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

28 February 2009

It's that time of year again: Berkshire Hathaway's Annual Chairman's Letter

Mr. Buffett, in his annual letter closely read by shareholders and nonshareholders alike, said he didn't expect an improved economy any time soon but did expect better times eventually.

"Our country has faced far worse travails in the past," he said. "Without fail, however, we've overcome them." He declined to draw a correlation between stocks and economics, saying that while he was certain the economy would be "in shambles for 2009" that "does not tell us whether the stock market will rise or fall."

In 2008, Berkshire's Class A stock fell 32%. This year the shares are down about 19%, slightly better than the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Mr. Buffett credited the federal government for stepping in with massive assistance last year, saying the intervention was "essential" to avoiding a total breakdown. But he cautioned there could be "unwelcome aftereffects," such as inflation.

On oil, he said "odds are good that oil sells far higher in the future than the current $40 to $50 price. But so far I have been dead wrong." And on Treasurys, he contended that the "investment world has gone from underpricing risk to overpricing it." Future historians will comment on the Internet bubble of the 1990s and the housing bubble of the early 2000s, he said, but " the U.S. Treasury bond bubble of late 2008 may be regarded as almost equally extraordinary."
Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Reports Worst Year Ever In Annual Letter to Shareholders (Wall Street Journal)

Related: Berkshire Hathaway 2008 Chairman's Letter (PDF)

In heavy rotation chez enrevanche

I've learned more about the blues in two weeks from you than twenty years of B.B. King.
- Curtis Salgado, 20 Years of B.B. King, from Clean Getaway.

Curtis knocked us out of our seats over Saturday morning coffee - thanks, WBGO.

The Triangle area of NC, unbelievably, has two FM jazz radio stations now - WSHA (Shaw University) and WNCU (N.C. Central University).

But I'm glad that the Internets will let us bring WBGO's Saturday morning blues, jazz and classic R&B programming with us.

26 February 2009

Everyday heroes

Via Chap, a story of how one small group of intelligent, social mammals rescued another small group of same from the icy waters of remote Seal Cove, Newfoundland:
The dolphins had been stranded by a slab of ice since Sunday in White Bay off the coast of Seal Cove, a village of about 400 people. A chunk of ice was rapidly closing in around the mammals and threatening to suffocate them.

"You'd hear them crying, every night," said one of the men in the boat, Rodney Rice, 39. "I went down there last night and you could hear them trying to break up more ice. . . . They wouldn't have lasted another day."

May said it took the four men about three hours to break a channel in the ice with their boat, and one — Brandon Banks, 16 — got into the water and helped calm one of the dolphins weakened by the ordeal so they could tow it to open water.

"I had a floater suit on," said Banks, "And they would come up and rest their head on me and I would keep their head out of the water so they can breathe through their blowhole."
"Local boys" in speedboat free dolphins (Canada.com, 19 Feb 2009)

Thought for the day

The world is a tragedy to those who feel, but a comedy to those who think.  - Horace Walpole

25 February 2009

A certain kind of American exuberance bordering on the grotesque

Manohla Dargis writes film criticism like Grant Achatz cooks or Annie Leibovitz takes pictures. Hers is a byline I look forward to with pleasure; you know you're going to read someone at the top of their game.

I can't believe I just found this (as a pretty determined fan of both writer and subject), but over the weekend, the Sunday New York Times ran a long and lovingly written article (by Ms. Dargis) about Jerry Lewis, on the occasion of his receiving the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at this year's Oscars:
It’s hard not to wonder if all that frantic energy, which suggested his vast ambition and had a whiff of desperation, is what repulsed so many. It doesn’t help that comedies, cartoons and children’s movies rarely receive the respect they deserve here, even in Hollywood, which is generally too busy taking itself seriously to notice the comic geniuses it its midst, especially those who hold up a mirror to the industry’s own vulgarity. Mr. Lewis has never been one to let bad taste stand in the way of his art. He embodied a certain kind of American exuberance bordering on the grotesque. He was likable and a bit pathetic, but he was also a little scary: you never knew when he might go off. He helped make comedy dangerous.

Resistance takes many forms, and sometimes all it takes to push back — against the guardians of good taste and those gatekeepers of the social order who keep skinny kids who looked like Jerry Lewis from joining their club — is a well-timed pratfall, a bit of slapstick, a yowl. In 1963 Mr. Lewis directed his masterpiece,
“The Nutty Professor.” As the bucktoothed scientist Professor Kelp and the scientist’s chemically induced alter ego, a lounge lizard called Buddy Love, Mr. Lewis embodies two seemingly contradictory impulses, characters who alternately seduce and repulse. Buddy Love is often taken to be a parody of Martin, though it has been suggested that he bears close resemblance to the real Mr. Lewis.
Hey, Laaaady! It's the King of Comedy (Manohla Dargis, New York Times, 19 Feb 2009)

A straight shooter with "top management" written all over her

Hyper teenage blonde: Hey, know what I just realized?

20-something blonde sister: Okay, wait. In the interest of saving time, I'm gonna pull my hand back like so before you start talking. Now you can go ahead and say what you wanted to say, but just know that if it's something ignorant or retarded, I'm gonna slap you out of your shoes and right off the sidewalk, and then keep slapping you until we get home. Is whatever you want to say worth it?

(long pause)

Hyper teenage blonde: No?

--Times Square

Overheard by: Really want to know what she was gonna say
via Overheard in New York, Feb 24, 2009

Chronic call

This is the year, y'all... we're gonna see a lot of this:
Signaling the newspaper industry's deterioration from malaise to crisis, Hearst Corp. said it may close the San Francisco Chronicle unless it can quickly slash costs at the money-losing daily.

Hearst said it will seek "critical cost-saving measures," including a steep reduction in the Chronicle's work force, which numbers about 1,500. If it can't reach its cost-saving target "within weeks," Hearst said it will seek a new owner for the Chronicle. And -- at a time when few investors are willing to shell out money for large newspapers -- the company said it will close the paper if it can't find a buyer.

The possible closure of the Chronicle, the 12th-largest U.S. paper and Northern California's largest daily, illustrates the accelerating decline across the newspaper industry.

Advertising revenue is dropping faster than publishers can slash staff, stock dividends and other costs. Department stores, auto dealers and other local businesses have further curtailed ad spending after the holidays, pushing already struggling papers closer to the edge. Two publishers filed for bankruptcy protection last weekend, and few metropolitan dailies are on a healthy footing.

Observers have been waiting to see which major U.S. city will be the first to go without a major daily newspaper, and San Francisco is a front-runner for the role. Unlike many big newspaper chains, Hearst has a healthy balance sheet, but the privately owned company says the Chronicle has posted significant losses since 2001, including a loss of more than $50 million last year.
Hearst Plans To Slash, Sell or Shut Paper in Bay Area (Wall Street Journal, 25 Feb 2009)

Of course, the San Francisco Bay area is also one of the most wired places on the planet...

24 February 2009

The game is up

Chalk another prediction up in the "win" column for Nouriel Roubini: all signs point to nationalization of major US consumer banks in the very near future.

The game is up: within the next few weeks, if not days, the US government will have to step in and nationalise one or more banks.

The likely candidates to the dubious honour of being owned by Washington Inc can be found at the end of a sad trail of credit losses, management mishaps and share price collapses.

Come on down, Citigroup, Bank of America and a motley crew of regional and community banks. Barack Obama, US president, will have to draw on his vast oratorical skills to avoid using the N-word but make no mistake: the authorities are going in.


Crushed under a pile of toxic assets, paralysed by wafer-thin balance sheets and deserted by fearful investors, once-mighty institutions such as Citi and BofA are barely able to perform basic functions such as lending and underwriting.

In fact, the only reason they have not joined Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual on the financial scrapheap is that taxpayers have propped them up with more than $500bn in cash injections and guarantees.

At this stage, some form of nationalisation is both a political and financial imperative. On the political front, the concept has won backing from unexpected quarters. This newspaper’s account of Alan Greenspan’s conversion from icon of free-market liberalism to proponent of a temporary nationalisation was mind-boggling.

To couple that with a similar U-turn by Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator who has built a political career out of his love of small government, was just astonishing.

The reality is that even the right wing of the political spectrum realises that banks cannot be left to their own devices while in receipt of federal funds.


Banks will not like it – and Citi, for one, is already agitating for yet another bail-out without nationalisation. But as the financial chain comes under unprecedented strain, the time has come to take out its weakest links.

FT.com / Markets / On Wall Street: Nationalisation is most likely way out of US banking mess (Francesco Guererra)

23 February 2009

Losers must die in full view

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is about to get some advice from an unexpected quarter... Sudhir Venkatesh's retired gangsta friends from Chicago:
Mr. Secretary, let’s face it: you need real experts, those who have felt the consequences associated with moral hazards, those who have found out that mistakes in markets mean no skin in the game (or no skin at all, for that matter).


[The Thugz] have agreed to return to the couch and channel their wisdom for the benefit of the country. By the way, you should know that they are big fans of your work at the New York Fed. Most of them fared nicely in the late 1990’s by catering to the growing white-collar workforce who demanded cocaine, escorts, sexual services, etc. Of course, since most of these customers worked in the financial services industry, my boys feel like they owe you a solid.


The unanimous opinion among The Thugz was that you must base your work around a time-tested law of ghetto capitalism: losers must die in full view. What? This doesn’t make sense. O.K., well, let me explain. Your first mistake (more accurately, your predecessor’s error) was to mix the bad apples (banks) with the good (banks). By doing so, you forgot what makes capitalism so much fun: winners win at the losers’ expense, and everyone gets to watch and laugh. Sort of like public hangings, except reported on the financial pages. Otherwise, why read The Wall Street Journal?

The moral is: don’t ever take the joy of death away from the public. Because if you don’t see losers in pain, you begin to think the game is rigged. And we all know the game is fair, open, and transparent … yes?
A Letter from the Thugz (Sudhir Venkatesh, writing at the Freakonomics Blog)

21 February 2009

Green Acres is the place for me

Chapel Hill house
Originally uploaded by CWCampbell.
Green acres is the place for me.
Farm livin' is the life for me.
Land spreadin' out so far and wide
Keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside.

New York is where I'd rather stay.
I get allergic smelling hay.
I just adore a penthouse view.
Dah-ling I love you but give me Park Avenue.

...The chores.
...The stores.
...Fresh air.
...Times Square

You are my wife.
Good bye, city life.
Green Acres we are there.
We found a place to live in Chapel Hill. ;-)

His rates are very reasonable

There are so many mice in one Florida county courthouse that they've been seen falling from ceiling tiles.

One judge at the Palm Beach County Courthouse calls it an infestation. Some staffers say they check their handbags for stowaways before leaving the building each day.

Court employees and lawyers say the rodents scuttle down corridors, munch legal papers and scratch behind the walls. Last week, one mouse ran around a courtroom floor for an hour during a burglary trial.

The courthouse facilities manager says he's put out a few dozen traps to capture the rodents. He says he's not sure there has been an uptick in mice lately but says they're getting more press than they deserve.

AP: Mice overrun Florida courthouse, fall from ceiling

Call me. We should talk.

20 February 2009

Where is my money, idiot?

The current recession has revealed the weaknesses in the structures of modern capitalism. But it also revealed as useless the mathematical contortions of academic economics. There is no totemic power.

This for two reasons:

(1) Almost no-one predicted the world wide downtown. Academic economists were confident that episodes like the Great Depression had been confined to the dust bins of history. There was indeed much recent debate about the sources of “The Great Moderation” in modern economies, the declining significance of business cycles.

Indeed as we have seen this year on the academic job market, macroeconomists had turned their considerable talents to a bizarre variety of rococo academic elaborations. With nothing of importance to explain, why not turn to the mysteries of online dating, for example.

I myself was so confident of the consensus of the end of the business cycle that I persuaded my wife after the collapse of Lehman Brothers to invest all her retirement savings in the stock market, confident that the Fed would soon make things right and we could profit from the panic of a gullible public. The line “Where is my money, idiot?” is hers.

(2) The debate about the bank bailout, and the stimulus package, has all revolved around issues that are entirely at the level of Econ 1. What is the multiplier from government spending? Does government spending crowd out private spending? How quickly can you increase government spending? If you got a A in college in Econ 1 you are an expert in this debate: fully an equal of Summers and Geithner.

The bailout debate has also been conducted in terms that would be quite familiar to economists in the 1920s and 1930s. There has essentially been no advance in our knowledge in 80 years.
Gregory Clark, professor of economics at UC-San Diego, writing at The Atlantic's business blog and quoted by Dan Ariely at Predictably Irrational: How the crash is reshaping economics (20 Feb 2009)

Hat tip: Tarus

19 February 2009

I'm really just in it for the extensive vamping, thanks

"Based on what you've told us so far, we're playing this track because it features funk roots, flat out funky grooves, a subtle use of vocal harmony, call and answer vocal harmony (antiphony) and extensive vamping."

- Pandora, explaining to me why it had just served up "Sayin' It and Doin' It" by James Brown.

Thanks, Tarus, Buck, and everybody else who kept poking at me to give Pandora a go.

OK, bookmarked

Smugopedia is a collection of slightly controversial opinions about a variety of subjects. We offer you the chance to buy a fleeting sense of self-satisfaction at the small cost of alienating your friends and loved ones.
Like I need any help with that. Geez.

Another member of Captain Sully's fan club

Train conductor: Ladies and gentleman, brace for impact. (pause) Nah...just kidding, I could never pull that shit off. Y'all lucky we underground! Have a safe day.

--A Train
via Overheard in New York

18 February 2009

Buying experiences: the optimal happiness strategy for money

Can money make us happy if we spend it on the right purchases? A new psychology study suggests that buying life experiences rather than material possessions leads to greater happiness for both the consumer and those around them.

The study demonstrates that experiential purchases, such as a meal out or theater tickets, result in increased well-being because they satisfy higher order needs, specifically the need for social connectedness and vitality -- a feeling of being alive.

"These findings support an extension of basic need theory, where purchases that increase psychological need satisfaction will produce the greatest well-being," said Ryan Howell, assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University.
San Francisco State University (2009, February 17). Buying Experiences, Not Possessions, Leads To Greater Happiness. ScienceDaily.

17 February 2009

Alternative career paths for journalists

Carrie notes: Don't disrespect the Bing.

(For non-fans of The Sopranos, explanation for "disrespecting the Bing": The BaDa Bing! is the fictional North Jersey strip club that serves as the headquarters for Tony Soprano's crime family. In one memorable episode, a particularly psychotic member of the crew gets mad and murders an employee of the strip club, on club property. He is punished rather thoroughly for this egregious lapse of etiquette. Committing second-degree murder was bad enough, but "disrespecting the Bing" by doing so on Bing property was almost unforgivable.)

16 February 2009

Uh, didn't Socrates kinda beat hell out of people with this technique back in the day?

True confession: I am a business professor who does not understand the financial crisis. Ask me to explain things like derivatives and I'll look blankly at you. My credentials in economics, negotiation and law should qualify me to speak, but often the news leaves me slack-jawed with confusion. Bring me to a panel discussion, and I'll ask dumb questions. In short, I am a role model. I want my students to be more like me.

Each semester, I introduce my students to a key idea: I want them to join me in the fight against the fear of looking dumb. Overcoming that fear can save them from serious traps.
Ask the dumb questions (Seth Freeman, USA Today, 13 Jan 2009)

See also: Dumb is the new smart ("Public Offering," the Columbia Business School blog)

(via bNet)

15 February 2009

Book Exchange, Durham, NC: RIP

Ah, now, this is a damn shame:
The store at Five Points had become a downtown Durham landmark after years of supplying used textbooks for discount prices to the area's college students, and providing a sprawling space for book lovers to browse, spread over two floors and a labyrinth of back rooms.

"It's pretty picked over, but I found a gem or two that wasn't a gem to anyone else," said Carol Hardman, who started shopping at the store in the 1980s as a Duke student.

She had picked out "Eyewitness to History," an anthology of first-person accounts of historical events going back 500 years, for herself, and "Film Scenes for Actors," for her son, a middle school student who is taking an interest in drama.

Tom Loflin started shopping at "The Book Ex," as patrons call it, 30 years ago as a law student at UNC. He had a full bag, but thumbed through a paperback copy of "Romeo and Juliet."

"It's too bad that it's closing because it's a part of Durham that will probably never return," Loflin said. "You don't have many businesses that go back as long as this one does ... not with the tobacco all gone."

Shelves nearly bare as Book Exchange ends 75 years of business (Durham, NC Herald-Sun, 15 Feb 2009)

The BookEx was the broke student's friend... used copies and discount copies of textbooks and required reading, and it wasn't just Duke students that shopped there; this UNC grad happily spent time and money there back in the day, and not just for textbooks and required reading.

It was actually one of the things about the Triangle that I was looking forward to showing Carrie, especially as she's got a graduate program in her immediate future.

Man, I'm bummed.

14 February 2009

Sully or Suleman?

Q: What's more depressing than the economic slowdown?

A: Maybe "Octomom" is America's future:
A major reason people are blue about the future is not the stores [closing], not the Treasury secretary, not everyone digging in. It is those things, but it's more than that, and deeper.

It's Sully and Suleman, the pilot and "Octomom," the two great stories that are twinned with the era. Sully, the airline captain who saved 155 lives by landing that plane just right—level wings, nose up, tail down, plant that baby, get everyone out, get them counted, and then, at night, wonder what you could have done better. You know the reaction of the people of our country to Chesley B. Sullenberger III: They shake their heads, and tears come to their eyes. He is cool, modest, competent, tough in the good way. He's the only one who doesn't applaud Sully. He was just doing his job.

This is why people are so moved: We're still making Sullys. We're still making those mythic Americans, those steely-eyed rocket men. Like Alan Shepard in the Mercury rocket: "Come on and light this candle."

But Sully, 58, Air Force Academy '73, was shaped and formed by the old America, and educated in an ethos in which a certain style of manhood—of personhood—was held high.

What we fear we're making more of these days is Nadya Suleman. The dizzy, selfish, self-dramatizing 33-year-old mother who had six small children and then a week ago eight more because, well, she always wanted a big family. "Suley" doubletalks with the best of them, she doubletalks with profound ease. She is like Blago without the charm. She had needs and took proactive steps to meet them, and those who don't approve are limited, which must be sad for them. She leaves anchorwomen slack-jawed: How do you rough up a woman who's still lactating? She seems aware of their predicament.

Any great nation would worry at closed-up shops and a professional governing class that doesn't have a clue what to do. But a great nation that fears, deep down, that it may be becoming more Suley than Sully—that nation will enter a true depression.

Is "Octomom" America's Future? (Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal, 13 Feb 2009)

13 February 2009

Paraskavedekatriaphobia (fear of Friday the 13th)

2009 is a bad year for Friday-the-13th's... there will be three of them: February (today), March, and November.

The sincerest form of flattery

In the 1980s, Microsoft created an incompletely successful imitation of Apple's revolutionary graphical user interface.

In 2009, they're copying Apple's hugely successful retail strategy:
Microsoft Corp. said it hired a former Wal-Mart Stores Inc. executive to help the company open its own retail stores, a strategy shift that borrows from the playbook of rival Apple Inc.

The Redmond, Wash., company said it hired David Porter, most recently the head of world-wide product distribution at DreamWorks Animation SKG, as corporate vice president of retail stores for Microsoft.


The move is a sign of the deeper role consumer-technology companies are playing in the retail business, despite the many risks of straying from their traditional businesses of making hardware and software. Apple, of Cupertino, Calif., encountered widespread skepticism when it first began opening its own retail stores in 2001.

Eight years later, though, Apple's chain of more than 200 stores around the world are widely credited with helping the company boost sales of its Mac, iPod and iPhone product lines. The Apple stores, with their eye-catching architecture, highly-trained sales staff and "genius bars" that provide technical support, gave Apple a way to showcase its products in an environment where they weren't lumped in with a gamut of other electronics items. Sony Corp. and Bose Corp. also operate their own stores.

Microsoft to open stores, hires retail hand (Wall Street Journal, 13 February 2009)

12 February 2009

Technology adoption in Amish communities

Via Kottke, a fascinating article from Kevin Kelly about the adoption of modern technology by Amish and Mennonite communities:
At first pneumatics were devised for Amish workshops, but it was seen as so useful that air-power migrated to Amish households. In fact there is an entire cottage industry in retrofitting tools and appliances to Amish electricity. The retrofitters buy a heavy-duty blender, say, and yank out the electrical motor. They then substitute an air-powered motor of appropriate size, add pneumatic connectors, and bingo, your Amish mom now has a blender in her electrical-less kitchen. You can get a pneumatic sewing machine, and a pneumatic washer/dryer (with propane heat). In a display of pure steam-punk nerdiness, Amish hackers try to outdo each other in building pneumatic versions of electrified contraptions. Their mechanical skill is quite impressive, particularly since none went beyond the 8th grade. They love to show off this air-punk geekiness. And every tinkerer claimed that pneumatics were superior to electrical devices because air was more powerful and durable, outlasting motors which burned out after a few years hard labor. I don't know if this is true, or just justification, but it was a constant refrain.


The Amish are steadily, slowing adopting technology. They are slow geeks. As one Amish man told Howard Rheingold, "We don't want to stop progress, we just want to slow it down," But their manner of slow adoption is instructive.
  1. They are selective. They know how to say "no" and are not afraid to refuse new things. They ban more than they adopt.
  2. They evaluate new things by experience instead of by theory. They let the early adopters get their jollies by pioneering new stuff under watchful eyes.
  3. They have criteria by which to select choices: technologies must enhance family and community and distance themselves from the outside world.
  4. The choices are not individual, but communal. The community shapes and enforces technological direction.
Amish Hackers (Kevin Kelly, 10 Feb 2009)

Whew, talk about crossing the chasm...

Thought for the day

"You gotta hear this new box I got, it creates the most offensive noise..." - Robert Quine, speaking to Lester Bangs

11 February 2009

Prohibition: the gangster's best friend, the enemy of civil society

As drug violence spirals out of control in Mexico, a commission led by three former Latin American heads of state blasted the U.S.-led drug war as a failure that is pushing Latin American societies to the breaking point.

"The available evidence indicates that the war on drugs is a failed war," said former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, in a conference call with reporters from Rio de Janeiro. "We have to move from this approach to another one."


The three former presidents who head the commission are political conservatives who have confronted in their home countries the violence and corruption that accompany drug trafficking.

The report warned that the U.S. style anti-drug strategy was putting the region's fragile democratic institutions at risk and corrupting "judicial systems, governments, the political system and especially the police forces."

The report comes as drug violence is engulfing Mexico, which has become the key transit point for cocaine traffic to the U.S. Decapitation of rival drug traffickers has become common as cartels try to intimidate one another.
Latin American Panel Calls Drug War A Failure (Wall Street Journal, 11 Feb 2009)

10 February 2009

Betting big on the Big Game

The mayors of Chapel Hill and Durham are betting big on Wednesday night’s game between UNC and Duke.

"If Duke loses, Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy will receive tickets to a show at the Durham Performing Arts Center, the newly opened largest performing arts theater in the Carolinas,” according to a release from the mayor’s offices. “If UNC loses, Durham Mayor Bill Bell is invited to a night on Franklin Street and Asian cuisine at the Lantern Restaurant, which the News and Observer ranked as the 2008 No. 1 restaurant in the Triangle.”

But wait for this next part.

If UNC wins, Foy will supply Bell with a Carolina blue sweatshirt to wear at the next Durham City Council meeting. If Duke wins, Bell will give Foy a Duke blue sweatshirt to wear at the next Chapel Hill Town Council meeting.

The game is scheduled at 9 p.m. Wednesday at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Chapel Hill, Durham mayors place wager on Wednesday matchup (newsandobserver.com blogs: OrangeChat)

09 February 2009

How journalism can re-invent itself

Some interesting thoughts here.  I particularly like Number 11:
Kris Kristofferson got it backwards: nothing left to lose is just another word for "freedom." Don't hold back.

Thought for the day

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts. - Bertrand Russell

08 February 2009

Blossom Dearie, RIP

Blossom Dearie, the American singer whose little-girl voice and jazzy piano arrangements offered a unique approach to show tunes and the Great American Songbook, died Feb. 7 at her home in Greenwich Village, according to colleagues.


She showed an interest in the piano as a child, and was seduced by jazz over classical. After high school, she moved to New York City. In the late 1940s and '50s, Ms. Dearie sang with jazz bands and plunged into the jazz-club community. She performed in Paris, which led to many fresh contacts for the singer. Norman Granz of Verve Records signed her to a contract of six albums, and the CD re-releases of those discs have now reached new generations.

With her chunky glasses, pageboy haircut and decidedly unsexy look, she nonetheless had a kittenish, wispy voice that was unlike any in pop music. While artists such as Peggy Lee or Julie London boasted smoky sexuality, Ms. Dearie, for decades, always sounded a little bit like a 14-year-old girl caught up in the cigarette smoke and syncopated swirl of the Manhattan club scene.
Playbill New York: Blossom Dearie, Vocalist Whose Wispy Voice Caressed Show Music and Standards, Has Died (8 Feb 2009)

The first live jazz show I ever attended - while I was still a college kid - was Blossom Dearie, Dave Frishberg, and Bob Dorough playing a black-tie fundraiser at the North Carolina Museum of Art. It was one hell of a good performance, on all counts.

I was there, believe it or not, as a "journalist" (writing for the alternative newspaper on campus), and these three gracious, generous, talented folks put up with my idiotic questions after the show and gave me great quotes anyway.

Thanks for being kind to a nineteen year-old kid who thought he knew a little something about jazz, Ms. Dearie.

Here's a short clip featuring Blossom Dearie in her prime.

07 February 2009

Fifth edition of the Krispy Kreme Challenge

In the time it takes most people to read the paper, drink a cup of coffee and eat a donut, Cameron Dorn ran two miles, ate 12 donuts, then ran two more miles. Completing the feat in 29 minutes and 50 seconds, Dorn won this morning's Krispy Kreme Challenge.

This was the fifth year of the race, which began as a lark among 10 students at N.C. State University and has since grown into a major university event that attracted 5,200 runners this year, raised $35,000 for the N.C. Children's Hospital and drew a camera crew from ESPN, the sports cable network.

The race attracted serious runners — and a lot of characters. Superman, Wonder Woman and one of the Ghostbusters ran together. So did a man with a three-legged boxer. There were several Santas, a man in a gorilla suit, a number of guys in business suits and two guys pushing a third in a grocery cart.

Krispy Kreme Race Draws Crowd (News and Observer, 7 Feb 2009)

Things not to miss when you visit New York, Part 2: Culture


In addition to the usual suspects (the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MOMA, the Whitney, the Frick, all magnificent) I want to point out a museum that is more off the beaten path: The Cloisters.

Take bus (the M4 **) or subway (A train to 190th St, then either walk in to the Cloisters through Fort Tryon Park or grab the M4 at the subway stop and ride) all the way to the northern tip of Manhattan Island, and view medieval art in a setting of natural beauty:
Located on four acres overlooking the Hudson River in northern Manhattan's Fort Tryon Park, the building incorporates elements from five medieval French cloisters--quadrangles enclosed by a roofed or vaulted passageway, or arcade--and from other monastic sites in southern France. Three of the cloisters reconstructed at the branch museum feature gardens planted according to horticultural information found in medieval treatises and poetry, garden documents and herbals, and medieval works of art, such as tapestries, stained-glass windows, and column capitals. Approximately five thousand works of art from medieval Europe, dating from about A.D. 800 with particular emphasis on the twelfth through fifteenth century, are exhibited in this unique and sympathetic context.
Also... This one isn't an art museum, but it's a really really great museum that you can see relatively quickly: Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

Finally, the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens is a special treat on a Saturday, when senior docent Francis Lunzer is guiding tours. Francis, a retired jazz drummer and Armstrong enthusiast with an encyclopedic knowledge of music, does a tremendous job.

Armstrong House tour guide Francis Lunzer
Look for this guy: Armstrong House senior docent Francis Lunzer


If you want to see a Broadway show while you're in town but aren't picky about which one, the TKTS booth (now with three Manhattan locations) is your friend: half-price same-day show tickets (the theater would rather get *some* money for the seats than none at all.)

More interesting and adventurous fare can be found off-Broadway (and off-off-, and off-off-off-, etc.) Buy a dead-tree copy of The New Yorker (inadequate online substitute for their events listings here) or Time Out New York a month before you leave and mark up the stuff you might want to see; buy another copy the week you're going to be there to validate that the shows you marked on the first list are still running. :-) (Obviously, this is also good practice for spotting any kind of cultural event in NYC, not just theater.)


Jazz clubs (major endangered species candidate) I have loved:

The Village Vanguard
Small's (late sets and 1:30 AM-til-whenever jam sessions on weekend nights)

** By the way, quick digression - the M4 bus is one of the best ways to see a *broad* swath of the City for cheap - just a $2 swipe of your Metrocard:
The M4 bus is one of Manhattan's best -- and most economical -- tourist activities. I enjoy riding the M4 sometimes just for fun because it offers an incredible cross-section of the variety of New York. It starts in bucolic Fort Tryon Park, runs through the Latin enclave of Washington Heights, skirts Harlem, traverses the intellectual (y)upper west side around Columbia, passes through the glamourous upper east side, and finally marches right thorugh the center of glorious midtown before terminating its run at Penn Station.

06 February 2009

Things not to miss when you visit New York, Part 1: Great, Affordable Restaurant Food

Jewish Delicatessens
Significant "endangered" factor here; changing food fashions are endangering the existence of delicatessens.
  • Katz's at Houston and Ludlow St
  • 2nd Ave Deli (now no longer on 2nd Avenue but on E 33rd Street between Third and Lexington Aves)

Thought for the day

"Gratitude is riches, and complaint is poverty, and the worst I ever had was wonderful!" - Brother Dave Gardner

05 February 2009

What should the rest of us be smoking?

Michael Phelps, the heroic swimmer from the 2008 Olympics, apparently has been smoking some marijuana lately. Let’s compare his situation to the average American’s. Phelps has a high-paying job doing something that he loves, millions of dollars in endorsement revenue just in the last few months (source), and his own charitable foundation. All of this has been achieved at the age of 23. Phelps has made money so fast he probably didn’t have time to invest it in the stock market, so we can be fairly certain he isn’t depressed about his personal finances.

Joe Typical American, by contrast, is about 35 years of age. His Olympic gold medal count is zero. He is probably overweight, if not obese. Unless he works for the government or in health care, he is unemployed or worried about being unemployed. He probably didn’t enjoy his job that much when he was employed. His retirement savings have been confiscated by the Wall Street bonuses of 1995-2007. His future earnings have been confiscated by the Wall Street bonuses of 2008-2015 (to be paid out of TARP and other taxpayer funds, which will inevitably result in debt).

If Phelps needs to smoke dope, what do the rest of us need to get through the next decade or two?

[On an unrelated note, a few readers pointed out that Phelps was convicted of drunken driving four years ago, shortly after winning 8 gold medals, and the world didn't get its panties quite as twisted. Driving a monster SUV and running the risk of killing someone isn't as exciting as inhaling some marijuana.]
Phillip Greenspun: If Michael Phelps needs to smoke dope, what do the rest of us need?

Good question, and good point.

04 February 2009

The cosmic kid, in full costume dress

Carrie and I were discussing favorite Springsteen songs the other day, after his performance at the Super Bowl. We're both fans of the early Springsteen era, with our interest peaking around the time of the Born To Run album.

Here's Bruce in 1972, at the Gaslight, captured by a deeply amateurish videographer, singing one of our favorite songs from that era. This would have been roughly a year before his first major label recording, Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ, was released... and this song was on it, the second track on side 1.

The recession and fine dining in NYC

Doc has asked for a "must-see" list for a short visit to New York City, and we hope to accommodate him soon.

To use Doc's terminology, the most perishable resource in NYC right now might be the fine-dining restaurant.

New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni:
Battered hard already by the recession and petrified of what’s to come, restaurants are talking sweet and reaching out in ways they didn’t six or even three months ago. They’re cutting special deals, adding little perks, relaxing demands and making an extra effort to be accessible.

They’ve seldom wanted you so bad, so they’ve rarely treated you so good. If you can still afford to dine out, you’re likely finding yourself enfolded in what the restaurateur Stephen Hanson— who recently closed two Manhattan restaurants, including Fiamma — describes as a big, tight embrace.

Predicting that “the consumer will just shut down” and that 2009 would be “a very, very tough year,” Mr. Hanson told peers at a conference in Manhattan last month, “You need to hug the customer.”

Trust me: the hugging had already begun.

I was feeling it regularly in restaurants where I was certain I hadn’t been recognized as a critic and where the “hello” from the host station sounded more like a “thank God.” I was feeling it on the telephone, as reservationists who couldn’t accommodate me one night veritably pleaded that I book another, or beseeched me for a callback number just in case a table suddenly opened.

And I wasn’t the only one.
Restaurants Stop Playing Hard To Get (Critic's Notebook, New York Times, 3 Feb 2009)

03 February 2009

City blocks

i lego ny

Christoph Nieman renders NYC in Lego.

Peeler wheeler-dealer dies

Joe Ades, the potato peeler guy familiar to Greenmarket shoppers in New York City, died this weekend:

Somehow, Joe Ades got people’s attention as the crowds swirled by at the Union Square Greenmarket, on their way to eyeing and buying the produce. He was the white-haired man with the British accent, the expensive European suits and shirts — the man selling the $5 peeler. For carrots. Or potatoes.


His was a particular kind of street theater in a city that delights in in-your-face characters who are, and are not, what they seem. For he was the sidewalk pitchman with the Upper East Side apartment. The sidewalk pitchman who was a regular at expensive East Side restaurants, where no one believed his answer to the “So what do you do?” question: “I sell potato peelers on the street.” Mr. Ades (pronounced AH-dess) died on Sunday at 75, said his daughter, Ruth Ades Laurent of Manhattan. She said he never talked about how many peelers he sold in a year, or how many carrots he had sliced up during demonstrations. She said he stashed his inventory in what had been the maid’s room of the apartment.

His Stage, the Street; His Rapier, a Peeler (New York Times, 2 February 2009)

I caught his act -- er, heard his spiel -- many times before at the Union Square Greenmarket. This guy was good. (But I never bought a peeler from him - we are Oxo loyalists in this household when it comes to small kitchen tools.)

The Times article points to a Youtube video of the man at work. It's worth checking out.

Also: The King of New York Hacks has some lovely remembrances of Joe Ades and fantastic still photography of the man in action.

Speaking of Joes in New York, Joe Mitchell would have loved this guy.

Tweets during the Super Bowl

The New York Times builds an information display of Twitter chatter during the Super Bowl.

This one was taken at halftime
This one was taken at halftime, obviously

Hat tip: Tarus

One singularity sensation

Google and Nasa are throwing their weight behind a new school for futurists in Silicon Valley to prepare scientists for an era when machines become cleverer than people.

The new institution, known as “Singularity University”, is to be headed by Ray Kurzweil, whose predictions about the exponential pace of technological change have made him a controversial figure in technology circles.

Google and Nasa’s backing demonstrates the growing mainstream acceptance of Mr Kurzweil’s views, which include a claim that before the middle of this century artificial intelligence will outstrip human beings, ushering in a new era of civilisation.
Google and Nasa back new school for futurists (Financial Times, 3 February 2009)

02 February 2009

Peut Je Avoir Hambourgeois Avec Fromage !!!1!!1?

Les BDRchats (beaucoup-de-rire chats) sont la version francophone des LOLcats. Ce site a été créé pour accueillir toutes vos images de BDRchats, traduites d'un LOLcat existant ou créées de toutes pièces...
BDRchats - LOLcats en francais

A touch of the chapeau to Carrie.

"This is the second notice that the factory warranty on your vehicle is about to expire..."

Apparently I'm not the only one getting these highly annoying robocalls.

They've rung me at work, at home, and on my cell phone... clearly a scam, and they call repeatedly despite attempts to remove myself from their call list per the instructions issued by the recorded voice.

Naturally, they're spoofing callback numbers, and when you actually get a human being on the phone they refuse to identify themselves or the company they're working for.


01 February 2009

Things I wouldn't have believed in 1989


"You'll be reading the Sunday New York Times on your cell phone."

Travel Connectivity

Update, 1 Feb 2009: Carrie analyzes the map at See What I Mean: Information Visualization.

Travel Time to major world cities

The world is shrinking. Cheap flights, large scale commercial shipping and expanding road networks all mean that we are better connected to everywhere else than ever before. But global travel and international trade and just two of the forces that have reshaped our world. A new map of Travel Time to Major Cities - developed by the European Commission and the World Bank - captures this connectivity and the concentration of economic activity and also highlights that there is little wilderness left. The map shows how accessible some parts of the world have become whilst other regions have remained isolated. Accessibility - whether it is to markets, schools, hospitals or water - is a precondition for the satisfaction of almost any economic need. Furthermore, accessibility is relevant at all levels, from local development to global trade and this map fills an important gap in our understanding of the spatial patterns of economic, physical and social connectivity.
Travel time to major cities: A global map of Accessibility (European Commission - Global Environment Monitoring) -- via Thomas P.M. Barnett

One of the most astonishing things I learned is how little wilderness is really left - only about 10% of the planet's surface is more than 48 hours travel time from a major city.

Miss Manners sez

"We are born charming, fresh and spontaneous and must be civilized before we are fit to participate in society." - Judith Martin

Restaurateurs, please read!

Don’t Sit So Close to Me: Restaurant Table Characteristics and Guest Satisfaction
Source: Cornell School of Hotel Administration, Center for Hospitality Research
Managing restaurant capacity effectively includes making sure that the dining room is equipped with sufficient tables of the appropriate size and type to meet expected demand. Restaurateurs usually make a point of seating parties at the right-size table to maximize seat utilization, and some restaurants set tables fairly close together to make the best use of the available floor space. We examined whether providing guests at a full-service restaurant in New York City with extra personal space improved their satisfaction and meant increased spending or longer lengths of stay. Guests seated at tables that were larger than necessary (that is, parties of two seated at four-tops) did not have significantly different perceptions of satisfaction or spending behavior from those seated at right-size tables (that is, at deuces). However, parties at closely spaced tables reported significantly reduced satisfaction, as well as lower spending per minute when compared with widely spaced tables. Patrons dining at this New York restaurant seemed uncomfortable when tables were set as close as seventeen inches apart, and were more satisfied when the distance was closer to a yard apart. These findings, which apply to the dinner period at a fine-dining restaurant, offer support for the practice of seating parties at appropriately sized tables, and suggest that restaurant operators give careful consideration to the spacing of tables in the dining room.
+ Full Report (PDF; 508 KB)
Free registration required.
via Docuticker ("Docuticker is a daily update of new reports from government agencies, NGO’s, think tanks, and other groups.")

Thought for the day

"Disbelief in magic can force a poor soul into believing in government and business." - Tom Robbins