Friday, July 31, 2009

Diner envy

I was reminded by a Googling of my friend Levon Kazarian, now impresario of St Francis Fountain, a San Francisco landmark, of my intent to post about a piece of Central Jerseyana which I will miss.

The place is called Rose and Chubby's, in the middle of Hopewell, NJ (just across the street from the old railroad station where -- 9 years ago -- an upstanding realtor assured us that NJ Transit was going to reinstitute commuter service to NYC. You can guess the punchline there). Anyway, the exterior of the place is, as you can see, none too preposessing.

Once you get inside, however, it is somewhat less decrepit, but nonetheless furnished basically straight out of the Hardy Boys series.

The proprietors of the place are two septua/octagenarian lasses, perhaps they for whom the joint is named. When Ted and I visited recently and he took these pix, we were the only people in there not on a first name basis with them. The food is fine, basic, but the menu is noteworthy.

Most trips to Rose and Chubby's are low on drama, but I remember when I was in there one time and this 80ish couple was having a nice civilized lunch, he with jacket and sweater vest, she in a nice dress. When it came time to leave, he paid the bill, and his wife got up and walked to the door, he turned, watched her, making sure that she wasn't going to turn her head, and then pounced his teeth into the half of an egg-salad sandwich that she had left on her plate. Some marital dynamics die hard.

Lox n grits (note to Bill Smith)

Cleaning out cubbards, and with a celiac disease suffering child in the house during a heavy thunderstorm, I came across some grits. After making tha girls a traditional cheese grits (i.e. with cheddar), I set to thinking: "if grits combine so well with salt and fat in the form of country ham or sauteed shrimp with lots of butter, why not smoked salmon and cream cheese?"

So I tried it this morning. Works fine. To charge $12 for it in a restaurant all you need is some adjectives ("artisanal", "organic"), and substitute creme fraiche for the cream cheese and top with fresh dill.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Benjamin Button

is Forrest Gump. Then again, if you just Google it, you can see that that's no news to anyone. There's just less humor and action, and Brad Pitt is no Tom Hanks.

Then again, Tom Hanks is no Brad Pitt.

The movie drags on and on.

Waiting for the big man

Stuck here alone in Princeton as the family has gone to Larchmont to deal with sad events, of which there will be news in due time.

Right now I'm waiting for this big hispanic guy, John, husband of Kathy, who babysits here in the hood. John works in a garage, and in his spare time he drives around and collects scrap. And boy do we have that for him...

Flash back 3 years or so, when Anne and another John were moving from an 80s colonial to a more manageable 70s ranch over on the lake with an apartment for their special needs child, approaching his/her 20s. In their basement they had a treadmill, which Anne proferred to Mary on the cheap. Here's the post about moving the heavy thing into the house and disfiguring our lovely stairs.

So, a thousand days and nights on, how many times did we use the damned thing? 15? 20? Not much more. Global warming and the concomitant warm winters have helped, but so has general lassitude and the siren call of the Fox Soccer Channel, which calls my name all too often. And John will come with his F150 and, with the help of David across the street, we will haul this heavy bitch down from the 3rd floor to the street, without marring this house which will soon pass into the hands of others. My shoulders are pre-knotted in anticipation.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Oh, the thrill

I recently dropped a note on Facebook to someone somewhat famous in literary circles, telling him/her that I had gone and read his/her big book (winner of a big prize in its day) and found it very rewarding and instructive -- which was true. I won't delve into more detail.

Today I note that this same person has expressed -- again on Facebook -- considerable glee to have been said (in print) to have been on the bedside table of another Notable Author type. So I guess that shows that even when you're famous, your ego still particularly appreciates being stroked in public, rather than in private.


At long last we have given in and installed the air conditioners in all windows. I have spent the days going up and down stairs carrying heavy stuff from the third floor down, the basement up, stuff to the curb or to the shed, all over. Calves and quads showing signs of crampage.

This is what they call aging, I believe.

At least the grey hair means that, twice within recent weeks, tween or teen girls have said I look like George Clooney which -- while not true -- I can live with.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Natalie at Harry Potter


Natalie and I took in the new Harry Potter movie, the 5th book, The Half-Blood Prince. In it, Harry and his crew are progressing well into puberty, making out ('mugging"?) and coupling up prodigiously. Natalie, in all her glorious tweendom at the age of 9 and 2 months, smiled sheepishly and blushed during the romance scenes.

And then, at the end, the untimely death of Dumbledore, and she turned her head away from me to conceal the fact that she was crying, she who has done her damnedest to conceal any emotion she might be feeling about the fact that her grandfather is in hospice care. I'm just getting to know this Harry Potter thing and I cried, and I knew exactly what it was about.

She was also indignant about places where the movie deviated from the plot of the book, which took me back.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Tim Collins on Citi Board

Tim Collins is an interesting choice for the Citigroup board. The swashbuckling story of Ripplewood, JC Flowers, Volcker and how they restructured LTCB into Shinsei was one of a big quick buck for our private equity guys and some dispersion of keiretsu murkiness. But now that Shinsei has stumbled into a proposed merger with Aozora, is it clear that they did unequivocably good work? Is he really the right guy for a long-term salvation of what is -- after all -- 35% ours? Or is he a value extractor first and foremost?

I read Gillian Tett's book on Shinsei and then I heard Collins speak once in 2005. Smart guy, but sort of self-involved and not someone who gave the appearance that he would be overly concerned with safeguarding shareholder (i.e. taxpayer) interests. Other than that I don't know.

Actual insurance text

BofA sent me an offer of free Accidental Dismemberment and Death Insurance with the option (imagine that!) of buying up more. Coverage is through the Hartford. For kicks, I read through it a little bit:

The Hartford will not pay more than the Principal Suim for all Losses due to the same accident. Loss means, with regard to hands and feet, actual severance through or above wrist or ankle joints; with regard to sight, speech, or hearing, entire and irrecoverable loss thereof; with regard to thumb and index finger, actual severance through or above the metacarpophalangeal joints.

You just gotta love lawyers for keeping it all straight for us.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Still throwing out books

Today, Marx's The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon. But before I do that, lets transcribe the classic opening coda just for safekeeping.

Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.
He may not have ended up redefining political economy, but the guy could bust a rhyme here and there.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Skip Gates behind bars, finally

The story of Henry Louis "Skip" Gates being arrested in his own home is all over the blogosphere, and rightly so. I normally don't pick this kind of thing up, but it is ridiculous. Some neighbor called in a report of "two black men forcing the door"? Like she had never noticed he was black before?

In truth, he ain't no Wesley Snipes or Charley "Midnight" Murphy in terms of depth of skin tone, but he is distinctly a black man, and a frickin world-famous one at that. If he were my neighbor, I would know.

Now, it's possible that -- like my actual neighbor, Toni Morrison -- he doesn't spend any time at this particular residence. But still, everybody would know he lived there. Even in Cambridge.

Monday, July 20, 2009

More on Taibbi and Goldman

It seems a lot of people are getting all lathered up about Goldman Sachs and Matt Taibbi's Rolling Stone piece about it, specifically. There's more than a dollop of anti-semitism at work here, and since I did a little digging for some posts on a thread elsewhere on the internet, I might as well recirculate it here. The key bit is that Taibbi likens Goldman Sachs to a "blood-sucking squid."

The blood-sucking squid metaphor shows a little originality on Taibbi's part, but deviates only slightly from the image of the "Symbolic Snake of Judaism" promulgated in the apocryphal Protocols of the Elders of Zion which have served as one of the grounding texts of anti-semitism since their initial publication in turn of the century Russia. See this, for instance:

"These learned men decided by peaceful means to conquer the world for Zion with the slyness of the Symbolic Snake, whose head was to represent those who have been initiated into the plans of the Jewish administration, and the body of the Snake to represent the Jewish people - the administration was always kept secret, EVEN FROM THE JEWISH NATION ITSELF. As this Snake penetrated into the hearts of the nations which it encountered it undermined and devoured all the non-Jewish power of these States"
and also, further on:
"In all corners of the earth the words "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," brought to our ranks, thanks to our blind agents, whole legions who bore our banners with enthusiasm. And all the time these words were canker-worms at work boring into the well-being of the GOYIM, putting an end everywhere to peace, quiet, solidarity and destroying all the foundations of the GOY States."
And why does Taibbi situate himself in this tradition? Because he's ambitious and he's out to make a bigger name for himself as a journalist. Taibbi was one of the editors of The Exile in Moscow in the 90s, a zine run by frat boys on steroids that made its name mixing serious exposes of Yeltsin-era crime and politics with celebrating an emigre culture of abusing drugs and cheap street whores.

Taibbi is a classic bad boy run amok, but he hasn't done any real legwork on this one.

Friday, July 17, 2009

No comment

Thursday, July 16, 2009

CIT and a new crisis

To what extent did early 90s chaos facilitate the rise to preeminence of the Big Boxes? Having started to pay attention to the economy only this decade, I never really thought about it, but the Journal today kindled thoughts in your correspondent.

"CIT isn't providing loans to all of those companies (a million-odd small businesses -- grouse), of course. But companies like MetFin are indirectly dependent on the future of CIT. If CIT fails and its loans are sold, to rivals, the marketplace would lose a source of credit and the disruption could force many companies searching for financing into a marketplace where credit is tight.

That was the environment in the early 1990s when a rash of bank failures created havoc for small commercial borrowers, said Charles Ou, senior economist for the SBA. He added that the SBA has no comment on the subject of CIT Group and that he was only offering his personal opinion."

Generally speaking, Rahm Emanuel pert crack about "not wasting a crisis" is one of the key soundbites of our day. But why should he be taking a page from the Naomi Klein "Shock Doctrine" playbook? Isn't that supposed to be the domain of uber capitalists? Who will be the big beneficiaries of a CIT collapse? More than GE Capital and Wells Fargo etc., will it be the lords of Bentonville who cash in?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Boxing books

I am, at long last, boxing some books, moving forward with moving. The truck gets here in a month. With effort I am culling books that I have not read, and/or will never read again.

Prominent cullees at this point in time include:

  • Gary Shteyngart
  • Rory Stewart
  • Patrick Leigh Farmer
  • Heloise and Abelard
  • Sigmund Freud
  • Nikolai Dobroliubov
  • and others
I should chuck more, but it's hard, you know.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Matt Taibbi's Rolling Stone piece on GS

I tried to read Taibbi's article, but found it too sophisticated. I'm waiting till he dumbs it down to the level of People.

No but seriously. I like squid.

Northern Invasion

I am, at present, exiled to New Jersey, unable to get back up to Gotham because of primary caregiving constraints. While I, in fact, have tired greatly of commuting up there all the time, and have recently turned back interesting opportunities there because I'm going home, right now I really want to get up there because...

...Tim Horton's is coming! Or, rather, it's already here. Certain Dunkin Donuts stores were rebadged and branded for Monday morning and are now serving the donut stylings of the legendary Canadian donutery, including some in Penn Station.

Now, as we all know by now, Kristy Kremes -- while delicious in their own right -- have proven for their combination of lightness, fluffiness, and accounting trickery to be the quintessential donuts of the Greenspan / bubble era. Dunkin Donuts, while having fought back and maintained good quality coffee in the face of the Starbucks onslaught, has uneven donuts and suffers from strategic distraction with little pizzas, crappy bagels, and other whatnot. Tim Horton's, on the other hand, has, in my limited sampling, produced good stuff. Once, in 2003, flying back from Toronto, I snuck a dozen back into the country, and ate a shameful if nondisclosed quantity of fritters and sour-cream donuts on the plane and on the way to the office.

Monday, July 13, 2009

CIT, so pity us

Time was, in summer time CIT stood for "Counsellors in Training," and it was all in good fun.

I'm of a mixed mind about CIT the commercial lender now tottering on the brink of demise, now about to hoover up more tax dollars. On the one hand, I think it does sound like a systemically important institution, and the fact that it supports a lot of franchisees and other small businesses makes it seem worth saving. On the other hand, the time must come when we stop stepping in and propping things up.

This would be a good time -- perhaps -- for messrs Buffett, Blankfein, Dimon, Kovacevich, Fink, Gross and other bad asses to saddle up some white horses and ride in. Or perhaps they could be corralled, a la Long Term Capital Management. The etiology isn't as direct as it was back then, but the risks are still somewhat pooled.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Suspicious men with laptops

My friend Craig, a somewhat eccentric looking balding guy with a grey beard, had his laptop propped up on the chest height stone wall of Maggie's Playground in Princeton the other day, with its screen facing out. He had a wireless connection from his house across the street, and his 8-year old daughter was running around nearby.

Nearby, a group of Stepford wives grew suspicious. One of them snuck aroind behind Craig and snooked a peak at his screen, muttering something about men and computers.

Now, I ask you, would they have made a fuss if he had been a corporate guy in khaki shorts? Would they bug me right now if they saw me in the same park with my Blackberry? I doubt it.

It's this fearful, Megan's Law, corporatist mentality that makes it easier for me to leave Princeton, this would-be, somewhat wannabe somewhat not college town.

Tell No One

This is a very serviceable French thriller, interspersed with typical continental PCness and postcardness (i.e. full of scenes that shout out "look how nice Paris is.") Given that the movie came out in 2006, it's unlikely that many of you will see it, so I'll spoil the plot and say that the evil looking "State Senator Neuville" is the root of all evil here. This guy is rich beyond all means and able to retain a crew of crack spies and torturers to maintain surveillance over our Dustin Hoffman look a like hero for eight years, but we have no idea where he gets his money.

Which makes the movie a love story about a couple of good looking and noble working class kids (sired of a cop and a stable manager -- both of whom worked for the rich guy), who fight back against power and wealth and bring him down. So it is a parable of the opacity of Europe's wealth and power structure, which flies in the face of Eurogovernments' rule of law.

My trip to Greece and hanging with an adoptive member of the Euroaristocracy this year gave me some insight into how this works in Greece at least -- lots of tax evasion and a clear delineation of public and private space, with the spoils going to the latter.

Friday, July 10, 2009


Today, in an accidental throwback to the 70s, I lathered, then rinsed. Then repeated. I scarcely recognize myself.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Money pit?

A good friend of mine, a developer of fine homes and regular reader of the blog, counseled me when I bought our current abode in 2003: "Those old houses can become money pits," quoth he. We put some money into it, but it never really got bad.

Until now, when we're trying to get out of the durned thing. Having been built in 1913, it had knob and tube wiring. Most of that stuff got taken out, but there's still some up on the third floor and going to the 2nd. On our disclosure form I dutifully checked the box "Has knob and tube."

Now, back when we bought, I was concerned about insuring the house with this wiring, but it turned out I had to pay something like $300-400 more because of it. In the interim, turns out, many, if not all, insurance companies have decided they don't want to write coverage on it at all.

So the ground shifted beneath our feet, just as it did in 2001 when we found that Princeton Boro, which had granted us an onstreet parking permit at our prior home, had revoked it, claiming it had been "issued in error" years before. This cut the value of our home. The moral to this story is that there is regulatory risk inherent in house transactions, particularly in densely populated areas where the involvement of pooled interests (govts, insurance companies) in markets is high. These factors may move against you, but they are unlikely to move for you.

How will this all turn out? Stay tuned, fair reader, and remind me if I don't get back to it. There should be more chapters to this tale.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Selling the house

I have somewhat neglected to mention just how much fun we've been selling our house. Over two-odd months, 50ish viewings, two open houses, all told hundreds and hundreds of feet a pitter pattering through the place we call home. Keeping it clean, I tell you, no fun. Mowing the lawn, similarly gleeful.

But, at long last, things are looking up with an acceptable bid, with another bidder coming up behind them just to keep them honest and ram us through the inspection process (entirely negotiated here in Princeton) nicely.

Inspection requests came in today. Largely reasonable, with mild overreaching.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Slumdog milliionaire

This was a fine movie, not sure it should have swept the Oscars. The lead kid should have gotten the Oscar for his performance at the Oscars, not for his performance in the film. And not for his acting, just for his infectious energy and attitude. In general the overwhelming optimism of the movie is a breath of fresh air in the current context, one feels India rising. Admittedly it is optimistic in a way that would be easily dismissible as Hollywood dreck in a mainstream domestic production (Pay It Forward, for example).

And of course, educated viewers will note that the tension between good (idealism) and evil (pragmatism, cynicism "the way of the world") paths manifested in the struggle of the two brothers in relation to the heroine is a direct allusion to my particularly-well received dissertation on the allegorical uses of love narrative in Russia and novelistic traditions which rose to prominence later. All five readers loved it!

Friday, July 03, 2009

Scratches on Netflix DVDs

Over time, one of the Achilles Heels in the Netflix business model is the fact that it traffics in delicate physical artefacts. Time and again, we're getting scratched DVDs in the mail. They really need to start moving over to a piped delivery model for more of their titles, before somebody else really nails it.

Google, for instance. Why shouldn't it leverage its YouTube infrastructure to push out licensed fare eventually?

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Glenn Heights rules!

For those of you who missed it, here's a link to a recent story in Raleigh's News & Observer about former Glenn Heights denizen Eric Stein and his appointment to a senior position spearheading the development of a Consumer Financial Protection Agency in DC.

Our near 40-year master plan to establish world domination from one small wooded North Carolina residential neighborhood continues apace. Stay tuned for further developments.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Oxo for the workplace

Oxo made a bunch of money coming up with kitchen appliances with handle sizes and other ergonomics designed for an aging population. Who is doing the same in the workplace? Who is thinking through tool and workflow design to allow boomers to work longer into their lives to fund their otherwise hosed retirements? Just think about managing passwords, information security, ang going from one program to another for one thing. It's hard enough for me at 43, but it will be much harder for older people, who often can't figure out how to work the DVD player.

This will be a real challenge, particularly for not highly compensated back office work. How to decrease error rates and maintain productivity in the face of aging.