graders got snacks. Luckily, this theory was proven false. This was her first sign of remorse with regard to grade 1.

Standards of deviation

There is a house on the corner in Chapel Hill, on the twisty hill up to my mom's house, which is egregiously overgrown. It's a dinky little brick ranch, a tear-down-to-be, and the people haven't so much as trimmed a blade of grass there for god knows how many years, so now it'd be like original growth forest there if it weren't for the dear who surely come by and sup on the tender shoots. How ironic is that: nature imposing the appearance of culture. In any case, you can barely see the house from the street and it does look kind of sinister, like what the hell are they doing back there? Oxycontin? Video games? Tabbouleh?

I never thought I'd care about this kind of thing. I remember years back my sister telling me about picking dandelions because otherwise they'd spread to neighbor's yards and thinking "that's absurd," but the fact is that every community concocts and imposes standards around the subjugation of nature, the bracketing of contingency. And these standards, to paraphrase Foucault, are determined by the derelict and marginalized properties that everybody talks about in whispers and louder.

On our block it's the green abandoned house owned by the shifty old Chinese dude. Rumors abound of mysterious late night sightings of day laborers and junkies and the fact that they're gonna condemn the joint and so on and s on.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Mercer County Park, 9/3/2006, 1:30 PM

The 2006 Indo-American fair was a wing-ding indeed. Despite rumors (heard by more than just Mary) that last year's fair attracted 350,000 people (this is clearly based on a subconscious fear that a rising India and China will swamp us whities -- a little discussed theme these days), the fair was populous but not dramatically more than the pathetic Renaissance Fair that we went to back in the spring.

The food, I'll have you know, was delish. Chat plus a mixed meat grill from some restaurant that I stupidly did not get the name of. Better than most.

And then there were stalls with brightly colored garb and books and Bollywood tapes and... life insurance and 529s etc. But mostly, there was music and dancing, first some post-hippy white kids including one guy who was an actual master of the tabla. But then the young ladies started to get up on stage and do some dances, some traditional, others Bollywood music videos adapted to the stage. Girls ranging from 6 to 18. And Natalie, who at first complained the music was too loud, sat at the top of the bleachers and danced along, moving her feet, imitating some hand motions. And she ate Tandoori chicken and mango lassi too (the latter a real shock). So, altogether, a big day for multiculturalizing the lil uns.

But it's hard to figure how a patriarchal culture like India and let and encourage them little girls to be up on stage all suggestive like that. When you can't even show a kiss on screen. It's as if they draw the line between fantasy and fiction a lot more clearly then we do. Or maybe it's just so crowded that there's no place for teens to sneak off to.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Garden State keeps on growing

Sisyphus, need I remind you, is not a myth.

Hauled tons of yard waste to the curb today, part of the endless cycle of Apollo and Dionysus doing battle in the shape of green and brown.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Agassi should quit

Haven't checked the news today, but if he hasn't already, Agassi should drop out of the US Open. All this press about his getting 7 inch needles of more and more drugs in the spine is just inane. It's not heroic. It's poor judgement. The guy is married with children, and he needs his long-termhealth more than he needs this media coup. He could always recuperate and come back and play one more. Next year's Open with a couple of prep tournaments.

Or he could just walk away. While he still can.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Buffmeister

I had not been aware of Warren Buffett's unorthodox marital arrangement: separated from wife for 30 years, accompanied by a woman she hooked him up with (and with her full support), but married. That's the trouble with America today. Hippies.