Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Locking the door

Carrboro being the "Paris of the Piedmont," I shouldn't have been surprised when a very quirky woman in her late 50s/early 60s in some kind of terry cloth skirt, complemented by a sports visor and prominent yellow earplugs walked right in my door (it's on the 2nd floor, mind you) and asked if there was a phone she could use to call a cab.  She asked if I could dial for her, because she didn't know how to use that kind of phone (non-rotary?), and then gave me a number from memory, saying that I might need to put in some nonsensical series of numbers before it (it was clearly a local exchange).  So I dialled the number, and then she went out into my office mate Josh's room and sat down in his office chair (make yourself at home lady) and started talking quietly to someone she addressed as "mom." She told this "mom" that she was 5-10 minutes away from home, on her bike.  I guess this was some newfangled sort of cab.

What it says to me is that I should start locking the door. This is the second time some wierdo has walked right in without knocking and asked to use the phone.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The New Normal

Mohammed El-Erian and others at PIMCO have been energetically trumpeting the idea of a "New Normal" for the economy, meaning we have to get used to lower growth to work off the excesses of the last decade.  Fine. Makes sense.

Meanwhile, at the deli at the Harris Teeter (a grocery store, for those who don't know) just across the railroad tracks from my office, they have installed big toaster, so that we can get our lunchtime subs toasted, just like at Quiznos.  Well, there's an older guy who makes sandwiches there some days, an older guy with a reasonably luxurious head of hair and a beard, each of which must be encased in individual plastic hairnets to comply with NC sanitary code. This guy, rather witty, it must be owned, refers to the toasted sub as the "new normal."  PIMCO should be rather pleased at the effectiveness of its messaging.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The horrible injustice of it all

A good night for me is when I get to kick back and watch highlights commentated by the wondrous brogue of Bobby McMahon.  Just listen the man talk while marvelling at his shirt and tie combos. A true role model, comparable only to Rockford.

In a truly slack moment, I went by to check on some traffic rankings.  Amazingly, comes in at around the 18 millionth most popular site on the web, while little old ChewYourGrouse registers a hearty 20 millionth or so.  Running in fine company, we are.


This weekend we watched Fracture, in which Anthony Hopkins gets to reprise his Hannibal Lecter character, only mildly less deranged.  He only kills one woman, and doesn't skin her or anything.

It's a pretty stupid movie, in which our young hero -- a cocky prosecutor who has to put Hopkins away -- has an utterly idiotic romantic situation with an attractive but generic blonde.  But it is well-plotted and appeals to the competitive instinct in any guy, so I made us watch it all the way to the end in one evening.  Shocking behavior for us. Worth renting.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Exile

With all the hullabaloo around Matt Taibbi and his work on Goldman Sachs in Rolling Stone, it's no surprise that someone should go back and do a serious piece on his earlier career at The Exile in Moscow with even badder boy Mark Ames.  I remember The Exile well.  I got to Moscow in October of '97, some months after it had started coming out, a few months married, a few years sober.

We all read the thing and its accounts of insane and epic debauchery at The Hungry Duck and with cheap prostitutes here, there, and everywhere. These guys were living the dream... the pornographic dream of every angry 17 year old boy.  And, yes, there was good journalism in there, but from what I read the main point wasn't so much what they said (which was largely self-evident) but that they printed it and got away with it. I dunno, they were just in a very different place than I was.

As graduate students in Moscow at the time, the lifestyle these guys lived really seemed like a logical extension of everything the emigre business community thought Moscow was about: Here's a quote from some Berkeley lit professor named John Dolan: "“Everyone in Moscow at the time—and I mean everyone—used prostitutes. That’s what Moscow was in the 1990s. But no one would talk about it,” Dolan says".  Well, I can tell you straight out that I didn't sleep with any prostitutes. I didn't have enough money to go in places where they would be, I didn't drink, I was recently married, and I didn't want to get AIDS.  When I would pass poor wet hookers on Tverskaia Street in front of some big hotel I thought they were a sad and pathetic lot, but I just had enough money to buy myself schwarma, cigarettes and a coke, so it's not like I could do anything to help them. Plus there were a lot of other desperately poor people who had not turned to prostitution or, for that matter, organized or petty crime.

One night when his wife was out of the country, I walked around Moscow with my 4th cousin, who worked in some diplomatic capacity at the American embassy.  We were looking for the Hungry Duck.  When we finally found it, it was just vile and disgusting, and that was just from looking at the people standing outside it, sweaty and pukey.  And besides, it was already 11:30 by then.  We turned around and went back to our respective homes. Walking around looking for the place was much more interesting than finding it.

I was much happier to meet my cousin's daughters, who were 3 and 5 or something like that. They climbed on my back and stuff when we went over to do laundry. That was an early indication of where I was headed.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

It's nice out

I don't know if this is a particularly nice spring, or if it's that it's the first time I'm living in North Carolina as a relatively stable adult that the season appears to be breaking out so spectacularly. There are flowers out that I've literally never seen before, and lots of them.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Gendercide and the sexual warfare to come

Was just listening on BBC World Radio to report about "moral policing" in Mangalore, India, where bands of Hindu thugs beat up mixed Hindu/Muslim couples to preserve moral purity.  This came on the heels of reading the very disturbing "Gendercide" article in The Economist, which details how the rates of male births to female births have been dramatically skewed throughout Asia, but primarily in parts of China and India, as ultrasound technology has made it easier to figure out the gender of kids in utero, on top of cultural practices of just killing female babies.What this means is that there's going to be a whole generation where there are lots more guys than gals, which has really bad implications for society in terms of crime, violence, substance abuse, etc.  Look at what has happened in the Arab and Islamic world as a generation of guys has grown up feeling disempowered by society.  And those guys at least could find women to get married to.

So, for societies that prize ethnic purity, there's going to be even more intense territoriality around the control of women's bodies in generations to come. That's not good. Look for more "moral policing," for an expansion in the trafficking of sex slaves to areas where there are too many guys, and for more violence in general.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Moving pains

For tax purposes, let me recommend to all of you that, if you choose to move from one state to another, that you do it on January 1st.  Allocating various bits of income between states is a pain in the butt, as is figuring out taxes paid to other states, etc. It's a big freaking daisy chain, but without erogenous zones.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The real deal

There was so much praise for Andrew Ross Sorkin's To Big to Fail. Everybody was saying it was the best book about the crisis.  So I read it.  Although I stopped and read two novels while I was in the middle of it. For the most part, while I could see the guy had done a lot of leg work, it seemed like a glorified distillation of all much of the stuff we were reading in the press for the last couple of years, only more gossipy. But it wasn't all that great, really. You can only watch John Mack and Lloyd Blankfein sweat and Tim Geithner be all stone-faced for so long.

Then I started reading an excerpt from Michael Lewis's The Big Short.  Sorkin is a journallist, but Lewis is a writer. The excerpt is so good that I have to keep reading it, so I've reserved a copy at the local bookstore and will be go and pick it up after I feed Natalie and put Graham to bed.  And do a little wrestling.

In other news, last night we watched 4 Christmases with Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon, Robert Duval, Sissy Spacek, John Voight, Jill Clayburgh, and some blonde with big tits. Quite a cast! It was stupid but very funny.  Vaughn at the top of his game.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Blowing his mind

Read Civil War on Sunday to Graham the other night, something like #21 in the Magic Treehouse series. In this book (warning, plot spoilers coming up), Jack and Annie return to civil war times and hang out with Clara Barton on the battlefield. There they help out an injured drummer boy named John, who looks mysteriously like Jack.  Later, when the kids have returned to the safety of their Frog Creek home, they ask their dad if any of their relatives had been in the Civil War. Why yes, says dad, your great great great grandfather John was a drummer boy for the Union.  Then Jack and Annie confirm that he lived through it and Jack says, like, "awesome" and goes to bed.

Well, when it registered with Graham that they had met their great great great grandfather in the past, it totally blew his mind. He threw his head back and screwed up his eyes and said "Wowww" or something like that. It was mighty cute.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Slightly distracted today by work, if you can imagine that. I would go into it, but... it's work, after all.

Monday, March 15, 2010


Graham's teacher sent home a report a week or so ago saying that Graham had been behaving a little bit erratically while standing in line, flailing with arms and legs, that sort of thing. She asked if something had changed at home recently.

Mary called Kate, who suggested.... wrestling!  Yes, as dad, it is now amongst my job responsibilities to wrestle more with Graham.  And, as is often the case, Kate's advice was spot on. Thankfully, we have a new and soft rug in rec room, sitting atop the already soft carpet, so we've got a doubly comfy wrestling surface. Graham, reaching down deep, has discovered new reservoirs of strength, and has somehow managed to pin me most every time, often by pushing his mighty noggin into my chest in a move reminiscent of a kinder, gentler Zidane.

The other night, in bed, he asked me: "How much do you weight?" "180", I told him.  And he rolled his eyes toward the top bunk, marvelling at his tremendous strength.  "And I only weigh about forty pounds!" There was no need to complete his thought for him.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Update from Merseyside, NC

As I reported a week or so ago, Natalie has become obsessed with Beatles on YouTube. I was beginning to have had my fill of the bowl-cut ones, so I had the bright idea of lending her some headphones. Now she sits with headphones on and sings along, somewhat tunefully but fitfully, and, in typical childhood fashion, swallows and garbles the ends of the lines where she's not sure what the words are.  It's hilarious.

The Beatles renditions are interspersed with explosive utterances of "Awwww," and "He's so cute" occasioned by viewings Kittenwar, which is pretty much the prepubescent version of that tasteless old Friday afternoon fave Hotornot.

Paper of record

The Wall Street Journal, along with the New York Times and Washington Post, if memory serves correctly, are "papers of record."  This means they are designated by the federal government as suitable places to file certain regulatory notices, and that filing them there fulfills some statutory disclosure obligation.  Or something like that.

So I kind of understood why there were 5-odd pages of small print in the Journal's "Money & Investing" section today.  Closer inspection revealed that they were seized property notices from the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF).  Even closer inspection revealed that it was a state by state listing of mostly invidual guns the ATF had seized with very small values.  Which is ridiculous.  Even closer inspection got even funnier.  There are listings for such items as "Various Pipe Fragments Recovered From Inside and Outside of Portable Toilet.  Recovered on 01/19/2010.  $0.01" or "Shell From Disrupter Rd Utilized For Render Safe Procedures By LSP Technicians. $0.10."

A quick check of the Wall St Journal advertising rate card shows that the lowest rate (offered to highest-volume advertisers) for a full page ad in the Journal is $111,832.75.  Then think about the externalities of cutting down trees, printing, shipping, etc. It's absurd.

And also think about the thousands of proud men throughout these United States of ours who have had their beloved guns and pipe fragments snatched by the ATF, all this tremendous wealth of weaponry to be spread around by the crypto-commies inside the Beltway.  It's the makings of a fine country song.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The sign of the cross

At 3 Amigos Taqueria for lunch. Hispanic woman with a kid in here, leans forward over table to reveal tattoo in the small of her back, over her butt crack. A cross, naturally. And why not?

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

In late

Came in to the office after dinner to try to get some stuff done.  Was half successful.  Shockingly, when I arrived at 9 at night there were more cars than there usually are at 9 in the morning.  Down in the co-working office it appeared the younguns were playing poker.  Could be people park here to go out drinking. That would, after all, make sense.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Left Behind

After years of meaning to I finally got my hands on a copy of the born-again Christian ("Over 7 million in print!") classic Left Behind:  A Story of the End of Days or something like that.  I must confess it is pretty creepy.  At the beginning, this pilot is flying a 747 to Paris, thinking of banging this hot stewardess because his charismatic Christian wife has taken clutching her bible so closely to her breasts that he can't even touch them. And then he leaves the cockpit to go flirt with her and she comes back freaked out because a bunch of passengers have gone missing, without even their clothes. You guessed it, they were Raptured right up to heaven, and all the rest of the people on the plane -- sinners all -- have been Left Behind.

Down on earth, lots of other people have gone missing, many of them while driving cars or flying airplanes. Chaos ensues.

And this is just the first chapter. Although it's action packed, I may or may not have the fortitude to soldier on through this page burner. Instead, I may have to have ask the book to kiss my Left Behind.

Friday, March 05, 2010

A sad passing indeed

My friend Zeke mentioned today at lunch that he had commented on the passing of the Kentucky Fried Chicken on Main St in Carrboro, as indeed he had. After god knows how many years, certainly since the 70s, there is no more Colonel here in town.

And its passage could not be less timely. Last Friday at a potluck in Natalie's class, somebody had brought a bucket, and it smelled good. Of course, by the time the adults got a chance to attack the table, all of the tender morsels had long since flown the coop (as it were), so my devious mind began to think about stopping in there. It was such a part of the landscape that I really hadn't thought about it much as a source of food, but now I wanted to do me some finger-lickin.

And, as my friend noted, the PETA crowd are indeed claiming victory for the long-suffering chickens on this occasion.  Frankly, I doubt that the Colonel and his crew gave a flying fuck (yes, Virginia, pun intended) about PETA.  I bet the landlord jacked up the rent because that real estate is becoming primer and primer as the western slope of Chapel Hill and Carrboro continues to get hype.  If PETA is gonna get all lathered up about shutting down individual franchises, it speaks rather poorly about the organization's efficacy.  Like the Chinese buffet next door or the wing and burger joint across the street spends a lot of money on free-range cluckage.  Sure they do.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Scenes from childhood

Natalie has become a Beatles fanatic. All she will listen to is the Beatles. All she wants to do is listen to the Beatles and rewatch "Help" and "Hard Day's Night," unless she's IMing with her friends, while listening to the Beatles, or changing the desktop on Mary's laptop to different rapidly changing sequences of pictures she's taken of our kittens, Rascal and Leon. They are cute, it must be owned.

Graham, meanwhile, has me reading from book 1 of the American Heritage Book of the Presidents and Famous Americans, which I had when I was a kid. Published 1967. Now, you think, the sixties, should be somewhat PC, right. Well, check this out: "Washington headed for home, on a trek through the frozen wilderness that can only be called heroic. The horse, hampered by deep snow, were unable to proceed, and Washington and his guide, Christopher Gist, had to continue on foot, through Indian-infested forests... Near Muthering Town, close to the Forks of the Ohio, an Indian, perhaps a French hireling, fired point-blank at Washington at fifteen paces but missed." Quite aside from the infestation of forests by Indian hirelings, it's pretty striking how our first president is endowed with near magical, epic powers.

At least Graham is not fooled. He comes home from school telling Mary of how the "mighty Indian warriors didn't need guns, they walked like animals through the forest and killed the British with their arrows."

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Once more from the archives

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Inane drivel about the Fed and the Constitution

This is what the Tea Party folks are watching between episodes of Glenn Beck.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Compare and contrast