Friday, February 29, 2008

Tour de puke

The stomach bug has visited our household with a vengeance. First Natalie fell victim, now Graham, whining, weak, asleep on the couch as I type. Since I'm gone all day, I hear only the epic tales of ginger ale and saltines and videos and woe.

With Natalie, though, I was reminded of the sick days of my youth, of the warm feeling when your parents pay more attention to you and don't bark. OK. Time to carry Graham upstairs so we can watch yet another comedy about the mob and eat Thai takeout.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Moment of truth

There is a moment, after lunch many days, when all of a sudden I remember that, in my haste to consume and my focus on whatever I was reading, that I might have left traces of a condiment on my shirt. At this time, I stealthily look around me to check that no one is looking, and then I scan the front of my shirt for the telltale traces of ketchup or perhaps soy sauce. Relief or agony sets in.

Monday, February 25, 2008

One smart guy

Mark Hulbert, in his column in the Times this Sunday, details a theory advanced by one Owen Lamont, ex-of the Yale Econ department and now with some think thank and a hedge fund too. I have no doubt that Lamont's theory probably holds water, is carefully considered and reflects its champion's considerable intelligence. Nor, indeed, did Lamont evince any doubt as to his intelligence when I met him at a hedge fund industry do in Greenwich.

When it was time for Lamont -- this professed behavioral economist -- to take the podium and address a couple hundred investor types, a key theme was how quantitative tools and behavioral insight gave hedge funds and Wall Street generally an edge over "the dumb money," which is to say retail investors, which is to say me. Now, all businesses want to take as much of their clients' money as they can by providing a certain level of service, but this was as cynical an attitude as I've heard taken. We may only hope that Lamont's insights will be leveraged by the even smarter money on the Street without getting him paid.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Eastern Promises

This David Cronenberg movie with Vigo Mortensen and Naomi Watts is not worth renting, though thankfully it is short. A bunch of cliches about the Russian mob, some bad guttural mother tongue, and a threadbare plot. For the ladies, however, there is chance to see Mortensen's butt and some fleeting glimpses of his penis. Good stuff.

Dan Zanes in concert

Natalie and Graham and I shelled out actual dollars to see Dan Zanes at the McCarter theater today. The scruffy old guy put on a good show, there with his post-racial gender-balanced Spanish-speaking band, he is clearly the class of children's performers.

Graham had a good time, pounding on my arm with his fist to show excitement. Natalie liked some of the songs, though much of the time she suffered through non-recognition of the tunes. Mostly, however, she was too old for it. Not that the music itself does not appeal to her, it's just that she observed that the core demographic was 3-5 year olds, and therefore inferred that she was out of place.

Who, then is the Dan Zanes of kids like Natalie, the pre-Tweens? Who makes music that appeals to them but that parents can like too? Or is that a contradiction in terms, as the 7-9 set begins to mark out its own independence from the parents. Could it be the Beatles? Note to self, get Help! and Hard Day's Night from Netflix.

Real writer snobbery

My friend Joe acts like blogs are not even writing. In today's case, I have to say, he's right.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Retail Stomach

It would be interesting to know what the statistics are on retail investor trading these days. The markets may seem volatile these days, with the occasional intraday 200 point swing (cf today), but I don't think they really are, relative to the 300-400 point days we saw back in 2001-3.

For myself, I view the markets with much greater equanimity than I did then. Part of it is I've been actually gainfully employed much longer, but part of it is I'm used to watching them, and have lived through a previous downturn, when, yes, I did a little panic selling.

And how representative am I? Certainly the great cattle drive into mutual funds and then equities and other stuff came after the introduction of the 401k from 1978 forward, and people really got drawn into the markets during the tech boom. So there are millions and millions of people out there who first got into the markets in the last decade or two, but have now ridden a cycle. And it may be a new generation of heroic buy and holder / dollar cost averagers that are tamping volatility like a strong dose of investment lithium.

Of course, those with real foresight exited stocks and started flipping condos. Mhmm.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


In the New York area -- especially at the end of the day -- you can always tell the dads apart from other commuters. They are the ones running, bags in hand, coats flapping in the wind, grunting to make the train, to get to their cars first to beat the crush out of the parking lot, because the ten minutes associated with waiting for a light twice could be 50% of the time you might have with a kid.

Women by and large don't do this. Perhaps because of their shoes. The childless are undermotivated.

Apologies if the blog is rather commute focused. Can't blog about work, daren't about marriage, and lunch is a commodity.

Perhaps I'll find some chestnuts soon in our bathroom renovation.

Now must go wash hair in sink.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

6:14 AM, NE Corridor inbound express train

Sat next to a 60ish black woman clad entirely in black, her head wrapped in a shawl and turned towards the window so that I couldn't see her face. She was reading from a dog-eared mini-bible in a raspy whisper. It was all straight out of the Exorcist or something, and I half expected that she was going to turn to me and shoot daggers of fire out of her eyes and through my skull, so that I would rue not having taken one of those rear-facing seats next to some obese guy.

Instead, she got off in Newark.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The independent

Today at Maggie's, as Granny and Natalie were getting ready to head home just as David announced he was taking Maxie and some other boy to the firehouse, Graham took three mighty strides towards independence by walking over to David, taking his hand, and declaring his intention to go with him to see the trucks. Graham, you see, had never gone anywhere without some blood kin in tow.

And, indeed, reports came back that a fine time was had by all, including much climbing.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The 2/3 Southbound, 96th St, 11:30 pm

On boarding the train am confronted by that rarest of spectacles, an open subway conversation between people who don't know each other. Four black teens/twentysomethings on one side (one girl leaning on a guy in a bomber jacked, another girl with legs draped over the first), an old redboned Bible thumper and a New Lefty Upper West Side Jewish intellectual on the other.

The black guy in a bomber says bemusedly: "Yeah, a black man for President, it might really happen this time..."
Leaning girl 1: "Not like with that other guy, was it Jesse Owens?"
New Lefty: "Jesse Jackson"
Leaning girl 1: "Yeah, they didn't let him be in the main election. And it's the first time they got a woman running for real too."
New Lefty: "Actually, Lenora Fulani has been running for years, and she's a black woman."
Leaning girl 2: "Really? I ain't never heard of her."

And so it went for a while, Mr. New Lefty dispensing facts in a genial and avuncular way, and all the black younguns just generally in a fine mood because there was hope a black man might make it to the White House, or maybe a woman, but in any case maybe just maybe not another white man.

And frankly, it's all good. Watching these kids beam gave the impression that a black man in the White House in and of itself might inject the African-American community with so much pride that in and of itself it might instill large numbers with the confidence and direction they might need to better their lives.

Or else we could have Hilary.

In transit

Got onto the subway at Wall St yesterday in evening rush and was confronted by the unlikely spectacle of an filthy homeless man crunching away at a big plate of crab. I kid you not.

Later, as New Jersey Transit approached Princeton, my eye alighted upon a certain Andrew Shue, ontime Billy of Melrose Place and MLS striker, known to share a house in the tony Western Section with sister and Sharon Stone wannabe Elizabeth. Celebrity sitings may be rare, but it serves as a small reminder that there ain't no first class on New Jersey Transit.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tree street rap

I guess its rap week here at the Grouse. Today we're featuring a video from the kid across the block, who goes by the name of Rum tmpcha and whose real name we will leave out for privacy reasons. Our house and car are among many featured. What I will disclose is that his dad's dad was a colleague of Mary's dad at old Natwest in the City, back in the day. Naumsayin? Iss all in da hizood.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Back to the source

You Tube is the gift that keeps on giving. For those of you who go this far back, this is where it all started (at least for southern white kids). Think Purdy's, 1979.

The Fatback band

Sugarhill Gang

Kurtis Blow

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five

Monday, February 11, 2008

About a cat

Natalie is very close to getting a cat or two, but we're not going to let on for a while. We have a little kitty scorecard in place and will give her a chance to earn a cat by getting more pluses than minuses.

For me, frankly, I think she has earned one just by saying that she is going to quit baton. I have communicated my feelings about baton in the past, and though my mom - as a former twirler herself - may object, I never saw my daughter doing that for long. I want her to play ultimate.

But, for today, we have conceptual agreement amongst spouses that a feline may soon be forthcoming, and that's enough. Could it be that her heart will be fulfilled in its wish for a Turkish Van, the swimming cat? Doubt it.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Waiting for Iacocca

Interest rate cuts we got, and a cash bolus is on the way, particularly for us breeders, but who will make us feel good about America? Obama can help us feel good civically, but economically we're gonna need a cheerleader, somebody to play the same role Iacocca played back in the eighties. Rarah we can do it. But from what sector will this person arise? Probably not from Detroit. Neither Wall Street and Silicon Valley has really ever spoken to the heartland. A 2.0 person would make sense, and Mark Zuckerberg's taking a smart risk with open architecture could give him an opening, but I don't see it. Plus the fact that, like Gates, he got his prize jewel shiftily. Bentonville is discredited.

If Vanguard had a dynamic new product and a strong successor to Bogle, that's someone who could lead. Index investing, after all, is faith-based, and America needs its faith restored, yet again.

While we're on the subject of 80s cheerleading and optimism, he're the old Morning in America spot, as clever a piece of propaganda as you're likely to see.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Bring out your dead!

I mentioned that I had recently snagged a copy of the Holy Grail, but did not mention the fact that Graham took an interest in the box and wanted to watch it. OK, I thought, lets do it.

So the initial seen about the velocity of sparrows carrying coconuts etc. was lost on him, as you can imagine, but then it cuts directly to the scene where a cart of corpses is being pulled through filthy muddy medieval streets by Eric Idle, who cries "Bring out your dead!" Hmm, I'm thinking, does Graham get this? Sure enough, by the time John Cleese brings out the old dude who says "I'm not quite dead yet" Graham tells me to stop it, "this is too scary." I put on the Garbage Trucks video and calm was restored....

Cut to pre-school, the next week (this is as recounted to Mary by Graham's teacher). Graham's class is being shown some knights of some sort, and Graham gets all excited and launches into a torrent of verbalization. The teacher doesn't really catch any of it, until the end, when Graham says: "Bring out your dead! Bring out your dead!", and she realized that he was quoting from the Grail. In this case, the apple truly does not fall far from the tree.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Little tricks

I used to wonder how it was the very well-dressed corporate folk could be getting reception on their Blackberries on the subway and staying so focused and productive and brow-furrowed. Now that I have one of my own, I know the answer: they don't! They're scrolling through files already loaded onto their devices and tapping out messages that will be sent out when the little devils breath the fresh fresh air of connectivity again. And now I too can put on subway airs with my shiny little hand-held.*

*Please place all penis enlargement jokes in comments below.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Not with a bang

Last night I hustled to catch the 5:16 back to Princeton, having missed seeing my kids 2 nights out of 3. Scheduled to arrive at 6:12 or something, it came in at 7:05 because a broken down train next to the platform Hamilton made everything run on the middle tracks.* This morning, the 7:03 express into Manhattan – already running one car short – made an unscheduled stop at Metro Park and picked up a mess of people, arriving 8 minutes late to Penn Station.

What does the decline of an empire look like? Those of us who were around in the 70s have some recollection of this foreboding. I remember as well being in Britain in the early 80s, after a band as morbid as Joy Division briefly topped the charts, and I can tell you nobody had a clue what was gonna happen next.

After storms ravaged the towpaths along the Pennsylvania side canals along the Delaware River, the state of Pennsylvania hasn’t laid out dollars to fix them, rendering great 90s-era public parkland almost useless. NJ Transit is, obviously, having serious problems making things run on time. New Jersey is facing a massive pension funding deficit and Corzine is floating a plan to privatize the toll highways, which would jack up tolls. A bridge collapses in Twin Cities. Felix Rohatyn is trying to make the decay of public infrastructure a national priority, which is difficult in the context of a short-term spend spend spend stimulus package because it's too indirect.

Over time, the decline of our public finances will manifest itself in the degradation of public infrastructure and services, which will in turn negatively impact peoples’ ability to consume. Which, from a sustainability perspective, is perhaps good.

Addendum: For no good reason, the 5:43 express from New York this evening arrived 1 minute before it was supposed to leave, five cars short. It was packed, hot and miserable. It got to Princeton 16 minutes late. No explanation was offered.