Wednesday, October 31, 2007

From Derrida to Derivatives

It will be interesting to see if securitization becomes a bad word just like "theory" did at some point in time, while its tenets and practices continue to proliferate, even as they call forth literalist backlash. Indeed, I have to wonder if there's a genetic or causal relationship between the rise of theory and the subsequent universalization of securitization. Both really took off in the eighties, but securitization got more and more abstract as theory got sort of corraled and beat down into little ghettos, even as many of its thought patterns flowed out into the mainstream press via the relatively hip journalist crowd. Securitization and the various theory schools (deconstruction, feminism, new historicism) etc. are famously jargon-ridden, opaque, and slippery, but also draw out analogies you wouldn't think of and, once you ponder it, just plain old make sense. Sometimes.

But one commentator, Frank Partnoy of San Diego, has built a career on saying that what the Wall St. of the 90s forward has done is make things so complex that purchasers can't understand them, but buying them made them feel au courant. Retail consumers who bought complex and ill-suited mortgages also felt deucedly clever, until they got bit.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Halloween intentions

Despite earlier rumors that he would appear as an "ampire," Graham has let it be known that he will once more boycott the trick-or-treat proceedings, or at least that he will skip the costume portion.

We'll have an update from Natalie, who is honing strategies for candy maximization, tomorrow as the festivities approach.

Neon Bible

All the advance press on The Arcade Fire's second record had me expecting greater experimentation than their first outing, Funeral. So at first listen, I was underwhelmed. I was driving, so I kept on listening. Turns out, it does indeed rock, even without any power chords.

The first record was, I thought, all about the Pixies. While that's not gone, it's now mixed in Springsteen and a hint of Pogues, but at the end of the day they've got their own sound, progressively layering and delayering horns, organs, accordions, what have you, while keeping a driving beat.

They're downright cinematic. At their best, each song is a short film.

They should make some money on this, particularly if they can get both the vaunted 18-34 demographic to snap it up as well as oldsters like me.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Kafka, 2.0

Our singer is called Josephine. Anyone who has not heard her does not know the power of song. There is no one but is carried away by her singing, a tribute all the greater as we are not in general a music-loving race. Tranquil peace is the music we love best; our life is hard, we are no longer able, even on occasions when we have tried to shake off the cares of daily life, to rise to anything so high and remote from our usual routine as music... Among intimates we admit freely to one another that Josephine's singing, as singing, is nothing out of the ordinary.

Is it in fact singing at all? Although we are unmusical we have a tradition of singing; in the old days our people did sing; this is mentioned in legends and some songs have actually survived, which, it is true, no one can now sing. Thus we have an inkling of what singing is, and Josephine’s art does not really correspond to it. So is it singing at all? Is it not perhaps just a piping? And piping is something we all know about, it is the real artistic accomplishment of our people, or rather no mere accomplishment but a characteristic expression of our life. We all pipe, but of course no one dreams of making out that our piping is an art, we pipe without thinking of it, indeed without noticing it, and there are even many among us who are quite unaware that piping is one of our characteristics. So if it were true that Josephine does not sing but only pipes and perhaps, as it seems to me at least, hardly rises above the level of our usual piping—yet, perhaps her strength is not even quite equal to our usual piping, whereas an ordinary farmhand can keep it up effortlessly all day long, besides doing his work—if that were all true, then indeed Josephine's alleged vocal skill might be disproved, but that would merely clear the ground for the real riddle which needs solving, the enormous influence she has.

Franz Kafka, "Josephine the Singer, or, the Mouse Folk"
If Borges and his Croatian doppelganger Danilo Kish are the intellectual visionaries of the unlimited scale of the internet and 2.0, Kafka is its true sage.

Reading this weekend of Tila Tequila and her 1.8 million Facebook buddies and her new reality show, it's hard not to reflect on 2.0 and reality TV and YouTube and YouPorn so on, much as I've restrained myself in the past. What does it mean that we're making so much content, so many pictures of ourselves? Does it make it easier for us to define and express ourselves, or are we just kidding ourselves waiting for the next hero? Does what is expressed matter, or does the act of expression suffice? Does it let us free ourselves, or does it complicate coordinated effort by making it more difficult to get on the same page?

And as soon as I invoke Borges -- prophet of infinitely extensive libraries and consciousness -- in this context, I hear Baudrillard tiptoeing in the back:
If we were able to take as the finest allegory of simulation the Borges tale where the cartographers of the Empire draw up a map so detailed that it ends up exactly covering the territory (but where, with the decline of the Empire this map becomes frayed and finally ruined, a few shreds still discernible in the deserts - the metaphysical beauty of this ruined abstraction, bearing witness to an imperial pride and rotting like a carcass, returning to the substance of the soil, rather as an aging double ends up being confused with the real thing), this fable would then have come full circle for us, and now has nothing but the discrete charm of second-order simulacra.
Where does the blogosphere -- this great collective soul -- stand vis-a-vis its referent?

The sports page

Morality tales: In recent NY Times PLAY magazine, we have Steve Nash, the intensely focused and driven eluder of obstacles, who glows and flows and does the right thing for charity and society and so on and so forth.

And then there's marathoner Alberto Salazar, the intensely focused and driven bust-througher of obstacles who burns out and crashes early, even dies prematurely from intensity/heart attack earlier this year, before getting fibrillated back to give born-again lectures to devout crowds.

Two sides of the same coin. How do you know which is which when they're 14, 16, 21? Is it random?

At one point in time Salazar tells the tale of seeing a drowned boy pulled from a pond near Boston. He reflects: "I guess another boy might have prayed that such a terrible thing would never happen to him. He would pray, in other words, that he would never die. But I didn't prary for that kind of mercy. I asked God that when my time came to die, I wouldn't be afraid. Well, my prayer was answered." Talk about competitive. He's trying to outpray imaginary adversaries. Way to go!

Friday, October 26, 2007

New Haven

It is somehow ironic that I should have such warm feelings for a place where, in retrospect, I must have been so unhappy. Around most very corner in the City of Elms is the memory of a longing, most of them routinely sated, no matter who said what. It is not unlike the way in which the approval of those who reject me is so important to me.

In so many ways, New Haven has flavor and texture, where Princeton is all sustenance and presentation.



Went to the Doodle, had cheeseburgers.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Burning

It's easy to watch TV and see fires burning in the California hills and just be like: "Well, that sucks". At least it's easy for me.

But it gets kind of different when you're talking to someone who's out there. A few minutes back I was on the phone with some guy in a seaside town right close to San Diego. This is a guy who is the mastermind of a 3-in-1 flashlight that has a bright light to blind someone 20 feet away, point a targeting laser at them, and blast them with some hardcore pepper spray so they're really blind and writhing in pain on the ground. Sounds like a bummer, but it beats being shot dead. And here's this longtime military and then postmilitary guy who's probably close to really retiring if he's not retired, with a sweet crib down by the sea which is on the point of total and utter destruction. Talking to someone right in the eye of the storm puts it all in perspective, that's for sure.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Does the Universe Have a (Special) Purpose?

The John Templeton Foundation has inaugurated a series of "conversations" on "Big Questions" populated by a variety of high-end talking heads from science and other disciplines, but mostly from science because, as we all know, scientists are just smarter and can switch hit to the speculative domain of the humanities much more easily than we can science because, after all, their abstruse noodlings are empirically grounded.

Sadly, all too often these, the talkingest scientific heads of a generation, can scarcely surpass the presumed logic of one Navin R. Johnson, Steve Martin's Jerk, who might have answered the Templeton's question: "I too have a special purpose!"*

David Gelernter of Yale states resoundingly "yes", the universe has a purpose:
"Namely, to defeat and rise above our animal natures; to create goodness, beauty, and holiness
where only physics and animal life once existed; to create what might be (if we succeed) the only tiny pinprick of goodness in the universe–which is otherwise (so far as we know) morally null and void." OK yeah yeah. This is scientist taking license pretty bad, but it gets worse:

"Why seek goodness?

Because most humans desire goodness. For most (not all!) humans, this urge is easily ignored in the short term, but nearly impossible to uproot over the long haul."

This is all nicey nice, but it's not a strong argument for anything, and he's at least pretending to operate in an argumentative vein.

Now, we gotta give the guy credit not because he's Joe Scientist, but because he's one of the people who got seriously mauled by a package from the Unibomber, causing him serious damage to one hand, to which he alludes at the end of his little disquisition: "But as Job teaches us, we must play the hand we are dealt." So he's utterly admirable for his generosity of spirit, but really pretty lame on the depth of thought side of things.

Lots of others (Jane Goodall, Elie Wiesel) hold forth on the question of purpose with varying degrees of interest and sophistication, but in the end it just gets boring.


*I.e. a penis.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Serenity

This movie, i.e. the one called Serenity, rocks. What else to say? Star Wars knock-off with a no-star cast and a kick-ass heroine. Gotta love it.

Though my life is certainly much improved with my own parking spot at Princeton Junction and the double-decker trains they got running in the morning. Seats for all, seemingly. It's like I've had an upgrade, save for the fact that I'm commuting to Manhattan. We'll see how long this lasts.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Walnuts

There are black walnut trees in our backyard, and they are toxic to all too many plants, as are their leaves and nuts and other spawn. So each year when that stuff comes down we rake and clean it up and haul it to the curb.

The walnuts aren't big on being raked, so we have to go after them with hands and receptacles. When a child is still young enough to be gullible, he/she may be duped into joining in. As it was with Natalie, so it is with Graham, giving us a mild "family togetherness" moment.

But Graham has proven lucky. This year the walnuts can be put into buckets, as compared with prior years when there were seemingly thousands and we had to put them in garbage cans and forcibly haul them to the curb. I remember clearly saying at the time that the massive production of nuts was a homeostatic response to draught or global warming, that the tree gave off all these nuts because it wanted to preserve the species by reproducing (foiled!). But this year is kind of a draught too, what gives?

We should perhaps do some research or ask an arborist. But what fun is there in that?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Eyeballs and Chicken Pot Pie

There was an article in the Sunday Times Business Section about how there was an outbreak of MacNasty salmonella which befell people who had eaten undernuked chicken pot pies. There were, like, 150 instances of this nationwide. First off, let me say hats off to the CDC for aggregating that data and figuring out the common etiology of all this salmonella. This is truly an unironic instance of our tax dollars at work.

So the manufacturers (Conagra and others, methinks) clearly know that this is a problem of labelling and communication on pie boxes, letting consumers know about the different power ratings of microwaves and how much nuking it takes for each type to kill the little boogers.

But.....

The real problem isn't just getting the right text on the box, which would satisfy Legal. No, you've gotta be sure people will read the box. Product boxes are competing for eyeballs with all the other millions of ways marketers are trying to get to consumers. The same Business Section had an article on how Nike and others are veering further and further from traditional push marketing into all kinds of ways to build customer affinity. A little salmonella might get people to sit up and read, but for how long?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Shoot Out the Lights

Released in 1982, this was to be Richard and Linda Thompson's last album as a pair, and one of their last acts as a married couple. Critics go back and forth as to whether the album is "about" the upcoming divorce, which is kind of irrelevant. The break was surely in the making, as these things don't typically pop up overnight, even if the affair that brings them to light may.

And so, the record, maker of numerous best ever lists. For me it's all encapsulated in the last minute of song two, "Walking on a Wire." With Linda in the lead, Richard steps in to sing a "harmonic" back up, and all of a sudden they're singing together but apart like nothing you've ever heard, two strong, expressive voices fighting for supremacy, warbling and weaving around each other like the Blue Angels on Oxycontin. And there's undoubtedly some foretaste of a marriage on the way out here, however comely and compelling the form, like a vocal shard of the early Andy Gill gliding into a ballad.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Ron Paul on Nassau St.

Well, not exactly. Just saw a non High-Net Worth black woman and her probable teenage son (in beltless baggies and a sweatshirt, not prepped out like Obama-Cosby junior) carrying a big Ron Paul placard and passing out campaign lit. This was surprising to me. Ron Paul's political vision does not seem like one which would be huge amongst the lower-income of-color set. Were this woman and her younger companion in fact paid political operatives? That would be classic disruptive agitprop.

It makes me feel like Ron Paul is a conservative version of the creeping leftist infection of John Malkovich's The Dancer Upstairs. If you haven't seen this movie, RENT IT NOW, and then you'll know what I mean.

Friday, October 12, 2007

RDU

Trapped beneath a television blaring ESPN, surrounded by dudes with hair of note both facial and other. Hard to think.

Just left my laptop at security after the security fellows had to do an "exterior check" on my back, looking for what, explosive traces? Pretty scary. And it's not even Halloween yet. Gotta run.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Tech 2007

Down at the Council on Entrepreneurial Development's Tech 2007 conference, it flew fast and furious. Over here Dayjet CEO Ed Iacobucci played George Bush on the aircraft carrier, declaring victory over a complex optimization problem after 52 live flights. Yeah yeah. Talk to me after 10,000. He also talked in detail about his personal history, which was really enlightening.

In the exhibition hall some dudes displayed some mushrooms they used to grow drugs. Mmmmhmmm. There was all manner of other boring medical crap, and my heart pined for some financial apps. They most slam-bam med app was this 360 degree modelling thing that looked like it targeted cosmetic surgery. Why am I not shocked? Magnus Health Portal is a sleeper. Good technology, but better business model and attitude.

The CTO of Nokia/Ericsson song and danced about the future of the cell phone. Soon, you'll be able to buy your sandwich, drag and drop files from one phone to another, and wipe your ass with it too. There were so many features have you wonder what use it could ever be to an aging population. No doubt, telecoms and devices generally need an Oxo, somebody to have a culture oriented towards building devices targeted at the boomers and older. He showed multiple videos of what were basically commercials, which was pretty weak.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

In the zone

Just flew down from Philly to NC. You would think that some kind of excitement would happen. Did not.

Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen. Cheerwine. Next Dip's. Livin the life...

(4 hours later)
Actually, going to Dip's brought back a bunch of memories. Somehow this restaurant has gotten by for 20-odd years, but the service always sucks and tonight the food was basically no good too. The cornbread was tasty, but the barbeque was crappy and the chicken and dumplings, which I thought a signature dish, bit as well. And we waited 40 minutes for this, not because of the wait but because the cooks were having dinner. When I worked in a restaurant we ate before the shift. This place is shittily managed and would appear to basically coast on a reputation it somehow earned.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

At long last

It's raining outside and it's hard to focus on anything else. Everything is dry and brown and so on, though the grass on the front lawn died, we ripped it up and planted more and the little dudes are just burgeoning.

I can't help but to feel guilty because it's much nastier dry in Chapel Hill, though the chance of relief is set at 50% tonight.

I'll see tomorrow.



In other news check out Blogger Play, which lets you monitor in "real-time" images as they are uploaded to the Blogger server. It's 2.0 at its rawest, like a visual Twitter that you don't even have to go to.

Monday, October 08, 2007

This weekend's flix

Because of the holiday, we watched to movies, not one. Crazy.

Water
This Indian film about pre-war Indian widows living together like untouchables in the olden way could have sucked, but did not. It hit some hard and honest notes without lingering on them, and the plot resisted the most pathetic of happy ending cliches, opting for some tragic / hopeful cliches instead. The white Indian chick was totally hot.

Year of the Dog
Call us suckers, with Molly Shannon at the wheel we thought this was gonna be funny. And we did laugh at times. But most of the time it was a quasi-clinical look at a descent into psychosis. With dogs. Don't watch it, even though some of the acting is flat out 'ler.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Marion Jones and UNC

I'm not in Chapel Hill, so I can't see what all the local talking heads (Chansky and whatnot) are saying, but if I were in the Athletics Department at UNC, I'd be a little concerned with my long-term track record this week. UNC has skated through years of hassling by the NCAA with no reprimands or serious cases being brought against it to my recollection. Somehow. We all know UNC isn't as pure as it likes to project, and we've seen and heard evidence.

But once the really big dawgs leave UNC, they tend to get involved in a scandal or too. Think about Lawrence Taylor and his caine, Michael Jordan and his wagering, James Worthy and them hookers. Now Marion comes along and tells us she was doing steroids at her peak moment.

Duke players, by comparison, just mess themselves up. Think Bobby Hurley and his pickup truck, Jason Richardson and his fly cycle, and Christian Laettner, Jay Bilas and the rest of the big white lunks with their generally useless selves. Grant Hill has a messed-up knee but is clean and ready to run for political office if he'll just get organized.

Something about UNC's untouchable status seems to make its big stars think they're above the law. Now lets wait to find out what they get Mia Hamm for.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The sly ones

Coming back from the phleb lab today, I tapped my brakes appropriately when I came around the bend and saw a Princeton Borough cruiser lurking there on the grass side of the street. But then, as I passed it, I could see there was no fuzz in there and it was just our tax dollars at work. The Princeton Police, with its infinite and well-rested staff and its surfeit of late-model cars, left a decoy on the side of the road.

Now, in and of itself, there's nothing really new to that, empty cop cars are often left on the side of the road as a deterrent. But usually they're visible from far away, so that they deter maximally. No no, Princeton is sneakier than that, it hides them so that -- instead of scaring drivers in a specific moment, it instills in them a general fear that there might be a cop lurking behind any corner or hedge. This is not unlike the practice of Stalin's secret police of randomly arresting and killing innocent people who had no idea what they'd done (nothing) just to instill fear in the populace at large. Admittedly, what the Princeton cops do is less fatal. OK. Fine.

But still.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

A triumph!

Graham just after bedtime alerted me and then pooped in the potty for the 3rd time in a row, thereby earning himself the Thomas the Train Rock Crusher which he had been so coveting and which had been promised him. After we opened the crusher and he played for a bit, I put him in his bed again, and as I passed by his door a couple of times I heard him blowing copious kisses my way.

Now lets just see if he can keep it up.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Downtown. Not quite nostalgia.

  • 8:00 AM Diner on Bway in Tribeca – Wood panelling. Lots of grey and also old people. 60ish woman reads hardcover mystery from public library, pulls out NYC DOT employee badge on a shoelace at 8:30. Fidgets with lace to get it to lay right around her neck.
  • 10:30AM CafĂ© at W3rd and Bway – basement “stylish” bar, red paint, black toilet, smell of stale beer, not really far from He’s Not Here, just a different skin
  • 11:15AM Step-down Used book store North of Houston on Mercer
    • I don’t know the fiction authors
    • Lit crit authors, not surprisingly, I do know, have not changed
    • Sections for "Computers" and "Computers of the Past"
  • 11:25 DayGlo Orange Lamborghini on Mercer in Soho. No surprises there

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

My loyal readers...

Will surely appreciate that I got a hit today from the following locale.

Tehran, Tehran, Iran, Islamic Republic Of,

The visitor had found me by googling "Jaguar Enhancement Cream"

Thanks, team, for helping me rope em in.






How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It)

In this biopic we learn many things about Melvin Van Peebles:

  • He worked in many genres: jazz, film, fiction, television commentary, floor trading
  • He was smart and determined and disciplined
  • He had more lives than a cat, and more lovers than a dog
  • He was not bereft of ego
  • He influenced many
What this film does not demonstrate, however, is that he did anything particularly well, even speaking French. His masterpiece and true claim to fame (other than son Mario) Sweet Sweetback's Baaadaasssssssss Song is an important film, sure, a powerful film, sorta, but it's durned hard to watch, as I remember. Except for the sex scene. Hollywood may have cheapened and perverted it to cook up blaxploitation, but in so doing it made better movies. It's like America's version of Makaveyev's Sweet Movie or the Russian I Am Cuba or the earlier Vertov/Eisenstein days, one long stiff lecture, perhaps with sex.

The French gave made him a Knight of the Foreign Legion, but God knows what they did for Jerry Lewis, and they eat snails.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Stewart and the Phantom of Liberty

For those of you who missed it a couple of weeks back., John Stewart had Bolivian President Evo Morales on his show, with a translator, a first in my memory for a prime time show. It was pretty surreal, with echoes of Bunuel and perhaps even Woody Allen's Bananas. Morales gazes lovingly at Stewart, and speaks at once in the most delicate and high-falutin idealistic language, next in a down to earth way about accomplishments and Stewart fawns on him with his doe eyes and feeds him softballs.

It was a very odd bit of primetime TV -- , but one that could only happen on the John Stewart show, or, during Colbert's book review. Between the two of them, hosting lefties and righties alike, these two goofballs have raised the bar of popular political and intellectual discourse in ways we couldn't have dreamed of 15 years ago. Nobody puts simple farmer poet Bolivian politicians on TV. This gives us a taste of the rest of the world's political delusions, and a break from our own.