Saturday, June 28, 2008

Secret lust for world domination

At a conference in the Fall about the US's place in the world I was talking to this this Yale professor woman about how I thought the rise of China and India in the world economy was just fine and that it was particularly dandy that formerly poor people were becoming more affluent. She wasn't having any of it. She wanted the US to remain dominant, and she sounded somewhat hurt about it.

The sight of Zheng Jie having beat Ana Ivanovic at Wimbledon, some nine months later, evoked a curious response from me. With oil and other commodities going through the roof and sovereign wealth funds snapping up US assets wholesale, the dissolution of US hegemony is no longer a topic for parlor discussion, it's a hard cold fact.

So all of a sudden Zheng Jie pops up and forces me to think, what happens when China and India start to really dominate world athletics, what then? Will all America rally round the women's softball team and a few other medal contenders and beam with pride? Or will be turn nasty and try to lash out with our military? (Oh yeah, as I said last week, we already did that)

We've taken for granted the fact that we dominate, and will soon be learning a lesson or three from other former empires such as the UK and Russia. We would do well emulate the former (in all matters save culinary).

Friday, June 27, 2008

Investing in Iraq

All the quiet coming out of Iraq recently, including the Economist story with the distinctly Vermeeresque cover, would seem to indicate that if there's one place to invest today where you know things aren't going to get worse, it might just be Iraq. They do, for example, have oil. How to actually get retail money there is another question.

The ever-authoritative USA Today reports that the pesky Lebanese and Rumanian are getting the jump on us. Perhaps Bills Miller and Gross will be on the next plane out.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Policy Options

There is a growing consensus amongst talking heads and other prognosticators that the range of traditional monetary and fiscal policy options for combatting our current economic morass are largely exhausted. In earlier, happier times, we might also avail ourselves of the traditional option of starting a war to feel mighty and virile and stoke demand. Unfortunately, we already did that, and it's not working.

Fear -- Lets Have a War

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

City Island

On Friday I rode North to White Plains, back down through Scarsdale with its Sotheby's storefront and other signs of excess. On Sunday I charted a new course and headed into the city from Larchmont to City Island. City Island, a seafood oasis I had dreamed of for many a moon, tucked away in a corner of a park in the Bronx.

So I went. And it was interesting. A seafood oasis indeed, but striated a little. Closer to the bridge, old-school Italian and Irish-American types fishing, smoking, talking on cell phones in the still humid late afternoon heat. Further out, the scene turns predominantly black and hispanic with a healthy admixture of white folx, and the restaurants look largely more appealing. Some pretty industrial outdoor seating and parking lots, but big platters of fried seafood and ribs and hushpuppies. In short, worth going back to with a credit card.

More on that later.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Budget Sadism on Wall St

So my hair was getting fuzzy and I went to my favorite barber shop down here in financial land, a Bukharan Jewish place (like so many in the city) across from the client site. I had gotten a couple of fine cuts there and spoken some Russian too.

But not today. This guy hardly said a word after I told him to cut it short, he just broke out the clippers and went to work. Short was the request, short it was gonna be. But that wasn't the problem. He cut the sides and back, and then went to work on the detailing. Back and forth along my neck and my ears with the clippers. Put on a clipper extension, do it again. Scrape scrape scrape on my neck. At one point in time, with no warning, he stuck the edge of the clipper in my ear. He didn't ask "Do you want to keep these sideburns?" He just got rid of them. This took like 10 minutes.

The guy was like a fetishist. And this whole time the top of my head was uncut. So I asked if he was gonna do that and he blithely started cutting, no "how would you like it?" no nothing. I'm not going back there. Never before has the delicate dependency one has on the haircutter been clearer.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Crazy birds

These gray birds here in Larchmont keep flying around the head of poor Leno the tabby cat, taunting him mercilessly. They have no shame.

Violence of yore

Caught scenes first from Dirty Harry then from Pulp Fiction on the tube last night. It's funny how defanged classic violence can be on the small screen, how distant the points in history are. Dirty Harry might as well have been from another planet, though the ghosts of stagflation past may yet get us back here. The most gruesome scenes of Tarantino seemed likewise quaint in the kitchen with my mother in law hovering round, providing color commentary.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Damien Walters

An actual Olympic gymnast breaks parkour.

And here he is doing some intense Monty Python shit. The question is, which one of him is real? Is he the tres gay guy in this video pretending to be macho and swaggering in the one above, or the reverse? However you slice it, the guy has talent and cajones.

Good material

So we were standing around the kitchen talking about the buyer protection plans on credit cards, like when you're driving in an unfamiliar state and you buy gas and they call you up and say: "Was that you buying that gas?" So Ted says, "hell, I get calls from the credit card company sometimes saying 'You look fat in that, don't buy it'."

LOL, bitch.


For the moment, at least, I am cured of commuting to Manhattan. Let us hope I may find a way to make this more or less permanent.

Today drove to the office of my trusty dentist in Somerville, listening to Neal Young. Learned from my dentist that children are typically loss-leaders, relationship- and network- builders, and that the real money is in the aunts, uncles, etc who get referred on the basis of good dental child care and who get higher-margin restorative and cosmetic work done. This suggests -- not surprisingly -- that the baby boom should be driving a lot of volume in the dental world.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A den of naysayers

It is difficult to work in an environment where people are trained to find fault with everything. People spend an inordinate amount of time engaged in CYA, for fear they will get blasted by their peers around the next corner. It's fairly exhausting.

Or so I'm told.

I remember nothing of my commute today, though I at least got in no wrecks. I am certain that I sat next to someone, and that I exited at Newark and took the PATH to Ground Zero. There was a pretty blonde on the PATH, it's true, who was probably Polish. Other than that the surface of Being was smooth and slippery, and nothing stuck. Which is becoming a pattern.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Fight time

Today the Princeton graduate student soccer game was witness to an actual fight: adult men hitting each other in the face, falling on each other, being pulled apart. Blood. It was pretty surreal. Middle class adults don't typically fight. I watched it happen and didn't really believe what I was seeing.

Monday, June 09, 2008

The End of the World

Beth was talking to someone from Bear Stearns who was prognosticating about the end of the world. "A market event, or the real deal?" I asked.

Indeed, recently I have heard serious people actually say things like that for the first time, they can envisage the end of the world. Climate change and its implications for intensely populated areas. Resource contention driven by the rise of consumer expectations in emerging markets. With terrorism as a wildcard. Think about the risks associated with an America in economic freefall as markets and the dollar continue to degenerate. We still have the world's most powerfall military, even if it's in a quagmire. People are proud of it, and may seek to use it to prop up our sense of self. In some sense, Iraq is already that. What if America becomes the wounded dog that bites? What if Iraq becomes for us what Afghanistan was for Russia, the straw that brakes the camel's back?

But, then again, millenialism and eschatology have historically been cyclical phenomena. Malthus comes in and out of style, as the Economist reminds us from time to time. Why, as early as 1988 I initiated a "Millenialism Watch" as part of the countdown to 2000, and found no end of fodder.

A real risk point, sadly, is the Obama assasination meme. Lets say he does get elected. A bunch of crackers are going to be not real happy. What then?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Posting rhythm


Apologies for the difficulties in getting posts out during the week. My mindspace is pretty full up trying to get in the groove on a new project. I'll keep getting it out there when I can, so keep coming back.

The Grouse

The new late art

The Canadian director Atom Egoyan's early works: The Adjuster, Family Viewing, The Sweet Hereafter etc, all fell into a single bucket: a critique of inauthenticity and distance in suburbia. Well-trodden ground, but he trod it well and distinctively and with great cinematography and casting (Elias Koteas as the signature lead).

I never saw his film about going to Armenia to revisit his roots, but with Away from Her he stepped into entirely new territory. Here the distance between people, an older couple still much in love, is medically driven: Julie Christie -- stunning as ever -- gets Alzheimer's disease and forgets her husband when she goes into and old folx home. The movie is about watching the husband come to terms with this.

Same beautiful cinematography. Same tricks, sort of, but an entirely new thrust. I think Egoyan's turn is something we're going to see a lot more of as the population ages. Cultural producers who were cynical in their early periods who refocus themselves to find ways to be a little more charitable with and accepting humanity but retain the drive to insight that made them worthwhile. Looking for something that's positive but not Hallmark milquetoast like the family feelgood stuff coming out of Hollywood (Dan in Real Life). We may hope that others make the effort to turn the corner as Egoyan has rather than rest on the laurels of their youth. You can see it in Aki Kaurismaki already, and I'd like to see Jarmusch and the Coen brothers mature to.

A cause for tears

Towards the end of Natalie's soccer practice the other day, I went across the field and was catching up with my friend Tom, and really wasn't paying attention to what was going on on the field. All of a sudden the coach, Paul, calls out to me: "Clark! Come here!" So I hustled over, and heard Natalie crying. As I approached, I saw that her hands were over her face and she was sobbing. Oh shit, I'm thinking, she got banged in the face with the ball or something.

But no. She had scored an own goal (or thought that she had, the other coach said the ball was already in the goal when her foot hit it). This in a 5 on 5 game of novice 7- and 8- year olds with no ref, no goalies, and no scorekeeping. She was inconsolable for a few minutes.

So where did she get this, this extreme anxiety about making a mistake, even in the most casual of settings. I don't think we've ever encouraged it. Peer pressure is no frickin joke. Or is this a biochemical / temperament thing?

Friday, June 06, 2008

Watch this now

The best of everything. Soccer + Capoeira + Parkours.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Waiting Hell

In Ilya Kabakov's early eighties essay "On Emptiness"*, the artist carries on about how Russian railway stations are hell on earth, filthy disgusting places where one feels that one is stuck forever to sit and observe kitchy art. I've come to feel the same way about Newark Penn Station, where all too often I find myself stuck for 20 minutes at the end of the day -- 20 minutes that I don't get to spend with my kids. The place just sucks. All too often I find myself there, sweaty, pushing to get on a train, then standing all the way home. Why do I live in this shithole of a region?

*Between Spring and Summer
Institute for Contemporary Art, Boston, 1990
translated from the Russian by Clark Troy