Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Canandaigua Lady

To make up for the cruise to Bermuda which got deferred for health reasons in the family, we decided to take Graham and Natalie out on The Canandaigua Lady, an honest to goodness good old fashioned steam-powered paddle wheel ship, by gum. The captain was a master of the microphone, regaling us with tales of grandeur of yore (with scarce mention of the present, somewhat oddly). Generally speaking, our fellow afternoon voyagers reminded us of our affluence and ability to put into practice dietary and exercise best practices, which is to say, we were provided ample evidence of the so-called obesity epidemic.

Towards the end, Graham got tired of the breeze upstairs so we went down into the restaurant area, with its drop ceilings and thick carpet. After Graham had some water, we played with the bottle some and I looked around at nerdy bespectacled folk doing macrame and/or wearing bad sunglasses and I realized that we could have been in Russia or just about anywhere that was the provinces, and that people were just getting through life, and that we were right at home amongst them.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Out for books

Natalie read through the last of her books and I needed to do timesheets, so we've snuck out to the local internet cafe here in Canandaigua, which seems to operate a lot like the ice cream shop of yore, lots of smoothies and elephantine cookies for teens.

But first, to the used book store, which was wall to wall mysteries, sci-fi, fantasy, with the so-called "classic literature" section populated only with the sparsest volumes of Seneca and Galsworthy. But we found plenty of things for Natalie, though she preferred yet another Nancy Drew to the Three Investigators, which I suggested for her. And it took me back to beach trips when I was a kid when our whole family would spread out across the cheap paperbackeries and gird ourselves for weeks with brown paper backs of yellowing dog-eared cast offs for something like the price of a plate of fried clams.

And now she's sitting here next to me reading as I type.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


For some reason I thought back to Knocked Up recently. It seems to me that those slacker dudes sitting around the living room making sperm jokes marks a new level of crassness in movies, though I was less shocked when I saw on The Soup's review of reality shows on E that on some show they had real families competing to suck the cream out of cannolis and spit them into bowls.

Naturally, my mind flashed back to Bakhtin's 1965 book on Rabelais where he extolled the as liberating political forces of Carnival and "the lower bodily strata" and satire in the Renaissance, and to Makaveyev's shitting contest in the 1974 classic Sweet Movie. But I don't think that fart and cum jokes are as liberating when they're part of everyday, everyminute life. I think they work their magic as exceptions.

Is it just me getting old, or are there new levels of lowness? Compare Animal House, a standard-bearer for its day, now looks chaste. Is crassness cyclical? (seemed like all the college students were into ballroom dance and frickin volleyball in the 90s.)

Couldn't find the shitting contest. Here's another fine scene from Sweet Movie

Monday, July 28, 2008


It's late in the day, Mary and Natalie have swum out to the dock, the one with a short and crappy ladder which is hard to climb onto. The whole family -- even Graham -- have just had spins in the kayak. We kept Graham in the creek but I went out into the lake and was hard-pressed not to paddle over to the house of grocery-store impresario Danny Wegman (who has built a magnificent barn up the hill across the street to house god knows what kind of toys), but I held myself back to save energy for tennis at dusk, having put 20-odd hilly miles on the bike before lunch. Graham and I just had a snack: bananas, chips, lemonade.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

RIM job

So here I am by the lake in Canandaigua, watching big power boats blow past noisily as I wonder how the vendors of these discretionary internal combustion nuisances will earn a living after multiple years of four dollar gas -- and the answer is: I don't care. What may be interesting is how the market for junk auto parts and scrap steel could be reshaped by SUVs disappearing from the roads.

Anyhow, all of this comes to you courtesy of my little hand held device (insert pun here) from our friends at Research in Motion.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

On the road again

Once more, we are transformed into Griswolds and head off into the wilds of upstate New York, to Lake Canandaigua, a region so wild the Google hasn't even bothered to acquire satellite imagery. I will post as I can from up there and have already scheduled one mid-week post, but if you don't hear from me, it's not because I don't care, it's because we're jumping in the lake and looking 10 miles down it at the mountains converging at its South end. I like.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told Wall Street analysts today that Microsoft is "committed to the internet." Which strikes me as wise, because it seems to me that this internet thing is going to be huge.

Here's a little something from back in the day. It runs long, but it's worth watching at least through the part about the cinnamon toast.

SCTV -- Roy's Food Repair

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Often when I watch cops, limo drivers, contractors, and all manner of citizens idling in their vehicles for no good purpose and spewing useless emissions into the ether, I think to myself: there really ought to be a law about this. Especially for cops.

And, thanks to the miracle of the so-called "internet", I find that already in 2006 there were a number of state and local laws on idling. Below is the statute from Princeton Township, New Jersey (there is none for Princeton Borough, where I live, nor are there any in the whole state of North Carolina). Note below that cops are not exempted. But if you bust them, they'll hassle you. What are you gonna do?

Sec. 11-31.9 Idling of gasoline fueled motor vehicles on township streets.
Pursuant to N.J.A.C. 7:27-14.3, no person may cause, suffer allow or permit the engine of a gasoline fueled motor vehicle to idle for more than three consecutive minutes on streets within the Township of Princeton if the vehicle is not in motion with the following exceptions:
(a) The above provisions shall not apply to:
(1) Autobuses while discharging or picking up passengers;
(2) Motor vehicles stopped in a line of traffic;
(3) Motor vehicles whose primary and/or secondary power source is utilized in whole or in part for necessary and definitively prescribed mechanical operation other than propulsion, passenger compartment heating or air conditions;
(4) Motor vehicles being or waiting to be examined by state or federal motor vehicle inspectors;
(5) Emergency motor vehicles in an emergency situation;
(6) Motor vehicles while being repaired;
(7) Motor vehicles while engaged in the process of connection, detachment or exchange of trailers; or
(8) Motor vehicles manufactured with a sleeper berth while being used in a nonresidentially zoned area by the vehicle’s operator for sleeping or resting.
(Ord. No. 2004-9, § 2.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Three more days to vacation

Could not be more psyched to throw the family in the car and head up to fabulous upstate New York. Have not been anywhere for a long time. It would probably be too depressing to really think about that. And Canandaigua barely counts as anywhere, since that's part of our normal circuit too.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Pool time

It was mighty hot in New Jersey this weekend, time for some pool time. After Graham took an initial foray into the big pool at Community Park in Mary's arms last weekend, I took him back to the pool solo this one. This time, he didn't even want to start out in the baby pool, we went straight to the big pool where he twirled around in my arms, hung out on the steps (coming down to his neck) and even "jumped" from the side. And he also let me dump water on his head with a baseball cap (a huge step). Then on Sunday at Broadmead he was similarly daring, even hanging out in an inner-tube by the steps and dipping the front of his head in the water, protected by his new goggles.

This on top of the fact that he's been sleeping through the night in underwear and letting me cut his hair some now and again. Coming along, he is.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

How hard does YouTube rock

Here's a chestnut from Emir Kusturica's very early "Do you remember Dolly Bell?"

The guy is singing "How hard it is for me in Sarajevo," over and over again. Imagine if that was your uncle. You'd probably want to go wrestle on stones too.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Blowing of mind

I've heard about Dubai in passing but I've never really dug into it. Then I looked through this to get a little perspective. Scroll down to the pictures and read the captions. I'm not really one for excess, and I don't feel a strong need for desert heat, but the shear scale of everything makes a certain impression. It's hard not to want to go and gaze slack-jawed at the sheer scale of everything.

Of course, if I want to go somewhere to make myself feel poor, I can just hop on a train and go to Manhattan. Or, indeed, hop on my bike and ride into Princeton's "Western Section," sprinkled with more fancy private schools than you'd think they could find rich kids to fill. But Dubai is pretty over the top. Soon we may be all commuting to there using some sort of molecular dust reconstitutor like they had back in the sixties... as in this rare historical footage from back in the year of my birth, 1966:

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Safe haven

My mind keeps running back to the $3 trillion in bank deposit growth. Flight to quality indeed, if the banks are gonna throw money at any mortgage that moves.

Meanwhile, where are the mutual fund blow-ups? Except for a few hiccups with money market funds exposed to too much auction-rate garbage, mutual funds have been pretty quiet.

A quick glance at inflows (at AMGdata) shows that trust in the both mutual funds and ETFs is still pretty high: Q2 had $70 bln flowing into stock and bond mutual funds and $56bln into ETFs. That's annualized long-only inflows of half a trillion, which doesn't sound horrible, without digging into historical context.

All in all it goes to show you, you may overpay for beta with actively managed funds, but it's better than overpaying for leveraged idiocy. The corporate governance overhead associated with mutual funds may in fact work for investors.


For those amongst my readers hailing from the Piedmont region and believing that the Carolina-Duke game is pretty much it as far as sports rivalries go, may I recommend that you tune in to the Fox Soccer Channel (thanks Mike and Brendan for your sponsorship) and check out the series of "Superclasico" match ups between the Buenos Aires cross-town rivals Boca Juniors and River Plate. This is cash money. These people care about their teams, and it's good soccer.

BTW: From a blimp view of the stadium spied a parking lot, couldn't have held 800 cars. Google maps confirmed that this was the only dedicated parking for the stadium, which must seat 70-80,000. Think about getting all those people out of there. They must have to stack subway trains up at stations outside the stadium. It could take hours to clear the neighborhood. It would be a good place to own a cafe, if not a bar.

Return of the scarcely repressed

"I am tired of Goldman being viewed as the Prince of the street. They are cunning and manipulative. I hope that the SEC discovers their deceptive practices and finally mars their squeaky clean image that they try to portray."

Seeing this quote from one who calls himself "Bond33" on Marketwatch today took me way, way back, back to Slavoj Zhizhek's first English book The Sublime Object of Ideology. Zhizhek talks about a perverse logic of anti-semitism. Here's the archetypal conversation:

Villager 1: "That Jew trader Jakov is so shifty and deceiptful."
Villager 2: "What? He seems so honest and trustworthy"
Villager 1: "Exactly. He fools everyone."

Now, I wouldn't say Goldman is above always above reproach in all regards, but Bond33 is striking a classically anti-semitic tone. But hey, isn't that what anonymous web publishing is all about?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bank deposit growth

Here's a pretty astonishing statistic from our friend Felix Salmon. Bank deposits are up $3 trillion. If we assume that's primarily corporate and High Net Worth money (given the negative savings rate for the general population), it signals a substantial risk aversion over the entire period, given that they're not in equities or bonds or something even fishier.

But, oh wait, they are in something fishier. They've got uninsured deposits in institutions punch drunk on vaporous underwriting and shareware risk management. You would think all those deposits would make for "capital adequacy." Guess not.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Cognitive dissonance

Another minor celebrity sighting on the NE Corridor train today as I spotted Kwame Anthony Appiah of the Princeton Philosophy Department reading (get this) USA Today. Perhaps he was doing some research of a sort, having found a discared copy on his seat, much like the Grouse is known to read Newsday or the Post. But that's only at the end of the day when the brain is fried.

Jim Jones, meet E.D.Hirsch

"I have a very bitter taste in my mouth from the 2004 Olympics, as if I just ate a sour grapefruit or something. This summer in Beijing, we’re going to drink a lot of Kool-Aid, because revenge is going to be sweet."

This is from Carmelo Anthony's initial entry in his blog on the New York Times for Beijing. Blogging is all good and well, but when both writer and host site are major commercial enterprises, it would be good to employ editors, because one year of education at Syracuse does not apparently protect one from the old foot in the mouth syndrome. After all, in common parlance, Anthony just told us that the US basketball team will be deluded into committing mass suicide, Guyana-style. He apparently has heard the phrase "drink the Kool-Aid," he just didn't get it.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

One way American Funds suck

My current employer uses American Funds as its 401k provider. So I went to to figure out how to get myself a login, and clicked on "Employer-Sponsored Plans" and then "Your Account," which landed me at, where I tried to set up an account and couldn't. I finally called an 800 number and after a while the woman tells me that I should be going to a different web site altogether, over at When I went there I signed up and saw my account, etc. All good.

Now Institutional Investor ranks American Funds' parent company, the 3rd biggest Asset Manager in America with $1.55 trillion under management, after Barclay's and State Street but ahead of Fidelity and Vanguard, and I'm pretty sure that on the straight mutual fund side American is in the pole position. I don't know where they are in terms of 401k assets, but I can tell you they're not doing themselves a favor with their navigation. And they should synch up their color schemes too! Any old Estonian phishing scheme would do better matching look and feel across the site.

It's hard to stay at the top of the asset management ranks. Fidelity was up top for a while, then Magellan and Contrafund faltered and it fell back. Will American Funds be the next to regress to the mean? Stay tuned.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Washer and dryer

An older black man gets on the train in Edison. Hawaian shirt, white straw hat and cane. Tells friend on the phone of his excitement at getting an apartment for $1155 (on pretax income of $2600) and tells her with great and genuine feeling that it has a washer and dryer. I mean, he was deeply moved, as if he had spent many years going to the laundromat.

Meanwhile, an attractive hispanic woman across the way getting who is getting a degree in fashion merchandising with an focus on footware gets a suitable interview on her cell phone. She was also pretty stoked.

So the economy keeps chugging along, and little by little some people figure things out.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Orhan Pamuk -- Snow, done

It took me a long time to push my way through this novel. Pamuk is at times a little too enamored of doing everything through dialog. But at the end of the day, this is a special book, and I will read more of the guy.

At times, the dense interactions of the love interests of the disparate characters Ka, Ipek, Blue, Kadife, Fazil, Necip, etc., could only remind the attentive reader of my dissertation. And, indeed, Turgunev is invoked at the beginning and the end. Dostoevskii is almost more present, particularly Bakhtin's notion of the dialogic Dostoevskii in which all the characters has full-fledged visions which fight with the narrator. But, in the end, none of Pamuk's characters' visions really cohere for long, they just chrystallize, pass downwards, and melt elegantly away in the rearview.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A Cross of Oil

By some fluke, I started thinking about parallels between William Jennings Bryan's populism as expressed in the famed "Cross of Gold" speech from the 1896 Democratic Convention and the current situation with oil. Not that I really remembered much about the circumstances except that it was classic populism. Turns, out, the speech was given on 112 days ago today, July 9th. Frickin spooky, eh?

Anyhow, there were some parallels. Seems the heartland was hurting after 23 years of deflation and regular guys couldn't service debt because the dollar was on a gold standard, so they were advocating for "bimetallism," letting dollars be backed by silver too and thereby expanding M2 or M3 or whatever we'd call it today. And the Wall St interests were not down with this plan, as they'd end up with silver instead of gold, which was all you could used for foreign trade.

So Bryan broke out some rhetorical strategies which remain popular amongst politicians of all parties when playing demagogue:

We say to you that you have made the definition of a business man too limited in its application. The man who is employed for wages is as much a business man as his employer; the attorney in a country town is as much a business man as the corporation counsel in a great metropolis; the merchant at the cross-roads store is as much a business man as the merchant of New York; the farmer who goes forth in the morning and toils all day—who begins in the spring and toils all summer—and who by the application of brain and muscle to the natural resources of the country creates wealth, is as much a business man as the man who goes upon the board of trade and bets upon the price of grain; the miners who go down a thousand feet into the earth, or climb two thousand feet upon the cliffs, and bring forth from their hiding places the precious metals to be poured into the channels of trade are as much business men as the few financial magnates who, in a back room, corner the money of the world. We come to speak of this broader class of business men.

Ah, my friends, we say not one word against those who live upon the Atlantic coast, but the hardy pioneers who have braved all the dangers of the wilderness, who have made the desert to blossom as the rose—the pioneers away out there [pointing to the West], who rear their children near to Nature's heart, where they can mingle their voices with the voices of the birds—out there where they have erected schoolhouses for the education of their young, churches where they praise their Creator, and cemeteries where rest the ashes of their dead—these people, we say, are as deserving of the consideration of our party as any people in this country. It is for these that we speak. We do not come as aggressors. Our war is not a war of conquest; we are fighting in the defence of our homes, our families, and posterity. We have petitioned, and our petitions have been scorned; we have entreated, and our entreaties have been disregarded; we have begged, and they have mocked when our calamity came. We beg no longer; we entreat no more; we petition no more. We defy them!

...(the punchline) Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests, and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.

Before long, somebody's going to actually break this toolkit out to talk about a cross of oil, which won't let the working man drive his F150 to the 7-11 for Marlboros and a 64oz Slurpee. John Edwards would already be there if he were still in business.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Get this man a new job

Henry Paulson, apparently not satisfied with his current position as Secretary of the Treasury, would seem to be advocating for a new job with the ever bubble-bedazzled National Association of Realtors with his statements today on the housing market. Quoth Marketwatch:

...Paulson said in a speech to an FDIC conference on low-income workers access to the mortgage markets. Paulson said that home prices typically include foreclosure sales, which usually occur at a discount. In some cities, foreclosure sales have spiked. For instance, foreclosure sales in March were 29% of sales in Los Angeles, Paulson said. Existing home sales appear to have flattened...
You have to love this logic: the sales occur at a discount, so they don't count. Put another way, sales statistics should only incorporate sales that occur at their stated or correct price, or they will drag the numbers down. This is the kind of sound judgment we really want to hear from our seniormost financial officials.

Or perhaps he said this to make Bush's statements sound rational and intelligent by contrast. That's called taking one for the team.

Monday, July 07, 2008


The year was 1994, and a rare confluence of fellowship money sent me on a plane to St. Petersburg, one time capital of Russia, for some extended language training to get me ready to teach that strange tongue and also to work on a paper to deliver in Kazan', out on the Volga, later that summer.

But anyhow, it was summer, and I was still single, and our teacher Natasha was quite charming and not evidently much older than me, so I applied my wiles to the task of charming her. And it all seemed to go well after a few class break time cigarettes and witty repartee. Turns out that despite her blonde hair she is from Baku, Azerbaijan, and is a molokanka, which is to say descended from an anarchic sect banished to the outskirts of the empire back in the day.

So she agrees to meet me one Sunday afternoon to go park strolling and coffee sipping and the like, and then she shows up with a friend (a total sneak). And we galavant about, getting further acquainted, and then we stop on some park bench to smoke and sip on something, and I whip out this cheap lighter, and I must have been fiddling with the gas control in my pocket because when I went to light Natasha's cigarette, it totally nicked her bangs and singed an eyebrow pretty good too. That nasty burning hair smell was everywhere.

All was not lost, but it was did not enhance anything.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Knocked Up

This is not a great movie, not even a good one, but there are moments of comic brilliance and a pretty great birthing scene.

This scene is typical. You have to fight through some stupid shit to get to real laughs.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The times they are a changin

You know something's afoot when Robert Reich is up on CNBC in a jacket, black t-shirt, and beard (OK, he's always got that to make himself look taller).

Where did all the dumb money go?

Maybe it’s just me, but at times like this it’s hard to figure out what all the “talent” on Wall St is supposed to be doing. The theory is you take a bunch of really smart people, pay them well, make them mingle and share ideas, work them to death, and they should produce value. Thing is, you look at the markets for the last eight years, the second half of arguably the most booya period for both retail and institutional participation in financial markets ever, and you’re not seeing value add. You probably need to go back 9 years for inflation-adjusted market cap parity.

So all the inflows of this period (like my 401k contributions, for example) have outflowed elsewhere. I have heard this called "dumb money" on the Street.

Controlling for the optical illusion of CNBC and Kramer -- looks as much like the doldrums of 1973-1982 as it does like 1991-2000.* One key difference is that the manses of Greenwich are themselves no optical illusion (would that they were), and that the concentration of wealth they attest to also is not, though my mind runs to such houses as Biltmore, the Tsarist palaces, the Mansion walk in Newport, RI. There’s a historical pattern of excess wealth concentration resulting in unsustainable residences that and have to be turned into museums which themselves cannot break even. Look at the deed restriction on Doris Duke’s estate near Somerville, NJ, which says the house cannot have tours go on. So they move plants inside the rooms and call it an “interior garden tour” to strip twenties off the unsuspecting Martha Steward wannabes just so they have money to mow the grass and run the AC. So even such obscene concentrations of “value” don’t work over time, as first the value dissipates, then the thing itself. Where, then, should Steven Cohen stick his basketball court? I have some ideas.

*One bellwether distinction between the 70s and now is Felix Rohatyn’s activities. Then he needed to swoop in transactionally and save New York City. Today he’s thinking more long-term about rebuilding roads, bridges and the like. I think that shows a little learning.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


Tonight Princeton held its annual fireworks display at the baseball field, only this time it was attended by hordes -- maybe 3 times the normal number. It was also Graham's first time at the fireworks, and he did dig it, ooohing and aaahing like a seasoned pro. So there we were with everybody from Steve and Janet's gathering, lying on the blanket looking up, a gaggle of children clustered together but on the edge was Natalie, leaning against my leg, and on my other side Graham, leaning often against Mary but with his feet against me. And I could reach out and touch Mary's back, and I realized that for the first time in a long time I was touching all the members of my family at the same time. And it was nice.

Traffic patterns

The Grouse's traffic numbers are burgeoning (in relative terms) with what I term "organic" traffic, people just coming to the site. We got our regulars checking in first thing in the morning(good morning to you), and a fair amount of traffic that comes in through search engines looking for (as you can well imagine) all kinds of random shit. With 1200 plus posts, by now I have a little something for -- if not everybody, then a healthy plurality of the web-surfing populace. It's a diversified product strategy, like an internet convenience store with your slurpees over here, motor oil over there, and a key to the bathroom if you ask nicely.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Japanese tennis mom

Out on the tennis court at the high school yesterday evening, a couple of young tennis bucks were practicing their serves. Whack whack whack. Then one of them took off, and the other one's mom showed up. He kept on serving, and from his mom yelling to him in Japanese inferred that he was nisei, or second generation. I imagined that she was yelling at him, as he whacked serve after powerful serve at the corners of the box, something like this: "Don't kick your leg up like that after your topspin serve, you'll never get into Harvard like that!" She didn't sound happy.

But then again, she shagged all the many balls he whacked and delivered the serving hampers to his side so he could whack more. And then, when he was done, he zipped up his rackets and sauntered off, leaving mom to pick up all 100 odd practice balls. Now that's service.