Friday, July 30, 2010

Random notes

  • After ragging on Larchmont a couple of days ago (actually, it wasn't so much about the town as it was about how the town reflects the general distribution of wealth in our fair land), I got an email from my friend Cricket saying I should turn my attention to Scarsdale or Greenwich, since she and Tioma and their kids now live in Larchmont.  Cricket, apparently, has not been following the Grouse long enough to have kept up with how I have heaped abuse on those towns, most particularly on how it's impossible to get Gatorade in Greenwich.
  • Graham, once more having gotten sick at Grandma's house, was not able to go into the city today.  We had planned to hit the Statue of Liberty, but that was downgraded to a trip to the Met (museum, not opera). He has thrown a tantrum and gone on hunger strike, refusing to be assuaged by the promise of either Liberty's Kids or a trip to the Thomas Paine Cottage in New Rochelle. Tomorrow they are supposed to go see The Lion King on Broadway, but missing that has little leverage over Graham, as he knows full good and well that there is no revolutionary war angle to it.
  • It's a beautiful day on the East Coast, finally.  I will get out for a run and/or swim in due time, but first must give Graham one more chance to wise up.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Stieg Larrson

As I mentioned a few days back, I was reading Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  I finished it.

In the middle of it, I was excited about it.  By the time I got to the end, less so.

Yes, he is readable.  Yes, the mystery is good and compelling.  But in the end he's too focused on S&M, bondage, rape, pedophilia, violence against women, etc.  And he's too obsessed with tying up loose ends in quintuple knots.  When the main enigma is resolved, there are still 60-70 pages left and I'm thinking "what's left?"  Well, there was another plot thread he decided he'd better beat to death, so he did.

And, what's more, as with Henning Mankell's Wallander, our hero Blomkvist is so focused he only eats and drinks one thing, in his case coffee and sandwiches.  Towards the end, we don't even know what's on the sandwiches.  It's just "sandwiches."  It gets old.  Not that mystery novels need to be food-centric.  Patricia Cornwell trips over herself writing about fresh garlic and extra-virgin olive oil, as if to convince us that they're sophisticated in Richmond.  But check out the food in the novels of Qiu Xiaolong.  You could just keep the noodles and dispense with the murder.  It's good to have balance.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Larchmont retail

For the last couple of days I've been working at the public library here in fancy pants Larchmont, NY, whence my wife hails. I will confess that I am surprised to see that retail here appears to have become even more rarefied over the course of the crisis and its "aftermath".  On the Boston Post Road, for example, there is a spot where within the last two years two boutique chocolatiers have moved in across the street from one another.  There are now three fairly upscale cafe/bakeries on one block. The old school sports store on Palmer Avenue -- which had a lot of racquet sports stuff in it -- closed, seemingly a victim of the Dick's or whatever up at New Roc City in New Rochelle. Now there's a racquet sports store pure and simple. There is a truly world class fromagier here. 

What this says to me is that there has been no real impact of the crisis on Wall Street compensation.  But, then, we knew that.

Monday, July 26, 2010

True Love

As we have reported, Graham is going through a period of obsession with the Revolutionary War.  Which is only natural, after all.

So when his cousin Sadie, scarcely one year younger than him at five coming on six, asked him on the beach yesterday if he loved her, I suppose there's no reason we should have been surprised at his answer.  He paused and thought deeply, and then said:  "I love you when you talk about real historical data."  (or perhaps it was historical "facts," or "dates", the record is a bit murky here).

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Maserati with a bumper sticker

Luxury insouciance apparently knows no bounds.  At the Princeton Shopping Center this evening, after picking up a variety of Klondike bars (Oreo! Heath Bar!  who knew?), I saw a navy blue Maserati sedan, the four door, an admittedly very handsome vehicle.  On the left side, just behind the gas cap, was a bright yellow and green round sticker that said something like "Frogbridge Rules" with picture of a frog in a baseball cap or somesuch.  A school sticker.  I inspected it and am 90% certain it was a sticker, not a magnet. This car lists for about $120k.

This is very strong fashion statement indeed:  "Here in a lengthy and nasty recession, I care so little about my status vehicle that I put my kid's school sticker on it."  I think we get the point.

Excellent trip to the pool

It was very hot here in Princeton yesterday so we all went to the Broadmead pool late in the day.  Graham, who has been very circumspect around the water, ended up being pretty active.  Over and over, he walked along the side of the pool, holding onto the edges, and then climbed out when he reached the lap-swimming divider.

Even better, Natalie was very excited to climb on my back and play bucking bronco. We did it again and again.  This after months and years of her scarcely wanting to touch me at all, except when giving me the occasional punch in the arm.  It warms dad's heart.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

TV appearance

So I was sitting on David and Carol's porch in the heat yesterday, plowing through Stieg Larsen's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, when my cell phone rang.  It was a producer from Bloomberg, who wanted me to be on Bloomberg News that night to talk about management changes at AIG's Asian subsidiary AIA.  Of course.

So I borrowed a jacket and a tie from David to go with some of the office casual stuff I had brought with me.  Then I dropped Mary and Natalie off at Stacy and Sophie's and went to the Princeton Library (after buying the FT and the WSJ to read on the train and stopping in Iano's for pizza).

At 4:37 I was on a NJTransit train to Manhattan, sweating like a pig from being over dressed in a heat wave.

At Bloomberg, it was just like everyone had said. Fish tanks. Free snacks. A little pancake makeup.

The experience in the actual studio was odd.  They gave me a mike and an earpiece.  I was gonna be talking to a woman in Hong Kong.  A man's voice came on from London and we did a sound check.  They told me to look at the camera.  Problem was, there were two monitors of just my face right below the camera, and another monitor with another camera angle of me in the corner.  I couldn't see the face of the woman I was talking to.  What was worse, I was in a glass room and all these people were walking by leaving work.  Naturally I looked to see if I knew any of them.  There was a guy with what was probably a viola in a case on his back, probably going to quartet practice after work.  He walked back and forth.  The camera was by far the most boring thing in my visual space, and that's what I was supposed to look at.  Ridiculous.

Then the anchor came on and introduced me, and mangled not only my firm's name but the last names of the CEO and recently deposed chairman of AIG (who had been CEO of American Express and is a really well-known person).

It was all pretty confusing.  Considering that, I think I did OK.

Here's the video.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Home from camp

I picked up Natalie from Gwynn Valley on Tuesday.  She had an excellent time there, and has in particular gotten excited about riding horses.  Naturally, I have scheduled time with a certified financial planner to map out the ramifications of this newfound love.

No but seriously.  I now have a new picture on my desktop.  It's a little small, I need to go back to the camp website and buy a higher quality one.  But I think you get the point from looking at it. She is very happy.

When I look at the picture, I almost instinctually sit up straighter, as part of a shared posture improvement drive Mary and I have embarked upon recently.  I also try to concentrate more on my work to bring home them ducats, at least when I'm not blogging.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Final thoughts on World Cup winners and losers

I just need to say once more, the biggest loser of the World Cup was not France, not Italy, but the Fox Soccer Channel.  And our buddies at FSC did nothing to earn this maltreatment at the hands of FIFA.  The worked diligently and enthusiastically to pump up the volume leading into the tournament, and then got served up... still images.  It was sad to watch them try to wax eloquent about still photos, when ESPN and ABC and got to show all the highlights.

If I wasn't having a strange allergic reaction to my couch right now, I'd be in their watching Premier League reruns from 2007 just to show my undying devotion.

Monday, July 12, 2010

High seriousness

Morrissey is like the Steve Martin of rock and roll.  Not every record is great, but he is remarkably consistent, and he can veer into territory where others dare not tread.

As in below:

Always be careful when you abuse the one you love
The hour or the day no one can tell
But one day "goodbye" will be "farewell"
And you will never see the one you love again
Hmmm.  Morrissey's writing about death, again. Nobody else writes songs about death like this.

I think it's because heterosexual people in the developed world don't have the same experience of death that gay men who came of age in the 80s did. And secular straight people don't have a ritual or devotional context for dealing with or thinking about death, outside of movies.  And, perhaps, Morrissey.

And in the back, his drummer, pounding out a furious, improbable beat, as if to underscore the speed of life's passing.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Talent Given Us

Rarest of rarities, multiple recommendations in a single day.  Rent The Talent Given Us.  It has a different pace than most.  Watch the whole thing.  Then watch the credits.  Then watch the short about the making of the film. 

I'd rather not say more.

A new contender

I am pleased to say that I have been blown away by another book, to wit, Peter Hessler's Country Driving.  The book divides into 3 sections:  the first is about driving along "the Great Wall" (actually, lots of different great walls) in China's hinterlands.  The second is about the village of Sancha, north of Beijing, where Hessler and a friend rented a small house for some years to get away from the city. The third is about a factory in a new city in a "development zone" in the South of China.

When I read the review, I remember thinking the driving around part would be interesting. It was kind of good, but -- like Rory whatever his name is's The Places In Between and Patrick Leigh Fermor's A Time of Gifts, the review was more spellbinding than the book itself.  The second two sections -- where Hessler settles down and gets to know a place and its inhabitants -- are brilliant.

The best way to think about it is to compare him to Michael Lewis -- and he is the rare active nonfiction writer (of my admittedly limited sample) who compares favorably to Lewis (OK.  Michael Pollan does too).. Lewis is attracted to exceptional people and situations, and is a brilliant stylist. He is, in fact, all too often blinded by his own virtuosity.

Hessler, by contrast, is a simply a keen observer with the patience to sit and watch things change over time. Yes, he writes well, but mostly he cares about what he writes about, and it comes through. The section about Sancha, where he befriends a family and in particular their young sun, reaches a rare intensity when the boy gets quite ill and the author becomes an extremely active participant in saving the kid's life. When reading Lewis's The Big Short, I stayed up late reading because the writing and the narrative were engrossing.  When reading Country Driving -- and in particular when the kid was sick -- I stayed up late reading because I needed to know that the kid was going to be OK.

All I can say is that, as soon as I post this, I'm going to Amazon to put Hessler's other books on my wish list.  I'll be sure to buy them soon.

*Speaking of Lewis, I heard him speak at Sungard's New York City day a few weeks back. Again, he's brilliant, but it was basically Charlie Rose live, only the guy he was sitting with wasn't as good as Charlie Rose.  He dialed it in, gave us the 25-minute synopsis of his book, and then walked off.

once more, My Brightest Diamond

Friday, July 09, 2010

Code of conduct

I went to the dry cleaner today to pick up some shirts. They were ridiculously expensive to freaking launder and press.  Thanks to jah that I mostly wear t-shirts these days. In any case, I take comfort from the dry cleaner's Code of Conduct, as posted on its wall, which states that it does not engage in "gender-based pricing."  Excellent.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Prediction -- Germany vs. Spain

I haven't watched any of the game yet, though I'll tune in for a little. I want to go on the record as saying that -- though I'd prefer Spain to win, I think Germany will take it today.  I think the overhang of the debt crisis will be reflected on the pitch.  Germany is strong now and calls the cards in Europe.  Spain is a supplicant.  I think this dynamic will play out on the field.

Sadly, I think much the same thing happened between Ghana and Uruguay.  Uruguay believed in itself -- in this context -- and did what it took to win, however nasty.  Ghana did not believe in itself at the penalty line.  It was a failure of will.

Doubtless many will censure me for this Nietzschean logic.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Trip to the mountains

This weekend we drove out to Asheville, and then Brevard, to take Natalie to camp.  As I had mentioned.

I had gotten Natalie all excited about not just going to camp, but also about staying in a relatively fancy hotel.  The Hilton Biltmore Park did not disappoint, though it was right next to an interstate.  Natalie was quite impressed that both the area around the sink (the vanity, or whatever) and the window ledge were made of granite, though I don't think they actually were.

The beds were quite nice though, and they were placed a fine distance apart.  So I introduced the kids to the fine art of jumping from bed to bed.  Graham was first to get into it, while Natalie maintained an ironic distance.  This could not be sustained for long.  Soon they were both diving from bed to bed in time together, innovating a wide range of knee-bouncing techniques.

We went into Asheville, and had a fine meal at the Early Girl eatery (which Marvin later told me was owned and run by our boy Butch's brother).  This place rocks. Very mellow, welcoming, and understated, the kind of place Chapel Hill desperately needs.  Out on the streets of Asheville, there was a wide range of buskers and tourists.  I could tell that Natalie thought the street performers were wierd and distasteful.  She is at that phase.

The next day we set off for Brevard and Gwynn Valley.  It was as lovely as I remembered it, and strikingly open air, much more so than I recalled.  It seems as if there are no actual windows in the whole place, including the dining hall. Only screens. Natalie was quite nervous by the time we got her to her cabin, and very ready for us to get out of there and let her meld with her peers, which, as the picture above seems to indicate, she seems to have done.  Before we left I bought a hat and a t-shirt(which I am wearing now). I also waded in the creek.

Graham, unfortunately, had a major tantrum moment after we dropped her off.  Having been up till 10 the night before, a lack of sleep had something to do with it. Leaving his sister at camp was also a factor.  Mostly he wanted to get back to the hotel, bounce on the beds, and watch Liberty's Kids.  All of which we did, in due time.

Sunday, however, was more his speed.  As planned, on the way back we stopped by the Guilford Courthouse National Battle Ground site, the turning point of the southern campaign of the Revolution, where the Brits enjoyed a pyrhhic victory but began their inexorable slide towards humiliation at Yorktown. We were pleased (if underwhelmed) to see that our stimulus money had put a fresh coat of asphalt down on the parking lot and all the roads through the woods. But that's a matter for another blog.

Graham was totally psyched to watch the videos about the war, especially the one which depicted the broad narrative course of the war up to the Guilford Courthouse battle.  The 30-minute movie about the battle, which featured a bunch of pretty talented and dedicated if sporadically superannuated reenactors, was a little too naturalist and bloody for our youngun. We should have heeded the parental guidance sign posted outside the auditorium.

All told, it was a hit.  Graham informs me that we need to get back there soon, possibly for his birthday, and that we will only visit revolutionary war museums that have similar videos.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Gwynn Valley

Taking Natalie to camp at Gwynn Valley this weekend. I'm so excited for her. An awesome place.

Friday, July 02, 2010


I must say that, thinking back to the last acts of the Uruguay-Ghana game, all I can feel is revulsion.  I mean, I didn't really care who won, I was fine with either one. They're both underdogs.

But then Ghana, by a miracle of miracles, actually headed the ball into the net on the last play.  It was going in.  The Uruguayan did what he had to do, he hit it with his hand, and got a red card.  But Ghana had it going in.

And then Ghana collapsed, to its great shame.  But they had really won, and lost only to a clever bit of rules arbitrage, really a heads up play by Suarez or whatever his name was, but it just wasn't fair.  And I don't think it's good for the sport.  But soccer isn't going anywhere.  You really can't hurt it.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Digital Concepts $20 camera from Sakar International of Edison New Jersey

Natalie needed a cheap camera to go to camp.  The camp recommended a disposable camera, but Mary hated to do that, so she bought a $20 camera from Sakar International of Edison, New Jersey at Rite Aid.  DO NOT REPEAT HER MISTAKE.

For some reason to make the camera work you need to install software on your computer first, and then install from there onto the camera.  The installation disk wheezed.  Just to copy some inert *.png files, it practically froze up.  After about 30 minutes it had not completed the install. I used Task Manager to force it to stop.

It seems to have messed up a script on my Windows Active Desktop.  It may have tampered with my Trend Micro Anti-Virus (I'll ask the IT support guys tomorrow).  For all I know it sprayed all kinds of viruses and spyware all over this cheap brick of a Dell my employer gives me.  Resist the siren call of the digital camera that seems to cheap to be true. It probably is.

Right now I'm going to back up all my files.