When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

31 December 2004

Happy New Year!

Reader, friend and poet Ben G. sends along this link, to Yugo Nakamura's "Industorious Clock" (Flash required.) Very appropriate, as we count down the waning minutes and seconds of 2004.

Well, given the link above, I'm just middlebrow enough to quote a too-obvious, apposite stanza from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (Fitzgerald translation):
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.
Happy New Year, one and all, and here's hoping for better days in 2005.

27 December 2004

Tsunami relief information

TsunamiHelp is emerging as a central collecting point in the blogosphere for information on how to help victims of the horrible Indian Ocean earthquake and resulting tsunamis in Asia.

Monday cynicism

"If there were a verb meaning "to believe falsely," it would not have any significant first person, present indicative." - Ludwig Wittgenstein

25 December 2004

Merry Christmas, one and all

It's Christmas morning. I hope that you are looking forward to spending some time with your loved ones today, eating a good meal together, opening presents...

I am not exactly the most conventionally religious fellow in the world, but a long-standing personal tradition that I observe on Christmas morning is to get up early, make a pot of coffee, and do a little reading.

I am in North Carolina at the moment, looking after my parents, who have been sick lately. (I was down here for a week right around Thanksgiving as well.) On this visit, things are much improved, I am pleased to report... but this morning, my family and friends in New York City are on my mind. (We'll have our Christmas celebration tomorrow, when I return.)

Wherever you are, and whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I hope that today you are with the people who matter most to you.

22 December 2004

Gmail for Christmas

I've got a few spare Gmail invitations kicking around the place. (Gmail, for the three of you who haven't heard of it yet, is Google's web-based e-mail product, still in a protracted beta-testing period. It offers a gigabyte of mailbox storage space, clever threading of e-mails and replies, powerful search, and more.)

If you'd like a (free) Gmail account, drop me a line (and be sure to specify the e-mail address you want me to send the invitation to, if it's different from the one you write from.)

I'll update this message when they're all gone. Merry Christmas, one and all!

UPDATE: Wow, that was quick. Gmail invites are gone (for now.)

Au revoir, Jon Vie Pastries

Jon Vie Pastries and Cafe, a Greenwich Village institution, is closing its doors after Christmas.

And so the Village loses another wonderful bakery in 2004, a victim of rising rents, as the boutique-ification of the neighborhood continues unabated. (Zito and Sons on Bleecker Street closed earlier this year.)

Shopping at Jon Vie was a delight. It was an old-school bakery that put your cookies and pastries into a cardboard box and artfully tied it up with string, and the counter staff always made time to chat and visit. Even the neighborhood dogs loved it:
[T]he neighborhood's dogs know the shop, because Jon Vie saves broken cookies for them. One dog that ran away from its owner a year ago was soon found inside the shop, drooling over the cookie case.
I'm in North Carolina visiting family at the moment, but I'll be back in NYC in time to make one final visit before Jon Vie closes for good, I hope.

My wife's reaction when she learned Jon Vie was closing:
OH NO!!! I feel like we should buy up all the cookies, like Larry David did with the sponge cakes in Curb Your Enthusiasm!
An excellent plan.

Bowling for Arafat

The forensic accounting details are starting to come in. It turns out that Yasser Arafat invested nearly a billion dollars of the money he raised for the Palestinian cause over the years in companies that ranged from venture capital funds to my neighborhood bowling alley.
At a time when the [Palestinian] authority was starved for funds, Arafat's money managers placed bets from Tel Aviv to Silicon Valley on venture capital funds, software startups and telecommunications companies.


Arafat made the investments abroad with tax money that he "diverted" from the Palestinian finance ministry, according to a September 2003 International Monetary Fund report on the Palestinian economy. Israel collected import taxes for goods destined for the territories and then passed the funds to the authority.

18 December 2004

Gotta get down to the (data) mine...

This morning's New York Times (free registration required) explains that the ACLU is doing a little data mining to try to improve its fund-raising success.

Some board members, correctly pointing out that this is just the sort of behavior the ACLU slags private industry for, aren't happy:
"It is part of the A.C.L.U.'s mandate, part of its mission, to protect consumer privacy," said Wendy Kaminer, a writer and A.C.L.U. board member. "It goes against A.C.L.U. values to engage in data-mining on people without informing them. It's not illegal, but it is a violation of our values. It is hypocrisy."
Now New York's publicity-loving Attorney General, Eliot Spitzer (safety tip: try never to be positioned between Mr. Spitzer and a camera) is getting into the act, questioning whether the ACLU has violated their own stated privacy policies.

As a card-carrying member of the ACLU, I must admit to being a little disappointed with the organization's new data-gathering practices. When it comes to organizations using computing power to correlate publically available data, however, I'm afraid that has just become common practice, and as a practical matter the ship sailed years ago.

(See The End of Privacy, The Transparent Society, among others.)

Cornell News: American attitudes toward Muslims

According to a new study released Friday by Cornell University, almost half of all respondents favor the curtailing (in one or more areas) of civil rights for Muslim Americans.
  • 27 percent of respondents said that all Muslim Americans should be required to register their location with the federal government
  • 26 percent said they think that mosques should be closely monitored by U.S. law enforcement agencies.
  • 29 percent agreed that undercover law enforcement agents should infiltrate Muslim civic and volunteer organizations, in order to keep tabs on their activities and fund raising.
  • 22 percent said the federal government should profile citizens as potential threats based on the fact that they are Muslim or have Middle Eastern heritage.
The full reports are available in PDF format (Acrobat Reader required):

02 December 2004

The barbecue fad in New York City

I noticed tonight, on the way home from work, that a doomed restaurant site on Greenwich Avenue (three different restaurants have failed there in the last few years) is about to re-launch itself as a barbecue joint--called, in a somewhat tone-deaf stab at Red State authenticity, "Bone Lick Park Barbecue." (There is, of course, an actual Big Bone Lick Park in Kentucky--the "Birthplace of American Vertebrate Paleontology"--but in my neighborhood, "Bone Lick" is liable to conjure up some non-vertebrate-paleontology-related images, not to put too fine a point on it.)

I don't expect much. The cutesy name screams "faux-be-cue" to me.

Interestingly, there has been a huge fad for quasi-authentic barbecue restaurants in New York City in the last several years. Now, I was born and raised in North Carolina, and my wife grew up in Kansas City. Believe me, we know from barbecue. We have sampled most of what the city has to offer, barbecue-wise, and found it wanting (though we are very eager to sample the fare at the new Harlem outpost of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, which we've heard good things about from people we trust.)

Here are a few observations on the NYC barbecue fad, from a note I sent to (Raleigh, NC) News and Observer columnist Dennis Rogers after he ran a couple of columns about New Yorkers on barbecue pilgrimages to the Southeast:
I have been living and working in NYC for about ten years now, and it may interest you to learn that there has been, in the last few years, a real vogue for "authentic" barbecue in Manhattan.

Several would-be barbecue joints have opened up in town, despite logistical obstacles like emission control laws that make operating an old-school barbecue pit nearly impossible, with quality ranging from so-awful-it-will-stunt-your-growth to actually pretty good.

None of them can hold a candle to a gastronomic temple like Allen and Son, of course, but up here, barbecue-wise, you take what you can get.

In fact, at the end of June, there was a two-day Barbecue Block Party in Madison Square Park, at which pitmasters from around the country (NC, Texas, St. Louis, Kansas City) came to ply their trade and feed hungry Manhattanites. Ed Mitchell of Mitchell's Barbecue represented North Carolina, and by general consensus was the big hit of the weekend. People waited in line up to two hours for a plate of his barbecue, and despite his best planning efforts he ran out of pig early, both days.

Even though I am now surrounded by barbecue-cooking wannabees in my adopted hometown, every time I visit family and friends back in North Carolina I bring an empty Coleman cooler with me... and on the return trip, it's groaning with 'cue. My foodie friends in the city always clamor for dinner invitations when they know I'm coming back from a Carolina run...

Back in NYC

Back in the Big City after a harrowing week in North Carolina. Thanks to all who inquired and sent notes of sympathy... basically, I've got both parents in the hospital right now (for unrelated reasons) but they're both on the mend. Cautiously optimistic about the outcome.

I must say, I breathed a sigh of relief when I spotted the Manhattan skyline on our approach to JFK. The airplane's flight path took us over Canarsie at fairly low altitude, and the folks in the neighborhood are already putting their Christmas lights out. It was a very pretty sight from a few thousand feet up.

I'll be returning to NC for a little while as soon as I get some loose ends tied up here.

(I actually got back Tuesday night, but have been digging out from under at work ever since.)