Friday, May 30, 2008

A week from Hell

At around 3 this afternoon I walked outside the building and realized that I hadn't been in fresh air outside of commuting hours all week. Now, the building has good features like indoor plumbing, elevators (when they come) and chairs, but I don't love it that much. Yes, fair readers, they're actually making me work for a living for once in my life.

Tomorrow I'm off to the City of Elms, also known as the Paris of the 80s, to commune with people I haven't seen for 20 years. Sadly, have not been able to put together a soccer game.

Details to follow.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

No time to eat

I once didn't understand what people were talking about when they said they didn't have time to eat because they were working so hard. "Oh please," I thought, or perhaps "Cmon." But now I have joined their ranks.

And I'll tell you, I'm less hungry, too, and conceivably am losing weight. So maybe there's something to be said for stress.

I have been told it was a lovely day today.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Orhan Pamuk -- Snow

Boris Gasparov praised Pamuk to me and others backed it up, so Mary got me a couple for my birthday. Not for naught did the Nobel Committee hook him up with the big prize. The guy does indeed have a distinctive voice and vision, shot through with muted echoes of Magical Realism mixed with the big grasp of the Russians. In fact, I don't know why I'm writing about it. Time to go read.

The Brooklyn Bridge at night

Is quite nice, all lit up. One of the perks of my new job. Except of course the at night part of it.

Gotta go. Maybe I'll think of a real topic on the way home. Did I mention my compost?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A new vegetarian?

I never buy chicken, could probably count the number of times I've bought it not under direct instruction from Mary ("Skinless, boneless thighs -- organic") on a hand or two. So yesterday when I had to pick up chicken for dinner and couldn't get just cuts we wanted but they had whole chickens (lets not even mention the fact that I went to the wrong store), I called up Mary. "Should I just get a whole chicken?" "Sure," she says, so I got a whole chicken, tender, young, organic.

Problem was, it wasn't cut up. I had noticed that as I bought it, I just assumed that Mary, cook that she was, would know how to cut it up. I assumed wrong. Not only did she not know how, she flat out refused.

So who gets to cut the chicken? Not surprisingly, butchery being a masculine art, the man of the house does. Me. So I did it, and it was disgusting. Following the instructions layed down in the Joy of Cooking but with suboptimal knives, I cut through raw flesh and bone and fat, pushing and pulling and muttering and cursing and, after one accident, bleeding. Never again.

Marxism has a term for all this: reification. The process of forgetting how things are made. God bless reification. Now I know why we pay Mexicans down in the Siler City and Smithfield and whatnot all of $6 an hour to process poultry. It's nasty nasty work.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Princeton Junction Train Platform, 6:10 AM

Their in the early morning crush on the platform I heard this convo, roughly, truncated:

Jersey Woman (shades, earrings, voice, etc) "So did you have fun at Disney World? Did you eat at Flying Fish? I really like it there, I could get the swordfish, the scallops...
Guy: "Yeah, it was great"
JW: "Yeah, the best thing is is that they have no refrigeration, it's all fresh every day."
G: "Mmm hmm"
JW: "What did Jenny do?"
G: "She did some shopping"
JW: "Oh yeah, what'd she buy?"
G: "Cosmetics"
JW: "Oh that's great! Did she go to the Aveda?"

And so on and on. People in their 50s. Beyond banal.

Across the tracks on the other platform, the crazy jock preacher guy who works this beat was walking back and forth regaling us with hellfire and brimstone.

I boarded and had to hustle to get the last available seat in that car.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Volume play

My compost is, quite literally, smoking. Let me tell the tale. This weekend I cleared out the old pile and wheelbarrowed it up for Mary, because I had a backlog of grass clippings and had to mow the yard again. And lots of bags of "brown gold," alias other people's yard waste harvested in Fall and archived through Winter. I decided that, this time, rather than pre-curing the clippings in little side piles, I would make a volume play from the jump street. That is, really big pile with fresh clippings, less fresh clippings, earth, and leaves all mixed in there pretty good. Little did I know what awaited....

Steam! At the core! After one day, no less. It's phenomenenomenal, as Homer might say. This pile is flat out cookin. I'm tempted to dump even more bags of brown on, and can't wait to mow again. The Garden State, indeed.


Having been thrown into what everyone is calling a "crisis" situation -- and they admitted that it is but the tail end of a 10 week time "on war footing," I am now the leader ultimately accountible for making the right things happen. Reallistically none of this shit is gonna get laid at my door, but they do look for me for guidance on a set of problems and relationships I have only generic insight into. Now I know I won't hold the bag for things that go wrong, I still feel as if it's all on me.

First off, this is new territory for the kid. A growth opportunity? For sure. And yet to go through it is like fingernails on a blackboard, or, more to the point, insomnia.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A vision from h-e-double tootpicks, it was

I'm usually reading on the train, so it can be forgiven that I didn't see anything going on with the old GM truck plant in Linden. So it came as something of a surprise to me when I looked left from train home the other day and saw a vision from 9/12. The plant was never the most prepossessing structure, but it's still quite a shock to see a void of rubble and metal of that scale. For your viewing pleasure, here's the movie. Actually, one of many.

Friday, May 16, 2008

12:08 East of Bucharest

For those of you who've heard something of a Rumanian New Wave, there's something to it. Judging by the this movie and The Death of Mr Lazarescu, there's a new voice and cadence over there, very slow soft and human and down to earth, the polar opposite of the brash shootemups of popular Russian films. Perhaps closer to the tone of Iranian films, though less transcendent. I'll watch more for sure.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Nothing doing

Spent half the day with a hot potato pressed against my eyelid, so I have almost nothing to report.

It was good to see Natalie whacking a ball with a tennis racket in the backyard and professing an interest in sports, I must say. Something must have happened at school. And Graham too swung and struck a ball with a bat, no less. Something in the Jersey air, must be.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

PATH train from Exchange Place to Newark

A gaggle of young homeys got on the train, five of them black and one with a jewfro who wanted to be. They had different styles, one with dreads, one a bling wannabe, lots of retro Nikes. They stood around and talked and shrieked and cackled the whole way to Newark, niggah this and bitch that, a very interesting ritual of communal utterance where each competed to make the next crack, and the noise never once died back. It was a classic pack performance: "We don't care what you (anyone else) think."

Across from me was a guy who would once have been called a Cosby, 35ish black investment banker type in khakis and dress shirt. He kept his eyes closed the whole time, or looked at his Blackberry. Down at the other end of the car, however, were older black people, who were visibly displeased with all the n-words and whatnot.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Little going on

Settling into a new project leaves precious little time to think about anything but work and this frickin stye on my eye (where else, after all?).

Have had recent tune infusions which have offered respite. Those who've got South Slavic Womens' music in mind should check out my friend Corinna's group Black Sea Hotel. If you're more in a Marvin Gaye state of mind, have a look at Hobex, which everybody in North Carolina has known about forever but nobody ever tells me about anything. Check out the rare lap slide/funk combo below with our boy Grumphreys at the helm.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Back to the grindstone

After a couple of relatively blissful weeks in central NJ, it's back to Manhattan for the kid, who once more will be helping a large financial institution clean up messes and make things run all smootherly. This, of course, means more exciting commutes, more thrilling lunches, more of almost anything but work or my marriage, for I am much much wiser than that.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Manifethd Dethdiny

The Economist had an article last week about how the blight of crystal meth seems to be abating in parts of the rural West as it is replaced by more benigh drug addictions like crack, heroin, and oxycontin. I can just see the op-eds in the red state lands of sagebrush decrying how society's going to hell in a handbasket of drugs because men in boots and hats can't get good, self-respectin work on ranches and in Coen brothers movies. I say it's just another indication that the Buffalo Commons hypothesis is proving true. We really weren't meant to settle the plains like we did, they can't sustain agriculture, and now we get meth mouth to prove it.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

A travesty

Let me just say that, though the Rolling Stone greatest 100 guitarists in history got a number of things right, one thing collective wisdom erred on was Pete Townsend's place in the Pantheon. Having him at 50 is ridiculous. I just watched a rockumentary on VH1 (yet another way to show my age) and it's astonishing how original and strong he is as a guitarist. If Keith Richards, who is not a technician but a guy with a style, comes in at 10 or so, Townsend belongs in the same neighborhood fer sure.

20,000 hits

Let me note in passing that today we blew past the 20,000 hit mark, about 17 months after we nailed 10,000. Thanks to all yall for coming back.

Job numbers

For where we are presumed to be in the economic cycle, job numbers keep coming back not half bad. Initial jobless claim 4-week moving average still well below 400,000, headline unemployment at 5.0 going perhaps to 5.1 (remember that a decade ago Paul Krugman himself was saying 5.5-6% was as low as unemployment could go before things became inflationary).

One wonders if corporations are particularly loathe to lay off now because they're seeing the bigger picture of baby boomer retirement coming down the road, and therefore particularly fear the cost of onboarding and training. Also because of uncertainty around potential future employees' ability to relocate in the uncertain housing market of 12-24 months out.

Who knows. For the moment, at least, they ain't fired the kid.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Our man in Raleigh

We would be remiss indeed if we failed to note the victory of our pick for the North Carolina State Senate's 16th district, Josh Stein, who handily crushed some other guys in the Democratic primary yesterday while all eyes were on Obama. Full on, say we.

The really big show

Down to Chapel Hill over the weekend for the Pressure Boys reunion in support of cystic fibrosis research (go HERE to buy stuff to contribute). Two good quality nights, they played superbly given that they hadn't played together in 19 years and are all now old as fuck. Just as importantly it was old home week with much crew in the hisouse.

Now back to work.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

One last day

The polls are open today for the North Carolina primaries and the eyes of all America are focused squarely on the big race: Josh Stein vs. some other guy for the NC State Senate's 16th District. We have long since cast our lot with Stein, having grown up next door to him and knowing him to be a good solid citizen with a long record of dedicated civil service who looks good in khakis and oxford cloth.

Talked to Whitey today who was headed out to do some poll observing over lunch. There's a lot of community involvement going on down there these days, which makes me right proud.

All too hot off the presses -- Baikal warming faster than atmosphere

This just in from the Moscow Times via Mark Izeman of the National Resources Defense Counsel. Again, going back two posts to our comment on the inability of index makers and securitizers to adequately model and price things, here's another cautionary tale about the limits of scientific knowledge, or rather the fact that science is ever evolving, which urges caution and humility.

Catherine Santore/For MT
Lake Baikal is warming faster than the atmosphere, potentially endangering
some of its wildlife, scientists say.

Baikal Challanges Global Warming Idea

05 May 2008

BloombergNEW YORK -- Lake Baikal is warming faster than the atmosphere,
challenging the idea that large bodies of water can withstand global
warming, U.S. and Russian scientists said.

Baikal, which holds 20 percent of the world's fresh water, has warmed by
1.21 degrees Celsius since 1946, said Marianne Moore, assistant professor of
biological sciences at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. Global
temperatures have risen 0.76 degrees Celsius since industrialization, a
United Nations panel on climate change said in March.

The Siberian lake holds more than 2,500 plant and animal species, including
the world's only exclusively freshwater seal, and some could become extinct
by continued warming, said Moore, co-author of a report on Lake Baikal to be
published this month in the journal Global Change Biology. The study
challenges the idea that thermal inertia of oceans, seas and large lakes
would make them more resistant to climate change, Moore said.

"The warming that we're seeing in this lake is of more concern than that of
any other lake because of the extraordinary biodiversity," Moore said. "You
could potentially lose the Baikal seal."

Beginning in the 1940s, data on Lake Baikal was collected by Mikhail Kozhov,
a professor at Irkutsk State University. The research was carried on by his
daughter and granddaughter, Lyubov Izmesteva, a co-author of the journal

The family has taken samples of the lake every seven to 10 days since 1946,
amassing a history that Moore analyzed. The data revealed that the lake's
average summer temperature has increased by 2.4 degrees, Moore said.

"My jaw just dropped to the floor when I heard this," Moore said. "I was
extremely surprised that the data set even existed."

© Copyright 2007. The Moscow Times. All rights reserved.

Monday, May 05, 2008

On poop and predators

Continuing the discussion from the last post, let us pose a new question: what is the climate change impact of our our new neighbors in our land of no predation, all those deer, bunnies, geese, and frickin woodchucks living the life with no foxes and wolves to put them in their place?

Deer, for instance. They eat understory vegetation, making what woods we have left amenable to traipsing and galavanting a most any hour of the day. So what are they doing carbon-wise, are they nibbling down what would be useful carbon sink? Is the loss of greenery offset by the soil enrichment of their caca? Same for bunnies, only smaller. And what of those geese and their issue, is it good for the soil? Does it encourage or hinder growth?

What is the impact of the loss of understory vegetation on forest fire probability? Does it make it more difficult for fires to spread?

On the downside, I saw a neighbor who has lattice-like paving stones in his driveway to let grass grow through trimming the grass with a gas-powered weed eater. The grass is always greener indeed.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Flock of Black Swans

Marketwatch reports today:

"Top officials with the National Association of Realtors and Standard & Poor's, which issues the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index, agreed this week their monthly reports are giving imprecise readings of price changes at all levels -- national, state and regional -- due to rare market conditions that are skewing survey results.

The NAR reported last week that U.S median home prices fell 7.7% in March from a year ago. The decline resulted largely from a market anomaly -- a steep decline in costlier home sales due to tighter lending standards and high jumbo-mortgage rates, coupled with a foreclosure-driven spike in cheaper homes."

Never mind the fact that it's the NAR speaking here, consummate "we've found the bottom" spinners, what's this about "rare market conditions" and "market anomalies?" Oh, what they're saying is "our indices don't work in this kind of housing bubble downturn because they're designed to reflect other kinds of market downturns," which is blather. There's nothing "rare" going on here as a statistical phenomenon, however rare it may be as an economic one. Housing prices will act exactly like this whenever this kind of thing happens, it's normal and rule-conforming behavior in these situations. What the index makers are really saying is "we can't model what we said we were going to model, because we've never seen it before, in all 7 years or our index's existence."

We've seen a profusion of black swans recently: "We have 100-year events all the time now." What few will say is that we really don't know how to model things, with all the statistical and computational tools at our disposal, we don't know what the inputs are. There are no black swans on the East Coast, but there is a lot of migrating goose poop.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Non-fiction day

It was non-fiction day the other day in Natalie’s 2nd grade class. All the kids had written non-fiction books and were to present them to visiting adults as a way of developing their presentation skills (clue 1 that things have changed since we were young, though thankfully they weren’t learning powerpoint).

Natalie was the only kid two put together two books one on cats, the other on pets, including cats. They were pretty good, truth be owned, though less verbose than some of the others, full of pretty nifty drawings and some interesting feline facts as well.

But, as always, the other kids’ books and “presentations” were equally interesting. For example, there was a little WASP boy sitting across from a little Hispanic girl. When I went up to their table and asked “who wants to tell me about their book?” He practically lept off of his chair. And then he told me all about castles, and moats, and catapults, and ramparts, and tunneling, and defenestration (well, almost), on and on in the most excruciating detail. Had he been an adult, I would have slapped him or shaken him by the shoulders. For an 8-year old, it was pretty impressive. Meanwhile the little Hispanic girl had written a book about chores, like mopping and washing dishes, which included comments like “doing chores can make you very tired.” And then there was the little at least half-Asian girl with the book about her parakeet breaking out of its cage and pooping on the windowsill (“it was green”) with exquisite drawings of Venetian blinds and parakeet (the poop was pretty good too), which she narrated with adult-like composure.